kept the flowers

Getting off my meds for pregnancy: Mission accomplished

As I previously shared, I was petrified of getting off my meds (lamictal, abilify, trazodone) to try and create a human. I feel incredibly lucky to report that I DID IT and didn’t suffer too many repercussions.

my daughterI almost feel guilty writing this, because I’m sure so many women out there have given up their meds for pregnancy and had extreme difficulty—and maybe even had to get back on some of them to stay stable for everyone’s sake. To these women, I say: Bravo. You are incredibly brave and truly a hero.

The hardest thing I faced was sleep…or really, the lack thereof. Not having trazodone means my fibro insomnia rears its ugly head. And of course, the bigger you get, the more uncomfortable sleep is as you can only be on your side with a billion pillows trying to make your puffy self semi-comfortable.

But I didn’t get depressed, which was my biggest fear. I don’t think I could have made it through without getting back on something if I plunged into a deep depression. I’m incredibly grateful that I avoided that situation.

So, the day after Christmas last December, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She’s really cool.

After 12 weeks of glorious, unpaid leave (thanks, America), I had to return to work. In anticipation of that, I knew I needed to be stable and on my game. So I opted to stop breastfeeding and turn to formula so I had the freedom to take what I needed. Let me say this: it is never OK to judge a woman for her decisions on how to feed her baby. I absolutely felt the bullshit mommy guilt that comes with the dreaded formula, but I learned to ignore it and do what was right for me and my family. Also, having my body back after fighting a breast milk oversupply was the most wonderful thing ever.

I hope my story can give some shred of hope to any mommys-to-be out there. Know that it’s your decision how to handle your meds and that your mental health is extremely important for you, your family, and your developing fetus.

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Getting off meds for pregnancy: will this be impossible?

I had a breakdown the other day about the daunting task of getting off my meds during pregnancy. It scares the shit out of me.

taking medication during pregnancyI almost broke down during my psychiatrist appointment where we were talking about options (of which, really, there are none). Not none for everyone, but it doesn’t look good for me.

My OBGYN basically said that there isn’t any bipolar/depression medication that isn’t a potential risk to the baby. Then my psychiatrist said that wellbutrin might be an option. My friend took Zoloft during her pregnancy.

I have two problems here. 1. anti-depressants don’t work for me. 2. I really don’t want to take any chances of harming the baby…at all.

It took me forever to find the right combo of meds: 500mg lamictal, 2.5mg abilify, and 10mg trazodone for sleep. And the last time I lowered my lamictal dose slightly I got depressed.

I know that everyone says that if you’re really in a terrible place mentally that the mental health of the mother might outweigh any risks from meds. And I’m starting to fear that this might be the case for me.

Maybe I just have to get over the fact that I’ll be one of the women who just can’t be entirely off medication during pregnancy. But as I said, it seems anti-depressants are the only thing recommended (to me at least), but the damn things have never worked for me. (Tried Cymblta and Lexapro).

So, in sum, I’m petrified. I’ve briefed my husband that this will likely get really terrible and that I’ll need a shit ton of support.

What experiences have you had with pregnancy and mental health meds? Is there any hope?

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Pics for those fun bipolar times

Inspired by whatshouldwecallme and howdoiputthisgently, here are some gifs for the bipolar folks out there.

WHEN I’M DEPRESSED AND JUST WANT TO EAT
inhaling wheat thins

WHEN I REALIZE I FORGOT TO TAKE MY MEDS
panic

WHEN I’M SO MANIC I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF
cat scratching toilet paper

WHEN DEPRESSION HITS
puddle
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Bipolar II meds that are working for me

So since I last wrote about my meds and how they were working (lithium sucked!), I’ve come to find a combination that’s going pretty well for me.saphris

After getting off Depakote and Lithium, which didn’t work for me at all (and caused me to gain weight and be hypothyroid), I’ve been on Lamictal (an anticonvulsant) for a year now. It hasn’t caused me any weight gain and is said to have a relatively low chance of negative side effects, which is lovely. It was doing relatively well on its own, but not completely getting the job done. I was still struggling with depression, even at 500mg.

So this past January we added Saphris, which is an anti-psychotic approved for bipolar use in 2009. My doc said we have to watch out for possible effects on my cholesterol and blood sugar, so I’m getting tested for that regularly. But otherwise, I’m side effect free. What’s weird about Saphris is that it’s a dissolvable tablet that you put under your tongue. It’s a little menthol-y and makes your tongue a bit numb, but all in all not too terrible.

Also, a huge bonus for me is that it makes me sleep! I’ve had disordered sleep since the beginning of time and was taking ambien every night for years. But Saphris knocks me out in about 20 minutes and I sleep wonderfully. It’s a beautiful thing.

