Monday, March 24, 2008

Twelve-Car Pile-Up Waiting to Happen

I got my bipolar diagnosis two days after my 38th birthday. I called it my birthday present, and for a while it was okay, because now I had a name for what I had always thought of as The Weirdness.

I started out as a good patient. I found a psychiatrist (let's call him Dr. F.) and started taking the recommended medications: Depakote (a mood stabilizer), Lexapro (an antidepressant), and trazodone (another antidepressant used to help me sleep). I found a therapist and we spent several interesting months trying to determine the difference between IT and ME to my satisfaction. I bought every book I could find and read them all, nodding my head and saying, "Aha, this explains a lot," when I discovered that pretty much every symptom covered in the DSM-IV under "mania" and "depression" applied to what I had always thought of as my high-energy times and my low-energy times, respectively.

Then I started cycling, and the episodes came more frequently than they ever had before. The doses of my medications went up and up, and so did my weight. I became less and less able to think, write, articulate my thoughts, multitask, or have any sort of authentic emotional experience.

I talked to my psychiatrist about my concerns with my weight and with the cognitive dulling I was experiencing. He said, "Depakote doesn't do that." Then I talked to him about reducing the medications, or even stopping them entirely. He said, "If you stop taking your medications, you will ruin your life."

The last straw came when my husband had a heart attack. I dealt with it. I made the 911 call. I arranged for the kids to stay with a neighbor. I went to the hospital. I brought him home three days later with stents in his heart and a boatload of medications. And through all of that, I was unable to cry.

I stopped taking most of my medications a few weeks after that...I still take trazodone for sleep...because I know how important sleep is in maintaining my stability.

I have been off the other meds for nearly three years now. I've also, to my amazement, been episode-free for those three years. Some of the lifestyle changes I made when I stopped taking the medications must be helping, although my new psychiatrist refuses to believe that. He thinks I'm a twelve-car pile-up waiting to happen. But he's still willing to work with me in all my unmedicated glory.

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