Confession of a Lithium-taker

confession of a lithium-taker

I have a confession to make. I haven’t had a blood Lithium level done in over a year. My psychiatrist has the patience of a saint, but at my last appointment she got a teeny bit irritated with me.

Time is what we want the most, but what we use the worst. – William Penn

 

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s the first thing I remember I haven’t done when I notice my quarterly psychiatrist appointment on my calendar. And by then it’s too late to squeeze in a blood draw, so instead I make excuses of how busy I’ve been and how challenging it is to get to the lab within the 8-12 hour window after my nightly dose with two kids in tow, not to mention their school schedules.

Plus, blood tests just suck in general. Who likes to get pricked with a needle first thing in the morning. I’d rather run three miles in the freezing rain.

I take my medication religiously, I tell her. And I do. Every night it’s the last thing I do before crawling under the covers. It’s been one of the keys to keeping me stable these last four plus years. Staying faithful to this medication which has given me my life back is a promise I made to my husband and father the morning I was released from the my last hospitalization. I won’t break that promise. My family and my health are too important not to swallow a little pill which keeps me “in the middle” each night. Unfortunately, regular blood tests come with the territory.

Making my health a priority

 

I’m sure other moms can relate to how I tend to put everyone else’s needs and issues before my own. Us moms are just used to being last in line. Running a household isn’t easy, the to-do list is constantly over-flowing with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, picking up toys/messes/clutter, morning send-off, bedtime routine, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I do have time to myself the last thing I want to do is get a blood test. I’d much rather be making out with my husband, writing, reading, soaking in a bubble bath, or catching up with friends.

So I subconsciously put it off. Apparently for over a year, as per my doctor’s chart. Not good, as she needs to check my THS (thyroid stimulating hormone) since long-term Lithium use can affect the function of the thyroid.

Keeping that promise – an early New Year’s resolution

 

We all have things we put off in regards to our health. Maybe it’s a colonoscopy. Or a dentist appointment. Or a simple blood test. We need to stop making excuses and start giving our health the priority it deserves. Especially our mental health.

Why not get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions by scheduling those appointments you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have something going on in your life and you’ve been meaning to find a therapist to help you work through it. Or you’ve been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks. Maybe you have a hard time coping with the holidays in general.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make your mental health a priority, on all fronts. Calling a friend and sharing the hard stuff may seem intimidating, but those conversations end up to be the richest, most gut-twisting talks that at the same time are filled with relief and encouragement. Friends who know you best and who can relate allow us to see that we’re not alone.

As for me, the first call I made (well, actually it was a click using the online appointment-scheduler) was to the lab to make that appointment to get my arm pricked and the results sent to my doc. I’m heading in tomorrow after I drop my daughter off at preschool and I know it’ll feel good to check it off my list.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow. Just do it. – Nike 

 

Balance and lack there of

Wow. What a week it’s been. Lately I find myself wondering: why it is so hard to balance the various curveballs and uppercuts life throws at us? Why can’t I just magically make everything WORK?

Speaking of work. That is something I did very little of this week. But I’ll get to that.

Little man came down with a fever on Monday morning which landed us in Urgent Care that evening at 9:30pm when he could barely catch his breath. He slept okay after a nebulizer treatment and some Children’s Motrin, but by the next afternoon he sounded like Darth Vader so we ran over to the pediatrician to find out he had croup, which I had suspected by that point. The doc put him on an oral steroid to keep his airway from swelling shut.

It worked really well. By Wednesday morning he was much better, but Baby girl had contracted his lovely virus. Luckily (I thought at the time) her airway sounded fine and I thought she’d escape with just a cold.

Yeah. Not so much.

She had a fever off and on all day yesterday and her breathing started sounding worse and worse. Last night I had my husband stop at Target on his way home from work to buy a new humidifier and she slept fine with it running to steam up her small room. But I knew right when I picked her up this morning that she needed that same med that the doc gave her brother. I didn’t even bother to take a shower. Instead I threw on clothes, brushed my teeth and asked my husband to stay home with our son while I rushed her over to the pediatrician (so thankful to live within 3 minutes driving distance from the office and for their established patient walk-in sick hours from 7:30-8:30am).

There was a line 8 patients long by the time I arrived at the office at 7:30. A kind mother in front of us who heard my daughter’s Darth Vader breathing let us go ahead of her and her son.

We didn’t have to wait long at all, which was such a blessing. And all the excess activity in the waiting room actually distracted baby girl, so that was helpful.

The P.A. took a quick look at her and put her on the same med just in a liquid form. They even gave her the first dose (along with a dose of Children’s Motrin) in the office to get her feeling better ASAP.

We headed home to give her breakfast. Hubby left for work. Little Man was still in jammies. At least he was eating, that was a start.

I gave her a breathing treatment after she ate while the kids watched an episode of Super Why. Then it was upstairs for mommy to have a quick shower before we rushed out the door again.

We had to drop off her prescription at the pharmacy and luckily there was a Starbucks in the strip mall because my head was about to start throbbing from my lack of my usual 2 cups. Then we hit the barber so that Little Man could get a haircut before his big first day of preschool.

