Medicating Mental Illness for Life
I wake up at the same time every single day. It is 6 a.m. The birds sing outside my single-paned window, and my partner sleeps beside me. I close my eyes and work to will myself back to sleep: It would be nice to sleep until 8 a.m., maybe even 9 a.m. But I get frustrated and I get anxious and soon I have made my way to the kitchen where I make myself strong coffee and sit in front of my laptop.
But I’m forgetting something. It’s important, I’m sure of it.
I sip my coffee, turn on my laptop, and remember: My pills.
I cannot forget to take my pills. Disastrous things happen. Things I try to forget and things that keep me up at night. It’s never easy living with bipolar disorder but the medication keeps me stable, most of the time, and that is invaluable in and of itself.
I tiptoe back to my room. It’s dark but I know exactly where they are because they are always in the same place: They live in a green pill case and are organized by Monday to Friday with sections for morning, lunch, afternoon and dinner. Lucky for me, I only use two of those slots−breakfast and dinner. I grab the Monday case because it is, I think, Monday. My partner rolls over in his sleep, his eyes closed. I envy him.
Back to the living room I go. Stopping in the kitchen to grab a glass of water, I open the case and the pills fall into my 26-year old palm. A cocktail of antidepressants and mood stabilizers. The usual stuff.
I was given my first mood stabilizer at the age of 12. I was diagnosed with the illness that same year. As I sit back down at my desk, I wonder if I could write a book on psychotropic medication. I spent a lot of time in the children’s psychiatric hospital growing up. I missed the school dance in middle school, and my friends sent me cards and roses and then forgot about me. But that’s OK now. That was a long time ago. I consider myself lucky because I have, seemingly, survived the whirlwind of the illness. The medication I take now keeps me well, most of the time; although winters are always tough, I weather the storm. Once spring greets me I welcome it with open arms. And life goes on this way. And that’s OK. Bipolar disorder, in my experience, is largely defined by the seasons.
There was a time in my life where I abused drugs and alcohol because I could not find stability. I could not even fathom it. I wondered where it was. I was an addict for five years. I had to fall hard and fast in order to cling on to life again. The medication I take feels like a blessing more than anything else. I’m frustrated because I know I will take these pills for the rest of my life but it’s certainly better than the alternative: The complete loss of life and of love.
It took me a long time to love. My family always visited me when I was in the hospital, my siblings brought me stuffed animals, chocolates, and good wishes. But I was angry. I had no idea what was going on: I was 12 years old and something was wrong with me. I decided that I would never love again. Because if I were to love someone, I concluded, I would be locked up and they might forget about me.
I delved into addiction because it focused on one thing, the absence of love. If I were high, I truly believed, I would not feel the need to connect with others. I would isolate myself. I would never need anybody. I had drugs and I had alcohol−that was love.
But you can only go on so long like this: Addiction brings you to your knees and it hurts to breathe. I realized I needed something. The drugs no longer worked, they provided no relief. Each morning when I awoke, unlike my life now, I would stare at myself in the mirror and wonder who I was. Could I let people into my life? Could I ever accept the diagnosis of bipolar disorder? Could I ever get well?
Life is different now. I turn on my laptop, my cat curls himself around my ankles, and I write. I write until my hands hurt and until life makes sense. The pills I take are only part of the process, the pursuit to manage the illness. The rest of my life is equally important. Achieving sobriety, connecting with those who are a little bit like me and I like them, has woken me up. I see things differently now. Life is no longer black and white. It’s colourful and large and I can walk through it smiling, or run from it when I feel a little bad.
The morning beckons me each day, albeit earlier than I would like, to wake up and do something that makes me happy. I call my parents and I tell them I love them and that it’s OK for them to love me now. I talk to my brother and sister, and try to repair the painful experiences that occurred, and separated us when I was sick with bipolar disorder and sicker still from the addiction. It’s nice to have my sister back, my younger sibling tells me.
And it’s nice to be back. Really, it is.
Champagne, N. (2018). Medicating Mental Illness for Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/medicating-mental-illness-for-life/