I was diagnosed with bipolar illness in 1991. Since then, I’ve taken a variety of drugs, starting with Lithium and moving forward to drugs that worked and felt better on my psyche.
For five years, I’ve taken a nightly cocktail of meds including Depakote, Cymbalta, Clomipramine and
On these drugs, I was perfectly stabilized and high-functioning. I could hold down a part-time job, raise a child, take care of a home and a hubby, and work on a freelance writing career.
Everything was going great until December 2014. This is when my husband told me that we were changing health insurance.
On January 1, I called the new insurance company and inquired how much my meds were going to be. Three of the meds were reasonable, but the Clomipramine was going to run $2,500 for a three-month supply. “Outrageous,” I said. “Why is it so expensive?” They didn’t have an answer.
This threw me into a tizzy. We couldn’t afford the med at these prices. We’d have to take out a loan to pay for it.
What was going to happen to me? If I didn’t have this medication, surely I’d be destabilized. I can’t begin to tell you how important a routine med regimen is for a bipolar person. It’s a matter of life and death. The stability you’ve been able to maintain might be disrupted in the blink of an eye.
Not knowing what else to do, I called my psychiatrist of 15 years.
“My Clomipramine is going to cost me over $800 a month.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Well, there is a med that is very similar to Clomipramine. It’s called Imipramine. And I think it will be considerably cheaper.”
“I can’t go off Clomipramine. It keeps me sane.” I wasn’t trusting Dr. Kirk at this point. How could another med work as well as the one I was on?
“Laura, I think it will be OK.”
Dr. Kirk had never steered me wrong. His instincts were always right. But I didn’t trust him. I was so afraid of going off the deep end.
“OK. I’ll get back to you. I’m going to think about it.”
“All right, Laura.”
I approached my husband with my predicament. “Can we afford more than $800 a month for my peace of mind?”
My husband clearly didn’t want to say no. He hated to disappoint me in any area of our marriage. “Why don’t you call the insurance company, and see how much the Imipramine is?”
So I called.
What I found out was even more outrageous. The Imipramine was priced at only $90 for a three-month supply. What a difference in drug costs!
I told my husband. “The similar drug is only $30 a month.”
My husband simply smiled. He didn’t tell me I couldn’t buy the highly expensive drug. He didn’t give me any advice. If I needed the expensive drug, he suggested silently that we would find a way to afford it.
So I asked my brother, who is very smart. “Go with the cheap one,” he said. “Try it out. If it doesn’t work, go back to the Clomipramine.”
I called Dr. Kirk and asked him to write me a prescription for Imipramine.
The day came when the Imipramine arrived in the mail — small orange pills. I needed to take three of them. But before I started on the orange pills, I finished off all the Clomipramine that I had left.
Taking my new meds that first night was like jumping off a cliff. I was jumping into the unknown. I waited for something to go wrong, for some feeling of unease, discomfort, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression. Surely these little orange pills were useless.
The second week on the pills, I got a little depressed. I immediately called Dr. Kirk.
“The drug isn’t working. I’m depressed.”
“I don’t think anything in your mood would change that quickly. You’re probably depressed for some reason other than the meds.”
So I waited it out.
Weeks passed, then months. I was starting to feel good. The Imipramine was improving my mood. I noticed I could get more done. I could relate better to my son. My marriage felt effortless.
How ironic! The drug I thought would be the end of me was actually giving me more life. Let me just say, I was one happy patient.
So what did I take from this experience? Drugs can be very expensive. People who live with illness are at the mercy of the drug and insurance companies. My story turned out happily, but there are millions more that end in tragedy.
Sometimes, you have to trust your doctor. He’s the expert. He knows things you don’t. This is why it’s so good to find a doctor whom you believe in. My doctor is my greatest asset in my mental health journey.
The drug cocktail you think is holding you together can actually be altered. Yes, folks. The combination of drugs that you believe is the key to your well-being is not the only combination that will work.
So, loosen up. Go with the medicine change if you have to make one.
Medicine changes can be painful, but with some luck, you’ll be in better shape after the change.