Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on. The lack of communication was horrendous. I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways. This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.
Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there
This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar. I talked about it in therapy yesterday. I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!) I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over. It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized. I read it and felt OK about it.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January. Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around. I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.
I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time, I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable. When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that. Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way. Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes. He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever. He forgot pertinent information about me. (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.) After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him. With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away. Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.
My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome! She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do. I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do. For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.
I respect this new psychiatrist. When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that. I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently. Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am. It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.
And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.
*Back to school is in quotations because as a janitor, I didn’t actually leave school. We’re just gearing up for everyone else coming back.
I spent this summer waking up at 5:20AM every day, working to get the school ready for students and teachers. We are winding down from that (we’ve been wound down for a while – we started out really fast and got done early). I’m back to late nights (2-10:30PM) without much to do other than dump the trash of the few teachers who have been coming in to set up every day. It’s been nice that the cleanliness of the school is at a standstill. We can just look around and say, “we got all that done.” And we don’t yet have to work to maintain it. Kids start back on Wednesday, so that will all change in a couple days.
While we were busy though, we were rushing through things. We scrubbed every desk and chair. We cleaned surfaces in the rooms, shined the sinks, dusted. We scrubbed the old wax up off the floors. I single-handedly waxed every floor. 3 times over. I’d like to know how many square feet that was. Tens of thousands? Maybe even a hundred thousand? Or a lot more?
It has been a relief to drop back to the later shift and not feel like I’m stumbling, half-awake, in the mornings, just to come home and start dreading about waking up early again. I had been going to bed at 8:30PM! My mental health has been better overall, but not great. I’ve been mildly depressed all summer.
Going back to late nights has been lonely, and strangely, a lot of my worries have centered around what to eat before work. I need to fit in breakfast and lunch. I don’t know what to eat. I also don’t really know what to do, all by myself, other than oversleeping. I’m forcing myself to do some things I don’t really feel like doing, as of now. I guess the hope is I will grow into it; I will like it once I’m doing it. I’m going to be a radio DJ starting pretty soon. I’m also going to take a writing class.
I’ve been realizing that I’m living with a lot of dread lately. Whether that’s residual from mental health issues earlier in the year, or whether that’s just me being me, I can’t really figure out. It’s been helpful to notice it while it’s happening though, and just focus on the here-and-now. Remind myself that I’m actually fine in whatever I am doing presently, so just be more involved in that, rather than thinking about all the perceived horribleness ahead.
For example, I’m dreading going back to doing the exact same thing, at work, every day. But, it really is what I make it, from moment to moment. Unlike most jobs, I don’t have unpredictable things pop up daily, or new challenges to tackle, or people to deal with. It’s just me, in my head. I need to remember that it’s important to change what’s on my iPod frequently – new music, new podcasts… And to talk to people on the phone. And although I don’t believe her, my therapist keeps telling me that I’m actually in control of my own thoughts. So I can choose to keep obsessing about something negative, or I can move on to more interesting topics. In my mind, I am powerless to whatever my brain ends up dwelling on, and I get stuck feeling whatever feelings those thoughts conjure up. I should work on that…
This post has nothing to do with being queer and trans; it’s not about janitors or mental health. I think I need a short break from that stuff…
My partner and I went camping this past weekend, and it was exactly the sort of thing I needed. Things had been feeling heavily monotonous and mundane, even on weekends. I hadn’t been getting much enjoyment out of things that are usually fun.
Leading up to going away, I had an anxiety meltdown about it – about all the planning and packing. Mostly, it was about the prospect of being away all weekend and not having enough time to regroup for the work week. It didn’t occur to me that being away could be rejuvenating in a way that doing things at home, worrying about work and mentally preparing for work, never could. Huh!
