Being mediated is one thing however, being stable on medication is a whole other animal. The first time I took medication for mental illness, I was around 12 or 13. I had spent years diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and at around the time I reached puberty it has blossomed into depression. I was a ball of emotions; and it manifested in the form of anxiety. I was anxious about everything; especially social situations. I was uncomfortable in my friendships and overly sensitive to the actions of those around me. I felt as if no one liked me; and didn’t trust those who even told me that they did. I had no sense of self-worth, and struggled to feel proud of my accomplishments.
In Middle School, I distinctly remember the crippling anxiety of not knowing where to sit at lunch or on the bus. I was scared of meeting new people. When I heard a rumour that a boy had a crush on me, I chose to believe that the girl who told me must have been playing a prank on me instead of being honest. I had my Bat Mitzah at age 13, and remember taking each person that RSVPed “no” as a direct personal insult. I cried daily.
Hearing all this, my doctor put me on Zoloft, a SSRI.
It didn’t work. Instead of levelling out, I became angry and mad. I was overly irritable. And more than that; I didn’t want to be medicated. I was embarrassed about having a mental illness that required medication to treat it. I normalized my own suffering by attempting to convince myself that all the doctors were wrong; that I was perfectly okay. The side effects of the medications didn’t help either. I was nauseous, my stomach was upset, and I was sometimes even moodier than my baseline. My sex drive was even impacted; something I was too embarrassed to speak to my doctors about. So I stopped taking the medication.
But living with near constant mood swings isn’t sustainable. I was cycling in and out of moods and destroying relationships with those around me. I was difficult to be around, and started hanging around toxic people. I was always either angry or sad. So time and and time again I would find myself in a psychiatrist’s office searching for answers. Still diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I spent the next four years trying a different medication every few months. Each time a medication failed me, I became more convinced that I was typical; and that it was these medications that were making me atypical.
At age 17, I started seeing a new psychiatrist. He immediately diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. He chose not to label me as type I or type II because despite what the DSM-5 (the handbook that lays out how to diagnose mental health conditions) says, he and many other psychiatrists believe that BPAD is on a spectrum. All of us affected by it fall somewhere on said spectrum.
Like many of us with bipolar disorder, my first attempt at treatment was Lithium. It was a brutal experience. It dwarfed the side effects of the other medications I had been on. So, I spent around five or six months having constant stomach issues and severe mood swings as my body got acclimated to the medication. Though it stabled me out, it didn’t rid of my depression. So we incorporated Lamictal into the mix. No change.
What came next was a succession of Seroquel and Abilify, and other similar drugs. They left me sleeping 17 hours a day. I couldn’t handle it anymore. So once again, I quit. I finished out my senior year of high school without medication.
And then came college. I entered university with the mindset of burying what I thought could be my “bipolar past.” I spent my first semester being a cyclone of emotions. I went out every night. My grades were the worst they had ever been. But compared to most students, they were still relatively high. Those around me didn’t see my behavior as self-destructive, but instead as a reflection of what they perceived to be a “party girl” personality. When some people found out about my diagnosis, I lied and told them that I was stable; that I was on medication, and that I was perfectly fine.
As the end of my freshman year rolled around, I started to see a psychiatrist on campus. She prescribed me a different medication (I can’t remember what it is right now off the top of my head). I fell into a depression, and wrote medication off once more.
Finally, my sophomore year of college hits. I had my first heartbreak. He was someone I had known since high school. We were best friends first, and then it turned into something more. He betrayed me in a way that I had never experienced before. It was the type of betrayal that felt as if I was being ripped open from the inside out. I felt it in my bones; it kept me from going to class. I cried for days. While heartbreaks are hard; my reactions were too severe. I was snowballing; and fast. I decided once again to try for help.
So I drove to Phoenix and met up with the doctor who had originally diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. He told me that he knew that someday I would be back . He asked me if I was finally ready to commit, I told him I was. So we tried something new. Or something old, really. He put me on Depakote- a medication that has been around for decades. Getting on it is tough. Like the other medications, you have to slowly acclimate to it. It requires blood work, and it causes lots of drowsiness and nausea at first.
But for the first time, the medication worked. I felt at peace. Sure, I was still moody sometimes. And I would have periods of anxiety and depression. Sometimes stress would launch me into mania. But I was getting better. We worked for the next couple months to tweak my dose. Eventually, we found the right one.
Getting medicated is a long path, but I am so glad that I finally am. For me, it was a six year journey to figure out what worked for me. I gave up so many times throughout it. The realization that I am now committed to being medicated for the rest of my life sometimes freaks me out. I have to be extra responsible with family planning since Depakote causes severe birth defects. But when all is said and done, it has been so beyond worth it.