In 2004, at the age of 43, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Type II. I was very skeptical of the diagnosis at the time. I had made it through 43 years of life as a reliable, responsible, hard-working, well-grounded, over-achiever. I had experienced two serious bouts of depression in my adult life, but got through both on my own--no medications, no doctor, no therapist needed.
In 2003, I was struggling with severe insomnia--a problem that had come and gone my entire life. I had just finished graduate school, I was about to get married for the first time, my husband-to-be and I were trying to buy our first home, both of my pets died, and my father was diagnosed with a fatal illness and given less than two years to live. My work situation was a nightmare that was getting worse. The lack of sleep was wreaking havoc with my ability to manage stress.
I went to see my primary care doctor, a DO and family medicine guy (not an internal medicine doctor). He listened to my story and said, "You can't sleep because you're depressed." I asked, "How do you know it's not the other way around--I feel depressed because I don't sleep?" He just sort of shrugged. He made me take a weird, 10-question quiz that had questions about whether I enjoyed looking at attractive people, among other things. Then he wrote a prescription for Ambien and one for Lexapro. He said Lexapro was weight-neutral and that was preferred for middle-aged women.
That was it--I was diagnosed as having a mood disorder in a 20-minute visit to my primary care doctor, based entirely on my own self-reporting of symptoms.
After a few months, I felt much worse--very agitated and foggy, with volatile moods. I still couldn't sleep, and I hated everyone and everything. My Lexapro dosage went up to 20mg, at which point the doctor said no further increase would be necessary because this was the maximum effective dosage for Lexapro. I told him that if I took a pill late, I got very dizzy, nauseated, and had electrical shock sensations in my head. He said, "Well, don't take your Lexapro late."
I had to take that stupid quiz every time I went in--once a month. At the tenth month, the doctor looked at the quiz (I had it memorized by then), sighed deeply and said, "You're supposed to be getting better, not worse." He told me to put some effort into thinking about why I was so uhappy, and if I could meditate on that, the Lexapro would work better.
Eventually, at the one-year point, when I realized I was becoming suicidal, I went to see a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist said I had BP. He prescribed lithium and Wellbutrin. He said it could take months before I noticed any change. Three months later, I was sent for labs to measure the lithum levels. Lithium made me fat and nauseated. I was still in a perpetual state of agitation and suicide ideation. My insurance changed and I had to change doctors. The next one added Lamictal and said I needed a therapist. Our insurance changed again and the next doctor stopped the SSRI, the Wellbutrin, and the Ambien. A month later, he prescribed EMSAM, a transdermal form of selegiline. Three months later, I started to feel better.
So, now it's about six years later. I feel just fine. I stopped the anti-depressant and the Lamictal about six weeks ago, after whittling down the dosages to miniscule amounts over the course of several months. I am in the process of cutting down the lithium with the goal of stopping it entirely, as well.
As I have thought about my story, I've been very bothered by two things: The diagnoses I was given--and the subsequent medications--were all based entirely on self-reported symptoms. There is no blood test, no neurological test--nothing--to determine that an illness actually exists. Has anyone ever seen a neurotransmitter? I haven't. Has anyone ever had theirs measured in any way? I haven't. I have a couple of chronic illnesses, and they were diagnosed after lung function tests, blood work, and CT scans, among other tests. When it came to depression and BP, my self-reported experiences matched a list of symptoms in a big book, so I was labeled as being mentally ill--and treated as such.
This seems unconscionable to me.
Having done some reading about SSRIs, I believe that although I may have had a genetic predisposition to BP or something like it, it was actually the Lexapro that really set me off. Stopping Lexapro was one of the most horrific experiences of my life--I was so, so sick I thought I was dying.
I believe a couple of doctors prescribed inappropriately in my case, and the situation changed only because I was strong enough to keep going back and saying "This is NOT working."
I'm done with this whole experience, and ready to put it behind me. I don't plan on taking anything again until I have solid, tangible, scientific proof that an illness actually exists. I am curious to know if others have experienced something similar and if stopping medication worked out well for them.
Notice: Psych Central Answers shut down to new questions on January 11, 2013.
Looking for a place to ask your question? Sign up today for our community (you'll need a separate account than the one you use here), and ask away!
Ask and answer questions about mental health and relationship issues in a safe & supportive environment. If you ask a question, you will have to answer someone else's first, in order to give back to others here.