Sodium Valproate, or “Here we go again…”

I started taking it a few days ago and I think I’m having a bad reaction. The physical stuff hasn’t been too bad, a little stomach trouble but that’s it. No super-drugged feeling.

But my mood has crashed. It’s now an active depression as opposed to a passive one. I woke up this morning crying with guilt and hopelessness. I thought of an upcoming vacation I’m supposed to take with my partner, how much I wanted to enjoy it, for us to have a nice time and be together again. Between the crazy and work, I have barely been present over the last two years, and he really loves me, so he has hung around and not said anything. I just wanted…I don’t know…for things to be nice. For him. For me.

And the shittiest part of it is that I was looking forward to it, despite everything. From the day we booked to a few days ago, I was thinking how nice it would be to have a vacation, albeit a shorter, closer one than we originally wanted. I was looking forward to the sea. I was looking up dumb tourist attractions in the area.  I was finally sort of happy about something.

Then, this  morning I woke up sobbing, then yelled at him over one tiny part of the arrangements that I didn’t take care of.

And I felt so hopeless. Guilty, that he deserves better. That everyone who knows me deserves better. That I have no future, my career is ruined and I haven’t been able to find a different kind of job. That I never will. As broke as I am, last night I gave away a sizeable chunk of money, in the hope that generosity would make me feel better, and also somewhere the hidden thought that I really won’t need it much more, that nothing matters.

This all happened so fast and unrelated to anything that it has to be a medication effect. That has been the one thread I have been holding onto, the objective knowledge that this is some freak thing, not really me. Real despair starts much more insidiously, doesn’t just appear overnight.

So, I have twelve days until we travel. I will give these drugs a two day washout, and then go back to my old med. I think I have about a month’s supply, if I scrounge through all the drawers. I just don’t think my soul could take another turning of something golden into shit. I need this week to be nice, not a week of me curled up in bed, hiding. If need be and it makes me too eager, I’ll toss in a little lithium.

I probably will cancel the appointment after with the new shrink. I don’t want to go there and immediately, first visit, have dumped the med he gave me and all. I don’t want to go down that road again, to be that patient. I don’t want to annoy anyone else or cause anyone any more trouble.

* * *

There is a post up at Shrink Rap with some fascinating comments. Seems like a lot of people have been through the same shit as me with shrinks. A lot of them do manage, in the end, to get ahold of their records. I called a patients’ rights group, and they said that I have every right, but they also said that to push it, it essentially goes to a government agency that gets on his ass, and there is no privacy. They recommended to start by sending a registered letter with a formal, documented request, to get a formal, documented refusal.

But I know that without a lawyer or some agency, that will get me nowhere. And right now, I’m so broke that I don’t have money to get a lawyer to write a letter that will serve as a reminder of the law. That government overseeing agency will do it for a minimal fee, but then privacy is shot. A whole board of doctors sees it.

I still want those records, not even so much for what is in them as for the way that I was treated, like I don’t even exist, like a child – just refused with no regard to the law or anything. I’m just a psych patient, so he can refuse and there’s nothing I can do about any of it.

And there’s also the element of full disclosure. In medical school, they drilled into us that the ethical thing to do when something goes wrong with care is to open all files, be brutally honest. It is better for the patient to know the truth, and it is dishonest for the doctor to try to cover up. I just want to know the truth, what happened, why I ended up so hurt by the whole thing. Something went wrong, not unlike a botched surgery. I just want to know. To understand. To be able to leave behind.

Anyway – thoughts? Did anyone finally get records in an unusual or creative way? Or even a standard way without involving lawyers or courts?

* * *

So much for my resolution to stay away from thinking about how crazy I am. I hope this med wears off soon.

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In Response to Comments on Previous Post

As usual, the comment discussion led to lots more writing – enough to make a post. Here are some points.

More than one person commented on the “pain” expressed in the last post. That surprises me; actually, despite being numb, at least things are stable. I wouldn’t have thought to describe things as terrible pain; if anything, this is the best I’ve been since stopping my wonder drug. Not good, and scary, but I’m not batshit crazy.

Aqua wrote:  To be mentally ill in ancient times and in pre modern times, was to be recognized as being behaviourally “different” just like now, but now we have different labels than before. Sometimes, maybe it was better, but many times it was downright awful too (think “witches” and all the burnings and drownings that too place. Sometimes it was better..I am sure being a Shaman has its perks.

Bearfriend says: It occurs to me that your inability to cry may be linked to medication? That they are making you unable to really experience any emotions at the moment. Of course, this can happen without meds as well. Once you are on the conveyor belt of psychiatric treatment it is very scary to contemplate stepping off.

