The Seroquel Withdrawal Blues

Let me tell you a little story

(da da da da dum)

About the Seroquel blues

(da da da da dum)

Those pills are mighty powerful stuff

and they’ll make you constantly snooze

(da da da da dum)

Seroquel was my blessing and my curse

And ever since I said bye bye

(da da da da dum)

I’ve been sufferin’ the Seroquel blues

The withdrawals been making me cry

(da da da da dum)

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(We meant to practice this a lot more for your sake, but, uh, obviously we didn’t. I can’t believe Lucy didn’t howl in protest. My apologies.)

Out of all the bipolar meds I’ve taken, the effects of the controversial antipsychotic Seroquel have been twofold. This drug has been my true blessing and also a total pain in the ass.

(A pain in the brain is more like it!)

I could easily write a 2000-word post about quetiapine (the generic form of Seroquel), but I’ll spare you and write around 1000 words as I have my memoir Birth of a New Brain to write. 

In 2013 my psychiatrist prescribed quetiapine for my hideous, agitated insomnia that hit me out of nowhere.  I filled my prescription but I kept putting off taking my first pill because I was scared of the potential side effects. It wasn’t likely that my head would fall off after taking quetiapine, and I probably wouldn’t start speaking in tongues, but I was plain-old-spooked.

Well, I finally became so desperate that I took the quetiapine and it totally helped me, so much so that I will never tell anyone not to try this stuff if they’re seriously considering it.

Yes, I had major daytime grogginess and yes, that sucked, but suffering with that side effect was worth it since I finally got my all-important sleep. 

My other side effects were weight gain (15 pounds since Fall, 2013) and some late night hunger. Since I worked out every day the “Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan way”* I wasn’t too worried about an extra fifteen pounds. As a former certified personal trainer, I knew I could lose the weight safely when I simply committed to improving my diet.

Extra adipose tissue a.k.a. blubber has been something I was able to live with for the time being. Quetiapine also caused me to have trippy, vivid and disturbing dreams – not nightmares, exactly, but not feel-good/warm fuzzy dreams either.

I also believe that Seroquel may have triggered a weird phenomenon that lasted about nine months. I felt totally inspired to write regularly, and I blogged almost every day. I fell in love with writing all over again.

I remained responsible. I took care of the girls, and I didn’t alarm my husband by writing at all hours of the night as I did when I was hypomanic/manic and hypergraphic. (My hypergraphia will be explained in my book!) 😉

Every morning I woke up, I got the kids dressed and fed, and I drove them to school. I returned home to write for a few hours without fail. I wasn’t manic, but it definitely seemed like my brain was firing unusually, that’s for sure. I can’t think of another explanation for why this sudden burst of writing happened because the only thing I did differently was add quetiapine.

My psychiatrist didn’t think the medication caused any kind of mania either.  I don’t know. Could this have been a seasonal affective disorder of some kind? Maybe. But when I reduced my quetiapine dosage, my daily writing compulsion and my highly creative juices dwindled.  I was still creative and I still wrote, but my need to write was nowhere nearly as intense as it was before.  My intuition was that I had to reduce the (relatively) high dosage of 100 mg/night of quetiapine and not stay at 100mg for the sake of my writing habit and drive. 

So with my psychiatrist’s blessing, over the past year I tapered down to 25 mg a night of Seroquel. Even though 25 mg sounds tiny, it’s not! I’ve still felt groggy during the day, and I wanted to see if I could sleep without relying upon Seroquel.  I don’t know how people can open an eye at 800/mg a day of this stuff – that just shows how different we all are.

It turns out that I can sleep on my own once more!  Hurrah! I’ve been off quetiapine for over three weeks.  However, if I need to take it again I won’t hesitate. I added a $9 magnesium supplement (manufactured by Source Naturals, a reputable company located in my town) and it seems to help me with sleep too. I’ve used lavender essential oil off and on, which is safe and it always helps me (a least a little bit) when it comes to insomnia.

I’ve read that it can take weeks or months for a quetiapine withdrawal period to run its course. I’m not allowing myself to surf endlessly on the internet about it because God knows I’ve done that before, and in this case I think it’s a total waste of time.