We left Friday right after work and drove for about 2 hours to our destination. We stopped at a farm stand along the way to buy firewood, and we got some golden plums too. We had wanted to camp at a state park, but all the ones near where we were headed were booked up already, so we had to resort ahead of time to a privately owned “campground.” It was actually an RV park with over 150 trailer sites and only 9 tent sites. Everyone was right on top of each other. Quite a few were blasting country music or classic rock music, and people were rowdy with the fires and the drinking till late into the night. We got the sense that some of these people had been there a while, and a lot of them seemed to know each other. (Other than the noise and the overcrowding), we had a great time! We didn’t spend all that much time at the site anyway – basically just making a fire both nights, making food over the fire, drinking some beers, and sleeping.
During the day, we did a bunch of stuff at the nearby town. We went to the very impressive (and very busy) local farmers’ market, then went to a craft supply store and a book store and a clothing store. For lunch we went to a (also very busy) brewery, where they had beet greens on their pizza and salads made of baby kale, tat soi, beets, candied peanuts, and grilled blackened tofu. Yum. We then went for a hike on a gorge trail and waded in the cold creek.
Back at the campsite, it was Christmas in July (7/25). Some trailers had gone all out with the decorations – it was pretty entertaining to see. Events included a hayride with Santa at 6, cookies with Santa at 7, and a Christmas movie in the field at 8:30. We’re not sure but we think at least the movie got rained out. Yep, it started raining, but we were prepared. We’d already made a fire and eaten quickly, as the sky darkened, and we spent some time reading books in the tent that night.
Before the rain started, we got a chance to make use of the campground’s pool. This monstrous pit was nothing like I’d ever seen before. It was huge, and it was 7 feet deep at its deepest, but there was no drop-off edge of the pool. So there was no way to jump into the pool – it just gradually got deeper from the edges, like a lake would. There was a rickety slide with one of the railings duck-taped at the top. My partner and I slid down it about 5 times each – that was the best part! It seemed to be not heavily chlorinated; algae was growing at the bottom of the “deep end.” Another great factor was that it was “swim at your own risk.” No lifeguard! And there was a bin for returnables (full of beer cans and bottles) near the gate where you sign in and enter.
So many people had golf carts! We saw people taking golf carts to the bathrooms, to the playground, to the camp store. People just driving around on them. Dogs looking regal in the passenger seats. Do people pack golf carts into campers and bring them? I’d never seen this. Do they rent them from the campground? I have no idea.
Sometimes when things have been rough, and options don’t seem possible because of mental energy or anxiety or difficulty initiating, mixing it up and going out of comfort zones is the best thing for the mind. We have a couple more trips planned for this summer. Trips I’ve been anxious about. I hope I can just remember how much fun going camping was, and harness that feeling as I get ready to go on vacations!
I drew this picture to illustrate the jumble I feel is going on. Just to recap, 6 months ago, had a manic episode and was hospitalized. I previously was not on any medications, but suddenly I was thrown back into all of that – psychiatric visits, side effects, adjusting dosages, trying different drugs. I’d definitely say the hardest part of the past 6 months was being depressed for a good chunk of that time. But almost equally hard, just in a different way, is the long term.
Early on, I was cavalier. I was sure that I’d get off of all these medications within 6 months – just go back to the way things had been. I was even reluctant to add an antidepressant – things had to get really bad for me to go there. Now that it’s been 6 months, I can easily say that time frame was way too short. And I’m also not so sure anymore: Which drugs are helping? Which side effects can I tolerate? How long will I be seeing this psychiatrist? Do I potentially want to stay on any of these long term? (That last question scares me – it’s almost as if being med-free has been a part of my identity…)
Some of this journey has felt crazy. I was having hot flashes and cold sweats, my mouth tasted metallic, I threw up a few times (and I have a stomach of steel). At one point, I went on a drug called Cogentin. Its purpose was not to help with symptoms, but rather to help with side effects. One of the other drugs, Geodon, typically causes hand tremors and a stiffening of facial muscles. When a nurse practitioner asked if I was experiencing these things, I said, “I guess so.” So she prescribed yet another thing to add to the mix. After 3 days of taking it, my nearsighted vision became blurry. Overnight. One day was fine, the next day, I couldn’t read the computer screen. I wasn’t reading books at the time, so that wasn’t an issue, but I remember eating food and not being able to see it and just feeling enormous sadness on top of depression. I didn’t put the pieces together, but luckily I had an appointment with my psychiatrist 2 days later, and when I mentioned the blurry vision, he said, “Oh, that’s common with Cogentin.” What?
