Lithium Carbonate Shells

It was a harsh night in the ER. A rate of something like three chest pains per hour between 3 and 6 AM.

The doc who went on after me last time was there. Of course, that patient had not had a stroke, so that was just my crazy.

One thing I am jealous of is how most of my co-workers consider the day after call a “day off.” I can’t do anything but sleep, lest I go fucking nuts.

Lithium is a strange drug. It doesn’t exactly drug you, but you don’t feel quite right either. It seems to perform a turning-off function. Rather than a million racing thoughts, I am now in neutral if not directly stimulated, with no initiative. I do what I have to do, but nothing else. Not quite depressed, but certainly not not-depressed either. Psychiatric limbo. I suppose that is why most people end up having to augment with an antidepressant. If that could restore some feeling, I would be rather pleased. But antidepressants mostly have toned me down too. Which, I guess, is the desired treatment effect for me.

Still, I don’t think I can stay on this drug long-term. Even though objectively I’m good – look, Ma, I’m even writing a little – there’s too much of a pervasive low level dysphoria, lack of enthusiasm. I never want to do anything, I only have to.

I have developed a tremendous amount of sympathy for the poor, negative symptoms-riddled schizophrenics. I wonder how much of that is the disease and how much is medication.

Somewhere, even though I’m calmer, unshakable even, I know I won’t stay on this drug forever. I can’t bear the idea that if I stay with it, I will never again feel the cosmic unity. Life without this feels unbearably sad. I can’t really talk to anyone about this, because we have decided that in this day and age, this is a sign of a broken brain. Hell, I know it and preach it myself. I drug up someone who comes in claiming to be the Messiah at least once every few months.

And yet, while I’m not a religious person otherwise in any way, not a believer in much of anything, and while I do know that it does come to me through neural wiring, I don’t want these few experiences of creativity, of heightened awareness, of the few moments in this lonely world in which I have had real true faith that there is something other than this mire and abyss – I don’t want these experiences turned into something pathological.

Blake's Jacob's Ladder

Blake's Jacob's Ladder

So I won’t tell a shrink about this.  I know that I am crazy. But rarely, that crazy gives me a gift.  The gift never stays long. Once out of that state, I don’t continue to believe; I can’t recapture that feeling, it does not change my life in any appreciable way. I don’t turn into Jodie Foster at the end of Contact trying to evangelize based on my experience. I stay the same old cynic I always was.

But maybe that’s why I need to know so badly that someday it will come back.

Even if it is just an extension of brain wiring, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing, it is a facet of human experience for which I am grateful to have been able to partake in. They say maturity is the point where you recognize your wound as your gift. Much of the time, I do. The lithium has made me realize even more how much I do – even the shitty feelings without it have depth – a depth that, despite its ability to deliver horrible wrath and writhing pain, is mine, my wound, and sometimes my gift.



  1. Hi Sara,
    You so perfectly describe the “gift” we have been given. I believe I see more than people without the gift…both ways, up and down.

    It is like Aldous Huxley’s explanation of how mescaline opened his “Doors of Perception”. After his drug induced experience he believe early in the beginnings of “wo/mans” creation we were capable of tasting, feeling, seeing, hearing everything. It overwhelmed our senses and evolution closed the doors so we could manage to survive…i.e. focus on finding food and shelter, so we now taste, feel, hear, see etc. only the things we need to survive.

    He believed the mescaline opened those doors and that his perceptions on the drug were real and hidden from him when not drugged. I often wonder if our illnesses open those doors, and what we see is really there and unavailable to people who are not “wired” this way.

    Just a note: I am an advocate for finding medications that don’t make you feel “drugged”, or less than what you want to be/feel. I have not said this in 7 years of mostly depressive hell…but I really think finding a combo of meds that allows you to be you, creative and not numb, is possible. It just may take time to find that combo.

