Celebrating 300 Posts of Birth of a New Brain!

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The Very 1st Post:

After a Two-Year-Long Hiatus, I’m Back!

Getting Better, Getting Worse & To Be Continued

 

I can’t believe it has been two years since I last posted to my blog, formerly called “Proudly Bipolar” thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s book No Reservations.  

 

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I love you Anthony! (in a platonic way)

 

I’m a big believer in the power of titles, and I felt it was apt to change my blog’s title to “Birth of a New Brain” to reflect the person I’ve become since November, 2011.  

“Birth of a New Brain” is dear to my heart.  (And brain! 😉   I love the phrase for various reasons. One little thing is that I appreciate its alliterative qualities with the “b”, but I can’t say it well if I have dry mouth syndrome! 

I came up with the title last spring. After doing extensive research, I was slowly tapering off all psychiatric medications . (9/22/15 update – I’m pro-med now! Read on and see why…)  Back then I felt my brain was changing and rebirthing, so to speak, on a cellular level. And the cells were changing. Hypomania was setting in and there would be disastrous consequences from my no-med quest. However, when I was still relatively stable I couldn’t help but love feeling so positive and creative once again, and I thought the title was imbued with my optimisim.

Birth of a New Brain was associated with a forty-page book proposal based on living with bipolar well without medication. The proposal was accepted by my former publisher and I was absolutely thrilled. (I cancelled the agreement when I relapsed with bipolar depression. Obviously my no-med concept wasn’t seaworthy.)

When I wrote the proposal I had high hopes. I secured an extraordinary British physician/author named Dr. Liz Miller, Britain’s first female neurosurgeon, to write the foreword. I discovered Dr. Miller in Stephen Fry’s groundbreaking documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. (You can watch it on YouTube here) Dr. Miller was Fry’s only subject who had bipolar disorder, was medication-free and doing well, so I tracked her down in London and we began corresponding.

Then I crashed and burned big-time.  I relapsed when my lithium dosage was down to 450 mg. I had to go to the psychiatric ward not once, not twice, but three times in less than two months. Once again I asked for electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments as I knew ECT was my last resort. (The first time I had ECT was in 2009 when my Dad died and I was acutely suicidal. I had a unilateral, or one-sided procedure as opposed to having bilateral ECT , i.e. electrodes placed on both sides of my brain.)  

When I relapsed, my hospital’s ECT psychiatrist Dr. L. and I agreed that I’d have bilateral ECT. Bilateral has the most intense potential side effect of memory loss. Why do it then? It can work more effectively for what I had suffered: a heavy-duty, rapid manic-to-suicidal depression state. (When my father died, I wasn’t manic to begin with; I was already deeply depressed.) It was absolutely the right decision.

I upped my lithium dosage to 900 mg. Over time I tried out a bunch of medicines for bipolar, anxiety and insomnia that gave me terrible side effects, bar none.

I worked with my new psychiatrist Dr. D. to find medication that would help me climb out of the terrifying, gripping depression that made me feel so utterly hopeless.  

Finally, in October, 2013 (my favorite month due to the beautiful autumn weather and my favorite holiday Halloween) Dr. D. suggested an old-school antidepressant drug called tranylcypromine, or Parnate.  On an interesting side-note, I recently discovered that Parnate was prescribed to this person six weeks before she died (or was allegedly murdered).

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I digress.

Parnate is classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).  I’ve tried well over thirty-five medications for bipolar/anxiety/insomnia, but I *never* thought I’d take an MAOI.  This class of meds get a very bad rap because there are strict food/alcohol restrictions, and if one eats or drinks a “no-no”, one can die because of hypertension and other reasons.  

It’s also known as a “last-resort” drug for bipolar depression! Um, why hadn’t any of my previous psychiatrists brought up taking an MAOI???? Well, I suspect I know the reasons. I think they think that their patients are too dumb to follow the dietary guidelines (Stigma much? Yes, some psychiatrists look down at their patients) and they’re pressured by Big Pharma to prescribe the latest meds, certainly not an old-school MAOI that has been used for decades and actually works well. (In a small study done back in the 1970’s Parnate was found to work extremely well when combined with lithium!)

Anyway, I didn’t know until quite recently that MAOIs have helped countless people with bipolar who are considered to be medication-resistant.  

I told Dr. D. to bring it on!

I researched internet anecdotes written by those who’ve used this medication. Some people noted that Parnate worked within just a few days.  One woman recounted how Parnate lifted her ten-year-long depression in two days!

I read those accounts and thought, “They’re the lucky ones – that will never be me.”

I took my first, Pepto Bismol pink-colored pill Sunday morning.  The next morning I woke up feeling rather different.  Better.  

No way.  This has to be a dream!  I thought groggily.  

Later that morning I was feeling even better than before.  Not too much, i.e. hypomanic or manic, but I thought that maybe something was shifting in my  crappy-med-battered, shocked brain of mine.  

The next day I genuinely felt much better.  I was able to smile again, and laugh. I felt hopeful.  I felt like myself – the self I was before I ever heard or read the word “bipolar”.  I spent time with my two precious little girls and took them out places that made my skin crawl, like Toys ‘R Us and to the Night of the Living Dead mall so my older girl could get her ears pierced.

I was looking forward to interacting with people again – even the seemingly “normal” parents at the girls’ school!  I met with my longtime therapist Ina and she was amazed at what she witnessed.  She was cautiously optimistic.

Were there drawbacks to Parnate? Yes, just one, but it was intense. A daily afternoon fatigue set in (it’s a notorious Parnate side effect) but I felt that it was completely worth it compared to the benefits of the depression lifting. The majority of the anecdotes said the fatigue would go away after a few weeks. I hoped and prayed that this medication would keep working.  

Three weeks later, it was still working.  

Three weeks and a day later, I felt the depression creeping back.  

I tried denying that the Parnate had stopped working so magically, but each day my depression grew stronger.  We were on the verge of taking our biggest family vacation ever – it was one we cancelled three times before due to my bipolar depression. It was a trip for which we had scrimped and saved: the Holualoa region of Hawaii.

To be continued…

 

Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.  

The PTSD Highway

 

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Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)

 

 

 

Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!