What one woman with bipolar disorder wants you to know about taking medication.
This story was originally published on The Mighty.
I have Bipolar 1, the most severe form of bipolar. I was diagnosed almost 10 years ago. It took me about three years to get on the right meds.
Throughout those three years, I cycled through episodes of mania and depression. It resulted in three hospitalizations. Once I was on the right medication cocktail, I stabilized — at least, I became as stable as anyone with a severe mental illness can be. Despite the five medications I take for my mood disorder and anxiety, I still deal with symptoms.
I am a high-functioning person living with mental illness, but this doesn’t mean I’m totally asymptomatic.
One of the things I struggle with most is impulse control. I have horrible impulse control. When I want it, I want it now. I have such knee-jerk reactions, and I make decisions without thinking them through. I get so stuck on an idea that I just can’t put it to rest until I do something about it.
A lot of people I’ve talked to with bipolar seem to experience the same thing, even if they are on a good medication regimen.
I stick to my routine. I take my meds every day. I get enough sleep. But still, my mood disorder is there, underneath the meds, the routine, and the sleep.
It took me a long time to realize that even though my bipolar is well-managed, it still affects me. I seemed to think for a while I was doing so well that I was “cured.” I know there is no cure for bipolar. It is a lifelong disorder, with episodes coming over the years. I am extremely fortunate to be as stable as I’ve been for the last six years. Many people with bipolar don’t get that lucky.
Most people with mental illness struggle for years, trying to get the right diagnosis or trying to get access to appropriate mental health care. They try medication after medication, and it doesn’t work or the side effects are so bad we can’t tolerate it.
One of the biggest problems with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder is they fall into the same trap I did: When they get on the right medication, they feel cured.
They think it’s over; everything is better, so I can stop taking my medication. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I applaud people who have learned to deal with mental illness in natural, holistic ways. However, for me, and for most other people with severe mental illness, we need medication. We need to keep taking our medication. I have accepted I will be on medication for the rest of my life for my mood disorder. Do I like it? No. Yet, I don’t like my heart medication, and I still take that.
There is such a stigma around taking medication for a mental illness.
Recently, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles' medical records were hacked, revealing that she is taking ADHD medication. She has come out and been vocal about the issue, and she has brought attention to the fact there is no shame in taking medication for mental illness. It is the same as any other illness.
So why is it different when we need to take psychotropic medication? Why is that shameful? The short answer is: It’s not. It’s not shameful.
It’s not for everyone, but for people who need medication for a mental illness and choose pharmaceuticals as a treatment option, there is no shame. The shame comes from the stigma. The shame comes from ignorance, from people who don’t understand.
I stand loud and proud that I take medication for my mood disorder, and I have never gone off it. It allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Without it, I truly believe I would have died due to suicidal thoughts, which I was close to before getting on the right medication.
Mental illness is more prevalent than you think, and someone you know most likely lives with a mental illness.
Let’s take the stigma out of mental illness and medication. Let’s continue the conversation around mental illness. Let’s get people the help they deserve. Whether it’s a veteran struggling with PTSD or an Olympic gold medalist with ADHD, we all deserve to live the best life possible, and sometimes that requires medication.
If medication makes our quality of life better, then that should be the most important thing. If it means we can hold a job, have quality relationships, and function in society, then that’s what it takes. There’s no shame in that. It’s not a crutch. It’s a disease. We are not less because we take medication.
We are people. We are humans. We happen to have a disease. We are resilient. It means we haven’t given up. So don’t give up on us.
Author’s note: I wanted to acknowledge that bipolar II or any of the bipolar spectrum disorders can be just as destructive, debilitating, and devastating as bipolar I. I was speaking more in a clinical sense, where on the spectrum of bipolar disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, bipolar 1 is at the top as the most severe on the spectrum, then bipolar 2, cyclothymic, NOS.