Frequent worries of patients being treated for bipolar disorder and the truths I’ve learned from my journey.
Receiving the diagnosis can be terrifying. Living with the condition is one adventure after another and not in the good way. Coming to terms with medication can be one of the most challenging obstacles.
Medication is a constant source of anxiety for people with bipolar disorder.Three of the biggest concerns are:
- You won’t be you anymore
- You’ll lose your creativity
- You’ll feel numb all the time.
It’s terrifying. I understand. I’ve been on this ride for over 25 years. Here’s what I’ve discovered on my bipolar journey.Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
I won’t be me anymore
The first challenge is to get past the fear that medication will make you into somebody else. It will and it won’t. Let me explain.
You may feel you’ve changed especially if you have been in an extended bipolar depression or manic episode. Medication can quickly make everything feel strange.
Whether you love it or hate it, living with bipolar highs and lows feels normal after a while. Then, when you start taking medication, things feel awkward because it’s not what you’re used to. That’s okay. This is good progress.
Not everything in the media about bipolar is true. Read my open letter: To All Those Who Are Misinformed About Bipolar Disorder
The truth to remember is who you are in your core being will not change. Even if you feel out of sorts for a while, you will always be you. You will like the same things. You’ll have the same talents. You will be the same person where it matters.
If you’re just starting your bipolar journey, you may not believe me. When I was first diagnosed in the mid-90s, I thought everything was changing. It took six years of talk therapy to strip away all the misbeliefs I had about bipolar disorder. Finally, I realized I am me no matter what medication I take.
You can do the same thing. The exercise I did was to tear away all the parts of me that weren’t essential. A lot like Shrek and peeling an onion, I pulled away all the layers to find out who I was at my core.
I was happy to find that I was still me, bipolar disorder or not. Likewise, you will still be you.
I won’t be creative anymore
People with bipolar disorder seem to have a higher rate of creativity than the general population. In fact, everyone I know with bipolar disorder is some sort of creator. I know writers, musicians, scrap bookers, painters, jewelry makers, and the list goes on and on.
Prior to medication, creativity and mania can make you feel euphoric and unstoppable. The creative ideas and processes come so easily, and you feel you have endless energy to produce them.
Then comes medication. Like a burst balloon, you may feel like all the creativity vanished. It’s the biggest reason many creatives stop taking their medication. They fear their muse won’t return.
Suddenly stopping a medication is a dangerous game to play. Please don’t play it.
The truth is your creativity is still there. In fact, the things you produce when bipolar disorder is under control are often more beautiful and more engaging. Better yet, they get finished. Few creative projects get completed when I’m not medicated.
The trick is to keep creating.
If you’re a writer, sit down and write, even if it’s writing the same word repeatedly. If you’re a painter, pull out a canvas and paint, even if you paint with only one color. If you’re a musician, practice your instrument, even if you’re stuck on just one note.
The same is true of any other creative art. Take the time to practice your art, and you’ll find that your creativity and inspiration are still inside of you.
Before medication, I would often spend the entire night writing. That rush of words and emotions felt better than any drug. I feared I would never experience it again.
Yet, when I took the time to write, the words did come, and so did the emotions. Maybe the high isn’t as high as it once was, but that awesome feeling when the creativity is flowing still happens. Medication didn’t change that.
Your muse may be quieter, but it’s still there.
You are still you.
I’ll feel numb all the time
It is my belief that people with bipolar disorder experience emotions on a more varied and deeper level than others. Maybe that has something to do with manic episodes and how mania can make everything seem so much more detailed and vibrant than it really is.
Starting a medication can make all those fantastic sharp edges suddenly feel dull and blurry. The constant onslaught of a thousand different emotions now dwindled down to just a few will be startling. The absence can deceive you into thinking you’re numb and feeling nothing.
Your emotions are still there. You may struggle to comprehend experiencing only one or two emotions at a time, but it’s healthier.
I’ve kept a journal for over 35 years. For me, journaling is how I keep in touch with how I’m doing and what I’m feeling. Those days I feel numb, like bipolar disorder or medication are taking away the best part of me, I sit and write until I can figure out exactly what’s in my head and heart.
The truth is medication doesn’t take away your feelings. They are still there, but there will be times when you’ll have to look for them.
You are still you.
You will always be you
Taking medication for bipolar disorder can make everything feel foreign. That new world will tempt you to stop taking your prescription. I implore you not to.
It may sound cliché, but it really does get better.
Especially if you are new to medication, be patient and give it the time it needs to work properly. Unfortunately, that can sometimes take a while.
You are still you
It took me over 30 different medications and four years before we stumbled across a combination of drugs to make me stable and still productive. I know that sounds depressing, but that was in late ’90s, and treatment for bipolar disorder has improved a lot in the years since. Your experience will probably be a much shorter window.
Throughout that initial period, and in the occasional periods where you need to make adjustments to medications, try to always keep in mind that you are still you.
Let me repeat that. You. Are. Still. You.
To recap, here are a few things you can do.
- Remind yourself who you are at your core.
- Continue practicing your creative art.
- Keep a journal to remind yourself what is true.
- Explore your real emotions.
- Stay in touch with the people you love.
By doing these things, you’ll always know the truth.
You are still you.
Until next time, keep fighting.
Read next: The Two Faces of Bipolar Disorder