A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down

I am well aware there is a movement going on against psychotropic medication - i.e. medication used to alleviate the symptoms of psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.  I understand where those people are  coming from.  Frankly I am not particularly enamoured of pharmaceutical companies and the thought of having to take medication for the rest of my life doesn't thrill me either.  And yet ...

I have just experienced a relapse.  In other words, two weeks ago I lost my precarious balance.  I started by sleeping eighteen hours a day without ever waking up properly for what was left of the day.  

This becomes quickly distressing because my life passes me by.  I go from one long night into another without the benefit of much of a day in between.  It feels even worse in the winter because days are so short that I end up living in a permanent night. My home town in the west of England feels like it has moved to the North Pole during its long winter.  My body clock goes to hell. I feel I am living in different timezones from everyone else.  My eating becomes erratic.  My personal hygiene suffers.  My emotional well-being eventually collapses.

Then, all of a sudden, I was wide awake for eighteen hours and I couldn't even sleep properly for the remaining six.  

To start with, this sudden surge of energy feels great and I rush around like the proverbial blue-arsed fly catching up with all the backlog accumulated during my hibernation phase. My elation doesn't last very long because I soon start recognising the tell tale signs of agitation. I can't sit still.  When I speak on the telephone I walk around in circles.  My skin crawls all over in a maddening itch that cannot be scratched. My speech speeds up and I jump from one subject to the next without ever finishing a sentence. I feel permanently frustrated and start to feel aggressive. My mental well-being starts to crack.

I know this routine so well that I never let it last more than ten days without asking for an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist.  I must say that he is very encouraging and always praises me for not letting things go too far.  The  longer the helter-skelter ride the stronger its effect on my system.

And so back to medication.  My doctor told me to up the dosage of one of my meds (Quetiapine - one of the two mood stabilisers I take ) by 100mg and decrease the dosage of another (Citalopram - the one antidepressant I take) by 20mg. 

100mg here - 20mg there.  Considering I weigh 84kgs (that is to say 84 000 mg) that doesn't look like much!  Yet, within ONE DAY of altering the careful medication dosage I take every day,  everything went back to 'normal'.  

I sleep well but not overly and I have the energy I need to carry out my daily duties, including speaking with neighbours and walking into town. 

Please don't tell me it's the placebo effect or a fulfilling prophecy: I know only too well what happens when the drugs don't work and I have a tendency to expect the worse, i.e. I tend to think that the medications aren't working anymore and that I am heading back to hospital. Negative I know but there you go.

The truth is this: when medication works it feels quasi miraculous.  When medication doesn't work it's hell:

  1. Because you continue to suffer and even deteriorate
  2. Because the disappointment is crushing
  3. Because medication that doesn't work for you can still give you horrendous side effects that get added to the hellish situation you are already in
  4. Because it's impossible to engage in psychotherapy, self-reflection, meditation or any other form of  complementary medicine when your whole body and your mind (your spirit even) are screaming at you constantly
  5. Because you could be having a drug-resistant form of illness (my case for three years) and the only treatment options left are few and far between.  ECT (electro convulsive therapy) being one that can work (my case too).

I have experienced both situations and I can tell you without equivocation that a drug (or a group of drugs) that works is something to be very grateful for.  I used to hate my meds - now I love them.  I have seen what happens to me without treatment and that is not a place I ever want to visit again.

Yet, we Bi-Polanders still feel bad about taking medication to treat our life-long chronic illness.  If we had diabetes we would not make such a fuss about injecting our insulin every day. Pancreas not functioning properly: treatment.  Brain not functioning properly:  er....  not so sure.  

To make matters worse the amount of disinformation, scare mongering and flat out simple-minded propaganda that is out there is mind blowing for someone who is well - never mind for some poor soul who is in a terrible torment.

My attitude is simple:

  • You  can do without drugs: GREAT!  Lucky you
  • You cannot function without drugs (my case) and you have found a drug or drugs that work for you: take your bloody medication! You are lucky too.

Now spare a thought for those unfortunate souls no amount of anything complementary or medicinal can help.  Imagine their suffering just for a few moments and then give thanks to God (whatever that means to you) for not being in that situation.

I know I do,  every single day  :D

medication is fine side effects suck

hi.. these meds can be life savers... however sometimes the side effects when taking them can make life unbearable... the mood might be stabilised but when you suffer with the side effects it can affect your moods despite the meds...

Thank you Cate

I can't argue with that Cate!  You make a VERY important point: even when we are prepared to take our medication and even when that medication 'works', the side-effects can be so damaging that we constantly have to walk a tight rope: hell without meds OR a different kind of hell with meds.

Sometimes, this doesn't seem like much of a choice ....

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