Inside that statement is part of the problem for me: if I had not presented to any psychiatrist ever, I would not be considered mentally ill at all. My closest friends never guessed (though weren’t surprised when I told them, either), I function in society and the workforce well enough for enough of the time, I’ve not hurt anyone else, my behavior, while sometimes strange, has not been to the point where it can’t be smoothed over with apologies and a little bit of lying after.

If I were not in the medical field, but rather in a more artistic field, I would probably be considered entirely normal – well within the range of commonly found temperaments in dramatic fields. In high school, when all my friends were the freaky kids, I was among the most “mainstream” or “normal” of them all. And none of them turned out too bad. I just made the stupid mistake of trying to fit in into a world and social class that I am not especially suited to.

Once, I tried to explain this to the former shrink. (I might actually have written this before.) One of the biggest scams in medicine is back surgery for disc pain – it gets no better results than just waiting three months, and has horrible complications. Huge numbers of people come out of it with worse pain, urinary or fecal incontinence, leg weakness or gait problems, and other things. With a friend who is now specializing in rehabilitation medicine, we once joked about “Top 10 Things We Learned in Medical School” and one of them we both put down was, “NEVER have back surgery.” I explained to the shrink that essentially, I walked into his office healthy, and came out extremely ill and disabled, just like those people. If I had never walked in in the first place, I would not be “mentally ill.”

That has been one of the hardest things for me. I think that in a lot of ways, asking for help and getting it (sort of) makes things worse, encourages you to be “sicker” because all of the sudden, that gets you attention and a legitimate role as a patient. When I had to cope alone, the fact is, I did.

Bearfriend is right about another thing – that once you are in, it is nearly impossible to get out. I can’t leave for two reasons, mostly. One is that since I now have an “illness,” I keep getting promised symptom relief or improvement. That is a pretty strong motivator to keep being treated. The other is that now I am not just me, I have “manic depression” which now will be with me forever, and is a serious disease (even if I am more lightly stricken) that needs medical treatment…forever.

There was another statement in the comments about meds not helping. I just wanted to clear that up – for me, meds actually had me 100% symptom free and totally normal for about four years. During those four years, I didn’t see a psychiatrist at all – just got refills from the GP every few months. Then I had to stop taking it, and since then, my entire life has gone to hell. I do believe in at least some psychiatric medication because I was so helped by it at one point.

About my analogy of psychiatry / psychodynamic theory to religion: one of the most influential books I have ever read is Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Though I talk about myth and magic and stories and destiny, I don’t quite believe in those things on a practical level. Rather, they are a human construct that is very good for describing many aspects of the human experience. In day-to-day reality, and in medicine and politics, I am a rationalist.

Psychiatry is a belief system not supported by evidence. It is basically an unprovable science. It is similar, in that aspect, to myth – sometimes a good analogy for some parts of the human experience.

The problem comes when one uses that as a basis for medicine, for intervening with people’s lives, or presents it as a science. For example, one can be damaged in the anal stage, and according to theory, become either overly fastidious or super messy. Or may turn out fine. So what is the value of the theory? It is a non-predictive science, which means it is a belief system. (And yes, I know that it explains by delineating a whole set of reaction styles that cause the difference – but there is no way to tell why which person would react one way, or to prove that those reactions are the cause of the outcome. It is a post-hoc theory.)

It’s sort of like how one could say, “There is an omnipotent God who created the earth and the universe and controls all occurrences…” I suppose it is plausible, but it is NOT science. It is non-testable and non-predictive. Knowing that “fact” gives you no assistance in predicting what will happen, or even really in understanding what already happened…therefore, not science.

And I have often said, if I were to choose for myself a belief system about human nature, despite the secular appeal of psychodynamic theory, I certainly would choose a kinder, happier one than the one offered by psychiatry. If I am going to believe in bullshit, I may as well believe in bullshit that makes people happy.

Incidentally, this new shrink happens to be a very devout practitioner of religion, but also is classically psychodynamically trained. I think this is overall good for him, because it gives him a  belief system to compete with psychiatry. He isn’t a fanatic Freudian who believes that psychoanalytic theory explains everything and is the one true doctrine of human nature, because he has another belief system that also explains everything and claims to be the one true doctrine of human nature.

The more paradigms you understand and have in your arsenal, the better-equipped you are to be able to take part of one and apply it when it seems relevant, without being a slave to it and bending the rules to make facts fit your doctrine.

