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Making Peace With the Side Effects of My Bipolar Disorder Medications

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I sometimes try to pretend I am still thin when I look in the mirror. But who am I kidding? I weigh more now than I ever thought would be acceptable to my athletic self. But the kicker is, the only part of me that is unhealthy is my brain, and my body pays the price to keep my mind working correctly.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I’ve complained and cried and clenched my fists in frustration as I try to combat the weight gain, the fatigue and the endless sleeping. Those are my three biggest quarrels. Aside from that, there are headaches and dry mouth — and I mean ridiculously dry; I wake up in the morning with my tongue essentially adhered to the roof of my parched mouth. There’s also the shaking hands, the sensitive digestive system and oily skin. I could keep going and pick out more little things that could be attributed to my psychiatric medications — and most fairly accurately. Over the years, I’ve begun to resent my medications and their side effects.

Psychiatric medications suck.

The side effects suck.

There is no way around that.

However, as I’ve given more thought to the struggles that can come along with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, I’ve come to appreciate one particularly important fact about my health and my medications…

At least something works.

I’ve seen others struggle with the torments of bipolar disorder — in my psychologist’s office, in my psychiatrist’s waiting room, on the streets of Seattle, in stories on The Mighty — desperately trying to find a remedy for the pain they’re in. And I remember my own struggle. I remember clinging to life by my bloody fingertips. I remember screaming into the darkness, begging for it to somehow end. I remember the raging manic highs and the desperation of the depressive void. I remember wanting to stop existing so many godforsaken times. I remember tasting hell, and then I am humbled.

I’m not where I was before my first bipolar episode. My brain isn’t quite as sharp, my body is definitely not as fit, and I have to drink lots more water (which isn’t a bad thing). I sleep for literally half the day and stay on a rigid schedule to make sure my sleeping, eating and exercise are perfectly monitored. I can’t stay up late, work out for hours, or handwrite without making some scribbles.

But you know what?

At least something works for me.

I know with mental illness such as bipolar disorder your mental state can change so much you can sometimes forget where you are and what you have. I know it can get frustrating gaining weight to stay stable, losing some cognitive function, and anything else you personally experience in order to have the healthiest mind possible. I know it can be so hard to see anything positive in the struggle. The glass often seems to be cracked when you are learning to cope with mental illness. It is hard taking medications. The side effects are hard. It seems like just one more thing that is hard to live with having a mental illness. And I know it is hard to preach the “be thankful” card when one is struggling to find the balance with medications. But, if you can, try.

I can’t speak for you or your struggles with medication. I can only speak for myself. But even in the midst of my own medications’ side effects storm, I am thankful.

I’m thankful I’ve found something that works for me. And I hope you will, too.

Image via Thinkstock.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: November 23, 2016
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