Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goal Setting for the New Year

There are lots of articles out at this time of year about resolutions and goal setting.  It reminded me that I did in fact set some "intentions" last year, and I looked them up to see what they were.  There were 6 all together, with weight loss being #1 and way down the list:

     5.  Successfully get off all the drugs.

You can see by how far down the list it was how likely I thought it would be.  Then again, at this time last year I was taking bioidentical hormones and I had big hopes that they would enable me to stabilize my mood as well as promoting weight loss.  So it might have been more pro forma, because I thought it was a done deal with the hormones.  However, soon they were causing terrible migraines, and I had to go off them.  I really tried everything imaginable to get off my drugs before I found Truehope.

So of the 6 things on the list only one was realized, but heck, I am pretty darn satisfied with that one!

For 2010 I have a new list.  It includes exercise and work-related goals, neither of which were on last year's list.  So that shows some progress that wouldn't have been possible without the Truehope.  One item has carried over -- this year I really am finally going to finish a quilt!

Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lessons Learned

I have been waiting to post until I had good news, but good news seems to be a long time coming so I thought I'd better give an update now anyway.

My vegan diet has gone by the wayside, for at least a year until this protracted withdrawal is more under control.  I tried rice protein powder, the third type of protein powder I've tried now, and I was immediately allergic to it too.  There is nothing in it except rice protein, no additives or flavours of any kind, so it is clearly the protein that is the problem.

I have been experimenting with small amounts of meat at lunch, at that seems to work better for me.  I've also found that my body is getting used to the meat again, it does not bother me as much anymore.  I definitely feel better the next day after eating some meat, so it will stay in my diet for now.

Right now I'm fighting some kind of throat infection, which has made me sick right through the holidays.  The protracted withdrawal is worse again too, probably due to the infection.  I don't want to take antibiotics though, because I've heard those really aggravate the protracted withdrawal as well.  I'll just wait it out and see how it goes.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Whew!  What a week!  It started out great, and then, just as I thought I had mastered this thing, all hell broke loose.

With my goal to stay vegan and just add more protein to my diet, I went out and bought a vegan harmonized protein powder, which had various ingredients.  It really helped with the protracted withdrawal, my symptoms cleared up and my energy soared.  I took Dr. Martin Seligmann's Authentic Happiness Inventory Questionnaire, and scored really high.  I took the same test several years ago when I was depressed, and I've raised my score by about 50 percentile points since then.  It is really an amazing improvement, which I attribute partially to the Empowerplus, and partially to my mental discipline of always trying to think a better feeling thought, thanks to the Abraham-Hicks teachings.  I was feeling great.

The next day the protein powder caused an allergic reaction.  Not a big one, but enough to realize that I had to stop taking it.  It had been giving me minor allergic symptoms all along, but I thought I would get used to it.  That's not how allergies work, of course.

The day after that I was feeling poorly all day, and I made a baked potato with some sauteed mushrooms for dinner.  I had a huge allergic reaction, not life-threatening, my throat did swell somewhat but it didn't actually stop my breathing.  And of course there was the diarrhea and overheating that goes with anaphylaxis too.  I nearly died from an anaphylatic episode in my early 20s, so I knew what was going on.  I have eaten mushrooms all my life without incident, but this time they did me in.  I think probably it was the earlier reactions to the protein powder that primed the pump for such a bad reaction this time.

For the next two days practically everything I ate re-triggered the allergic symptoms.  I thought I was allergic to the Empowerplus, and stopped taking that, and then I thought it was the Total Amino Solutions, and I stopped that too.  My blood pressure dropped really low, another result of anaphylaxis, and I've been eating salt like crazy to try to restore electrolytes.

Two days after I stopped the Empowerplus my protracted withdrawal symptoms cleared up.  I have been suspecting that it is the Empowerplus that acts as a detox that releases the stored medications from the body's tissues, and this pretty much confirms that theory.  On the third day without Empowerplus I had a big anxiety attack.  I have not had any anxiety since July.  I had been hoping that I would be able to stay off the Empowerplus for a while, but after that anxiety attack I went right back to it.

Another result of the allergic reaction and the diarrhea is that my IBS is back every morning.  That's been gone for months also, so I am not happy to see it return.  I had thought that it was the FermPlus probiotic that cured my IBS, but clearly the Empowerplus was a factor there as well.  I have always suspected that my IBS had a psychological component, I guess this proves that too.

Today I am eating without incident, although my face has been hot all day.  Something is still not right.  I have a feeling my thyroid is misbehaving.  If I am still no better by Monday I will get it checked.  I'll just have to see how this plays out.

Monday, November 30, 2009

LOL! Vegan Again

Well, I had some tuna for breakfast, in line with this "animal protein at every meal" idea, and I was sick as a dog all day.  My body just cannot handle it.  And writing that post yesterday really made me see how much I like eating a plant-based diet.  It is better in every way except for the protracted withdrawal.  So, thinking about it today, I realized that I could do a better job with nutrition and eating a more diverse range of vegetable proteins, and I decided to give vegan another try.  I feel relieved with that decision, so I'll find a way to make it work.

Vegan No More

You may recall that I started a vegan diet about 2 months ago.  I have had to give it up.  Since my hypomania a couple of weeks ago the protracted withdrawal has just been getting steadily worse.  Yesterday was the worst.  After breakfast I had to lie down again, it felt like my blood sugar was low, even though I'd just eaten, and my blood pressure felt really low too, I thought I was going to pass out while lying down.  I was taking a ton of Total Amino Solutions (TAS), and it wasn't helping. In fact, I was starting to suspect that I was actually taking too much TAS.  I needed another way to get more protein into my system, because the vegetable proteins didn't seem to be doing the job.  I made a tuna sandwich.

It didn't help right away, in fact, I continued to get worse for a while.  But after about 6 hours I started to feel appreciably better.  I ate the rest of the tuna and felt quite good last night.  This morning I had my usual oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast, which most people would agree is a nutritious meal, but the protracted withdrawal symptoms were bad again until I had some salmon at lunch.  It seems pretty clear now that I have to find a way to include animal protein at every meal.

I am VERY disappointed.  I am not worried about the animals, but I really prefer to eat a plant-based diet.  My reflux has practically disappeared since I went vegan.  It is just more fun eating plants, it is easier to cook, and I never feel weighed down after a meal.

All day I have been wracking my brain trying to think what to eat now.  Dairy is the real problem for my reflux, and I don't like eggs.  I like seafood and beef, but chicken and pork have to be heavily sauced and flavoured or I don't like them.  You can see why vegan is the obvious choice for me.  Some Japanese people eat fish 3 times a day, but I don't think I could, and there is the mercury to consider.  Hmm.  It's tricky.  Something somewhere is going to have to give, I think.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to Fall Asleep

This is the best thing I have found for falling asleep.  Further down I will talk about what doesn't work, and some general observations on sleep.

Count down from 100.  Seriously.  If you are physically tired, but it is your thoughts that are keeping you awake, this will put you to sleep.  First, bring your attention close to you by feeling how nice your pillow is, how comfy your bed is, how soft the sheets are, etc.  Then, make the decision to put your thoughts aside, decide to sleep well and awaken refreshed, and start counting.  Count at a relaxed pace.  Sometimes I find my counting synchronizes with my breathing, but not always.  To really focus on counting it helps to visualize each number as you think it.  I do find that I tend to think and count at the same time, but I just let the thoughts go and concentrate back on the counting.

