Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sometimes Life Is a Pill

This post will start with a rant and end with a plea. I will need you to share it with anyone who will listen for more reasons than one.  This video will give you a preface to what I have to say. Please watch it. It is a message that needs to be heard. It may not apply to you but it applies to my family and me.
Don't proceed until THAT is seen.

Her story is much like mine. My struggle was not depression but it took the same path.  My journey started in 8th grade with a grand mal seizure (or whatever the medical term is now when you fall to the ground unconscious, shake violently, and stop breathing). I woke up in an ambulance with no  knowledge of why I was there. I don't really remember the events that put me there. But I was told after returning to normal that I had flirted with the paramedic in the spongbob scrubs. Allegedly when I was asked why I was going to the hospital I said that I passed out in front of Target.  In actuality, it had happened while channel surfing with my cousin in a dark basement. After a cocktail of medical tests: MRI, EEG, cat scan, and blood tests, I was sent home drug free. The doctors said that a lot of people have one seizure and never have another one. So they sent me on my way. Hooray, I had left with a clean bill of health and no percriptions

For a long time, it looked like the doctors were right.

I started high school and immediately found my niche, passion, love, and gift in running. With running came many things...people who would, over the four years of high school, become my lifelong friends, endless incredible memories of victories, pains of defeat, and the opportunity to finish college debt-free. My junior year of high school revolved around me trying to decide what NCAA school I wanted to run for. I went on official recruiting visits to Clemson, Auburn, and University of Georgia. My junior year track season ended with a second place finish in the state track meet. I was ready to win it all my senior year.  My one focus the summer before my senior year was to run as far and as fast as I could. I almost doubled my weekly mileage and practically lived at Tribble Mill Park or the shoulder of roads around Grayson, Georgia. I was topping off my last summer of high school with a week of running camp at UGA. I fell in love with it all...the town, the track, the "SEC hype," the campus, the waffles in the cafeteria, and the crappy dorm rooms. I was convinced I was meant to be a running bulldog. By the end of the week, the coaches were convincing me they could see me there, too. I was living large, just short of prideful. I had it all laid out. I could picture the red and black uniform with way too short shorts.

A week later all of those plans changed. I was knocked off my high horse. I learned humility because I had no other choice.

It was our last cross country summer practice. I was running and fell back behind my teammates a bit. I figured I was just tired from the week of running camp. Then my vision got blurry. I couldn't run any more. So I started walking but my feet felt like lead. A couple passed me walking the other direction on the trail. They asked if I was okay. In my head I was saying, "no, I need help." But no words came out. So I just nodded and kept walking. That was the last thing I remember...a blurry couple walking past me smiling.

Then few of my teammates found me on their way back to their cars to end their run. Two of them slumped me over their shoulders and tried to carry me to our coach. One of them sprinted ahead to tell him and our parents, "I think Meredith just had a seizure." The next thing I remember is getting hoisted into the front seat of one of the x-c moms' SUVs and taken to the hospital. The whole ride I was conscious. I don't know who I was with. All I knew was I couldn't move or answer any of their questions. At the hospital later I didn't recognize my parents right away. I threw up a lot. My brain and my body were a mess. And it took a long time and lots of different PERSCRIBED drugs (in case any of you were wondering if I had a drug problem) to get them back to normal. Walking out of the hospital was stepping into the my new reality as we searched for a medicine to fix what was broken. 