I also cycled through 4 different antidepressants within a short amount of time. Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro were making me feel famished all the time, which was just making me feel anxious. I got on Wellbutrin, and luckily that’s been side effect – free as far as I can tell.
Ideally, I don’t want to be medicated. And it was so easy when it felt like that wasn’t on my radar. But now I am faced with all these decisions and timelines. And although there is strong input from other people (mostly my psychiatrist, who thinks I need to be on at least something for forever), it’s all ultimately up to me.
For now, I just advocated for myself to lower the amount of Geodon (mood stabilizer / antipsychotic) that I’m taking. I feel really happy about that. I have plans to tackle Klonopin (anti-anxiety medication that I’m using as a sleep aid) next. As for Wellbutrin (antidepressant), I’m not quite decided. I’m just going to take these things one step at a time.
I could easily write a 5,000 word essay on this topic; maybe one day I will. This is an abbreviated version:
Over night, my brain became a frenzied jumble of free associations. Every system I could imagine (friendships, technology, routines) opened up, and I was in the center of all of it, connecting all the dots.
I thought that Leelah Alcorn, the trans-teen from Ohio who committed suicide, was an elaborately staged message created by a group of people on Tumblr. Meaning, I thought she was not a real person – more of a call to action, one more thing to add to “The Transgender Tipping Point,” and finally really make some changes happen.
But I thought a lot of things right around this time period, for a couple of days. I believed I’d been chosen for amazing things, I was choosing my own adventure, and the further I could get before running into a dead-end setback, the more rewards I would gain. If I made it to my therapist’s office, she was going to give me this new phone I’ve had my eye on. If I made it through the entire day, I’d be going to a party thrown by everyone I know. I briefly had the thought, “My partner wouldn’t like that; that’s too much.” So my logic led me to believe I shouldn’t make it through the day at this rate. I should definitely get the new phone, but I should see what my therapist thought after that. Maybe.
Some things were already in motion, and there was no stopping me! My social media outlets were blowing up! My blog was going to get huge at this rate, and I was going to get a book deal out of it. Should I quit my job? I kinda like working there, as a janitor, so I’ll keep my job. I better write a note so that everyone will know I wanna go back to work. I pulled out one of those Mr. Sketch scented markers – it was Blue Raspberry – and scrawled out really big and doodle-y on a piece of artist’s paper, “I will want to go back to work.” It was barely legible. When I showed my therapist a few hours later, in fact, she couldn’t read it, so I just had to tell her I want to go back to work. I wouldn’t want to be someone who sits around all day, writing their book. I would get bored!
I called my therapist at 2AM and asked her, “Can you just come over?” I called her again at 7AM, just to see if she’d drop by instead of me meeting her at her office at 9. I was making some really cool displays in the house, and I wanted her to come check them out. I was playing a record – The Days of Wine and Roses by The Dream Syndicate, and everything was clicking into place. (Actually, the record is still on my turntable, untouched 4 months later – I’m playing it right now.) The lyrics were making perfect sense and informing me of things I should write down. “You say it’s a waste / not to learn from mistakes.” “Textbook case.” “It’s Halloween.” “She remembers what she said.” These messages were of utmost importance. This record was THE record to end all records.
By 8AM I was so bored and fidgety from doing stuff all night long, that I decided to take off for my therapy appointment early. I had everything I needed packed – My toothbrush and toothpaste, notes from work, and 6 bottles of hoarded Androgel (my prescription allows me to get more than I need, so I just collect them). I had no clue what would be happening next or how long I’d be gone after therapy (I might be put up in a hotel!), but I could figure out clothes and other stuff later.
