The Dreaded “R” Word – Relapse

While I have always focused on Recovery in my blogs, I think it is important to share another perspective – that of Relapse. For some it might be seen as a “slip”, a “glitch”, a “lapse”, no matter what you call it, it happens when signs of the mental illness you thought you were free from resurfaces.

I am committed to being open and honest about my struggles, and the truth is… I struggled quite recently and after over four years of having only “mini slips”, this time I had a relapse.

But read to the end - don’t give up on me now! (I didn’t!)

I think because I had been well for so long I forgot my warning signs, forgot all my planning techniques and the symptoms overtook me so quickly.

There were a number of factors that led to this happening. First, I am currently on what I like to call my “cocktail” of psychotropic medications. Clozapine was one medication that has been working well for me, but I am eager to reduce the dosage and eventually stop it due to the side effects. In the middle of August, I went completely off the medication.

At the exact same time, I was signing the lease to my first home! Okay, so I may be renting and it may be in the basement, but it’s awesome! Obviously, I am very excited! In fact, I was so excited I stopped sleeping. Or at least, that’s what I attributed the insomnia to. I was up every hour on the hour, tossing, turning, making crafts at 3:00am… I quickly discovered that not sleeping made me tired. (Duh Tara- I know, right?) I also discovered that my level of functioning on 3-4 hours of broken sleep was not that stellar after three days of sleep deprivation.

After connecting with my Psychiatrist who has worked with me for 11 years, (Bless his soul!) I was able to get a prescription for a sleep aid.  That resulted in two nights of sleep but then I noticed an emergence of other symptoms.

Panic attacks, social anxiety, seeing movement out of the corner of my eyes, everything having to be in a certain order, counting and repeating words in a rhythmic order, random crying spells irritability, driving 10km past my own house, and finally, to my biggest dismay, the suicidal thoughts returned.

Through it all I tried to mask the sadness and hopelessness, especially at work and especially to my family. 
Now, I consider myself to be a strong person but at this point I could recognize where I was and that this was not manageable anymore. I made the decision to involve my previous Psychologist.

Sometimes relapse might be stress. Sometimes relapse might be medications. Sometimes you just can’t pinpoint it. For me, it was realizing that the pharmacy had accidentally discontinued my Prozac. For ten days I had been off of 60mg cold turkey, along with the Clozapine at the same time.

I restarted the 60mg of Prozac the next day but still spent the weekend in a fit of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression. Even though I wanted to withdraw socially so badly, I was able to fight through it and visit with my brother, his fiancé, and my other brother’s girlfriend. The visits were distractions, and I also found myself having a little bit of fun.

By Monday, there had been a small miracle. The suicidal thoughts had dissipated. I was myself again! My mood had lifted so dramatically. By the following week, my random anxiety attacks had lifted and I can now sit still (usually) without tapping pens, ripping paper, talking a mile a minute, etc.

It is important to have a support system in place in case we need help, as well as to have a written plan of what your next steps will be in the event of an emergency.

I am nervous to share this blog because it still feels like a weakness on my part, but I feel strong because I made it through and that takes immense amounts of strength and bravery. So, I am proud of myself and proud of my ability to endure and learn from my struggles. I wanted to share this blog so that others know relapse is not a sign of weakness, and that relapse means you’ve been better before and you’ll be better again. And of course, because of my addiction to recovery quotes, I will leave you with this one: “Embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger. It won’t last forever.” (Tony Gaskins)