The 6 Medication Side Effects I Experience

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

Medication to treat bipolar disorder can be a literal lifesaver for some. Often, it takes time to find the right mix of drugs for each individual. Initially, I tried a type of mood stabilizer and felt an instant positive change. However, 10 days into the treatment, I experienced an allergic reaction. This happened with a further two medications until I began taking a different mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic. With the mood stabilizer I was on, you have to regulate the dosage by having frequent blood tests to ensure your levels aren’t too high as this could have a potentially dangerous impact on your body. So, I had finally found the right drugs cocktail for me. Is it all sorted out now? Well sort of. There are some huge side effects to these medications that are frustrating and often debilitating. Below are some of the main hindrances that myself and others frequently face.

1. Tremors

Hands and legs. I’m currently handwriting this (that’s right, using an actual pen and paper) for my partner to type up later as my fingers just can’t navigate the keyboard. The hand tremor is particularly disruptive as I struggle to type at longer length, which as a teacher, is difficult when it comes to lesson plans, reports or other deadlines. There are times when my hands shake so much that even holding a fork to my mouth becomes a humiliating challenge.

2. Zombie mode

I find one of my medications especially puts me into a drowsy state. If I take my tablet too late in the evening, then mornings become drawn out and I struggle to really perform at my best. Also, it isn’t as simple as just taking the tablet when I want. It has to be taken two hours after eating and one hour before then eating again. If taken too early, say at 5 p.m., then it gets to 7:30 p.m. and I’m asleep halfway through “Game of Thrones.”

3. Memory

I don’t know if this is a result of the tablets or just being in a more stable state. When I was manic, I was organizing a million things at once. It was near impossible to forget things. Recently, I have noticed a huge shift in my memory. Whole conversations, things I’m supposed to do — they all just fall out of my head. I have even found my self genuinely clueless to a person’s name despite being day-to-day familiar or friendly with them.

4. Lots of toilet trips

Becoming dehydrated on my antipsychotic is very risky. This means drinking lots of water. When you live in a tropical country as I do, this means drinking a lot every day. I find that if I am dehydrated, then the side effects heighten. If I have had a good sleep and don’t wake up for a drink of water, then my hand tremor will intensify. It also means being more conscious to not become dehydrated when exercising. I am still trying to see if it is possible to go on a run without drinking a liter of water and needing to stop for a wee!

5. Acne

At 28, I am finally experiencing acne! I understand acne can be a struggle for people for years of their life and it can be very difficult to treat. A widespread of small spots began to crawl across the surface of my face until the bottom half was almost covered. Then huge spots began to manifest. They are hard and almost boil-like at times. I’ve tried endless products, exfoliation creams, natural products, fancy facials and expensive moisturizers. Nevertheless, they haven’t disappeared. It is manageable and it is more of a vanity concern rather than something that stops me from getting on with the day-to-day.

6. Feeling stable

What is this? No racing thoughts? No manic high or depressive low? Alas, I still have my bad days but I have successfully managed four whole weeks back to work where I actually felt good. And when I say “good,” I mean calm. Level-headed. I enjoy my job. I like the people around me and they probably like me a lot more! For the first time in 10 years, I can see a happy future. For the first time in 10 years, the good days are starting to outweigh the bad. Bipolar is treatable. There may be side effects, but for every negative there will be a stronger positive.

drawing of bipolar disorder

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