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Psychiatric Medicine: Temporary or Life-Long?

by Laura on October 3rd, 2013

Doctor, are you sure I need these drugs?

What about the side effects?

How do I know that I really need them?

Can I be sane without them?

If you’ve ever been to therapy–whether with someone who prescribes drugs or not, you’ve likely faced these questions. Today Becky Johnson and I discuss our take on the issue. We’ve been talking about the love-hate relationship people have with prescription medications; here’s the next installment.

Laura – At the end of our last conversation, you asked me, “How did you come to determine that your particular side effects weren’t worth it the potential benefits?”

Here’s the thing. This was my diagnosis: “You might be bipolar. [For insurance purposes, you are bipolar.] Nevertheless, if you have another breakdown, then you’re definitely bipolar.”

So, first of all, I’m stubborn. I decided I wouldn’t have another breakdown—with or without meds. And, the meds made me retain water and unable to control my appetite.

Being overweight as a dancer and as a perfectionist was not going to help with my “issues with depression.”

To my psychiatrist’s credit, she was very dedicated to getting me on the lowest possible doses. It’s just for me, that wasn’t enough. Going off of the prescription meds meant I had a chance at getting back to a normal body weight. That meant I had a chance at not hating my body every second of every day. It also meant I could possibly overcome my negative thought patterns.

Also, and I’ve written about this before, no one (no one!) mentioned the fact that I was adopted and that the majority of my delusions related to some mania-induced, hyper-paranoid Ghost Kingdom adoptee fantasies. Truly, Jung would have had a field day!

I digress.

The reality is that I do have bipolar tendencies, which can be controlled without medication. This is not for everyone! And, I think that some people have life changes <<< points to self and coughs >>> that require a little medication to bridge the sanity gap.

So, when the time came to go off meds, it was the right choice for me.

Perhaps it might be better to say, I had unaddressed post-adoption issues that compounded with life changes that ultimately coalesced into a mental breakdown that looks very similar to a bipolar I episode. And, I may have a family history of bipolar, so watch-out. Ha, there you go! And I don’t even have a PhD!

Seriously, though … Do you feel that your bipolar is something that’s a part of you, or something that affects you? How do you characterize it?

Becky –  I love that you asked this question because it’s actually something I’m very passionate about. I recognize it’s kind of a bazaar thing to be passionate about, but we all have a stand on something, right? This is one of mine.

A lot of people get their panties in a bunch about the phrase, “She is bipolar,” versus, “She has bipolar disorder.” Is bipolar disorder a part of me or something that affects me? My response is a big fat both.

Bipolar disorder is something that affects me on a daily basis. I’m not one of the lucky crazy kids who start taking medication and then become episode free. I got an unlucky spin of the bipolar wheel and still struggle with episodes frequently. Of course I can go for a stretch of time being, “normal” or “balanced,” but I very rarely make it past ten days or so without the delight of a depression or mania. They are not all crazed earth shattering episodes where I find myself sucked into the black hole of depression, or ecstatically riding the tail of a comet out of my freakin’ mind manic; but, nonetheless, they continue to show up uninvited.

Therefore, you bet bipolar disorder affects me. It affects if I can get out of bed or be a functional part of society. It affects my relationships, my marriage, my bank account, my creative output, my ability to be the best cat mom I can be, and on and on and on…

But it is also a part of me. It seems completely absurd to deny that bipolar disorder is a part of who I am. How could it not be? I see, experience, and respond to the world through a bipolar lens. It does not define me, which those same panties in bunch people accuse me of by calling myself bipolar instead of insisting I merely have bipolar disorder. It’s a big honkin’ part of who I am just as being a women is, or being in my thirties, or being an artist.

None of those things completely define me, but are all parts of me, and part of the unique way I experience and contribute to our gorgeous world. Just like anyone else all my parts make me, me. And a big part of me is bipolar. I feel denying that simple truth somehow implies it’s something I should be ashamed of. Is it preferable? H-E -Double-Hockey-Stick, no. Obviously. But it’s not something that should evoke shame.

