Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ten Worst Side Effects (Part 2)

The following is part of a excerpt from my eBook: Bipolar Depression Unplugged: A Survivor Speaks Out. It is copyrighted material and may not be copied.

5. Head Sweats. While I know that some people on medication get body sweats, I experienced head sweats, and they were awful. If I had been more like Pollyanna (which I’m not), I would say how grateful I am that it was just my hair that got drenched.

4. Hand Tremors. It’s difficult to laugh at this one. I was taking two medications that caused hand tremors and the combined dosage made the tremors increase from imperceptible twitch-like flutters to the full arm movements of a symphony conductor.

3. Weight Gain. During the worst of my illness, food was my only pleasure. I made do with Ruffles® potato chips, blue cheese, Stouffer’s® anything, Dryer’s rocky road ice cream, homemade nachos, popcorn with melted butter, whipped cream on everything, Fritos®, and cases of 7-Up®. I gained thirty pounds and felt that I looked like Jabba the Hut from Star Wars. How depressing is that?

2. Brain Drain. I developed a condition called cognitive memory loss where I not only forgot words and phrases, but entire paragraphs. I would be talking and in the middle of the sentence, I would abruptly stop and have no idea what thought I was seeking. During this period I, who have always prided myself on my quick wit and verbal acuity, spoke like Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

1. Hair loss. At the time, perhaps because Silas (and a lot of other psychiatrists as well) was unaware that a high dosage of Depakote causes hair loss, he didn’t warn me in advance. The one constant in my life is my hair. It has always been brown, thick, and straight. Sometime during my illness, my hair began thinning. But one morning I awakened, looked in the mirror, and it had become gray, fine, and curly. This was the final insult!

* * *
At the beginning of June‚ I decided to stop taking medication once again. Perhaps there is one moment when your body rebels and says‚ “I’ve had enough. I can’t take it any more. In trying to change your biochemical imbalance‚ you’re creating more havoc than I can possibly fix. I’ve given you side effects to signify that we’re in a crisis mode. I know you’re a bit dim-witted these days, but what more must I do to grab your attention?”

Honestly, I’ve always been suspect of people who hear internal voices. Since it’s another one of those mentally ill indicators‚ let me state for the record that my body didn’t actually talk to me. My decision to stop taking medication was an analytical one based on the lack of efficacy of the medication and its debilitating side effects. Besides, it was a good time of year to try some other form of treatment. Before my never-ending bout with rapid cycling began, July and August traditionally had been good months.

In my next session with Silas, I explained what I intended to do and why.

“There are no studies to confirm that any alternative treatments work,” he said in response.

“Surely, I couldn’t feel worse than I already do,” I answered.

Silas shrugged, paused for a moment to look at me, and then recommended a reasonable schedule for withdrawing from the medication. After I wrote him a check, we shook hands, and he wished me luck.

For the first time in months, I left his office with a bounce in my step. As I walked down the hall toward the elevator, I smiled, looked upward to acknowledge Alexander Pope, and then straight ahead as I pressed the elevator button and silently said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never Is but always To be blest.”


Gianna said...

it's a wonderfully empowering moment when we take our health back into our own hands, isn't it?

granted that may look different for different people, but first and foremost I will never trust anyone but myself when it comes to interpreting what my body is telling me about what I put into it...

susan said...

Morning Susan!

I related to everything here, lithium has given me the hand tremors, and of all the ignominy, hair loss.

I have had my hair fall out several times over the years, It use to be very blonde and very curly/kinky.

Now it's light brown/dirty blonde, but it doesn't shine, and it isn't as thick anymore. I've tried taking special vitamins for hair, and nails as well (my nails are very soft and tend to break easily).

Oh yeah, weight gain. I love that one too.

Thanks for writing this.

(Susan S).

Wellness Writer said...

Yes, it certainly is empowering. What I learned from the entire experience was that I was right about all the medication.

At the time, there weren't blogs like ours on the Internet, so I wasn't reading about others who were taking their health into their own hands and succeeding.

