Mental Health Week: how I reached remission from severe bipolar disorder and reclaimed my life
Updated: Jan 27
I have no idea how I have survived nearly two decades of brutal suffering at the hands of severe bipolar type 1 disorder.
I spent months, even years sometimes, ‘dying to stay alive’, in bed, desperately trying to resist my suicidal thoughts and intentions with the curtains firmly closed; achieving nothing, going nowhere, and seeing no one.
I tried a myriad of treatments and therapies and nothing worked, in fact all that the psychiatric drugs did was to make my condition worse. This meant that I was fighting so much more than just the vicious onslaught of episodes, because I now had the side effects of the drugs, the withdrawal problems when they failed me, and the disappointments and failures to contend with too.
The obliteration of my career, degree, relationships, savings, and independence wasn’t easy to reconcile with either, and when you combine all of these losses with the trauma of the psychiatric hospital admissions, it doesn’t take much to imagine the utter desperation, despair and hopelessness that I was experiencing.
The repetition of this pattern of illness and destruction meant that I had given up all hope of living, let alone salvaging anything resembling a ‘normal’ life.
But, against all odds, I have not only survived the horrors of this living nightmare, but I’ve reached full remission from a ‘treatment resistant’ illness and reclaimed my life.
I’m writing, reading, riding, walking, swimming and socialising – things I once thought I would never be able to do again, and now I want everyone else to be able to benefit from my experience.
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, I will be discussing the treatment that finally brought me to remission from severe bipolar disorder and allowed me to reclaim a full and productive life.
I’m going to discuss the path to full recovery and remission in seven parts – one for each day of Mental Health Week. These elements will include:
My story - outlining the progression of the illness
Importance of a thorough diagnosis click here
Description of treatment with a combination of high-dose levothyroxine and rTMS
The importance of educating the psychiatric profession about the significance of this approach click here
Why the NHS are denying people this treatment and what I propose to do about it
Other patient success stories click here
Efficacy and side effects when compared with the traditional medications click here
Part 1. My story – Outlining the progression of the illness
The convoluted and complicated story of what really happened over the last twenty years is impossible to recount succinctly, so I’m not even going to try to do that here!
In short, I suffered countless episodes of depression and mania, and was hospitalised three times.
When I had virtually given up all hope of survival in early 2019, a friend contacted me and begged me to go and see her private doctor, at the very least for an assessment. so I took a deep breath and decided that I would give this one last go.
I first went to see Dr Andy Zamar at the London Psychiatry Centre at the end of March 2019. I knew that I didn’t have the strength to divulge the horrific truth of the illness so I wrote it down before I went.
This is the letter I took with me:
2003 – First notable episode of depression.
Severe low mood July – November. Mostly bed bound. Very depressed but no suicidal ideation.
Prescribed citalopram by GP (a medication now considered by psychiatrists to make the condition worse) – no lift in mood in four months.
Side effects – “brain zaps”, dizziness both experienced while on medication as well as coming off. Depression lifted on its own. Medication discontinued.
2004 – Mood stable.
2005 – Second depression instigated by destructive relationship and nasty break up.
SEVERE low mood combined with periods of insomnia and ‘simple’ depression, including suicidal ideation March to October.
Prescribed citalopram March ’05 – no lift in mood, symptoms severe and unrelenting.
Prescribed fluoxetine May ’05 – no lift in mood. Side effects: severe and irrational anxiety, fear and panic, could not tolerate so discontinued. A frightening worsening of symptoms.
Prescribed venlafaxine June – August ’05 – no lift in mood. Dose quadrupled, still no benefit.
Side effects – sweats, head spins, brain zaps, hallucinations, horrific nightmares, sleep paralysis. DISCONTINUED.
2006 – Mood stable until December. Mood declining so in desperation started to self-medicate as a result of complete lack of help from antidepressants and non-existent support from NHS. Mood fluctuations rather than continuous depression the mood shifted upwards. Hypomania until end of January.
2007 – 2011 – Mood low. Able to function but to a lower degree than normal. Tried lithium plus citalopram again as constantly teary, low, suicidal.
Lithium is revolting, it’s like swallowing lumps of chalk and makes me gag. Constant thirst - zero reduction in depressive symptoms so discontinued after persisting with maximum dose for several months.
Withdrawal from citalopram and lithium – brain zaps, cold sweats, ‘head in washing machine’. Hideous indescribable nightmare.
2012 -2013 – Mood slowly declining. Desperation at complete failure of psychiatric drugs. Option of die or self-medicate results in full blown mania. Hospitalised Dec 2013 – Jan 2014.
Prescribed olanzapine – hallucinations and sleep-paralysis. Discontinued immediately.
2014 – Suicidal ideation for the entire year.
Did not leave house except for appointments. Extreme suffering. Mentally and physically crippled by depression.
Prescribed sodium valproate – side effects terrible hives on back so discontinued.
Sertraline and Lithium at high levels – no benefit whatsoever. Panic, fear and anxiety. Feeling like a zombie. Persisted and eventually discontinued as could not tolerate. Mood persistently low and suicidal.
2015 – Suicidal constantly. Medication of no benefit whatsoever.
2015 July – Depression lifted mood normal.
2016 – Mood normal
2017 May - Severe depression. Extremely suicidal.
Two Ketamine infusions at Warneford hospital, Oxford 35mg each infusion, under supervision of Dr Rupert McShane.
Post second infusion full-blown MANIA. Extreme manic episode. Hospitalised for three months.
2017 August - SEVERE Depression.
Tried antipsychotics Aripiprazole, Paliperidone, Risperidone all with no benefit. Persistent suicidal ideation. Failed ketamine treatment responsible for COMPLETE brain dysfunction. Catatonic state for the next two years. Suicidal constantly every waking moment.
2018 - Suicidal every waking moment. Brutal, unsurvivable pain and suffering. Prescribed oral Ketamine twice weekly alongside Lithium. Slowly increased dose up to 200mg of Ketamine plus 150mg Quetiapine as totally unresponsive. No benefit gained from oral ketamine or any of these drugs. Extreme mental pain, agony and anguish for 18 months continuously.
Withdrawal of quetiapine has caused chronic and acute insomnia, which means that I cannot even escape the torture in sleep.
There is no chance that I can continue with life like this.
I must be better or die.
On reading this Dr Zamar took me extremely seriously and went on to question me extensively about my symptoms and experiences – something no other psychiatrist had ever done in twenty years.
I walked out of the appointment feeling more educated about my condition and more importantly HEARD – My feelings were valid, and the seriousness of my situation had been finally appreciated.
After the appointment, I said to Mum:
"This man will be enough to save me because he understands."
There were no deliberations, waitlists or delays and I started a combined treatment with levothyroxine and rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) with immediate effect.
The progression to full remission was steady and took longer than usual because of the damage caused by the failed treatments but within the space of a few months things started to become easier.
Eight months of treatment with rTMS and a titration up to 800mcg of levothyroxine as well as a whole year of steadily getting my confidence back (thank you pandemic), and I am finally able to say that I am back to the authentic version of myself.
I don’t doubt my brain, I don’t have to fight to get out of bed in the morning, and I’m relaxed and happy with life.
This experience has changed me profoundly and nothing now matters except staying well and helping others to survive and recover.
Tomorrow, I will be discussing the importance of a thorough diagnosis and how being more educated about my condition was the first essential step on the path to full recovery from bipolar disorder.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,