When I first started taking mood-stabilizing medications for bipolar during my senior year of high school, I was so desperate to feel better that I didn’t really mind any of the side effects. This attitude quickly dissipated, however, as my thighs and abdomen grew flabby and my hands shook uncontrollably. So, when I went to college for the first time, I took advantage of all that freedom: with my mom not lurking anywhere nearby, I could completely discontinue the medications. I didn’t consider the consequences—even as I became manic, was going on large shopping sprees, and getting very little sleep at all. Eventually, I crashed. I then felt ready to go back on the pills, maybe because I saw no other way out.
Needless to say, I have a very complicated, love-hate relationship with my medications for bipolar. But I also know that the mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications that my psychiatrist prescribes keep me out of a hospital gown and anchored in the real world: my world. Accepting my bipolar and needing to take pills to function effectively
When I miss doses of my medication, I simply don’t like the way I feel. And I can always tell when I haven’t taken my pills. When I am manic, my thoughts go so fast that I am tilting and whirling and not able to get much of anything done—even though I’m working on ten projects at a time. I stumble over my thoughts and can’t even talk to other people without entirely dominating the conversation and usually embarrassing myself. But the pills slow things down, help me talk at a normal rate, and allow me to process one thing in my head at a time.
It seems so easy to everyone else: you just take a pill and then those highs and lows simply evaporate. But I have learned that managing bipolr is not so easy. In fact, the pills are usually the first line of defense. In a lifetime of living with bipolar disorder and constantly fending off its symptoms, there is so much more to learn. Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, so we always have to get better at taking care of ourselves and learning what to do in times of trouble. Clearly, there are different combinations of medications for everyone: some people might need more; others, less. All I know is that for me, medications are an essential part of my path to wellness.
But, as I said, meds are the first line of defense. I also need to see a therapist to talk about my feelings and how I can better manage my symptoms. I need to build a network of coping skills that work for me when I am feeling out of control (for example, listening to music, taking a hot shower, or watching something on Netflix).
I have learned that if I take my pills regularly, I tend to require a smaller dose. Side effects can be overcome and dealt with, and there are so many different medications to try that an expert psychiatrist will almost always be able to come up with something that will help.
To be honest, I hate taking pills. Some of them are too big and they taste bad, and I can come up with a million reasons why I should go off of them. And when I’m manic, I really want to stop taking them. But I can’t. My brain has come to expect these chemicals at frequent intervals throughout the day and night and can’t function without them. I want to be able to finish graduate school and maintain my relationships, and I realize that I do need help from my meds to be able to accomplish my goals. I know that my medications allow me to put things into perspective when I am prone to catastrophizing
At the end of the day, I know that my medications will always be a major part of my management plan for bipolar disorder. Taking these pills will keep me out of the hospital and in control over my own life. One of my former psychiatrists used to tell me all the time that an untreated bipolar episode is like setting your brain on fire: each episode you have
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