An Unbelievably Good Psychiatrist’s Appt Yesterday

Yesterday, I didn’t blog, because I was overwhelmed and frustrated all evening. The frustration is a topic for another time. My overwhelm was mostly positive in a way, in that I’d had a psychiatrist’s appointment in the morning and was overcome with disbelief at how understanding she was. That in turn triggered feelings of disbelief at my current life situation in general, which triggered memories of trauma.

I’d seen this psychiatrist once before, last December. Then, she had switched my PRN medication from lorazepam to quetiapine. Now was the time to discuss whether this was the right medication for me. I wasn’t sure to begin with. I explained truthfully that, while the medication helps somewhat with my oversensitivity to stimuli like noise, it doesn’t help with the anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I didn’t mention PTSD as such, but I did mention that my basic level of arousal is already pretty high. She asked me to describe how I moved from my baseline, which I explained was already a five on a 1-10 scale, to a level ten. I explained that I move very quickly and, once I’m at a ten, I’m too overwhelmed and unable to process stuff to take a quetiapine. Then, when I recover slightly to, say, a level eight, I can take the medication and it helps me get back to my baseline level of five.

I can’t remember how we got talking about it, but I assume my nurse practitioner already told her some things about my anxiety. I mean, we got talking about my fear of going to sleep, which I up to that point had hardly realized was maybe an actual fear of going to sleep because of nightmares. Until this point, I’d always assumed it was some form of fear of abandonment, as the night staff isn’t in my home all the time.

The psychiatrist pretty quickly got to her suggestion, which is adding a low dose of topiramate (Topamax) to my daily medications. I had heard of this medication before and a person I know online, had gotten it at his own request to help with PTSD-related nightmares. This person got it only for a few nights when he had to endure a triggering situation though. Besides, I don’t have nightmares every night. So before I agreed to it, I asked the psychiatrist to explain what it would do. She said it’s normally prescribed for epilepsy or migraine, but low doses are also found to be effective for trauma-related symptoms. She explained that some people love this medication and some hate it due to its side effects. At first, I’ll get one 25mg tablet to be taken at night. I’ll notice any side effects I’m going to get within the first several days and can then stop right away if they’re too unpleasant. If I tolerate this medication, the dose can be upped, in which case I’ll need to take the medication twice daily. The highest dose she usually goes to for PTSD is 150mg a day. She said that it should help with nightmares, but also could be helpful in preventing me getting triggered and having flashbacks often during the day.

I loved how understanding she was of my symptoms. I can’t even remember having said that I experience flashbacks, but I quite often do indeed. She said that, though I can continue to take my PRN quetiapine, that one dulls me a bit, while the topiramate should actually make me less susceptible to flashbacks. It reminds me of an explanation of the different effects of antipsychotics vs. anticonvulsants in helping with sensory overreactivity that I once read. It said something like, imagine overload is hearing a hated radio channel at top volume in your head. Both antipsychotics and anticonvulsants change the channel, but while antipsychotics give you headphones, anticonvulsants actually lower the volume of the radio. Of course, I will continue to take my daily antipsychotic (aripiprazole) and antidepressant (citalopram).

A possibly not-so-undesirable side effect of topiramate is decreased appetite. Other than that, side effects include drowsiness, sleepiness, double vision and tingling in the hands or feet. That last one, particularly if it’s going to effect my fingers, sounds annoying, but I’ll get to experience that if it happens.

Since my nurse practitioner will have to talk to my care facility’s physician before the medication can actually be started, I don’t expect this to happen till sometime next week. It’s also been decided I will start this when a trusted staff is on shift.

Now this did get me into an excited yet overloaded state yesterday evening. I mean, seriously, how can it be that someone truly understands? It baffles me but I’m so relieved.

Another Appointment With My CPN

Today, I had an appt with my CPN again. I can’t remember all the details, but I did tell her that I had had a breakdown on Sunday. I was completely honest, sharing that I had seen and heard things that aren’t there. It was as if something was truly telling me I’m a monster and everyone will leave me. Then I saw some form of Heavenly light. I can’t describe it really and it wasn’t very vivid even then, but it was more than mere wishful thinking.

My CPN encouraged me to discuss this with the psychiatrist when I see her on the 22nd. I really hope she can help me. My husband later asked me whether it was truly psychosis or a panic attack. I don’t think I was full-on psychotic but my perceptions and thoughts were definitely headed that way. My CPN agreed.

