I am no expert on mental illness, I only speak through experiences of my own and those brave enough to share their stories with me.
When it comes to taking medication for Bipolar disorder, it can be hit or miss. Sometimes the side effects seem to outweigh the benefits. Other times, the meds don't seem to work like they should. It leaves a lot of people with the same question, “Should I stop taking my bipolar medication?” This question can come with a few answers: Yes, No, or more appropriately, It Depends.
We take our medication to stabilize our moods, feel normal, and function accordingly to accomplish our every day activities successfully. It is estimated that 2.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some take their medication, others refuse to get medicated all together. However, it shows to reason that those who choose to get medicated feel they need the medication to be 'normal'. That doesn't mean that those who refuse meds are not normal, or can't function, they just have a different approach is all. But, is it the right approach?
We will discuss the ups and downs of taking medication, what to expect if you have never been medicated before, and whether or not you should stop medication altogether. I want to say this now, this article is by no means a doctor's recommendation for any medication, nor is it suggesting that someone should stop medication. I wrote this to express my opinions based off my experiences and the experiences of those who have been brave enough to share with me.
The Ups and Downs of Bipolar Medication
There are several ups and downs to medication when it comes to bipolar disorder. It is important to know about these benefits and downfalls before you decide on whether or not you want to medicate. However, it should be noted that there are different types of medication to treat different types of bipolar. These types of medication that treat bipolar are:
- Mood Stabilizers
- A Combination of Anti-Depressants & Anti-Psychotics
These medications will all have side effects, for example, anti-psychotic medication is sometimes accompanied by these:
- Dry Mouth
- Sore Throat
- Muscle Spasms
- Involuntary Movements
- Weight Gain
- Increased Lipid Levels in Blood
- Increased Glucose
One of the more commonly prescribed medications for those with Bipolar disorder is Lithium. It acts as a mood stabilizer, controlling both manic and depressive states. It is fairly quick acting, but can show some side effects that can seemingly outweigh the good. These side effects include:
- Eye Pain
- Vision Alteration
- Frequent Urination
- Unquenchable Thirst
Honestly, it is easy to see why so many people fear being medicated. That being said, not everyone experiences these side effects. Some people go their whole lives medicated without any negative side effects at all. Most side effects will only affect 1 out of 10 people. That is why, when you are discussing meds with a doctor, you should inquire about the side effects of each medication that they suggest. Ask for their medical opinion on each one, often times, a doctor can tell if a medication will be right for you or not.
What are the upsides? Well, the benefits of medication are not as lengthy as the side effects. However, the few that are listed can greatly outweigh the negatives. Such benefits include:
- Stabilized Mood
While those of us with bipolar wish we had a normal life, we need to realize that normal doesn't exist. However, we can become what we want to be with the right regimen of medication, therapy, and self care. It takes working with your meds to get your meds to work.
What Should I Expect from Medication?
Now that we have discussed some of the ups and downs of medication, we need to discuss what you should expect when you begin medicating. For starters, and probably most importantly, never expect instant results. Lithium is one of the fastest working medications on the market, and it still can take 2 weeks to begin showing any changes.
Furthermore, don't expect the first round of prescribed medication to be effective. Sometimes it is a guessing game for doctors to find the right combination of medication for a patient. Even after a successful combination is found, you are likely to switch which medication you take in the future. The reason for this is our body builds an immunity to the drugs. So, constantly keeping on top of what works is key to being successfully medicated for your mental illness. Also, don't expect to be prescribed a single medication alone. Most times, it takes multiple different meds in combination with each other to show the proper results.
Should I Stop Taking My Medication?
More often than not, the thought of ceasing medication crosses the mind of those with mental illness. Sometimes a doctor may choose to pull us off a medication, sometimes we feel we need to stop because of a serious side effect. But that hardly answers the question of whether or not we should stop our medication. Simply put, it all depends. What are your reasons for wanting to quit?
The main reason people wish to quit their meds is because they feel like they are 'cured'. That simply doesn't happen. You can't cure mental disorders, only treat them. So stopping your medication under this assumption is a bad idea. In fact, quitting your meds abruptly can cause your bipolar symptoms to return with worsening results.
Another reason why people cease their meds is because they don't work at all. The same applies, even if the meds never worked properly, quitting can make it worse. That is why when a doctor changes a medication in your regimen, they do it gradually.
Never stop abruptly unless advised by a doctor. Also, don't self medicate and think it is enough. Self medication can have harmful reactions. Many people do this through marijuana, alcohol, and drugs. While there are studies that show marijuana is effective against SOME of the symptoms of certain mental disorders, it can lessen the effect of prescribed medication when used together. Alcohol will negate your medication all together and cause more issues than help. Hard drugs can cause you to worsen and you will never see it happen.
Working With The Meds
In several articles of mine, I repeat the same thing. Work with your meds so they work for you. But, what does this mean? Obviously the meds have a job to do, and you want them to work properly. However, you can't just sit back and wait for the meds to kick in. You have to do a few things to ensure you get the right results that you need.
For starters, make a routine. Live life by a schedule, take your meds at the same time, exercise, and eat regularly. Make sure you find a groove in life that works for you.
Next, you want to make sure you are eating healthy. A healthy diet has just as much of an impact on your mental health as your medications do. Balancing your meals, watching your sugar and caffeine intake, and making sure what we put into our bodies is right for us is key. In fact, many people who live with bipolar find that a vegan or vegetarian diet works wonders for them.
Lastly, you want to have a proper sleep schedule. Make sure you are getting 6-9 hours of sleep a night. 8 is generally the happy number. A proper sleep schedule will keep your mood stabilized and manageable. You want to make sure you are practicing proper sleeping positions, while using the right pillows to make sure your sleep isn't restless.
To wrap things up, there are several reasons to take meds; stability, sanity, normality, and functionality being the main ones. There are almost never good reasons to abruptly stop your medication without the consultation of a doctor. You can expect a lot of hardship and trial & error with medication, so be patient and work with them so they can work for you. Lastly, if you have to ask yourself if you want to stop taking medication, talk to a doctor. They can help advise you down the right path and offer medical advice that you won't find clearly on the internet or from friends. Just because your friends find success without meds, doesn't mean that you will.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Kristoph Mac
Billy Haynes from Paragould, AR on September 22, 2020:
Good points made, just because something works for some doesn't mean it will work for you. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to get something that works just right for someone.