On the last post being hard to write: I wrote it, with great difficulty, fishing out words. Often, I found a word that fit by meaning and connotation, but it didn’t often have the right sound or rhythm for the sentence. (See: “emissary or oracle” – I ended up writing both because neither was quite right, oracle was maybe closer, but neither had the right rhythm, I wanted something like “channel” as the verb but couldn’t make it fit in that grammar; “misfortune” – wrong word altogether, but originally I had used “tragedy” twice there, so it had to go; “tenebrous” – not dark enough connotation; “farcical” is just not quite the right word, not enough ridicule in it; “adamantine” has the right connotation but the absolute wrong rhythm, that should be a hard, trochee word.)

On the other hand, I thought I wrote for about 20 minutes, but when I finished and looked at the clock, nearly an hour and a half had passed. So maybe there was some real writing, hypnotizing “flow” writing in there. And there is a bit that I terribly like, that did come to me sort of from beyond and is fanciful.

* * *
Another quick note – when I logged back in, I glanced over some search terms people are using to find this site and a few that I didn’t quite expect are showing up a lot. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t seem to register the whole search term if it is over a certain length, so I’m left trying to guess what someone searched for with “what role does medicine have to play in <blank>” or “are psychiatrists who yell at their patients <blank>,” and  the enigmatic “im getting signs that are pushing me to <blank>.”

But a lot of them are coming up with things like, “How to tell my doctor I self-harm” or “how to tell my doctor…” or “what doctors say about…” many different things related to mental disorders.

For those people, I hope this site has been helpful in demystifying what the doctor really thinks of you, and what to say or not say, and shows our limits and some of the biases common in the medical world.

* * *

Finally – thank you to anyone who comments on valproate and how it makes you feel. No one fucking tells you ever what meds will actually make you FEEL like, and it sounds like maybe valproate is one that looks worse on paper than in most people’s practice.

“I wept not, so to stone within I grew”

Io non piangea, si` dentro impetrai.
-Inferno, Canto 33

It is 3:40 AM, the witching hour, and my being awake cannot be a good sign.

Of course, I have been awake at this hour every day for quite some time now. Maybe wanting to get up and write is a good sign.

Things here are, well, empty. I suppose it is a depression of sorts, though fortunately like the ones I suffered as a child and teenager, before the “manic” part was added to the title. It is much more bearable, at least on the surface, than the episodes I have suffered in the last few years, because I am just quiet and still and numb. No racing mind or body torturing me with horrible thoughts that come faster than any human was meant to think. If I didn’t have the practicalities of running a life to worry about and could just crawl into bed until it goes away, it wouldn’t be bad at all.

It is strange how it has come full circle, taken me right back to where I started. It does remind me of that time when I was 12 and my mind broke for the first time, for seemingly no reason. It is familiar, if not comfortably so, ha ha. It makes me a little nostalgic for that time, when I thought that the worst that could happen, crazy-wise, was the need to crawl into bed for months. Before I knew what could really happen, all the ways a mind can burn and break that I know now.

It does get better throughout the day, and by evening I am almost normal. Unfortunately, 9 PM is not the best time to apply for jobs or deal with the mundane details of life. Every night I go to bed thinking of what I will do first thing in the morning, the interview I will schedule, the tax papers I have been avoiding (two forms, that’s it, two forms!) for months.

And then morning rolls around at 3:30, and I am numb and frozen and terrified again and nothing gets done.

I have not worked in four months. All solid job offers are shift work, night work, in busy, miserable emergencies for minimal pay. Seeing as that is what made me so crazy over the last few years, I have not accepted any of them. I don’t want the responsibility of not missing a heart attack for $5 of pay. It makes me physically ill to think about going back to medicine.

I wrote before that it wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t trying to keep up with life, but I am not sure that that is entirely accurate. I woke at this atramental hour, and beyond the dampened terror of my bank balance, the horror at the thought of returning to the repugnant job that is the only one I am qualified for, a little voice dared to run through my head and say the one thing that I have not allowed myself to think: “Your hope is all gone,” the voice intonated. “Your mind will not work again. This is what you are now.”

I miss very much the streams of words that used to race through my mind, needing to be caught on paper before they got away. I miss writing, which used to be an automatic and unconscious activity. Whatever force I used to channel, whatever it was in the universe that fed me the words, has left. I have been alone, without even the words that I could always count on to come, unbidden. I try to force myself now to write, but I sit and try to think of words. I have to choose them, and they are never quite as right as the ones that come from without. I never used to “have to” make myself write. The words used to just come, words and phrases and alliterations and allusions would streak through my head, unannounced and at odd times, often surprising me and making me laugh or smile at their unexpectedness. All I ever had to do was appreciate them, and transcribe them, and be thankful for the electricity that ran through me when they were flowing, the sense of pure purpose, that this is what I had been put on this planet to do.

