On Depression, Bipolar and Medication

I want to talk about some trouble I’ve been having with my medications lately, but first, my friend Diana wrote this fantastic post about her battle with depression.

In it, she says:

The one thing you do NOT see on this list is taking anti-depressants.  This is not because I particularly have anything against anti-depressants, but it has more to do with my philosophy that most pills address symptoms rather than root cause, and I prefer to try non-pharmaceutical methods that seem to address root cause. If I ever run into a situation where I don’t improve using other means, then if my therapist and doctor recommend it, I will go with it.

Now, I love D, and it’s great that she is able to get herself out of these problems without meds. She has situational depression, not major depressive or bipolar disorder and that is a reason why she can handle it without meds. And I respect her decision.

There was even a time when I felt similar to the way she does, so I understand it, especially since I’ve always been interested in self-help and spiritual growth. I thought I ought to be able to get myself out of it, that I could think/force myself to be better. I don’t need no stinkin’ medications. I’m so enlightened, I should be able to meditate and exercise myself better!

Um, no.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar (after having at least three previous bouts of depression that sent me to doctors), they would not even begin therapy until I was stabilized on medications (and that took months).

At the time, I had a friend who sometimes acted like she thought she knew everything about everything. She was angry on my behalf, because she thought they weren’t doing enough for me because they were not giving me therapy. And I admit, at the time, I felt the same way.

But here’s the thing. . . In my deepest places, walking in darkness, being so out of it that crawling out of bed takes all the energy I can muster for the day, falling into the hole that feels deeper and harder to crawl out of each time. . . I simply could not do the work necessary to be successful in therapy.

Back when Prozac and other SSRIs were still new on the market, I started to hear the phrase “I don’t need a crutch” or “medications are just a crutch.”

Here’s the thing. . . . If your leg is broken, you NEED a fucking crutch, and a cast, and maybe pins to hold the damn thing together until it can heal.

While part of me knew that I was bipolar by my early-20s, another part of me insisted that my depressions were situational.

– 91/92 – I was in Italy, and I was depressed. I was socially isolated because the American military community there was pretty small. I didn’t have access to a spiritual teacher/group. I made relationship and career mistakes. I spent too much money. There’s this one particular road that I drove where there’s a sharp turn near a cliff overlooking Naples Bay and every.single.day I wanted to drive over this cliff. I’d think, “I just won’t turn this time. . .” I had at least two other plans, as well. But, I knew that as soon as I wasn’t in that situation any more, as soon as I paid back the money, as soon as I could go back to where I had non-military friends, as soon as my life changed, I’d be fine. Right?

– 94-96 – My second marriage fell apart spectacularly quickly (just like my first – but the first marriage was my fault, and in the second, I felt like the wronged party). I was pregnant by a guy I wasn’t in love with. I was living with another guy I wasn’t in love with, who wasn’t really capable of pulling his own weight (although he did get his shit together shortly after I kicked him out, go figure). It was becoming increasingly obvious I was not going to be able to remain in the military and be the parent I wanted to be, so I was losing a career I thought I’d have for another 11 years. Add into that the post-pregnancy hormones – of course I’m depressed! But I knew that as soon as I got out and could concentrate on being a mom, as soon as I finished my degree (not gonna take more than a couple years, right?) I’d be fine.

– 99 – In the beginning of the year, I was dating a great guy, had a job that worked with me so I could take classes, was teaching a spiritual group, on the surface, things looked fine. I moved back to a city I loved, with people I knew and cared about nearby, with the great guy, and we were talking about getting married. 5 months after we started living together, he was moving out, moving to another state with another woman, and I was so depressed, I was crying on the drive to work every morning, not to mention during work. But that made sense, too, right? I mean, my relationship was ending (again) and everyone gets depressed when that happens, right?

By the end of that year, I finally had the bipolar diagnosis, in part because of the apparent cyclical nature of my depressions.

When I look back now, I can see that I was in those situations because I was sick, not the other way around. But at the time, I couldn’t see that. When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t.

While part of me was relieved, because deep down, I always knew, part of me was also defiant. I guess I always will be.

All this to say: I have a love/hate relationship with my medications.

I know they help me. They help me seen things more clearly. They help me have the energy to do things I have to do when I just don’t want to. They help me sleep longer and deeper than I had in many years.

I hate taking them. I hate being tethered to them, making sure I have enough, making sure I bring them with me, etc. I hate the idea that I probably have to take them for the rest of my life. I hate some of the side effects (although my current regimen is much more gentle than my first one – at least my hands no longer shake, most of the time). I hate my alarm going off several times a day to remind me to take them.

I really, really hate when people tell me I shouldn’t be taking them, because they don’t know, they don’t understand. Sometimes people think that because I’m intelligent and articulate, that I can’t be mentally ill. But I am.

On a daily basis, I take an antidepressant and a medication that acts as a mood stabilizer along with some supplements.

I also have an anti-anxiety medication to take on an “as needed” basis.

And this is where my most recent “hate” sequence comes in.

I’m getting scared about a couple of things, lately, causing anxiety.

Last week, I was having trouble sleeping because the anxiety was getting pretty high.

I do have the “as needed” medication, so I took a very small dose with my regular night time meds for 3-4 days.

And for the whole week, I spent all day sleepy, groggy, hung over feeling. I didn’t get anything done last week:  nothing towards business, nothing towards school, nothing towards my business and not any housework.

So, I’m stuck here.

Either I don’t take that medication and I feel too anxious to think clearly with my belly feeling like its full of snakes OR I spend my days nearly comatose.

Yet another place where I can’t find a middle ground.

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One comment on “On Depression, Bipolar and Medication
  1. AureLutra says:

    Ishtar – I know how it feels to want to drive off that cliff. What saved me was my 2 sons. (Suicide can run in families.) I couldn't do that to them. So I saw a Counselor & got meds. Many years later I am off that & doing OK. My problem was/is depression.
    I know several others with more severe challenges than mine.
    I've seen you grow and get control of your life through some very difficult times. Since meds help: Bless them. There may come a time, as it did for me, when you have better control even without them.
    A/L (NOT a know-it-all)

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