TOPICS > Health

Christopher Drell Interview

May 28, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


SUSAN DENTZER: Let’s start out by talking about the fact that you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder disease.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: When I was 11, my first episode was more of a manic episode, and it started just with racing thoughts and just having a hard time in school, and I started to sleep less and less and (was) just having trouble falling asleep at night, and not staying asleep when I finally fell asleep, so I would be waking up frequently throughout the night. And I’d get in a lot of trouble in school just acting up. At first for me it was just having a good time, and then it escalated more and more, and I began sleeping less and less, and it got to the point where at night I would be really scared, and it wasn’t like I was having fun anymore in school.

I was out of control, and the racing thoughts became — instead of me feeling like I was clever and having a good time, it became more that I felt like I was not in control of being able to concentrate…

… I got to the point of paranoia, and couldn’t sleep, and I was hospitalized at that age of 11 years old…

The next major episode I had was when I was 14 years old, and I was in a junior high school that was much more academically demanding than what I was used to, and that was one thing. Everyone when they’re young has social things going on, and one of the triggers — it might not have been the trigger — but I was with a girlfriend at the time and my mood swings and emotional behavior caused her to break up with me and that pushed me over to the edge and I had my first suicide attempt when I was 14 years old.

SUSAN DENTZER: What did you try to do?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: I overdosed on medications — benzodiazipines.

SUSAN DENTZER: You just went up to your bathroom cabinet and what happened?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: I felt like I wanted to die and that everything at that time was just too much, and I couldn’t face going to school the next day, and having to deal with the day-to-day life. That was just too much for me, and I felt just overwhelmed. So I decided it was too much, and I had to stop life as soon as possible.

So I drank alcohol and took kind of like sleeping pills, Xanax and Adivan.

SUSAN DENTZER: And what happened?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: I woke up in the [hospital] the next day.

SUSAN DENTZER: Somebody had found you?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Yeah. My parents found me and took me to the ER, and then took me to Children’s Hospital.

SUSAN DENTZER: How many times have you tried to kill yourself over the last 10 years?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Once when I had a bad depressive episode that I was telling you about when I was 14, and the time that I was 15 and 16, and I had several attempts at overdosing. I was going through a very bad time then and I was using drugs, which wasn’t helping the situation … just making it harder for me to deal with things.

So I tried to kill myself then and later when I was 19 years old, four times then.

SUSAN DENTZER: What was going through your head during those times?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: When I’m in a depressive episode, what happens is everything just seems too much for me to deal with, and I am only able to look at right now, and I don’t care if people try to cheer me up and say, “you’re going to have this great life one day, you’re going to come out of this depression, You’re going to feel better, you’re going to find a wife one day and be happy,” stuff like that. There’s a lot to look forward to. But all I can see at that moment when I’m feeling depressed is the problems and how I’m unhappy right now, and it’s just too overwhelming and I can’t face having to wake up tomorrow and deal with it all again, and the day after and the day after, and it just seems to me like it’s never going to get easier when I’m in that state, and it seems like it’s not worth it. So it makes sense at that time, when I’m in that mind state to just end life as soon as possible.

SUSAN DENTZER: And this is common among people with your disease, correct? You’ve led support groups.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Yeah, I led support groups, and I wouldn’t say everyone with bipolar disorder tries to kill themselves, but other definitely people with bipolar and depression, it is something that they deal with, and that they attempt sometimes.

SUSAN DENTZER: You’ve been on a lot of different medications over the years, including Lithium. You’re not now on Linthium. You also have taken a couple of antidepressants, in particular Wellbutrin and Serzone that we talked about. How did those drugs make you feel?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Well, Wellbutrin and Serzone, I actually didn’t try those until later, so I went through a lot of medications, antidepressants that didn’t work for me, but Wellbutrin and Serzone did work for me and they made me kind of slowly but definitely come out of the depressions that I was in — helped me get back on track.

When you’re young, of course, school is the main thing in your life. So you start to be able to get back into school and it’s a slow process putting your life back together when you’re young and you have a mental illness where you’re impulsive, doing a lot of things. But, when you finally get that treatment and you get put on the right medication that works for you, when you find that medication, there’s a sequence where first you’ll get your energy back, and you won’t be just wanting to lie in bed all day. And then what happens is finally your mood comes back and you’re feeling like you normally do on a regular day.

SUSAN DENTZER: Did you ever have a point where you would go on either of these drugs, the Wellbutrin or the Serzone, and you felt better initially or had more energy initially and then had a suicide attempt. Did that ever happen?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: No. What happens with some people is when you’re in a depressive state and you might have these suicidal thoughts but you’re not going to act out on them because you’re not going to act out on anything if you’re … depressed. You don’t even want to get out of bed, and your thoughts don’t even work enough to think of a plan. It’s way too active, and when you’re depressed, you don’t want to do anything active.