    I feel like I am very close to that combo, and my mood stabilizer (Tegretol) does not make me feel stupid like Lithioum did…but of course we are all different. Please don’t give up. I still feel the fatigue and residual symptoms, and I still cycle up and down, but it feels closer to manageable. I believe, slowly , I’m headed in the right direction. I hope you allow yourself that opportunity too.

  2. Mania can be a gift. I have flew through chemistry problems, finished chapters of calculus in hours, and done other amazing tasks. And we will dull this with drugs.

    I have wondered, often, who would I be without the drugs? Is insanity all that bad when linked to creativity?

    Now on morphine for chronic pain, I’m a mere margin of my other, previous self. I feel as if I have died, and this cage of bones is all that is left of me.

  3. I think that now, while you are out of your deepest depression, you are deluding yourself and are romanticizing it. If the lithium doesn’t agree with you, try something else, try Topamax as a mood stabilizer, but don’t tell me that being manic depressive adds all these wonderful depths to your life.

  4. Sara, I am a schizo… sometimes i get oh so jealous of manic depressives. i think most people with this disorder get to have really productive lives and be very successful in whatever they decide to do… i hate what has happened to me. it feels like i was cheated of this life but yet stayed alive to witness what have missed out on… life sucks. xxxooo

  5. I really love your blog. It’s excellent, and unusual with your honesty, your insight into medicine, and your ability to look inside your struggles with bipolar disorder.

    The other blog I have is which is about work for me.

  6. I have flew through chemistry problems, finished chapters of calculus in hours, and done other amazing tasks. And we will dull this with drugs.

    Yeah. I miss this. My academic abilities crashed and burned when I started meds. I used to stop around exam time every semester.

    Milo – I wish you would open up your blog to comments from people outside Blogger. I always want to leave some, and can’t. I wish you’d write more about your experiences.

    Irene – I do understand plenty of people who hate the “romanticizing.” I do understand, really do. I might, at times, be one myself.

    But I have also been through enough to allow myself to see things fully, not draw black-and-white, all-good-all-bad lines around things. I am not making a judgment call on whether or not it is a good or bad thing to be bipolar (and yes, I say “be bipolar,” not “have bipolar”) because I cannot imagine life without it. I don’t mean that in the sense of “life would be shitty without it,” but rather that it is such a part of my life for so long that asking me what my life would be like without it, who I would be without it, for me, is like trying to imagine me as a man, as someone tall, as someone else.

    Do I want to suffer? Absolutely not. I think that has been made clear in plenty of posts. Has the experience been completely without value? No. I can prove this by knowing that it is the reason I always stop taking meds eventually – while on them I may be closer to most people’s experience, without them I do not feel like me, even if feeling like me can be wretched sometimes. I don’t know why the universe made me the way I am, and I certainly don’t always like it, but I am what I am, and this writing is all about not being ashamed of that.

  7. Sara, i am so sorry…. I am gonna figure out how this is done… i had nooo idea about this. my sincere apologies. love, Milo

  8. Sorry, everyone i think i just left the wrong link to my blog. dooooh!

  9. Wow, Sara, as usual, i am left basically wordless by your beautiful, descriptive writing. i feel i am in “psychiatric limbo” as well….just kind of dull, with a few moments of bitter hurt and a few moments of anger, and once in a while some bit of joy tossed in. i continue my search for a therapist that will “click” and wonder if it will ever happen. drinking s e v e r a l glasses of wine a night (ssshhhhh) can’t be much help either…
    wanted you to know i’m thinking of you, tracy

  10. PS have you seen Evanesence’ video “Lithum” ? i love Amy Lee and her videos are amazing as are, of course, her songs.

  11. Milo – you’ll probably get a lot more comments that way. If you have trouble figuring out how to do it, let me know, it’s in the settings.

    T- I now sort of, despite everything, vaguely enjoy the lithium street cred…the various songs (Nirvana) and all that crap, even though the reality is nausea and weight gain. And depression. Yeah baby.

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