mental wellness

The Magic Potion

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Sometimes I say the medication is even tougher than the illness. -Sanya Richards-Ross*

When I say that Bipolar Disorder stole years of my life I wasn’t exaggerating. This thing just takes and takes and takes. It has nothing good to give. Holding a job, having a relationship, everyday things like laundry, cleaning, cooking… they get difficult. Although some more severe than others, we pretty much all go through a period of being lost, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and the trial and error of finding our “cocktail”. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a cocktail that works. I don’t know how long it will work, but I’ve been taking it consistently for six and a half  years and I’m still going strong. Some people go the entirety of their lives and never find that right combination. It just goes to show the complexity of this illness.

I have Bipolar Disorder 2. Without my medication I am a pendulum swinging back and forth between depression and hypomania. The depression is more severe than you can imagine if you’ve never experienced it firsthand. It is sadness to the 100th degree, hopelessness, worthlessness, self-loathing, darkness… it almost hurts to breathe. You’re barely existing and the pit of your stomach feels like it’s been sucked out. Hypomania is the opposite end of the spectrum. When I’m hypomanic I am extremely restless, unnaturally excited, extra ambitious, and abnormally happy. I can just go and go. When it gets really eventful is when I am in a mixed state. This is when symptoms of depression and hypomania exist concurrently. In this state I experience triggers (literally anything) that send me spiraling into what I call my Hulk Syndrome. It’s a snowball that I can feel getting bigger. It is anger that is rolling down a hill at full speed and there is nothing I can do to stop it, and when it crashes chaos ensues. I might as well also turn green.

I began seeing psychiatrists when I was about 18 or 19 who treated me for all sorts of things. I don’t even remember all of the medications I tried. All I remember is that they didn’t work. I was being treated for Unipolar Depression, during which I flipped into a mixed state. Antidepressants can do that to Bipolars. When I was 22 years old I received the correct diagnosis. This is when things started falling into place for me. The severe ups and downs didn’t magically go away. For a long time I was on and off of different meds, and even when I found the right ones and was taking them the way I was supposed to I still didn’t always feel well. As it happens, I cannot take generic versions of some of my medications. They simply do not work. “Brand Name Medically Necessary” is written across the bottom of those prescriptions. The pharmaceutical industry is making a killing on this crap. Bipolar Disorder thinks money grows on trees. I am very blessed to have a great job with great benefits, but not everyone can say the same thing.

I am part of a support group on Facebook and a member of the group recently started a thread where everyone names their cocktail. It was actually kind of fun and interesting. What I learned from that Facebook thread is that no two people have the same combination of medication and our cocktails are often times just sufficient at most.

I haven’t had a severe mood cycle in a very long time. I have had some isolated episodes, but nothing consistent nor anything as dramatic as when I am off my medication. These medications are not a magic potion. They aren’t supposed to make me happy all the time. They are supposed to keep me as level as the average person – normal ups and downs and normal reactions to sadness and happiness. A lot of us medicated Bipolars report feeling a somewhat flat affect. While our moods aren’t extreme, they are less pronounced. We feel happiness and sadness but to a diminished degree. It’s not exactly what we’re going for. We still want to feel something. Unfortunately this can make people decide not to take their medications. No one wants to feel emotionless. Besides, hypomania feels pretty good, right? At least for a while… until it turns on you.

I’ve been medicated for so long that I never really noticed that I deal with this same thing until recently. All I know is that it is better than the alternative so I continue to take my medication. While that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes want to throw them in the trash I know that I literally cannot function without them, therapy and my support groups. My alarms go off every single day at 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM reminding me to take my dosages.

I don’t have the answer. God knows I wish I did, but even the most experienced professionals don’t have the freaking answer. The only answer I have is for myself. I’ve weighed out my pros and cons of taking medication.

Flat affect
Decreased libido
General stigma
They’re expensive
Loss of short-term memory capacity (for some)
Tardive Dyskenisia – involuntary muscle movements or twitching that may or may not go away after stopping medication (Essentially, my feet are a little twitchy).

I feel level-headed and focused
I do not emote in extremes
I sleep slightly better
I do not experience rage
Left untreated, mental illness can be detrimental to the brain
and the main one – I FEEL FUNCTIONAL. 

So, I’ve decided that twitchy feet and having to make lists for everything is better than not feeling like myself. I don’t think much of myself when I’m suffering symptoms. In fact I hate everything about myself. It is one of least desirable ways to feel that I can fathom. Even if I still have bad days, anymore most of them are pretty good. While I don’t always know what to say in tough situations, am horrible at small-talk, sometimes panic when I should remain calm, get worked up a little easily and talk too loud when I’m excited, I know those things are just who I am as a person. That isn’t the Bipolar Disorder talking. That’s simply Sarah talking…

…and I like what she has to say.



*Photo by on

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