I've been thinking about my why when it comes to aromatherapy especially pertaining to essential oil safety. I am a knowledge seeker and want to know as much as I possibly can about my field of study. Its not enough to look at the science of essential oil chemistry and throw caution to the wind as if they are unfounded or will never happen to me. I cannot do that for personal reasons based on a horrible medical experience I had several years ago. I will share that story now.
In 2011, I was suffering from major depression and constant anxiety so I began seeing a new psychiatrist who within a 15 minute session diagnosed me as Bipolar II. I had already tried Lithium and Depakote, neither of which worked for me, so he prescribed Lamictal. He warned that there is a potentially fatal rash that can occur and to check my skin daily for any signs. Thankfully, I did not get the rash. Lamictal is a psychiatric medication that is also used to treat epilepsy and you have to slowly increase the dosage over time to get to the therapeutic level. Almost immediately, I started having significant neurological issues, any stimuli like lights, noise, motion, sound, and smell would make me feel like I was about to have a seizure. I was assured this was normal and to continue with the medication increases every two weeks. Over that time more and more neurological symptoms arose; I was forgetting things, using similar, but incorrect words, repeating myself without knowing it in a short period of time, and talking in what can only be described as "word salad." I thought I was losing my mind. I was still having stimuli triggered feelings like I was going to have a seizure. My gait was affected too, for some reason, if I was walking in a straight line, I would always end up veering to the right. I felt unhinged, like I was coming apart at the seams.
One evening I was in crisis mode, wandering around the city before my therapist appointment at the same office and asked if I could see the psychiatrist that evening. I was given an emergency appointment and then scolded that this was not a walk-in clinic and that I had to make an appointment in advance. So in addition to feeling like I was about to have a mental breakdown, I was being guilt tripped for being an inconvenience. I talked with the doctor and I don't recall if anything changed at that time. The neurological symptoms did not go away. So, I decided to research the medication more and there it was, ALL of the neurological side effects, that my doctor 1) never warned me about and 2) failed to recognize as a serious problem directly resulting from the medication. Soon thereafter, I made another appointment and demanded to be switched to another medication, which he did. But, I had to slowly decrease the Lamictal and remain on it for another few weeks. Even once, I had stopped taking it. It took another 10 months for it fully to be out of my system. Most of the neurological effects subsided during that time though I had lingering anxiety and panic attacks if I had to be in a car, so I could no longer drive and would be a nervous wreck in the passenger seat because I still could not process all of the visual information of speed, movement, lights, other cars, etc. Luckily, after such a horrible experience, I started seeing a new psychiatrist, whom I adore and still see to this day.
Even though I recovered, I truly believe that if I stayed on that medication it would have killed me and that is not an exaggeration. Years later, I would also discover that his initial diagnosis of Bipolar II was incorrect, so I was in effect being treated for an illness that I did not have in the first place.
This is my why. This is why I am 100% committed to knowing the power of the essential oils and proper application methodologies. I prefer to know all of the contraindications no matter how slim of a chance they are to occur. Looking at my situation, if I was using an essential oil that affected the enzyme(s) used to metabolize that medication, either dulling or increasing the effects, it would have made the situation even worse. My purpose in aromatherapy is to ensure the safety of everyone that uses essential oils in their daily lives. I choose to be an informed patient and understand that not everyone has the impetus to do the same thing, so I do my best to disseminate the correct information based upon my research and studies. If I knew what to look for regarding the side effects from Lamictal, I would have saved myself months and months of trauma.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.