Lithium is saving my life

Tales from a bipolar planet

By Jodi Rawson
Reader Contributor

“Lithium saved my life,” I keep reading in testimonies, but sadly some of the people who have been prescribed lithium to help curb their suicidal or manic tendencies decades ago have lived on to suffer kidney and thyroid damage. Lithium has historically been prescribed for bipolar people in large doses, but this doesn’t have to be the case. New research is suggesting that lower doses of lithium can have the same effect without collecting in the body and overburdening the kidneys, so bipolars can have their cake and eat it too.

Lithium is one of three elements believed to have started the universe – along with hydrogen and helium. The root word of lithium means it is literally “from the rock.” Some communities have lithium in their water supply – Hot Springs, Mont., for instance. The suicide rates in these communities are consistently and drastically lower than communities lacking lithium in the water.

My sister sent me a bottle of lithium orotate she ordered online, convincing me it is merely a health supplement, and I have been taking a tiny bit here and there (NOT consistently) for months. She is a doctor of psychology studying suicide rates and tendencies, working to keep veterans with PTSD alive. For over 15 years she has suggested that I may be bipolar, but she is my doctor sister, and I am the black sheep sister, so I naturally rebel. “My brain is fine and doesn’t need tweaking,” was always my response. But when the demons of suicidal thoughts barged in like a gang with the cold weather and smoke – again – tweaking my brain became a priority.

I confess that I have been tweaking my brain. I had more coffee and alcohol this summer than I have any summer in my life. It was all local Sandpoint brews, and it was all delicious, but coffee and alcohol trigger a bipolar brain. I was prone to insomnia and over-exerting myself, stripping myself of rest and minerals. The inevitable trough happened with the end of summer, like pulling a shroud over my eyes, filtering healing light from entering my heart. I was left with that same question that has haunted me since puberty: “Couldn’t I just fall asleep and not wake up – to escape this pain?”

I have frightened my family when I have been trapped in a dark depression. I hide it as best as I can. I love people. I think they are brilliant with all of their shortcomings and overcomings of pain. Being connected to people is perhaps the best medicine of all. It is the pain that I would cause people, by hurting myself, that shakes me with deep fear and rationalizes suicide away. Fighting irrational despair can be exhausting, however, and rational thought often eludes me when I most need it.

Even though my sister encouraged me to read “The Unquiet Mind” nearly 20 years ago (and I was haunted by the similarities to my own mind) and even recently when she gave me a bipolar woman’s memoir in a graphic novel called “Marbles,” I still denied the similarities. I dislike being categorized and I feared any medication (some anti-psychotic meds have terrible side effect like “suicidal thoughts”).

Finally I listened to the voice of reason from a non-family member, a gentleman I trust: “Jodi, I am not saying this to offend you. I care. I just think that maybe you need help. You don’t have to hide being bipolar – which I think you have, but you just need to stay on top of it.”

After owning the illness, I cried for a day or so while researching manic depression with an open mind. From all that I have read, I am cliché bipolar – have been for around 20 years. I quit alcohol and coffee cold turkey and upped my dose of lithium orotate to a more substantial dosage of around 10-40 mg of lithium per day.

Within the first day of increased dosage and a conscience diet, my thoughts slowed down to a controllable rate, and I could take deeper breaths. My heart felt less squeezed somehow. Miraculously — magically even — the suicidal thoughts faded the evening of my increased lithium dosage and have not returned since. It is almost like I can see myself from a different perspective. There is no shame or mania, just a peaceful detachment. I had suicidal thoughts a few weeks ago, but they are not thoughts that I own now.

I am lucky to have health insurance through the VA and I did make an appointment with my doctor, but it will take months to get shuffled to the right counselor, develop a trusting relationship and be diagnosed. I am lucky to have a psychologist as my only sibling, doing her share of pro bono work on my brain. I am lucky to have friends offering me truth and perspective. I am lucky to be alive and taking good care of myself.

On top of friends, exercise and gratitude journals, “Happy Lights,” vitamin D, and omega 3’s, I have found that lithium is another tool to fight “the black dog” – which was how Abraham Lincoln referred to his haunting depression. But lithium isn’t just for the increasingly large group of us mentally ill – lithium is for everyone! Pets today are even being prescribed low dose lithium. Lithium is for everything brain related; from slight anxiety, ADHD and minor road rage, to the prevention of Alzheimer’s and promotion of clear and peaceful thoughts.

Lithium Orotate is a safe form of a necessary trace mineral, it is cheap and needs no prescription. My husband just ordered several bottles so everyone in my family can have this valuable supplement (though my dosage will be at least four times their dosage). I want everyone to hear the latest research on this magical mineral because I believe lithium is saving my life.

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