The Accidental Addict (Revisited)

I haven’t said it here yet, because I didn’t want to start something I didn’t intend to follow through with.

I stopped taking my medication. I know what you’re going to ask next, and that’s “Are you sure?” The answer is a definite yes. See, I’ve been fighting this battle for 2 and a half years now, and I’ve tried what must be dozens of antipsychotics, anti-anxieties, antidepressants and sleeping meds. Though they came with their fair share of side effects, I have not been fortunate enough to find a combination that came close to eliminating the voices that ring through my ears 24/7.

Haloperidol. Seroquel. Effexor. Olanzapine. Lamotrigine. Latuda. Ativan. Risperdal. Abilify. Wellbutrin. Zopiclone. Clomipramine. Clonazepam. Temazepam. Doxepin. Trazodone. Mirtzapine. Paxil. These are some of the bottles than can still be found in my cupboards, my purse, my car. These are just some of the medications that went from hand to mouth before my brain ever entertained how much might be too much.

It started innocently enough. My skin would feel as if it might shake right off of my bones, and I’d shake the bottle into my palm to produce a chemical acceptance that my brain could not manage on its own. 1, 2, 3 ,4. These pills don’t help me anymore. 5, 6, 7, 8. Something calming when it’s late. 9, 10, 11, 12. Further inward I will delve. I took the tabs, the capsules, the pills because they were prescribed to me, and I took this to mean they were not dangerous.

Before I knew it, I’d gained 30 lbs and absolutely no peace of mind. I didn’t feel sadness, but I didn’t feel happiness, either. I felt absolutely nothing, and anything heavier than nothing was enough weight to make me crumble. I lost weeks to the cracks in the ceiling and months to the sound of that beautiful rattle.

It didn’t occur to me that I might have a problem, not once. All I knew was that I felt terrible, I hated my reflection, and these goddamn circular demons sliding down my throat and coursing through my veins were the only thing that brought me any relief. 25. 50 mg. When the medication would stop working, I was given another pill and for a while life would be tolerable. I knew they wanted me to live, and at the time this was the only way that I felt that I could do it.

Up until a month ago, I was taking a grand total of at least 19 pills daily, (at least 9) of these belonging to the benzodiazepine family. You have your math right. I was taking at least 9 pills to sleep for (maybe) 3-6 hours per night. In retrospect, I should have been alarmed the first time the number registered in my mind. I should have been alarmed that this number had increased by 14 in the last year, but I wasn’t. More. More. More.

A little late, I found myself at a crossroads. Find another route or die here. All 19 of these failed to give me the relief I needed, the acceptance that was vital to my recovery and the self-esteem required to keep slugging it out. Somehow I had become even more miserable than I was when I’d started, and this was an overwhelming truth considering that I had spent the last 2 and a half years trying to combat this misery. A little late, I realized that I was the only one who could truly save me. No amount of scribbled prescriptions was going to write my story, and I could not count on anyone, even someone with a medical to degree to tell me the truth about myself.

So, here I am. I stopped the last 9 pills 9 days ago, and I have experienced severe withdrawal. All 9 of these pills were benzos, and I quit them abruptly. As a result, I am going on day 9 of physical pain and sickness like I have never before experienced. It’s hard for me to write this, because I like to think that I know my limits. I try to operate within the boundaries of safety and I make an effort every day to live the truth I speak here. I would like to think that I am reasonable and rational, that I am above this type of dependence. That just wouldn’t be the truth. There are a lot of people I would like to blame, but I know that this is, and has really always been up to me.

For now, my mind is even. With each day that brings pain, I am glad for it, because I haven’t felt anything so real since the winter of 2011. I am researching all of my options and feeling good about the future, though it is uncertain. I am in therapy and making all of the reparations I can for the sake of my mental health. I’m learning all that I can about my body, nourishing and exercising it so that my mind has the best chance at being clear. There are no guarantees that I will be able to live free of medication, I know that. I also know that there are other methods, there are other choices and they are all worth a shot. I have scared the hell out of myself enough to know that living this lifestyle is completely reckless and will ultimately lead me to my grave. I feel confident in my newly attained knowledge and I sit with it knowing that I will never stumble blindly down this path again.

Here’s what I want all of you to understand: This cycle was a drastic one, and I absolutely don’t recommend it to anyone, especially without being under the watchful eye of a trusted psychiatrist. Please know that stopping your medication can bring just as many consequences and can be just as dangerous. Don’t blindly follow me, because that’s exactly what I’m getting at here; you should not be led blindly into ANYTHING regarding your well-being. Research the fuck out of your diagnosis, then research others that are similar. Read up on your medication and understand the benefits as well as the side effects. Know your body and enough about your family history to aid in finding the one that may be right for you. Seek a psychiatrist that you feel safe enough to be honest with, because they can only help that which they are aware of. Trust yourself enough to walk away from anything that brings you pain of any kind.

