As anyone who truly has bipolar knows, you can choose to take your medication or you can choose to be crazy. There is no in-between. I’ll give you an example. I was seeking advice undercover for myself from a friend who also has bipolar and asked her about taking medication. I was deciding whether I should, having successfully (or unsuccessfully depending on who you ask) kept my bipolar a secret. Also at that point I had not experienced psychosis which eventually scared me into accepting my medication regimen which returned me to myself. I knew she had taken it in the past and was curious what she was on and if there were any side effects. She blithely replied that “Oh, I’ve decided to deal with my symptoms naturally.” Wow, I thought. She must really be centered because I feel like I can’t handle this anymore.
“That’s great! What are you doing?” I genuinely wanted to know.
“Oh, I’m doing yoga and when it gets really bad I go outside and sit in the swing. I love just being in nature.” She was more than nonchalant about this.
“What are your symptoms? You still have them?” I asked, concerned and again, curious.
“Yeah, well they never go away. You know sometimes I can’t stop crying and I get anxiety. Sometimes I’m really wild. It’s like I see things.” Whoa, what?! “And sometimes I can hear them whispering my name.”
“Oh.” I said, thinking good God woman take your pills!
I have no idea what she’s doing now, whether she takes medication or continues to romance her inner demons. Honestly it’s really none of my business. Her bipolar is hers as my bipolar is mine and how she chooses to deal with it is her business. But I will say bipolar is an ugly, lying beast that can lurk in the shadows for years and then emerge as the great and terrible dragon it truly is and rob you of everything you’ve ever loved. For me I would rather do everything I can to prevent that from happening. On the scale of deadliness think cancer times 1000. According to an article by Steven C. Dilsaver, MD in the Psychiatric Times, in clinical samples, about 50% of people with bipolar disorder were found to have attempted suicide. In fact, in the largest epidemiologic study on the topic of suicide to date, someone with bipolar disorder is twice as likely to commit suicide as someone with non bipolar clinical depression. With suicide being the 11th leading cause of death you can see how deadly bipolar truly is.
The reality that bipolar is a complex, often misunderstood illness is a sad truth and one that needs to be addressed on a grand scale. In a previous blog post I mentioned the three major mood states associated with bipolar. However they can in fact co-exist as so called “mixed states” which are the most likely precursors to suicide. A person can spend months in a hypomanic state, appearing to others to be full of energy, the life of the party, perhaps a bit scattered but for the most part not a suicide risk. Then without warning slip into a mixed state wherein they are manic and depressed at the same time, pummeled night and day by wild, angry, depressive thoughts and in some cases a literal voice screaming at them about how worthless they are. Unable to sleep, unable to gather their thoughts together they may commit suicide in a matter of weeks. A matter of days. That’s one reason why it’s so important for people with bipolar to have a strong support system of loved ones who notice those changes in behavior and when the individual stops taking their medication they will intervene.
I am one of those people who has that strong support system. My mother is a psychologist. Well-versed in matters of the mind she has been my savior more than once. My husband is my rock, steady even in the roughest of waters I doubt any other man could handle my swings and brushes with death the way he has done. Hopefully now that I have found the appropriate cocktail of meds that my mind needs those days are behind us however there is no guarantee I won’t need to revisit the psych ward in the future should I destabilize.
So in a nutshell I take 19 medications, however not all of them are prescribed specifically for my bipolar. One is birth control, (this should be obvious as the kind of medications I take are not compatible with a growing baby) one is for my asthma, one is for ADD, one is for the anxiety associated with OCD which I also have. Incidentally many people with bipolar also have co-morbid conditions which is why it’s so important to find the right psychiatrist who is willing to take the time to sort through the muck of your sick mind and work with you to achieve wellness. Too many doctors are blinded by their own egos, believe me I’ve experienced enough of them to know this is a common theme.
I continually say this but I am one of the lucky ones. My doctor is not only brilliant, she is also a loving mother who has her children’s artwork all over the walls of her office. Who will sit on a bean bag when there aren’t enough chairs. Who lets you hug her and hugs you back without reservation. Who understands what you’re suffering, who can empathize with you about missing your children during hospital stays, feeling like a failure as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a human being. Who will actively search for another medication, no not that one, let’s try this one, no, ok how about this one. Who doesn’t give up on you and isn’t critical when something doesn’t work as though your body were the problem and not the drug. Who reads your poetry. Who lets you sing to her when you can’t sing to anyone else. Who can see you on the edge of death even when no one else can and will reach through the void to pull you back to safety. Who is not just a psychiatrist but a true healer who uses her knowledge and her compassion to save lives.
My mother is this way with her patients. She is a psychologist. They are trained to be like this and also this is my mother’s nature. This is so very rare in a psychiatrist. When I think about Dr. Trowbridge and how I had no idea her card was coming down the river I realize that for every moment I thought the darkness would last forever, her ray of light has become a warm glow that is truly guiding me through treacherous waters towards the sun.
Even though I’ll always have my shadow of bipolar lurking behind me I know that trusting in her and my beautiful family is the best way of keeping the beast exactly where it belongs.
Hot tears on cold cheeks
No one to talk to
A burning feeling deep down where lies are kept.
Watching the quick and witty world from behind clouded glass streaked with fingerprints and the echo “I am not like you” a familiar cadence.
One day I’ll run
Past the coffee shop girls with their topknots and baggy sweaters. Past the wealthy white women trimming rose bushes and drinking white wine out of water bottles. Past the teenagers circling the park for weed, meth, cocaine. Like dogs circling a dumpster, their mouths twisted in a sneer of addiction and desire.
One day I’ll escape the racist cops with their cruel abuses of power “Take your shoes off and walk on the ice”
The hateful mother-in-laws blinded by their loneliness and perceived failures.
One day I’ll rise.
Until then I’ll sit behind this dirty glass and dream of better days.