I've spoken to a few people about taking, or not taking, lithium. Many people are completely averse to the idea and that included me for a long time. One person in particular, who shall remain nameless, had tried everything and her life was in total chaos. As an act of desperation she agreed to taking lithium. Amazingly for her, it had a miraculous impact on her mental health and she was able to begin living again and functioning like most normal folk. We talked about our symptoms, fears and hopes for the future, and she encouraged me and reminded me that I can always stop taking it if it feels wrong, or isn't working for me in the way I'd like. As with all things, I needed to be reminded that I have a choice in how I respond or what actions I take. Having some power and control in my mental health recovery is really important.
When you have the tablets in your hand they look totally innocuous. There seems to be an impossible leap between the innocent looking pills and the unfathomable complexity of my neurohormones and wellness. It's like dark magic. I do have some knowledge about neurons, calcium channels, neurohormones and brain physiology. My first job out of school was at Eli Lilly doing research on rat brains with Prozac and various other chemicals. It's like a bad joke really, but maybe the universe wanted to equip me with understanding in preparation for my insanity jaunt! There are more than 2000 second messenger systems and pathways around your head that allow chemicals, minerals and madness to travel about. It is fascinating but when you have to homogenise a rat hippo-campus before lunch it rather loses the romance.
Anyway, I pop the medicine and wait. It can take a while for lithium to get into your system. I have read that your body can take 18 months to adjust to the introduction of lithium and that every person metabolises it differently. Every person taking it has a completely subjective experience so dosages vary dramatically amongst the lithium community. I started with 400mg with a slow increase to 600mg with regular blood testing to ensure I'm not getting poisoned. The idea is to take as little as possible with maximum results and I chat with Dr. Dyer regularly to tell him how I feel and if I am having side effects. Its funny the things you notice about people, but as psychiatrists go, he seems to be a bit "Hip". He has mid-length floppy hair, wears pointy shoes and has an earring. We talk about my kindle and music far too much, and he always appears shocked when I actually do as I'm told around medicating, blood tests and appointments.
Not much happens at first, and I wonder if it's actually going to work for me. I ma cynical and keep my expectation low to ease any potential disappointment. Then one morning, I wake up and the world has shifted. Being chronically depressed is like living at the very back of a dark cave, and you can see the light at the entrance, with people walking by and muffled sounds of the real world going on as you struggle to even touch it. People pop their heads in to say hello and to check if you are eating and breathing, but they cannot fully enter the cave and you cannot exit. On this particularly morning, as I sat up, I had the dawning realisation that I was sitting at the very edge of the cave entrance. It's the only way I can explain it. I could hear the rabble of people, feel the sun on my face and the effort of breathing had diminished. I felt lighter and freer and visible.
I had exited my cave.