Disclaimer: In sharing which medications I have taken, I am sharing my personal experience. Everyone’s body chemistry will work differently with different medications and what works great for me might not for you and, what works for you may not work for me. Please don’t take what I say as advice on what to take, or not to take.
Something crucial to know about medication. When you start feeling better, keep taking it. I could stop here and have made my most important point, but I’ll elaborate. When we are on medication and we are feeling better, it is because of the medication, NOT in spite of it. It’s very common for newly diagnosed bipolar people to want to stop taking their medication because they’re feeling better, I know I felt that way. Resist this urge and keep taking it. You have to face it, you will be taking medication for life. It may or may not be the same medication or the same dosage, but you will have to take something. There is no cure for bipolar disorder.
Getting stable was definitely a process that took a while for me, and it can take literally years to find the right medication(s) that will work for you. A tip about medications; being on the wrong medications or too many medications at one time can be difficult and troublesome. Often times you’ll find you’re taking one medication to combat another, instead of tackling the actual bipolar disorder itself. From my own experience, I suggest starting, stopping or changing medications one at a time. If you start two medications at once, for example, and you start to have a side effect you won’t know which medication induced the side effect and therefore you won’t know which to tweak or stop altogether. In this case you don’t want to have to take a third medication to address the side effect whereas you could have just adjusted the offending medication instead. (Please note, pregnancy is a separate issue when it comes to adjusting or removing medication).
The absolute worst side effect I’ve ever had was when I was taking Lithium. It was a time in my life when I was trying lose weight (when am I NOT in that time of life?) and ate frozen meals for lunch on a regular basis. Apparently, frozen dinners have a huge level of sodium in them and that doesn’t work well with Lithium. I had a nasty “side effect.” I was in the car with my mom one evening who was driving us down a busy street. We were laughing about something when I noticed something like gooey spider webs on my hands. It seemed very sticky and I couldn’t get it off. Then the dash board started moving. My mom was talking but I couldn’t make sense of anything. I was hallucinating. She quickly realized something was not right and rushed me home where she called my psychiatrist. I saw “little people” in the carpet and an old lady with a small boy. At twenty years old I slept in my parents bed with my bible tucked under my arm (ha!). It was a bizarre and extremely terrifying experienced (for all of us!) and I pray I never repeat it!
The second worst medication-related side effect I’ve had was when I took Topamax. I was a zombie. I was lifeless and dull. I sat with my jaw open and stared blindly all the time. There might have even been drool happening. It was totally depressing and disheartening for my family. I was working at a Title company at the time and just couldn’t put my finger on why I was struggling to do menial tasks. I was fired from that job (I’m sure I deserved it) and immediately asked to be taken off of Topamax. I was taken off of it, and I “came back” to myself. Phew!
I’ve read articles before from various authors saying bipolar people won’t necessarily be on medication for the rest of their life. Personally, I found it easier to be REALISTIC (oh the realist that I am—ask Mr SQ and he insists I’m a pessimist. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to) and come to terms with being on meds for the rest of my life. I don’t foresee getting off of them. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And, on the other hand, if I’m struggling I’m certainly not going to just stop taking medications. I like to think that I’ll charge on and keep trying–as hard as that is. As is everything I write, this is merely my opinion, from my own personal perspective, but I felt it’s something to be addressed. I suppose things are different for everyone but personally, I was setting myself up for disappointment by wondering if around every corner there’s some alternate reality where I can stop taking medication. I’d rather plan to take them forever and go from there.
Hang in there, friends,