Bipolar medication compliance can be complicated. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to take prescriptions every day—I didn’t want to think of myself as “sick” at all. Boy, have I learned a lot since then!
Accepting My Need for Medication to Manage My Bipolar Symptoms
One of the most challenging aspects of bipolar treatment is medication compliance—finding and sticking to the medication plan prescribed by your doctor. When I was diagnosed with bipolar at age 29, the idea of taking medication on a daily basis really upset me! I was young and physically healthy. I didn’t want to think of myself as “sick” in any way!
My unfortunate experiences with severe mania weren’t enough to convince me that I needed medication. I had only a few experiences with depression at that time. I thought mania was bipolar’s way of “messing with me.” The infrequent depressive episodes of my twenties weren’t severe enough to warrant treatment—at least in my own opinion. Now, I’m all for med compliance—this journey has taught me a lot!
It Can Be Complicated
Part of what can make finding the right medication feel like riding a merry-go-round is that there are many different types of meds, and each comes with different possible benefits and side effects. But that is also a good thing since it gives us more options if something doesn’t quite work with our body chemistry. Mood stabilizers are most commonly used to help get and keep a balance between mania (usually irritable mood with dangerously increased energy levels, a decreased need for sleep, and delusions of grandeur) and depression (a sad, apathetic mood with decreased energy levels, and sometimes an increased tendency to sleep). If these alone aren’t enough, there are also atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants to consider.
With antidepressants, medication management professionals have to walk a tightrope to avoid tripping a client from severe depression into mania. That happened to me several times in the beginning. It was literally like flipping a light switch!
At some points, I would wonder why anyone would take medications, but that’s because bipolar is what’s known as “an invisible illness”—it’s mental, not something you can physically see! In time, my prescriber found the right medication combination for me, and it gave me a fair chance to live a productive life. Yes, some of the side effects, especially the physical ones, can be or become illnesses of their own. That’s why we need primary care physicians to watch out for potentially dangerous side effects of our meds. Bipolar treatment is a team effort!
Different Solutions for Different People
There is no “one size fits all” in treating bipolar. But why should we feel that most medications will work for everyone? Doctors, physicians’ assistants, and nurse practitioners are well-trained medical professionals who are qualified to write prescriptions. They ARE NOT Kreskin, the mentalist! In other words, they have no crystal balls. Each person’s body and internal systems are different from the next. Those who prescribe medication are making a well-educated guess, based on their training and experience and on our specific symptoms.
That’s why good communication with our
prescribers is so essential. If we’re having unpleasant side effects, maybe the
dose should be changed, or a new medication should be prescribed. That’s why it’s
so important to keep in touch with our doctors, be honest about our
experiences, and not suffer in silence. One of the most common reasons people
have for discontinuing their medications is that they didn’t speak up!
Yes, sometimes we might not have the best relationship with our prescribers. There are many ways to overcome these obstacles, and perhaps we might need to find a better fit. If your doctor doesn’t seem to accept your feedback or acts like they don’t like being questioned, it might be a great idea to find an advocate or bring in a friend or family member to speak on your behalf during your appointment. He or she can usually communicate with your prescriber objectively and less emotionally—especially if we’re in the middle of a mood episode!
Finding My “Normal” Mood with Bipolar
Now, I am all for medication compliance! I learned through terrifying, heart-wrenching experience, the results of blowing off the need for meds in treating this illness! At the end of the day, I’m aiming for a normal mood. External factors such as the weather, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), other people’s attitudes, extreme stress, and a host of other variables can elevate me to a manic episode or plummet me into a depressive one. Once I found a medication regimen that worked for me, it made a very positive difference in my life!
Valerie Harvey grew up in San Francisco. She attended parochial school from kindergarten through high school graduation. Ms. Harvey attended the University of Southern California and Berkeley City College. She has always loved writing, since the first grade. Some of her interests are: reading and writing good books; listening to great music; and attending concerts, poetry readings and book signings; and shopping for clothing and makeup, furniture, bedding, accent pieces, decorations and other home accessories. Valerie is a published author with two books to her credit: "Love Lights The Way, a Book of Poetry About Love" and "The Problem With the Black Man Is…" which speaks to dating, marriage and relationships within the African-American community.
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