But whatever consciousness it was in the universe must have moved on, found another emissary or oracle.

Not only the words are gone. The more primal, wordless passions, the pathos and exultations of life, are muted into nonexistence. For months now, I have been walking around on the verge of weeping, with tears in my eyes that obstinately refuse to fall. I think that if I could weep, something might shift, maybe for the better, maybe not, but at least there would be motion.

I don’t understand where those tears are coming from, why they are so firmly fixed behind my eyes. Maybe when my muse left, someone else’s tragedy mistakenly got into the void left in my eyes, and I, having picked up the narrative in the middle, cannot identify the nature of the misfortune, and thus, cannot weep for it. I have no reason to be sad now (unless I think of the countless broken bodies and broken lives that surrounded me and sometimes touched me over the last years). So I am not sad. Just numb.

The lack of hope – another entity that has left me: something in my head keeps whispering, maybe this is it…this is the best you will ever be. Sometimes I wish that the “maybe” would disappear. If I were to be sure, I could figure out how to arrange some kind of half-existence around what is left. But as long as there is still a memory of how I used to be (abstractly, anyway – I cannot channel how I felt when I was alive and ready to do anything and conquer the world, but I can picture my younger self smiling and full of energy, doing things, doing everything), there is that little last bit that keeps me waiting, as the song says,  busco un mejor momento. In some ways, this keeps me from playing the hand I have been dealt. I am always waiting for the next deal.

For my own record, since I do record this shit, I just saw a new shrink. It was horrific and humiliating, as usual, but no worse than most new shrink appointments. The decision was to raise the bupropion, give that two weeks, and if it isn’t enough, add valproate. I have a hard time seeing much logic in this; it seems to me that the last thing I need now is a drug that will slow me down or make me stupider. But I suppose I have nothing to lose (except my hair and my hormonal balance and my lack of diabetes and any potentially normal fetus I may someday conceive), so I’ll try. Mostly because I don’t want to be that patient on the very first meeting with a new shrink.

And things have undoubtedly improved ever since getting out of the miasma that was the previous shrink. I miss him, maybe, as a person, and on some level I think I like him more than this new one, but I cannot ignore the overwhelming experiential evidence that it was bad for me, and there were too many lapses in professionalism to ignore (see “refusing to release records”).

Sometimes, though, in these tenebrous hours, his words still haunt me: accusations he made, (mis)interpretations of things I did or said that nonetheless were hurtful. The insinuations from someone I trusted that something is so wrong with me that it is a miracle I function, and that I will never be “normal” without serious interventions, which apparently have not yet been invented.

For these reasons, even though it is all I think about almost every day, I am trying to avoid anything psychological or mental health related. When I am away from the whole paradigm, I’m just a flawed person, no more or less than anybody else. When I let them near me, I become an amalgam of pathologies and brokenness. Sometimes I wish I never had gone to any doctor. Then, I would have just been eccentric, or emotional, or melancholic, or even just plain crazy.

I have to remind myself that I don’t even believe in their system of belief, that people lived for thousands of years without shrinks, that 99% of the world’s population has never even heard of their concepts. I try to remember who I was before I ended up so entangled with this bullshit system. I was a person. I wasn’t perfect but I was alive and I did things and knew people and sometimes felt something.

Somehow, all of that has disappeared, and all I can think about are all of the words that have been used by the priests of this odd religion to judge my essential being. I do not believe in their religion, yet somehow, their damnation of my many sins, that they delineate in the clinical terminology of their liturgy (affective instability, noncompliance, Melancholia, Mania, narcissism, Cyparissusism, Axis I, II, III, x, y, z, the asymptote of mood-personality-behavior), haunts me.

I don’t know why I cannot break the hold this farcical cult and its practitioners have on me. I suppose it is my version of the person who doesn’t really believe in God anymore, yet somewhere deep down, is too frightened by the spectacle and rhetoric of the fundamentalist hellfire to actually get up and leave the pew.

And so…back to the title quotation. I feel that underneath the conspicous anodynia, there is a well of misery hiding. Hell, it keeps trying to creep out through my eyes. I can’t help suspecting that the underlying pain is for all that I have seen over the last few years and all the people I have lost. I would drain the well, cry profusely and feel deeply, if I only knew how to reach the stygian waters.

But it is too late. So many years of having wept not, I both created and became the adamantine stone.