Surf the internet and you’ll find plenty of reasons to feel completely overwhelmed and depressed about bipolar disorder. One article tells you you’ll never have a successful relationship; another tells you a tale of beating the disease with a no sugar diet (I don’t question that the author had this experience, yet I don’t believe bipolar disorder can be fully treated with dietary modifications any more than cancer can).
As human beings, we’re used to feeling like we have control over our own moods. Which is why medication to control mood can feel like an indulgence, a choice, an unnecessary option for people who don’t have willpower. If you’re in a bad mood, after all, you should be able to snap yourself out of it. But depression, as you probably know, isn’t a bad mood. It’s a debilitating state of being. And mania isn’t a good mood. It’s a seemingly enhanced state of being that leads to debilitation if not treated.
Medication is not a cop out
More than reinforcing stereotypes or prescribing homeopathic remedies for a disease, the story that needs to be told is that bipolar disorder is treatable with the right medications and shift in lifestyle. Can some people do it without medication? I suppose. But do yourself a favor and don’t feel bad about having to take a combination of Prozac or Lithium or Seroquel or Abilify or whatever else you have been prescribed.
Medication is not unnatural
So many people talk about these medications not being ‘natural.’ You’ll actually hear people say things like, “Cave men didn’t need Prozac.” Or, “I’m just going to manage my own moods with an organic diet and exercise.” But cave men didn’t wear glasses or take antibiotics. Should we walk around with bad vision too? And in terms of managing our own moods—the bipolar ‘mood,’ as I stated above, is not like every other person’s mood. It’s a manifestation of a disease. There are very few other diseases people feel comfortable managing themselves. We don’t treat our own broken bones or self-prescribe cancer treatments.
Medication is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle
While I know that I wouldn’t be alive today were it not for psychotropic medications, I also know that I wouldn’t be a highly functioning human being if it weren’t for decisions I have made to alter my lifestyle. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Drinking very little alcohol
- Sleeping 8-9 hours a night
- Working a job that doesn’t keep me up all night
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Practicing yoga
The most important item, for me, on this list, is sleep. And that’s a tough one because we do live in a culture that treats sleep deprivation like a badge of honor. To be busy—so busy you have no time for anything, let alone resting, is a point of pride. “God, I’m just going going going all the time, nonstop,” people will stay. The punchline of this mentality being that, as Tim Kreider pointed out in his great op-ed The Busy Trap, we’ve chosen to live this way.
Which means that you can choose to take care of yourself. You can choose to find the right medications for you. (Assuming you have access to a doctor—I do know that some people don’t have the resources to get care though I hope that’s changing.) You can choose to live a healthy life. You can choose to give yourself time for rest and rejuvenation.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be struggle. And I’m certainly NOT trying to say in this post that if you have depression, anti-depressants are some kind of magic pill. They are not. They often don’t work. My point is that not taking these medications because of societal pressure to be “stronger’ than them is absurd. For so many of us, they’ve made a life once torn apart by this illness something we’re now able to manage.
What’s your emotional relationship to medication? If you don’t take medication but have bipolar disorder, how are you managing?