Adventures in Psychiatry: The Lizard Brain

Soooo.... I don't know how to start this off really. I dropped off the radar in December and only recently re-surfaced. Absolutely every aspect of my life has been hit by the events of the past few months and I honestly cannot believe I'm a) still sitting in my flat in Brighton and not hospitalised, and B) back in control of what was rapidly becoming a losing battle.

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In January, to kick 2015 off in spectacular style, the lizard brain took hold of me and would not let go. Usually, having had almost a decade of practice at dealing with the lizard and it's evil ways, I can shake it off and recover quite quickly. Not this time. This was vicious, uncontrollable and took about a month to successfully medicate; yes I am back on venlafaxine. It was a real shock to realise that despite all the progress I've made in terms of managing my panic disorder, there is still a 'cut-off' point where no matter what techniques or skills you try to employ to deal with it on your own, sometimes you still need medical help. I haven't had to go to hospital for sedatives for years, but in early January I knew I had absolutely no choice. Even making that decision triggered panic attacks because I felt so conflicted about using benzodiazapines again following my sobriety from them. I was terrified it'd press that magic button in my brain and I'd be trapped in addiction once again; but the thought of having the lizard kicking the shit out of me multiple times an hour was far worse. 

I used lorazepam for 7 days and then changed to buspirone - after having a difficult discussion with my doctor about it and forcing him to read my notes from the addiction psychiatrist! Thankfully, for reasons I don't fully understand, the lorazepam didn't seem to trigger any addictive thoughts. The need for alcohol however, that took on a life of its own. It took every ounce of strength I had in me to make it though the day without giving in. Some people say I'm too stubborn for my own good, but it's that stubbornness (if that's even a word) that gave me a little voice to cling on to... "don't let this be the thing that takes you down..." and thankfully it didn't. I sit here today, 2 years and 11 months sober without needing disulfiram (aka Antabuse) or acamprosate (aka Campral). I very nearly sought out relapse prevention support but was having a hard time rationalising whether or not it was indeed somewhere I needed to go. While I felt at breaking point, I hadn't used. Although I did buy an emergency supply of alcohol, it's untouched. I managed to get through it on my own using what Addaction taught me.... and refusing to be beaten by a ridiculous situation. 

Fast forward to February and through to March; I was contending with ESA and very imminent homelessness. University had to be pushed aside and I spent up to 15 hours a day trying to find a solution to a situation I prayed I would never be in again. I tried everything I could possibly think of but I had two choices, give up my flat and Lily and move into emergency social housing or move onto campus and give up Lily then be back in the same position once the semester was over. What some people fail to understand is how much I need Lily to function, and she needs me just the same. I couldn't bare to think of giving her up to foster care for months on end. She wouldn't cope and I certainly wouldn't... especially with the added pressure of being in a hellish environment that would absolutely have killed any mental strength I had left and thrown me into the deep end of alcoholism once again. Yes I am strong and stubborn, but everyone and I mean everyone, has a breaking point. Losing Lily and losing university are those for me. Both were at serious risk until 48 hours before I was due to leave my flat. Yup, just 48 hours. I'll talk about what went down with ESA in another post. The solution came from somewhere I never expected, and in a scenario I never fathomed would ever happen, but it did and it gave both me and Lily a safe place to be. I'm moving in 3 weeks. 

The most enraging part of this is that when I told my mother about the situation and how desperate I was, she offered no support whatsoever. I wasn't looking for money or a place to go, just..... a mother to be a mother. I guess that shows the desperation of my mental state.... Rational-Me knows that she is not the place to go to for support and will always do the exact opposite of what I'm looking for. When I told her about what happened in January I got a "get over it" and then my desperate cries for help where basically ignored. I had no help. I was completely alone with this and for the first time ever, that scared me so much. People rarely appreciate their family and friends... take them for granted. That was certainly the case with someone responsible for this entire situation. 

So. I was barely at university and by the time March rolled around I was mentally and physically exhausted, with the added challenge of side-effects kicking my arse. I had assignments to write and so much to catch up on. It was terrifying. The second year counts for 40% of the final degree classification, and this semester really needed to finish on a strong note. I've done the best I can, but I know it's not enough. Irregardless of that,  I can't rate Sussex University highly enough for the amount of support they have given me during this entire ordeal. They really are incredible. I've all but given up on the idea of getting a first, so I'll settle for aiming at a strong 2:1. That is do-able. 

It's now May and all my assignments are submitted and I have finally been able to rest for the first time in months. It's hitting me hard. I forgot how cruel M.E/CFS can be. The muscle weakness is coming back and despite sleeping upwards of 12 hours a night, I'm knackered. I wake up more tired than when I went to sleep. Some days, like today, I can write and talk fairly coherently but there are days when I just can't. Venlafaxine is working in terms of controlling the depression side of my mental health, at 150mg this time around. I'm taking 160mg propranolol a day, spread into 2 doses of 80mg. During the peak of my panic disorder 'flare up' I was relying heavily on anti-emetics, but thankfully I don't need those so much anymore. I didn't realise the toll it had taken on my body until people started commenting on the change in my appearance. I have lost 55lbs since September, about 20lbs of that came off during January-March. It's no wonder my body is struggling.

I'm frustrated that I'm back on medication, but the trouble with the lizard brain is that it cannot be controlled any other way. Especially when it decides to come out of it's cave and remind you it's there and what it can do. It didn't beat me though. Things are looking up and I seriously hope that trend continues!

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