If you have bipolar disorder, changing medications can result in many challenges. Here are some tips to take on those trials.
I’ve been on the same medication cocktail for over seven years. I think. It’s been so long, I can’t remember. You see, when that particular set of meds was put together, it was because I had finally landed on a mix of drugs that “worked” to treat my bipolar II, PTSD, and anxiety after five years of trial and error.
Or maybe it didn’t work that well. Yes, I felt better than I had. All the way better, no. But because during the course of those seven years I changed medical providers quite often based on insurance status (from MDs, to nurse practitioners, to community psychiatrists), and because I found some of those care providers to be less than trustworthy, and sometimes downright abusive (like making up clinical notes, or demanding I take medication I don’t believe in), I refused to change any medications. Further, I also entered intensive psychotherapy for a number of years, which I found to be enormously helpful in managing my moods.
And what’s “all the way better”, anyway, when you have these disorders? What do I know about that? So, for the last number of years, despite my med cocktail, I continued to have my rapid-cycles nonetheless. About four a year. Plus the anxiety, and the elements of PTSD.
I’m now seeing a new, for-real psychiatrist, and he’s got me undergoing a major medication change. The whole kit-and-kaboodle, nary a former medication among my new handful of pills. The switch is taking about three months to wean off the old, and titrate up the new. Good times it is not. No, it hasn’t been fun at all. So, you might ask, after all this time, why did I decide to go ahead and make the change, now?
· I am getting really tired of the rapid-cycling. It was getting worse, more frequent, and a bit more intense. I was spending more time depressed, and the hypomanias were getting sharper, edgier, more dangerous. I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital so far. This seemed like a gift I could no longer guarantee myself
· My sleep quality, while at first better, and despite good habits, was diminished, and I needed more help
· My anxiety was beginning to look more like obsessions in some instances. House-cleaning. Organizing. Worrying constantly about certain things
· My hyper-vigilance and fears sometimes consumed me, and I lashed out or withdrew
Of course, when I first met with my pdoc, I had to decide whether or not to trust him. This was hard for me. I chose a pdoc specializing in bipolar II and anxiety disorders. A blessing! And I made clear, in no uncertain terms, that for me, this is no game. Patience is not my strong suit—with doctors, with meds, with bulls**t. There must be a strong plan, with a clear timeline. I must know the pros and cons of the entire thing. I have to be fully informed, period. Caution will not be thrown to the wind, and to add another cliché, I don’t go into this willy-nilly.
And then I researched. And researched. And then looked into things more.
Because here are the things that are important for us to remember: · While we have mental illness, we are also smart and capable · We have the ability to make our own medication decisions most of the time · We must insist that we are partners with our providers when it comes to putting together our med cocktails (and treatment plans) · And therefore, we must also develop mutual trust with our providers, regardless of the type of provider. If you do not trust a provider, change providers (yes you can)! · We can research, research, research
I decided to make the changes based on mutual agreement with my doc. Like I said, I’m not having the time of my life yet. And with bipolar, it will always be a challenge. But because I am willing to continue to seek the best treatment for me via a myriad of actions that includes medication, I am looking to go after a better life even still.
Beth Brownsberger Mader was diagnosed in 2004, at age 38, with bipolar II disorder and C-PTSD, after living with symptoms and misdiagnoses for over 30 years. In 2007, she suffered a traumatic brain injury, compounding bipolar recovery challenges that she continues to work on today. Since these diagnoses, Beth has written extensively about bipolar, its connection to PTSD, physical illness, disability, and ways to develop coping skills and maintain hope. She also writes about bipolar/brain disorders and family, marriage, relationships, loss, and grief. Beth finds the outdoors to be her connection to her deepest healing skills, where the metaphors for life, love, compassion, and empathy are revealed, and how her bipolar and other challenges are faced head-on with perseverance and determination. Beth served as a contributing editor/featured columnist for bp Magazine from 2007 until 2016, and as a bphope blogger from 2011 until 2016. She returned to blogging for bphope in 2019. Beth continues to work on her unpublished memoir, Savender. She holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA from the University of Denver. Beth lives in Colorado with her husband, Blake, and her service dog, Butter. Check out Beth’s blog at bessiebandaidrinkiewater.
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