Hi, My Name is Sanat and I Have Bipolar Disorder

I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder a little less than 3 years ago by my family doctor. Bipolar disorder, like many mental illnesses, requires medication as a part of treatment. I was prescribed lithium, which tends to be the go-to medication for bipolar disorder (both types I and II). I had been suffering from short hypomanic phases and long depressive periods, and was in the midst of transitioning from hypomania to depression (if you want to learn more about hypomania, check out my previous post). I was overprescribed (through no ill intent on the part of my doctor) and ended up becoming more depressed because of the high dosage. I took the medication for about 3 months inconsistently and then stopped quite suddenly, which was quite dangerous. As a result of the stoppage, I suffered from a severe cycle of hypomanic and depressive phases for the next year.

Eventually, I found myself in a very destructive place, with thoughts of harming myself. I voluntarily checked into a psychiatric ward because I needed help that I couldn’t get anywhere else. During my stay (which lasted roughly a month), I met with a psychiatrist every morning and got confirmation of my bipolar II diagnosis. I started receiving daily medication, with lithium being the primary medicine and some other additional ones that targeted my bipolar II symptoms. My psychiatrist and I tried and tested different combinations of medication, starting with small amounts, and eventually moved onto higher doses that were comfortable for me. That month in the hospital changed my life, and the medication was a big reason why.

Psychiatric wards in popular media are presented in an awful, unfair way. Specifically, medication that is dispensed to patients turns them into emotionless zombies. Many people find these medications have taken all the joy from their life. I’m not here to dispute that some people have awful experiences in psychiatric wards. I knew a few people like that during my stay. I am just here to tell you that getting medication for my illness absolutely changed my life.

The Bare Necessities (are Medications)

To be quite honest, I don’t know if I would be here without my medication (and I don’t say that lightly).  I put in a lot of work beyond the medication to improve my symptoms. I worked through 2 bipolar disorder workbooks during my stay. I used to write as much as possible, reflecting on who I wanted to be and how I would get there. I enrolled in 2 forms of therapy once I left the hospital, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that targets anxiety and depression. It was exhausting work; work that continues to this day. It’s been instrumental in making my life as “normal’ as possible. It took a lot of literal sweat and tears (and even a few blood draws). I did and continue to do work to treat my bipolar disorder, and absolutely none of this work would’ve mattered without my medication.

Bipolar disorder is an illness. Illnesses come in all shapes and forms, and mental illnesses bring their own negatives (and positives). The thing is, I cannot get better without my medication. Without lithium, my life would’ve continued to be hell. Without lithium, I would never have gotten better. I’d still be living a life dominated by anxiety, by depression and by the occasional but awful bouts of hypomania.

I don’t like the way we talk about medication as a society. When I shared that I would be taking medication, people close to me, even those with an understanding and trust of science, were often filled with cautions rather than encouragement. “Are you sure you need it?” “Just be careful, these medications do x, y, z.” “Medication isn’t going to solve all your problems”. I hear these kinds of opinions all the time, especially when it comes to depression. Mention that you are thinking of taking antidepressants, and lots of people either 1) become experts on neurochemistry, or 2) rue how people (especially “this” undefined generation) have no control over themselves.

That’s not how illness works. That’s definitely not how mental illness works. We’re becoming better at understanding and acknowledging mental health and illness as a society, but medication is still a strange line in the sand that many draw. This is not a science-based paper I’m writing, so I’m not armed with statistics (but maybe a future piece).

I like Being Me, so Thank You Lithium

I’m just here to tell you that I could not be me without medication. Not taking medication is a non-starter. People with bipolar disorder can’t “behavior” our way out of illness. We need medication to stabilize our brain chemistry. We need it to set a foundation on which we can do all the other important things, like understanding and changing behavior.

And so, I’m here to say, please don’t stigmatize mental health medication for yourself, and please don’t do it for others. Medication is a vital part of treatment for many people, and we should encourage others to do what they need to survive and eventually thrive. Learn more about the need for medications and why they are so vital. If someone comes to you and shares that they’re thinking of taking medication, especially for depression, embrace them literally and figuratively, and give them the support they need to do what is important for their well-being.  Trust in them – trust that they are moving forward with medication after doing the requisite self-reflection and research. It’s only if we can truly fight the stigmas about medication that we’ll be able to fight this mental health epidemic that is ravaging our society.

I feel so grateful every single day that I found myself in a place where I could get the medication I needed. It wasn’t easy to get there but it helped me feel like “me” for the first time in about 15 years. Talk to your doctor if you feel you need help, and always advocate for yourself. Keep fighting the good fight. You may or may not need medication, but I hope that you’ll always be open to understanding more about it. We’re in this together, but only if we support those around us struggling, not belittle or confuse them with our own biases.

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