In the green.

I quit meds eight years ago.  I did not go cold turkey, run wild and squeal, “Nanny nanny boo boo!  Psych meds are a joke!”  No, I titrated down with the help of a psychiatrist, a tiny baby in my belly, and a year of stability under my mental health belt.

I spent the years that followed perfecting a formula to replace the lithium I had faithfully swallowed everyday the decade before.  Like all great discoveries, I found ketosis by accident.  In an attempt to change my weight, I changed my brain.  Ketosis worked better than lithium ever had and it lifted the haze I had been swatting at my whole life.  Then came exercise, at first just a way to push the babies round and round to sleep, then a way to run straight up hills, then a way to pick my weight up off the ground until I found myself unreasonably calm.  And with both came deep, solid sleep, the kind that wakes you up in the morning all by itself, full.

Ketosis was my anti-depressant.  Powerlifting was my mood stabilizer.  Sleep was my anti-psychotic.

This formula worked so well, I bottled it.  I was my own pharmacist, measuring precise doses each day.

So it should be no surprise that when my formula fell apart, when my spine crumbled and I lost exercise, when stress knocked me out of ketosis and head first into cupcakes, when post-surgical narcotics had a paradoxical effect and stole whole weeks of sleep, that my brain would come tumbling down.

The good news is that nothing catastrophic happened outside of my head.  I was able to stay out of the hospital with the help of quick doctors, a good husband, lots of babysitters, friends, and an excellent therapist.  I didn’t drain the bank account or fly off the roof.  My kids got the truly fun parts of mania: fantastic tea parties, Bulild- A – Bear, the Lego store, and all the Muppet movies (except that creepy Treasure Island one. Yikes!) and several amazing babysitters who will stay with us for a season.

And in the end, we are all okay.

This is the brilliance of fighting mental illness out loud, with a crowd.  Mine is not a secret battle.  This is not a secret blog.  I have help beyond fountain pens.  My kids have help beyond Sesame Street.  My husband has help beyond Bluebell Homemade Vanilla.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, visible and invisible and they are quick to swoop in, despite my comfort level, to intercede.  I am not alone, out in the field.

My precise formula may have failed, but this one holds firm.  And while these new medicines I’ve swallowed work their chemical magic (and yes, they are working!) I grow increasingly thankful that I have this skilled team fighting for me while I go back to just dealing with a bad back.  Just a bad back.  Which doesn’t seem as hard a pill to swallow.Image

An Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.

The language is, “My back hurts,” because, technically, that’s where the injury is. That’s where the bright red scar lives. But the pain itself starts like an electrical fire in my hip and burns right down my hamstring, jumps into my calf* like a hundred screwdrivers, and lands in the right side of the bottom of my foot as a strange, anticlimactic numbness. The fact that I’m mentioning the it today is either a sign that it’s worse or that my mania is better.

It’s only fair to point out that the pain was roughly 13 times worse before I had the surgery. Before the surgery, I could not stand, I could not sit, I could not use the toilet without sobbing. Nursing the baby involved labor breathing. Now I function, so the surgery was not a complete failure. It was simply not the home run everyone claimed it would be.

The mistake my first surgeon made was making the promise that I would be completely pain free after he sliced me open and cut out the broken pieces. We still don’t know why he was so wrong. Maybe he missed all the pieces? Maybe the injury was older than we thought and I just didn’t notice (what!?), or the damage to the nerve was so severe it formed scar tissue and is hurting itself. How tragic.

At the last visit with the new surgeon, we reviewed the latest MRI and he determined that there was no way to avoid more surgery, but gave me the option of taking a month off of epidural steroid injections, to see what chronic pain felt like, to see what I could live with. At the time I was high as a kite on brain chemistry so I cheerfully agreed.

So, I am bouncing on my stability ball this morning, counting out my millions of pills, wondering if I’m going to have to add more to deal with the pain, and who I will become if that happens.

