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How I Came to Terms With Using Medication to Treat My Bipolar Disorder

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Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

There’s not a whole lot I pride myself on when it comes to living with bipolar 1 disorder. It is a chronic, lifelong illness that insists on wrecking my life whenever it pleases, and sometimes it feels like every treatment known to man won’t work for me.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

But for most of the time, so long as I take my tried and true medication regimen, keep going to therapy and allow myself to heal with time, I know I will be all right.

But what about those times when none of those forms of treatment work? When they all fall short of making me feel… better? In those moments, I simply wait for the days to pass, for the feelings to pass, to let time pass, and hope to God the healing will come much sooner than the time before.

I don’t enjoy being on medication. I don’t like having to take five pills at night and two more in the morning. 365 days a year. I don’t like my grasp on reality to be partially dependent upon making sure I take those pills. Lord knows if I don’t, I wake up feeling like an addict in withdrawal. Did you catch me there? I used the term myself. Addict.

I tell people all the time I feel like one when I haven’t taken my medication the night before. Because I get chills, I have nausea, I experience intense migraines and I feel like I am rocking back and forth on a tiny boat that won’t stop moving as it rides the waves. My hands start trembling. I get hot flashes. I can’t function. “It’s like I’m an addict,” I will always say. Not that I truly know what people addicted to drugs feel like when they go through withdrawal.

Again, I’ve called myself this on occasions. But when my mom told me I was addicted after a failed attempt to pick up a prescription of medication, it was like a slap in the face. Never mind the fact that the previous evening I told her I was biologically dependent on the medication. That I felt the effects only after a day of it being out of my system. And in a moment of worry, she said, “We need to wean you off one of those medications.”

I found myself in my psychiatrist’s office a day or so later, and my mom spoke her concerns about me being dependent on the drug, and as my doctor wrote me a new prescription, lowering my dosage, at first I thought it was fine. The next day, I woke up in a panic and start freaking out about agreeing to take a lower dose. “What if my anxiety only intensifies and I don’t have enough pills to calm me?” I thought. “What if I run out and the pharmacy won’t refill my prescription because it is ‘too soon’ and my insurance won’t allow it?”

I was reminded of all those moments I’d be standing at the pharmacist counter, waiting for them to process my medication, staring down at my trembling hands, nausea washing over me, wishing the tech would just hurry up and refill my prescription already. And I wondered to myself why moments like these made me feel like a drug addict. Like, if I didn’t get my fix, I would crack. And I did begin to crack. Under the shame of being so reliant on a drug my body was going haywire without it. Under the guilt of needing a drug to make me feel stable. Under the weight of being bipolar.

But it was always me — I was always the one to call myself an addict.

When I heard it come from someone else’s mouth, the word “addicted” cut through me like a knife. That day I left Walgreens with a half-filled prescription and walked through the parking lot towards the car and my mom told me, “You’re addicted.” In that moment, the shame felt ten-fold. I was embarrassed, self-conscious and all I could think was, “It isn’t true.” And yet, I couldn’t help ignore the fact that she was only repeating words I myself had spoken. So why did it burn me so badly coming from her? Did it make the statement even more true? Did someone else calling me “addicted” validate the term? Why was I hung up on a term my own psychiatrist negated as a description of my habits of taking my medication?

Maybe because before she said it I never truly believed it. I’ve always said I feel like a drug addict. Not that I actually believed I was one. And to be addicted, I mean… so many connotations, all negative, run through my mind. 

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say addicts fit those descriptions. I just jump to the most negative illustrations I can think of — what I think others think of people who are addicts. And I understand not all addiction is the same. I just… don’t need another label to be stapled to my forehead.

Yes. When I don’t take my medication, in a day, I start to fall apart. My mind starts running in eight different directions and can take the entire rest of the day to reel all my senses back in. And yes, my hands begin to tremble. I feel lightheaded and nauseous. When I forego my other medication for bipolar disorder, the effects are even worse.

But I acknowledge these are symptoms of withdrawal. And I do have faith in myself that when the time comes to wean myself off my meds, in order to have children, I can do it. It will take time and take some getting used to, but it is imperative for me to live my dreams. Having children is one of them.

Maybe my body is addicted to my medication. That doesn’t have to be a permanent state. I had a chance to start weaning myself off of the medication. But with the holidays here, and settling into a new job, I don’t feel like it is the right time. The right time will come. I am not addicted to the thought that I need my medication to survive. I know there are other paths. I know I will have the support when the time comes. But for now, I will keep taking my medication to give me peace of mind. You may say, that’s “addiction.” I say, it’s what keeps me in one piece.

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Originally published: December 18, 2019
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