DISCLAIMER* For the love of Zoloft, do not alter or discontinue your mental health care plan without the express supervision of a mental health care professional.
In January of 2014, I found myself in a unique position. I had just left a job as an Executive Assistant to stay home with my daughters once more, after a year of working. My eldest, who is 9 and a high functioning autistic, had taken a sharp dive in her schooling and behavior. It was clear that, after years of meddling in various part time roles over the past three years, that not being available to my family full time was not in the cards while they were young. I shelved any career aspirations for outside the home until the girls finished high school. My husband, who has a long established career in the high tech industry, has made it blessedly possible for us to have this situation, and I finally accepted that my contribution to our lives did not have to be monetary. The girls were both in full time school. I devoted myself to volunteering and taking part in the school committee. But they didn’t need me all the time.
So now what?
I thought that, since I was turning 40 this year, now might be a good time for me to evaluate my status quo. Perhaps to have a kind of Renaissance?
I started with my diet. I gave up meat and turned to a vegetarian lifestyle. I turned from beer to cider and wine (my gut thanked me). And I started to ask a lot of questions about why I felt the urge to DO MORE with my life.
I have been Bipolar my whole life. I started out as a sensitive kid, but then when hormones hit, it was agony. I won’t bore you with the gory details, many other articles have been written about that, and likely better than I ever could. But 20 years ago, I found a wonderful family doctor, and luckily, on our third try, we found a medication that managed my condition. I credit it with getting me through College and University with a great deal of enjoyment and stability.
No, what this article is about is when I decided to re-evaluate my treatment. The number one thing I missed was my crazy creativity and ability to output…well pretty much anything I set myself to. The second (moved to numero uno once I found it again) was my sex drive.
Most manic depressives will tell you, and my Doctor agreed, that they love their manic highs. I loved Manic Carrie. That bitch got shit DONE. Like, with flair, creativity, humor, and speed. I could list for you scholarly papers as long as a donkey dong that established link between creativity and manic depression. Virginia Wolff, Einstein, Sylvia Plath, Van Gogh, all suffered from mental illness. There is also a long established link between high levels of physical activity and an abatement of symptoms from mental disorder. So, I decided to start decreasing my dosage of medication, and up my physical activity. I had been stable for 20 years, and had a stable home life, and a better than average self-awareness of my illness. With the consultation of my Doctor and the agreement of my husband I began adjusting my medication regime.
I started with 40 milligrams, and cut that to 30. In six months, I cut that to 20. By Christmas of last year, I cut back to 10, a level I hadn’t been at since I started on medication 20 years ago. There were some side effects. As I decreased the dosage, I was prone to levels of sleeplessness, mild mood swings, decreased appetite…happily, little changes in my mood per say. My stable home life and lack of stressors from work were a huge factor in my ability to ride the waves. But all of that paled measured against what I got in return.
By the time April came around, my fitness regime consisted of downhill skiing twice a week, and cross country once a week. My increased energy level made it difficult to sit still: I often also snowshoed or walked 5 k twice a week if I couldn’t ski a day. I needed less sleep when I was sleeping normally (this had been the case within a month of lowering the dosage each time.) And my creativity went through the roof. I began painting again. I began writing way more. And physiologically, something magical happened.
I consistently felt physical arousal!
Up until this point, my ability to feel physically stimulated was super hit or miss. About the same time I came home for good, I started writing and reading again. I had long had a secret love affair with romance and erotica that had fallen by the wayside, and had taken it up again. At the beginning of last year, my physical response was that of a rubber chicken. Possibly a can of Spam. I had felt a difference after cutting back to 20 milligrams, but at 10, WOW.
When you go on these kinds of medication, the Doctors will often tell you that with the medication you will feel a slight lowering of your sex drive. It has become a life and limb situation: feel love in your tingly bits and massive creativity, or feel balanced and level. Up until this point in my life, the triage had made it necessary for me to regard my sex drive and creativity as a “nice to have”. And after a number of years, I forgot what I was missing. WHAT.A.RIPOFF. Your sexual health, especially if you are involved in a relationship, is SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT!
Now, I just had to think for a few minutes and my whole body would stand up and applaud. What a revelation!
This made my writing better. I am in the midst of writing my first paranormal romance, and it’s much easier to write erotic scenes when your body is functioning properly. If it doesn’t interest my hormones, it likely won’t ping my ideal reader. Plus, the increased level of emotional range I felt is helping me to create characters that will, I believe, resound better with my readers.
I reached an impasse once my physical activity dropped off with the end of the ski season and increased responsibilities at my daughter’s school. I became too much “in my own head” without those super high levels of exercise. On consultation with my Doctor and husband, I went back to a level of 20 milligrams, and I feel this is an ideal level for me. I still have the level of creativity I like, and physiological function, but I can pull back from getting too self-absorbed or obsessive, or withdrawn.
The popular discussion in regards to mental illness is generally about getting people treatment so they are better. We do not often see people talking about how mental health and its treatment is something that always has to be revisable based on the person, environmental factors, and desired outcomes through the span of our lives. We also seldom discuss what we are giving up when we embark on pharmaceutical treatment. Because I really love Manic Carrie. I just don’t love when she takes a nose dive.
I am in an ideal situation, and I have no illusions about that. I would simply suggest that we take a longer look at mental health, and remember what a multi-faceted beast it truly is.
Carrie is an avid outdoor woman. She camps year round, skis downhill and cross-country, and can often be seen riding around on her midlife crisis, a floral covered Elektra cruiser bike named "Fancy". She started collecting tattoos at 36 years old and plans on continuing until she's out of space. Carrie strongly believes that being outdoors, travelling, expressing yourself honestly and creativity are the keys to a happy life.
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