Sorrow found me when I was young
Sorrow waited, sorrow won
Sorrow, they put me on the pill
It’s in my honey, it’s in my milk
– The National, Sorrow
When I was diagnosed with bipolar I, my partner at the time urged me not to take any medication. He cited the possible side effects, the long-term risks, the big pharma agenda. I studied the colors and shapes of the anti-convulsants, anti-psychotics, antidepressants, and dopamine agonists I had been prescribed. On the one hand, he was right. On the other, the mood swings, depression, and anxiety were affecting every aspect of my life. Whenever I attended work, I would spend the day quietly crying at my desk or obsessively researching my latest interest. At home, I couldn’t clean or cook a meal without becoming distracted or feeling the pull of the temporary comfort the couch provided. When I socialized, I would either be loud, rude, and inappropriate, or I’d shake, struggle to breathe, and break out in a cold sweat. So I swallowed the pills without giving it another thought.
Nothing worked for my bipolar depression. To this day, I am still trying to find the combination of drugs that will give me back my motivation and concentration, and reduce the feelings of guilt and worthlessness. I would take one drug, and it would work for a while. But soon enough, I’d find myself back in that pit of despair. I might not be as far down as I was initially, but I am merely existing, not really living. Sitting on the couch drinking wine because it is the only thing you look forward to is not living a fulfilling life.
I have cycled through different drugs, trying endless combinations. Some would make me feel hazy, heavy, and sedated. Others made me gain a significant amount of weight, contributing to my depression and low self-esteem. Metabolic syndrome, akathisia – an excruciating physical and mental restlessness – and sleep apnea are a few of the unwanted effects I’ve experienced from psychotropic drugs.
So when I felt at my most stable, I decided to gradually wean myself off my antipsychotic with the help of my psychiatrist. I had heard about conditions like tardive dyskinesia, and it scared me. Not long after I started tapering, I experienced the worst anxiety I have ever had. Everything made me anxious – having phone calls with friends, doing the groceries, taking a shower, stepping outside. I was unable to function. My psychiatrist recommended I go back to my original dose. I was devastated. I felt trapped, doomed to take these hardcore medications for the rest of my life.
Friends and family have recommended microdosing with psychedelics, but without adequate research on their effects in combination with psychotropic drugs, I am hesitant to. So I’ve been trying the holistic approach, and have been practicing most of the DBT Reduce Vulnerability skills. I exercise regularly. I’m taking better care of my sleep. I’m treating illnesses. I try to eat healthily. I stick to a routine. (Giving drugs and alcohol up have seemed impossible up to now, and I am relying on therapy to help me quit.)
Most of the time, if I stay consistent, the lifestyle changes and weekly therapy sessions help to curb my mood swings and prevent downward spirals. Yet I probably have the eight tablets I swallow every morning to thank for being relatively high functioning. They’ve taken the edge off of the depression, and have had a profound effect on my OCD and generalized anxiety. I am either unmedicated and utterly miserable, or I’m medicated and a little less miserable but functioning.
Even though they have caused me discomfort and distress, I cannot and do not want to imagine life without medication. I am unsure if the skills I learned in therapy would allow me to hold down a full-time job, build relationships, or do everyday tasks. I don’t know if the full-blown sorrow would return. So I swallow the pills without giving it another thought.