I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 20. Ever since, I have heard plenty of generic comments about what to do about it. I’ve been told to go for a walk, to meditate, to practise mindfulness. And while these are all great things for general wellbeing, for a complex mood disorder like bipolar disorder, it just doesn’t work for me. And so, I deal with the condition by taking medication.
I knew I wanted to take medication the moment I was diagnosed because, after extensive research and a look into various studies, as well as recommendations from my psychiatrist, mood stabilisers seemed to be a pretty good way to stabilize the episodes I was experiencing (I know, the clue is in the name).
I had been experiencing both manic and depressive episodes before and during my diagnosis, some to the point that living was unbearable. I spent my entire savings during one manic episode, and covered my legs in tattoos in one go. In my head, I felt on top of the world. Unstoppable. A manic rush of feeling totally free.
But then came the crashes. The dark thoughts and the suicidal ideation. The sobbing until my eyes stung and my cheeks were red raw. The numbness and the guilt and shame of my actions. The devastation of losing myself and the embarrassment that came with it.
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I wanted both a quick fix and something long term to create a plan for managing these periods. I knew medication wasn’t a cure, and I knew that it wouldn’t fix absolutely everything, but I wanted something to ease the anxiousness I felt about mania or depression coming on suddenly. I wanted to cope in a way that made me prepared for anything that came my way.
My psychiatrist agreed to medicate, and over the years I tried various medications until I found one that worked completely. And I’ve taken it ever since.
Taking medication has become a routine now. It’s a part of my life; something that keeps me in a comfortable place. Five pills in the morning, two at night. Every day.
I gave birth to my first baby last April (2020), and during my pregnancy, I continued to stay on my medication. We spoke about the risks and found that the medication I was on at the time was 99.9% risk-free. I knew that it was important for me to stay mentally healthy for the sake of my baby’s health, and I wanted to limit as much stress as possible to take care of my ever growing bump — and so staying on my medication was the best decision for me.
I know that may seem daunting to some, and I know that medication isn’t for everyone. It can be a difficult choice and for some, a last resort. That’s the thing, we often hear people — even mental health professionals — tell you to try everything else before taking medication. And I’m not telling anyone to do anything different. But, why should it be a last resort? Why shouldn’t it be a choice that can be made early on?
There is a lot of shame around medication, especially when used as a last resort — because some feel like they’ve failed everything else. But this isn’t the case. By doing what you need to do get by — to live — you’re doing your best.
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Taking medication absolutely does not make you a failure. It makes you someone who has chosen to help yourself in the best way you can. And that’s amazing.
I enjoy walks. I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading books and listening to calming music. But I also enjoy the fact that I am doing something that helps me feel at least a little calmer, as well as making me feel more in control of my life.
As I mentioned, medication isn’t for everyone and I completely understand that. But it’s something that’s worked for me, and I’m proud of myself for making a choice that was in my best interests. That can be a hard thing to do, so I look back and think that even in my darkest places, I decided to do something that I believed would help.
Not every medication worked. And some made me feel awful: headaches, nausea, fatigue. There were, admittedly, times that I thought I’d made the wrong decision, but I continued to do my research until I suggested something that I thought could work — and it did.
I think that if you’re considering medication for your mental health, you should do your research. Look into studies and the side effects, and prepare yourself for them. Have discussions with your mental health provider and don’t agree with anything you’re not comfortable with.
Ultimately, medication is your choice. Only you know what’s right for you.