1, 2, 3, 4. I’m anxious so I’ll count some more.

5, 6, 7, 8. It feels so good to concentrate.

To learn more about prescription drug abuse, visit www.ccsa.ca.

**Update: A few days ago, I went on a bit of a manic deleting spree. This post was actually written on some unremarkable day in June. In the months between that day and the 29th of October, I experienced a great deal of clarity. I did so much. I felt so much. The summer was dry, but life was in bloom inside of me. The withdrawal was hell, but my grasp on life had never been stronger. I am extremely proud of that run. However, as you probably guessed, it did not (and perhaps could not) last. It came on like that one phrase in a very popular John Green novel that levitated off of the page and made a home in the folds of my mind. “Slowly, and then all at once.” I noticed that the descent was less traumatic this time, but in some ways it was also more difficult. I had so many good days in a row, and it felt like if I could only be brave enough, I could defy gravity. Coming down from a high like that, a high so natural…Let’s just say it’s a real fucking bummer. It became apparent that I would need help again, and though logically I understand that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this, I was pissed the hell off. For about a week, medication and I have been rekindling a familiar romance, but we are wiser this time. When I have episodes, I like to do something I should never, ever do. I read my blog. And because I believe that I am more sophisticated in that moment than any other moment that’s happened evereverever, I am left in disgust at how terrible my past work seems. This post in particular was an awful trigger. Explaining the feeling I had when I read it would be a lengthy process, but in short it felt like standing in front of a filing cabinet full of knowledge and anger while the drawers flew open and hit me in the mouth repeatedly as punishment for speaking. I swore I could taste blood. When Sean came home to help me adjust, I told him what I had done. The conversation went like this:

Sean: NO! Which ones?!

Karlee: I can’t really remember, But I know ‘The Accidental Addict’ is gone.

Sean: NO! Oh my GOD! 

His hands flew up to his face. He was in a complete panic. It alarmed me a great deal, but in a twisted way I was very flattered. I had gotten this idea that he kinda had to read what I wrote as spousal obligation, but in that moment I noticed that he was legitimately freaked out that these thoughts had disappeared. When he came up for air, he said both the most encouraging and heartbreaking words he has uttered to date: “I’m sorry. These posts are my photo albums.” He explained that they were so good and so me that he could not stand their sudden removal, and that when he needs to he travels back to those times, even if those times don’t feel all that relevant in the grand scheme of things. I felt loss lodge itself in my throat as I remembered that I probably couldn’t recover it while also realizing that I was not in any kind of position to write it again. Luckily,  Sean is the kind of guy who is so serious about my happiness that he dissects and uses everything I write as an opportunity to make things more stable for me. Which means he had it saved along with every single fucking one I’ve ever written. What a guy, right?! I’m about to click ‘publish’ and resurrect the post from the digital trash. It may not have been the crystal ball that I had planned it to be, but it happened, it was important, and it was so very lovely to catch a glittering glimpse of what would visit, but could not stay.

For Those You Know and Those You Don’t

Having a blog is weird.

It’s this endless space to talk about yourself. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do to form a connection. It still feels weird and slightly narcissistic, but c’est la vie. Such is life, er, blog. A lot of you have been sending me messages, sharing your stories and asking questions. I LOVE this and appreciate the support so very much, and I figured that since there are some frequently asked questions I’d address them here today. Please remember that I can only speak for my own illness and my own recovery. Everybody affected is complex and different.

I’ll start with the voices, since people seem to be the most curious about that portion of my story:

1. What Do They Sound Like?- They sound exactly as you would expect. They sound like voices in rapid conversation. It’s like going to a girls’ night and every female is wasted off of their asses, shouting over each other and laughing. Sometimes the tone can be very heated, and other times they are simply whispers. They distract me from conversation and often become louder than a person I am trying to have a legitimate conversation with.

2. Do They Ask You To Do Bad Things?- No. People always look 1 of 2 ways when I tell them this: A) relieved or B) disappointed. The voices talk serious nonsense and are so fucking irritating because they never say anything worth listening to. I’ve mentioned it here before, but for a while all they would say was “Blue paint!” “Ohhhhhh, BLUE PAINT!” and now, after tax season has come and gone, they ask me “Taxes?!” and whisper a bunch. So, no, my psychosis does not give me the urge to kill you or your family. I know, take your time.

