I want to recount my experience with all of the issues in the years leading up to my diagnosis, when my life was a series of intense mood swings and panic attacks seemingly without rhyme or reason, but I want to start off on a hopeful note for my first post. I’m happy to say I’m currently stable, and I’m just beginning to get to a healthy place. It’s possible. I wish someone with bipolar had said that to me as I was on the hellish road it took to get here. It’s possible, and you can do it. The first step for me was getting on medication. Now I know a lot of us with mental health issues, and especially those of us with bipolar, tend to be very resistant to medication. There’s a myriad of reasons why, all of them falling somewhere within 3 categories 1) it makes you feel “flat” 2) you’re tired of experiencing side effects 3) you can’t afford it. This are perfectly valid complaints, and I’ll talk about each of them in detail and why you should still stick with it.
- Medication Makes You Feel “Flat”
The first and most important thing to understand about finding the right medication is that it is a process. Some people are lucky enough to find something that works right off the bat. Most people are not. I’ve tried nine different medications over the past three years, five of those in the last ten months. It takes time. You can find what is right for you, but it takes time. It takes a month or two just to see if it has any effect at all. But you can’t give up. When I was depressed, I considered every little improvement by the medication a win. As a result, I stayed on some medications longer than I probably should have. Take Vraylar for instance. After a series of medications that inhibited my functioning in various ways, Vraylar at first seemed like it was doing me good. I was no longer depressed…but I didn’t feel good either. In fact, I was completely hollow; I couldn’t really feel any emotion at all. I also was sapped of my usual creativity. At the time, I thought this was the best I could hope for. I wasn’t normal, but I had felt like utter sh*t for so long I couldn’t even properly remember what feeling normal felt like, so I thought I was. If I didn’t start experiencing side effects–this time constant, crippling anxiety to the extent that I was terrified to step foot out of my dorm–I likely would have stayed on it, and stayed numb. This is all to say if your medication makes you feel flat, it is not the right medication. Keep looking.
- You’re Tired of Experiencing Side Effects
I know. I know. I know! I was just there a little while ago. I’m not going to lie, the medication process is rough and it’s hard and it can be long. It took me two and a half years of searching off and on to find something that worked. But now that I’m here and finally, finally, feel good I can definitely say it is so worth it. A big part of me never thought I’d feel this way again. But getting here was a sh*tshow. I took Lamictal, which caused a psychotic break and turned my brain to mush (more on that in a future post). Prozac when my psychiatrist was unsure if I had depression or bipolar disorder, which made my emotions seesaw quickly and violently. Then Trileptal–that made me narcoleptic, falling asleep practically every three hours. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t do work, I couldn’t write. Then the Vraylar, which gave me the symptoms stated in the section above. What’s worse, the withdrawal when I was taken off of it drove me to a mental breakdown. My mood swings returned with a vengeance, and I spiraled into a depression propelled by constant, violent intrusive thoughts of self-harm and suicide. I got the verge of acting on them. By this point, just this past December, I had nearly given up hope of ever feeling not depressed, nevermind good, again. I was so angry at the fact that I’d been sick for eight months straight from one pill or another, and that for the last four, I’d had to deal with it all while still handling all the pressures of senior year. I vowed to myself that I would try one more medication, and if it didn’t work I was giving up. Thank God it worked, and I’m stable on Latuda. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t have side effects. It lessens my appetite, makes me nauseous all day if I don’t take it with food, and it makes me tired. So much so, that I need to get 10-14 hours of sleep a night to feel rested. But they’re livable side-effects. I go to bed before 12 and I spend a lot of money on food. That’s the trade-off. But it’s worth it. I can’t emphasize this enough: The chances of you finding a medication that works with absolutely no side-effects is very slim. If you can live with the symptoms, and it makes you feel normal, stay with it. As of right now, I’m only on Latuda to manage my bipolar disorder, and Xanax for anxiety. Some people need multiple medications to manage theirs, especially if they’re Type I. Do not listen to people who try to convince you that pharmaceuticals are Satan incarnate, even if they themselves struggle with mental health. Once you are stable for a solid amount of time, you can try tapering off with a psychiatrist’s approval and under their supervision. Do not go off your meds as soon as you start feeling good again, and especially not when you’re manic/hypomanic. My advice is to have a mindset going into your medication journey that is simultaneously realistic and optimistic (I know it’s hard but try). Buckle in for the long haul from the get-go and see each medication you try as taking a step closer to being happy. Also important to note: just because the above medications didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Everybody is different and has different body chemistry.
- You Can’t Afford It
This one is hard. Not everyone can afford insurance, and even less people can afford the astronomical costs of medication without it. Unfortunately I can’t post nearly enough about this as I don’t have personal experience with it. I’ve been fortunate in that way. All I can do is post some resources if you’re in this situation:
To wrap this up: try, try, and try again. Find a medication that works, and go to therapy. Please, please, go to therapy. I firmly believe, and the research supports, that most, if not all, mental illnesses especially things like PTSD and bipolar disorder, do not get better over time without treatment. They get exponentially worse. I can attest to this from personal experience. I had to hit rock bottom before I finally dragged myself to therapy. Do not wait until you get to that point. Bipolar disorder in particular can cause brain damage if untreated. You can get better, but it does take work. Nothing worthwhile is easy. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it, even on medication your episodes aren’t going to just stop. You will still experience hypomania and depression, but they will be less frequent, and less intense. It makes things livable. At some point your meds might stop working, and you’ll have to tinker around again until you find another good one. It sucks, and it’s unfair, and it’s infuriating. But it’s part of your life if you struggle with mental health, and you should do whatever you have to do to get into a healthy place. You can do it. One step at a time.