Pill #1-Topamax (used for depression and/or epilepsy) In a very short period of time I lost about 20 pounds. I literally stopped eating. I would be so hungry then after one bite I would be stuffed and sickened by the sight of food. I was the skinniest runner at all of the meets. And that says a lot. I was running terribly. Every college that used to call me after all of my races stopped calling. I was lucky if I finished races. My mom thought I was anorexic because I was trying to lose weight and run faster. I told her even if I was it wasn't working. But I wasn't. I thought, maybe I was anorexic. It definitely wasn't a conscious decision so maybe I was messed up in the head. She took me to an eating specialist. As soon as she looked at my chart she diagnosed me with "involuntary anorexia." She said I wasn't the first one she saw on Topamax. She informed us that doctors also prescribed it as a diet pill. No doctor had ever told us that. That wasn't on the pill bottle. But I hadn't had any seizures since I started it. So instead of changing my neurologic medicine, the eating specialist told my mom she could mix this powder into my food to give me the calories I was missing. So there was that. Not long after that I had a seizure at school. It was right after I finished my final in my photography class. We all finished the test long before it was time to change classes. Some people laid their heads down and went to sleep. One girl stretched out on the floor and went to sleep. I decided that was a great idea. So I walked over by the window because I wanted to sleep in the sunlight. That's where I made a mistake. Sunlight streaming through windows and epilepsy don't mix. Well, I laid down and never closed my eyes. I was in stare mode. I was frozen. I couldn't move or talk to ask for help. I was just stuck frozen staring at the beam of sunlight. The bell rang to change classes and I still didn't move. A student shook me to wake me up and I wasn't sleeping. Then it clicked. "Oh yea, she has epilepsy." Seconds later I heard them say over the intercom, "first responder to the photography class." I heard squeaky tennis shoes running down the hallway. I knew it was Coach Bryant even though he wasn't the first responder. He knew it was me. Then teachers were kneeling around me on the floor trying to snap me out of my far away place I had gone. A few times I was able to look around just enough that they knew I was with them but not enough to really be with them. Then I heard the sirens and thought, "how embarrassing. I'm leaving school on a stretcher." Then I remember the paramedic snapping that peppery stuff in my face to try to bring me back and it worked for a second then I was more out than before. I woke a LONG time later and again didn't know where I was or why I was there. Then came ...
Drug #2- I forgot the names. I can't pronounce them anyways so what's the point? This one made me forget everything....what I had studied, what class was next, my best friends' names every now and then. And I was very angry very easy. That drug didn't last long.
Drug #3-....didn't last long either. I had night terrors. Not nightmares...terrors. One night, at 17 years old, I jumped out of bed screaming and ran downstairs and jumped into bed with my parents. I told them there was a praying mantis in my room. They laughed. I said I would laugh too because they don't bite but this one was human-sized and laying on my chest. It sounded just as crazy to me but I swore I wasn't crazy and I wasn't going back to my room til they killed it. And I said all of this wide awake. Not sleeptalking.
Drug #4-Lamictal-my miracle drug...for a while. My seizures went away and no side effects came. I started feeling healthy again...and running fast too. At state my senior year I got 3rd in the two-mile then broke my finger at the starting line of the mile...but that's another story. But it was too late for my dream schools. They had moved on to greener pastures...TRUE DEFINITION OF A BLESSING IN DISGUISE. But then as life changed or miles increased or stress went up so did my dosage but it worked and still works mostly.
Drug #5-...still up for debate but seems good so far. The Lamictal seemed to be slacking on its job lately. No seizures but recently my brain has kind of been in slow motion...slurred speech...forgetting what I am doing...forgetting words like accommodation in IEP meetings. No good. I guess two babies under age 3 and a stressful job can throw off chemical imbalances and mess with seizure medicine. But so far so good with the 750mg a day total thay I take to keep my brain working how it should.
I could use this post to vent about the absurdity of the profit that drug companies make (a month of my Lamictal would be $1700 without insurance), the nonchalant prescribing of medication and laxidasical roller-coastering of dosages. All of these would be justified battles to fight, I feel.
But this post is about the necessary evil that is modern medication. I have it to blame. But more than that I have it to thank. Not too long ago a person like me might be institutionalized. Instead I am nearly seizure-free and have a husband, two kids, and a job teaching other people's kids.

I freaked out when I realized my oldest son had epilepsy, too. He was having 12 or so staring seizures a day as a one-year-old. I was more scared to medicate him than I was to see him freeze for 30 seconds at a time. Then I was told that it was going to have to happen when he started falling behind in school even if he only missed 30 seconds of instruction a day. I was reminded it is a necessary evil.
Drug #1-The go-to drug for infants with epilepsy. Promises of very little side effects. Wrong. He started hitting and biting almost immediately. We didn't want a baby with aggression headed into the terrible twos.
Drug #2- Lamictal-They tried it on him because it worked on me, but they didn't seem convinced it would work. And now it works for both of us. But he went from sleeping through the night on his own to hardly sleeping at all.
Drug #3-suggestion...some kind of sleep medicine drops...we just worked through it. Sometimes it still needs work. But a little less sleep is better than seizures or a doped-up toddler.

All that to say, there is no shame in getting help, even if it is in the form of medication. Now, this can not be an argument for illegal  self-medicating or self-harming drugs. Doctors may not fix things the first time but I am proof they can help if you let them.

So here's to you doctors. Thank you. But also remember that what you write on prescription papers will have an impact on every patient: their health, their moods, their families, and their wallets. Don't prescribe nonchalantly. Take it easy on our bodies, our brains, and our wallets.

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