The past year has mostly sucked.
I knew it was going to be a crappy one as soon as I realized I needed to switch my medication. I’ve had mental health issues for half my life. I knew that trialling new medication had the potential to go either way. I also knew that, should I need to return to Effexor, that I could easily write off a couple of months as my body adjusted to the lower dosage.
I was right on both counts. This year has been tremendously difficult. However, I was prepared for the suckiness. With the help of my team (doctors, job network and psychologist), I identified and worked through a lot of my health barriers. As a result, I’m feeling better than I have in years.
In this post, I explore what it was like to essentially lose my mind and get it back again. I am so, so grateful.
Returning to Effexor
The last essay I wrote was early December 2016. At that point, I had been on Pristiq for a couple of months and had finally started to cope with nausea.
I could handle the discomfort, but it meant that I would struggle if I was in a car for too long. I was skipping meals. I kept on having pregnancy tests because surely, this side effect couldn’t last this long.
I was so angry, but also terrified. I may have felt like I was going to throw up all the time but at least my brain was semi-functional. I knew that returning to Effexor would mean starting at the lowest dosage. I would be starting at 37.5 mg which has barely any impact on me.
Losing My’ Brain’
I was right. I didn’t have the courage to seek a medication change until April. I could feel the cognitive decline immediately. I wrote Bloggers To Watch In 2017. Initially, it was meant to have 15 bloggers. I got to number 7 and stopped being able to put sentences together in a paragraph. I couldn’t make sense of the disconnected bits of information.
I wasn’t allowed to increase my medication dosage for a month. It would take 3 months until I would be on my optimum dosage and, even then, it would take a while for my body to adjust to it. I hadn’t read for months but now I couldn’t do much at all. It impacted every facet of my life.
I was constantly exhausted, even more than before I moved to Pristiq. My memory was shot. Glenn is still reminding me of how I reacted to movies and situations. I struggled in conversations. I was crying from sheer frustration a lot and had no self-worth left. I had no mental energy left to fight off the negative self-talk and it was ruthless.
It scares me now to think about how rough this time was. I’m scared that the Effexor will no longer be effective in a couple of years, and I will be in a similar situation. I know that I can’t live my life according to what might happen, however, I need that awareness to prevent me from getting this sick again.
It’s worth noting that the lethargy during this time was debilitating. I would catch taxis to appointments as I couldn’t handle the bus. I didn’t do much housework, compounding the guilt I had about being a leech.
Around this time, I switched to a new psychologist. I couldn’t afford the regular $60 cost of my previous one. My job network was fantastic during this time, helping me find a great bulk billing psychologist that was closer to the city.
The new psych was and still is, fantastic. It was a struggle at first, as my brain wasn’t working. She would ask questions and I just couldn’t remember, or I couldn’t put a sentence together. There was a lot of frustrated crying. It got better as my health improved and, in my typical nerdy fashion, I threw myself into recovery.
I would read books based on the specific DBT strategies I was taught to make sense of how it worked. I would question everything. I’d do my mindmaps to see how a particular thought pattern impacted me.
Ironically, I wasn’t motivated by my desire to get better. I was starting to get my cognitive function back and was fascinated with the theory behind my treatment. The fact my mental health was improving was just a positive side effect.
I was resistant to a lot of the techniques at first. LovingKindness? Pft. Guided relaxation. Didn’t she know that I had tried that?
This time, it was effective. I know now that I need a combination of therapy and medication to get the best results. I need the mental energy to fight my internal negative, as well as implement the techniques.
Now, my psych jokes that I’ve done 2 years of DBT work in 6 months. Obviously, I haven’t, there is so much more work to do. It is so satisfying to know that it wasn’t laziness or selfishness that was getting in the way of me getting better. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much you know if your biology is that out of whack.
Eliminating Potential Aspergers
I was making a lot of progress with my mental health but was still struggling. My brain still felt like it was going slower than the world around me and it would occasionally shut down when I was too overwhelmed. My doctor eventually suggested getting formally assessed for Aspergers.
This annoyed me. There is nothing wrong with having Aspergers or being neurodivergent, but it felt like a distraction. Whenever I saw a new health worker in my job network they would bring up getting tested for Aspergers. It would lead to the inevitable conversation about how I have social phobia and that my monotonal voice is only noticeable around new people. And no, I don’t do eye contact.
There was also the fear that I may have had it. If so, I would have lost a decade where I had approached my health through the lens of an anxiety sufferer. If I did have Aspergers, the past 10 years of my life could have been a lot easier if it had been identified earlier.
