Why I'm Going to Tell My Psychiatrist I'm on the Wrong Medication

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I wanted so badly to just give up that night. I called my dad and ended up in tears over the phone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to throw away my medication. Suddenly, I found myself agreeing with everyone who had told me I didn’t need them. Suddenly, I was desperate.

What caused this panic? The realization my new antipsychotics weren’t working.

I’m fairly new to the struggle of finding the right medications. I’ve been without a working antidepressant for a while. I’ve finally found an ADD medication that helps me think clearly. But that night, I wanted to give it up. It had gotten too heavy to bear on my own.

The first week I was on my antipsychotic medication, I felt on top of the world. I cleaned my apartment, I did all my laundry, I was happy, I was myself again! And then, it leveled out and I got used to it. Since then, I have been in this constant state of being emotionless. The only time I feel anything is when I’m with someone.

I no longer enjoy my writing. I don’t enjoy my coffee. I don’t enjoy a damn thing. I’ve become afraid of having to go back to bed at the end of the day. I get so exhausted I shut off at 8 p.m. But then I lay in bed for hours awake. And then, after finally falling asleep, I’m half-awake again. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a month. I’m miserable.

The mornings, they’re just the worst. I lay in bed for hours trying to go back to sleep. I don’t want to get up. I used to love mornings more than any other part of the day, but not anymore. I don’t want to get up. I feel like I’ve lost the point to all of this. I’ve forgotten the meaning of my life. All because I was on the wrong medication.

I’m going to move my psychiatrist appointment to be two weeks early. I’m going to tell her what’s happening, ask if there’s a different medication I can try or if I should stop taking them all together. I refuse to be a zombie just to make sure my bipolar II doesn’t act up. I feel more suicidal when I’m numb than I ever have while going through a depressive episode.

I’m meant to feel, to be happy, to enjoy life’s ups and downs. I’m not meant to stay “stable” on a flat line of nothingness. This isn’t me. And I refuse to stay here.

I encourage everyone to have an open and honest conversation with your doctors. Let them know how your medication is affecting you. Be strong and find the right path. You deserve it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Creatas Images.

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Would I 'Cure' Bipolar Disorder If I Could?

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Recently, I have been thinking, “What if bipolar disorder had a cure?” and questioning if I would want to be cured. After weeks of thinking about it, I finally have an answer, and it would be no. No, I would not want to be cured of bipolar disorder. You may be baffled and questioning my answer. I was too, but here’s why.

I would not choose to be cured because being diagnosed with bipolar has changed my life dramatically, both positively and negatively. The negative effects did have consequences such as losing friends, making lots of enemies, and spending my entire life savings in one weekend. However, without those negatives, I wouldn’t have had the positives. The positive effects of bipolar disorder have truly helped me, and without experiencing extreme highs and lows, I wouldn’t have gained this type of courage.

The extreme shifts in mood played havoc in my relationships, and I was left confused. Everyone around me seemed to be walking on eggshells or talking negatively about me. These experiences gave me the courage to reach out and admit I needed help. Unfortunately, I only asked for help while feeling depressed and I went misdiagnosed for a few months. I eventually experienced a manic episode which helped me get the correct diagnosis.

Today, I am medicated with five different medications and I still experience hypomanic episodes and milder depressive episodes, but I wouldn’t change that for anything. Yes, I battle these extreme changes in mood, but experiencing these hardships has taught me a lot about myself, my strength, and how to channel it.

My depressive episodes taught me it is OK to not be OK. I always thought I didn’t feel any emotions because I grew up in a household constantly under strain and I never truly felt safe. I would fake a smile or pretend to be happy and that was a way of life for me. Even as an adult, I pretend I am happy because I do not want to face allowing myself to truly feel emotions. I have always been mean to myself, and whenever I feel sad or worthless, I feel powerless and that is a terrifying feeling. Depressive episodes leave me feeling worthless and numb. Feeling like that is not OK, and bipolar disorder has taught me that.

