When I Was Toxic

I’ve been chronicling my struggle mental illness symptoms this spring and summer.

Ten days ago, I was telling myself that I was coming out of it. I wasn’t so deeply depressed. I didn’t feel hypomanic. But I didn’t feel great. I was incredibly bitchy and mean. I was super frustrated at my inability to find the right words when I needed them. I was irritable to say the least. And I was soooo thirsty.

I was drinking 60-90 ounces of water overnight, waking up to drag myself to refill the 30 ounce cups I had at my bedside. One had solid ice. I was drinking all day, every day. Mostly water, but sometimes Gatorade or lemonade to break the monotony. I drank juices, tried La Croix (nope), and sometimes drink iced tea. I drank root beer. I went to Starbucks as often as possible.

In mid-May, my psychiatrist had bumped up the lithium dose to help me endure the symptoms I was experiencing. My lithium blood levels had always been on the low side so it seemed a reasonably calculated risk. I knew the risks, but figured bumping a med I already knew was better than the merry-go-round of finding a new mood stabilizer.

I can’t say I was wrong because I did survive my mental health crisis, but I paid a price.

By Sunday night, my thirst was keeping me up at night. I have always had a very mild tremor in my hands but now it was significantly obvious as my fingers, hands, and arms tremored. I had arm and leg twitches. I couldn’t grasp thing properly. In addition to thirst, I had that tacky dry feeling in my mouth, one that zoomed back into my consciousness about 10 seconds after I swallowed a nice cool bit of water. I was also exhausted, in part due to the lack of sleep.

On the last Monday in June, I went to an AHN office to have my blood drawn and my lithium level measured.

The next morning I received the results via the internal charting system and discovered I was in the toxic range. I discontinued the morning dose of the med and started to call my doctor. I was scared of being hospitalized because the majority of lithium toxicity cases are overdoses whereas mine was definitely prescribed for me. The only real treatment was to let the lithium move out of your system. IV fluids were an option, but who the hell wants IV fluids during a pandemic?

I also knew I couldn’t just stop the meds. My doctor finally called me and we put together a plan that mostly consisted of me toughing out the detox. And drinking fluids. Sigh. That’s almost amusing. But sort of flushing out my kidneys was the intention. Lithium can hit kidneys hard.

Because I couldn’t hold a cup! I bought a 32 ounce stainless steel insulated mug with a handle and seriously considered the 54 ouncer. My friend Pam talked me down from that poor decision.

It has been miserable with a capital mis this past week. I tremored and trembled. I was tired. I was anxious that the detox would go well. I was worried about the side effects lingering permanently. On Thursday, we went to the pharmacy and decided to get Starbucks. Foolishly, I opted to do the Starbucks run and ended up standing on the curb grasping two cold beverages with no sign of Ledcat who had gone into another errand. There was nowhere for me to easily set down the drinks because all of the tables were gone. I ended spilling half of my pink drink all over my breasts in my lime green Elizabeth Warren tee shirt. That’s when I began to sob.

I finally found my car key and got myself situated, but I was convinced it was all the absolute worst thing ever. Laura returned to the car and immediately realized she needed to be in charge of carrying beverages for the time being. And she very kindly stain treated my shirt and washed it because I was so upset.

The feeling of your own body being toxic is terrifying. I fancied I could feel the poison coursing through my veins and trickling into my kidneys. At the same time, I was continuing to take that same medication albeit at a lower dose. I lost control of my fingers, hands, arms, and to some extent my legs. I kept telling myself “you haven’t lost your mind” to keep some perspective on this.

Things have slowly improved. I’ve tried to lay low, but blog posts needed to be written post haste and I was trying to get that accomplished including publishing photos, etc. That took all of my energy.

I am very fortunate that this crisis within my larger crisis wasn’t worse. The last place I want to be is in a hospital. And I’m sure my readers with mental health diagnoses are familiar with the reality that you can go in for a broken leg and still be grilled about your psych meds.

Side effects linger. My fingers twitch a lot when I’m typing so blogging requires more time and energy. I have to carry cups with two hands. I’m uncomfortable using sharp knives or trying to grab anything delicate. Can’t trim the cats nails. Anything requiring fine motor skills (like opening a can of cat food) requires a lot of jerky gross motor skills to compensate. I drop things. I’ve accidentally smacked a cat (not hard.) I can’t really cook, use flames, or delicate dishes.

So now I continue to wait in week 12 of this health crisis. A quarter of this year sacrificed to a chronic illness I thought I had reasonably under control.

What worked in my favor was being conscious of my symptoms, health insurance, a therapist and psychiatrist who were knowledgeable and treated me with respectful compassion, medication, awareness of side effects of the medication, and having a supportive partner.

I rather hope this post will be the final one in this series. For my sake and yours.

Here’s the series so far.

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