What’s quetiapine gave me

Although scientists do not fully understand the ways in which quetiapine works, the trade off is that it is a very versatile drug; it can be used as an add-on treatment for treatment resistant depression, it can be used as an anti-psychotic for those experiencing psychosis such as hearing and seeing things that are not there, it can be used to treat and manage mania or hypomania alone, or with another medication. Ultimately it seems to have the ability to do a bit of everything in regards to managing the symptoms of severe mental illness. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that also has the properties to effective act as a mood stabiliser. The difference for all of these uses is the dosage, release profile and tolerability to the person taking the drug.

Even if you are convinced that a drug will work in treating mental health, it is not so much selecting the right drug that is the difficulty in prescribing. There is getting the correct dose, and taking those doses at the right times in the right format. Sometimes you need a couple of drugs, at just the right doses, in just the right formats, to be taken every day at just the right times. It is no wonder that finding the correct medication regime for severe mental illness is such a drag. This process can take numerous years, crises and adjustments, often alongside psychological and emotional intervention.

Quetiapine saved me and gave me so much. It saved me from additional lost years to being a non-functional person floating endlessly around Lewisham Shopping Centre. It has saved me from not being able to keep friendships because I am now more than a shell of myself overrun by mental illness. It has saved me from continuing the string of many suicide attempts and ever escalating self harm, all of which arose from an inability to cope with unmedicated bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder all mashed together into an ugly chaos. It saved me from sleeping my life away because leaving my bed every day isn’t an act of mild torture. It saved me from wasting my working years not tapping into my talents. It saved me from a life void of purpose. It saved me from myself. It saved me from my illness. Yet it was the first drug I was prescribed in 2011 by adult mental health services.

What stopped me from reaping the benefits of the drug back then? I was not ready to accept the weight gain side effects, and learning to overcome this fear took years of hard work and treatment. The dose was not right. I was out of control and without the input of such extensive therapies targeting my behaviour, past traumas and screwed up way of interacting with the world that had developed from trying to raise myself in a chaotic home environment. Without these therapies, schema, DBT, and psychoanalytic therapy the medication would have never worked alone. I needed the input and nurturing obtained from my therapists, social workers and doctors.

All of it together has given me the ability to think. Without quetiapine, I am pretty useless at thinking clearly. I just cannot. With it I have the ability to be creative and coherent. Quetiapine gave me the opportunity to respond appropriately to emotional circumstances. It gave me the assurance and confidence in my own thoughts and feelings that I am not being mad or irrational. It has given me the confidence to socialises because I don’t feel or seem inherently mad. It has given me a drive to make something positive from these experiences. It has given me a sense of where I have come from and what I have gone through to get to where i am. It has given me gratitude, to the small moments in life, the scientists who made the drug and the wee animals who underwent horrible experiences and death so that I could have my life back. It has given me hope and stability.

Now when someone asks me how I have been, I can answer that I have been well and it’s much less likely to be a lie than ever before in my life. If I’m honest, sometimes things are so stable and well that I can start to feel an inane boredom creep in. It’s not the type that creeps in and I stare at walls because there is no joy to be hard from even my favourite activities. It is the kind of boredom that blesses those who are not living from crisis to crisis. It is the kind of boredom where I look at myself and think, “yeah, I’m ready to take on a little more, bring it on”. The kind of boredom that gets you out of the house in the morning to see the world and be busy. The kind of boredom that lights a little fire in your belly that could well be described as a lust for life. Now there’s something I haven’t felt for very long at a time for years and years. I may even start thinking about my next birthday celebrations because I am convinced I will be here, alive, and well. This is something that could not be said for a long time before. I feel privileged to be feeling bored with stability. What an absolute privilege it is to have a sense of normality.

Eat Your Food, Take Your Meds

Have you ever thought is strange or inconvenient that you need to eat every single day, multiple times a day? Think about it for a moment. Every day we need to eat. What would life be like if we didn’t need to eat every day, multiple times? More convenient? Time saving? Resource saving? Picture this.

You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and make your breakfast. You sit to the table as you do every morning, and you stare. You are staring at your food wondering why on earth you need such sustenance to survive, pondering the meaning of this breakfast before you. You flirt with the idea of going without the food. The idea flirts back. You think “fuck it!”, pinch your nose, screw up your face and close your eyes. You jump feet first into the deep waters of curiosity to see whether or not you swim. It doesn’t kill you immediately but you don’t quite glide through the water either. It makes you uncomfortable but still you tread water, keeping your head bobbing beyond the surface. You are surviving. It makes you feel a bit queesy, a bit confused and a bit off. Perhaps you need to just muscle through? Brute use of sheer willpower is definitely what is needed. You knuckle down and do some problem solving, still bobbing. Maybe you just need to learn how to survive and thrive without the food, just as our ancestors adapted, you can too.

Missing one breakfast won’t have a huge effect on your health. It certainly won’t kill you. Perhaps you peruse, eating is a habit that can be changed. Are you addicted to food? The phrase is currently brandished across headlines after all. You continue with your plan to keep missing food at more meals and subsequent breakfasts. It starts to wear you down. You feel rough, you feel edgy, and very much unlike yourself. This is when the going gets tough. This is your time to rise up and adapt as your ancestors did.

With time you begin to realise that thriving this way is absolutely impossible. The next day at breakfast you pop the kettle on and prepare your food. You sit down and feel grateful for having changed your mind about eating your food at breakfast. You are relieved that you can sit down and eat your food, comforted by the knowledge that you have tried and tested the curious alternative. You eat your breakfast. This experience does not make you immune from dabbling your toes into this pool of ponders again because always, what if? Do I really? And is it so? Float around our mind.

I wasn’t talking about food very much at all; this is an experience I have with my daily medications, particularly my main Quarterback, Quetiapine. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that is pretty nifty medicine. A common occurrence in those living with Bipolar Disorder is that once feeling well and stable for a while, we wonder if we are ready to come off of our medications and manage without them. Sometimes we’d wonder if we were ever unwell at all, is it all a fallacy.

It makes sense that we experience these episodes; when you feel well why would you continue to take medicine every day? The catch really is that we are well because we take the medicine every day – and that can sometimes be a difficult idea to hold on to when you think about how well you are now with your healthy coping mechanisms and social support network, your backlog of lived experience and a well stocked kit bag of coping tools.

Every single time my Quetiapine goes below a certain level I become unwell. I am familiar with the territory because the ways in which I become unwell are ways that I have spent years of my life living – the same symptoms and experiences relapse into the forefront of my life and very very quickly I lose my ability to think, be rational, function, get up, be motivated, tolerate people and annoyances, or stay very much with it at all. I descend into a foggy and slow confusion, much like living in sludge. I stare at walls for hours, if not days, at a time. I watch TV without really watching it. My memory stinks and so does living like this. Essentially, I am very disabled without this medication at the right dosage.

For those living with bipolar, it can take years and years to get an accurate diagnosis. Afterwards, it can take years and years to find the golden snitch of which medication combination and what dose works for each person. I am hopeful that we have finally found mine, alongside my extra nifty and extensive tool box of coping mechanisms. There is no shame in relying on medication to be well and healthy; these tablets save lives.