Lithium, My Toxic Love Affair

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***DISCLAIMER: The author of this piece is NOT encouraging ANYONE to go off of their prescribed psychiatric medicine. This is her story, her journey. Please remember that while enjoying her creative words.

The glass inside the car felt cold and comforting as I pressed my damp cheek up against it, mortified and heartbroken. Dazzling Christmas bulbs lit the night’s acres and acres of rolling farmland blanketed by sparkling, diamond white crystals of snow, so pretty and inviting. The paint-chipped homes blurred behind my tears of exhaustion. The whole world went quiet, so still, shush silent.

The peaceful kind of bliss you hear when you close your eyes smiling on the inside. The night sky crisp, midnight blue and the stars so close. If only I could lift my dead-weighted hand, up and out to reach them they’d warm my broken heart much like the caress of an electric lover, wholly healing. The stars and I have always been intimate, and kind.

Silence was not mine this night, it lived somewhere out there on the floodplains and prairies in other people’s heavenly homes. The ringing inside my ears was the incessant, unrelenting church hymn reminder, reserved exclusively for me. I could not control the contorted muscles on my grief-stricken face as my body trembled and convulsed.

The eve before Christmas my mother and I drove in silence, my cheek tight against the glass in shame, keeping me rooted in the here and now. I tried to curl tight, a baffled ball deep inside the puffy down coat to find some comfort. The feathers could not weather the fall of what was happening to my shattered, unruly, hysterical manic mind.

The glass, the silence, the white snowdrifts, the frost, and my mother’s held breath were the constants I clung to as Lithium bulldozed its way into my veins coursing through my cells for the first time.

Lithium salts are found in granite, seawater, mineral springs, meteorites, the sun, the stars and all organisms. Lithium, the unwanted, mysterious invisible Mistress, slowed the inevitable doom lurking ahead. Slowing the velocity and impending wreckage, the crash and burn course I was on just in time. Lithium saved my life.

She was my longest, healthiest, pure sodium crystallized love affair, my healer, mender and soulful lover. Lithium quieted the swells of my mania, lifting the dark abysses dwelling beneath the surface She was the perfect ‘brain gout’ potion to slow the dangerous velocity, calm the quivering body, and sooth the frenzied mind allowing me to breathe easier.

To pick myself up and let go of the stars swirling, hovering, colliding and crashing inside my DNA; too fast, too sad, too uneven to stand on my own. For a moment in time, the dense, solid element silenced the noise so I could find my footing on earth’s solid, rocky, liquidfied, and unstable ground. We had a lovely, long ride her and I. I was protected, loved, soothed, and broken pieces put back together.

Thirteen years, we co-mingled and co-existed. She and I were star stuff symbiotic, dear, precious friends, old lovers who finished each other’s sentences. Her salt mine seas pacified the storms dwelling harmonious in one body. We’d spend a decade exploring, feeling the heat of the sun, flinching in the biting winter freeze, experiencing the mesmerizing, transitory alive moments in color and traversing the vast corners of the earth, boldly as one.

We’d chase big dreams, and conquer cracked filled pavements. I was happy. I was almost always happy, and happier than I’d been before. I smiled tears of sadness, and cried tidal pool oceans of joy. I was a beautiful contained palate of emotion, no longer insane, paranoid, turned-out, hallucinating, running, or screaming mad. I was okay. I was fine. I was in love. I was more me with her, than without. I never, ever, ever wanted to say good-bye.

Like a jilted, jealous lover quietly, methodically, slowly over time and all at once, growing spiteful and angry, Lithium began poisoning my exploding cells destroying my insides. Belly swollen, eye sockets burning, jaws clenched, muscles pinched, bones ached, feverish and ill. I was tail spinning, spiraling and insane. Even the holy, pure sacred womanly parts ignited.

The element lithium burns vivid crimson red flames.

Lithium crimson red flames imploding, screaming and demanding the quickest exit strategy. How could she break my vulnerable, trembling shattered heart, and peace of mind?

Did she grow tired of me, or did I?

‘Older stars seem to have less lithium than they should, and some younger stars have far more. The lack of lithium in older stars is apparently caused by the “mixing” of lithium into the interior of stars, where it is destroyed.’

I find myself on the ground in fetal position, heart closed inward. I am lost without a compass as the salt rips open sores free from under my tongue and acrid tears are the bitter reminder. I shan’t recover, toxic lover. I shan’t recover all alone with my thoughts, without her to soothe the restless angst, and spontaneous combustion.

Please, please don’t go. Don’t betray me, leave me abandoned, exhausted, and defeated without the solid weight of your presence. Did you stray for a younger, prettier more attractive version? I’m terrified I won’t find my way through the dark, the long winter grey fogs the windowpane, and I’m paralyzed unable to move my lips, screaming silent. My aged mother sits in the next room, trying to pick up the pieces and put them back together once more.