After that we had plenty of time to make it to my eye doctor appointment across town. The kids were amazingly well-behaved while we waited the extra 15 minutes before the doctor was ready to see me to check if the trial lenses she had set me up with were working (they weren’t). She said she’d order me a new pair to try and sent us on our way.

Back home we ate lunch and got Little Man ready for school. Baby Girl was jealous of his new backpack, so I found his old butterfly backpack which satisfied her for a little while when I told her she could pick out some toys to stuff in it. We got his snack together to take to school and took some pictures (okay, a lot of pictures) at the front door before hitting the road for what felt like the tenth time today. At this point, Baby Girl is starting to tear up at the mere sight of the car.

Drop off at his new preschool went so well! The only thing that is tough about it is the timing – he starts school at 12:45, which is usually the time his sister is napping. So I’m hoping over the next couple of weeks she’ll get used to napping later. For now, she fell asleep on the way to school, woke up when we had to get out and walk him to his classroom, and was up on the drive home. I prayed she would go back to sleep in her crib once we got home. Little Man was so excited and jumped right into meeting his teachers and new friends. It was really cute.

Now if I could have just let her sleep until I had to pick him up, it wouldn’t have been that bad. But, of course that’s not what happened today. She was asleep in her crib from 1pm while I worked, until I realized I had my psychiatrist appointment at 2pm (thankfully, she’s in the same building at the pedi) so I let her sleep until the very last minute I could and we made it to the appointment on time.

All the running around today was not very conducive to Baby Girl resting to kick this damn croup.

We were back home from 2:45pm (when I gave her a dose of Children’s Tylenol because she was so uncomfortable) until we had to leave to pick up her brother at 3:30. Thank heavens for carline pickup!! Seriously, it’s so convenient. Five cars line up at a time, the teachers walk those 5 kids (radioed from the Directors whose parents were there to get them) to their parent’s cars. Baby Girl got to snooze on. Little Man had such a fun day, but got annoyed with me that I kept asking him to tell me more. He gets such an attitude sometimes when he skips his nap, but we could only get PM preschool, so he’ll have to just make up for those M/W/F naps on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I treated the kids to McDonald’s strawberry milkshakes for the rough day we had.

The worst part about this crazy, hectic, so-over-my-kids-being-sick-and-cranky day? I completely forgot to call my mom and wish her a happy birthday.

I suck.

My phone rang at 6:58pm and when it was my Dad on the caller ID I didn’t even think of it then. Not until I answered and heard my mom’s voice instead.

“Hi honey! How was your day? Little Man feeling better?” she asked, cheerily.

“Okay. Yeah, he’s better, but I was at the pedia-OH MY GOSH! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I AM SOOOO SORRY, MOM!!!”

My heart sank. I wanted to cry, but instead spewed off all the things we did today only to feel even worse that I was making excuses for why I almost forgot.

Oh, and her card is also running a day late. Daughter-of-the-year over here.

I’m so sorry Mom. Please know that I’m still trying to figure out how to balance it all.

I know that things will never be perfectly aligned, that there will always be kids that get sick, work hours to put in, a house to clean, etc, etc. I just hope that I don’t ever potentially  forget another birthday in the future. (I like to think that I would have realized my mistake tonight after the kids were in bed, so let’s just give me the benefit of the doubt to make me feel a smidge better, okay?)

I love you to pieces and can’t wait for our beach trip in November where you’ll have a luxurious, relaxing facial at the spa to enjoy as your birthday gift from me. Thank you for being my mom. You mean the world to me.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

xoxo

Checking in with the doc & Kony 2012

Had a checkup with my psychiatrist today. I brought the kids with me since it’s only a 30 minute appointment and it was right at 12pm, so I fed them before we left and brought the ipad to try to keep them occupied. She brought in a few toys for my little man to play with and my daughter sat in the stroller happily tapping away at the ipad. A tiny bit distracting, but nothing a mom of two toddlers isn’t used to.

I like how my doctor asks about my writing. She knows it is important to me and she supports my voice. My last psychiatrist didn’t read my book draft since I became emotional during the one appointment when I told her about it, handing her the draft to read. She told me at the next visit that she hadn’t read it since I became so upset. The fact that she didn’t read it (or so she said) made me sad. I was handing her a glimpse into my thoughts, feelings, and emotions having lived with bipolar disorder and she turned around and told me what felt like “you’re not worth my time outside of paid appointments.”

I would have stopped seeing her, but didn’t really have a choice since insurance was covering my visits at almost 90%. So I stuck with her until our insurance changed and I was forced to find a new doctor. I was lucky enough to find a very good one whose office is only 5 minutes from our house.

 

We talked about my mood during today’s visit and I admitted I’ve had some hypomanic periods over the past two months, but they are manageable. I always have a good sense of awareness about my moods and when I feel an elevated period, I know that I need to get more sleep and nap when the kids nap. I take Ambien if my mind is still buzzing when I know it’s bedtime. I’m also fortunate in that my husband stays on top of things too and encourages me to get rest when he knows I need it. We work as a team to keep me healthy and I like that.

