Here is a common scene: I go to my friendly neighborhood chain retail store. I wander the aisles and pick up chips, a bag of Lindt truffles, a totally useless item like a Pedi-Egg or serenity fountain, an Essie polish in a futile attempt to do my own nails, and I finally head to the back, to the pharmacist, to pick up my bimonthly dose of antipsychotics.
The pharmacy clerk always gives me the once-over once I make my way to the counter. Sometimes they speak in a hushed tone usually only reserved for Plan B purchases. "Lithobid?" they ask, referring to my medication by its brand name, in an attempt to be discreet. I nod yes.
The bottle they hand me however, makes no such pretenses: it calls my crazy out, plain as day and is marked Lithium Carbonate in big, bold letters.
Admitting you take lithium is not an easy thing to do. Even in our happy pill-popping times, lithium is seen as the final frontier of brain meds, instantly lobotomizing those that take it and turning them into a zombie.
Lithium is for BATSHIT INSANE people, not for girls like me.
It turns out, lithium IS for girls like me, girls diagnosed with bipolar 2 (this is also called "soft bipolar" and just reminds me of softcore porn).
Girls who thought that it was just their luck they spent most of their life depressed and anxious. Girls who felt weird impulses every once in a while where they didn't sleep, spent lots of money, and suddenly became much more interested in pursuing sex only to be followed by months of panic attacks and can't-get-out-of-bed sadness. Girls like me need lithium very much.
I've been on lithium for almost a year now. Sometimes my hands shake. Sometimes the room spins. If I don't take that little fucker with food, I pay for it later.
If I don't drink enough water, it makes me feel hungover without the added benefit of getting drunk. Sometimes it makes me really fucking tired. But as long as I can obsessively reload Twitter, I don't consider myself a zombie of any kind.
When I tell people Im on lithium, they either act like they don't care, or they express concern that it's "gotten so bad." The truth is, it had gotten that bad.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 at the age of 29, and tried three other medications before settling on lithium. Within two months, I knew that lithium was my medication soul mate, I knew she was "the one."
As it turns out, lithium is pretty fucking cool. It pulled me out of an extremely deep depression where I was convinced that my life was effectively over at 29. It gave me the ability to think clearly. The cobwebs that had built up in my brain from years and years of untreated mental illness just started to disappear.
For the first time since I was 13, I was not fighting a constant, pervasive, low-grade depression. I was not casually thinking of suicide every day.
This is one of the weirdest parts of mental illness; what I think separates me from someone without a fucked-up brain. I used to think of dying constantly. Sometimes I would jaywalk and barely miss a car hitting me, and I would think, "It wouldn't be so bad if that car hit me. At least then this would be over."
When the lithium really hit, I stopped thinking these things.
In "An Unquiet Mind," Kay Jamison's bipolar memoir, one of her rules for lithium users is to keep your medication hidden, so lovers who come over don't see the bottle and assume the worst. For the past year, I've told a few friends I take it, and they're never sure what to say.
One friend asked to see the pills up close, like you'd ask to see an engagement ring. I've told a couple men about it, and none of them seemed too fazed. Then again, I tend to date men who are either similarly medicated or in dire need of medication themselves, so it ain't no thing.
But, still, I feel that shame sometimes. The shame of needing this medication, and the shame of being "crazy."
So many people worry they'll lose some essence of themselves when they take psychiatric medication. For me, the parts of myself I have given up to lithium are not the parts that are worth saving.
Living in constant depression is painful, but when you live it your whole life, it becomes comfortable. Conversely, the person I was when I was hypomanic can be fun, but she is mostly incredibly anxious. She doesn't sleep, she paces up and down the apartment, she melts down at any sign of rejection, and spills out her Xanax on the kitchen counter and lines it up, "just in case."
They're not worth sticking by. I'll probably have to take lithium or some form of psychiatric medication for the rest of my life, unless I want to fall down the black holes of bipolar disorder over and over again. I've already lost so much of my life to it.
Instead of thinking of what medication is taking from me, I like to think of what it's giving me, what I have yet to uncover because of it.
At this point, I'm done being ashamed about a pill that saved my life, or a biological disorder that I was probably destined to have thanks to my genetics.
This is the real me, with a little help.