I just had an experience at the Walgreens that reminded me I’m still ashamed of my suicide thoughts, even now. I’m very outspoken about my mental health challenges, and yet suicidal thoughts are the thing I just can’t make peace with. And so, for September Suicide Prevention Month, I’ll tell you my story.
Before I tell you what happened at Walgreens, let me give you the backstory. This past April I started having suicidal thoughts again. The thoughts terrify me and wear me down to the point where I’m afraid I’ll give into them. In my head, these thoughts respond to every freaking thing in life, good or bad, with lies – “there’s no point,” “life is meaningless,” “people may be sad for a few weeks but they’ll forget about you,” etc. They hit me many times a day, sometimes many times an hour. They’re relentless.
I started trying to figure out why, after so many months living thought-free, they would reappear. I thought maybe I should ride them out, and so I spent the first few weeks doing yoga, meditating, trying to eat well, get enough sleep. When that didn’t work, I blamed it on the hormones my doctor had changed me to, and went to see her. After making some adjustments for a couple of weeks, we decided to put me back on the exact same hormones I’d been on.
But the thoughts still raged on. It was then I remembered that Walgreens had changed my Zoloft generic. I remembered opening my prescription and seeing that the pill shape and color changed. It was a hard, unbreakable round pill when before I’d been taking an oblong pill that I could break in half with my fingers. I checked the date on the label, and sure enough, it matched with the date I started having suicidal thoughts.
My psychiatrist is a firm believer that generic drug manufacturers can yield different results. I was a total non-believer. I couldn’t see how it was possible. They’re the same drug, maybe different fillers. How could this be possible?
But then again, I am not one to argue with my suicidal thoughts. I just wanted them gone. So my psychiatrist wrote a prescription specifying the manufacturer I had before. I promptly went to Walgreens, and my insurance rejected the prescription saying it was too soon to refill. So I paid out of pocket for a month’s worth to see if switching manufacturers was the ticket.
Within one week the thoughts stopped. I’ve been blessedly thought-free for the past month. But it’s time for the prescription to be refilled. I ordered the refill online, and went to pick it up tonight. This is where my stigma story begins.
I picked up my script and checked it before leaving the store and saw it was the wrong manufacturer. I took it back up to the counter, and the technician said that my insurance won’t let her order the other manufacturer. I asked her what I needed to do, how I needed to call, because I was not accepting the wrong manufacturer.
It was then she asked me “What’s wrong with this manufacturer?” I said it made me sick. That wasn’t enough, and she asked “What were your symptoms?” I hesitated, and then with tears starting to form in my eyes I said, “I had suicidal thoughts while on them.” Then she said “And you didn’t have them on this manufacturer?” and I replied “No.”
Besides the fact that it’s questionable for a technician or even a pharmacist to ask me for my personal health information when my doctor clearly wrote the prescription specifying the manufacturer, I was a bit shaken by my reaction. My eyes watered not because I was sad or afraid, but because I was ashamed.
I know that my suicidal thoughts are symptoms of my disease. I know they are a biological response to depression. I know I don’t bring them on or use them as a way to control people. But I still feel shame. Deep down inside of me, I wonder why I can’t control them on my own. Why can’t I will them away? If I was simply more grateful for what I have, wouldn’t they disappear? Am I just selfish like people say?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to end this story by saying I’m 100% back to being proud and not ashamed. I wish it were true, but I know every time I admit to having suicidal thoughts I will feel some tinge of shame. That is the scar of stigma. I can only commit to continuing to tell my story and break down stigma bit by bit.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. Read more stories at nami.org so we can take on stigma together.
I’ve been researching the amendments and wasn’t finding what I wanted in a single place, so I decided to write up what all I found in this blog. Enjoy!