Nevertheless, there are manic episodes where I am flying so high, I feel I am truly invincible. I have limitless energy, tasks to complete, and social desires. I feel as if I could conquer the world, so alive! But this comes at a high price; the voices in my head can steer me the wrong way. They lie to me, they lure me in. I could become agitated and extremely irritable. Without these experiences, though, I wouldn’t have learned I was feeling emotions more intensely than the average person. I would never have realized how truly sensitive I am.

I was diagnosed with bipolar I shortly after unlocking all my demons and it may be all-consuming, but it has helped me get to where I am now. I can confidently say I battle with bipolar, I am a suicide attempt survivor who has multiple anxiety disorders. I battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from multiple sexual assaults as a young girl and as a teenager, and I tend to self-harm. I have a severe fear of gaining weight and during manic episodes, I have binge-purge cycles. But bipolar disorder has taught me to speak up and use my voice. It has helped me figure out so much about myself and why I am a strong person. In dark times, when I am feeling suicidal, I try to remember I am strong.

I may be a large psychological mess, but bipolar disorder has become a part of who I am, and without it, I would be lost. I have come to accept and love my bipolar disorder, and I could never have that taken away.

So, now I ask you, if there was a cure for bipolar disorder, would you go for it?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd

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5 Things I Ask Myself Every Day to Help Manage My Bipolar Disorder

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Living with a mental illness can be challenging. Over the years, through all the ups and downs, I have learned to tune into myself and listen to what I need. I have found that I can manage my symptoms much better with careful planning and a deep sense of self-awareness. As I have learned my triggers, I have learned to create a lifestyle and environment that helps stabilize me. In addition, I have learned how to avoid and set boundaries for situations that cause chaos and wreak havoc in my life. I try to make it a point to ask myself these five questions at various points throughout my day to help keep me on track and protect myself from a breakdown.

1. What am I grateful for today?

I try to start every day in gratitude. I like to do this first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. This is especially important during depressive episodes. It helps to balance my natural negativity and give me something to keep me grounded.

2. What do I need today?

Every day is different and I never know how I’m going to feel when I wake up. I have found it’s so important to reflect on what I need to do on any given day. Is it rest? Is it an adventure? Is it time to get work done? Time alone? A conversation with a friend? Time to create? This question is especially important as I go into the day so I can figure out my expectations for the day and communicate those to my loved ones.

3. If I can only get one thing done today, what is it?

I find I get depressed on days I feel I didn’t accomplish anything. So, I like to check in with myself and see what I want to get done on any given day. Maybe it’s just, “I want to take a shower today” or “I want to write a chapter for my book” or “I want to get a specific thing done for work.” If I don’t check in with myself and have that conversation, I am more likely to get disappointed with myself at the end of the day and feel like a failure or get depressed or anxious.

4. What can I take off my plate today, so I can get the most important thing done?

I have come to learn those busy days that are packed full of things to do do not work well for me. They tend to cause stress and irritability and that triggers episodes of anxiety, depression, anger, mania and the like. There is always something I can take out of the day but if I don’t stop, look at my schedule and see what I can move and shift, I will get caught in chaos, which is never good for me. I have learned to set boundaries and have learned to be OK with changing appointments around or saying no to something I know will end up causing problems for me later on.

5. Where can I find time for rest today?

I tend to forget to recharge and I let myself get burnt out, and a burnt out me is not a pretty sight. I have tried to make it a point to focus on self-care and find time and space for rest. I believe that healing comes in the quiet. If we don’t stop and let ourselves rest and replenish we can never really heal or flourish. Along with my illness, I juggle motherhood, marriage and a career. There are always a million excuses for why I can’t rest or don’t have time to stop, but for the sake of my health, I know I have to. Sometimes rest is just a cup of tea in the afternoon. Or maybe it’s a yoga class, dinner with a friend or a bath. On the good days, it’s an afternoon at my favorite tea shop, alone or sitting on a blanket in the park and writing. There are so many ways to find and create rest during the day but if I don’t stop and seek it, I won’t find it.

These questions can be helpful, regardless of what you are dealing with. They have especially come in handy for me as I have dealt with grief and loss, and they have given me a rhythm for my day. If you find yourself struggling through your days, stop and add these questions to your daily routine. They have consistently helped me to gain insight and stay ahead of emotional episodes and breakdowns. Hopefully, they too will help ground you and guide you through your life journey.

