Last time I talked about how different bipolar medications can affect the way you feel. Basically, they have a significant chance of causing dulled emotions. This time, we talk about why that matters.
I rely on my creativity and my wit to get by. I’m not being facetious either. If I don’t create and do it deftly, I have a pretty good chance of losing employment and my friends will think I’m a dud. My family has to love me, but that doesn’t mean they have to think I’m alright. I also just want to feel like who I think I am or, more like, who I think I want to be. That’s why I have to carefully consider every drug I take, every hour that I sleep, how I manage my behavior and even how I manage my social life. It’s complicated, but that’s what I get with having bipolar disorder. I didn’t sign up for this, but I have to deal with it just the same.
I’m not the only one who worries about this constantly. We all do. We all want to feel like the best version of ourselves. That’s why we go through the horrible process that is seeking help in the first place. The problem is, there’s a difficult balance between trying to treat your symptoms and trying to avoid being a zombie. There is no fool-proof treatment for bipolar disorder. It’s almost completely subjective. Not only does it depend on the patient and how she or he responds to treatment, it also depends on the doctor or nurse practitioner prescribing the medication. You also have to remember that bipolar disorder is naturally going to cause waves of emotion, so it’s hard to pin down if the treatment is working or if it’s happening naturally. As much as any mania or depression, there is always a risk of apathy- medication or no medication.
In the movie The Neverending Story, there’s a character called Morla who lives in the swamps of sadness. She’s incredibly old and, presumably, has been there a while. Swamps of sadness = depression? We’ll go with that. The problem is that she’s been there so long, she’s lost her ability to care. “We don’t care whether or not we care.” This doesn’t just happen to really old and mossy turtles that are apathetic towards the destruction of their entire world. It’s a reality in depression. People with bipolar disorder spend 50% of their time with depressive symptoms. That’s a huge risk of becoming Morla out of the sheer exhaustion of feeling too much sadness. That doesn’t sound like a terribly pleasant experience, especially considering that you have a life outside of your depression.
We don’t want to be taken by the Nothing. We want to be able to enjoy an embrace from our partner. People want to feel proud of their kids’ accomplishments. We even want to grieve for a loved one lost. Feelings are how we experience life! We have to take the bad with the good, but, like I said, sometimes feeling too much dulls our ability to feel at all.
Medication can have this effect. That’s one reason why people are uncomfortable with it and some just stop taking it. In antipsychotics, the same mechanism that helps stave off psychosis is the mechanism that can dull your feelings altogether. About 20% of patients are affected this way. Other medications for bipolar disorder do it too. They can blunt emotion. They can cause brain fog. They can impair memory and slow down your thoughts.
That’s why I get nervous every time I try a new medication. I added an atypical antipsychotic about a month ago for manic symptoms and I worried about the effect it would have on me. As much as I hate the intense agitation of mania, I want to keep my brain. I don’t want a chemical lobotomy. I want to be able to write. I want to be able to play with my dog and to be sarcastic and exchange quips with my friends. I want to want to leave the house. I want to have the best possible relationship with my husband and support him as much as he supports me. It didn’t have that effect on me, though. It helped calm me down so I could find the message in the noise, but when I upped the dosage of that same medication last week, I got worried again. So far so good, but we’ll see.
The thing you have to keep in mind with all of this? Medications can absolutely cause these symptoms, but bipolar disorder can also cause them all by itself.
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Photo credit: flickr user Hartwig HKD