Life after lithium, an update

Last year, after about 20 years of using lithium as a mood stabiliser, I decided to stop taking it.  I had got to a point where I was taking it less and less and when having tests to assess the levels of it in my blood it showed that it was consistently below therapeutic levels. I talked it over with the friends who have registered Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) over my health & welfare and explained that I thought that since I was taking a potentially harmful drug that wasn’t actually doing anything to me or for me then I wanted to stop taking it. They both agreed with me and the GP friend was very supportive.

I talked it over with my doctor when I next visited him and he was a little more cautious but encouraging nonetheless. He gave me his blessing which was immaterial as I’d already decided to go ahead anyway.

Tapering off lithium use is essential as the rebound effect tends to throw people into mania and mania is the state where I am at my most fragile. It was a gamble but a gamble that I was prepared to take.  So what happened?

Almost a year on I’m still not taking lithium. The bipolar disorder is still in the stable yet unstable state it was before I stopped taking it proving, perhaps, that good management is a big factor in stability. My kidney function has improved, my thyroid isn’t so good but subsequent tests suggest this is age related and it has survived the ravages of lithium.

I was taking my medication about half the time I should have been when I was taking lithium because it’s such a terrible thing to take. It’s not just the raging thirst and dry mouth or the weight that you pile on it is also physically unpleasant to take. Since I stopped taking lithium I rarely miss taking medication.

My base drug now is lamotrigine which seems to be keeping me stable but, again, I think that good self management has a lot to do with it.

So stopping taking lithium has been a step forward for me. There was no backslide into depression or a destructive episode of mania. I’ve lost weight and I have more energy and, as a result, I’m able to manage bipolar disorder a little better. Life has improved.

Making big changes to medication is a gamble but it can pay off. Preparation, discussion and knowing what the worst outcome could be helped me to decide that it was worth all the risks. So far all is well but, should my mental health deteriorate in the future, taking lithium again would always be a consideration.

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