So, seeking wellness was a lonely and difficult journey. But now it isn't. And that's extraordinarily important as well!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Susan S,
Good morning to you, and I hope you're feeling better. Yes, the hair loss was truly awful. What was interesting was that it took three years to grow a new head of hair.

Eventually it became straight and brown again. It's thicker than it was, but not the way it used to be, and you're right--it isn't as shinny.

You're also right about the finger nails. They became very thin and broke easily. Now, they're back to normal.

And actually, there was so much more. I just wrote about some of it. Some day, I'll list it all, which is truly a stunning condemnation of the downside of medication.


P.J. said...

Good post, Susan!! You know, I'd have to say, with all those side effects you were dealing with, it was a great choice for you to obey that internal voice and go off the meds. I love that paragraph of your body talking to you - that's great writing!!

I pray that I never get to the point where medicine hinders me more than helps me, as that sounds like a horrible place to be. I also pray that I'm not so blind that I don't recognize it if it does start to happen.

But, for now, medication works for me, and the side effects are under control. I'm not losing hair like I was and it's growing back, thanks to Selenium and Zinc, and my weight, well, I'm trying to work on it.

I love that you are open and honest on here. I've learned so much from you!!!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear PJ,
Thank you! The differentiating factor between people who remain on medication and those who don't--independent of the side effects--seems to be the efficacy of the drugs.

In my case, since they never worked (aside from the Adderall and Ativan), it was an easy decision to go off everything.

The reason I stayed on them for so long, however, was that my psychiatrists kept on saying that I couldn't get well without them.

And they never admitted that, for me, the medication caused symptoms I'd never experienced before.

What I didn't realize was that the medication had so changed my biochemistry that it would take four years to change it back.

But...and this is the critical issue as far as I'm concerned...if medication does make people feel better and does control their behavior...then maybe their biochemistry truly is the problem.

But if it doesn't, then maybe they've been misdiagnosed or maybe it's a question of changing behavioral patterns and medication is unnecessary.

And that's the topic that is rarely discussed.


Tamara said...


Great post!

I had the same basic experience in that my doctor told me I would never be okay without the meds. Although, like you, I did not feel that they were really helping me and I finally came to realize they were actually hurting me. Of course, my doctor also told me that since I had been hospitalized twice that I should expect regular hospitalization FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. That was 16 years ago and I have never been near a hospital again.

The good that came out of this is that I now know my body very well and I now listen to my body and research anything and everything medical before I agree to a treatment, test or anything.

Take care,

Bradley said...

I've experienced every one of these except for the hair loss. I'd already lost all my hair when I went on meds. You'd think I'd then be lucky enough to have hair growth as a side effect, but no luck on that one.

The tampon in the mouth is a great analogy. Made me laugh and relate at the same time.

Wellness Writer said...

Thank you. It's unbelievable, isn't it? I often wonder if the reason the suicide rate is so high with bipolar disorder is because so many psychiatrists are such doom and gloom proponents.

Can you imagine a doctor who specializes in diabetes telling patients they'll never be well, they'll always have to be on insulin (some will; some won't), and there's truly nothing they can do to improve their health?

And yet, psychiatrists suggest that if we go off medication, we'll never get well, and may have to be repeatedly hospitalized.

What you and I (and perhaps others who have achieved wellness) share is a dedication to healing, a willingness to keep mood charts and journals, a belief that we know our bodies best, and a dedication to researching treatment options.

I applaud you for all your hard work!


kara said...

I just had to laugh at myself. The only experience I haven't had was vomiting. Almost everything else I live with to some degree on a daily basis. Laughing so I don't cry!

Thanks for your post and this sight.

Wellness Writer said...

You'd think that God would even things out for you by providing hair growth after all your suffering. Sorry it doesn't seem to work that way!


Wellness Writer said...

Actually, those were my sentiments as well. I wrote it so that I could laugh rather than cry!


Wendalyn Love said...

This post really got my attention! Can I read more of your ezine book? If so how and where?

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendalyn,
Welcome to my blog. My eBook is available from The easiest way to find it is to go to Ten Worst Side Effects (Part 1), and hit the link I give there. If you have a problem, let me know.

Good luck with your writing.