Every time I looked at the pills in my hand, then looked at myself in the mirror, the reflection reinforced that there was something wrong with me. The worst of it was the feeling that I was different. Damaged.
I thought by tossing away the pills I could toss away the separateness, the loneliness, and in a perverse way rejoin those who weren’t rotten in their sense of self.
Just like that I stopped taking my meds.
Within a week I was abusing tequila and crushing and snorting Klonopin. The other meds just sat in the cabinet. It made no sense, for I had been well for a while.
Why did I stop taking the medication that made me better?
There are many reasons people don’t take their medicine as directed. I’ve cycled through a bunch of them. Meds have made me sweat, gain weight, tremble, or suffer sexual side effects. At times they have been too expensive for me. Other times I just missed the highs.
But I remained dutiful in following my doctor’s orders. Despite the very real pull to be noncompliant I kept taking the meds that I cursed. They were helping me. I was getting better.
Until I wasn’t.
Something more insidious was happening in my mind. I twisted the fact that I was ill into making illness part of my identity. It’s not uncommon when people identify with the condition that keeps them down. I was identifying myself as bipolar.
Oddly enough, for some of us, the illness can be such a big part of who we think we are. Take it away and it just doesn’t feel right to be well. My identity became so wrapped up in emotional pain that the pain felt comfortable. It was unsettling when the pain was gone.
Perhaps I had been cycling through mania and depression for so long that, with my bipolar disorder in remission, I couldn’t identify with the person I had become. After so many years spent desperately crazy it felt wrong to be sane.
So I made a stupid choice. I chose crazy.
Being well had been hard. I had to go to work, pay my bills, eat right, sleep right, not be so impulsive. I hadn’t acted that way in years. But for a while I did the hard work and all was well.
It just didn’t feel right.
Then there was the mirror in the bathroom. Twice a day I’d look from the small pile of pills in my hand to the man reflected in the mirror above the sink and think I was sick. Well, of course I was sick. But it cut deeper than that.
It wasn’t my pancreas that was failing. It wasn’t plaque in my arteries or high blood pressure. It was my very self that was sick. My identity. I was not quite right.
I didn’t want to be reminded of that by a handful of pills twice every day.
So at once I over-identified with being ill and resented my lot because of it. I blamed the medicine rather than my poorly constructed sense of self and put the meds away. I could go back to identifying with the disease and at the same time ignore that I even had a disease. That was a hell of a lot easier than being well. I stopped taking the pills
Of course it ended badly.
Within weeks I was laying strapped to a gurney because I twice pulled out the IV and catheter while they forced charcoal down my throat to counter the overdose I took. I was angry I failed. I really didn’t want to live.
After two long hospitalizations I re-grew a desire to live, and to live well. I again started to take my medicine every day as it was prescribed. I went to therapy. I started to meditate. I did the hard work.
Soon I no longer identified with bipolar disorder and saw the pills as a way to manage a disorder I had – not an assault on my sense of self or who I was. I had a chronic condition, but I could manage it. I was OK.
Since then I’ve not stopped my meds and I meditate everyday. It’s been 16 years since then, and today I manage life very well. I still get the urge to try to live without the medicine every once in a while, but that urge always passes unheeded.
I don’t think stopping the prescribed medication on my own again is worth the risk, so I take the meds and thrive. A healthy life demands it. The work is worth it.