When I was nine I stole a penny gobstopper. It was acid green and about as big as the circle you make when you touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. I sucked on that gobstopper and enjoyed it – right down to the crunchy aniseed bit in the middle. But even though I had stolen that gobstopper, there was still a price to pay.
I discovered something in the week that followed. I discovered that I cannot steal. I suffered the agonising and writhing pangs of remorse and guilt.
The following Saturday I chose another penny gobstopper, duly paying over my shiny penny. Then I dropped it back in the sweetie box while my little sister was picking her selection. I thought that would make it right, but it didn't. I remember that acid green gobstopper still.
I remembered it again last Friday while spending two hours with a consultant psychiatrist.
He asked me about my behaviour during my manic periods. Do I spend money without thinking (yes – but not to the point of irresponsibility), do I indulge in sexual behaviour out of character (yes – I do flirt, but I am not promiscuous), am I tempted to break the law?
Suddenly, I remembered all the times I have had to fight that almost overwhelming impulse to shoplift. Only little things: a magazine, a trinket, a bottle of mid-price perfume. I had never connected the dots before. These impulses occur when I am in my manic phase. I am deeply ashamed of these dark desires and have never given in to them; but only because I remember all too well the lesson of the acid green gobstopper.
The problem is that the periods of mania and subsequent depression are getting more frequent and more extreme. I was talking to the psychiatrist for a reason: we need to find a new treatment before I am arrested for shoplifting, before I do land myself in a situation I cannot control. Before the impulse to end it all swamps me and ends me.
He asked me too about those suicidal impulses. Do they come out of the blue, or when I have been brooding on unhappy things (they come without warning, and I try not to brood.) This was news to my poor husband sitting next to me and providing moral support. I had not told him how bad things get; I had not wanted to worry him – and he doesn't read these blogs.
So the psychiatrist recommended Lamotrigine. He's a sensible and compassionate man and he knows I want to go away and do my own research before making a decision.
The last time I saw a representative from the mental health team, nine years ago, they seemed more interested in ticking boxes than relating to me as an intelligent and responsible human being. They prescribed Sodium Valproate – a drug with many unpleasant side effects. I decided I would rather live with the bipolar.
This time, well – there seem to be very few side effects, and Lamotrigine is apparently effective: it can restore normality.
I think I might give it a try.
A Moodscope member.
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