Taking medication for my health can feel like I’m forever in a losing battle, even though it’s worth it.
I’ve been taking medication for my mental health ever since I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 5 years ago, at the age of 20.
It was an easy decision for me. I’d been struggling with symptoms of both mania and depression over the previous year, and in that time I felt like I’d completely lost myself.
I wasn’t the same person compared to who I’d been before the symptoms started.
Before the bipolar disorder symptoms surfaced, I was a very calm, happy person. This wasn’t to say I’d never enter a debate or an argument — but I’d let things go, listen to another person’s point of view, and move on from it with no ill consequences.
But I’d become more confrontational. More argumentative. I was in a relationship at the time and it was becoming strained. I was very irritable and took everything to heart. Everything would be taken out of context and picked apart by my brain.
It felt like everyone was out to get me. Sometimes I’d end up locking myself in the bathroom, screaming into a pillow and sobbing until there were physically no tears left to cry.
Hypomania was more positive, but still as inconvenient.
I would become impulsive. I’d have feelings of grandeur and feel like I was invincible. I was writing thousands and thousands of words and believing I was going to be a best-selling author. Like I was going to change the world.
I was running on next to no sleep. And the sleep I did get was broken — waking up with racing thoughts and ideas I just had to write down in the notebook I kept on my bedside table before I forgot them.
The issue with mania is that there was always a crash. So no matter how invincible, unstoppable, or on top of the world you feel, everything comes tumbling down around you sooner or later, and it’s horrendous.
After speaking to a doctor about how I was feeling, and what was happening in my life, he agreed to refer me to a psychiatrist. It was a quick referral. I was seen within 4 days of the appointment.
After a few weeks speaking with the psychiatrist, talking about every detail of my experiences, he was sure I had bipolar disorder.
He suggested starting medication, explaining that mood stabilizers and antipsychotics can be very beneficial for people with mood disorders.
I asked him for more information about the various meds and I came to choose the one I thought would work best for me.
I had no doubt that trying the medication was an absolute must. If it didn’t work, it was back to the drawing board, but if it did… I might just get my life back.
Unfortunately, the first medication wasn’t for me. And I actually went back and forth trialing different medications, some of which gave me unpleasant side effects. But eventually, over the course of around a year, I found ‘the one.’
I am a different person since starting the right medication.
I’m back to my calm self. I am rational. I’m not irritable. I am not so impulsive. I’m no longer sobbing in the bathroom. Life is much better now.
But… it’s not perfect.
While I thank my medication for helping me rediscover my old self, I admit to being in a love-hate relationship with it.
If I run out of medication or miss a dose, I feel absolutely awful. My body is so dependent on it that when I go without, even for a day, I suffer with fatigue, headaches, irritability, and feeling extremely emotional.
Luckily this doesn’t happen often — but it does happen.
Ever since I started taking the meds, I have started excessively sweating whenever I get too hot. Before, a little bit of sweat was normal for me — but now, summers are my worst enemy. I’m always dripping buckets, dabbing my face with tissue. It’s not the end of the world, but it is uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing.
I also experience less-frequent side effects, like headaches, occasional insomnia, nausea, and feeling drowsy in the morning if I’ve taken my medication too late the night before.
But the one side effect that has been hardest to deal with is the weight gain since the first time I popped the life-saving pill. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, this has been the most challenging thing to deal with.
Sometimes all of these things make me feel like I’m in a losing battle. But more often than not, the medication wins.
Because, well… I’m happy.
I don’t want to romanticize medication. Because it, for most of us, isn’t a cure. I see mental illness as being a long-term, chronic condition, and it’s one where you’re in a constant state of recovery.
My symptoms haven’t completely gone. I still experience occasional mania and depression, but nothing like it was before.
For me, remembering to take a few little pills in the morning and evening, despite the side effects, is worth it.
But at the end of the day, everyone deals with their mental health differently and everyone’s opinions on medication are valid. For some, like me, it works — but for others, it doesn’t.
As long as you find a non-dangerous way of getting some help, support, and treatment that works for you, that’s all that’s important.
My advice? If you do go down the medication route, or you’re currently taking them, ask all the questions.
Make sure you know what you’re getting into before starting. It’s very helpful to ask your doctor for a list of any potential side effects of any medication you consider, so that you’re aware and not going into things with certain expectations.
What’s vital is to not stop any medication without consulting your doctor first. This can be unpleasant at best, and dangerous at worst.
Ultimately, remember that you are in control here — which means that if something isn’t working for you, speak up. Tell them how you feel, because nothing will change without you doing so.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.