When you get down to 1 take a deep breath and let it out on the 0.  Usually there is a sense of relief when you get to 0, and I try to rest there and not think of anything for a couple of breaths.  Start over at 100.  If you lose your place you also just start over.  I usually fall asleep in the middle of the second or third time.

What Doesn't Work

ALL chemical sleep aids eventually stop working.  This includes pharmaceuticals and natural remedies.  It doesn't take very long, maybe a couple of weeks, before you can't sleep without them, and some time after that they stop working all together.  Then you are really stuck.  This happened to me with Ambien, Ativan and Klonopin, and more recently with melatonin, l-tryptophan, and l-theanine.

Furthermore, I have found that anything that is strong enough to put me to sleep generally leaves me feeling wretched the next morning.  I think part of the reason is that the substance does not clear your system overnight, and is still making you sleepy the next day.  I recall that OTC sleeping pills were the worst for that, but it was also true with l-tryptophan and l-theanine.  But I also think that chemically-aided sleep is not natural, you are so knocked out that you're not moving around normally, and I always wake up stiff and usually with a headache.

I stopped taking all sleep aids 4 to 6 weeks ago.  They weren't working anyway, and when I stopped I noticed that I felt better in the morning.  I was waking up about an hour earlier, and I didn't feel so wrecked.

Observations on Sleep

What is the big deal about sleep anyway?  People get all freaked out about it.  Just relax.  If you are not sleeping it is either because your thoughts are keeping you awake, in which case the counting will work for you, or you are not physically tired.  If you are not tired I would suggest that you do not actually need to sleep.  Get up and do something constructive with your time.  After a few late nights you will be tired eventually and your sleep will normalize itself.

The individual need for sleep varies tremendously.  I have read that Mike Myers sleeps about 3 hours per night.

I have read a few people's observations that not sleeping will make them manic.  I would suggest that if they are not sleeping they are already manic/hypomanic, and the solution is to raise their dose of their mood stabilizer or Empowerplus.

Changes to your sleep habits seem to be pretty common on Empowerplus.  Partly I think this is because we were drugged out of our minds on psychiatric medications, which passed for sleep, and it is hard to adapt to regular sleep again.  Also, it seems that many people start feeling emotions and having clarity of thought that they may not have had for years, and this takes some processing and keeps people up at night.  And the Empowerplus itself seems to keep people awake a lot of the time. 

For me it seems to be predominantly the first one.  My late nights started a week or two after I finished with the Risperdal.  I went from sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night to 7 or 8 hours.  I get up at the same time, but I fall asleep quite a bit later.  It is working for me.  I enjoy my late night time.  The house is quiet, the street is quiet, it is a great time to read and write and think and meditate.  One of my goals has been to be ready to go when I wake up in the morning.  I used to drag around and take several hours to get going each day, but since I stopped all the sleeping aids I have been feeling much better.  Protracted withdrawal is still a problem many days, but at least my sleep is starting to make sense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quiet Mind II

In my very first post I talked about how it felt like this constant noise that I seemed to have in my head had disappeared after a few weeks on Empowerplus.  That relief was the inspiration for this whole blog.

A couple of days ago I realized that the music was gone too!  LOL, that sounds bad, like the zest has gone from my life or something, but actually you'll see that it's really good.  The last couple of years before Empowerplus, when I was on medication, I had this thing where I would hear distant music.  I figured out that it was actually some background noise in the house, usually the furnace fan, and somehow my mind was turning it into music.  It would be all different genres of music, usually classical, but sometimes jazz or even pop music.  Even opera.  It was always very distant, partially heard, and it was really irritating.  I don't know if it was an actual auditory hallucination, per se, because there was a base noise that was somehow being reinterpreted by my mind.

But the cool thing is that it is completely gone now.  Fans are just fans.  And I love the silence.  At night it may be several minutes between cars on the street outside (we live on a fairly busy street) and I like to just rest my attention in the silence between my ears.  It is similar to meditating.  It gives you a very expansive feeling.

I have been trying to start meditating regularly again also.  I have been having a hard time lasting more than 10 minutes though, my mind keeps kicking me out and then I check the time to see how long I managed.  I ordered a kitchen timer shaped like a duck that quacks when the time is up to use for meditating, hopefully it will be funny but not distracting to anticipate.  But that was 5 weeks ago and it's still not here.  Ah, the perils of shopping at small online stores.  They don't keep their stock up to date.  I'm sure I'll get my meditation practice back on track once it arrives, though.

PMS and Protracted Withdrawal

Since my last update the protracted withdrawal has ranged from pretty bad to really rotten.  It just won't let up!  The worst times though were the days before my period.  This has been happening every month since August, when protracted withdrawal began.  It builds over a couple of days, with runny nose, sore throat, aches and pains, fatigue, and just feeling really fluey.  I really was suspecting this time that I in fact did have the flu.  No amount of Total Amino Solutions (TAS) or fluids was helping.  It built to a crescendo of awfulness, and then it just seemed to turn the corner and get better.  And two hours after that my period started.  It was weird.  Somehow the flush of hormones before it starts really aggravates the protracted withdrawal.

I felt ok for the first day but then I started getting migraines.  I think I've had at least 3 days of migraines now, not continuously (small favours) but pretty viciously.  For the most part my monthly migraines have been a lot better since I started Empowerplus, much shorter and less severe, but not this month for some reason.

Everything seems to be triggering bad protracted withdrawal these days.  Last night I was up quite late (even for me) and today again the protracted withdrawal was bad.  Migraine again when I woke up today, nauseous, I heated the last of my homemade soup for dinner but I couldn't eat it.

Feeling so sick all the time is making me irritable also.  I am tired of my poor parents asking how I'm doing and always having to report that I'm still sick.  We all put so much faith in the "six month" timeframe that it is disappointing to still be so sick.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Glimpses of Blue Sky

There are no dramatic improvements to report, but there have been some reductions in the severity of the symptoms at times.  Instead of taking the Total Amino Solutions (TAS) and painkillers every 3 hours, I am sometimes able to go quite a bit longer between doses.  Sometimes the pain is less and I just take TAS without the painkillers.  Right now the pain is pretty bad, but I think I am still recovering from a very busy day that I had two days ago.

I have been doing little things around the house here and there, making lists and gradually building momentum.  Two days ago I sprang into action.  I woke up and immediately got on the computer to print out a map to a store I wanted to visit out of town.  I drove out there, feeling good to be out on the road again, bought my stuff, drove back still feeling good.  Instead of opening a can or making a sandwich I made a pot of homemade soup, peeling and chopping all the vegetables.  After dinner I made homemade cookies for the first time since I moved back to Canada over 6 years ago.  I just kept puttering around.  Normally any one of those activities would have wiped me out for the rest of the day.

I was still folding laundry at 3 am.  Honestly though, it wasn't until 5 am rolled around and I still wasn't tired that the word "hypomania" crossed my mind.  Remember, I don't normally fall asleep until 3 or 4 am anyway.

