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How My Bipolar Disorder Medication Affected My Hands, Mouth and Feet


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

When I began this journey with bipolar disorder all those years ago, I naively expected it to be focused on attaining good mental health again. I never even considered that this journey might include my hands, my mouth or my feet.

You can’t tell from the photo, but my hands shake. Sometimes the tremor is almost imperceptible; other times, it makes daily tasks a challenge. I have tardive dyskinesia (TD) — basically, unwanted movement involving my mouth and my feet, as well as my hands. It is an incurable condition, most probably a side effect of some medication I was given a long time ago. I am unable to control it or make it stop.

TD is only one aspect of the tremor in my hands. That hand tremor is also impacted drastically by my mental health medications. There are a few medications that seem to improve my mental health, but also increase the tremors significantly, even when taken at low doses.

Sometimes, life presents us with hard choices. My choice, in this case, is to live with the tremors in order to enjoy the mental health benefits of the medications which cause them.

It hasn’t always been easy to accept, and I am often tempted to go off my medications (don’t do it) just to make living life a little easier. But as hand tremors have become a part of me, I’ve used my creativity to discover paths around the challenges they present.

I pay for manicures and pedicures, for example. (That was such a concession.) I’ve learned to use a stable base like my cheek to insert earrings or apply makeup. My computer mouse has a button that allows a user to increase or decrease sensitivity of motion paths as well as clicking. My computer keyboard also has an adjustment relating to key pressure which completely solves that problem.

My phone and I are still learning better ways to communicate as “Cortana” often doesn’t understand me and typing on something that small is often still not possible, but I’ve learned that firm pressure allows me greater control. I remember days before cell phones, so I can still celebrate being able to receive and place calls or get directions wherever I am, even if I can’t fiddle with all the available apps just yet.

The firm pressure idea works for actual pen and paper writing too, especially in big printing, although signing documents or completing forms while someone waits and watches still causes me some discomfort.

I used to avoid going out in public settings such as dinners, attending classes or participating in other groups because I was ashamed. What if I couldn’t write? What if I spilled my drink? What if they all noticed my shaking? I don’t know if I got over it, or they never really noticed or it just gradually faded into the background, but I almost never think of this anymore. Perhaps because it seems a small price to pay for good mental health.

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