real life experience: bipolar and medication

this is a message i received from one of my artist friends a few days ago (who wrote this under the name of “a manic english person”). he wanted to share his experience with being bipolar (under these copyright conditions):

A few months back I was assessed by an eminent psychiatrist who decided that I had no brain problems as such and that I just needed talk therapy. However my counsellor kept hinting to me that there was something “not right” and that I should get a second opinion, but at the time I just couldn’t understand what she meant. Then a few days ago I went on the mild antidepressant the psychiatrist had recommended for when things got worse and pretty well immediately started getting extremely irritable, feeling “not myself” and casually saying things about suicide, even though I had never before been given to suicidal thoughts.

When my wife got wind of this she borrowed a car, rushed home immediately from work and drove me to the drop-in clinic. From my reaction to this drug and to another I took a few years ago, the doctor was immediately able to diagnose bipolar disorder. This was what my counsellor had sensed all along, but not been able to tell me directly. She had suspected that the psychiatrist wasn’t up on the recent literature about ((ultra-)ultra-)rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

Anyway, what this means is that for the first time in my life, assuming the medication works as it should, I face the prospect of ordinary things not being agonisingly hard, of being able to hold down a job without wanting to run out the door screaming, of being able to make big plans and carry them out, that kind of thing.

The feeling of unbearable anxious restlessness that has kept me up all night wasn’t, as I had believed, a sign that I am bad or have poor judgement. It is a kind of pain or irritation, a bit like scabies. That is in itself empowering because it means that I can breathe slowly and endure it better when I have to. I had always thought that my profound lack of self-esteem was the problem, but the reality is I would have been able to recover much better from the consequences of having two ravingly dysfunctional bipolar parents if I didn’t have wonky brain chemistry myself.

I was given a book of Far Side cartoons for Christmas. One of them is called something like “The curse of mad scientist’s block”. It shows a man in white coat facing a chalkboard filled with horrible ideas such as “Cross a man’s brain with the DNA of a wolverine”, all crossed out. That’s what bipolar disorder has been like for me.

i am very grateful that my friend let me post this here. direct, personal experience is always incredibly useful – and especially when it has such a good outcome.

lately i have had a few conversations with people about my stance regarding psychiatric medication. i am a very firm believer in being pragmatic and “whatever works, works”. i see no use in being against any of the many widely used healing methods that seem to work for people, and medication just happens to be one of them.

medication works for some people, and not for others. and of course within the wide spectrum of psychiatric medication, there are again some types and dosages that work for certain people at certain times, and others that don’t.

my observation has been that most people who experience mental health problems on an ongoing, chronic basis (or many other chronic conditions, for that matter) and are successful in dealing with it, had to go through the arduous process of experimenting with quite a range of treatment approaches.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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