What matters most is that each day I feel a little better. I can sense the Seroquel withdrawal blues slowly dissipating.  I’m more alert and my freaky dreams are gone. My “Seroquel belly” is even shrinking a tiny bit.

I’ll have more to report on the withdrawal front next Thursday or Friday. If you’re tapering off a med or suffering some withdrawal blues of your own, good luck and feel free to vent your heart away here.

Until then, take care, and thanks for reading!  

XOXO

Dyane

* Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan’s International Society for Bipolar Disorders webinar that (sorry to get all Tony Robbins on you ) totally changed my life!  Exercise Treatment for Mood Disorders: A Neurobioloigcal Rational

http://isbd.org/education/webinar-series

Dr. Alsuwaidan’s brief post. This article contains simple “exercise for mood” guidelines I follow religiously every day.

View at Medium.com

My husband was so convinced that my Alsuwaidan routine has helped my mood that when my exercise machine broke, he went out to Sears that same day (despite being swamped with work) and he got me a better machine. (I know I’m lucky!)

Yes, I could’ve gone walking or hiking or jumped rope or walked up and down the stairs, but he knew how much I loved using my elliptical. I believe my Schwinn is worth its weight in gold. Or chocolate.

Hilarious Cartoon (Possibly offensive)/My Book’s Cover & Toni Childs

I am writing this post on a rainy Sunday afternoon, as the next few days I plan to set my blog aside to focus on working on my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.  The book will be an amalgamation of memoir, interviews with postpartum/bipolar experts, women’s mental health advocates, and profiles of women diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.  I know that sounds like an awful lot to throw together, but I think it can be done well.  It won’t be easy (that’s a slight understatement…) but I’m going to give it my best shot!

Last week I suggested to  Chato B. Stewart, a talented artist friend of mine, that he create a cartoon for my book’s cover.  Chato blogs for BP Magazine (http://www.bphope.com/bphopeblog) and writes the popular “Mental Health Humor” column for PsychCentral.com.  I never dreamed he’d take me up on creating my cover image; he’s a busy bee, but he did.  He worried that it would offend me, but when I opened up the file of his cartoon in all its glory, I laughed out loud.  So did some mama friends of mine.  I hope you can see the humor in it as well; if not, I’m sorry – please don’t un-follow me!

I’ve thought of a similar idea in which my title is literally interpreted to appear as a woman giving birth to a brain.  So Chato and I are on the same page with that concept!

Other vivid, graphic birth images have appealed to me as well.  Before my second daughter was born, I listened to an incredible Toni Childs album over and over again called “The Woman’s Boat”.  Toni Childs’ music reached a peak in the 1980’s when she was nominated for two Grammy awards.  She has worked with many acclaimed musicians such as Peter Gabriel. Eve Ensler, writer and founder of V Day, asked Toni to write an anthem for her documentary Until the Violence Stops. Toni wrote a song entitled “Because You’re Beautiful” for the film and her song won an Emmy award in 2004 for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.  She is a long-term survivor of Graves Disease and has just released her newest album “Citizens of the Planet”.

“The Woman’s Boat” themes range from birth to death – the first song is “Womb” and the final song is “Death”.  This album has influenced me in very personal, profound ways.  I brought this CD with me to the maternity hospital when I went into labor with Marilla.  Not only did I want to hear Toni’s music while in labor, if possible, but I wanted to prop up the CD’s  liner note photos so I could look at them.  I felt deeply connected to these images; to me they visually represented the power of a woman’s fertility, and displayed the beauty of women’s bodies.   (I imagine that the insert picture of a woman giving birth to a flower could also offend some people, but I think it’s stunning.)  The cover art of a pomegranate as a symbol of fertility is gorgeous as well.

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Brainstorm New

***If you’ve never listened to Toni Childs, you are in for a treat!  Here’s a YouTube link that features a playlist many of her songs:

***For more information about my super-cool friend Chato, please check out his following links:

http://chatobstewart.com/

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor/about/

http://www.bphope.com/bphopeblog

***To see what Toni Childs is up to, visit the following link and be sure to look at her incredible Kickstarter video on the home page which she created:

http://www.tonichilds.com/

Hypergraphia – Part Two

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In yesterday’s blog post I discussed writing, the creative spark, as well as hypergraphia.  In case you are unfamiliar with the term hypergraphia the Wikipedia definition is:

“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content.  Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style.  Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.” 