*Gastrocnemius. Say it. I say it in my head about five hundred and twelve times a day.

Pardon my french toast.

Once the drugs are really working (the ones to make me immediately less of a lunatic have already slowed me down just enough to dislike being insane), ideally before, I will get my diet under control.

I will get my diet under control.

What’s a nicer way to say that? I will take my food medicine? Gag. I will embrace nutritional healing? Whatever.

I will quit eating crap that swells every part of my body, (it helps to imagine my brain swelling up like one of those sponge animals, soaking up my cerebral spinal fluid until my skull just pops right open). I will quit drinking to slow myself down. I will honor the cupcake and reserve it for it’s rightful occasion.

A note about mania: Mania is that person who comes to undo everything I have ever done, who intentionally pushes my buttons — eats food I don’t eat on principle, drinks beyond reason, makes me fat because HA HA! Mania likes to fuck with me. Mania asks, “What would really piss her off?” and then does that thing.

And yes. I am really pissed off. My belly is swollen — not with fat, but with constipation, gas, internal revolt against the poison I’ve dumped into it.

None of this helps with pain either. Or migraines. Cupcakes, Monte Cristo sandwiches (no matter how expensive or gluten free, freaking Steeping Room), baskets of chips and free flowing Mexican Martinis don’t just make me fat, they actually hurt me.

This episode has been the first time I’ve recognized manic bingeing as a form of self-harm. In the past I’ve viewed it as self medication or the “freedom” of mania. But this time I could almost hear the cackle, the maniacal laughter as I unwrapped my hundredth Hershey’s miniature. It is a step beyond “fuck it”. It is a deliberate “fuck you”.

That’s sad.
Let’s not do that.

Let’s make sauerkraut instead.

Old Rachel, old kitchen, old sauerkraut.  I miss them all.
Old Rachel making sauerkraut in the old kitchen. Makes me homesick.

Some clarification on love.

The smile is real and the love is real and the fire is real.  This sickness is just like the flu, a stubborn virus I am prone to, that knocks me out more than the average person and instead of snot I get whisper screaming in Target. When I talk about how hard it is to love, I do not mean to be in it, I mean to do the touching and the sounds and all the sensory bits of being flesh and blood.  When my brain goes haywire, that is the part that is hard.  Those people up there, they are not hard, just look at them.

So when you see me at church tomorrow, when I pass the peace, when I meet your smile as I limp back from communion, hauling my crew up the side aisle, know that all my love is right there, for real, or I would’ve spent my Sunday morning at The Steeping Room with the cupcakes.

Side effects and cream cheese frosting.

Between all of my wildly inappropriate responses to completely appropriate behaviors, questions, lighting, flavors, sensations, looks, tones, and temperatures, I am trying to be nice.  More than nice.  I am trying to love.

Loving while disembodied by all the pills I’ve swallowed, while shaking and forgetting every third word, is hard.  But I am trying.  I am thanking my husband for ordinary tasks.  I am hugging my children any moment the thought doesn’t undo me.  I am using excessive emojis when texting my mother.  I am accepting forgiveness as it is offered.  I am accepting gluten free carrot cupcakes as they are served.

And while I do not think the pills are working, the cupcakes seem to be doing the trick.

Drugs and babysitters.

I keep trying to talk about what I’m doing to get well.

I want to get well.

I wake up every morning hopeful…

That’s a lie.

I wake up every morning.

I am tempted to write something pretty and inspirational to calm the fears of people who love me, who need my family well and together.  I want to assure them that I haven’t completely lost my mind.

But I have.  I have completely lost my mind.

You’re worried about my back — I have forgotten about it.  I have lost my mind.

But yes. Yes, I am going to find it.  Eventually.  Maybe.

I do have plans to find it.

And that is proof that I am going to be okay, that I am doing the right work.

  1. I want to get better.
  2. I wake up every morning.
  3. I have plans.


My in house physicians. How could I not get well!?