My take: I’m voting YES on this amendment because I believe the current process is discriminatory and subject to the mood of the governor. To summarize the below, it has lots of supporters, few opponents. Numerous Democrats support it, but interestingly I could only find two Republicans opposing. That said, I didn’t find any Republicans stating their support for the record – they seem to be staying quiet on this one. The organizations that support it range from liberal to libertarian to conservative, and just two organizations oppose it.
What the amendment does:
Red or Blue issue?
When I wrote my last blog, Tracey’s Anti-Anxiety Recipe, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I eschew pharmaceuticals. There is such a bias against medication that I don’t want contribute to that. Pharmaceuticals have been a godsend for me. I simply could not have wrestled my depression into submission without them. But it hasn’t been a simple “take a pill” — far from it. It’s been a bit of a journey to find the right drugs for my depression.
Upon release from the hospital, my drug regimen was Paxil 60mg, Remeron 7.5mg, Lo’Ogestrel (birth control), and Vistaril 50mg. Over the next few years, my psychiatrist adjusted my regimen to add Lithium 450mg and dropped the Vistaril. While I was light years better than I had been in the hospital, I was still plagued with periodic hopelessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. They weren’t constantly present as they had been, but still too often to call my life fulfilling.
In 2017, I started having overwhelming fatigue. I was falling asleep during the day – at the wheel, during meetings – and sleeping my weekends away. It was terrible. I felt my life was becoming meaningless as I had no energy to do anything. My doctor tested my thyroid and decided it wasn’t functionally optimally, so she added Synthroid to my drug regimen. But the fatigue remained. Then I had a sleep study that showed no sleep apnea or narcolepsy. I was diagnosed with “idiopathic sleep disorder” which basically meant no one knew.
I had the sneaking suspicion it was the Paxil. I researched all the side effects of my meds, and only two had sleepiness: Paxil and Remeron. I have been taking low-dose Remeron to help me sleep for two decades, so that wasn’t the culprit. I asked my psychiatrist to switch the Paxil. She was very concerned about making me worse, so she ordered a DNA test to help us choose the right drug.
The DNA test was so fascinating. Here’s what it revealed:
This new drug regimen is the ticket. I started this back in November 2017, but I wanted to wait several months before declaring to the world that this is working. I’m happy to report it is. I’ve not had suicide thoughts at all so far this year.
If your meds aren’t the best, I highly recommend the DNA test. It wasn’t covered by insurance which sucks. It cost $250, but saved me the pain and anguish of the trial and error approach that’s standard in psychiatry.
The DNA also tested anti-psychotics, analgesics, opiods, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, nsaids, and platelet inhibitors. I found out that I am a poor metabolizer of codeine, oxycontin, tramadol, and vicodin. This means I can overdose on these meds at normal doses. Pretty good information to know. The codeine was interesting because I’ve also hated the way it makes me feel, and list it as an allergy even though it’s not really an allergic reaction. Now I know!
The company we used is Millenium Health – the test is the PGT. Your doctor has to order it.
In order to manage my depression, I know I have to be vigilant about managing my stress and anxiety as well. When anxiety is building, I know it’s just a short trip to crazy town. When anxiety starts knocking on my door, I get right on it, and focus on to supporting my body’s ability to heal and calming my nervous system.
Here’s my recipe for anxiety.
This past Wednesday, May 17, 2017, Chris Cornell hung himself. These deaths rip me to the bone. The first suicide that touched me was Kurt Cobain. I was 27 and he was 27. I couldn’t believe someone like me could be driven to that final desperation. I didn’t realize at the time just how lucky I was that no one close to me had committed suicide, and even luckier that I’d not struggled with suicide thoughts myself. But unfortunately, they would come.
In this age of Facebook, opinions about suicide run amok. I mostly encounter expressions of sadness and shock, but unfortunately there are also expressions of anger and hate. It’s understandable to feel hopelessness when someone leaves this world — they’re leaving a lot of loved ones behind. But allowing hopelessness to morph into anger and hate is an unloving choice. It hardly honors the person we’ve lost, and it fails to honor ourselves as the ones left behind.