It’s okay that I’m bipolar. It’s also okay to embrace all parts of myself – even the crappy bipolar part. And so I do. It wasn’t easy getting there, that’s for sure, but how I did get there, ironically, was by tweaking the vocabulary and calling myself bipolar – embracing and accepting bipolar disorder as a part of me.

I don’t want you to get the impression I am proud to be bipolar as that is definitely not the case. But I am proud of who I have become. And like it or not, the person I have become is due to what affects me. And what affects me ultimately becomes a part of who I am.

I believe so deeply we need to celebrate ourselves. Part of the celebration is declaring who we are. Who am I? I am bipolar, and you better believe I am living that truth and celebrating my crazy the best I can.

But that is only my experience. If you have bipolar disorder rather than being bipolar, that’s okay, too. We each have the power and ability to define ourselves in any way that rings true to us. However, anyone who disagrees with how I define myself, I say go get yourself some new panties because it’s been twenty-six years in the making and it’s not changing.

I find the whole, “maybe you’re bipolar bit” to be very intriguing and mysterious. What did it feel like to be “sort of diagnosed”? Did it affect how you viewed yourself then or now?

 *  *  *  *

For those of you who are interested in adoption and adoptee issues, stay tuned for next Thursday’s post, as I discuss the notion that my “bipolar episode” was misdiagnosed. I’m going to talk about my belief that it was instead a confluence of unaddressed post-adoption issues colliding with too many life changes. Check in next week for more on this.

Much love to Becky! Read our past conversations here:

Becky Johnson is a creative nonfiction writer, playwright, and artist who creates art from what normal people call garbage. She blogs about something doctors call bipolar disorder that she calls being good old fashioned crazy. She wakes up ridiculously early to watch the sunrise and has a personal mission to float in fifty different bodies of water. As a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, she thinks nothing beats sharing the healing joy of a good jelly-belly-laugh.

She lives with her husband in Annapolis, Maryland, where she is living her mantra to “Celebrate Your Crazy,” and writing her first book.


From → Mental Health

  1. eagoodlife permalink

    Love it!! But don't you love spellcheck when it misses somerhing? It might love bazaar, don't we all love to shop but the rest of us usually go for bizarre in this context. Loveya! xx

    • Ha! I noticed a few of my typos too. Grammar is not my stron point! Nor is spelling. I’m glad, despite all, you enjoyed our conversation.

  2. eagoodlife permalink

    I never let a few nice typos stand in the way of enjoyment and it was such a fun one!

  3. Gaye permalink

    Laura, love the question to Becky about the extent to which bipolar defines who Becky is and Becky, love your reply. The question is a key one and not just about bipolar – the learning that can be taken from Becky's response applicable to many people in many different ways. I love the way that you embrace bipolar as part of who you are – not the complete Becky package, but definitely integral to you. To embrace it as part of who you are removes that resentment for the condition and the hatred that could build with bipolar as an external power controlling who you are.

    And there's the rub for me as an adoptee – probably something your readers have already worked out. I hate adoption and I've given it power over me by maintaining it at arms length as the external power that makes me act and behave in certain ways – that causes me to be the person I don't want to be. Whereas if I accept adoption as an integral part of who I am, that sometimes is providing the lens through which I can make sense of my world I will be able to face the various triggers and other challenges with more calm and purpose and not expend so much energy on the blame game and anger over not being in control.

    Have a long road to go – and there is hope in your experience Becky – I bet it wasn't easy getting there. And tweaking the language – we underestimate the power of language – the hurt it can cause. But instead of telling people I was adopted – will say I am an adoptee and begin to own that part of who I am.

    Thanks so much – loved the first part, loved this one and the warmth and honesty. Now waiting for part 3!

  4. nice article…i love this post..I noticed a few of my typos too. Grammar is not my stron point! Nor is spelling. I'm glad, despite all, you enjoyed our conversation.

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