The next day I had a blistering headache, but I was still very motivated.  That boundless energy I seemed to have the day before was gone, though.  After just a little bit of cleaning and organizing I was pooped.  I would lie down for a bit, and then I would get up and back to work.  I just felt driven to clean out all the junk that had been bugging me for years.  I have so much stuff that it is a real logistical challenge to know where to start with it all, but I was able to narrow it down to a few easy tasks.  For me the key is to be ruthless in my decision making.  There is no "maybe I'll be able to use it" or "but it's still good".  I've realized that for me it is much nicer and better feeling to have new things than to reuse old things.  My quilt stash is the one exception to that rule.

Last night I was up until almost 6 am writing my new frozen shoulder blog:

It is meant for people with frozen shoulder, and it felt really good to organize that whole story and get it out there.  And I am still in a writing mood today.  I have a couple more ideas but I think I will put them in separate posts.

There is a lot more cleaning and purging to do.  I have a plan to start dealing with the books.  I have been accumulating every book I ever bought since I was 9, and I moved that collection all the way across the continent to California and back again, but now I have plans to reduce that collection by about 1/3 to 1/2.  Most of the fiction will go, although I read one Jane Austen book a few months ago I haven't regained any interest in fiction since then.  All the books from grad school will go (literary criticism and theory), all the psychology books from my days in therapy, sundry self-help and diet books, all my non-vegan cookbooks, and a whole shelf of astrology and tarot books that I no longer consider to be relevant to my experience.  Every box that comes in the house will leave again full of books, and I'll donate them all to my college book sale.  The paperbacks will go to a local used bookshop where my mom can use the store credit they issue for the books.

Wow, it's tiring just thinking about it.  But, it can happen gradually, it doesn't have to be done all at once.  It will be good to free up all that energy.  I now believe that your life should be a steady stream of new things coming into your life and old things going out.  You keep what you need in the moment and trust that when you need something else it will come to you.  That's been my experience lately, the things I need or want have been showing up very quickly.  Now what I really want is a new car!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Still Hanging in There

Well, it has been a while since my last post, but not much has changed since then.  The protracted withdrawal continues.  I am getting rather annoyed with it now.  Some people on the Truehope message boards were finished with the worst of their protracted withdrawal by the 5th month on the program, which for me would have been mid-October.  So I was ready and hoping for improvement around then, but it didn't materialize.  For most people it is 6 months, and by that reckoning I have only 2 or 3 weeks to go.  Some people do take even longer, but I am trying not to think about that.

I suppose there is some improvement, because the release of stored medications seems to be more random now, rather than unrelenting.  The other day I thought I was feeling pretty good, so I went to the grocery store and found myself feeling dizzy in the aisles.  Yesterday I was just sitting reading and I noticed that I felt pretty good again, and then an hour later my nose was running and the pain was back.  So it's frustrating, because I still don't feel that if I make plans for the day that there is a good chance I'll actually be able to do them.

But, there is still no return of the depression.  And that is good, because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well.  Usually it has started by now, and it is at its worst in the last week of November.  No sign of that this year.

I am looking forward, though, to reporting in a couple of weeks that the protracted withdrawal has finally let up!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Making Changes

Yesterday I was going to write a very whiny post, but then I decided that wouldn't be in my best interest.  Rest assured, though, that protracted withdrawal is still continuing.  I'm tired and dizzy, with little appetite, and constant shoulder, neck and head pain.  The runny nose comes and goes.

I've made a couple of changes to my routine.  One is that I started supplementing with iodine for my thyroid.  I have Hashimoto's Disease, an autoimmune disease that results in a slow thyroid.  The iodine really seems to help with my outlook and motivation.  It was when I started the iodine that I got the urge to exercise that I mentioned in my last post.  I haven't been exercising since then, the increase in protracted withdrawal was hard to take.  But I have been more motivated to do things around the house, and I'm slowly getting things cleaned and organized.

I also have been inspired to start eating vegan again.  I was vegan for 3 years in my 30s, and for the most part I really liked eating that way.  I had more energy and I lost weight.  I gave it up because I thought all the fibre was aggravating my IBS, which really became completely out of control.  Now I think I have a better idea of what foods were causing the problems, mainly hot peppers -- I love those spicy foods.  Also, when I started the Empowerplus I also started Truehope's FermPlus, a probiotic, and it really seems to have settled my stomach.  So, the timing seemed right.  I have been wanting to go back to eating vegan for quite a while, and I finally just made the decision to do it.

I had hoped that eating vegan would help with the protracted withdrawal, but that does not seem to have been the case.  It is neither better nor worse.  I am losing weight still, but not fast enough for it to cause a problem with the protracted withdrawal.  I have lost 12 pounds since the end of June, 3 of them in the past two weeks that I have been eating vegan.  I am optimistic now that I am on the right track to lose all the weight I gained while medicated.  70 pounds to go!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Surviving Protracted Withdrawal

Well, it's a learning experience!  I've had some run-ins with exercise recently.  They warn you not to do too much exercise, because it stimulates the release of your old medications from your muscles.  But "too much" is really a variable.  I have learned that for me "too much" is pretty much anything.

I haven't been doing any exercise at all since the withdrawal started at the end of June.  Dizziness is one of my big symptoms, so I just haven't been up to it.  But a few days ago my mom talked me into going for a walk.  After 5 minutes I had to turn back, so I was out for 10 minutes total.  The next day my protracted withdrawal symptoms were absolutely terrible.  But the day after that was really good.

So I decided to try a little yoga instead.  Just a little stretching.  Again, about 24 hours after the exercise the protracted withdrawal hit hardest.  But not as bad as the first time.

I've learned a bit what works for me to reduce the symptoms.  I have been predominantly relying on Total Amino Solutions (TAS), a blend of all the amino acids.  I was taking 4 TAS every 3 hours while awake, and that seemed to be enough to prevent the migraines.  When things got worse from my exercise I upped the dose to 6 TAS every 2 hours.  Sometimes it would give me a bit of relief, sometimes not. 

One thing that was surprisingly useful was to drink more water.  I already drink 8 glasses a day, so I thought I was doing pretty well.  But I found that by forcing myself to drink another 3 or 4 glasses, it really helped with the symptoms.

Truehope Support was surprised that such a short walk would give me symptoms.  They did suggest that I take some TAS before and after the exercise.  I will try this, because I think I will try the yoga again in a day or two.  I am not sure how the extra TAS will help, though, because in both cases the worst of the symptoms hit 24 hours after the exercise.  We'll see.

I suppose it's all a sign of progress, though, that I am interested in exercise at all.  Maybe it would be wisest to just wait until the worst of the protracted withdrawal is over before I start exercising.  If I was having depression or anxiety as a protracted withdrawal symptom I probably would wait.  But while it can be very uncomfortable, it is just physical symptoms, so I think I can handle the increase from a little exercise.  Of course, I was feeling very sorry for myself last night when the symptoms were at their worst.  But it's better now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


In my earlier post on motivation I wrote about how I've lost the motivation to do my crafts, which used to be a big part of my life.  Since then I've come to the realization that I'm just not interested in them any more.  The same thing has happened with music.  I have a big music collection, but now I never listen to it.  Nowadays I really value silence.  I could listen to the expanding silence for hours, but I don't get that chance much in the city.

