Caveat: I am a layperson with no medical training. This series on medication is based on research and personal opinion. If you plan on making any changes to your medication, consult your doctor.
How do I write a series on psychiatric medication without offending those who can't survive without it and those who can't survive with it? Maybe it's important for me to say I'm neither pro- nor anti- medication. I do have a lot of issues with the heavy handed way in which it's prescribed, the lack of testing on its clinical applications (particularly before STEP-BD), and the emphasis on medication to the exclusion of other treatment options. But I do take medication when I need it, and I'll discuss that in future posts.
The difficulty of writing on this topic is that each and every one of us may have started using medication for different reasons. Some people heard voices. Others didn't sleep for days. Some were speeding so fast they were out of control. Others may have been exhibiting grandiose behavior, spending too much money, or having sex with strangers. Some were so depressed they couldn't function. Others were suicidal. Some were self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
Or perhaps like me, it was none of the above. In my case, I had undiagnosed depressive episodes for 25 years, and they were getting progressively worse. Maybe, like me, you tried therapy (with a number of different people with different credentials) over a period of years, and it didn't help. Perhaps you sought psychiatric help because you were feeling so depressed or manic that you couldn't stand it for one more day.
Maybe you didn't seek help at all because you didn't feel there was a problem. Perhaps your loved ones felt your behavior was harmful and recommended treatment.
I can't possibly cover all the possibilities of why you sought help, nor do I know how long it took for you to get a diagnosis, or whether it's the right diagnosis. Also, I don't know if you come from a healthy family in which you were loved (like I was), but had a major life stressor (in my case, going away to college) that caused the first depressive or manic incident. I don't know if you come from an abusive family, and/or have suffered abuse later in life.
I mention all these factors before delving into the topic of medication (tomorrow) because I disagree with the current bipolar treatment protocol with its emphasis on medication, and the supposition that you must take it for the rest of your life.
I believe that who we are, what our backgrounds are, what kinds of lives we've lived, how committed we are to healing, and how actively we're willing to pursue wellness, should factor into the treatment process. Among us, there are people who passively accept their treatment (I would imagine this is a small percentage of those who read this blog).
Among us, there are also "exceptional patients." This is a term I learned about from Bernie Siegel, M.D., an oncologist and author of Love, Medicine, and Miracles. He defines them as people who take charge of their illness. "Exceptional patients do indeed want t0 be educated and made 'doctors' of their own cases. One of the most important roles they demand of their physicians is that of teacher."
Among us are those who may or may not be taking medication, but also are participating in important adjunctive treatments, which have become an important part of our lifestyle, whether it's exercise, spirituality, expressive writing, nutrition, meditation, art therapy, music therapy, movement therapy, talk therapy, biofeedback, neurofeedback, and a wide array of other possibilities.
Why do I mention all this in a prelude to a series about medication? Because every psychiatrist I saw--but one--believed none of this mattered. They focused on medication, they didn't believe in adjunctive treatments, and they never considered utilizing my strengths and insights as part of the healing process.
To me, nothing matters more. After taking such highly toxic medication for so long--and getting sicker and sicker--I must admit that this illness almost destroyed me. (Despite my strengths, the suffering, grief, and loss still have a residual affect.) And I finally realized that if the medication and treatment (and I use the word loosely) could affect me this way--a lot of other people don't have a chance.
This is not to say I don't believe that some people require medication. They certainly do, and as I said before, I use it as well. And I certainly don't believe that those of us who need medication for survival are any less determined, skilled, talented, intelligent or motivated than those of us who don't.
But I do believe we are all different, and until the psychiatric and mental health establishment includes us in the decision-making and healing process, we will continue to see higher and higher levels of unprecedented suffering that is sometimes medication-induced.
After a lot of thought, I've decided I don't intend to focus on specific medications other than to include them if they played a prominent part in my own journey. But, if you need an unbiased look at medication from the consumer's viewpoint, you might check out Dr. Bob's (he's a psychologist from the University of Chicago) website, and Crazy Meds.
P.S. This is a slightly edited version of the piece I posted at midnight. As I reread it, I felt it needed editing and clarification.