For the first time since getting my first prescription, I forgot to take my meds.
This was Thursday; my first day at the convention, after a day of driving and a late night hotel check-in. My memory is crap. I have an alarm set set on my phone so I won’t forget my pill time. It goes off, it plays some music, and I remember I need to dig the tiny pill bottle I got at REI out of my backpack and down 50mg of Lamictal (lamotrigine, actually, since I’m on the Generic Train). I try to keep a sense of humor about the fact that I’m now taking psychiatric medication, so I chose my crazy-pill alarm sound carefully. Every morning at 9 a.m. EST, I hear the music from this scene of Paprika:
One day as my alarm went off, I marched down the steps, waving my arms back and forth, into the living room. Erin joined in on my pill parade, pretending to be the swaying refrigerator. I digress.
When the music started on Thursday, I just had to tell Brent all about my hilarious choice of crazy music. I was so excited, I never got around to actually taking the damn pills. Off we went to the convention, to nerd-shopping, to playing five hours of Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn’t until I was walking out of the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt (D&D gets the big room, because no one screws with Hasbro) that it hit me. OMG I never took my meds I never took them I’m going to seizure to death!
I don’t take an antidepressant. While it’s the depression that usually scares bipolar folks into getting help, that’s not the whole of the problem. Taking antidepressants on their own will certainly take care of the Sadface, but in doing so can push you into Crazy Time Manic Land. Anyone diagnosed bipolar or cyclothymic is either not prescribed an antidepressant, or is given it in conjunction with some kind of mood stabilizer. The antidepressant keeps you from falling over. The stabilizer brackets your moods so you don’t go flying off into the upper atmosphere. Because my depressions have been short and relatively less severe, my psychiatrist started me with a mood stabilizer only. Specifically, he gave me an anticonvulsant.
Whatever is going on in the brains of the bipolar is not entirely unlike what happens in epilepsy. Your neurons twitch and you flip into a mood that isn’t your own. Anticonvulsants (also known as antiepileptics) dampen those neuron twitches. My drug, Lamictal/lamotrigine, is one of the most effective anticonvulsants for treating Bipolar II and Cyclothymia because it acts as a very slight antidepressant in addition to grounding all that neural heat lightning. The downside of an anticonvulsant is that sudden discontinuation can potentially cause exactly what it was made to prevent: seizures.
Look, I’m on a really low dose. Dropping off of 50mg of Lamictal for a day isn’t going to do anything. That fact has nothing to do with how you feel the first time you miss a dose. I panicked, calmed down, panicked again, got in line for dinner, panicked, ordered dinner, and panicked enough to use my first lifeline: phoning a friend. I just realized I missed my dose. I’m going to be ok, right? Which, of course, I was. I was even within a safe window to take a half dose and make myself feel less vulnerable to whatever crazypants nonsense I thought I was going to happen to me.
Two months into being medicated, I feel safe saying it’s changed my life. Though I still get occasional, light emotional flips (I had a mild two day reminder of what I’m keeping at bay over Memorial Day weekend), the last two months have been the most even, productive and normal period I’ve had in at least two years. That doesn’t mean it’s all cake and roses. Psychiatric medication isn’t meant to be skipped or taken inconsistently. I know my memory; keeping from missing doses is a matter of planning and more planning. I keep a few pills stashed in my desk at work in case the ones in my backpack get left on my dining room table. I was running low and had very little leeway before my next psychiatrist appointment, so I took only the pills I needed to the convention; if my backpack was stolen I’d still have enough in my medicine cabinet to get me through to my refill. I have an alarm on my phone, and I’m already thinking about how to make sure I don’t screw up the next time I’m way out of time zone (say, in England for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary).
Medication only takes up a few seconds a day, but it’s an important few seconds and I can’t afford to be casual about it. I missed a role playing game I really wanted to try in order to get back to my room and take my half dose. Was that half dose necessary? Probably not, but it was my way of telling myself that the next time I was on vacation, I needed to be careful. A self-imposed wrist slap to remind Eric of the Future to talk about his cool alarm music after he takes his meds.