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Making Peace With My Love-Hate Relationship With Medication

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

As I am sure many people with illnesses are aware, medications do not magically fix everything and sometimes they even create problems of their own. Side effects are the unwelcome guest that medications bring along. Despite being different for each medication, side effects often range from fatigue to headaches and dizziness and can even reach life-threatening levels of danger. On my search for balance with a bipolar brain, I have found one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is medication: the thought of being on medication the rest of my life, the difficulty in getting it, the side effects that come with it and the inevitable sense of defeat if that medication doesn’t help.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I tried to fight medication with everything I had in the beginning. I did not want to be sedated, to feel like I was only a part of myself when the highs and lows were mitigated. I wanted some magical way to manage my symptoms and not lose anything. I quickly learned I could not control my hypomanic and depressive episodes without help and they were quickly becoming more dangerous and destructive. I slowly had to accept you cannot hold onto your symptoms and control them at the same time. There is no way to be manic and balanced. I had to begin to look at myself as separate from the parts of me that were symptoms and figure out who was left, and more importantly who I wanted to be. I accepted the help medication provided because that is what was right for, me even if it means being on medication for the rest of my life.

Once I accepted medication as an option for controlling my symptoms I ran into a new hurdle. As I am sure you know, medication and therapy are expensive. I was 25 when I was diagnosed so I was still on my parent’s insurance. When I turned 26 I found out just how expensive insurance can be and how with the plans currently being offered there are often very high deductibles to be met. I struggled to pay for my appointments and my medications. I needed those appointments and medications to continue to be able to work. It was a vicious cycle of not making enough money, but needing the money for the medications to be able to keep working. Also, my medical providers could not always prescribe what they thought was best because it was not covered and I could not afford it. This meant taking medications that were not as good of a fit for me and caused issues like weight gain, which affected my other conditions.

I started on my path to find a medication that worked for me and that I could afford. I quickly learned it may not be one medication but a mixture of them to help create the balance I was lacking. I also learned that these medications had side effects. On one I was so tired I could not function and would fall asleep after being awake a few hours. Another would cause rapid weight gain, which is less than ideal when you have PCOS and are struggling to lose weight already. A third may cause flare-ups in skin conditions and hair loss, which let’s be honest obviously no one wants. I would like to point out that side effects are different from being allergic. I was not having allergy responses, just experiencing the additional effects noted in many other individuals. Medication after medication, the benefits are weighed against the side effect to determine if it is worth it to keep taking it.

Medication after medication. Your provider suggests a new medication. You start the new medication and potentially discontinue an old one. It takes time sometimes weeks for the medication to get to the level it needs to be at to be effective. If it isn’t working they increase it. If it still isn’t working they may add something to it. When it still isn’t working your stomach sinks and you are back to square one trying a new medication. Mental illness is unique in that medication is very much a game of trial and error in an attempt to find out what your body will tolerate and what works best for your brain. The hope of a new chance at balance and the absolute destruction caused by starting at square one, again and again, is by far one of the toughest things I have experienced.

When people ask me about medications and how I have reacted to them I am happy to share and I love hearing other people’s opinions. I will always point out that everyone reacts differently to them, and if your health care provider is suggesting it there is likely a reason. I also always advocate for asking questions. I ask questions and raise concerns about all of my medications, not just the ones for mental health. You will never know if you do not ask and they cannot read your mind so make sure they know your concerns.

Lastly, what I hold onto are the endless combinations that can be tried to help me and the knowledge that while starting over with medications feels like square one, it isn’t. I accepted I had a mental illness, that I needed help and medication was a route that was a good fit for me. I have made progress that led me to medication trial and that is the progress I will never lose. I can never truly be back at square one again and that gives me hope.

Getty image by Anna Semenchenko

Originally published: March 26, 2021
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