The following excerpt describes my experience with postpartum hypergraphia in the preface of my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder :

“Just a few days after my daughter’s birth, I was writing non-stop.  The ideas were flowing from my brain so rapidly I couldn’t believe it.  As a professional freelance writer, I had struggled for years with the common malady of writer’s block.  When I had postpartum mania-induced hypergraphia, I underwent the complete opposite of writer’s block.  I was a virtual writing waterfall with the power of Niagra Falls!   I knew something truly bizarre, terrifying and even a bit magical was happening in my brain, but my racing thoughts prevented me from being grounded enough to do much of anything, including doing enough breastfeeding or realizing that I had bipolar one disorder.  Somehow I was able to surf online about nonstop writing, and I discovered that hypergraphia was associated with many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Yet it still didn’t dawn on me that I had bipolar disorder, although I possessed five obvious clues: little sleep, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, strong hereditary factors and agitation.  I wrote so much that my wrist cramped up in severe pain every few minutes.  I wrote so much that my sweet baby’s birth weight was too low, as I wasn’t breastfeeding her enough.  I couldn’t stop writing, even while I was breastfeeding her on her velvety green Boppy pillow.  I kept typing frantically despite the fact that my husband told me emphatically that he was concerned that I was writing too much and that I needed to pay more attention to our newborn and toddler.”

Hypergraphia is serious, and it’s a real condition.  It’s not just a “neurosis” as writer Valerie Lopes refers to it in her Open Salon article “Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific?”. (The link is posted at the end of this piece.)  The psychiatric literature defines a neurosis as a “relatively mild personality disorder”.  Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that there was nothing  “mild” about my full-blown hypergraphia.   Lopes’ article disappointed me with its ignorance and righteous, patronizing “Look at me – I’m such a prolific writer!” tone.  I wanted to comment and inform her that while I understood that too many mental conditions are slapped with a scary-sounding psychiatric label these days (which she implies in her essay)  hypergraphia is not normal and, in my opinion, it’s definitely not healthy.  I noticed that there were no comments made in response to her article – quelle surprise! Whenever I don’t spot even a single comment about an article on a site with huge readership, that tells me the writing is somehow lacking.  However, when I tried to post a comment, the website informed me it was temporarily closed for registration.   Bummer!

No matter.  For those who wish to read an informed, brilliant analysis of this subject, look no further than Dr. Alice W. Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease – The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.  It’s endorsed on the cover by none other than Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the bestselling classic An Unquiet Mind who writes, “An original, fascinating, and beautifully written reckoning…of that great human passion: to write.”  Flaherty’s book is not just about hypergraphia by any means.  It’s a must-read for any writer.  The Midnight Disease received rave reviews as well and is the only book of its kind written by a neurologist to boot!  The fact that Lopes didn’t even refer to this groundbreaking book once in her article indicates to me that being a “prolific” writer doesn’t mean you are actually a good one.

There have been famous artists who apparently had hypergraphia such as Vincent van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Robert Burns and Lewis Carroll.  Dr. Alice W. Flaherty experienced postpartum hypergraphia like I did.  (I am disappointed that with my  Google Advanced search I only located lists of famous men with hypergraphia.  I’m sure there are famous women who should be on these lists as well, starting with Dr. Flaherty.)  Not only did all these people write enormous amounts of material, but the physical style of their writing would sometimes be indecipherable, which is another hallmark of the condition.  I typed and also handwrote in journals when I had hypergraphia.  When I review my journals today I can’t make out most of the scrawls.   That makes me sad, because I wish I knew what the hell I was writing about!

Apart from that, it all comes down to what my favorite high school English teacher, Mrs. Redlcay, asked her students to answer when they wrote any essay or poem.

“So what?”

Why write about the subject of hypergraphia?  So what?

