#WeekendCoffeeShare (April 18, 2021)

Hello everyone and welcome to my #WeekendCoffeeShare post for this week. I just had my afternoon coffee. I think there’s still some left, or you can have a tea, fizzy drink or water. We alsso have custard cupcakes if you want one. They’re delicious! Let’s have a drink and let’s catch up.

If we were having coffee, I’d ask you about your weather. Ours has been steadily improving over the past week. On Monday, we still had a bit of ice rain, but the rest of the week, it’s not rained much. Today, we have some sunshine and temperatures of about 16°C during the day. It’s still close to freezing at night though.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that, on Wednesday, I had a good talk with my community psychiatric nurse. I was able to express some of my anxiety. Then again, Thursday night I ended up in a bit of a crisis again. I tried to reach my CPN on Friday. Unfortunately, by the time she called me at 5:30PM, there was little she could do for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll meet with my nurse practitioner again. I’m considering asking him about my medication, both my daily meds and my PRN tranquilizer. While the PRN med, the atypical antipsychotic quetiapine (Seroquel), works okay for reducing sensory overload, I’m experiencing increasing anxiety, particularly at night. I don’t blame the quetiapine, but I’d really like something to help with this.

If we were having coffee, I’d share that I had quite a scary experience yesterday. I was walking outside in the sunshine and suddenly completely blinded. Of course, it is only to be expected that I’ll eventually lose my light perception too, but it’s still scary. My staff interestingly did understand my panic about being blinded. Most people probably won’t, since to a sighted or even partially sighted person, I’m pretty much totally blind.

I also had a pretty nasty headache, so I’m wondering whether I might have experienced a spike in eye pressure. My staff is going to inquire about getting my eye pressure checked by an ophthalmologist. I’ve heard, after all, that glaucoma needs to be treated even in blind people.

This experience did motivate me to finally inquire about getting a pair of NoIR sunglasses again. I had them in the past, but cannot find them in my size at the most well-known low vision shop. My staff E-mailed the occupational therapist about it. For now, another staff gave me a pair of regular sunglasses.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I got a new roller tip for my white cane on Friday too. I now have a marshmallow tip, which I think works better than the large ball tip I used to have.

If we were having coffee, I’d share how happy I am with all the engagement on my blog. It’s truly heartwarming to see how many people are touched by my posts.

If we were having coffee, lastly I’d tell you that my husband and I went for a walk in the “wolf woods”, as he calls the woods between Raalte and the nearby theme park. A wolf was found in the theme park a few weeks ago. Thankfully, we didn’t spot it.

How have you been?

A Really Validating Psychiatrist’s Appt

Today, we had our first appointment with the psychiatrist from the local mental health team. To my surprise, our nurse practitioner came to get us out of the waiting room. He attended the appt too though and looking back, it was really good.

I started to explain that our PRN lorazepam hardly worked at all. The psychiatrist seemed to think that’s a bit odd. We ultimately came to the conclusion that it does do something but the anxiolytic effect causes more emotions to surface.

The psychiatrist then started to talk about the “pieces”, as we call ourselves when talking to mental health professionals. She asked whether I’d ever been in touch with people with similar experiences. This utterly surprised me, as our nurse practitioner had said comparing our experience with others’ is useless. I felt able to share that I’d Googled my symptoms and come across dissociation and had met other people with similar symptoms that way. I did say I don’t really want a diagnosis.

The psychiatrist asked whether each of us experiences the effects of medication differently. Thankfully not, but some are more willing to take medication and to let it work than others. She explained that the mind is stronger than a pill, so if we don’t want to calm down, no medication can make us.

She ended up prescribing us a low dose of quetiapine (Seroquel). This is an antipsychotic when used at higher doses (like in the 100s of mg) but has a greater calming effect when prescribed at lower doses. She told me she had learned how this works – why its calming effect is greater at lower doses -, but had forgotten. I said I’d find out about it someday and let her know.

At one point, I started zoning out. The psychiatrist as well as the care staff who attended, noticed. I honestly had no idea other people, let alone virtual strangers like the psychiatrist, could tell if I didn’t say I was feeling out of it. The psychiatrist told me it’s a coping mechanism and fighting it will only make it last longer. I will work with my nurse practitioner on ways of coping with it when alone.

