Taking the Next Step
“When is a suicidal thought classified as a suicidal tendency?”
I mull this over, wringing my hands, seated across from my psychiatrist for the second time ever. I shake my head quickly when she asks it, as if I know I’m “not like them,” I’m not suicidal, without a reasonable doubt. She doesn’t need to worry about me, at least that’s what I assume she’s really asking when she asks, “Do you get suicidal thoughts?” I wave her off because I can handle it, because I know I’m fine. I didn’t try to choke back a handful of pills like my sister. This is different.
She asks me, “Do you ever consider crashing your car into a tree or off the road while you’re driving?”
“Nope,” I answer.
I only think of turning my vehicle enough to the left to collide with oncoming traffic. I only think about it every time I get behind the wheel. But I can control these impulses. Sometimes I get close, but I always have control. I always stay on my side of the road. No matter how much the left side pulls me by my wheels and peeling paint job.
I’m not suicidal.
I have bipolar disorder. I don’t know which kind yet, but my psychiatrist thought that diagnosis was a good jumping-off point. I worry that using the word “bipolar” in my sessions may have deceived her, that my mention of my bipolar dad may have overgeneralized my experience. Doctors hate when you arrive at appointments armed with pre-conceived notions of what condition you may have, with WebMD opened in a tab on your phone.
I worry I manipulated my doctor into making this diagnosis, just like my father manipulated his therapist into believing that it wasn’t him, but rather the entire world, who was wrong. Everyone around him was just too sensitive. He’s so misunderstood.
I don’t need medicine.
I smoke weed and eat cannabis oil every day, which keeps a lot of my symptoms under control. It’s hard to dose properly sometimes, and I panic or have an anger attack when the stuff doesn’t work. But it helps a lot. It’s all I need.
She tells me I need meds, but I’m not so sure. I nod though and drive to my local pharmacy to pick up my prescription, refusing to peek into the bag.
When I arrive home, I quickly unwrap the little plastic bottles from their paper prison and line them up next to my bed. I read them out loud: “Lithium” and “Seroquel.” Lithium is a large white tablet and an element on the periodic table. Seroquel is tiny and orange, like my heart medicine, and usually used on schizophrenic patients. My doctor assured me she didn’t secretly think I was psychotic. I laughed, remembering that I hadn’t told her I had been hearing voices the night before. How that lady wouldn’t stop rambling nonsense to me in the middle of the night. I don’t know if I was mad because it woke me or mad because she refused to speak up enough for me to make out the words. I decide not to tell her I’ve been hearing voices. I don’t need to.
I’m not psychotic.
I stare at the little pills in my hand for 30 minutes, a glass of water in my other hand, as I decide whether or not I’m going to do this. Whether or not I can really do this. There must have been some valid reason that my family hates medicine. Their opinions loomed over me like a warning sign, briefing me with what spookiness is ahead: nausea, fatigue, headaches. This little white pill might even make me kill myself, just as Zoloft drove my sister towards the edge. This pill could do nothing, so little in fact that I would just give up on it, like my father did with his Lamictal. It could serve as a reminder that I’ll never be normal, no matter how much I want to socialize and keep a full-time job without freaking out. Without using my bipolar as an excuse.
Anything has to be better than this.
My dad is concerned for me. He’s concerned that I’ll be taking Lithium instead of Lamictal, concerned about all the risks. His attitude seems to suggest that pills are never going to work for me, just like they’ve never worked for him. He’s supporting me as I make this misguided decision. I hate him so much it hurts sometimes. I want to punch him and use my bipolar as an excuse. I want him to wake up and listen to me. I want him to get treatment and stop pretending everything’s fine. I just want all the noise to stop already.
I knock the pills back without any more hesitation.
I’m scared of side effects, but I try not to look them up since there are so many. Everyone is different. But what if I’m no different? What if these pills do nothing? What if I grow up continuing to do nothing, throw myself into my career, and push my entire family away from me? What if I become an abuser, and by the time I’m 50, people don’t want to help take care of me anymore? They already deserve not to take care of me. Don’t they know what I’ll become, what’s in my blood? I can’t think much more about this because I’m drowsy.
I sleep through the night for the first time without weed.
I wake up feeling weightless and sleepy as I stumble to the bathroom to pee. This is it, I think to myself. I’m medicated. I look in the mirror, letting it all sink in. I’m a good girl now, compliant. Taking my medicine and not lashing out.
Well…I guess that’s pretty good actually.
I feel proud as I look at my reflection, thinking about how worrying if I’m going to punch my Dad in the face or drive my car off the road may no longer plague my brain. I want to cry happy tears, but I can hardly manage a smile. The drugs are too strong right now to form anything more than a grimace, let alone tap into my tear ducts that seem dry as a desert for the first time ever.
Author Update: Since writing this, I’ve been on Lithium and Seroquel for about a month, and recently added Lexapro. My panic attacks have disappeared, my irritability has lessened, my depression and suicidal thought are gone, and the voices have stopped. My family legacy, which has only further stigmatized mental health for me, has always made it really difficult for me to get help and start meds. But I can now say with confidence that these drugs work, and that there’s no shame in getting medicated and seeking help. It’s quite the opposite actually: getting and accepting help is the greatest sign of strength.
Meg Zulch is a trans bipolar dude getting their life together one episode of The Sopranos at a time. You can find their work in Bustle, HelloFlo and Femsplain, and you can follow them at @MegZulch on Twitter