I really feel like I'm going through a period of immense change, not just physically with getting off the meds, but in all areas.  I have a strong urge to throw everything away and start from scratch.  I'm of two minds on that still.  On one hand, I think it is true that clearing out the old will make way for new and improved.  It creates stagnant energy in your life to hold onto things.  Yes, the more I think about that the more I like the idea.

But then on the other hand, when I move back into my own place I'm going to need all that stuff.  There is a lot of nice stuff in there.  It would be prudent to keep it.

I guess I can split the difference, and do a little purging.  Really, I bet I could get rid of literally half the stuff I own now and not have my future comfort impacted.  Well, problem solved.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Story So Far

Of course, the thing about blogs is, that you read them backwards, unless you have been following all along.  So, to spare you going back to the beginning, a recap.

When I first heard about Truehope I had tried to go off my drugs many times, always unsuccessfully.  The slightest reduction in my medications would result in a return of the depression.  But the drugs were killing me, slowly but surely.  My blood sugar had just tested at the pre-diabetic level, a known side effect of the Risperdal I was taking.  My periods had stopped, also due to the Risperdal.  I was incredibly tired all the time.

My mood on my drugs wasn't really that bad, but things were trending down.  I would say I was mildly depressed most of the time.  I had no motivation.  I couldn't concentrate, hadn't read a book in years.  I had a growing social anxiety.  I couldn't handle the smallest stressors.  I spent most of my time on the sofa, not really thinking, just staring into space.  I hadn't worked for 9 years.

So I heard about Truehope and I read about the difficult time many people have with withdrawal from their medications, and I was very worried about facing months of serious depression, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my shortened life on the sofa, so I went for it.

The first four weeks, while I was taking Empowerplus and reducing my meds, were great.  I started this blog to show that it doesn't have to be all that hard to make the transition from drugs to Empowerplus.  Then I took my last dose of Wellbutrin and the withdrawal hit pretty hard.  The blog doesn't really reflect how hard it hit.  I was flattened.  I was asleep in bed all morning and on the sofa all afternoon, with a couple of good hours in the evening.  I was nauseous, hot and cold at the same time, and dizzy.  This lasted about a week and then slowly began to get better.

About a month after I stopped all my meds the protracted withdrawal set in.  Now, over three months into the program, I am still experiencing it.  For me it is mainly manifesting as very low energy and reduced stamina, reduced appetite, headaches which will grow into migraines if I don't take care of them, bizarreness in my sinuses and a constant post nasal drip.  And my sleep schedule is way off -- I fall asleep around 4 or 5 (or later) and sleep until 12 or 1.

But, I have to tell you that I don't mind all this at all.  I have not had one day when I felt depressed since I started Empowerplus.  Since I started the Holy Basil I have not had one day of anxiety.  I am incredibly lucky and grateful.  The physical symptoms I've had are a cakewalk compared to depression.

So, the Empowerplus is working, and I am looking forward to the future.  This blog is a sign of progress, and I am thinking of starting another one.  The dreadful hot and humid days of summer are over, and I always feel more optimistic as the fresh northern breezes start to blow away all the stale air.  It's time to turn my attention to new projects, but I will check in from time to time as new milestones are passed.  Best wishes on your journey of healing!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Blog is Boring

I've been concerned about this for a few weeks now. I feel I started off strong, but lately have just fallen into reporting symptoms, which is not really that interesting. I'm thinking I'm going to starting commenting on various mental health issues as I find them in life and on the internet. I will still report on my progress on Empowerplus, but lately that just seems to involve sitting around on the sofa, so there is plenty of time to talk about other things. I have some ideas already, so look out for a flurry of posts in the near future. Hopefully things will get a little more exciting around here!

Update Nov 25/09:  I googled "truehope blog" and my blog came up first in the listings (yay), and this post came up right after it!  Yikes!

In fact, this blog has continued to be about my symptoms and observations with withdrawal and Empowerplus.  First, I think that if you are thinking about Empowerplus or are actually starting it also, those symptoms are in fact interesting to you.  I recently read Steve Pavlina's blow by blow account of his raw food trial, which is WAY more detailed than this, and I found it fascinating.  So I do think there is value here.

Second, I found I didn't like the idea of focusing back on mental illness, when I am looking forward to wellness.

Looking back at this post, it seems funny that I was already bored with protracted withdrawal after just 2 weeks!  I see the same thing with new people on the Truehope message boards, and I laugh.

Read on, intrepid readers, read on!

Friday, August 7, 2009


I was going to post yesterday, I was feeling really good. So good, in fact, that I slacked off on my protracted withdrawal prevention routine. I'd been taking 4 Total Amino Solutions (TAS) every 3 hours to prevent my protracted withdrawal headache. I cut back to 2 TAS, and in 1 1/2 hours WHAM! -- migraine.

For me a migraine can develop out of a regular headache if I let it go too long. That's what happened last week. I had a headache all week which eventually culminated in a pretty bad migraine. I noticed, though, that when I took all my TAS in the evening to try and sleep the headache got significantly better, so I did eventually realize that it was protracted withdrawal that was causing the headache.

For those of you that are wondering, protracted withdrawal is caused by the release of the psychiatric medications that are stored in the body. It is most active in the 6 months after you stop taking your meds, but it can flare up for years afterwards if you overexert yourself or go on too restrictive a diet.

After the first migraine I went on a strict regimen of 4 TAS every 3 hours, with OTC pain killers added in as needed, and I started feeling pretty good. Protracted withdrawal is no big deal, thought I. The second migraine just shows that I have to remain vigilant.

And I stand by that thought -- with a little bit of care, protracted withdrawal does not seem to be that big a deal. I was really worried, some people have a terrible time with it. But, it seems to be going pretty smoothly for me. Last night I was even thinking about what kind of job I might like after I get better. So things are looking up.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This and That

Nothing major happening, just little signs of healing, I guess.

I did get two more nose bleeds after I posted, so that was 4 in the same 24 hour period. The last one woke me up at 5 in the morning, that was not pleasant. I stopped all my aspirin, Advil and gingko for 24 hours, but then my head was killing me and I had to try some aspirin again. It was not very fun worrying every time I took an aspirin. I did get a little seepage, but no more nose bleeds. I am being more careful with the aspirin and Advil, but at least I am able to take it again. I stopped the gingko.

I got my period, which is big news because in my last year on Risperdal I didn't have one at all, I was hoping for early menopause. But now it is back and I suppose that is good, my body is normalizing again. I had a short but vicious migraine to go with it, I am only grateful that it was gone the next day.

Sleep is still a problem. I went back and tried phosphatidyl choline again, this time 3 capsules, and I was asleep in 20 minutes. But I didn't feel well the next day, I was having depressed thoughts. I know some people get depressed from choline, so I haven't tried it again. I'm up to 12 of the Total Amino Solutions capsules at night, and they get me to sleep around 3. I've ordered some passion flower extract online, that was the last thing Truehope Support could recommend I try. I am trying not to worry about it, because that will just make it worse.

I am so grateful for the cool weather we are having this summer. It is about 3 degrees below normal so far they say, and that has been perfect for me. It is really nice.