Driving was a bit tricky. I was relying on intuitive cues, more than the rules of the road. Fortunately, my gut was telling me to slow way down and put my hazard lights on, rather than try to drive at the speed my mind was racing. I still got there early; when I arrived, I slammed my backpack into the corner of the waiting room, above the door. To alert the security cameras that I knew all about it. A man briskly walked past me and out the door. He was planted there to exit when I arrived. I proceeded to be loud and messy. I dumped out a bin of toys. I knocked over a chair. I said, “I’m borrrred!” I talked loudly about a Mazda advertisement on the back cover of a magazine. I finally understood how advertising worked – they weren’t fooling me! In fact, this whole magazine was rigged. I should just take it with me – I’ll need it later. I stuffed it into my backpack. One other therapist was there (this was a Saturday) and she tried to gently corral me until my therapist got there. She picked up the toys. She said she’d call my therapist for me. She talked to me in a steady and soothing voice. She wasn’t patronizing me.
Finally, my therapist arrived. We engaged in a delicate dance around each other. I knew on some level that I was going to the hospital. But I also knew that wasn’t necessary, and she was totally going to come over and check out my displays and then I’d be reunited with my partner to proceed with the most fun day ever! In reality, my partner was on her way to North Carolina with family (I’d successfully convinced her everything was fine / I believed she was just out with friends and I’d see her in a couple hours.) My therapist started calling hospitals for availability, and I conveniently went to the bathroom to shield myself from that stuff. I came back and dumped out all the contents of my backpack. This would be more fun. She immediately sorted things into piles to make sense of it. She called my partner and left a message. She asked me what my best friend’s phone number was and I told her. I left the room again while she talked on the phone. Before I knew it, my best friend was there! Magic! Everything was going my way.
I talked to my friend about the displays and we played Rubix cube. Suddenly we were all leaving. They led the way, and I went into the bathroom again. I wasn’t so sure anymore. I yelled out, “I set some things in motion, and I don’t know if I want it to go this far.” We were still just going to my house, right? My therapist replied, with forced enthusiasm, “Come on!”
I got in the car with her; my best friend went separately. I curled up into a ball and shielded my eyes from the world. I started to feel sad; I verbalized what I thought about Leelah Alcorn. I said, “I don’t know much about it. I know her name, where she’s from, and that’s about it.” She had been on the news. That was big. What I was trying to convey was that no one knew much about it. If everyone just saw her picture, her name, and her suicide note, maybe she wasn’t real. And maybe this kind of stuff happens all the time. What is real in the media? Scattered thoughts breaking down. My therapist said, “I don’t actually know where you live.” I replied, desperately, “Yeah, but you can find out.” She had a smart phone. People with smart phones seamlessly glean information all the time.
We weren’t going to my house. When we stopped and I uncurled myself, we were at the hospital. But it still wasn’t too late. If I just told her this is where it ends, and we go to my house from here, everything could still be OK. I looked her straight in the eye; I put my face two inches from her face. I said, “This is where it ends.” This had worked with my partner a few hours earlier. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I gave her the green light to go on her trip. This time was different. My therapist probably interpreted that as, “The journey ends here, at the hospital.” I meant here in the car. Still though, I complied and followed her. After all, my best friend showed up here too, so it probably was all OK.
Five hours later, I was on the psych ward. I’d been in the emergency department. My mom had shown up. I had talked to my partner on the phone – it finally sunk in she was 6 hours away, and she and her family were turning straight around. My best friend had been with me. My therapist had left at some point. I’d peed in a cup. I’d gotten blood drawn. I’d signed some papers by drawing big loops over the entire page, not knowing what I was signing, exactly. But now, it was just me, and suddenly my choose your own adventure had come to a dead halt. There was no more choosing. I started yelling, panicking. “I NEED MY VITAMIN D PILL AND ELDERBERRY SUPPLEMENT!” I needed to maintain my body’s delicate homeostatic state. I was given a pill and took it; it was Haldol. It knocked me out for 18 hours. Before I faded out, the nurse was talking to me really sternly. She was really butch. “Do not start shouting on my unit – we don’t do that.” “I know I know it’s not like me at all…” “Also, you smell really strongly bad so I’m going to shut your door.” Then she started yelling. “He gets whatever he wants!” And I was out.
