There’s a particularly cruel irony in Analisa Lorenna Corral having tardive dyskinesia. She was a performing ballet and jazz dancer and a promising concert violinist en route to the Berklee College of Music. Her passion and talents were marked by grace and composure. Only to be snuffed out by a condition defined by uncontrollable spasms.

And that brings us to another irony: The polar opposite aspects of her life (one marked by potential, the other by pain) were likely caused by treatment for her bipolar disorder. Corral grew up in a home of mental unrest—from her older brother’s schizoaffective disorder (a combination of bipolar, psychosis, schizophrenia) and her mother’s bipolar disorder.

analisa playing the violin at home

In 2011, at 20, Corral herself was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. Initially, the diagnosis brought relief. Corral had long suspected that she had the condition in high school. She stayed up all night, fueled by big ideas. And then she’d crash with depression the next day, barely able to get out of bed.

When an initial drug gave her mild akathisia (“my body felt like it was running outside itself”), her doctor took her off of it and prescribed Seroquel. It helped her sleep and regulated her moods. In those first few months of treatment, Corral recalls thinking to herself, “This is what it feels like to be normal.”

And then out of nowhere, one day, she collapsed on the floor, her limbs flailing everywhere. This was tardive dyskinesia, and she was terrified. Here, Corral describes those first feelings and how she’s come to make peace with a condition that remapped her life.

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The First of Many Episodes

What I remember is that I was in the living room talking to my dad. I got a really tight feeling across my shoulder blades, like a Charley horse cramp. My arms began flapping. I knew something was wrong. I started crying. I tried to put my back against the wall to stop my muscles from moving. My father called my general practitioner, who gave me a lidocaine shot in that immensely tight spot in my back where the muscle spasms were the worst. It finally calmed down enough so that I was able to lie down with just twitching, as opposed to being wracked with painful spasms.

After my first TD attack, I called my psychiatrist who had prescribed the Seroquel to me—and he told me to taper off because of the extreme reaction I had. So I stopped taking the medicine. I don’t remember how quickly (or slowly) I came down off the Seroquel. I had a meeting with that same psychiatrist after the initial spasmodic episode where he told me, “Well, this can happen.” He didn’t even give me the name of what IT was, just that IT could happen.

I was astounded. And the whole time I was talking to my doctor, my limbs were twitching—and I still can’t believe I wasn’t given a name for what was happening. He suggested I try Benadryl. I felt hopeless. There was no treatment plan and I was not prescribed anything else following the Seroquel.

I saw other doctors and they all told me the same thing. Some version of “Sorry, this can happen. It might be permanent—and we don’t really have anything to fix it.”

What the hell, right? I just knew something bad was happening.

The quality of my life was radically different. I couldn’t hold a fork to eat or brush my teeth. I couldn’t go to school. If I moved too much, the movements would start up again. I couldn’t play the violin. I couldn’t dance. I was disabled. I couldn’t do the things I had once done so well. I was in so much pain.

An Official Diagnosis

Analisa Corral singingMonths into having these muscular spasms and episodes, my mom took me to see a functional neurologist in San Francisco in 2014. I wasn’t on any medication at this time and we still didn’t have a name for what was happening to me.

It was the functional neurologist who provided the name—tardive dyskinesia—and proposed a treatment plan that consisted of physical adjustments (chiropractic), oxygen therapy, and balancing exercises. But no meds.

My symptoms at this point included pain, stiff muscles, twitching limbs, contorting of my foot muscles as I was falling asleep, stiff neck, stiff tongue, and a knot in my left shoulder that was always spasming, so forward movements with my arm were basically impossible.

I was always in pain, always uncomfortable—from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. Just before bed, the pain was always the worst. My muscles, so tired from being in pain all day, just ached and ached. I didn’t really have a moment of rest. Wake up, pain. Go to sleep, pain. It was exhausting. That alone could make someone depressed.

I started wondering what the point was if I was going to be in pain all the time. It didn’t feel like there was much to live for at that time—I couldn’t live my life normally—I couldn’t do the things I love, but I just kept going. The more energy I exerted the more pain I was in. Staying still was better. In my desperation, I made YouTube videos (it was pretty much all I could do anyway). Maybe someone out there would know something about my condition and share information that would help me.

Welcoming Alternative Therapies

[A friend’s mother] told me about a modality called body electronics. It’s a muscle pressure point release technique, that can provoke an emotional release as well. You put pressure on a muscle until it gets tired and releases or relaxes. You find one spot and it heats up and melts away. It helped me. It would relax all the knots that spasmed and I attribute some of my core healing to that.

Exercising slowly has [also] worked. Mindfulness techniques for healing are also helpful. I listen to the work of a chiropractor and author named Joe Dispenza, DC—he slowly healed his spine through meditation. Also, mindfulness practices like meditation. Psychotherapy. Eating healthy and good, basic self-care. I’m not a partier—and caffeine and alcohol can make TD worse—so I stay away from both.

I’m always in therapy and I always want to have a therapist. It’s been many years since I’ve been medicated but I’m in the process of switching to a better insurance plan and finding a better psychiatrist. I very, very afraid of medicine after my experience with tardive dyskinesia. I would never want to take any drug that might make me susceptible to TD. It’s going to be a very slow process to get on the right meds if that’s the direction my doctor suggests in the future.

I’m used to managing my bipolar symptoms without the aid of medication now which requires constant vigilance. I make sure I sleep. I make sure I’m talking to my therapist at least once a week. I make sure I’m doing everything I can to monitor myself.

Since the pandemic, I’ve started studying to become an esthetician. I’m just so grateful to having something to aspire to. I still enjoy songwriting and get paid for that a little bit here and there but I definitely need something more stable. I’m thinking about ways of combining being an esthetician with body electronics—a little dream for the future.

Mental Support for the Mental Toll

Today [the physical symptoms] are pretty much non-existent, but it still impacts me mentally. I have to be careful of certain movements, I can’t pick up the violin because it still hurts my shoulder and I cramp up. It still makes me feel isolated.

Support groups are a lifeline and I actually run a support group now myself. I’ve put my YouTube videos up on a channel and people who are experiencing TD reach out to me all the time. It’s been good for me to help others. We often feel lonely and our doctors don’t know what to do for us.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t take any medicine. But as a person struggling with mental health issues, you’re supposed to take medicine if prescribed—so it’s honestly difficult to say. I wish I had had a better relationship with my doctor—more open communication. I wish we had moved more slowly down the medication path. I wish I had done more research. I wish I had joined a support group sooner. It would have been nice to have more answers from the start.

I think we should know what signs and symptoms to look for. We should be warned. I may have been having tongue tightness—but overlooked it. Maybe stopping meds sooner would have helped, I believe that the faster you stop the medication, the better the outcome when it comes to TD. Warning signs should be made more apparent—that knowledge would have helped me and countless others.

But we don’t live life backward and it doesn’t make sense to put energy into regrets. After all I can’t change the past. What happened in the past is the past and it’s over.

If you’d like to connect to Corral, there are several ways you can connect:

Corral manages the Tardive Dyskinesia & Dystonia Support/Info (Medicine Induced). It’s a small, private group available for those in need of more information about TD.

To view her YouTube videos, and listen to her music:

To learn more about Corral, visit her website, IamLorenna. Or, follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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Last Updated: Feb 10, 2021