Sunday, August 21, 2011

Take Your Illness Seriously

I went to my psychiatrist this week. He asked me how I have been doing and I said "awful." He looked me straight in the eye and said "When are you going to start taking your illness seriously?"

Well, I thought I had been taking it seriously. I see my doctor regularly, try to keep the correct diet, exercise, and sleep schedule. I keep trying to take care of my bipolar without medicine, and that is why he asked me when I will take my illness seriously. There are people who can take care of their mental illness through exercise and nutrition, apparently I am just not one of them. When I can do all of the lifestyle adjustments perfectly, I remain pretty stable, but not if life gets too stressful, or I forget an element of the program for a few days, or I am out late for a meeting and don't get to bed on time. Basically, he was asking when I would accept the fact that my illness is too severe to be able to control without medication.

My doctor knows I need to be on medication, and also knows it needs to be my decision. However, I don't want to take it. There are not many I can take because I am so sensitive to medication. I can't take anything for the ADD because all of those pills made the bipolar worse. When I take very low doses of the few things that do help, my creativity lessens greatly, which makes my job harder, as writing is quite essential to preaching.

I do take my illness seriously, but I don't know that I am ready to accept I can't do this on my own. Part of it is because I am scared of medications and the side effects I encounter on them. The other part is the societal belief that people with mental illness can choose to get better. Much of society believes if we just worked harder, stopped being so sensitive, and tried harder, we would be fine. While intellectually, I know that is not true, emotionally, I feel like a weak failure because I can't take care of this myself. I try to combat this negative thinking, but it is still in the back of my mind that if I were a better, stronger, smarter person, I would not be sick.

I think I can take my illness seriously, but this will take some getting used to because this is the first time I have felt despair that I may not ever get better. On medication, I have never been stable, just about 20% better. Off medication, there were only a few times I have been 70% percent better, but only for a month or two, then I am a wreck. I feel like now, with the understanding that my illness is bad and I have to take medication, that I have to decide either to be a emotionless and uncreative medicated blob, or a raving lunatic. I am not sure I like either of those choices, but all we can do is deal with what we have.

So, we are changing my medication for what feels like the thousandth time, and I am afraid of it. I am afraid of the side effects and afraid of loosing the parts of myself that I do like, such as my creativity. I guess I just have to decide that I am serious about managing this even though I might loose something in the process.


  1. It sounds like you have a very good psychiatrist. He was willing to treat you without using medication, so he will probably not overmedicate you.

    It is hard to deal with side effects of medication, but I have found that I would rather deal with side effects than a life that is in complete disarray.

    I have much better relationships with everyone since beginning medication. People used to tell me they were amazed and intimidated by my productivity, creativity, and intensity. Now they mostly tell me that I am very kind and stable and they can't believe I have bipolar disorder.

    My worst side effect has been weight gain, and I am working very hard on reversing that. I believe that my medication has changed my metabolism and it is hard to face the fact that I will need to be on a diet for the rest of my life if I want to control my weight while on medication.Exercise and healthy eating really help combat the sedation caused by the medication.

    I am still creative, just not wildly creative anymore. Now I am more steadily productive whereas my productivity used to come at random times. I used to become obsessed with whatever I was doing for days or weeks, and then the productivity would stop until the next creative burst.

    I used to be a teacher and the medication interfered with my energy level to the extent that I decided to change to another career where I wouldn't be expected to be energetic and engaging all day every day.

    Although I am on disability now, I am working to support myself without government assistance. My shock therapy and past medication (different from what I am now taking) contributed to my disability, but I believe that the effects are reversible.

    I hope that once I get through this period of my life and get a full time job, I will be able to manage my bipolar disorder through exercise, diet, organization, planning, and medication, and I hope that I will be able to live well. All we can do is use all available resources and try to do our best.

  2. I understand and applaud you for not wanting to take medications. Because I too have had this problem, multiple medications that made me worse and then on top of that having really bad side-affects which have made me stop suddenly and then that makes things worse itself.

    I've been on many and have finally found one that works for me, and surprisingly isn't even a mood stabiliser, its just a low dose anti-depressant, AND also I take vitamin D capsules everyday and I find that helps me... Maybe try Vitamin D for a short time? this also worked for a friend of mine who was having problems on and off meds. Or perhaps seek a natural/hollistic approach.

    Its really hard to find the right meds, and everyones different so theres no real textbook to go off.

    Don't be too hard on yourself! Your doing everything you can, and its great that you are being so open and honest.

    Just do whats best for you, no one else! and if you feel a medication isn't right for you, say so and do what you feel is right.

    All the best to you! xoxo

  3. Hey Katie, Would you feel the same way about medication if you had diabetes that needed medication? Isn't that just another way of attaching a stigma to mental illness over physical illness? I understand that you don't want to inhibit your creativity, but surely something can balance your needs out there. And I certainly recognize the challenge of managing bipolar and ADD. That is going to be tough but it doesn't have to be impossible. Hang in there.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    @Anonymous, I loose almost all creativity and feelings on meds, I am hoping we can find a better combination that is more stabilizing as you describe rather than deadening. Sounds like you have found a system that works and it is great to hear inspiring stories like yours.

    @Annmaree, thanks for the encouragement. My doctor also gave me the list of vitamins to take, such as Vit. D and Omega3's. I am grateful that he knows about holistic approaches and medications, he is defiantly not an over-prescriber, which is what I was looking for.

    @RevChris, I agree, this is not different than any other illness. I am trying to stop the negative training and stigma I have received from society, that mental illness is not real, but I notice it is a hard teaching to break free from personally. There is so much guilt that people drill into your brain that even when you know they are wrong, you find yourself reverting back to that thinking. The only reason I don't want medication is because the side effects are so bad for me. Here's hoping we find a decent treatment for me.

  5. Rev. Katie, I am wondering if you actually lose all your creativity, or if it just feels like that, because the mania is under better control when you take medication? My first husband has bipolar disorder and resisted meds for years, but found that after a time, he was still creative and life still held joy - but it took time to adjust to a non-manic kind of existence. I still find him to be funny, creative, and productive - and much easier to communicate with.

    if you get to a place where you are ready to try medications, it might be helpful to have a few people who can give you regular feedback on how you are presenting to the outside world - not just rely on your own inner sense of reality. We are ALL perceived differently by the outside world, as you know from ministry - this constant evaluation and feedback loop is vital for all of us - not just those of us struggling with mental illness.

    I do hope that you can get to the point of seeing it as an organic illness - just as chris says, like diabetes, or cancer. It is time that society stops shaming those of us who struggle with mental illness and that mental health parity become the norm in insurance and treatme3nt - both medically and societally.

    I will be thinking of you and following your journey.

    With deep respect for your honesty and insight,


  6. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for your comment. When I loose my creativity, I can't write or scrapbook, cant understand what I read, and I have no emotion. Can't feel sad, angry, happy, can't even cry. This pschchologist, thankfully, is starting all my meds at an extremely low dose to see if I can get more of a middle ground. Past doctors just gave me full strength and that was far too much for me.

    I also like your suggestion of getting feedback from others, that is so important.

    Glad to hear your husband has found medication that helps him.

    Thanks for reading and great comments!


    Rev. Katie