Whether or not to take medications for treating bipolar seems to be one of the most controversial issues among, both people with the illness and those surrounding it. I know some people who say medication is essential to treatment of bipolar, some say therapy is the way forward and others say that you should adopt a combinatorial approach.
Personally, I think that using all the methods available is the best method for dealing with bipolar. If you are not sure which work, why not try all of them? However, each person is an individual who may have different experiences. In what follows I talk about why some people may not want to take medications and also about my personal experience with medications.
Some people may have found medications completely ineffective in controlling their moods. They notice no difference upon taking their medications and they still keep on having relapses. Another reason people don’t want to keep taking their medications is due to some of the side effects. Some of these include weight gain, hypersomnia, a feeling of being ‘zombified’, loss of memory and concentration and a feeling of numbness. All horrible to deal with. I think that people also don’t take their medications for another important reason: they feel like their illness is an important part of them and so doesn’t need medicating. Bipolar has become part of their identity and so to ‘fix’ it would be to change who they are.
I have, to some degree, experienced all of these issues and yet still take my medications. I have often wondered if the medications are doing anything as I still have lots of episodes. I have experienced all of the side effects and am certainly not of the view that medications are easy to take. Occasionally I also feel that bipolar is part of who I am and am unsure about medicating that aspect of me. I completely understand why people would want to stop taking their medication.
So here are my reasons why I still take my medications.
Firstly, even though I still have episodes, I realise that I may have had more episodes and with greater severity if I was not on the medications. The medications have undergone controlled clinical trials and have been found to reduce the severity and number of episodes on average. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they always work or will work on you, but the odds become more in your favour.
Secondly, although the side effects are horrible (especially the feeling of being sluggish and the weight gain agggh!) I feel like the bipolar is so horrific that I can deal with them. Some of the medications like olanzapine and diazepam have been fairly good at controlling me when manic (and when I am manic or mixed I am dangerous to myself and so this is really, really important). However, some medications that I have been on the side effects have not been worth it. Like when I took valproate and half my hair fell out.
Finally, I have learnt that although bipolar forms part of who I am it does not define me. I did not have bipolar as a child, it only developed in my teens, and so I know that it is not just my personality. I am also not ill (or at least not really ill) for a lot of the time. It is an episodic illness and so it alone does not tell me or anyone else who I fundamentally am. For this reason I don’t mind taking medication to try and get rid of my bipolar. Bipolar may have been an important part of my life and the reason I am where I am now, but it doesn’t have to affect me forever more.
I think that it is great for people to try out medications to see if they work and you should certainly give them a good go. It may take a while for you to find the right combination of medications so you have to be patient. However, I understand that medications may not suit everyone. Some people may find a lot of benefit from some form of therapy and want to try to cope without medications. As I have said before, whatever is good for you, it is a personal decision and one that you need to be comfortable with. Just make sure you don't stop taking medication or change your medication without talking properly to your doctor first. And listen to their advice closely before making any rash decisions.