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Photo by Anthony Scarlati

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The Invisible Fight Against Mania

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The sun is shining. Outside my window, birds are singing. It’s a beautiful start to a beautifully new day.

I hate it.

My bed is soft, warm and comforting. Inside my room, my sanctuary, the curtains are drawn and the harshness of the sun’s brightness cannot overwhelm me. However, the day must begin.

I smile as I drop my son off at preschool. His teachers tell me what a joy he is to have. They do not see the exhaustion and dark circles hidden beneath my sunglasses caused by the overwhelming fatigue due to the mood stabilizer I take.

As I stand in line for coffee, I feel dizzy and lightheaded. Strangers mumble behind me. I’m paranoid their conversations regard me and my lack of coordination. I want to turn around and tell them it’s a side effect of my antidepressant. I want to ask if my paranoia is valid. I order my coffee and my voice cannot find the correct pronunciation for frappuccino, so I order tea instead. A memory that rivals a San Francisco fog, it’s yet another side effect of medication.

A fellow driver changes lanes with no signal and I honk my horn, angrily. Inside my neighborhood Target, I loudly correct the woman attempting to get in line in front of me. I’m downright belligerent when I go to return a shirt, expecting a confrontation. I want to say it’s not you, it’s me. I’m manic right now.

The store is hot. There are too many people too close to me. Voices blur like surround sound.  My chest hurts and I feel the familiar wave of an attack. I’m beyond humiliated. I’m in my car somehow. I cannot remember how I got there. Tears stream down my face as I cry into my steering wheel like it can somehow offer me comfort. As if depression were a blanket someone could wrap around me, it feels heavy and burdensome.

Please see me.

Please see me.

My days are a carousel of emotions. I’ve begun grandiose projects, maxed out a credit card and rearranged my living room in one day. The next day is spent huddled in a ball with a guilty sickness over my spending spree. I drive too fast, talk too loudly and smile as though the whole world were created as my personal playground. And I haven’t even hit Wednesday yet.

Everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently. Treatment will vary based on individual needs and medical advice.

Simply because our illness is invisible does not mean we are. 

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Having Compassion for Myself as a Bipolar Mommy

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Being a mom has its share of challenges. All of us have our own unique set of struggles depending on our circumstances. Well, this bipolar mama has a set of struggles for sure as well as a lengthy list of insecurities and worries that could probably wind around the block.

Experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety was probably the first nasty battle fought in this war of mine. I was fortunate I didn’t become psychotic and didn’t have to be hospitalized. Debilitating fear, pacing the house with dread, struggling to get out of bed and suicidal thoughts. These things make being a new mother even more of a tumultuous ride than the sleepless nights, milk stains and leaky diapers.

Fast forward to hypomanic times. Dancing around the house chasing the kids, having a blast doing anything and everything they want because I didn’t have a care in the world. Follow it up with the crash when they can’t get me out of bed to read a book to them and want to know what I was crying about.

I struggled to explain in “kid friendly” terms.

I disappeared to a hospital for a week with no obvious signs of illness. It was far away so the kids couldn’t visit, but they could call. I sounded fine, so why couldn’t I just come home? I told my oldest my brain doesn’t work right so I needed some medicine to fix it. Once it was fixed, I would be home. He seemed to understand.

Then, the unthinkable. Dad and the kids find me unconscious and the ambulance hauls me away. Another week in the hospital. The kids just know I was sick and I was at the hospital (adults know it as the psychiatric hospital) and they got to visit my bare room a few times. I got out on my youngest child’s birthday.

Good old-fashioned “mommy guilt” ain’t got nothing on what I’ve got.

Being in recovery helps me work on the guilt and shame. Compassion towards the self is important for mommies in general, but this bipolar mommy needs it in spades. Mistakes and missteps in parenting are exacerbated by my illness and will be handled and my kids will be OK. I just need to tell myself to breathe and learn from it all.

