Surviving Part 1:
Many of you are already on a first name basis with pharmacology no doubt, though perhaps your local chemist went by the name of Weasel or Slick. Whether your association has been long and tumultuous or fleeting and legal, there can be little doubt that a diagnosis as bipolar will forever change that relationship. And most of us are damned glad of it too! But, as it seems with everything in life, there is a price to be paid. Better you hear this now than later; better you prepare yourself for what the future may bring than to be thrown from your horse before even out of the gate good. The truth is that the drugs used to treat bipolar disorder don't work the same for everyone, in fact, some don't work at all for some folks and you need to know now that you just may be one of them.
Sometimes (actually it's most of the time to be honest) these psychoactive drugs have side-effects that can make you physically ill and mentally numb. Some cause hair loss, others weight gain/loss, tremors, hallucinations, nausea, and sexual dysfunction to name a few. Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that frequently the drugs you've grown accustomed to simply cease working, forcing you into yet another search for a workable combination.
I'd like to tell you that there's a rainbow at the end of all this, but
there isn't. At least, there's no perfect ending, rather,
there are varying hues of better and worse outcomes. There's also a long
period of adjustment
and self-bargaining that is the inevitable lot of all who suffer from
this illness. Everywhere you turn, everything you think or do will be
a trade off between who you thought you were and who you will be on a
drug regimen. It's a bit like being a prisoner, but you may as
well get use to this idea now for it will save you a great deal of grief
Because of the difficulties just mentioned, it is absolutely imperative that you find a psychiatrist who will not only listen to you, but will take very seriously whatever experiences and concerns you report. Bipolar stability is won or lost in the client/doctor alliance, so it behooves one to pay special attention and take extra precautions to make sure it is the best possible relationship for all concerned.
You might ask, "What can a person do to lose themself or even have the fear of doing so?" And for those who've not had the delightful experience of dealing with drug side-effects (both the expected and the unexpected) and the eerie realisation that your present persona is somehow quite different from what it once was, that's a fair enough question. But for we who are bipolar, it's a very real, very frightening fact of life. In this section I want us to begin to understand this sense of losing (or having lost) the "self." I want you who aren't cursed with the disorder to feel and experience what we who are diagnosed contend with daily. And I want you who are bipolar (or think you are) to find some comfort in knowing you are not the only one who has felt as though the essential YOU has been irrevocably compromised. There is anger and sorrow here so be forewarned.
Chances are good you have spent a significant amount of your life as an undiagnosed bipolar person. Throughout your life it is likely you've come to regard yourself as being a certain kind of person: a life-of-the-party type, an aggressive intellectual, a charismatic leader, a shaker/mover, or perhaps a sensitive artist type. Maybe you've described yourself as someone who: can't abide confinement, not a 9 to fiver, has a volatile temper, feels like life is a rollercoaster out of control, hates authority, lacks self-confidence, dreams incessantly, or has trouble maintaining relationships. However you see yourself, it's a given that once you begin drug therapy, you won't ever see that same "self" again. You will mourn for the exaggerated high and keen sense of well-being that mania and hypomania bring. And while you think you wouldn't miss the terrible lows, you will to some extent. Depression posterises and solarises the highs, throwing them in stark relief. You will be confused and you will mourn. Read on to learn more of this to-be-expected process.
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