I was six months into taking Lithium, sitting at a table at the back of a Denny’s with three people I was meeting for the first time. I was the only one who had ordered dinner, and now I was feeling awkward about that decision as plates were sat in front of me. I had driven across Phoenix during rush hour to get to this Denny’s and I’d spent that drive asking myself two questions:
The answer to the second question was sitting in front me. The Grand Slam Breakfast. A long-time favorite. But sitting there with rocks in my stomach, it looked unpleasant. More unpleasant than any breakfast platter I had ever looked at in my life. I picked at it uncomfortably as the others took turns introducing themselves.
And as I picked at the answer to the second question, the first question not only remained unanswered but became more pronounced. What in the name of a Moons Over My Hammy was I doing here?
For months I’d been obsessed with meeting just one person who could relate to what I had been experiencing. Someone who had been doing this for a while. Who could talk to me about how to pick a therapist, what types of medication were helpful, how to navigate asking for an accommodation at work. More than anything I wanted to find just one person who could look me in the eyes and tell me that everything was going to be alright. Someone who’d done it. Who made it through.
I’d found this “support” group online, and after weeks of not taking any action, finally made myself get in the car, turn the key, and hit the road.
And now here I sat, slowly, painfully, working through an increasingly room temperature mega breakfast. The longer I listened to and got to know the people seated around me, the more I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake. I wasn’t a guy sitting in the midst of a community that would give him hope. I was just one more hopeless wanderer looking for answers in the back of a freeway Denny’s. Truth be told, I don’t think we were good for each other.
Q: “I don’t think Lithium is working. What have you guys tried that was actually effective?”
A: “Nothing is effective. I’m on my fifth medication in fifteen years and it’s only gotten worse.”
Q: “What have you done to get through work living with this? Have you ever talked to your job, asked for an accommodation?”
A: “Are you kidding? I’d never tell my boss.”
Q: “How did you pick a therapist?”
A: “Ha. I hate my therapist. He’s like my fourth.”
After dinner, I got in the car and headed home in silence. Feeling the sting of bitter disappointment, I kicked myself for putting all my stock into the idea that talking with someone who could relate to what I was experiencing would be the answer to it all.
After that night I stopped taking my medication. The following day I called and cancelled my reoccurring psychiatry appointments. “When would you like to reschedule?” the receptionists asked. “I’ll call you,” I lied.
Weeks later, Trish was heartbroken when she found out that I’d stopped taking the meds without talking to her first. I explained that I’d seen what I had to look forward to. That there were no medications that would help, that it would always be hard, that there was no point in finding a therapist.
And I was so incredibly wrong.
I eventually hit a new low, one that almost landed me in the hospital. After that, I reached out to my psychiatrist again. He chided me for disappearing for months, for stopping my meds abruptly, but he was thankful I’d decided to come back. This time, I had done my research (with the help of my lovely research assistant). I told him what medication I would like to try. He agreed. I’m still taking that medication, without side effects, and though it doesn’t erase the symptoms, it helps make them manageable.
Around the same time that I went back to the doctor, we found the church that we’re still a part of. It’s been a year, and while a little slow-going, we’re starting to feel known as part of this community. Beginning to feel our roots dig deeper into the soil.
After a few months of groundwork supplied by the medication I made some major changes to my diet (albeit, with the occasional Denny’s). I also started exercising, introduced mindfulness meditation, established a sleep schedule. Some of these habits have started to wane (and been difficult to maintain) in the age of the coronavirus, but I’m feeling now that they’re more important than ever.
And now here we are, a year later. One of the unforeseen aspects of pursuing healing, something that I had never even considered, was that with every step I’ve taken to get better, with every challenge faced, with every failure and setback, I’m slowly becoming the person that I was hoping to meet at Denny’s. Someone who made it through, however imperfectly.
I’m hopeful that over time more answers will be acquired, more lessons learned, and that I’ll not sit on what gifts I’m given but use them to provide a little hope to others on a similar path.