I really wanted to talk about mental disorders and mental illness today, specifically Bipolar Disorder, and how I cope or treat my symptoms. As this is something I often get questions about, as people who have been reading my blog for a long time since before when it was on Tumblr, know that I do not take medication to treat my mental disorder. Some of these questions include: why did you decide to be self-medicated, what do you do to help maintain your moods without medication, etc.?
Before I get into this topic of self-medicating, I want to state this is not something I recommend anyone to do. You should consult with your doctor if you have any type of disorder or are thinking about switching medication or getting off them completely. As self-medication does not work for everyone. Some days I even question it for myself.
Why I Self-Medicate?
To start this off, I feel it is only right to say why I chose to be self-medicated rather than see a therapist or take medication. I have several reasons for both.
Why I Won’t See a Therapist?
I have been to a grand total of four different therapist. Each had very similar results and all tried relating my Bipolar Disorder to a parenting issue rather than a chemical imbalance (which it is a chemical imbalance). They tried to convince me that everything from my childhood was horrible, and my parents, specifically my dad, was the source of my problems. That if I left them behind all my problems would go away. This response is not correct as I have a chemical imbalance. My body does not produce the right chemicals to balance my moods, so I go from one end of the spectrum to the other. But I listened to that therapist, and moved several states away. And did my problems magically disappear, no they got worse.
And the comment that my childhood was messed up is entirely wrong. I had a great childhood, my parents were the best. Sure when I was in third grade my dad started to withdraw from my life and started traveling all the time for work. And when I was a senior in college, he was a full on alcoholic who cared more about beer than his family. But my mom was my rock, she did the job of both. Just because my dad basically walked out, does not mean that his vacancy (which continues to this day) is the source of all my mental problems. It might be a sore spot some days, but it’s not something that causes my emotions to become a roller coaster to the point where I cannot handle it. And anyone who tries to convince me of that, I will not listen to as they are wrong in the matter. Which I have found to be the answer I hear from every therapist I have ever seen.
Why I Don’t Take Medication?
This is going to be a long one as there are several reasons why I don’t take medication.
First of all, I took medication for a grand total of three years before deciding I was no longer going to take medication, and I did inform my doctor of this before I cut myself off. By the time the three years had ended, I was taking around eight to ten pills a day. And not small ones either, half of them were horse sized pills that were very hard to take. One of these pills was Lithium, which has to be at a certain level in your blood stream or you will have a lot of side effects. And I already have a hard time with pills as I always get the worse of the side effects if I have to take anything new. Due to the levels Lithium needs to be in, I had to get blood drawn every week. And sometimes no blood would come out, so I would have to go in the next day to see if anything would come out. This left my arms constantly looking like someone beat me up as my skin is already really pale. Plus I hate needles. Not in the way like, oh “I don’t want anything to do with them.” But in a “I’m going to vomit or faint if I’m looking at it” way, which I have done both many times due to me looking at needles in my skin. I’m fine with them out of my skin, but second I see one in my skin I lose it.
Second, I didn’t trust that my emotions were real when I was taking medication. I thought everything was muted or fake emotions created by the medication. Now I was told the paranoia was a bit of a side effect. But if you can’t trust if you’re honestly happy or sad about something especially if you hear your dog of fifteen years dies that you loved dearly and you feel nothing, you believe it’s the medication effecting your ability to feel.
Third, I had horrible side effects from medication. As they had to test a lot of different medications out, I felt like a medical guinea pig. And my mind did not like that. Some side effects that basically ended up causing me from dropping out of my first college were: narcolepsy (falling asleep constantly), catatonia (inability to move normally), paranoia, and hallucinations. The hallucinations bothered me the most. As if I had them from sleep medication then I didn’t remember them so there are random patches in my memory missing. And other times it was very elaborate hallucinations that were straight out of horror movies. No one wants that.
How I Self-Medicate?
One thing I had to take when I was on medication was fish oil pills that were basically horse pills. So instead of taking those, I make sure I eat at least a pound or more of fish every week. This why I still get those OMEGA-3 fatty acids that help stabilize moods. I find this to be the main thing I use to help treat the symptoms. On top of that, to help combat the mania and rapid cycles I eat foods with magnesium (fish, whole grains, yogurt, bananas, and dark chocolate).
Next, I learned to identify when a cycle or phase in a cycle was happening so I could tell someone to keep an eye on me. If it was depression phase, they would basically force me to do things I lost interest or motivation in doing. If it was a hypomania phase, they would make sure I don’t go on any shopping sprees (my reckless behavior of choice during this phase) or take on too many things/projects. Now that doesn’t always work, but it has helped prevent me from fully going into the phase as I’m not focused on the mood.
Finally, I try to keep my mind busy on activities, projects, or physical exercise so my mind releases the right chemicals. Exercise helps increase the endorphin creations, while also causing me to crash at the end of the day so I sleep. Otherwise, I will take one melatonin pill to help me sleep. These were things I was recommended to do by my doctor when we discussed becoming self-medicated. They do not fully stop the cycles of bipolar disorder, but have kept it in check so it does not interfere with my life.
Self-Medication is not for everyone. It took me two years to become stable after switching. And I consulted with my doctor and psychiatrist throughout the process. Lifestyle changes and complementary treatments do not work for everyone, but for some people it is enough.