So hear me…
PEOPLE WHO COMMIT SUICIDE ARE NOT SELFISH. THEY WERE IN UNBELIEVABLE PAIN.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE DEPRESSION ARE NOT WEAK.
THEY ARE INCREDIBLY STRONG FOR HANGING IN THERE ANOTHER DAY.
AND IF THEY GIVE UP AND CHECK OUT OF THIS WORLD, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SURVIVORS. IT WAS ABOUT A PAIN WE CAN’T IMAGINE.
BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING INSENSITIVE ABOUT SUICIDE, CONSIDER THAT 50% OF ALL AMERICANS HAVE STRUGGLED WITH SERIOUS SUICIDE THOUGHTS AT LEAST ONCE IN THEIR LIFE. SO IT’S VERY POSSIBLE SOMEONE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU IS STRUGGLING AND YOU DON’T KNOW IT.
YOUR INSENSITIVE WORDS MAKE IT LIKELY YOUR LOVED ONES WILL NEVER TELL YOU WHEN THEY’RE STRUGGLING. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?
The pain of depression is so horrible, it’s incredibly difficult to describe to someone who’s not been there. But let me try. When I’m not on my meds, my suicide thoughts attack me in two ways:
What you may not know about depression is it takes a long time to recover, sometimes years. It took a lot of trial and error with medications before we found that Lithium reduced the frequency of my suicide thoughts. But it took a year of taking Lithium for my thoughts to go away. They now make their appearance every few months and only last for a 3-5 days, which is manageable.
IMAGINE DEALING WITH SUCH A DAILY HELL FOR MONTHS OR YEARS ON END. That is the reality for many depression sufferers. Can you understand how some people get to the end of their rope and let go?
So what should you say when someone has committed suicide? It’s very simple. Just say “that makes me so sad” and leave it at that. If it’s someone you know, ask what you can do to support the family.
But really, don’t judge. Have compassion. Show empathy. Be nice.
When I was in 3rd grade, we did an exercise where we created a poster board with images depicting our future career. I picked writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In high school I narrowed this down to wanting to be a self-help writer. I dreamed of being a famous author interviewed on Oprah.
What I actually became was a technical writer. After 20 years of corporate information technology writing how did I come around to writing my long-awaited self-help book?
Life. Pure and simple. Continue reading
I haven’t read Daphne Merkin’s book “This Close to Happy” yet, but she makes the point in her introductory article that men tend to write about depression as if it’s an external entity that moves in and out of their lives, but women experience their depression as an inner lack. Additionally, she says writings about depression describe episodes as these exotic events that are so abnormal to the authors’ “otherwise hyper-functioning existence.” Ms. Merkin doesn’t go into why these are problems, but I expect she explores them in her book. She ends with saying she likes to refer to her depression as a “dark season” that ends and returns with the cyclical nature of life. I look forward to reading her book and writing more about these topics.
Over the holidays I had lunch with a friend and somehow the subject that I take Lithium came up. She was shocked, and said “that’s heavy duty!” I replied, “not really.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this!
Lithium gets a bad rap. Maybe Lithium seems so scary because it’s the oldest psychiatric drug and associated with a time when mental health patients were locked away for months or years in eerie stone mansions and given shock therapy and lobotomies and cold water treatment. I know I was scared of it for a long time. I heard horror stories about how it made you like a zombie, took away your personality and turned you into someone else.
Here’s the reality for me: Lithium has silenced my suicide thoughts to a manageable level when nothing else I tried helped. The thoughts haven’t gone away completely, and they still rear their head about once or twice a month, but the 28-29 days each month being free of them is truly miraculous.
I created this book from top to bottom, text, layout and design — even down to drawing the mandala on the front cover! It’s been a great adventure! I hope you’ll consider buying a copy for yourself. And if you like the book, please post a review on Amazon! With your purchase, receive “100 Days of Shift” – a weekly plan for positive changes in diet, fitness, and more mindfulness.