Undiagnosed

by Fernanda
(Ontario, Canada)

I've been so confused for the last year. In April of last year I took Chantix to quit smoking, had 2 vivid halucinations upon falling asleep. I only took it for 2 weeks. I'm now 49 year old female going through perimenoupause. So I was experiencing some insomnia and I was told by my GP that I was a little iron and B12 deficient. I went to an herbal store and asked what I could do. They gave me some NAKA for hot flashes and vitamins. I also got some MACA powder. So I took these remedies and I started feeling great, only problem was I realized that I was acting strange. Manic symptoms: feeling invincible, overspending, extremely high sex drive and not sleeping more then 3 to 4 hours, also I started to realized that this wasn't me. I immediately stopped taking everything after 2 months and I slowly fell into depression over the next month. I couldn't sleep and I had this severe hyperarousal sensation in my head upon early waking. Other symptoms were loss of focus during gatherings and loss of concentration, memory lapses and severe depression and loss of appetite. I was severely ill and ended up in ER by the end of the second month. The put me on Seroquel which only helped with sleep a little too well and the rest of my days I was like a zombie. Took this stuff for 2 months, then was finally switched to Lorazepam and Paxil. Nothing seemed to work especially with the strange sensation in my head. Next they tried Remeron and Lorazepam. I could tolerate the Remeron, but they switched me to Clonazepam because of this weird sensation in my head. I took the Remeron for almost 7-8 months and then it just stopped working and I always felt flat emotions and depersonalization or things just didn't seem real. Another med change to Wellbutrin and clonazepam still for sleep and head sensation. Wellbutrin made me feel agitated but did nothing for lifting my mood. So after two months I stopped the Wellbutrin and continue to take the clonazepam because nothing else seems to help with my severe insomnia and head sensation. I've seen a neurologist and had an MRI that came back normal. I've been to a Women's Health Clinic thinking this might be hormonally related and they were not much help either. I don't know if I'm bipolar or just depressed. I've been undiagnosed for over a year and yet I haven't had another manic episode since. I just feel depressed, can't sleep very well without clonazepam and don't know what to make of this sensation/ache in my head.


Ben's Reply:

To summarize your story, you took Chantix to quit smoking and in the short time you took it you had 2 vivid hallucinations upon falling asleep (which by the way is apparently a common side effect of Chantix). You then took some natural herbal remedies for menopause symptoms and felt great, but then felt too great and realized you were having symptoms of mania. And then doctors proceeded to try all sorts of psychiatric meds on you (at least 5 by your report), with little to no apparent benefits, and often with negative side effects.

This is unfortunately another variation of a theme I see in a large percentage of people who develop bipolar symptoms.

A quick review of the news on Chantix shows lots of horrifying tales of depression, suicidal thoughts, and terrifying hallucinations.

I found this article in NYMag.com (http://nymag.com/news/features/43892/index2.html), which gives a detailed account of one woman's shattering experience with Chantix. In the article, they point out that during the drug study done on Chantix, they excluded anybody with any risk factors including depression or panic disorder (making the results biased and meaningless). And they do not mention these exclusions in the drug information sheet.

The symptoms you describe all fit with bipolar disorder. But what few mental health professionals ever look at is WHY. Most people first develop bipolar symptoms in their late teens or early 20's. You would be considered "Late Onset" which is to my mind, just a convenient way of saying that something triggered these symptoms in you suddenly.


A high percentage of people diagnosed with depression will eventually be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And many of those people will receive that bipolar diagnosis after being treated with antidepressants or other drugs for their depressive symptoms. There is a definite relationship between depression and bipolar disorder. When I see a client who feels agitated when they take an antidepressant (like Wellbutrin), it is a big red flag for mania risk.

My suggestion is to see a naturopath or other holistically oriented physician and work on restoring your brain's natural balance. I also highly recommend that you read the book "Anatomy of an Epidemic" which documents the dilemma you now find yourself in.

Don't give up. There are lots of options for getting healthy.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT



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Dec 05, 2013
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Fernanda
by: Anonymous

Well I have met my new intergrated psychiatrist a couple of days ago now. They had a cancellation and I got in earlier. He spent an hour and a half going over my history. My first impression was a good one. Very empathetic and compationate person. After we were finished going over my long history he made some suggestions but never forced me to decide right away. The only prescription I walked away with was for some hydroxyzine 50 mg to see if this would help me with my sleep. He reduced my clonazepam to half a milligram and told me to take at dinner time. Separating it from the other I will take at bed time. So it's still early to tell if this is going to work for me. I was also taking some calcium and magnesium at bed time which I was doing on my own, since the clonazepam wasn't working anymore. But I think I will have to eliminate it since I slept till noon the first day I combined it with the new prescription. I need to establish a time to go to sleep and wake up on a regular basis. This has proven to be a real challenge for me. Hope I can accomplish this. He also recommended Zoloft but gave me till the next appointment to think about it. I'm hesitant about going back on antidepressants. He ran a bunch of blood tests trying to find the underlying cause for the head sensation and recommended Omega 3's for now. I'm hopeful but I know I still have some work ahead of me. Till next time.