It’s been three months now since I was hospitalized. I was out of work initially for 2 weeks, then I went back for about a month before being out for another 2 weeks. I started to feel like things were improving – it was starting to be spring, time was on my side, and I would have moments where the crushing depression was lifting.
Then I had a really rough few days last week. I had 2 nights of disturbed sleeping in a row, and that really made the difference in whether I was OK enough or not OK. I called into work one of the days, but that started to not feel like enough. Things at work were starting to really trigger my anxiety, and this just got worse and worse over the weekend.
I had an idea about the trajectory of my recovery, but my brain is not following along. I thought, “OK, I just went through a manic episode with delusional thinking. This was followed by about 2 weeks of hypomania and then some mixed symptoms. I thought I could get away without sinking into depression, but it caught up to me. I should be in this depression for a few weeks and then things will start to lift and I’ll feel like myself again.”
Those few weeks have been stretching into 2 months so far. Like I said, a couple weeks ago, it started to feel like things were improving a little bit, but then I fell again, fast and hard. That wasn’t part of the plan. My therapist suggested going out of work for even longer, to give myself some time to heal. So, I am currently out of work for a month. It feels like defeat/relief. I started taking Celexa in the hopes that it will help.
Some of those nights when I haven’t been sleeping well have been agony. There were nights where I didn’t actually sleep at all – just kind of dozed only to be pulled out of it by some thought attached to an anxiety-reaction, over and over and over again. Does anyone else go through periods of insomnia? I kept trying to go to sleep in the guest bed, then switch to the couch, then back to our bed, then the guest bed, the couch, our bed, the guest bed… The night stretched out to infinity. I started getting agitated. Pacing. Swearing at myself. Punching a soft chair. I could have done worse, so I’m glad it was just that.
I’m at a new low. When I thought recovery was on the horizon, I sunk lower. In my past, I have been more depressed than I am right now, but who’s comparing? This feels pretty fucking bad.
When my feelings were so bad I didn’t think I could even be with myself, my partner helped me arrange to spend the day with her mom. We went to the bank, got coffee, ran an errand at the mall, she brought me to my therapy appointment, and then we had lunch at her house. That helped.
When it wasn’t any better 2 days later, I called a friend and she picked me up on her way to doing a bunch of deliveries for work. We ate lunch at an Indian buffet. That helped.
When I couldn’t imagine being home alone anymore, I went to yoga with my partner. That helped.
When I couldn’t fathom what I would do with these unstructured days, I looked into a place called the Creative Wellness Center. They have a bunch of art workshops and support groups, and it’s all free. I went to a jewelery making workshop just because that was what was being offered when I got there, and I went to a support group. That helped, momentarily, but I would have to say the social element was super taxing, and I’m not sure if I will go back.
When I expressed extreme despondency in therapy today, she suggested a partial hospitalization program. She looked into it and they do currently have openings. It runs weekdays from 9:30-3:15. I think this is what I need right now. She is going to fill out the paperwork and get back to me – I may be able to start next week.
In brighter news, my partner and I adopted 2 cats two weeks ago. Their names are Joan (after Joan Jett) and Jarboe (singer in a band called Swans). Normally, getting new pets would probably be exciting and fun. There are elements that are nice – it’s fun to watch them play together, and I like when they are cuddly. But to be honest, it has been stressful, just because of the state I am in. They are cats, doing their cat things. They get into stuff and knock things over. They eat things they shouldn’t. We’re containing them to the first floor right now, and Joan keeps getting through to go to the upstairs or basement. They are a whirlwind of motion; they are creatures being alive.
I keep hoping that they will save me from what I am feeling, but the best they can do is distract me momentarily. That’s a lot of pressure I’m putting on them!
I’m on a 2 week leave from work again right now. I was basically planning to just push through depression and just go through with obligations and routines. That’s what I tend to do. But I was switching medications, and I really hit a wall. I had been on Geodon, and was switching to Latuda (both atypical antipsychotics). The Geodon was causing some strange hormonal side effects, so for 2 weeks, I was on a half dose of that and a half dose of this new one. That was working out OK. Switching to a full dose of the Latuda really set things off though. I couldn’t sleep and was starting to feel agitated. Depression plummeted and anxiety skyrocketed. Last night, I threw up an hour after taking the pills.
