Lithium

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Carrie Fisher once said, “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” Steady stream of medication indeed.

Crushed that Latuda didn’t work, we moved on to Lithium. I learned that this handy little pill is used to treat Bipolar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder that does not improve following the use of antidepressants. Sweet! That sounded like me!

As with the Latuda, there would be plenty of bloodwork to monitor the dosage to ensure it was falling within the therapeutic ranges. There were also a lot of side effects that came along with Lithium…

  • Confusion, poor memory, or lack of awareness (check)
  • Fainting
  • Fast, pounding or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased thirst (check)
  • Increased urination (check, check)
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness (hmmm check)
  • Weight gain (I was already plump so this was a moot point)
  • Hand tremor (check)
  • There are plenty more but I checked off the most common

My doctor had warned me that I may get a foggy brain and that I could look like I was intoxicated because I might be a bit unsteady. There could also be slurring of words. I figured I should let me boss know about all of this (my organization was amazing during this whole journey but I’ll save that for another post).

Photo by Nadezhda Moryak on Pexels.com

True to form, the side effects hit pretty quick. I know I was confused a lot but due to the brain fog, I don’t remember a lot of it haha. I did lose my words, I had to really concentrate on talking. I felt like a toddler that had a lot to say but couldn’t get the words out quick enough.

I also developed a hand tremor so bad that it looked like I had Parkinson’s disease. My handwriting looked like chicken scratch and where I was once a proficient typist, I now looked like a six year old mashing a keyboard. Eating soup and rice was definitely out of the question.

Then came the thirst. Oh my god. I don’t even know how to convey how intense the thirst was. I couldn’t get enough fluid. Hot drinks. Cold drinks. Blended drinks. Chocolate milk, water, pop, juice, booooze. It didn’t matter, as long as it was wet. I was constantly drinking. With the increase in thirst came a sharp decrease in hunger. Who the hell cared about food? Not this girl, gimme some orange juice! It was really quite ridiculous how thirst took over my life.

With heavy fluid consumption comes mountainous amounts of urine. I mean, liters and liters. I had to be close to a bathroom all the time or I would have little accidents. I remember planning to go on a hike with friends and panicking because I was 100% convinced that I would pee myself in front of everyone. So I wore a diaper.

I was in line at the registries office and the urge hit. I started sweating and bolted out the building to the Dairy Queen across the street. I barreled in and took a sharp right towards the bathrooms, only to realize that they had been closed due to Covid. At that point my bladder wasn’t having any of it and let loose. Ugh. I should have worn a diaper that day.

My doctor had been checking in regularly with me and the amount of urine I was producing was concerning. She sent me for a 24 hour urine test. Basically you collect all of your urine over 24 hours. When I went to the lab the lady gave me one 2.5 liter jug and I just laughed at her and said I would need a second one. She laughed and then promptly gave me a second jug when I glared at her. I proceeded to fill both jugs to the limit and sheepishly dropped them off at the clinic in front of a room full of people. I could have died.

But I didn’t die. I hadn’t thought about dying at all in fact. I was doing really well! My mood was stabilized and I was consistently happy. Who cares if I drank 300 liters a day? I could wear diapers, as long as I remembered…I did continue to have that awful brain fog to contend with after all. Despite all of the side effects, I LOVED Lithium!

I had been diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of 42 and this was the first instance in probably 20 years that I could recall being so mentally healthy, just so happy.

And then my doctor called me to come into the office. It seemed that my kidneys were not handling the Lithium at all and performing very poorly. Add to that the thirst, peeing and tremor, and my doctor wanted to take me off of it. I was devastated. Why was this so hard…?

This, coupled with a some frustration at work, created the perfect storm for an episode of depression that would be the scariest I’ve ever been through…

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