Dec 05, 2013
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Fernanda
by: Anonymous

Well I have met my new intergrated psychiatrist a couple of days ago now. They had a cancellation and I got in earlier. He spent an hour and a half going over my history. My first impression was a good one. Very empathetic and compationate person. After we were finished going over my long history he made some suggestions but never forced me to decide right away. The only prescription I walked away with was for some hydroxyzine 50 mg to see if this would help me with my sleep. He reduced my clonazepam to half a milligram and told me to take at dinner time. Separating it from the other I will take at bed time. So it's still early to tell if this is going to work for me. I was also taking some calcium and magnesium at bed time which I was doing on my own, since the clonazepam wasn't working anymore. But I think I will have to eliminate it since I slept till noon the first day I combined it with the new prescription. I need to establish a time to go to sleep and wake up on a regular basis. This has proven to be a real challenge for me. Hope I can accomplish this. He also recommended Zoloft but gave me till the next appointment to think about it. I'm hesitant about going back on antidepressants. He ran a bunch of blood tests trying to find the underlying cause for the head sensation and recommended Omega 3's for now. I'm hopeful but I know I still have some work ahead of me. Till next time.

Nov 15, 2013
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Undiagnosed
by: Anonymous

Just to update on some new things since last time. I have found an integrated psychiatrist near my area on a orthomelecular website. Got a referral from my GP and have an appointment for December 16. My symptoms haven't really changed. The annoying ache/pain in my head is still there. This is the one symptom that is mostly bothering me. Some days it is a little less intense for awhile, which gives me a little break. Still taking 3/4 of a milligram of clonazepam at night for sleep and the sensation. I've had my medical history transferred to this new doctor. I've had two appointments with a neurologist over the last six months. He prescribed a coumpound cream for my head. I tried it but all it did was make the sensation shift from the left area to other areas near by. This just freaked me out. Then the next appointment he wanted to give me a optic nerve blocking injection which I declined because I was afraid and not sure about side effects. Now I won't see him till April in the new year. I'm starting to think this could be something more serious like a tumor or an aneurism that just hasn't been picked up on the MRI that he gave me. Well all I can do now is wait for this new doctor. I hope he can help me figure out what's wrong with me. That's all I really want for Xmas is a cure or hopefully to be headed at least in the right direction. I had never heard of integrated psychiatry before and amazingly enough neither has my current psychiatrist. Could this be a new way to practice psychiatry with both conventional and more natural medicine? Well I hope I make a good connection with this new doctor because I'm afraid of running out of options and hope. Any advise would be appreciated. Love Undiagnosed

Ben's Reply:

Hi Fernanda,

Glad to hear you found an integrative psychiatrist. And not surprised, but a little disappointed, to hear that your current psychiatrist never heard of integrative psychiatry. That's kind of like your local grocery store chain never having heard of organic food. I'm curious to know if you've tried EFT since you last wrote in?

Another consideration might be neurofeedback (a kind of biofeedback for changing your brain function).

Keep taking steps and explore one thing at at time. Stay positive.

Ben

Oct 10, 2013
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Undiagnosed
by: Fernanda

Just to update on my situation, I recently found an integrated psychiatrist near my area. Had my GP give me a referral. I'm a little more hopeful to find out if this doctor who should be familiar with orthomelecular medicine will be able to help me with my diagnoses. I'm on only 3/4 of a mg of clonazepam for the insomnia and nothing else. Coping is hard because sometimes it doesn't work well and I still struggle to sleep well. I wake up feeling depressed some days. It will take a while to get an appointment. The receptionist said he's taking patients for December and January. So in the mean time I wait and have to deal with my regular psychiatrist who seems to have nothing to offer me other then more conventional medicine. I'm a little familiar with orthomelecular medicine from some of the research I have done for mental illness. I'm praying that this is the answer to problems. I'm going to press for an earlier appointment if I can get in on a cancellation list. At this point I have nothing to lose. My world has been turned upside down for a year and a half and I need to get well soon. Still haven't had any more mania episodes so that's a good sign I hope. Really want to get my mind and body back to some balance naturally. Do you think I'm on the right track? I really hope so!!!!

Ben's Answer:

I'm glad to hear this Fernanda. Yes, I think you are on the right track. EFT (Tapping) might be another tool that could be helpful in balancing your mood, and helping anxiety and sleep.

Aug 17, 2013
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Undiagnosed
by: Fernanda

You have summarized my circumstances very well. According to the Doctor from the Women's Health Clinic he also told me that he believed it was Chantix triggered. Although he did say that he didn't think I was bipolar. My phychiatrist is just sitting on the fence and tries to just deal with the ongoing symptoms. I appreciate your advice. I have been thinking about a naturopath approach also because I don't think I'm getting anywhere with conventional medicine. My problem is finding a doctor in my area with good reputation in dealing with my situation which is very complicated. I'm trying to stay positive but it's getting more and more difficult everyday.

Ben:
Don't give up looking Fernanda. A truly good alternative doctor, or acupuncturist/Doctor of Oriental Medicine could be very helpful. A good therapist for some emotional support would also be a great idea if you can.

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