Even on my darkest days, I know my kids are always watching. And if they have to have a mom who has bipolar, at least they can have a mom who teaches them the meaning of strength and resiliency. They have one tough mama.

Follow this journey here.

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To the Person Who Said My Son 'Takes So Many Medications'

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Sometimes, my son experiences tremors or other side effects from his medications. These can be debilitating to the point where he needs to come home and rest. Then, I’ll often hear the comment, “Well, it’s hard to tell which medication caused it. He takes so many medications.”

This comment is not usually made with a sympathetic tone of voice. My husband dismisses it as “just an observation.”

But to my ears, and from the tone, it sounds judgmental. And of course, as one of his parents, I feel judged.

My son was diagnosed with a mood disorder at 9 and bipolar disorder at 10. He is now 17 years old.

We’ve been through dozens of medications. I say “we” because in our house, medication changes are a family effort. Everyone works together to help because it’s never easy.

He currently takes five different medicines for his illness. He takes a lower dose of each one than is generally prescribed because he cannot tolerate higher doses of any of them.

I know this sounds like a lot; and it is. But each of these pharmaceuticals has a role in balancing his mood and helping him live as normal a life as possible.

If we stopped giving him even one of these, he would be tearful and depressed all day, or his thoughts would be racing so fast that he couldn’t function. He definitely wouldn’t make it to school.

There was a distinct reason we added each one. My son was going through a great deal of crisis and pain. His brain was, as he says, “mixed up.”

Then, each time he had to decide which side effects he could put up with because all of these psychotropic drugs have a host of those. It’s a balancing act of side effects and benefits. If life is more tolerable for him, the medication is worthwhile.

He constantly needs adjustments as he grows and his body and brain change.

Some of the staggering side effects listed for these drugs include: vomiting, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, trouble breathing, loss of memory, suicidal thoughts, tremor, hair loss, changes in vision, dizziness.

Other side effects are: liver dysfunction, changes in blood cells and platelets, confusion, coma. These are the ones I wake my son up in the middle of the night to check for, poking him to make sure he responds.

Everyone’s body reacts to these medicines in a different way, so what works wonders for one may throw another into a horrible cycle and make the current symptoms even worse.

Then, there are the results. The process is similar to playing Russian Roulette. For him, sometimes it goes this way: “There is no god because if there was, he wouldn’t let me feel like this. No god would ever do this to someone.” These are signals to stop that medication immediately and go back to square one. We know that one isn’t a keeper.

Or sometimes the new medication provides a much-needed adjustment. Wow, he’s not as depressed. He’s happy. He sang in the shower. He relaxed and took a bath. He did some homework.

Things we thought would never get better. The reason we took that big risk.

Then, the lift in my own mood occurs. That heavy load feels so much lighter. My husband and I can go out and leave him at home. He wants to go places with us. We sleep at night. Our house is a happy place to be.

Therefore, when someone comments that he takes so many medications….

Please don’t tell me something I already know. I’m not sure if you understand why he’s on all these medications. I know how hard it is for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to even comprehend.

You couldn’t know we tried half a dozen antipsychotics before we found the right one for him. That meant a trial of at least a couple weeks for each and a host of side effects to deal with before throwing in the towel.

You couldn’t even imagine the blood, sweat, and tears my son experienced with each medication change or his pain that led up to it. You couldn’t know how my husband and I agonized every time or the heart-wrenching decisions we have to make because our son has a mental illness. You couldn’t know the sleepless nights, the turmoil in our house, or the long nightly car rides to help him calm down so he can sleep.

You wouldn’t know what we watch him go through.

Then, there is the feeling of elation when a medication actually works, when we see him feel better.

That is why we will never give up on trying to help him and to make things better. Medication, therapy, all the tools he needs.

I hope after reading this, you can understand a little bit more about what he’s had to endure with the addition of each of these “many” medications. I hope you understand that he, and his family, never really chose to add any of these at all. It wasn’t a decision; it was a necessity due to his illness.

You probably would be less likely to comment about the number of medications someone with a less stigmatized illness takes, so please don’t make a remark about the number of medications he takes for his brain illness.

I also hope you understand what a strong and incredible person he is for carrying this load every single day.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

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