I had a therapy appointment yesterday, and going out of work again was her idea. As soon as she said it, it sounded like a good idea. Why didn’t I think of that? Haha. I have plenty of sick time; might as well use it when I actually need it.
I really do not know what I’ll do for two weeks. (OK, I do have some ideas – I can get my car recalls taken care of, I can start thank you cards from our party last summer, I can give my friend a hair cut, I can try doing some writing, I can just take it easy.) I feel relief.
I just feel trapped in by medications right now (side effects are weird! I’m a small person and I feel the dosing has just been way too high!), and by my psychiatrist because it’s all his call. I thought the Geodon could be OK if I were on less of it. He decided we’re not going to lower it, we’re going to switch drugs instead. Now I have to call him and tell him that’s not working out. I really just want to be on Geodon, just less of it. I really hope he listens.
I have been under a lot of stress lately. Between taking on an acting supervisory role at work for 3-4 months and being hospitalized, I can’t remember the last time I was so stressed out. Probably throughout college, over 10 years ago. And although it sucks, there are some interesting things I’m learning about myself at the same time. Namely, that stress is interacting with the added testosterone in some typical (but surprising-to-me) ways.
I’ve been on testosterone for close to 2 years now. And in that entire time, I did not experience a lot of the negatives you hear about – oilier skin, heightened agitation / quicker temper. Right now, I’m experiencing that. Plus some added hormonal weirdness: I feel hot and then cold and then hot and then cold. I am stress-sweating a lot. I STINK! My skin feels prickly, then I feel light as a feather, then I feel like I’m weighted down, back and forth. I’m getting more hairs on my chin and around my nipples. I am pacing and dancing and taking magnesium and doing a lot of other things to try to counteract these stress symptoms and just calm down. I feel calm right now, as I’m writing this.
Not too long ago, I was planning on increasing my testosterone because I’d like to appear even more androgynous. Now I’m thinking that won’t be anytime soon. There will be a time – it’s just not right now. I’m even considering stopping Androgel for a while, but that’s not something I’d do lightly. For right now, I’m hanging in there, because in my own mind, I’d like to be on it… We’ll see. I’ll probably talk to my therapist about it, first and foremost. She has witnessed a lot of my agitation lately.
Normally when I’m stressed out, I might tend to clench my teeth. I will have trouble sleeping. I will have obsessive ruminations in an extreme sense. Those thoughts can get pretty dark and even turn to uncontrollable visions of violence. I would probably get a cold, due to my immune system being compromised.
Right now? I haven’t been sick all fall/winter. I previously was having a lot of trouble sleeping, but due to my new medication, now I am not. I am clenching my teeth a lot. And my obsessive gauge is going at full throttle for large chunks of time. I’m taking super good care of myself – eating well, showering daily, applying deodorant often and chewing gum, to mask bad bodily smells.
I am really off my game, but I’m hanging in there…
These symptoms due to testosterone (educated guess) are really throwing me for a loop.
This week has thrown me for a loop, big time. Between Saturday AM and Wednesday AM, I was in the hospital for mental health reasons, on a psychiatric unit. I don’t believe I ever thought I’d be back there; in fact, it was my biggest fear. Scarier than heights, the tallest roller-coasters, the dark, spiders, sharks, germs, etc. etc. (I’m actually not afraid of any of those things.)
Just to summarize my history briefly, when I was a senior in high school, I suffered a psychotic break and subsequent major depressive episode (lasting 4 months, and then on and off throughout college). I was on a mixture of different drugs for about 6 years, and I weened myself off all of them after a certain point. I’d been med-free for roughly 10 years, and pretty proud of that fact.
I’ve written about mental health before…
Here: Depression and taking testosterone
Here: That specific trauma is still there
And here: Continuing to work through a specific trauma
…and also scattered throughout many blog entries.
