Fifteen years ago two different psychiatrists diagnosed me with bipolar disorder – twice. Both times I had decided to reject anything the doctors said before I even walked through the door. The only reasons I went to see the doctors in the first place were because two of my closest friends were concerned about me. My cheeky and eccentric disposition that had always been part of my nature had turned into reckless and downright audacious behaviours. I was riding waves of remarkable highs, coupled with delusions of grandeur, and then plummeting into crippling lows where I couldn’t get out of bed for days. At the time I had no idea what mania was, all I knew was that when I was on I was unstoppable, and when my friends, family and doctors told me that they were concerned about this, all I heard was, “we’re going to shut you off,” and I felt betrayed.
I can’t tell you exactly when I first started to show symptoms or signs of bipolar disorder. I honestly don’t think that’s even relevant anymore. The only relevant thing now is that I have finally accepted my diagnosis and taken the steps to try to live my healthiest life. I do look back with astonishment sometimes though; it’s incredible the life I have lived. The reasons for why I did finally go back to the psychiatrist many years later aren’t really important. What’s worth celebrating is the fact that I did go back and ask for help, and I did receive it, but it hasn’t been easy. Sometimes our path to wellness is bumpy and can lead us to a place where we want to just say, “screw it, I’m good.” My bumpy path was littered with medications prescribed to stabilize my moods and help me regain my life. It has been a struggle, but one that I have fought for so that I’m able to live a balanced, calm and constant life. It doesn’t always play out that way but without my meds I’m a grenade ready to detonate.
Some people can get by without the help of medications, oh how I wish I were those people. I have battled medications for the past five years. I absolutely hate taking meds, but I need them and I’ve accepted that fact. The reason that I hate the meds isn’t because they calm me and control the swings (somewhat) it’s because it has taken so long to find the cocktail that works for me. Living with a mental illness is not easy, but treating it is even tougher.
If there was a side effect to be had, you can bet I had it. From the most common effects to the 1/1,000,000 people, I got that stuff. The side effects got so bad that after an entire year I jumped off of all meds. This resulted in me being rushed to the hospital by ambulance due to seizures. In the hospital, well meaning doctors put me on so many medications that when the side effects got so bothersome that they had to tinker with my meds, they had no idea where to even start. For fifteen months doctors played with my medications in hopes of lessening my side effects while still controlling the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Needless to say I was a slave to medications and quality of life was not good.
During this time I got mad. I was mad that I got dealt this hand. I was mad that nobody could understand that my life on medication was awful. I was mad that every single day I swallowed an obscene amount of pills. I was mad that I had traded in my intense feelings and clarity for a zombified life of averageness. But the thing is, that’s not my life now. In the beginning I was drowning and the doctors did everything they could to stop that, and they did, but somewhere during that time I lost myself in the process. The thing about diagnosis, when you have no idea where you are headed, is that you rely on others to help you out. During that time your life is going to change dramatically, there is no question about that, but if you prepare yourself and take a proactive approach, then you can navigate those waters with as little fallout as possible. I went on a really rough journey, but I learned a lot of valuable information along the way.
I am a huge advocate for holistic approaches, which is a fancy word for saying mind, body and social approaches, as well as a mindfulness treatment when it comes to any illness. I am also a fan of medications, but had you asked me that two years ago, that would not have been my answer. The tipping point for me was when I stopped taking everything the doctors told me to take without asking questions. I went from being a naive and oblivious patient to being proactive and assertive. There is nothing stating that you can’t have a say in your treatment. Yes, your doctors are specialists and they know a lot, but you have every right to question what you’re putting into your body and why. When it comes right down to it, your doctors work for you. You don’t have to be scared of them, you’re a team and they ultimately want you to live the healthiest and happiest life possible, this requires your honest input.
If you’re going to make the decision to live well then you’re probably going to need help doing that for a bit, and maybe a check-in once a month for the unforeseeable future, that’s okay, so do I. A doctor patient relationship is not about power or control; get that out of your head right now. A good doctor, after addressing any behaviour that is unsafe or concerning, will work with you and communicate with you, but the onus is on you here. Part of living well is being in control of your life, the first steps to that is addressing your health, doing what is best for you, and working with your team. If you have questions, ask them, get the answers that you’re looking for. Don’t be a passenger when it comes to helping yourself live well. Take a plunge, step up and speak your mind. Sometimes doctors who have a lot of letters behind their names can be really intimidating, I’ve been there, but ultimately you are the one who has to live your life. Being overmedicated or under medicated because you’re afraid to speak up is no way to live. Do your research on medications, side effects, alternate therapies, mindfulness, what have you, just do it. Don’t waste years of your life unhappy, sick and ready to jump off meds and give up because you don’t want to challenge someone in authority. When it comes down to it, you are the authority, and any doctor worth their salt will work with you, not over you.
Mental illness is overwhelming, but you can grasp that control again. Once you do that, everything else gets a little bit easier. Nothing is going to magically fix itself, if it did then none of us would have to take a cocktail of meds, but if you take that proactive approach in your care and treatment then you’re paving your way to wellness, balance, and taking control of other areas as well. It’s a big move but it’s one that will change your life like it did mine. Once I took charge of my wellness I found myself again, and I like this self, finally.