As a society, we do a poor job of talking about mental health. In turn, we’ve created a stigma that everyone is simply supposed to be ‘okay’ all of the time.
Last week, a friend sent me a text message, just like she does every week. It read, “How are you feeling?” Automatically, I responded, “I’m okay! How are you?”
Then, I thought about it. Physically, I’m okay; I haven’t had a seizure since February, my headaches have gotten better since surgery, and side effects of the chemotherapy drugs are subsiding. But, mentally, I knew I had not been okay.
I quickly responded, “Actually, I’m not okay. I’m struggling. I feel super stressed and overwhelmed. Thanks for caring!”
It was a truth I had known for weeks, and had been trying to ignore.
It started small; work seemed to become more stressful; my children became more difficult; cooking dinner became a task. Life’s normal stressors suddenly became unbearable. I noticed that I was becoming irritable, emotional, and forgetful.
It began to affect me at work. It started to creep into my relationships. It was affecting my life.
One night, I completely lost control. My phone rang, while my youngest was in the middle of a two year old tantrum, and I was trying to cook dinner. It must have been the straw that just broke my back. I screamed in frustration, and smashed my iPhone 8 into the kitchen counter until the screen shattered.
Immediately, I looked down at my phone in horror, and broke into tears of confusion. I felt instant regret and humiliation. What had I done? What was happening to me?
In that moment, I had felt enraged; it was so out of character that it frightened me.
The next few days were like torture; I felt as though I was skating on thin ice that might break from the slightest whisper.
I had wild, out of character thoughts, and struggled to get through every day.
Still, I tried to rationalize my feelings, thoughts, and odd behavior. Maybe work really was more stressful than normal. Maybe my children’s behavior really was getting worse as they grew into new stages. Maybe I just needed to work out, or change my diet.
Another night, I easily became frustrated when putting my children to bed because they were delaying brushing their teeth. My five year old said to me, “I’m sorry you’re not happy mommy. I just want you to be happy.”
His words hit me like a ton of bricks. How was it that a child could so easily see what I was trying to hide away? I assured him that I was okay, but as he fell asleep on my lap, I knew I was lying. I was not okay.
That night, I cried in the shower, finally admitting to myself that I knew something was wrong, and that I needed help. I prayed that God would help me see through this storm and give me the strength I needed to help myself.
I reached out to my oncologist the very next morning and within hours, I had answers. While menopause can cause abnormal reactions and mood swings, my oncologist thought my feelings were more likely a side effect to my seizure medication, Levitiracetam, a generic form of Keppra, due to a recent (and very slight) change in my morning dosage.
The relief I felt was instantaneous: I wasn’t losing my mind. I was having a drug reaction.
As I researched ‘Keppra Rage’ (yes, its a thing), I felt like I was reading my own story. It can come on suddenly and severely, sometimes after someone has been on the drug for long periods of time. It’s absolutely terrifying, because it escalates quickly, and can end in horrifying ways.
Everything seemed to click; I had been on Keppra for over a year, but never had been on one dosage in the morning (1000mg) and another at night (1250mg). I realized my feelings had been worsening at night, when I was due for a dose of Keppra.
Every time I picked up my seizure medication, the pharmacists had reminded me of the side effects, and still, I had missed the signs.
Oncology connected me to neurology, and my side effects were confirmed over the phone. My dosage was lowered to 1000mg at night to match my morning dose.
I was also scheduled for an EEG. If my results show no electrical activity in my brain anymore, then I will be weaned off the medication. If I do still show seizure-like activity then we will explore other treatment options.
My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help sooner. But, I learned some very valuable lessons through this experience;
It’s okay to not be okay.
Its okay to have bad days. It’s okay to not be perfect all the time. It’s okay to fall to your knees. And, it’s okay to ask for help.
This is my story, and it is not over yet;
If you, or someone you know needs help, you are not alone. In an emergency or crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Confidential help is free.