A Sunday Without Lithium


I did something this weekend that I rarely ever do.

I ran out of Lithium on Sunday and instead of running to the pharmacy for emergency meds, I stayed on the couch. I’m dropping from my trip to California and was just too tired to move. I figured if I just stayed still and napped, I wouldn’t get manic. I’m fortunate it worked but on Monday, I literally ran to CVS and told them I needed a few emergency pills until my doctor filled my prescription. I’ve done this in the past and when the clerk gave me a hard time I said the following:

“Either I can have a mental breakdown here in these waiting chairs or out in front of the store on the street. I’d like to spare you from having to call the nearest hospital so I suggest you give me some medication for the safety of myself and others.”

Since then, they promptly and calming hand my meds over, no questions asked.

Then I checked in on my new medical insurance only to discover it still hasn’t kicked in yet. In California, I had a script refilled that I had to pay for in full to the total of $78. I’m thankful that I take a generic version of Lithium that without insurance only costs me $15. I’m fortunate that I even have the money to pay for it.

I can always feel when my Lithium is low. I start feeling fuzzy and very overwhelmed by any sorts of stimulus. I dissociate and I am always on the brink of a panic attack. My feet may be in motion but I can’t feel my body. These are the less severe symptoms.

I know what happens when I begin the steady crescendo into mania. I can’t sit still. My thoughts race and I can’t remember anything. I talk too loud, too fast and too much to myself or to anyone who will listen. I sing the same over and over and over again. I forget to eat and sleep. I cannot keep track of time. I have grand spiritual and artistic epiphanies that make absolutely no since. I have sky heightened emotional responses and my childhood traumas come flooding to the surface. I cannot stop writing.

I make it my full time job to take my medication twice a day as prescribed. If I feel a manic or depressive episode coming on, I call my doctor immediately. But there are some very few days, I’m just too fucking tired to search for my med bag, count out my pills, get water and take them. But every time I roll my eyes and sit in defiance at my illness, I ask myself…

Do you want to go back to hospital?

The symptoms of the illness creep up on me so quickly that when I don’t feel like taking my meds, I have to remember what my life could look like on the other side. I could be wandering the streets talking to myself again. I could forget where I live again. I could become homeless or my behavior could get me arrested and because I am a Black women in New York City, this situation would not be pretty.

So I just take my meds.

I want to acknowledge my privilege. I have access to medication. I have a great psychiatrist who is not a pill pusher, who takes his time with me and informs me about every pill he prescribes. I have a therapist I’ve been seeing for years who knows my cycles and knows how to warn me when she sees them coming. I have access to health insurance that makes my medication affordable and I have access to money to pay for them.

Not everyone chooses to medicate in this way, but those who want to do not always have access to this option. I’m grateful everyday that I have the privilege of a system of well being and I’m grateful that for now my meds are working.

I say all this not just because I am a mental health advocate. I say it to acknowledge how hard bipolar living can be. It’s exhausting, frustrating, annoying and at times, makes me feel like I have no chance at normalcy and balance. As freely as I write about it, there are days where I feel like I really do suffer from it.

But something my mom (who also lives with bipolar disorder) once said really sticks with me on days when I feel like I just want to crawl in bed with my crazy:

“These are the cards we’ve been dealt and we just have to live with it.”

She’s right. I don’t have time to feel bad or make myself wrong about a chemical imbalance I cannot control. If I spent time wishing I could cut out a difficult part of myself, I would live in an endless cycle of mania and depression instead of doing the necessary work to create the healthiest life for me.

I would forget that I cannot go one Sunday without my Lithium.

So I’ve re-adapted her words into my own:

“Some of us never make it out of the woods. We just learn to live in them, together.”