Despite my upbeat and colorful Instagram, I am reminded daily that I have a severe mental disorder. I am disabled af.
I notice it the most when it’s time to go to sleep. It’s not just lugging out my pills (which are in a lock box) but it’s the worry that they won’t work — that something will happen — that my sleep will be disrupted and I’ll be one step closer to crazy. One night of bad sleep and I’m weak and grumpy. Two nights and I’m in pretty bad shape. Once, when I was living in Portland, on three nights of bad sleep, I walked into traffic. By day four of that week I was totally insane.
I was starting to notice something was wrong. Last week I spoke to an after hours nurse. The woman on the phone was frantic. She said she couldn’t get ahold of my doctor but she had left five messages. She said that if she couldn’t get that doctor, she’d get another doctor, and all of the sudden I realized I was on the verge of going to the hospital. I told her I was fine, that she didn’t need to bother, I could wait until Monday when my doctor was back in his office, I was fine. “Are you SURE?” She asked. “Yes, thank you.”
Then I read about the holocaust for an hour — specifically how some Jews fought against nazis by finding ways to remain spiritual in the worst circumstances imaginable.
Every night, for those five nights, I would take my medicine at 8, fall asleep and awaken at 2:30 AM — wide awake. I knew why. The first “night” it happened I told my husband, “I bet it’s 10 days until my period.” I checked my period tracker. Sure enough, my period was 10 days away. My PMDD, which shows up 10 days before every single period, is a much bigger problem than any health problem I currently have. The worst part is insomnia, but the depression and anxiety is also pretty brutal. I’m supposed to increase my klonopin dosage to 2 mgs for those 10 days. That’s a lot of klonopin. I’m basically a functioning high person for 10 days — and I’m really hungry. But! That’s better than being insane.
So, I took my huge dose of klonopin. Went to bed at 8. Got up at 2:30. Klonopin. 8 PM. 2:30 AM. Klonopin. Every day it was the same thing. I was exhausted. A typical person might get cranky or — well — I don’t know what typical people are like when they lack the sleep they need. I go crazy. The last time it happened was my last week of pregnancy when I started to have closed eye visuals, which are hallucinations behind your eyelids. They are usually full of blood, gore and horror and you can’t turn away — so you try and keep your eyes open for relief.
The time before that I saw people falling from the ceiling. What I’m getting at it is very obvious when a lack of sleep makes me crazy — there is a zebra in the hall and I have to go to the hospital.
This time, however, there were no zebras. No gore. No people falling from the ceiling. On the fifth day I was writing to my dad and wrote, “I’m having trouble with the concept of time, I should probably call my doctor.”
I stopped. Looked around. Was I having trouble with the concept of time? I tried to think about time — and couldn’t. Not as a linear process. I looked at a paper rose I had made and realized I had no idea when I had made it — was it last night or three days ago? When did I make bread? Was it this morning or a year ago? Or did I imagine the bread? Where was the bread? Why was I even thinking of bread? I looked at my baby. I couldn’t remember changing her or feeding her, but she was dry and happy. And then I couldn’t remember NOT changing or feeding her — it was a steady flood of images but I couldn’t make out the day or time.
I called my psychiatrist who was on a mountain in a cabin with his family. I didn’t know when I’d talk to him next, if he’d get my message, if he could even help me from where he was. So I sat down and read about the holocaust. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I remember my goal being to not get a 51-50. (A 72 hour psychiatric hold.) I knew I wasn’t a harm to myself or anyone else, but I wish that wasn’t how I felt. I wish I could tell you that I knew I was in trouble and that if I needed to go to the hospital, I would. But the truth is, I would have lied and lied and lied to get out of a 51-50. They are scary! I was dead set against it. I hate admitting that and I’m going to work on that aspect of my disease.
My psychiatrist called me, said that five days without sleep was way too long, what was happening? I told him it was the PMDD. He said, because of course he didn’t have his notes, “What are we doing for that?” I said we were prescribing 2 mg of klonopin. He asked what else we were doing. The question seemed completely out of left field. What else? Eating right? Standing on my head? What do you mean what else?
And then I understood. “Prozac. I’m supposed to take 40 mgs of Prozac a day in the morning. I haven’t been doing that. Oh MAN.” He said alright, start the prozac, take extra seroquel if you can’t sleep in the night, let’s see if that stabilizes you. Call back if you need me.”
I forgot the prozac. I forgot the prozac! How did I forget an entire drug? I’ve been taking pills for 17 years. I’ve never forgotten an entire dose, an entire medication — FOR DAYS before! But I know exactly what happened.
That first morning, when I woke up at 2:30 and told my husband my period was in 10 days? The first thing I did was take 2 mgs of klonopin. Every time I woke up I took 2 mgs of klonopin. It made me so loopy, so stoned, basically, that I didn’t remember the other HALF of how to treat my PMDD.
After taking my prozac I slept through the night. I was so grateful. The next day I was still having some trouble with time, but I knew that sleep is cumulative and that it would get better. The weirdest part is I thought it was a day from a year ago — my husband’s 40th birthday in San Francisco. Every so often I would ask myself what I was going to wear to the park or if we were meeting our friends Brent and Sarah at the bakery. Every so often I thought I was in a museum bathroom. This had all already happened, but I was convinced I was in those moments. I smelled the bakery and I could hear the trees rustling.
The reason that I can tell this story in my Burts Bees pajamas in my heated bedroom is because I have support. I have so many people to turn to. And I hope that if I DO need a 51-50 I will be brave enough to get the support I need. But these seemingly tiny things are what create real tragedies. People without good health care or emotional support can trip over something like forgetting a medication for 5 days and instead of it being a story on their blog, they fall into madness and lose everything. That’s why it’s so important to stay on your meds, keep your meds updated, have family and friends help you. see doctors and therapists and go to your support groups. It’s the best time in history to have bipolar disorder because there are meds to treat it — but we have to TAKE the meds, and take them correctly.
Take care of yourself!