So the sequence of how antidepressants will help you is first they’re going to give you energy. Your body is going to start feeling better, and that happens before your mood actually gets better. So it can happen that your energy will come back first before your mood comes back, and that’s how people can do that where it can give you the energy to act out on the suicidal thoughts that you have. But these are suicidal thoughts that you already have, you’re just too depressed to act out on. So I don’t know if this is making sense.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you say that in your support groups that you lead for people? Do you tell people that this is often the pattern?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: I wouldn’t say I say it to people. More people say it to me…

For me, when I’m taking an antidepressant, it’s more the lack of feeling bad. It’s not necessarily that I feel like a manic rush, like I’m on illegal drugs or something. It’s more just that I feel like I do on a normal everyday basis where, I’m not confused, or I’m not, you know, I’m just in the middle and I think that, when you’re on the right medication, that’s the goal. It’s to feel that you’re not on something. That’s what the right medication will help you do. It’s just finding the right medication for you.

And what I find in my group … when people try one medication that doesn’t work for them, then they’ll assume that they don’t want to try any other medications because they’re frustrated they might have tried some medication that gave them bad side effects, you know, or didn’t help their depression or didn’t help [with] whatever they’re trying to be helped with. So they’ll kind of have this idea that well, I tried medication. They’ll put everything in one group and they won’t think maybe there’s different medication to try.

SUSAN DENTZER: You told me you had one suicide attempt where you were determined that people not find you, so you hid under the bed.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: The last time I overdosed, which was a number of years ago, it was two suicide attempts actually, and the first one somebody found me in the morning, and I overdosed that night. Someone found me in the morning and I was rushed to the emergency room and had my stomach pumped…

I had been out of the hospital a week, and this suicide attempt, the one a week later was much more premeditated, and I really kind of hoarded lots of sleeping pills that I was going to overdose on, and waited until everyone was going to be out of the house, and I overdosed and took all the pills, and then went under a bed to hide.

And so the medication that I took went into my system more, and I was comatose for around — I don’t know — for a long time. Or not a long time, but a few days, and I had to be on a breathing machine.

SUSAN DENTZER: You were found by your father?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Yeah, and when my father found me, he did CPR on me for a while.

SUSAN DENTZER: And another time you told me you drank bleach. Tell me about that episode.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Well, I was at a boarding school and I didn’t have access to anything to overdose on, and I was going through a really bad time and needed to get out of the situation that I was in. So I felt that it would be better to die than to have to deal with life. So I drank bleach to try to kill myself and I just got very sick and had a bad stomach for a long time that I had to get better from. It’s only been the past couple of years honestly that it’s been better.

SUSAN DENTZER: You were saying you wanted to get across how antidepressants work.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: It’s a sequence of getting better, and first you will have like increased energy, and what will happen is if you are suicidal to begin with, when you get the increased energy, that’s when you might act out on that, and with the antidepressants, before you get better in your mood and your emotions, you’re going to have the energy to act out on whatever is going on with you. And it’s not the antidepressants that are making you want to kill yourself. It’s actually just you get energy before your mood and your emotions are the last things to get better. But if you want to get better, it’s necessary to take medication, in collaboration with psychotherapy and exercise and other things, it’s necessary.

Without antidepressants, you’re not going to come out of the depression. If you’re sad, then maybe you don’t need medication. But if you have clinical depression, if you have bipolar disorder and these are chemical imbalances where you need to have medication to correct a chemical imbalance, so they’re very necessary.

SUSAN DENTZER: What advice would you give to teenagers, say if we had a group of teenagers here who were feeling really depressed, maybe hadn’t been diagnosed with anything yet, but might be diagnosed with something, what advice would you give them about first of all how they’re feeling, and secondly about medication?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Well, with medication I’d say you really have to be so patient, and you have to just keep looking for the right medication because you might be lucky, you might find the right medication early on. But it might take longer. For me, it took years to find the right medication, and I was lucky that I was put into treatment early, so now I’m able to put my life together.

SUSAN DENTZER: There are a lot of parents now who have read all of these news media reports and see things on television about a possible link between antidepressants and suicidal thinking, and they’re worried, and the parents, particularly if they have kids who are depressed, don’t want to put them on medication. They’re afraid of triggering something much worse than depression. That is to say, they are afraid that their kids will kill themselves. What advice would you give those parents?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: That first of all that’s not true. Antidepressants are not going to give someone suicidal thinking, and the other thing is that if someone has a chemical imbalance, like I was saying earlier, if you have a chemical imbalance, then you need antidepressants or you need whatever medication is going to correct that imbalance, and there’s going to be side effects, and you’re going to have to look for the right medication, and it may take — for me it took years to find the right medication. But without that — I mean, my life is together now, I’m able to work, I’m able to do so much. I’m very happy now, and it took me so long, but I needed to try different medications, and I finally found the right dosages and the right medications to — that worked for me.