I'm losing weight! The nausea is gone and I am eating normally, but I am still losing weight. I've lost 5 lbs so far, which is just nice, moderate weight loss.

So, I may not post as frequently, because not much seems to be going on right now. Just slow and steady healing. It's all good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nose Bleeds

Yes, my latest experience is two nose bleeds today. I have never had a nose bleed in my life before. I don't know if it's the Empowerplus or not. I searched the Truehope message boards for nose bleeds, and found one parent of a 6 year old who was having them frequently since coming off his meds. They do say to stop your Empowerplus before surgery to prevent excessive bleeding. It may be that I am getting too much gingko, the Empowerplus has gingko and so does another supplement I take. I should calculate just how much I'm getting. In any case, the nose bleed stops as soon as I put my head back for a couple of minutes, so I don't think it is anything to worry about.

I am back up to 15 Empowerplus capsules per day. I'd been feeling off, not hypomanic exactly but trending that way. Yesterday I decided to go back up to 15, and I felt so much better by the evening -- calm and even. I hoped I might get to sleep earlier, but I didn't, really.

I also added Holy Basil to the mix about a week ago. It is a great herb! It has totally eliminated the anxiety I was having. Every evening I used to start to feel anxious, and I could never figure out why. Now it is just gone! Fantastic.

So, I am still having trouble falling asleep at night, despite all the remedies. But overall, things are going very well. I do not think I have had a day of depression since starting Empowerplus. Sure, some of the physical symptoms have persisted, but I haven't felt down at all. That is really amazing, especially when you consider all the people who are depressed and anxious as part of their withdrawal. I am gradually getting my physical strength back too, so again, it is really going well!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I am the Queen of the Paradoxical Reactions. Just want to throw that out there.

I have not been sleeping. Well, I sleep, but not at the desired time. The past five nights now I have not fallen asleep until 4 or 5 am. I sleep until noon, so I'm still getting enough sleep, but it's getting old, lying awake in bed all night.

I know all the sleep remedies. I was using a lot of them before this problem, and they did help. L tryptophan, L theanine, melatonin, my antihistamine, they were getting me to sleep around 1 am. Hoping to get to sleep a little earlier, I tried adding phosphatidyl choline to the mix, and that was the first night I was up until 4. For the next 3 nights I didn't take the choline, but I was still up until 4 or 5. Last night I tried 2 choline, thinking maybe I wasn't taking enough, and I was definitely more alert after I took it.

So the choline is no good for me, but that doesn't explain why I was up on the nights I didn't take it. I made two other changes recently, I dropped down to 12 Empowerplus capsules from 15, and I added Holy Basil. The combined effect of these changes has been to make me more alert and a little more energetic during the day. I guess they are doing the same to me at night as well. But I'm not willing to give up the daytime benefit for more sleep, because I am sleeping, just not at the right time.

What I'm going to do is start shifting my wake up time earlier, and see if that will eventually be reflected in an earlier bedtime. I want to maintain my energy in the daytime, so the change will be gradual.

Really, despite this sleep problem I am getting better every day. I guess I am in the sweet spot now, between withdrawal and protracted withdrawal. My laundry has really piled up over the course of this withdrawal, maybe soon I'll be able to take care of that!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Still talking about coffee . . .

. . . I'm sorry to say. The decaf has a bitter aftertaste, and after giving it the old college try I've decided I just don't like it. After wrestling with my demons for a couple of hours, I went to the store to buy some regular coffee. Alas, they didn't have my usual brand, and I debated for a while whether I should take this as a sign that I shouldn't buy any coffee. But I bought it anyway. I had a cup this evening, and the sky hasn't fallen. If I can stick to just one cup a day I think I should be all right.

I am incrementally better again today than I was yesterday, so I am starting to think I am out of the woods for this first round of withdrawal. We have had to cancel our summer vacation plans because there is no way I will be able to drive 4 hours up to the lodge, or do any hiking or other activities when we get there. So that is disappointing, for my parents as well as for me. But next year should be a whole different story, and they agree that ditching the drugs is the right way to go.

So I am thinking optimistically now about protracted withdrawal. Except for the anxiety, all my symptoms with the first round of withdrawal were physical. It is easy to discount the anxiety now that it is gone, but I don't think it was that bad. It didn't keep me up at night or anything. I am very lucky that I haven't had any depression with the withdrawal, because depressed has been my default state for these 10 years or more. So I can see that the Empowerplus is doing some good, even through the trials of withdrawal.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Patience is my word of the day. I felt a little better today, but it is going oh so slowly. I'm still having no luck with any of the withdrawal remedies that have been recommended. I think today was better because I didn't try anything new. Yesterday I went out to the mall with my mom to buy some whey protein. It's a good thing I had her along because I had to sit outside on a bench while she actually bought the stuff for me. It was too hot for me in there. I am still having this temperature problem, being hot and cold at the same time.

I tried the whey protein as soon as I got home, just a tablespoon in half a glass of water, and it seemed to help for about an hour. I had a second dose and soon my stomach was bloated and sore, and it stayed bloated and sore all night. I may try it again with some digestive enzymes at the same time, but I am not in any hurry. I know some people take rice protein powder, but having just bought one honking big plastic jar of stuff I am loathe to shell out for another.

It seems that when I resist the withdrawal, and try all these remedies, that I feel worse off than when I just let it take its course. I think I have to strive for acceptance, and go with the flow a little more. I talked to Truehope Support today, and beyond the inositol, Total Amino Solutions and whey powder they have nothing else for me to try. They did suggest that I lower my dose of Empowerplus to 12 capsules from 15, so we'll see if that helps at all. And like I said, it did seem slightly better today, so maybe the worst is over. The anxiety is pretty much gone, anyway.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Managing Expectations

Another wretched day today, followed by a good-feeling evening and positively hypomanic twinkle in my eye tonight. It is quite a roller coaster to be on. My phosphatidyl choline will arrive from it's cross country journey on Wednesday. It is quite ridiculous the way Truehope ships their packages -- from Salt Lake City west to the coast where they cross the border, then in a truck all the way back east across Canada to where I live.

I signed up for a course, Jeanette Maw's Money Mojo Magic, to improve my relationship with money, and the first exercise made me realize that I haven't been managing my expectations very well here. I started out looking for some profound changes in my mental health, but really that's been lost as I've been hunkered down going through this withdrawal. All I've had recently was a thin hope that my blood sugar would improve after I get these drugs out of my system.

So let's be clear about what I'm expecting in the long run here. I expect total mental health, enthusiasm and optimism about life, and lots of energy. I expect physical health, with the motivation to take care of myself properly. I expect to be a contributing member of society, with some kind of work I love. I expect a mind that runs clear and deep.

That sets the course properly.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I have been having some anxiety recently, but it seems the cure is worse than the complaint. I had a brutal reaction to some inositol today, which is recommended for anxiety and depression. I was really sick, and now I just have that wrung out feeling that you get after you've been sick. A lot of people on the Truehope message boards rely on inositol to control their moods, and they can take large quantities of the stuff, but some people find it "activating." If by activating they mean feeling miserable then I guess I find it activating too.

A couple of days ago I was feeling anxious also so I tried to take an extra capsule of L theanine. This is supposed to be non-drowsy but it really knocked me out. I was wiped out for most of the next day. So I am not having good luck with anxiety remedies.

