Are You Taking Your Meds?
A few weeks ago, when I had posted on Facebook that I was struggling and needed prayers, one of my friends asked me if I was taking my meds, and my support team and I were super offended. Part of the treatment for Bipolar and OCD is taking meds. A lot of meds. Like right now I take 35 pills a day. There are a lot of downsides to taking medicine…gaining weight, exhaustion, a tremor, expense…but I know how much my meds help me, so I am really good about taking them…5 times a day. But there are many more components to keeping my bipolar under control. First of all, I am med resistant, which means that it is really, really difficult to find meds that work for me, and then even when we do, they aren’t necessarily going to work for a long time. I am in almost constant contact with my psychiatrist trying to keep things level. I email him several times a week when things are unstable, and last month I saw him over telehealth 4 times. He, like many psychiatrists, doesn’t take insurance, so it cost $720. Then there is therapy. I see my counselor once a week and update her throughout the week as needed with texts and e-mails. She gives me books to read, which we discuss during our sessions, and she reminds me of coping skills that I have lost from when I did electro convulsive therapy. She helps me process through things that happen in my week that I’m not able to work through on my own. She helps me to manage my worrying and stay in the moment. Some of it is just using the coping skills I have learned over the years. Going for a walk, writing, painting, drawing, riding my bike, swimming, listening to positive affirmations, taking a hot shower while listening to praise music, listening to 90s/2000s pop music, and singing along in my head to override the negative scripts. When things are difficult, I literally go from one coping skill to the next all day long trying to keep things as calm as possible. When things are good, I schedule coping skills a little more spread apart so that I can do some life with relief in between. When I’m really depressed, I sleep a lot, so I must schedule coping skills to get me out of bed. When I am manic, I barely sleep at all, so I have to schedule coping skills to keep me from making dangerous choices and try and stop my brain from flying so much. Most importantly, I stay in touch with my mom and my best friend, who help me to make good choices and give me pep talks to get through the difficult times. As you can see, there is a lot that goes into managing bipolar and OCD, it’s not just medication. AND, when your illness is as brittle as mine, you can do all these things, every single day, and still have crises on a regular basis. It’s just really, really difficult to keep me stable. When I was a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, I was relatively stable for about three years, but then I crashed so hard I lost everything all at once and I am still trying to get back to baseline.. I miss working full time, I miss having enough money to pay my bills, I miss being able to take a shower and brush my teeth every day like it was no big deal, and, most of all, I miss being able to tell my friends that things are going well when they check on me. But I’m glad that I’m alive, and that I’m doing something that will hopefully make a difference in the mental health field. It gives me a purpose, which helps me fight the most difficult days. When someone asks me if I am taking my medicine, I am so offended because they obviously don’t understand how much work goes into managing a mental illness. No one ever asks people with cancer or Crohn’s if they are taking their medicine, so why would you automatically ask me? There are people that it is okay to ask that: my doctor, my counselor, my mom and my best friend. But that’s it. And they never ask, because they know me, they know how hard I work and how willing I am to do anything the doctor tells me just to get through each day. Also, it’s none of your business if I take my medicine. The truth is, I am an adult, and if I choose to not take my medicine, it’s my choice. It’s a terrible choice, and I hope that my support team would help me make a better decision, but it is not a public choice, it is a private choice. So, all I’m saying, is if you see someone who is struggling with a mental illness, do not assume that they aren’t taking their medicine. Understand that there is so much involved in making a mental illness stable, and they may be doing everything they possibly can and still be having a difficult time. Pray for them, encourage them, but do not blame them. You just don’t know how hard they’re fighting, and how much that really hurts.