I can’t remember whether I told my CPN, but I had these thoughts and perceptions once before. Well, a few weeks ago I had them too, back when this depressive stuff all started, but then it wasn’t that bad. Back in December of 2009, I think it was even on Christmas, it was. I had run off from the psych ward in the snow. I picked up snowballs and somehow was convinced they contained drug needles. I wasn’t depressed at the time, just batshit crazy. It lasted only for a few hours though, but came back several times within the next few months, only disappearing when I was put on Abilify.

Now I’m pretty pessimistic. After all, I’m already on the highest dose of both Abilify and the antidepressant Celexa. (I mention this because I’m pretty sure I’m depressed, whether clinically or not.) I’m hoping though that the psychiatrist can put me on some PRN medication other than lorazepam, which I can use if I fully break down again. I know I have had experience with Phenergan (promethazine, a low-potency neuroleptic) and that worked great when I was on no other medication but not at all once I was on my current regimen. Maybe the psychiatrist can prescribe me something similar but different.

I also talked to my CPN about the incessant crying. She told me this may be useful. After all, I learned from a young age on to hide all negative emotions except for frustration (because I couldn’t hide that). In fact, I was told that I was “too quick to anger”, but this was used as an excuse to force me to repress every emotion other than a smile. I hadn’t been able to cry unless I was angry first until only a few months ago. As such, my CPN reasoned that I might have a lot of catching up to do.

My Medication Musings: Abilify

It’s been a while since I last did a post on my medications. Today I’m writing about the medication I’ve been on the longest: aripiprazole (Abilify). I’ve been taking this second-generation antipsychotic for over ten years.

When I first got prescribed Abilify in 2010, I had been on no psychotropic medications except for PRN oxazepam for over two years. I was having a lot of meltdowns though and the staff at the psych hospital couldn’t adequately care for me. I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out shortly before starting on Abilify.

When my psychiatrist proposed this medication, he made a pun about the drug’s name by saying it makes things a little easier. I didn’t like that, but agreed to take a low dose of Abilify anyway. I started at 5mg a day.

Within half a year, I had had my dose upped to 15mg a day. I did pretty well on that moderate maintenance dose for several years, until I moved to another hospital. There, the staff/client ratio was lower and besides, staff weren’t as willing to accommodate for my needs. I quickly had to up my dose again to eventually 30mg a day.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go beyond 15mg, as most clinical guidelines recommend a higher dose for acute mania or psychosis only. My new psychiatrist disagreed and seemed to have no interest in lowering my dose once I had upped it. For this reason, I’m still on 30mg a day.

When I first came here, I expressed a wish to lower my dosage once I’d settled into the care facility. The intellectual disability physician for my facility as well as my psychiatric nurse practitioner recommended I wait at least six months. I’ve now been in the care facility for a year, but haven’t felt comfortable asking to be tapered yet.

Now I must say I don’t experience any of the more major side effects, such as akathisia (a form of physical restlessness). I however do feel slightly sedated.

I also feel that the medication’s effect has worn off over the years. I recently learned that your neurotransmitter receptors overgrow when you’ve been on psychotropic drugs for a long while. At least, that seems to be the case for the dopamine D2 receptor, the one Abilify mainly acts on. Recommended action is lowering the dosage or trying another medication. I will definitely raise this issue with my nurse practitioner.

As a side note, like I said, I had my dosage upped once I moved to a psych ward with a lower staff/client ratio and less willingness to accommodate my needs. This is not an appropriate reason for medication increases, but I didn’t know what else to do.

My Medication Musings: Risperdal

I started this should-have-been-series a long time ago, but never got beyond the first post. Today I’m not very inspired to write, but I want to write something anyway, so I am deciding to continue with my medication musings. The medication I’m covering today, is the first daily medication I was evver prescribed.

Risperdal, which is now sold under its generic name risperidone, is an atypical antipsychotic. It was approved by the U.S. FDA for use against irritability in autistic children in 2006. I was not a child when I was prescribed Risperdal in 2007, but I was definitely irritable and autistic.

I remember very clearly when I saw a psychiatrist I’d never met before and who may or may not have read up on my psychiatric history on July 25, 2007. She had a strong Flanders accent. My CPN had referred me to her after my staff at the independence training home called her because I had been very irritable of late. Looking back, it’s no wonder, since I was due to move out of the home and into independent living the next week. But my staff were desperate and so was I.

My CPN had suggested a sleeping medicationor tranquilizer, as I was also sleeping very poorly. Not that the psychiatrist agreed, since when I reported how many hours of sleep I got at a later phone consultation, she said that wasn’t worrysome. The psychiatrist listend to my symptoms and suggested Risperdal.

