I forgot how vivid my dreams can be when I’m not taking the lithium.
I’ve been off for almost four months now. For ten years lithium carbonate kept me sane. It gave me the base on which to build my recovery from nearly 14-years of untreated manic depression. I was one of the lucky ones, for whom lithium just works.
And it did. But now I’m off it and the dreams have come back. They’re hard to explain, I just don’t have the language to do them justice. But, basically, they’re reality. On the lithium — I also still take a mild dose of seroquel — my dreams were soft. Muted. Short. They went away fairly quickly after I woke up. I could also control them. Direct them.
Off the lithium I get lost in my dreams. Almost every night. They’re new, like books I haven’t read. They feel like they’re going on forever. And, in a weird way, they do.
When I was younger… maybe 23-years old, and absolutely untreated, I had a dream that lasted several sleep cycles, over three days. Then, like now to a certain extent, my sleeping pattern was scattered through the day, a few hours at a time. I used to call refer to it in my writing as ‘unemployed, un-medicated time’.
Time meant nothing, because there were no markers. I lived alone, in a dark room, with no phone. I fell to sleep while it was dark, I woke up when it was dark. Sometimes my girlfriend would show up and we’d have sex or eat pizza.
I’m not quite at that point right now. I don’t think I will be. But the dreaming is similar. Back then, I would wake up, eat, go back to sleep and continue the same dream.
I don’t always know the people in my non-lithium dreams. I don’t always know the places. But, at the same time, I do. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes it’s like seeing the world through a surrogates eyes.
But, mostly, it’s people I know in places I’ve been doing things I would have liked to have done with them. Reliving my life the way it should have gone.
I still remember the three-day dream I had when I was 23, because I wrote it down. It was a surrogate dream… at least in the sense that it never happened, and never could happen. But it felt so real. It felt like… my life.
It was as real to me when I woke up as any memory I have of anything I’ve done today while awake. But, at the same time, I understood that it was complete… here’s where I lose the words. It wasn’t nonsense, it was important to me. It was like my brain was teaching me a lesson, asking questions that I needed to answer at the time. It was allegory… or allegorical.
Mostly the dreams are conversations. Just talking. There’s no flying cars, or burning buildings or superheroes. They’re just me and some other people talking. Or me watching people talking. Or a surrogate talking to other people. They’re interesting, they’re something I want to go back to… I want to be asleep, lost in my head, instead of doing anything else.
I’m also sleeping during the day a lot more often. My schedule, since stopping the lithium, has slowly started to revert back to the way it used to be… up until 3am, sleep until 1pm. Only now, with the boys, I have to be up at 8am to make sure they have breakfast and get to school on time. Eventually I’ll slip, be up too late, have to stay up to get the boys up, and then I’ll have reverted completely. It’s coming, I can feel it.
Especially with ‘winter time’ coming (re: dark later in the AM, earlier in the PM).
So my sleep pattern, even though I’m mostly still treated, is back to the broken pattern it used to be. Which is not good. One of the main tools in my recovery was getting decent sleep. The seroquel got me to sleep by shutting off my brain long enough for it to happen, and the lithium kept the dreams less vivid… which was more restful.
See? I’m losing the words here. Which is also a side effect of being off the lithium for the first extended time in a decade. I’m taking a substitute now, in Canada it’s marketed as ‘Epival’, in the UK, US and other places it’s also known as ‘Depakote’.
I’m not at the ‘therapeutic level’ yet, but I am close and dosing fairly high at 1500mgs. Not having a safety net is frustrating and makes me nervous. I am running ‘high’, or manic-lite, I know that. I can feel it. It feels very much like an engine that has been fine tuned but now the RPM needle can’t get out of the red.
And an engine can only run like that for so long before the nuts start falling off…