So the advice that I would give would be to trust a smart doctor, find a good doctor and use medication that’s necessary.

SUSAN DENTZER: How did you feel when you were depressed?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Well, when I was depressed, no matter what was going on, it could be like the most beautiful day, and it doesn’t matter. … So yeah, it’s a terrible thing. It’s terrible feeling like that, and that’s why no matter what people might say to you, that’s why your friends can’t help you by themselves. That’s why your friends have to ask someone for help — a parent, a teacher to have a doctor eventually help you because it’s just irrational, and later when you feel better, when you come out of it, it’s like this cloud like lifting, and you look at the world and you think like what was I thinking, like just a couple of days ago, and when you feel better, it’s this huge relief and there’s nothing like it, just this huge, like sense of relief that you’re able to be happy, and you’re able to enjoy things.

SUSAN DENTZER: Do you think a lot of people are not willing to come forward and say that these drugs are really helping them because they don’t want to acknowledge that they have had this illness?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: Oh, definitely. I think people first of all don’t want to get help because getting help would be putting theirself in a category of having a mental illness, and people don’t want to say that they were helped because another thing is, you know, when you feel better, then you want to put it all behind you.

So, I mean, even myself I feel nervous talking about it, and when you feel better you don’t want to think about it.

SUSAN DENTZER: Is there anything else that you want to tell us about all of this, any other messages that you wanted to get out?

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: I think when people are dissatisfied with trying medication, it’s because they also they don’t put it together with things that you also need. You know, you need to change your lifestyle, you need to put yourself into behaviors that aren’t negative, that you might have put yourself into before when you were feeling depressed, when you were feeling, when you were feeling impulsive.

You need to have exercise treatment, you need to have a doctor that you can talk with as well as someone giving you medication because you need to have psychotherapy treatment as well so you can tell someone what’s going on as you’re slowly starting to feel better. If you have someone that gives you medications, sees you once every couple of months, then he’s not going to be knowing what’s going on with you. So they’re not going to know if you’re on the right medication and not the right treatment plan.

So, you know, exercise and changing your lifestyle, making sure that you sleep enough. Sleep is so important, as well as medication. So medication, even though it’s an important and necessary piece, there is more to go with it as well. So if medication would fail with somebody, it’s because maybe they weren’t putting in all these other necessary things that you need with your treatment plan.

A treatment plan has to be a lot of different things. For me, what finally helped me so much was having a relationship with my doctor — she saw me on a very regular basis, and we talked about how different meds were making me feel and having psychotherapy as well to be able to accept things going on, and to differentiate is a huge thing, it’s the ability to differentiate when you’re starting to get into a depression, or if you’re just having a bad day. Everyone has bad days and when you’re used to having these depressions where the end of the world comes, you need to know that sometimes when you feel bad, that’s okay. And I think the doctor that I’m seeing now really helped me realize that as well, that feeling bad and then feeling happy, you know, it’s normal and it’s okay. And if you feel bad, it might not be this huge depression that’s going to eventually end with this terrible, terrible feeling. It’s not going to necessarily escalate to that.

SUSAN DENTZER: You were saying that there is often a problem with physicians who are prescribing the drugs, but not keeping close tabs on what’s going on with the children or teenagers.

CHRISTOPHER DRELL: What parents need to know is if their child’s doctor sees him once every three months and prescribes them medication but doesn’t have a relationship with them, and isn’t seeing them on a regular basis, then they’re not going to know if the medication is working. They’re not going to know what they need to do to change the medication. And someone could be having a bad reaction to a medication and it could go unnoticed. So you really have to find the right doctor as well.

And a lot of times what happens is a family practitioner will prescribe a psychotropic medication, an antidepressant or a mood stabilizer, and they’re not as educated as a psychiatrist, which specifically works with psychotropics, with antidepressants or mood stabilizers. And if you’re in the case where you have someone like a family practitioner which can technically write the prescription, they’re not really giving the child the full benefit of what their treatment could be. So if they have a bad experience. If they’re having a bad experience with that treatment, then they’re going to not want to see doctors anymore. They’re not going to want to try medication anymore. And they can say oh, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, it’s full of bunk, it’s not true. So they’re not really having an equal chance as someone who is seeing the doctor like on a weekly basis.