I am back, home, at the beginning where the stars don’t light up and dazzle the night in my sky.

Muscles hold memory, the spirit is strong, and willing.

I pray to the cosmos, to a time before you and I collided that I will be whole and happy again. I place my trust in the simple act of breathing. I close my eyes letting the tears flow salty grieving the end of a love affair gone toxic. Lowering my fragile, beat-up limbs into the steaming hot bath, I add magnesium, Epsom salts, and essential oils trying to replenish what has been taken. I surrender; there is no fight left, depleted of her crucial elements. I place my trust in the Divine, the halted secondhand on the clock, and the time that we cannot get back or recover.

Lithium, my toxic lover, I will mourn her. I will miss her, grieving a lost love. Memory lives deep in the muscle, and blissful, fleeting transitory moments. As the snow drifts fall from the sky in unique formation outside the glass, she and I have come full circle. I press my cheek against the pane closing my eyes to feel her quieting presence smiling through oceanic tears of illusion.

She and I are not dead; we are cellular elements alive and separated. Together, mixed metal and forever apart in different dimensions. I will traverse the planet, scale majestic mountains, walk to the ends of the earth, and visit the Salar de Atacama salt flats and brines.

Forever searching for equilibrium in her mineral elements, until we will meet again in Centaurus, the Big Bang, brilliant, bright, Nova Centauri 2013 she once inhabited, burnt out millions of years past.

There is no past, present or future for star-crossed lovers in the sky.

‘Lithium has been detected in stellar material blasting away from an exploding star, possibly revealing the source of the basic element in young stars, thereby solving a mystery that has perplexed astronomers for decades.’

I have always loved, and adored the stars

I forget that sometimes, caught up in the physical laws of attraction. The spirit is not sick; it is whole, strong, independent, and serene. The soul is all mine.

I will get up, shake off the mineral dust and carry on.

I will breathe in deeply with intent, smooth, and reflective.

I will be just fine for now, body and soul peaceful of mind.

Nova Centauri ©Luis Argerich

Nova Centauri ©Luis Argerich


Jacqueline Cioffa

Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in “Brainstorms, the Anthology” and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness. She's a storyteller, observer, essayist, potty mouth and film lover who's traveled the world. Her poignant, literary fiction debut THE VAST LANDSCAPE gives new meaning to intense, raw and heartfelt. Fans of the emotional, soul stirring first novel will not be able to put GEORGIA PINE the exciting sequel down. “The essence continues because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack. I seize the opportunity to revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live in the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. Hope is our greatest asset. To choose hope against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life.” The Vast Landscape by Jacqueline Cioffa

9 thoughts on “Lithium, My Toxic Love Affair

  1. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    Hi Mel,

    I hope you are doing very well and thank you for your lovely comment.
    I so appreciate your taking the time to read the piece, your empathy and support.


  2. A. Trisdale

    There does seem to be some consistency with lack of parental bonds in the diagnosed bi-polar community. I don’t know if I agree with that ‘across the board’ diagnosis either. I saw this in group therapy over an 11 year period, mostly consisting of grieving women. Grieving for the parent/s that were there, but absent. That is my story.

  3. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    Dear Elaine,

    Thank you so much for commenting, and understanding. My brother experiences inner ear pressure imbalance and has been knocked down to his knees, literally. It’s awful. I’m so sorry for your awful experience, and am happy the Valium saved your life. I’m delighted you found a doctor was open and willing to seek an alternative treatments. Unfortunately, Lithium is not the first drug to go toxic on me. I completed a successful Xanax to Valium taper as the doctors kept increasing the Lithium dosage, and I tried ECT unsuccessfully. I am currently on a small dose of Valium which I hope to taper off completely over time. You can’t go fast as you know and I’ve learned the hard way, or you risk all kinds of horrific side effects. I don’t blame the doctors, well maybe a little for their complacency and resistance to think ‘outside the box’ in regards to mental illness treatment and the damages to the brain and brain. I believe and this is my personal opinion after many years struggling, and complex family history that we are born whole, and that the workings of the brain are still a complete a mystery. It is my hope that I might find a way to cope without longtime psychotropic drug use for now. Perhaps use them when absolutely necessary. Lithium, for a time saved me until it didn’t. For now, I’ll be looking up and keeping my feet on the ground. And I wish you the same star lit sky and serenity. All the best with your health, and continued journey.


  4. Elaine Mansfield

    I’m in stellar space with you, Jackie, far away from anything I know up close.
    I understand a love affair with drugs since I was a girl of the 60s. Four years ago, I began having vertigo meltdowns from Meniere’s Disease (inner ear pressure imbalance). I’d fall over vomiting, just like that. Not able to stand. Crawl to the bathroom. Valium was my friend. Compared to not being able to live a life, Valium was a godsend while my doctor and I experimented with what else would help and I tried every kind of alternative therapy. Eventually, we found other things that keep me upright without being otherwise harmful. It took many months to get off Valium, cutting down tiny bits each week. I loved it. It saved me. It turned on me in a way that seems completely benign compared to Lithium.
    I don’t know if this has a thing to do with your experience, but I’m trying to understand. At least a little. It sounds impossible to live in the highs and lows where you’ve had to travel.
    As always, your writing is compelling and electric. Thank you for sharing yourself in this way.

