There is no sleep like the sleep of parched eyelids and lithium limbs. Even before you swallow your nightly dose, your breathing deepens, your spine curves forward. Your thoughts retreat to a distant rumble, as if your brain is hosting a party to which you weren’t invited. Perhaps you’re already asleep. Maybe. Did you ever wake up? Maybe not.
In the morning, you place more pills on your tongue and let them be carried down with the water your kidneys are begging for. Today, you tell yourself, no more sleep. I have things to do. But then it’s only been three hours since you rose this morning, and you find yourself sitting heavy on your bed, quickly slipping into the horizontal. No! No more sleep. You drag yourself from your cozy nest and plod to a less comfortable seat.
Yesterday, you slept for four and a half hours in the afternoon, and at that point, is it even called a nap? That’s just second bedtime in your book. And so today, like all the other days, you vow no more sleep. But your bed has its own gravity just for you, and before long, you’re crawling in; a perfect cove, with blanket waves and a pillow beach. Through the open window, you can almost taste the breeze, laden with lithium salt.
I should be clear. I’ve been plagued by suicidal thoughts for three years, sometimes worse than others. Taking a high dose of lithium has given me, by far, the most dramatic positive result of any medication I’ve taken in my adult life.
I don’t want this post to be just another internet story about how terrible a particular psychiatric medicine was for someone. Those reviews are usually written by the people who had the worst side effects and the least benefit; after all, they’re the most motivated to write a review. Every medication has benefits and drawbacks. Scrolling through pages and pages of negative experiences paints a picture that doesn’t capture the thousands of people whose lives are vastly improved by that medicine.
It’s not perfect, and I still have bad days. It’s also a possibility that these sleep marathons are partly a symptom of my depression or the combination of meds I take that can make you drowsy. While I hope that lithium is not a medication I have to take long-term, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that taking it has probably saved my life.