I do not know why I am anxious, I have nothing to be anxious about. I think I just have to learn to wear it as best I can. Maybe when I stop making myself sick with anxiety remedies I will stop feeling so anxious.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rough Week

Well, I've had a rough week. I've been sleeping all day, I've been dizzy and nauseous, I've been totally off my food. When I was hoping to lose weight I wasn't thinking of constant nausea as the way to do it! I tried Gravol for the nausea, and it did help, but it put me back to sleep for a couple of hours.

All these symptoms started with the last reduction of the Risperdal to 0.375 mg. They spiked even higher when I went to 0 mg. I think Truehope has advised me to come off my drugs too quickly. They wanted me off everything in 3 weeks! I think 2 to 3 months would be more reasonable, more gentle. Plus, that article on benzo withdrawal in Wikipedia says that the protracted withdrawal is more severe when you come off your drugs too quickly. I hope I have not let myself in for it now.

Today at least is better. One consolation is that the withdrawal does not seem to be unrelenting, there are times when the symptoms subside and I can come up for air. Also, despite everything, my mood does not seem to be particularly suffering. It is just physical symptoms, I don't seem to be having any emotional problems.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hot and Cold

Physical symptoms of withdrawal have been coming and going over the past couple of days. Right now I have that hot and cold at the same time thing going on again. I had goosebumps but I'm sticky at the same time. My feet are freezing.

I had to change my coffee to decaf, unfortunately. A cup of regular coffee the other day triggered a symptom attack, so I bowed to the inevitable. The decaf isn't that bad, it's better than tea, anyway.

I spent the day on the sofa today, just too tired to do anything else. But my mood is holding up well, so I didn't mind. Yesterday I found that my energy level went up in the evening, and that seems to be holding true today as well.

The really good news is that I read a book! I don't know how many years it has been since I read a work of fiction, 4 or 5 maybe. I've been reading the occasional self-help book now and then, but I gave up on fiction, it just didn't hold my interest. I watched the Andrew Davies adaptation of Northanger Abbey on DVD the other day, and it made me want to read the book to see how it compared. I was able to read it easily, with no problems with concentration or attention. So that is a major breakthrough. I am thinking of looking into the rest of Jane Austen's works, I have not read them since school, I think.

My appetite has been all over the map also. Today it took me all day to eat a small dinner roll with cheese, I had no appetite. You will recall that a few days ago I was starving all the time. Fortunately, I was able to control that with the Total Amino Solutions (TAS). Things are tasting a little odd too.

I adjusted my taper off Risperdal to make it a little more gradual. I noticed when studying my charts on the Truehope website that my withdrawal symptoms really didn't start until my Wellbutrin went to zero. Just that last step from 75 mg to 0 mg seemed to be a big one. Rather than heap more insult onto my body by ending the Risperdal right away I decided to cut the tablet into eighths, a 0.375 mg dose. I will take that for 4 nights total. It seemed to me that going from 0.75 mg to 0 mg would have been another big step that might cause problems, so I feel better about this.

I have been reading Wikipedia about withdrawal from benzodiazepines and SSRIs. There is a lot of interesting information there. I am very grateful that I'm not dependent on benzos and going through that aspect of withdrawal. I dodged a big bullet there. I took Ativan for a few years until it just stopped working. I switched to Klonopin, but it never really did much for me so I just sort of drifted away from it. No withdrawal, no big deal. Thank goodness!

One of the things emphasized in the Wikipedia article on benzo withdrawal is that a very slow taper off the drugs has the best success rate and the fewest symptoms. They are talking about a 6 month taper. It made me wonder about Truehope's strategy, which is much quicker than that. One of the consequences of a fast taper is said in the article to be more severe symptoms during protracted withdrawal, which is the period of time after you've finished taking medications when you are still getting symptoms. I wonder if the severe symptoms many Truehope participants complain of during protracted withdrawal could be partly due to the rapidity of the taper. It makes me wonder if a gradual introduction of Empowerplus and a six month taper might actually be kinder. Food for thought. It's too late for me though.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feeling Good

Well, all the symptoms I was having seem to have gone away. My body temperature is back to normal, my mood has stabilized and I'm feeling positive once again. My hunger levels are back to normal. Things are going great. I'm holding steady at 15 Empowerplus capsules a day, and I'm down to .75 mg of Risperdal. Two more days of that and I'm done all together! I'm already finished with the Wellbutrin. I'm not even taking the Total Amino Solutions today.

And the best news of all (almost) is that I've had a couple of cups of coffee without any trouble. The tea just did not cut it. I guess it is more than just a hot drink for me, it is the taste of the coffee as well. I will probably cut back from 3 cups a day to 1 or 2, but I don't know about decaf. It seems I am fussier about my coffee than I had thought. If the withdrawal symptoms come back I may avoid coffee for a few days, but otherwise it seems to be ok.

I am lucky I know. Who would have thought withdrawal from years of psychiatric medications could be so easy? When I compare this experience to the last time I quit Risperdal the difference is night and day. My mood is very positive. There are longer standing issues to get over, like my motivation problems, but for now, things are going very well.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Ok, I've had this title up two or three times already, but I always end up talking about something else. Motivation is a real demon for me.

Lack of motivation is pretty common among people with depression or other mental illness. It can be hard just to do the basic necessities of life, like cooking, cleaning, personal care. I have been pretty seriously unmotivated for 9 years now, since I went on disability. It is easy to understand why I don't do things I don't like doing, like cleaning, but I've had a hard time coming to grips with why I don't do things I ostensibly like to do, like my crafts.

I love crafts. I knit, needlepoint, cross stitch, embroider and quilt, to name the main ones. I love working with colour, I love the different textures of threads, fabrics and yarns, I love pattern. I enjoy the meditative, repetitive nature of many crafts. I love planning and starting new projects, and I love the finished products. I love my crafts. But in 9 years, I have shockingly little done.

This has been a source of much anguish to me. My dream has always been to be retired and free to pursue my crafts all day. There appears to be nothing stopping me from living the dream right now. I have a basement full of materials ready to go. But most of the time I don't do them. Does this mean my dream is wrong, misguided in some way? Maybe I don't really like crafts as much as I think. I have the feeling that I am having the experience of living my dream, only to find it was not what I wanted. Why am I not doing something I supposedly love so much? It is painful to feel that I don't know my own mind.

Thinking about this topic for the past few days I have been coming to the conclusion that it is the depression that is causing a lack of motivation, even for something that I enjoy. It is hard to accept that depression could take away something so basic to me, that it can take away my dreams like that.

I used to measure my days by how much crafting I got done. I felt good if it was a productive day, and I beat myself up if I didn't do anything. Recently I have stopped beating myself up. I had achieved a certain amount of acceptance with sitting on the couch, and I was more peaceful. Now, though, after writing all this, I am wondering. I have questions for the future. Many people on the Truehope program do get their motivation back. What will happen to me? Will I pick up my crafts and be happy? What if I do not like crafts anymore? What will my dream be then?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oh no! No more coffee!?!

