Living with bipolar disorder often means taking medications regularly. That alone is a tough pill to swallow. Finding the right medicine “cocktail” often involves a month (or longer) journey of trials and adjustments. But once you find the right medicine and dose(s), taking your medication every day, as prescribed, drives the recovery and mood maintenance engines. Missing medicine or taking it at wildly different times each day makes it hard for the medicine to do its job and for you and your doctor to get a clear picture of what’s working, what’s not, and which medication may be causing undesirable side effects.

Coming to terms with taking medication daily and remembering to take it every day is not easy, especially when starting a new medicine. Building a new routine into your day takes practice. It’s even harder if you take medicine more than once a day. Some simple steps can be very helpful in keeping you on track with your medications, allowing the medicine to be as effective as possible and reducing potential problems from missed doses.

These steps start at the doctor’s office and follow you home.

Before you leave the doctor’s office

  • Understand names and doses of your medications.
  • Be sure you understand any titrations or tapers — exactly how and when you are supposed to increase or decrease doses of a medicine.
  • Be clear on the timing for your medicines — when to take and how long to wait between doses.
  • Ask about special instructions:
    • Should I take this with food or on an empty stomach?
    • Is this okay to take with coffee/tea?
    • Is it okay for me to drink alcohol with this med? If yes, how much is okay?
    • What if I need a cold medicine or pain reliever — are these okay?
    • Do I need to avoid any supplements or over the counter (OTC) medicines?
    • Are there certain foods I need to avoid?
  • Ask your doc to give you a written sheet of instructions with these details- there is a lot to remember and more than will be on the medicine bottle. She can give you more details this way, and you have something to remind you of what she said.
  • Ask your doctor to put her contact information on that sheet. Know how to reach her if you have questions or concerns about medicine.
  • Take a picture of this sheet of instructions in case you lose it. And/or ask your doc to email you a copy.

At home

  • Use a medication box that you fill each week. This keeps track of the medicines and lets you know if you missed a dose.
  • Use a separate medication box for each time of day — a morning box and an evening box, for example.
  • Keep your medication box near something you do every day. Put it next to the coffee maker or your toothbrush, your phone, or where you charge your phone.
  • Use your phone/computer/tablet to set alarms to remind you.
  • Change your phone alarm sound every week or so; otherwise your brain may get used to the sound and ignore it.
  • Go old-school and put sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, fridge door, coffee maker (can you tell I like coffee?).
  • Keep a backup medication box in your car, purse, backpack, or briefcase.
  • Recruit friends or family members to remind you or double check that you took meds (assuming you can find medication buddies who are competent without being overbearing).
  • Consider using a medication reminder app on your phone. Some apps will text you and won’t stop texting until you have acknowledged taking your medicine. Some can text both you and your medication buddy(ies).

Remember that what works for someone else may not work for you. And you may have to try different strategies to find the best solution for you. Think of this as an active process that will need to change and adjust over time. Communicating with your doc is most important, and she may well have some other techniques and tips about medication mindfulness. If you continue to have trouble remembering to take your medicine, don’t be afraid to let your doc know! She may decide to make changes on her end — the med, the dose, the timing — that can help you. But she can’t make those changes unless she knows you are struggling.

Let us know your tips for medication mindfulness!

Photo by Rob Ireton