I also mentioned compulsively looking up things that trigger us online. Like, I now remember yesterday someone was reading a newspaper story about Russian opposition leader Navalny’s poisoning. Then one of the littles got triggered into thinking someone had put poison in her underwear too. The same happens on a more severe scale with us compulsively looking at other places to live. Our nurse practitioner said he’s definitely going to remember this for our upcoming appts.

Looking back, I’m so glad we had this appointment and also so glad our nurse practitioner attended too. He had seemed a bit dismissive when we had an appointment on Thursday, but we were able to express that via E-mail too.

Clarissa

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: Phenergan

It’s been a while since I last did a post talking about one of my medications. Today, I want to talk about one I’ve not used in a while: promethazine or Phenergan.

Phenergan was the first PRN medication I got prescribed while in the mental hospital. I remember clearly the state of mind I was in. I had been irritable for most of the afternoon and finally burned my hand using boiling water. This act of self-harm got the nursing staff to fetch the physician. I apparently had a smile on my face when I disclosed my having self-harmed, so he said there was nothing to laugh about. Obviously not, but I struggled to express my emotions. He offered me a PRN medication. I’d heard of Phenergan before and what I’d heard about it from autistic people, wasn’t good. However, I still agreed to take it.

Phenergan, for those not familiar with it, is a low-potency classic neuroleptic. It is currently mostly used as an antihistamine to treat allergies and such.

That evening, I was totally wiped out from the effects of the medication. I just lay on the couch or in bed feeling stoned out of my mind. That was what I needed at that point.

After that, unfortunately, I was prescribed oxazepam as my default PRN medication. Some years later though, I got prescribed Phenergan again after I’d pretty much exhausted all benzodiazepine options.

Unfortunately, by then, Phenergan did nothing. I only took it to make myself and others feel like I was doing something about my distress. At one point, my new psychiatrist once I was living with my husband, even suggested I swap it for a vitamin C pill so that I would still have the placebo effect but not the side effects. Not that I was having any side effects.

A few months later, however, I took an overdose of Phenergan that landed me in the general hospital. That was when I decided not to request a refill of the Phenergan. I by that time had lorazepam, which worked some but of course had the addictiveness as a negative. However, I’m not supposed to take PRN medications regularly anyway.

Prescription Meds Can Be Part of Good Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my rather late letter P post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I want to talk about the role prescription meds, particularly psych meds, can play in good self-care. Because you know, there is still a lot of stigma attached to taking psychiatric medications or certain medications for physical health, such as opioids. Of course, medication isn’t for everyone and that’s normal. If you do experience serious mental health issues or physical ailments, it’s not weak to ask for meds.

You know, I didn’t take care of myself with respect to my medications until I was 31. Before that, I had subconsciously assumed I wasn’t taking meds for self-care, but rather to please others. That’s how psych meds had been used on me for years in mental health, since irritability (ie. being a pain in other people’s necks) was supposedly my main symptom. Well, it isn’t and even if it were, my irritability is a worse experience for me than it is for others. I mean, I’ve known people, such as those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, say they have a problem but don’t suffer. That’s okay, but it is rarer than to suffer in silence.

In early 2018, I finally decided I needed help for my depression. As those who read my blog regularly know, I was already on a low dose of an antidepressant, but had no idea why. I didn’t feel comfortable asking directly for a med increase. Let me tell you, however, suggesting specific med adjustments to your doctor doesn’t make you a drug seeker. They may know meds best, but you know you best.

Also, while meds won’t make you happy, you don’t have to settle for mediocre health if there are still options out there. And if you want to lessen a medication dose or stop it altogether, that’s okay to discuss with your doctor too.

Once you do get on the right meds, it’s your responsibility to make sure you take them as prescribed. Certain meds need to be taken right on time or they’ll not work as effectively. I’ve heard this is the case for antidepressants, so I really need to get back on track with taking my morning dose on time. Other meds cannot be taken together or should or shouldn’t be taken with certain foods. For example, when I took iron supplements, I didn’t know at first that it’s recommended you not consume them with dairy products. You don’t need to read everything that’s in the information on a medication you’ve been prescribed, particularly if you’re hypervigilant about side effects. However, you do need to take your medication as directed.

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.