3. Are You Ever Afraid?- I won’t lie to you, sometimes I do get scared. On harder nights, it can be easy to lay paralyzed in fear and allow myself to become completely taken over emotionally. In fact, I spent the better part of a year doing just that, which is why I didn’t ever sleep. Having lived with it consistently since 2011 has given me the ability to adapt. To be honest, it’s not much different from a childhood fear for me, like being scared of the dark. Once you run headfirst into the dark, and stay there, it becomes familiar, comfortable even.

4. Will They Ever Go Away?: I have great hope. I’ve been taking the medication route and thus far it has been a disappointing journey. I have made amazing strides in therapy, however, and I have been able to do some pretty incredible things despite their chatter. I feel like I have fought and earned the peace I feel in my stomach, and I did it all while the voices did what they could to distract me. I’m proud of that. I will continue to look for ways to eliminate them from the equation of my life, but I’m content here and now, and I’m proud of that, too.

One thing I really want to make clear is that not everybody who hears voices is walking around talking to themselves. Most of us live pretty normal lives once we establish a routine and mechanisms to cope with the hands that we are dealt, be it with the aid of medication, therapy, or other methods. That’s another thing: If you notice that a person may be dealing with a psychotic episode, please don’t cringe or laugh at them. Please don’t assume that the root of the problem is crack. Ask them if they are alright, and if you fear approaching them, please call 911 to be sure that they do not hurt themselves or others.

Another thing I get asked about often is bipolar disorder itself. Again, I can only be sure of my own experience and it’s important for you to note that every case is different. I’ll try to address this, too:

What Kind of Symptoms Do You Have?- I fear large crowds and clustered conversation in unfamiliar territory. I may have minor meltdowns if my routine is disrupted or if it’s just a really bad day. Sometimes it makes me overly excited and I talk. A lot. Loudly. Soon afterward I will probably crash and pull a Brian Wilson. It intensifies my emotions and I find it very difficult on occasion to feel anything, because it’s just so much. It’s like trying to eat a whole cheeseburger at once. Like, “This is so fucking delicious but I’m also choking and possibly dying and OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

Here’s what you should know, the real reason my fingers are banging dramatically on these keys: 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime, and get this: only 43% of people who suffer will ever seek professional help. THAT is what’s REALLY crazy. Think about it guys, it’s likely that more than one of your friends or family members are dealing with a mental disorder, and if not, there are likely people you wouldn’t suspect going it alone. Why do you think this is? My guess is shame. The stigma is that if we talk about it, if we ask for help, we belong on a psychiatric floor with a Thorazine drip. People are terrified to get better for fear that it will only make matters worse. If you take anything at all away from this post, please let it be this: It’s important for us to recognize these symptoms for what they are and to educate ourselves on mental health awareness simply because we cannot afford not to. Over 400,000 Canadians self harm every year.

If that’s not enough to help you understand the severity of the situation, over 90% of people in Canada who commit suicide have a diagnosable disorder, whether it be a mental or substance abuse disorder. Over 90% of the people who felt that they couldn’t make it any further were dealing with a treatable condition and a chance at a better life. Over 90% of the people whose hearts are bleeding and tear ducts burning might have seen their loved ones alive had they had the courage to come forward and ask for help.

So what does this say? How does this speak to you? This is how it speaks to me:

It’s not up to me to decide whether or not someone is dying for attention. It’s up to me to be an ally and a safe place to land. Besides, even if that IS the reason I suspect that someone may be self-harming or otherwise inflicting pain upon themselves, it is certainly a matter that deserves attention. It tells me that I need to live so openly that people understand that there is an ear, there is a heart, there is a mouth that is dying to hear, to be let in, to tell them that they are important and that they, too, belong in this world.

It tells me that we need to stop being so damn ugly to each other. I often wonder how people would describe me if they thought I would never hear it. The only thing that would kill me to know is that people found me to be aggressive, jaded and mean. There was a time when I was those things, certainly, but I also believe that people are who they are by way of where they’ve been, and I am grateful to say that I am not these things anymore. I asked people yesterday if they could change one thing, anything, what would it be? Well, for me it’s the people I caused pain to during a time when I couldn’t see a way out of my own. I cannot unsay what I’ve said, undo what I’ve done. All I have is right here, and right here I am choosing to be less of a lion and more of a butterfly. Both serve an undeniable purpose in the world, but I want to do more healing and less roaring.

Be a light wherever, whenever you can. It may not always pay off but on your darker nights when, alone and convinced that YOU don’t belong, this light will keep you warm for it is fuelled by your raw, human compassion. I think we all deserve to feel that way about ourselves. To educate yourself further on the matters of mental health, go to http://www.cmha.ca

(Oh yeah! Lipshits and Mental Fits has its very own Facebook page now!  You can find it there on the sidebar! ———-> Come on over and jump into conversation, let your weird out! I’m always waiting for a good discussion.)