Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Medicine Dance

There is a song in the musical Next to Normal (about a woman with bipolar and her family) called "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I." It talks about the medical treatment for Diana, the woman with bipolar, and how her husband Dan feels about her illness.

The part about the psychopharmacological treatment for Diana is scary, sad, and yet funny at the same time. For those of us who have done this medicine dance, this song is all too real. You take a cocktail of medications which give you a ton of side effects, and you are declared stable when eventually you feel nothing.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't really want to be on medication and I would rather manage my bipolar with vitamins, diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle adjustments. I am afraid of the side effects of the pills, yet my bipolar can not be managed without them.

I recently talked to a teenager who has been told they should be on medication, but they do not want it either. I don't think people should be forced to take pills, but part of the disease of mental illness is that we don't think we need and/or we don't want medication. We must get good doctors and get multiple opinions if we need to, so we can adequately determine if we truly need to be on med's or not.

Looking back, I wish when I was in high school or younger, I would have had medication. First of all, my illness was not quite as severe, and the anxiety was the biggest problem. Interestingly, anxiety is the one thing which is easy for me to get rid of with medication. To know that I could have prevented years of crippling panic attacks with one pill makes me sad. I wonder how much more successful I could have been at the things I loved liked dancing, singing, and color guard. I lost so much by not being treated for my anxiety.

Let me describe the difference for you. When I am not on medication, I have panic attacks when I preach on Sundays. In order to do this thing that I love, I must adequately prepare, have a plan if my panic attack gets too bad, and do a lot of mental preparation. I preach, all the while telling myself in my mind that everything will be ok. I am scared to death, heart racing, palms sweating, for an hour, and no one knows. Or, I take one pill and am a little nervous, but present in the moment, with wonderful congregants, sharing a sacred hour with them.

It's a big difference, and while medication scares me, if I can find something that works, it can be worth it. The problem is the darn medicine dance. The side effects can be devastating and sometimes it feels like you spend most of your life cutting pills in half, timing when you take them, and trying new ones.

All this is to say that taking medication is a hard decision. I am attempting to come to grips with the reality that I have to take the pills. I still have to take vitamins, exercise, maintain a sleep schedule, meditate, and eat right too. Medicine won't take the place of a healthy lifestyle. As they say in Next to Normal "Is medicine magic, you know that it's not. But it's what we've got."


Rev. Katie

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