One of the limiting factors that can reduce the effectiveness of Truehope's Empowerplus supplements is caffeine. There are lots of limiting factors, and I have a lot of them, so it was kind of hard to take them seriously. So even though I knew coffee was sort of a no no, I went ahead with my 3 cups a day anyway. And that worked fine, up until yesterday. I started yesterday with the Total Amino Solutions, to keep control of that hunger and my mood, and I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but when I had my first cup of coffee that afternoon I soon started to feel strung out. I was hot and cold at the same time, sort of clammy. My usual pattern is to have a cup of coffee if I am feeling unwell, so I had another cup. Things got even worse. It was clear that the coffee was not the right thing anymore.

So today I have not had any coffee, and I'm feeling it. I guess I have to go to the store and try to find some herbal tea. I've been reading about people giving up coffee, and I think for me the main thing is the ritual of making and drinking a nice hot drink, rather than the taste so much, or the caffeine. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

The worst thing is that I still have this hot and cold feeling -- it's summer and my feet are freezing while the rest of me is sticky. My feet have been cold for days now, very unusual for me, it must be another side effect of the withdrawal.

My mood is more volatile as well, although mainly it is disturbing me rather than those around me. I really value my peace of mind, so it is annoying to be getting angry over small slights. I seem to be in a more reasonable frame of mind now, though, so hopefully that will continue.

Actually, I wonder if there is some cinnamon tea still in the house? It seems like a sorry compromise, but maybe I will like it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Symptoms Increasing

Yesterday I was a little hypomanic. I snapped at my mother on two separate occasions, just way overreacting to what she was doing, which is very unlike me normally. It was weird to be so out of control, for the first time in a long time. And then, the confirmation, I didn't sleep for hours last night. No racing thoughts or anything, just wide awake. But it looks like it's over now.

Today's problem has been more of that hunger. I was ravenous all afternoon. I spoke to Truehope support again today about the hypomania, and they recommended that I start the Total Amino Solution (TAS) supplements that I've had sitting around here since the beginning. After eating everything in sight it finally occurred to me that the TAS might help with the hunger, if it is indeed a symptom of withdrawal. I took two, and now, 3 hours later the hunger seems under control. This is good news indeed, because I understand I can take quite a lot of TAS without side effects, so hopefully I will not be plagued by this hunger any more.

It has really made me see, however, how strong that hunger side effect is. No wonder I gained all that weight! It has all become clear today. I had thought a large part of the weight gain was due to the depression, but now I can really see that it's the drugs that did it. Wow. They should warn people.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I just realized last night that I probably am having some withdrawal effects. I'm hungry! It feels the same as previous experiences with drug-induced hunger. I'm just hungry all night, nothing is satisfying, I eat one thing after another, mainly carbs. During the day I'm ok, but at night, look out!

I've had this for a few weeks now, but it didn't really occur to me that it was withdrawal until last night. It figures that this would be the withdrawal symptom that I have. I have a history with weight gain from my medications. When I started Depakote (Epival in Canada) I gained 100 lbs from that and the depression. I was on Depakote for migraines actually. I was getting at least 15 days of migraines a month, and I was desperate, but I still wonder if the doctor had told me I would gain 100 lbs if I would have started it. I met a guy in a Bipolar support group who also gained over 100 lbs on Depakote, but he lost it all when they switched him to Topamax. I went off Depakote and I managed to lose 40 lbs, but then I started Celexa and gained another 25. I quit Celexa last winter and I've managed to lose 15, but I'm still carrying 70 extra pounds compared to my weight when I had my breakdown.

So my secret hope is that I will lose weight with the Empowerplus supplements. I've read of others with big weight losses on the program. Hopefully this constant hunger will be temporary.

I'm also noticing a little variability with my sleep patterns. In my second and third weeks on the program I was sleeping less soundly, I think because my dose of Risperdal was being reduced. Risperdal always knocked me out at night. But this past week I've been sleeping more deeply, even though the dose of Risperdal is even smaller. Hopefully I am getting into a healthier sleep pattern.

I'm considering speeding up my taper off the Risperdal, to maybe get through this hungry period a little faster. I'm thinking it's probably my version of being overmedicated. I've been stretching out the taper of Risperdal to 6 weeks, because I was taking a fairly high dose. Truehope support thought 4 weeks would be enough, but I was cautious.

Yes, I just got off the phone with Truehope and they agree that I could be tapering off Risperdal more quickly. I will do one more night at 1.5 mg, and then do 4 nights at .75 mg, and then I'll be done with it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Not Sad, Depressed.

I just took my dose of Risperdal for the evening and I felt a little twinge of glee. I am down to 1/2 a tablet, from 1 1/2 tablets. I can't believe that this tiny bit is all I am taking now, and I feel good! Wow, it's amazing.

My situation is a little different I think than many people's, because I don't feel sad, and I wasn't feeling sad even before I started Empowerplus. I have been thinking today, after yesterday's revelation with the symptoms of depression, that there are many ways that depression manifests. Feeling sad is only one of them, and I think I have done a good job training myself to always reach for the better-feeling thought, so that I have talked my way into a fairly mellow place. I will say that five years of therapy helped a great deal as well -- I have all my childhood issues well sorted and totally reconciled. I have an excellent relationship with my parents now.

I am straying from my topic, but as an aside I recommend therapy for anyone who can afford it. Interview different therapists until you find one you click with. I had two primary therapists, one in California and one when I moved back to Canada. In California I had insurance to cover the cost but I paid out of pocket for my Canadian therapist, it was well worth it. Both my therapists were women. I did have some sessions with men, but I found there was more of an unspoken understanding with the women. I would expect that a man would find a better connection with a man too. Both my therapists had a Ph.D. in psychology, I found the higher level of education did make a difference. I had sessions with a psychiatrist too, who was well-respected, and I liked him, but in my opinion I don't think he was as interested in the process of therapy as my psychologists were. I went into therapy with a determination to be totally honest with my therapist and with myself, and it really paid off for me.

Ok, off my soapbox. My point is that despite all this good psychological help I've had, I'm still probably depressed. Not sad, depressed. The symptoms yesterday show that -- trouble concentrating, avoiding people, low energy and the rest. It is interesting that these symptoms persist even though the sadness is gone.

Arrgh, I don't even know where I'm going with this anymore. Concentration still an issue, clearly. I'll just post it and let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Symptoms Evaluation

It's a lot of responsibility, having a blog. I keep starting and stopping today, trying different titles, looking for inspiration I guess. It really makes you evaluate your thinking.

For instance, in a previous version I was all set to tell you how I skip right over the "symptoms" part of the Truehope Symptom Evaluation Form, which I have been doing. I looked up the form to give you examples of symptoms that I don't have. But today, in all conscience, I can't really say that I have zero symptoms. I rescheduled an appointment to take my car in for service -- so there's "avoiding people." I've started this blog post several times today -- there's "hard to concentrate or decide." I think I can lay claim to "loss of energy" and "loss of interest in hobbies and activities" too.

But at the same time, I woke up feeling that lighter feeling again today. I'm not unhappy. In fact, if I didn't have things to do I never would have noticed that I have symptoms at all. There's the rub, as they say. If only we didn't have things to do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Drugs

Do you remember when Tom Cruise came out against Brooke Shields for taking medications for her post-partum depression? He said mental illness could be cured with vitamins. I thought he was a wacko. I thought everyone was seriously misinformed who didn't realize that mental illness was a serious physical condition that required serious drugs. And now here I am on the vitamins bandwagon! Life is funny.

