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Mood Disordered: The Medication That Un-Stressed My Life

I was so stressed that my handwriting was illegible. I needed help, and thankfully I found it.

I haven’t been prolific in keeping this blog updated. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes mental health happens. Sometimes “lack of mental health” happens.

My mental health needed a tune-up last year. My sleeping patterns became odder than usual — I had a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. I felt my moods flickering in a depression-ward direction…and then in an anxious direction…and then in a panicky direction…and then in a hypomanic direction. I was having what I now realize were probably severe, daily panic attacks. Sometimes, with mental health issues, it’s hard to know right away what you’re going through, exactly. I also sometimes experience an unpleasant irritability in which everything seems wrong, wrong, wrong. What a messy soup of emotions I was simmering in.

I decided that it needed to be dealt with from a variety of angles. I stopped at my GP’s office and demanded every test known to man. I wanted to know if anything was medically wrong with me that might be affecting my mental health. I got a “daylight” lamp for my office, in order to make sure I was getting enough daylight. Lack of daylight, in winter sometimes triggers mental health challenges. I stopped drinking alcohol. I made sure to prepare good food for myself and to eat it regularly. I started taking B vitamins and D.

All tests came back normal. My GP referred me to a neurologist, to address handwriting challenges that I was having: For some reason, my handwriting looked jagged and illegible, and I was having a hard time actually writing. After being tested for neurological issues, the neurologist declared me healthy, and told me that my challenges were psychological or psychiatric. She was not telling me that they were “in my head,” but she was telling me that I needed a mental health evaluation. My migraine and handwriting challenges were likely caused by-yes-stress.

All this time, I had kept my psych prescriber in the loop. She had me keep a mood journal to try to identify patterns in my behavior and emotions. It became clear that I was having mood episodes that were disruptive to me, but there wasn’t an obvious pattern. For example, it didn’t seem that my moods were tied to my menstrual cycle. I am susceptible to depression in the winter months, though, so we decided that I should try something, because I was miserable. She declared my diagnosis to be “mood disorder, not otherwise specified” and had me try Abilify.

Here’s my two-word review of Abilify: wonder drug. For me it is, anyway. Once I started taking it, I felt like a person again within 48 hours. Specifically, I felt like myself. The anxiety and sadness were no longer threatening to take over. The spurts of hypomania were gone. It made me realize how hard I was working to cope, just to get through a day, and for how long I’d been doing it.

I dialed my prescriber’s office to leave her a message: “Thank you — I feel like a person again.” At my next visit, I handed her my mood charts. We lined them up with the previous ones and she said, “Look at your handwriting!” My screwy handwriting was, once again, tidy and stylish.

I’m now taking Abilify for my mood disorder, Vyvanse for ADHD (which is also working brilliantly for me), along with nortriptyline that I take for my migraines (which is also an anti-depressant). Small doses produce big differences. I’m careful about taking my meds regularly, and I use a pill caddy to portion them out ahead of time. This task is much easier, now that I have meds that work well for me.

My other “wonder drug,” as important as Abilify, was reducing the stress in my life. What is stressful to one person might not be stressful to another, but apparently I had hit my limit and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was twisting my mental health to its limit, and I needed to slow down.

During much of this time, it was hard for me to write, both physically and emotionally, which is why I didn’t. Now that I can, I give you this: If you have a hard time, seek help. If that help isn’t helpful at first, try again. Persistence is required, because docs aren’t there to advocate for you; they’re there to help a lot of different patients. You or a trusted family member or friend need to advocate for just you.

Try the same doc, try a new doc, do whatever you have to do, to be heard and understood. Keep notes. Gather data-write things down in a notebook when you notice them. It helps your doctors immensely-and we all know that people with ADHD aren’t so great at remembering things if they don’t write them down right away.

If you don’t feel good, don’t let people, not even doctors, minimize it or tell you that it’s not a big deal without good reason. You deserve to feel good. I deserved to feel good.

I feel much better now. I feel better than I have in years. And I promise a new blog post soon.