There is a lot of controversy now a days between whether to take medication when you have a mental illness or whether not to take medication when you have a mental illness. For me personally medication has changed my life for the better and I would never go back. I remember years ago going through high school and college not feeling 100%. I always felt like I couldn’t focus or like my mood was all over the place. I couldn’t regulate my feelings, mentally I was a mess but I grew up in a family that did not believe in therapy or taking medication. It was rough for me…
I was struggling in school to keep my grades up, struggling to have personal friendship relationships, struggling in my at home family life and I felt all alone. Nobody saw me and my struggles; growing up in a strong Hispanic family that was super old school they did not believe in therapy or medicine, they just believed that whatever was going on would pass or that I needed to “get over it.” It wasn’t until years later when I moved out on my own and had a mental breakdown did I actually start going to therapy and taking medicine. I ended up going to a therapist and psychiatrist who did not listen to my needs. I did not know how important this was at the time because this was my first experience with therapy so I was not sure what to expect or how to handle things. I ended up being on medicine that made me extremely drowsy. It made me act out and made my manic episodes even worse. The highs where really high and the lows where really low. I was an even bigger mess then before I started. I ended up trying a serious of medications all made me sick, drowsy, gave me a headache or just did not help at all.
Fast forward 5 years down the line, after a string of therapist, different medications and poor life choices, I started to lose hope until I found one psychiatrist that seemed to understand my needs a little better. The only problem was she understood my needs so much that she just kept throwing all these medications and pills at me. I started taking Abilify, which at first I thought was helping me but it caused me to exhibit super additive personality traits. I started gambling uncontrollability, sleeping around sexually, I started falling asleep uncontrollably. Then because I was falling asleep as a side effect to the medicine, she diagnosed me with a form of Narcolepsy, which ended up having me on two other medications just to stay awake. I still could not focus and the medication was only working half of the time. She increased me to the highest dose on all the medications and added one but it still was not working properly. At this point she changed me to Lithium. The lithium left a horrible taste in my mouth, gave me headaches and constantly put me in a brain fog. Not only that I needed to take blood tests every month to make sure the lithium level in my blood was stable. During this whole process this psychiatrist I was seeing ended up moving to Florida and I got stuck seeing her colleague. Her colleague was horrible he did not listen to anything I said and just kept increasing the Lithium even though I was telling him I was having bad side effects. He ended up getting his license taken away from the board of Psychiatry months later and I found myself back to square one. No therapist, no Psychiatrist and with medications that where not helping me. Again I was ready to just give up and be miserable in life dealing with whatever this mental illness was I had going on since according to the last doctor I was in between diagnoses.
To make matters worse the therapist I had been seeing for two years started to make a lot of racist comments against Hispanic people and African American people when I was in her office. At first I thought maybe it was just a one off type of situation but then she started to make remarks whether under her breath or more in my face every time I was in her office. I ended up having to leave her therapy practice as well as report her for unprofessional conduct. So now I really was alone and not sure which way to go or which way to turn for my mental health. Everything was completely falling apart in front of my eyes.
Fast forward a year. I started struggling at work, my depression was at an all-time high. I was acting out on my addictive personality in all the wrong ways. I had become addicted sexually, to drinking, and to gambling. I was a complete mess and going in a downward spiral. I was losing grip on reality and I was not sure what to do. It was my family doctor who finally stepped in and said you need to start going back to therapy and get on some different and better medication. He gave me some recommendations for psychiatrist and that psychiatrist I saw ended up giving me a recommendation to a therapist who was amazing. I finally felt like I found a psychiatrist who was listening to me. She understood the struggles I had been going through for years and she was ready to help me tackle the issues and not leave me out there on my own to figure things out. She immediately pulled me off the Lithium and put me on another medication to see how it would work for me. She stopped the other mediations and we started from like a clean state she wanted to figure out exactly what was going on with me. She ended up diagnosing me with Bipolar Type 1 disorder, which came with severe depression and anxiety and ADHD/ADD. Once we got the Bipolar disorder under control she moved on the ADHD/ADD and tackled that this was the first time in years I felt like I was actually on the right track. The first time in years that I actually felt some relief mentally. I also started seeing the therapist she recommended to me, Cathy. Cathy has been wonderful. It has been life changing for me to have a therapist to talk to every week, someone I can vent to but also keeps me on track with things. And helps me when I am struggling or having a rough day. I now take Vraylar and Lamictal for my Bipolar Disorder Type 1. I also take Ritalin for my ADHD/ADD and I am telling you I will never go back. These medications have been life changing for me and they have made such a huge difference for me day to day. For the first time ever I am excelling at work. I am focused and doing well, I am doing so well in fact that I have received numerous promotions. I can focus, I can separate and control my emotions and mental thoughts. I do not find myself to constantly be over emotional or out of it. I am thriving in all the right places and finally able to make decisions that benefit me for the better.