Something that I don’t think any meds can fix is the ramifications of being a woman. I definitely get depressed not just before my period but when I ovulate. No joke. After reading up on it, I guess the ovulation thing isn’t too uncommon. Who knew! What another fun experience to add to the joy ride that is being female. But the depression usually isn’t too terrible and only lasts up to a few days, so I suppose if I can be balanced the rest of the time I can deal with that.

Yes, balanced. I can’t believe I’m finally at a point where I can say that I’m balanced the majority of the time. I just had to find the right mix of meds to make it happen, so I hope this information might help someone trying to figure out their own treatment and evaluate different drugs. (Of course everyone has different reactions to different things, but this is just what’s working for me).

Best of luck out there in the medication jungle.

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A lil’ pick me up: being proud of myself

How often do those of us with bipolar pat ourselves on the back or give ourselves praise? For me, this can be especially difficult when staring depression in the face.i am so proud of me

But I recently stumbled upon a nice thought pattern that gave me a little pick me up. I started listing things in my head that I was proud of myself for that day. I was proud of myself for sticking to my high protein diet when all I wanted to do was make some damn pasta. I was proud of myself for asking a potential employer for more money. I was proud that I went to the gym even though I wasn’t really feeling it.

As I started my mental list I found that more and more things came to me. It felt quite nice and gave me an instant boost of self worth and confidence. Rock it out, me.

I think I’ll try and do this every day. Depression or not, I think we all deserve to tell ourselves how awesome we are for doing even the simplest of things.

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Picking the weeds

The quote that inspired my blog title is from Kelly Clarkson’s song Sober:

“Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers.”

I’ve come to find that in coping with bipolar disorder it’s not only important to add positive and helpful things to your life, but to also get rid of the things that only exacerbate your symptoms.Dandelion

Stress is definitely something that is a trigger for me, and I think this is pretty common. Being hypomanic, I would sometimes dive into more activities than I could handle. Several years ago I was feeling particularly motivated and was really aching to get back into singing. I decided to join a choir at a Unitarian church. I went to several rehearsals and sang in a Sunday service or two. But I quickly came to realize that I bit off more than I could chew. It’s sad to think that committing to one rehearsal a week and a service on Sunday is too much, but I’m sure ya’ll can identify with even that kind of commitment becoming overwhelming.

I also used to do Shotokan karate. I started in college because of my boyfriend at the time and then continued on to get my black belt after we broke up. I really enjoyed it. However, this brought certain pressures into my life. Practicing karate is something that requires deep dedication, which means training at least 2-3 times a week. People would often make you feel guilty if you started missing classes regularly. (Which is something that happens when you’re depressed). Also, being one of few women black belts, there was always pressure to compete in tournaments. While these are fun, I didn’t always have the time or feel like attending. So eventually I decided I needed to take a break. I was burnt out and it was becoming a stressor I didn’t need in my life.

And sadly, sometimes picking the weeds can involve cutting a person out of your life. I had to do this last year and it definitely sucked. But my friend has a host of her own mental health problems that she wasn’t at all seeking treatment for. I know that the topic of leaving someone with a mental illness is a whole other – and very important – issue. But after years of feeling like her therapist and the one who literally had to scrape her off her closet floor, I finally realized it was more than I could handle. How could I serve as someone else’s crutch when I could barely keep my own mental health under control?

I’ve also left jobs when they (unfortunately) became a toxic environment that brought a crazy amount of stress. I’ve found that work-life balance is super important for me to literally keep myself balanced.

So there you have it. Cutting things out of your life can be hard, but I’ve found it to be very worth it. Cutting out daily stressors can almost be more difficult, but I do that as best I can.

Have you ever had to cut anything/anyone out of your life to reduce the stress/anxiety in your life?

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Don’t know what you got till it’s gone

You would think that at this very moment we all know how we’re feeling. You know if you’re sad, pissed, anxious, etc. But there’s one emotional state that can sneak up on us: depression. It’s like a ninja.

sneaky catIt seems that sometimes I don’t even know I was depressed until it has lifted. (This is really just for the more mild bouts of depression—I certainly know when I’m super depressed). Sometimes it’s only when I think back to past months that I realize, oh shit…I was actually depressed that whole time.

It seems such a strange thing to me. Depression can be so crippling—how could I possibly not know when I’m depressed? I guess it’s because when you spend most of your life experiencing this state (even at low levels) that you get used to it. I just think this is how I’m supposed to feel. That not wanting to go out with friends or talk to people is normal—I’m just tired.

I keep a daily health journal where I document my moods, sleep meds, etc. Sometimes when I’m reading back through, I’ll realize that I reported my mood higher than it actually was. Having the 20/20 hindsight, I can remember more clearly how I actually felt and realize that I was just thinking my lower mood was normal.