Although this blog is mainly about taking a low dose of T and working as a janitor, it is undeniably also about mental health and self-care. I slipped up pretty big in the self-care department, slowly and gradually at first, and then fast and unstoppably. I went through a full blown manic episode / psychotic break. A lot of it was so fun it’s kinda indescribable. In fact, I can definitely tell I still haven’t come down completely yet – I’m registering a heightened sensitivity to bodily sensations, both pleasant and annoying, I feel keyed up / antsy, I need to be in control of the stimulation levels or else I feel overwhelmed within seconds, smells and tastes are waaaaay off (not constantly, but sporadically), colors and patterns are popping out, my thinking is still relatively disorganized…
But I’m sleeping well and eating well and engaging in a lot of different things and spending 24/7 with my partner for a few days, and that’s what’s important right now. I was prescribed ziprasidone, which is an atypical antipsychotic approved by the FDA in 2001. Am I happy about it? No. Do I think I’ll be on it indefinitely? A strong NO! But I can accept it for right now.
I’m sure I’ll return to some of what I went through, in an attempt to process things and just share where I’m at (it does feel like it’ll be an arduous rehabilitation process, and I’ll be out of work for roughly 2 weeks). For now though, I want to just write about a strange parallel. It might not mean anything if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but I’ll give it a whirl anyway (and there are no real spoilers in what is to follow):
Leading up to what I went through, my partner and I were watching a lot of Breaking Bad. Not really binge watching it, but watching an episode almost every night. Now we are not. Haha. We only have 4 or 5 episodes left, but we’re putting the show on pause. I suggested we start watching Malcolm in the Middle instead, largely because Bryan Cranston plays the dad in both shows (and I used to watch it as a teenager and thought it would be fun. It is fun). But – we just watched the 5th episode, and the family is getting their house tented and fumigated. They are in a camper trailer on their front lawn in the meantime. And the parents, at the tail end of the episode, put on gas masks in order to enter the house and get some alone time. I was flipping out. (I mean, my partner was too, but I was shouting and swearing and pacing and called it a night, basically). Haha. I’ll probably be in bed by 9pm.
A reader asked me,
I have been researching going on T and got approved for top surgery this past summer. I too struggle with depression and am on medication for it. I have been trying to find information on it but, were you on antidepressants when you started T and if so, did it affect how the T was processed? I am curious if the T counteracts negatively in any way with depression meds. Thank you for your posts and i look forward to hearing from you!
And since I don’t have any direct experience with this, I thought I’d post here and see if others might have some helpful thoughts / advice.
I was on antidepressants for around 6 years, from 2000-2006. I didn’t start testosterone till 2013, so I’m very far from there having been any overlap. I haven’t heard of someone having an adverse reaction to being on both at the same time, or there being any issue with how the T is being processed by the body. Everything is an adjustment though, and T is a potent hormone to throw into the mix.
For me, T has acted as a pretty effective anti-anxiety substance and antidepressant. I would recommend it to anyone who is depressed or anxious (That’s a joke. Kinda, haha.)
I don’t know whether I would ever take a synthesized antidepressant medication again. I’ve been on quite a few, and they were all either not really doing much of anything, or they were flattening me out into a walking zombie. They definitely do work wonders for some people though. Testosterone has been much more effective, for me, and I don’t just mean in terms of addressing body dysphoria. I mean that it has lifted me into a new level of living, basically. I wanna say that it’s been taking testosterone + being in therapy simultaneously that’s gotten me here (a powerful combination.)
I definitely am prone to low moods still. Just this past week / weekend is a very clear, recent example. I wasn’t sleeping well, my appetite was poor, I was obsessing about things I can’t change, I had little motivation for anything beyond basic functioning level. But something is very different about these dips than where I used to be at: I know they are not going to last. I know I’ll be naturally coming out of it at any point, and once I do, I don’t need to live in constant fear of the next time I start to feel low. Because, that’s all it is – feeling low. It’s no longer body + soul crushing depression, which I’ve been all too familiar with for most of my teenaged years and young adulthood…
Has anyone been on antidepressants when they started testosterone? Did you notice anything about how the two substances might have possibly interacted with each other? What has been your experience with antidepressants?