I agreed without much further questioning. That evening, I wrote a blog post saying antipsychotics in autistics are a matter of really well-informed consent. The post was a response to the general consensus at the time among vocal autistics that antipsychotics should never be considered.

Looking back, while I don’t feel that antipsychotics are completely off limits for autistics – I still take one -, I do agree with another notion from said vocal autistics: psychiatric medication is no substitute for proper support. And yet, at the time, there was no convincing my staff that I shouldn’t move into independent living, so I felt I had no other option if I wanted to have somewhat of a life worth living.

And yet, I was scared. When, after two days, I started experiencing palpitations, I was extremely anxious. It happened on a Friday night when my staff were already gone. Don’t ask me how I got through that night. The next morning, I rang the out-of-hours GP, who recommended I stop taking the medication for a few days and consult my psychiatrist on Monday. Said psychiatrist didn’t believe that this could be a Risperdal side effect or I’d have experienced the palpitations right from the start. So back I was on Risperdal.

I was on a low dose of 0.5mg twice a day. My psychiatrist was in the training home’s city, so when I moved the next week, I had no psychiatrist nearby. My GP ended up prescribing my medication. When I complained to both the training home city psychiatrist and my new GP about continuing palpitations, both dismissed me. The psychiatrist even suggested I up my dose. I refused.

Because of the abrupt change in my living situation soon after starting Risperdal, I had no idea whether it was working. I was still experiencing a lot of meltdowns.

After two months, I took myself off of the medication. I more or less informed my GP, because she was really against me going off of it. I probably lowered my dose way too quickly, going from 1mg a day to 0.5mg for a week and then stopping altogether.

We will never be sure whether Risperdal worked for me, as I never went back on it. However, three weeks after stopping the medication, I started to spiral down into crisis and had to be hospitalized four days later. The crisis service psychiatrist didn’t say a thing about me having discontinued Risperdal.

An interesting thing I need to note, is the fact that Risperdal is notorious for increased appetite and weight gain. However, I experienced the opposite if anything. This could’ve been due to stress though.

Working On Us Prompt: Psychiatric Medication

I’ve been thinking of doing some posts on the medications I’ve been prescribed so far, but didn’t get down to it till now. Today, Beckie’s topic for Working On Us is psychiatric medication. Beckie asks a few interesting questions I didn’t think of.

First, she asks whether, when you were first diagnosed with a mental illness/disorder, it took you a while to get used to the medication prescribed. Well, my first diagnosis from a psychiatrist was autism, for which there are no specific medications. It took four months after that diagnosis before I first got put on a daily psychiatric medication. That was Risperdal (risperidone). I didn’t like it at all, even though it took only a few days to kick in.

I remained on Risperdal for 2 1/2 months, and then took myself off. I felt that the medication was merely used to keep me just contained enough that I didn’t qualify for more care. Well, it is my firm belief that medication is not a substitute for proper care.

Going off Risperdal was a mixed bag. I felt okay the first few weeks, but three weeks after having stopped taking the medication altogether, I spiraled into crisis.

After taking myself off of the Risperdal, I was without daily medication for nearly 2 1/2 years. I was in a psych hospital, so I can tell you right away that the crisis service nurse was wrong to say hospitalization would mean being put straight back on meds. Apparently my psychiatrist agreed medication is no substitute for proper care. That was until, despite mostly adequate care, my irritability got so bad I just needed something. I was put on Abilify (aripiprazole) and remain on that ever since.

Beckie also asks about withdrawal. I have been on the same antipsychotic and antidepressant ever since 2010 and never lowered my dosage yet. However, I did for a while take Ativan (lorazepam) at a relatively high daily dosage. Then when I wanted to quit, my psychiatrist said he’d prescribe it as a PRN med. Well, I didn’t need it for the first few days, so I didn’t take it. That was until I started experiencing tremors a few days into withdrawal. I am lucky I got only those and didn’t get seizures or the like. Thankfully, I got put back on lorazepam and tapered safely.

Beckie’s last question is whether you work closely with your doctor in managing your meds. Well, I just had a meeting with the intellectual disability physician for my facility last Monday. She is making sure I get my medications and will also order yearly bloodwork to check for metabolic issues etc. I haven’t seen a psychiatrist with my new mental health team yet, but will soon enough. I want to eventually try to lower my Abilify dose. The intellectual disability physician advised me to wait at least six months to get used to living here though.