I had the assessment and was assessed for a couple of mental health disorders. It came back as it always has: Severe anxiety, with the occasional depression. This meant that I, and those supporting me, knew 100% where I stood and how to approach treatment from here. It was a relief to know that I definitely didn’t have it and could address the real issue: lack of sleep.
Finally getting on top of my sleep
I had been getting my brain back but everything still felt like it was in slow motion. I struggled to handle too much information and felt physically lethargic. It was starting to upset me; I had gone off Effexor previously due to feeling exhausted while on it.
I missed my brain. I missed being able to read and connecting random ideas. I was feeling like a leech in my relationship with Glenn. Things have always been financially unequal, as he has supported me a lot over the past 6 years. I managed our finances and would see the amount in his savings go down while I was barely even contributing to the housework. As always, Glenn has been supportive and fantastic but I’m very self-critical. I’ve always told myself that I’ll contribute to the relationship more when healthier and make up for all the help I’ve asked for.
Eventually, I was prescribed melatonin. I had asked for it at the start of the year but the doctor, who wasn’t my usual one, said that it was expensive and to try panadeine instead. I asked about side effects but I was told I would be fine. The pharmacist had to explain them to me when I was denied them. I was so angry. I put off addressing the sleep because I assumed treating the anxiety would fix it. Oh, how wrong I was.
It was August/September. I would still be awake at 6am, having gone to bed at 11. I would have done the relaxation and breathing exercises. My brain wasn’t even being overly active, it was like my brain was on pause. I would struggle during the day and often have several of these in a week. Eventually, I went back for the melatonin.
It took about a week for it to work, but it’s now working beautifully. I still have issues with sleep but it is a lot more consistent. I’ve also gotten my brain back! I can read and concentrate for long periods of time. It’s bliss.
I want to explore my sleep issues in more detail in 2018, as I suspect there may be other issues interrupting my sleep. For now, I’m just trying to catch up on a year’s worth of literary brilliance.
Seeking Migraine Treatment
I’ve been getting migraines for over 7 years. Addressing the anxiety and sleep issues reduced them slightly, but they were still quite debilitating. I would get them if I had a big day. I’d get them if the weather was over 28. It felt like I had to arrange my whole life around them.
You know what? I did, and I still do. It took a while to accept them but migraines are a part of my life. In February, I was prescribed Naramig. This means that, if taken in time, I would only be in pain for 2 hours. I would skip the ‘aura’ phase and completely avoid the disorientated nausea. It wouldn’t impact my life to the extent it did in the past.
I still have to be cautious in warmer weather and make an extra effort to stay hydrated. I’m now testing preventative medication and will be exploring whether improving my fitness has a positive effect. All I know it is one less major barrier to getting my life back.
Returning To Schema Therapy
Schema therapy has always been more effective to me than CBT/DBT. CBT always feels like a band-aid solution: effective but doesn’t get to the core of the issue. Schema therapy explores the rigid mindsets that can lead the original maladaptive behaviour. You can check out the previous posts on the schema therapy page. Note: it’s a definite work in progress.
The psychologist I saw in 2011 had only just learned of the concept. We explored how my schemas interfered with my life but never did the really hard work. I made a number of behavioural changes that improved my quality of life but, as I’ve learned this year, that has just caused my behaviour to manifest in different ways.
I did another schema questionnaire. Some have changed; I no longer have the dependence/incompetence schema. I still have the social isolation and unrelenting standards one. I will be doing a lot of schema work in 2018 and hopefully, it will change how I react to stresses.
What is life like now?
2017 sucked but, as I neared the year’s end, I noticed I was feeling better than I had in years. Getting cognitive function back greatly improved my quality of life. I had to work incredibly hard to implement many psychological techniques while at my sickest. As a result, it was a lot easier to use them when I got my brain back. I can react to a lot of day-to-day stresses quite easily, provided a schema isn’t triggered.
My relationships have improved as a result. I’m not hypersensitive and have a lot more confidence, which makes it easier to interact with family and Glenn. I’m excited about returning to hobbies that I’ve pushed aside, such as birdwatching and hiking.
My lack of work and income is a huge stressor. I’ve been strict about not pushing myself until my body can handle it, as I’ve seen the result of taking employment when I’m ill. I will be working with both my job network and psychologist on finding employment, as I know the job hunting process will trigger me.
Life simultaneously feels full of opportunity and incredibly overwhelming. The journey is going to be fascinating. 🙂