My Medication Musings: Celexa

Like I said last week when participating in Working On Us, I wanted to write a series of posts on the medications I’ve been on. I won’t promise this will be anything like a regular feature. However, today I saw that Medication Monday over at The Dark Tales Project is about a medication I currently take: Celexa. I already wrote several posts on this medication in the past, so may be repeating myself. Let me share though.

I was first prescribed Celexa in September of 2010. At the time, I had just finished a book whose title translates to Prozac Monologues, which was about the positives and mostly negatives of antidepressants. I didn’t really care. One comment I remember, by one of the pro-Prozac people, was that she’d become nicer on antidepressants. That comment was on my mind when my psychiatrist suggested Celexa and boy did I hope it’d do this for me. I was a definite bitch! The saying that depression makes you feel as though you’re not okay and neither is anyone else, definitely related to me.

The thing is though, I wasn’t sure I was depressed. No proper assessment of my mental state preceded my being prescribed Celexa. Yes, I was irritable and no amount of tranquilizers or antipsychotics could help that. But is that depression? Would Celexa help?

As it turned out, it helped a little with that. I felt a little calmer, a little nicer on the medication. I never asked my husband to comment on the level of my irritability and can’t remember for sure whether he ever made any positive comment on it. If at all, that must’ve been in 2018, when my dosage got increased.

I actually wasn’t diagnosed with depression till 2017. At the time, my irritability was one symptom that prompted the psychologist to diagnose me with major depression. I’m pretty sure I have persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) too though, but I don’t think I’m currently even diagnosed with any mood disorder at all.

It took another year before my Celexa dosage finally got increased to first 30mg and then my current dosage of 40mg.

I was very irritable at the time of seeking my psychiatrist’s help with my depression. I was also most definitely depressed, in that I didn’t have much energy or motivation for anything. As is known for Celexa and other SSRIs, the medication caused my energy to go up first before actually helping with my mood. My mood however did eventually lift. I am pretty sure that, had it not been for Celexa, I would’ve sank deep into depression during the long process of applying for long-term care.

But the story isn’t all positive. Aside from the side effects, Celexa (and Abilify) took only the edge off of my irritability. I’m in fact noticing it getting worse again. I’m not exactly sad, but I’m most definitely pretty negativistic lately. I’m not sure why. I mean, maybe it’s something to do with the lack of an over-the-moon sense of relief at going into long-term care. Or maybe it’s the other way around and my negativistic state prevented that. I’m not sure.

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.

Working On Us Prompt: Coping With Crisis

Today, I’m once again joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt. This week, the topic is to write a narrative of what works for you when facing a panic or anxiety attack, manic episode or other crisis. I don’t get panic or anxiety attacks much or mania at all, so I’m going to describe what works for me when I’m in an emotionally dysregulated crisis.

Like I’ve said before, I have BPD (traits). These are also known as emotion regulation issues. I also experience complex PTSD symptoms. Both can cause me to suffer emotional outbursts. In addition, I can get severely overloaded due to my autism. This can cause me meltdowns, which in some ways are similar to BPD outbursts. In fact, I’m not 100% sure my BPD diagnosis is correct given that autistics, particularly women, are often misdiagnosed as BPD.

Anyway, I usually notice an outburst coming on when I experience an increase in sensory reactivity. I also often start to experience a decrease in my language abilities. I start to stutter or can only make humming noises and repeat the same phrases. My staff at day activities say that when in this state, my communication abilities resemble those of a toddler. It is interesting, in that we have only one toddler alter. When I can’t do something to calm down, I may progress to a full-blown state of meltdown, in which I become angry and sometimes aggressive or self-injurious.

What helps me when I’m in such a state, is to physicaly remove myself from the situation. This is hard though, as often it feels as though everything that happens around me is important. Usually, my staff help me by clarifying what’s important and what is not.

Of course, now that I still live independently, I don’t always have a staff member available to help me sort through a crisis or make suggestions on how I can cope. I, however, have a phone number of a psych hospital I can call in a state when I’m close to a crisis. They can’t do much but listen to me and try to offer advice, but it’s definitely been helpful in some situations. The mental health team that treats me also has a staff available on the phone for crisis intervention during office hours.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really bad crisis, I take my PRN lorazepam. However, I have some experience with it being overused on me in the psych hospital. Like, whenever I’d react to a sound in an irritated tone of voice, staff would tell me to take a lorazepam rather than helping me to figure out what was causing me overload. This has really gotten me weary of PRN medication.