Guest post by Ross McKenzie
The Lithium Chronicles is a Blisstree series focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder. Ross McKenzie was diagnosed as bipolar at the age of 21. After 15 years of daily lithium doses, he went off his meds last February. He's been drug free ever since. This is the story of how he ended up walking naked down a highway and making his slow journey back to a life without psychotropic medication.
I was in college, studying in New York City when I started exhibiting abnormal behaviors. Looking back, it was a pretty classic manic episode. I was acting very out of character, and my actions soon devolved into a full blown psychotic manic episode.
But any kind of symptoms you experience now, very quickly today, you'll find there's a prescription for that, or a label. Someone will quickly tell you: "Here's what you have for the rest of your life. And here's what you have to take."
That's what happened to me. At the age of 21, I ended up tied in a straight jacket in a padded room. All of the dreams that seemed achievable weeks before were suddenly outside my grasp.
But I wasn't ready to roll over and play dead. Fifteen years later, I'm finally off my meds. But it was a long complicated process to get to where I am now.
At the beginning, I just didn't sleep for a number of days. But then that turned into a few weeks.
I was feeling fantastic, but thoughts were going so quickly that I couldn't keep up with them. I was definitely exhibiting reckless behavior. I was doing things like speeding, driving through red lights, and getting into my car and driving with rollerblades on.
I was becoming a danger to myself and others. The irony though, is that while this was happening to me, I had a tough time recognizing it.
My sister saw that there was something weird going on. We spoke on the phone and I kept telling her how I was helping everyone in New York. I had emptied my bank account and was just giving money to people on the street.
She quickly told me she needed my help too, and I was more than glad to fly to her house to give my assistance. But when I got there, she had organized my whole family, and they wanted me to check myself in to a hospital.
But because of the nature of how I was feeling, I was in this elated state of mind. I thought I was on a mission to fix the world's problems.
My family was able to get me to admit myself, because I was convinced that I would go to the hospital and help whoever was in there. And once I was in there, I felt like thoughts were going through my head at 100 miles an hour.
My whole escape was that I wasn't letting them put me on anything that would sedate me. I would go to see new patients and try to help them with their problem. I thought I was the welcoming committee, but I was also in there as a patient.
One night I went to see a new patient, and he frightened me. I thought this person was the devil. I said I needed to leave and was told I couldn't. So I ran out of the hospital at zero degrees with nothing on my feet.
I started running through the snow. My only thought was that I needed to get to the airport and as far away from that person who scared me as possible. I ran against the highway, and found a house and started banging on the window. This lovely couple was having a nice candlelight dinner. They let me in so that I could call friends and see if they'd pick me up. They soon realized that I was all in hospital clothes and tried to grab me, but I ran away. I found a garbage bucket and thought I could wear it as a skirt. It didn't fit, so I threw it away and couldn't find my pants. All I knew was that I didn't want to be wearing hospital clothes, and I needed to get to the airport.
Nothing was logical. Without hospital clothes I thought I could somehow get to an airplane. South America was my destination.
But in reality, I was naked, walking down the highway. That's what I looked like when the police pulled me over. I knew something was not quite right. They had the whole perimeter surrounded.
I was considered violent and unpredictable. Someone wrestled me to the ground on the highway, and I was brought back to the hospital. This time I was in a straight jacket in that padded cell. They put me on Heldol, the most powerful antipsychotic around, for four days. It brings you to a complete stop.
I was crawling on the floor and drooling for four days. When I came off that, I still didn't really want them to put me on anything else. I spent two weeks in the hospital, and the doctor said I could leave after that time. So he signed me out and I spent a week at my parents' house. I was driving recklessly -- I was still quite out of control -- and a dear family friend who had gone through a similar episode convinced me to get help. She had someone slip PCP into her cocktail in her 20s and that tripped her into a manic episode.
She suggested I see a doctor in another hospital. Back then I was just a young kid who wasn't able to handle what was going on, and I said OK.
The doctor told me: "I'm going to put you on lithium, and you're going to have to take this for the rest of your life." That thought was hard to take. But he didn't stop there. I remember it so clearly. He told me straight up: "Don't expect to do anything too special with your life, because you're now mentally disabled." That was so horrible to hear. I was 21 years old. And despite his certainty, I know that that was not the life I was meant to live. He put me on lithium, and I could feel the effects of the drug right away.
I was in that hospital for about three weeks. And when I came out, that's when my journey really began. I've spent every penny I have to do research on this, until last year when I came to the root cause of what happened to me. And I wouldn't trade anything, because it got me to where I am now.
Ross is working on a documentary about the struggles of bipolar disorders that is coming out next year. Tune in to Blisstree next week to see how Ross slowly weaned himself off lithium. Warning: He strongly discourages attempting anything like this without supervision.
This post originally appeared on Blisstree.com.
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