  5. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    Hi Dori,

    It amazes me as well that a ‘little white pill’ has the power to stabilize the brain, that psychiatrists and scientists still have no idea how or why it works and the unfortunate potential toxicity ramifications in longtime users. I’m thrilled you found a super highway anti-psychotic, are doing well and your Lithium experience is far behind you. The brain remains a mystery, beautiful and terribly complex. As Kay Redfield Jamison quotes, “Lithium remains the gold standard, but many drugs now treat bipolar disorder. Medication is critical and should be combined with psychotherapy. Compliance is a major problem. Patients believe that once they’re better, they no longer need the medication. It doesn’t work that way.” -I will miss Lithium, but perhaps will meet you along a new and improved highway, the search continues. I’m thrilled you enjoyed my prosaic essay, thank you.

    Wishing you optimum health, and continued serenity on your journey.
    x Jackie

  6. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa

    Dear Trauma Survivor,

    My sincere apologies if this piece made you uncomfortable. As a med-resistant person with a long and complex history of family mental illness, who witnessed her father succumb to a barrage of horrific psychiatric drug combinations, complacent Drs., ECTs, and ultimately mental illness as well as multiple family members to suicide, I assure you I don’t take Lithium or the use of any psychotropic drug lightly. I use my family medical history as a blueprint to manage my mental health and journey. I challenge every Psychiatrist, research, and am my best advocate forever searching for better ways to manage my chemical imbalance. I abhor generic labels and ‘bipolar’ is at the top of my list- how quick our society is to slap on a label for their comfort. I work very hard to manage my mental health, misdiagnosis’ and subsequently have had better luck with alternative treatments. And yes, Lithium, which calmed the mania and depression for over a decade. I won’t list the names of psychotropic drugs I have tried unsuccessfully, disappointments, failed ECTs, paranoia, hallucinations, or struggles I have experienced over the last thirteen years as I’m certain you understand them far too well. And, I empathize. Lithium afforded me a decade of stability, but when my organs began failing rapidly in January due to chronic toxicity I had no choice but to stop treatment. Yes, I will grieve the loss of Lithium, refocus and move on not as a victim but a survivor and responsible adult.

    The one place I refuse to censor or try to control my mind is in my writing, and pretty prose.
    I have asked the Publishers to add a disclaimer, and appreciate your candor.

    Jackie Cioffa

  7. Trauma Survivor

    It always amazes me that people believe in the bipolar diagnosis they were given without question. It always amazes me how much a person will believe whatever narrative a psychiatrist comes up with to explain a person’s pain and suffering. It saddens me that people are so easily duped. I was one of those who developed kidney disease as a result of misdiagnosis and a misplaced sense of treatment. I feel ambivalence about this article (while it contains some pretty prose) because lithium use (even former lithium use) is not something to romanticize. It’s a dangerous and toxic substance that has caused many premature deaths. “Lithium, my toxic lover, I will mourn her. I will miss her, grieving a lost love” sounds hauntingly familiar (not word for word, but basically the message of the song with the same title). It’s a song often sung and deemed praiseworthy because it speaks to the borderline’s sense of immense pain and longing. The borderline’s love affair with lithium is not so surprising given the fact that love is viewed through a tragic lens. After a while, the crying gets old. We feel stuck and lost within a perpetual loop of mourning the loss of the parent we never had. Lithium becomes a convenient “stand in”. Part of healing means owning the journey, recognizing that there is opportunity to grow, mature and integrate those child parts of us that we were unable to access due to our lithium fog. For those of us no longer consume lithium, I think it can be an opportunity to transcend lithium as a symbol (or illusion) of symbiotic love by getting into trauma therapy treatment which allows us to process the loss and grieve the pain. We need to learn to become our own healers, and grieving the loss of something that never was, will get us no closer to the peace we seek in our hearts.

  8. Dori OwenDori Owen

    It always amazed me that a chemical element, a mineral really, had such an effect–and even more interesting that the nucleui of lithium are unstable. What is inherently unstable, in a little white pill, has the power to make US stable. It quit me a long time ago, choosing toxicity over me. It ended up being a good thing, in the long run. As my psychiatrist explained, the new anti-psychotics are super highways and lithium remains an older, narrow highway. Being bipolar, I choose the roominess of a super highway. Relatively few side effects and no more blood tests! Your prosaic essay explains everything so well. I had forgotten so much. Such a beautiful post!

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