So the question, I guess, is whether or not this matters. There’s little you can do to lift depression when you have it, so what does it matter if you don’t even know you have it? I suppose knowledge is power and at least if you can recognize you’re a bit depressed you can try to fight it—maybe exercise or force yourself to get out and socialize or do a hobby.

Either way, I hope we all get to a point where feeling even mildly depressed isn’t a ‘normal’ feeling. It should be something we do recognize because it’s actually different than the way we normally feel.

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Can’t figure out what’ll be left of me

My whole life I’ve been known as hyper, dramatic, loud, excitable, dynamic. who am IAnd that’s how I knew myself, too. But when I was slapped with the diagnosis of Bipolar II and slid into a cave of depression, that all slipped away. Or rather, got put into a box that I hoped to open someday.

And then the desperate search for my “real” self began…and a billion questions hit me all at once. Was hypomania causing me to act that way all those years? What would I be like without it? Who the heck am I?

If I ever find the right meds to stabilize me—when the hypomania has been stripped away—what’ll be left of me?

And I still don’t think I know the answer. To me, Lauren is the same melodramatic, happy, and confident woman she’s always been. Because that’s all I know.

But while a lot of those qualities are positive, I can see the negative. Looking back, I can see hypomania causing me to get too worked up and excited; to stay up all hours, unable to sleep; have a lead foot behind the wheel and develop road rage easily.

But after months and years of depression, I’m ready to have it back. Bring it on. I’ve had some peeks at it, and it feels good…it feels like me. The girl who cracks jokes in the meeting and is motivated to do things.

Sure, opening that box and having it back full-fledged would really just be hypomania all over again. And maybe the real Lauren is just a slightly more controlled version of that. The melodrama minus the anxiety. I can only hope I find that girl someday. A girl who isn’t constantly in a battle with hypomania or depression. A girl that can truly be just who she is.

I think I would like that girl.

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Bipolar update: Lithium hating

Oh Lithium, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.lithium

  1. You make me drink at least a gallon of water a day.
  2. With you I can only take tylenol—the most inferior pain med.
  3. You make me gain weight and prevent me from losing it.
  4. Your breakouts are super fun.
  5. Oh, and you didn’t cure my depression.

So, without my doctor’s supervision, I started to taper off of you. Only 300mg so far (I took 1,200mg), which I started on Saturday. Then on Monday, a headache started…and it still hasn’t stopped.

Could this be Lithium withdrawal? I thought maybe. So I called up my psychiatrist and broke the news that I went against her advice and perhaps had a resulting headache.

And what did she say? Am I drinking enough water? People get dehydrated in the summer, you know.

I drink at least a GALLON of water a day. If that’s enough, I simply don’t know what to do. She said she hasn’t heard of a headache being a side effect of tapering off Lithium.

Well, I think it is…so there. I managed to find only a couple people on the interwebs who mentioned a tapering headache.

That’s the only explanation I have for now, and if it doesn’t go away I’ll ask my general practitioner. But for now, hating on Lithium a bit more will have to do.

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Bipolar update: Thanks for effing up my thyroid

It occurred to me that I haven’t really written about my latest struggles with bipolar (except the ever-present depression, of course).

The biggest develithiumlopment is that lithium has not only made me gain weight, but now I’m hypothyroid. Joy. So, I get to take yet another pill and I can’t stop lithium—the thing causing the problem—until my thyroid is fixed.

This is a pretty common problem that lithium takers experience. The super fun part is that even after you go off lithium, your thyroid may be permanently changed. What I’m struggling with right now is the idea that I can’t start tapering off lithium immediately. This is coming from my psychiatrist. She thinks tapering now would mess too much with my thyroid levels (well, yeah) and that it needs to be fixed before we can do that. Myself, I tend to think that getting the thing screwing it up out of my body would help, but that’s just me.

I’ve started on a thyroid med with my general practitioner, but will see an endocrinologist in a few weeks. They may be able to dig a bit deeper into the issue (or just re-re-confirm that it’s caused by lithium). I’m hoping they will have a different opinion on going off lithium sooner than later.

I have questioned why bipolar people notoriously don’t take their meds. But I have to imagine that the majority of them are on meds that don’t work and/or give them obnoxious side effects. Dealing with both of these currently, I can now understand getting fed up, frustrated, and hopeless and tossing them aside.

I still hold out hope that something will work. The plan is to keep increasing lamictal and taper off lithium. But since I’ve been depressed even taking both, the fear that the three big guns for bipolar (depakote, lithium, lamictal) will fail is creeping in.

What meds would we try after this? Is my bipolar depression going to be nearly impossible to treat?

We shall see. Further bulletins as events warrant.

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