For me it’s a deeply personal topic.  I’ve been in the trenches with hypergraphia, and it has haunted me ever since.  The feelings it stirred up were connected with mania through and through.  I felt so good about what I wrote, (too good!) even though much of it was dribble.  While writing I felt a sense of purpose that I’ll never encounter again unless I am manic.

But believe me, I’ve come to terms with all that as I never want to be manic again.  I want to write at a “happy medium” level.  I know that it’s possible now for me to write in moderation, and I’ll do all that I can to make my writing dreams a reality.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

“Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific” by Valerie Lopes

http://open.salon.com/blog/valerie_lopes/2009/02/16/do_i_have_hypergraphia_or_am_i_just_prolific

 

Story of Hope and Recovery for the International Bipolar Foundation

Photo on 2014-02-20 at 09.43

Yesterday I was asked by the staff of the International Bipolar Foundation to be their first “Story of Hope and Recovery” for 2014.  I’m honored and thrilled to have been selected and I’d like to share my story with you!

This Q&A will appear on their new website later on today, http://www.ibpf.org, which has a ton of great resources.

Their Facebook page is:  https://www.facebook.com/InternationalBipolarFoundation

Dyane Leshin-Harwood is a forty-four-year-old married mother of two young girls. Raised in Los Angeles, Dyane grew up close to her father who had bipolar disorder one, and who played violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over twenty-five years. Dyane has a B.A. degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz in English and American Literature. She has been a freelance writer for the past fifteen years and has interviewed such mental health luminaries as Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison and Dr. Martha Manning for nationally published articles. Dyane lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where she is working on her book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and blogs at www.dyaneharwood.wordpress.com.

Q: When did you first learn of your diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

A: I had given birth to my second daughter, Marilla, at age thirty-seven.  Immediately after her birth I became hypomanic and experienced the rare condition of hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing. Two months later I had full-blown postpartum mania and admitted myself for hospitalization, where I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder one.

Q: Could you describe your support network, positive influences and how you find balance and stability?

A: A few years ago I founded the DBSA Chapter (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) for our county and I created a women’s support group. It was there where I met two women with bipolar disorder who have become close friends. I also find support online through Facebook’s miscellaneous private bipolar groups and the Mental Health Bloggers network. BP Magazine’s bloggers are a great resource as well. (www.bphope.com) International Bipolar Foundation’s Facebook page offers a newsfeed that shares inspiring pictures and quotes.  That really brightens my day! I find balance and stability in five key ways: seeing my “team” (psychiatrist and counselor) regularly, medication, steady exercise, writing, and of course enough sleep! My goal this year is to improve my diet and try meditation.

Q: Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

A: My two daughters Avonlea, age 9, and Marilla, age 6. The love I feel for them is ineffable, and their unconditional love for me makes me want to be stable with bipolar more than anything; after all the trauma they’ve been through (I’ve been hospitalized five times for this illness since Marilla was born.) I am motivated to do all I can to show them that one can live well with a mood disorder.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: As a writer I can’t resist quoting my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle. I had the incredible experience of working with her at a writer’s workshop. It was impossible for me to choose just one quote, so here are two short ones: “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.” This quote is from her best known work A Wrinkle In Time: “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” Speaking of the mind, I love what author Melody Moezzi (Haldol and Hyacinths) said in her recent webinar for International Bipolar Foundation. While Melody asserted she didn’t want to glamorize bipolar, she noted, “There’s something extraordinary about a mind that works differently.”

Q: What is your message of hope to others living with Bipolar Disorder?

A: The beautiful Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” comes to mind as I write this. There were many times I wanted to give up. I know this will sound like a cliché, but if you are feeling stuck and hopeless, please reach out to others. Seek a therapist and/or psychiatrist. My Dad always told me that by the time I was older, a cure would be found for bipolar. Although that hasn’t happened yet, we shouldn’t rule out breakthroughs with the tremendous amount of research happening. I was cynical about feeling hopeful regarding my recovery for such a long time, but that finally shifted. We can hope together for medical advancements, and in the meantime, do all you can to ask for help so you feel supported, not isolated. You don’t have to suffer needlessly – there is hope for each and every one of you!