Back when I lived in San Francisco I ran across a journalist who was against antidepressants because people were taking them for minor complaints, and they were losing their capacity to feel deep emotions. He felt that the ability to feel the darker emotions was essential to him as a writer, for example. I felt that he was totally missing the experience of those like me with serious mental illness, who had a surfeit of darker emotions. I felt, and I knew others who felt the same, that psychiatric medications had saved my life.

But life is full of irony. Once I was a little more stable, taking Risperdal, I was out of the woods as far as major depression was concerned, but I was dissatisfied. I was still feeling depressed, and I started to suspect that I was missing the fun and good feelings of my hypomanias. Such a typically bipolar thing to think. People with bipolar disorder are notorious for non-compliance on their medications for just this reason. I wanted to take less Risperdal, not stop it completely, just to open the window for a little hypomania now and then. But what happened instead is that I got more depressed and more fatigued than when I was taking it.

And then I got even more depressed, and we added Wellbutrin to the mix, and eventually Celexa. We raised the dose of Risperdal even higher. Now I wasn't depressed, but I still wasn't satisfied. I got interested in the positive psychology self help movement that is going on today, but for the life of me I couldn't muster a happy feeling. I started hearing that the psychiatric medications do indeed do that -- they inhibit the happy feelings along with the sad ones. Good grief, that journalist was right!

So for the past two years I've been trying to find ways to go off my medications. I tried other natural remedies. St. John's Wort hadn't helped me before my breakdown, so I didn't try that again. I phased out Celexa and added tryptophan, that worked successfully. SAMe was a big disaster, the stomach pain I had from that was tremendous. I tried bioidentical hormone replacement, thinking my mood problems could be hormonally related. I felt good on that for 6 weeks and then the migraines started. The migraines wiped out any benefit from the hormone replacement, so I had to give it up. Encouraged by my success with the tryptophan I tried lowering my dose of Risperdal again, but just a small reduction of that left me listless and more depressed. Just after that attempt I heard about Truehope.

Now I am taking way less Risperdal, in two days I will be done with Wellbutrin all together, and I feel better than I did before I started the Truehope Empowerplus. Can happy feelings be far behind? I hope not.

Social Phobia

One of the problems I was facing that motivated me to start the Truehope program was a growing social phobia. I am surprised to see on the Truehope message boards that it is actually not that uncommon.

Back before my breakdown I did personality tests at work that showed that my natural state is extroverted. It is almost ten years since my breakdown now, and the first five of that were spent trying to stabilize my depression. I tried every drug on the market before I settled on Risperdal, Wellbutrin and eventually Celexa as well. These left me not depressed, per se, but with a growing social phobia.

What do I mean by that? Well, for me it means that going out is a real trial. Things that people take forgranted like showering and putting on something other than stretchy pants are big challenges and require advance planning. So the cards have to be right there. Then there is the travelling to the outing. When I go downtown I take the train, so I have to be on time for that. Otherwise I'll drive. Now, I love driving as a rule, but when I am going out I have to worry about the weather, parking, traffic, and they all seem like big challenges when I am contemplating that on top of showering and getting dressed. It is like a long chain of things that all have to go right.

Once I am actually out with my friends I always have a good time, I guess my extroverted nature finally is released, and I try to remember this beforehand, but I still take a long time between outings summoning my reserves. I see my friends rarely these days.

Now I think a doctor would say this is all a symptom of depression, and maybe it is. What I do know is that the drugs I was on weren't doing anything to help it, and in fact it was getting progressively worse. I was looking at a bleak future of sitting on my sofa, well, lying on the sofa, afraid to leave the house. So, while getting off my medications and lowering my blood sugar levels is my primary goal, getting out of the house a little more often would be a nice bonus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Quiet Mind

Yesterday, actually, I had an interesting development in my mental health recovery that has motivated me to start writing this blog. It's hard to describe. It's like there's been a constant noise in my head all this time that suddenly stopped. Like a source of pressure has been released. It's subtle, yet I think the ramifications are huge. I think part of the reason things in my life stress me out so much is because I've always had this pressure in my head, taking away my flexibility to deal with other things. With that pressure gone, my whole relationship to life could change!!

Ok, well that was yesterday, and it seems like it may be back a little today, but now I see what's possible.

I am 3 1/2 weeks into the Truehope Empowerplus micronutrient program for mental health. My diagnosis is Bipolar II, with my main problem being depression. I take 15 Empowerplus capsules a day. I am in the process of tapering down my psychiatric medications. I'm down to 2.25 mg of Risperdal, or 1/2 my original dose. I also take 75 mg of Wellbutrin, down from my original dose of 300 mg.

So far I have not had any withdrawal symptoms. This is not my first time tapering off Risperdal. I went off it several years ago when I developed a really annoying tremor in my jaw and tongue, which was brought on by a period of extreme stress. Last time I tapered off Risperdal the withdrawal was extreme, a terrible black suicidal depression. So I began my taper this time with a great deal of trepidation, but things are going swimmingly. This Truehope Empowerplus is great stuff!!

Not only am I not experiencing withdrawal, I am in fact seeing improvement in my symptoms of depression and anxiety. The Truehope website has a Symptoms Evaluation Form that users fill in daily, and you can view your charts to see your progress. I thought I was doing pretty well when I filled in my baseline charts before I started Empowerplus, but even there I have improved.

I think my doctor would have said that I was pretty well controlled on the Risperdal and Wellbutrin. I didn't have any big depressions or hypomanias. But I was still getting little depressions, as well as a seasonal malaise that is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I was dreadfully fatigued, developing more and more of a social phobia, and unable to work. I was staring down the barrel of spending the rest of my life on disability, sitting on my couch all day. I had no quality of life. So that is why I decided to risk a difficult withdrawal period and start the Truehope program.

Once I started researching Truehope I learned other reasons to get off my psychiatric medications. My last blood test showed that my blood sugar is at pre-diabetic levels, and I was shocked to learn that the Risperdal could have caused this. My hormones are also all screwed up, with elevated prolactin, also caused by the Risperdal. I don't have the mental fortitude to be taking blood samples several times a day, so diabetes is to be avoided at all cost. I have suspected all along that my psychiatric medications were shortening my life, now I am sure of it.

You may ask why I stuck with Risperdal all this time. The fact is that it took me 5 years to get as stabilized as I was, after trying every medication on the market. I had immediate side effects from almost everything, from dopeyness to migraines. Even Topamax, which was initially marketed for migraines, gave me terrible migraines. Risperdal was the only thing that even partially worked. But as I said, there's lots of room for improvement, and I'm not risking diabetes.

So this was a long post as I gave you all my background. I'm looking forward to lots of good news posts from here on in. The Truehope documentation says that recovery on the Truehope program is a long haul. In addition to the potential for withdrawal and what they call protracted withdrawal, when your body releases over the period of several months the psychiatric medications that have been stored in your tissues, there is also a period of adaptation to a new and healthy mental landscape. That is part of what I glimpsed yesterday with that momentary release of pressure in my head. It's more than just "feeling better," I'm hoping it will be a real shift in how I think.