My doctor and I discussed the recent news of the Kony 2012 movement and how Jason Russell, the filmmaker who was the voice of the campaign, was recently hospitalized in California under a 5150 psychiatric hold. He was trying to raise awareness about a horrible war that was going on which most Americans probably knew absolutely nothing about until news of the viral video his organization created hit the evening news. When I first watched the video two weeks ago, I’ll be the first to admit, I was kindof shocked by the message of “Making Joseph Kony famous”. But then it hit me. What better way to slap the world in the face to get them to realize how much shear devastation this one person has caused to so many innocent children? The campaign had a call to action too. They want to get the word out to have Kony arrested and put to justice. By the end of the 30-minute video I was a follower. I even shared it on my Facebook wall, encouraging my friends to watch it.

 

And then the story broke on Friday about Jason’s detainment by police after he was found naked on the streets shouting obscenities and pounding the pavement with his hands. The first thing I did was remove the share post of the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign from my Facebook wall.

 

How incredibly narrow-minded and judgmental of me to act in such haste. I immediately didn’t want to be associated with the guy just because he had suffered a public mental breakdown? Wow. Talk about needing to have an introspective weekend.

All I could do was think back, all weekend long, about how his story has some similar characteristics to my own. Not nearly on the same scale, of course, but in small part, similar. At the time of my first psychotic episode, I was under a great deal of stress from my career and the goals management had set for me in the coming year, in addition to being in the midst of an emotional affair with a co-worker and mid-way through building a brand new single-family house with my husband. Talk about having a lot on my plate.

I feel so blessed to have had the support I did when I went through that most trying time of my life (and theirs, I’m sure.) My husband did not abandon me, my parents and in-laws wrapped their arms around me in support, and my closest friends were there to listen to what I was going through whenever I needed to talk. I was so lucky that I didn’t have to suffer in the public eye like Jason is right now.

I’m sure there were things said behind my back by people wondering what the heck was going on with me. But I didn’t have to read about it online or hear about it on the news like his friends and family are doing right now. I pray that they don’t read or hear the negative words being thrown about on the Internet and news talk shows, and that if they do, that it only strengthens their defense for him and their efforts to help him get well. I’m praying for him. He’s done so much good work. He does not deserve all the hate. Not one bit of it.

I am not proud of my initial reaction to what happened to him. I wanted to write about it here to help teach myself, someone who suffers from a mental illness which caused four psychiatric hospital stays, not to turn my back on someone because they are going through a trying time. Let this be a learning experience to myself and the other 83 million people who watched the video. Don’t turn away because I believe that some people come into our lives as blessings, and others come into our lives as lessons.

National Pregnancy Registry

My daughter turned 8 months old yesterday. About two weeks ago she started crawling and just yesterday she started babbling non-stop. I am continuously amazed at how quickly she is growing and changing. And I am intensely grateful that she is a happy, healthy baby.

I was hospitalized for bipolar mania when I was just five weeks pregnant. My husband and I had been trying to conceive our second child for seven months and it had finally happened, only to cause me such excitement that I couldn’t sleep which lead to my mind racing beyond belief forcing him to sign me into a psych ward for four days. I had been working closely with my psychiatrist to come off the Lithium for the first trimester once I found out I was pregnant and then once the mania took over from the excitement of finally becoming pregnant, I continued to refuse medication because I thought I was doing what was best for the baby growing inside me.

Looking back now I know how very wrong I was.

The main risk that the baby faced if I stayed on Lithium was Ebstein’s anomaly, a heart defect. The general population has about a 3% chance of this particular congenital heart condition, and the risk increases to around 6% for a person taking Lithium during pregnancy.

In my case the benefit of staying on medication greatly outweighed the risks of me becoming manic and needing hospitaliztion, and I definitely knew this having done a ton of research beginning back before I became pregnant with my son. But with his pregnancy I was able to somehow stay medication-free throughout those nine months and one month after his birth. And I think I was feeling some mommy-guilt in wanting to give this second baby the same drug-free environment in which to grow and thrive. It only seemed fair.

After spending four nights and five days in a psychiatric facility near our house, I was finally released to the care of my regular psychiatrist after being stabilized on Haldol via injections because I was very resistant to oral medications at the beginning of my hospital stay. They also used Zyprexa since historically I responded so well to it. Of course I was scared to death about how these medications were affecting the baby’s development, especially because there is so little research out there on the use of a-typical antipsychotics during pregnancy.

This is what lead me to find the National Pregnancy Registry via an online search. They are collecting information from women who have taken certain antipsychotics during pregnancy and after childbirth to hopefully shed more light on the safety of these medications during pregnancy. They also need women who are currently pregnant and NOT taking these medications, to serve as the control. If you know someone who is willing to participate in this on-going study, please direct them to the site to sign up to join.

It is easy to participate – just a series of brief phone interviews and some completed paperwork releasing medical records is all it takes. They do a baseline interview during the beginning of the pregnancy, a 7-month interview, and a postpartum interview. Simple. Once you finish it will give you a good feeling knowing that you are doing something to help improve the quality of healthcare for pregnant women in the future.