Medication: the single most important but most difficult treatment for those with bipolar.
|Everyone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder has experienced at least some small fraction of the medication roller coaster. The lucky ones have a doctor who gets it right in just a few tries; the rest of us are on the ride for a long while. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been on medications that don't work, that turn me into a zombie, and in one particularly bad case, medications that trigger severe manic or even psychotic episodes.
The medications come with a whole host of side effects, from constant dry-mouth (I don't have trouble drinking my eight cups of water a day, that's for sure!), to dizziness and nausea, to the always-distressing weight gain. These are just common side effects; I currently take Lamictal/Lamotrigine, which requires a slow 'step up' process to begin. Starting at a full dose can cause a rash that quickly turns life-threatening. A bit of poison ivy on my foot a few weeks ago brought about a wonderful evening of anxiety.
I remember taking Lithium in high school, too. At the peak dose of 1200 milligrams per day, my hands shook so much that I couldn't hold a glass of water. I would doze through my first-period Calculus class and then keel over into deep unconsciousness for my block of three free periods in the senior lounge. To be fair, Lithium did help with mood swings. In fact, for me, it crushed my manias straight down into deeply apathetic depression.
A few months ago, I 'forgot' to keep up with my medication regimen until I was simply not taking my needed medications at all. This soon led to 'forgetting' to go to therapy, which allowed a hypomanic state to flourish toward full-blown mania. Now that I am back on my medicines, I have enough clarity of thought to recognize that I am still struggling with this summertime mania. I am definitely praying that the increasing dosage of my Lamictal will help to head it off, but again, I am not at full dose.
To be clear, it's entirely my fault that I'm not on the dose of mood stabilizer I need. I stopped taking my needed medications for such a long time that the only safe and healthy way to return to this one was the (incredibly expensive) step-by-step starter kit. Whatever temporary thrills or relief I might've felt from discontinuing my medication were not worth it. I can't emphasize that enough.
There are still days when I resent my medication. Fail to swallow all four pills in one go and you end up with the worst taste in your mouth. The 'pill in the throat' feeling is one you never get used to, but taking it at the beginning of a meal helps get rid of it faster. And the side effects aren't fun at all, but in the end, it's a whole lot better than letting my illness rule my life.
Last week I had to go to the dentist. As a result of my low-level nausea, my gag reflex has been working overtime. I forewarned the dentist of this, as they have to stick tools into my mouth to do their job, and they were understanding, but one woman commented "wow, those are some really bad side effects."
My answer was, and still is, "They are, but it's the cost of living."
That's the entire point. Medication isn't fun, it isn't pleasant, but it's the cost of living. Just as someone with diabetes needs to monitor their blood sugar and take insulin shots on a regular basis, those of us with mental illnesses need to monitor our mental states and take medications on a regular basis.
Our brain chemistry isn't normal, just as someone with cancer has cell growth that isn't normal. If someone refuses treatment for diabetes or cancer, their disease will eventually kill them. I've said it in previous pieces, but it bears repeating: bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are potentially life-threatening conditions. If we refuse treatment, our diseases will eventually consume and destroy us.
If you ask me, that's more than enough reason to choke down a handful of pills every day.