Brain on Fire

I wonder if it’s possible. Can I describe it? Are there words adequate to illustrate what my reality is like when I’m not on medication?

I moved once from a big city where I had easy access to public health facilities to a rural area where I isolated and did not attempt to find the health care that I needed. I have no excuse. I was scared. I took 3 month’s worth of meds with me.

I knew that I would run out of my meds, and so I took matters into my own hands to wean myself off the best way that I knew how. I was taking valproic acid as my main bipolar medication, and so I started by cutting my dosage by 25%, and the symptoms began right away.

Walking up the stairs to my room one day, I felt a hand reach into my head and begin to squeeze. I gripped the handrail to keep from falling. It felt like the hand of some god had decided that I no longer needed my brain and was trying to extract it. I can’t say that it was exactly painful. I believe it would be better described as immense pressure.

The shock was tremendous. I remember when I was diagnosed with bipolar, I felt betrayed by my brain. I’d had delusions in the intervening years, but now I knew that my brain wanted something completely foreign to what I’d ever imagined. It wanted out.

Next came the sobbing. Sitting in my room, I soundlessly sobbed doubled over in a chair, gulping air, heaving. Uncontrollable terror ripping at the inside of my skull.

During one episode, my brain caught fire. It seethed and writhed and ate up all the oxygen that I could consume. Pressing my hands against the sides of my head, I squeezed, attempting to extinguish the flames I could feel licking at the inside of my skull.

By this time, I was out of meds. I began to hallucinate.

Hearing things. Singing came from the toilet.

Seeing things. A young man with blond hair sitting at my desk, wearing a plaid shirt.

Pacing. Moving. Unable to control. Thoughts racing. The only thing consistent were the thoughts of suicide. Longing for peace.

Erratic. Disjointed. Only suicide is clear. All else whirls.

The phone saved me. I called a friend I knew who had connections to psychologists, but he called a help-line for me instead. I was whisked into the system. Hospitalized. Blessedly hospitalized.

And sedated. After the hell of the months leading up to it. I welcomed the sleep. Deep dreamless sleep. Exhausted sleep.

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2 thoughts on “Brain on Fire

  1. If you don’t mind me saying so, this is beautifully written. I can actually feel what you must have been going through. My memory is so wiped due to medications and ECTs, I do not have the more specific hallucinogenic effects of my illness at my disposal to describe. I applaud your bravery and descriptive ability.

  2. Pingback: Work and Life Continue | Winning with Bipolar

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