"Lithium, a mood stabilizer that can help stop and prevent manic cycles, is usually the first medication tried with bipolar patients; it’s effective for most of them. Including me. I was discharged and sent back to high school with an apple-size bruise on my hip. For two decades since then, I have been taking lithium almost continuously. It has curbed my mania, my depression and, most significant, the wild delusional cycles that have taken me from obsessing over the value of zero to creating a hippie cult (my uniform: bell-bottoms, psychedelic sports bra and body glitter, head to toe). As long as I take those three pink lithium-carbonate capsules every day, I can function. If I don’t, I will be riding on top of subway cars measuring speed and looking for light in elevated realms.
The use of lithium as a therapy for mental illness goes back to at least Greek and Roman times, when people soaked in alkali-rich mineral springs to soothe both ‘‘melancholia’’ and ‘‘mania.’’ In the mid-1800s, lithium was thought to cure gout and sometimes ‘‘brain gout,’’ a lovely description for mania, extending the notion of swollen joints to a swollen brain. The element gets its name from lithos, the Greek word for stone, and lithium is indeed found in granite — and in seawater, mineral springs, meteorites, the sun and every other star and all humans. It is classified as a metal on the periodic table of elements. It was first identified as a solid in the form of petalite ore on the Swedish island Utö in 1817. A year later, scientists found that lithium, when ground into powder, turned flames crimson red — it’s the key ingredient in red fireworks. Fiery and unstable, lithium somehow calms emotional states often characterized in the same way."