Is This What Normal Feels Like?

I’ve struggled throughout my life with OCD – for which I now take 60 mg daily of Prozac.

I’ve struggled with ADD – for which I now take 20 mg daily of Adderall XR (extended release).

I’ve struggled with dysthymia and major depressive episodes – for which I now take 300 mg Wellbutrin SR (sustained release) daily.

This photo of a baby laughing was generally licensed by Alexandre Normand (skippyjon) under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Thanks Alexandre!

This photo of a baby laughing was generally licensed by Alexandre Normand (skippyjon) under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Thanks Alexandre!

None of these has vanished from my life, but they have all decreased substantially. Before they interfered with my life continuously, now they occasionally interfere but mainly are a nuisance and annoyance…I can manage them.

This left me with one last health issue – excessive daily sleepiness (EDS). I bought a light therapy lamp for $72 off Amazon on the 3rd of June, but didn’t begin using it consistently until the eighth…

Below is a table. On the left half you can see the date from the 8th through the 13th (yesterday) followed by the number of hours1This is somewhat misleading, in the case of any nap under 1 hr. I actually laid down for that period and rested but never fell asleep… I napped during the day which is in turn numbered by the number of naps I took on that day.

On the right half the same columns are repeated – but these are records from April.2See, crazily recording details of my life has proven useful… :P Down at the bottom you can see the totals for number of hours spent napping and number of naps for the June and April dates respectively.

Date Hours Naps Date Hours Naps
June 8th 1.5 1 April 13th 1.75 1
June 9th 0 0 April 14th 2.25 2
June 10th .5 1 April 15th 1 2
June 11th .75 1 April 16th 1.5 2
June 12th 1 1 April 17th 2.25 2
June 13th .5 1 April 18th 3.5 3
Totals: 4.25 5 Totals: 12.25 12

You’ll notice that in June I spent 35% less time napping than in April and took 42% less naps in quantity.

I’ve experienced a move towards average in my experience of depressive moods, anxiety, and ability to focus…now I’ve moved towards average in my experience of daytime sleepiness. I’m not average. If average is 100%, I’m somewhere between 80% and 90%…and I know I won’t become average, that these problems, apart from an act of God, will not completely leave me…but I’ve been operating at the worst of times around 10% and at good times 60%, and in excellent times 75%…so to me, it feels like a different world. It feels like what I knew from talking to other people without mental disorders life is supposed to feel like (and which I oftentimes had a hard time believing people could actually feel like).

I’m scared. Scared if it doesn’t last. The effects of the Prozac, the Wellbutrin, the Adderall have all lasted – could this last too? I hope so. Do I know that the darkness will again at times descend on me with ferocity? Yes. But if I can just know it won’t stay…

Up to this point I have lived my life largely in the dark, with periods of light being very few and far between…what if I was able to live the opposite? In the light most of the time, with the occasional dark storm descending on me?

A Note About Medications and Alternative Treatments

I’ve emphasized the efficiency of medical treatments in managing my struggles. I have not pursued only medicinal treatments.

I’ve seen counselors…in fact, I still do…and I have no intent of stopping. Some of them have been exceptionally helpful. I would not be where I am today without them.

I’ve exercised and continue to exercise on an almost daily basis for 1-2 hours each day…and have no intent of stopping.

I’ve slowly weaned myself away from many unhealthy foods and onto a healthier diet – and I continue to endeavor in this direction. I believe this helps my overall health and probably my psychological health…and, say it with me, “I have no intent of stopping.”

I take supplements of various kinds – including Omega-3 and Vitamin B12. I’m sure they have a positive effect.

I’ve read and studied and applied and repeated ad infinitum…and I have learned much that has been useful…and I don’t intend to stop taking supplements or reading and studying and applying.

Each of these means of alternative treatment have been and are an important part of maintaining my ongoing health – but none of these, by themselves, was enough to provide any significant relief from my struggles (counseling perhaps, but still leaving too much)…whereas, the medications, apart from any of these treatments were able to provide significant symptom relief…

This is not true for many…though I think it is probably truer for those of us who have struggled with these sort of problems since childhood than those who experience an episode at one juncture or another in life…and for some, using these alternative treatments will be enough…but for me, the medications were what allowed the other treatments to have any efficacy.

And, of course, light therapy is an alternative treatment…so not everything is medicinal. I could have gone onto Provigil or Nuvigil, but I wanted to avoid that if possible…and I’ll be working with my psychiatrist over a long time and with much care to see if and how much I can reduce the medications I am taking…I’d rather not be on medications for life, but for me, I didn’t have a life without the medications.

Addendum on Light Therapy

Theoretically, most people use light therapy once or twice a day for sessions of 30 mins. to 1 hr. I spend hours at multiple times throughout the day doing light therapy (thankfully, it only involves having a bright light (not just any bright light) next to me as I work.

Anytime I begin to feel myself getting tired, I turn on the lamp and let it shine on me. Sometimes when an hour ends I’ll turn it on again (today, and it is only 2 pm, I’ve probably used the lamp for 2-4 hours).

The side-effects have been very minimal. It hasn’t bothered my eyes (I was somewhat surprised) but it does make things a little hotter (which isn’t always pleasant during the summer) and at least initially, I’ve experienced some sleep disruption even after restricting my use of the lamp to before 5 pm. Specifically, I’ll go to bed later (1 am) and get up earlier (6 am).

I suspect that this is an overcompensation by my body and that it will adjust to more normal rhythms as I continue to utilize the light therapy.3I hope this may mean that as my sleep adjusts more normally I’ll feel even more well-rested during the day.

Light therapy is primarily used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which I don’t have. But it has also been used to treat several different types of sleep disorder as well as depression. For less than $75 and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, I figured it was worth the expense.

Warning: Shining any bright light at yourself will not work. There is a specific spectrum of light which is effective. In addition, regular lights emit harmful UV radiation in small amounts – which adds up when you have a light close to your face every day for extended periods of time.

One More Warning: Lamp boxes that have UV radiation are also intentionally made, so ensure the one you get filters out the UV radiation. The lamps with UV radiation are utilized sometimes to treat various skin conditions (e.g. psoriasis).

Placebo Effect

I’m very aware that everything I am experiencing could be the result of the placebo effect or some other totally unrelated variable in my life. I don’t think this has been enough to say “hey, this definitely works” – but early testing of the hypothesis has been positive. 🙂

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This is somewhat misleading, in the case of any nap under 1 hr. I actually laid down for that period and rested but never fell asleep…
2. See, crazily recording details of my life has proven useful… :P
3. I hope this may mean that as my sleep adjusts more normally I’ll feel even more well-rested during the day.
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