My biggest take away that I want y’all to get from reading this is to not give up. Do not be afraid to stand up to a psychiatrist or a therapist and tell them you are not getting what you need. Do not just stay on medications that are not working or helping you. Stand up for yourself and know your body, know your mind; say this is not working for me and do not give up until you find something that does work for you. Having a mental illness means there is something chemically in your brain that is not lining up properly, it does not mean something is wrong with you, it just means that you might need a little help to focus or regulate yourself and there is nothing wrong with that. We need to take away the stigma that you are “crazy” if you go to therapy or there is something “wrong” with you if you take medication or need to see a psychiatrist or a therapist. There is nothing wrong with needing a little help and nothing wrong with knowing you are not okay and reaching out to be a better you. Finding the right medication and right therapy combination is so so so important and I encourage you all to not give up until you find what works for you because there are so many options out there. Don’t just be miserable and keep how you are feeling to yourself. Reach out, get help, there is support out there.
Tips for getting the most out of your medication for Bipolar Disorder
Avoid antidepressants. The treatment for bipolar depression is different than for regular depression. In fact, antidepressants can actually make bipolar disorder worse or trigger a manic episode. Try mood stabilizers first and never take antidepressants without them.
Take advantage of natural mood stabilizers. Your lifestyle can have a huge impact on your symptoms. If you make healthy daily choices, you may be able to reduce the amount of medication you need. Mood stabilizers that don’t require a prescription include keeping a strict sleep schedule, exercising regularly, practicing relaxation techniques, and developing a solid support system.
Add therapy to your treatment plan. Research shows that people who take medication for bipolar disorder tend to recover much faster and control their moods better if they also get therapy. Therapy gives you the tools to cope with life’s difficulties, monitor your progress, and deal with the problems bipolar disorder is causing in your personal and professional life.
Continue taking medication, even after you feel better. The likelihood of having a relapse is very high if you stop taking your bipolar medication. Suddenly stopping medication is especially dangerous. Talk to your doctor before you make any changes, even if you believe you no longer need medication. Your doctor can help you make any adjustments safely.
Finding the Right Bipolar Medication
It can take a while to find the right bipolar medication and dose. Everyone responds to medication differently, so you may have to try several bipolar disorder drugs before you find the one that works for you. Be patient, but don’t settle for a bipolar medication that makes you feel lousy, either.
Once you’ve discovered the right bipolar disorder drug or drug cocktail, it may still take time to determine the optimal dose. In the case of mood stabilizing medications such as lithium, the difference between a beneficial dose and a toxic one is small. Frequent office visits to re-evaluate your medication needs and careful monitoring of symptoms and side effects will help you stay safe
Taking Medication Responsibly
All prescription drugs come with risks, but if you take your bipolar disorder medications responsibly and combine them with therapy and healthy lifestyle choices, you can minimize the risks and maximize your chances of treatment success.
Take your bipolar medication as prescribed. Before you make any changes to your bipolar medication, talk to you doctor. If you don’t like the way the drug makes you feel or if it’s not working, there may be other options you can try. And if you decide that medication is not for you, your doctor can help you taper off the drugs safely.
Keep track of side effects. Using a log, keep a record of any side effects you experience, when they occur, and how bad they are. Bring the log to your doctor, who may have suggestions for minimizing the side effects, decide to switch you to another drug or change your bipolar medication dose.
Be aware of potential drug interactions. You should always check for drug interactions before taking another prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, or herbal supplement. Drug interactions can cause unexpected side effects or make your bipolar disorder medication less effective or even dangerous. Mixing certain foods and beverages with your bipolar medication can also cause problems. As well as being a depressant, alcohol can also interfere with how your medication works. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and read drug labels carefully.
Bipolar Medication alone is not enough
Bipolar medication is most effective when used in combination with other bipolar disorder treatments, including:
Therapy. People who take medication for bipolar disorder tend to recover much faster and control their moods much better if they also get therapy. Therapy gives you the tools to cope with life’s difficulties, monitor your progress, and deal with the problems bipolar disorder is causing in your personal and professional life.
Exercise. Getting regular exercise can reduce bipolar disorder symptoms and help stabilize mood swings. Exercise is also a safe and effective way to release the pent-up energy associated with the manic episodes of bipolar disorder.
Stable sleep schedule. Studies have found that insufficient sleep can precipitate manic episodes in bipolar patients. To keep symptoms and mood episodes to a minimum maintain a stable sleep schedule. It is also important to regulate darkness and light exposure as these throw off sleep-wake cycles and upset the sensitive biological clock in people with bipolar disorder.
Healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids may lessen the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Weight gain is a common side effect of many bipolar medications, so it’s important to adopt healthy eating habits to manage your weight. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs as they can adversely interact with bipolar medications.
Social support network. Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, and having a solid support system in place can make all the difference in your outlook and motivation. Participating in a bipolar disorder support group can give you the opportunity to share your experiences and learn from others. Support from loved ones also makes a huge difference, so reach out to your family and friends. They care about you and want to help.