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  • Writer's pictureKristina Atkins

Back in the Medication Saddle Again

Well, I should think the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. For the first time since 2010, I’m back on meds. (Except for a 4-month stint in 2011 to get me through a tough semester of grad school, then 9 months in 2013 between weaning Turbo to bottles and trying to get pregnant again. I was only on one med those times, so I barely count it.) I’ve been managing my illness without the use of prescription medicine for 9 years, and I’m finally done.

When I first started managing without meds, it was going to be a temporary solution. I was trying to get pregnant, after all, and I figured I’d go back to prescriptions between babies 2 and 3. But after a while, I grew to appreciate what I was doing and thought I’d make it permanent. Prescriptions, naturally, can come with all kinds of side effects. I’ve experienced weight gain, dry mouth, irritability and rage, and the worst–complete numbness. That last one was thanks to lithium, which worked well but killed my creativity and made me feel dead inside. I could never go back to that. I won’t. I refuse.

But it’s been 9 years, and y’all, I’m tired. Managing bipolar disorder without medication requires so. much. work. I’m strict with my sleep schedule, I make sure I exercise, I watch what I eat, I go to therapy, I watch my emotional state like a hawk. I did all that, and I was still in a depressive episode for 6 years. But it was worth it to me, because at least I was feeling something. At least I still had my creativity and could still write (which I’ve come to see is a big part of my mental self care).

I’m so glad I did this little experiment. I’ve learned incredible self control. People think I’m anal when it comes to my sleep, but I have to be. Everyone says they’re crazy when they don’t get sleep, but I literally lose my mind. Just ask Kurt. It gets ugly. And exercise is like meditation. It shuts my brain off, and if I don’t get it at least twice a week, I spiral.

But, I was so very tired. Tired of the depression. Tired of the constant urges to self-harm. Tired of the constant passive suicidal ideation. And it’s been 9 years, my therapist reminded me. Medications have come a long way. So I decided to go back.

It hasn’t been a walk in the park, y’all. Bipolar disorder is a beast to manage even with meds. You can’t go on regular anti-depressants because there’s the risk of activating mania/hypomania. You have to manage overall mood stability, manage depression, manage psychosis, manage anxiety. It creates a cocktail of pills that might interact in all kinds of unexpected ways. And of course, there’s so much trial and error. You go on one med, and it launches you straight into bipolar rage. You try another, and you gain 25 pounds in 4 months because you constantly crave carbs, and if you’re not eating carbs, you want to cry, and all the while the med also makes it so your body can’t even digest those carbs the right way so that’s why you can’t lose that weight no matter how much you exercise. (That happened to me in 2009. It was awful.) You try one med, and there’s no generic for it and our mental healthcare in this country is crap so it ends up costing hundreds of dollars a month and you can’t possibly afford it so you have to find something else, even though that med was perfect.

But you know what? It’s worth it. Because for the first time in years, I’ve been in a light hypomanic episode. Which sounds like a weird thing to highlight, but it means I’m not depressed. At the psych yesterday, she asked if I’ve had urges to self-harm or suicidal ideation in the last month, and I could honestly say no. And I’m in a weird mixed state at the moment, but just thinking about that makes me want to cry with joy. A whole month without those terrible thoughts clamoring inside my head. We’ve still not worked out all the kinks. And of course, I have to adjust as my moods shift each season. But I feel so much better than I did even a year ago. So that’s worth the dry mouth and eyes. It’s worth the rollercoaster of trying to find the right med combination. It’s worth the doctor visits and pharmacy trips. It’s worth everything. Sanity is always worth it.

For those curious, I’m currently taking lamictal (an anti-convulsant that helps mood stability and depression), klonapin (for anxiety and hypomania), and abilify (for mood stability, anxiety, and depression). I also take vitamin D (depression) and magnesium (sleep). I’m not taking any anti-psychotic medication because that hasn’t been a problem since my 20s, thank goodness.

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