How to Stop Resenting Your Medication

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 Trapwe’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?


3 Things You Should Never Apologize For

Most of the time, I fit in just fine.

Nothing about my disorder—well managed, well medicated, well closeted—causes disturbance others would recognize. Even last week, when I dipped down into despair because of medication management issues, I somehow smiled my way through my pain in public before sobbing into my pillow once I got home.

At a bachelorette party in the Hamptons this past weekend, my mood had improved considerably and I was able to enjoy myself. But because just a few days prior I’d been suffering, I wanted to be vigilant about self-care. It can be hard to assert your needs when those needs are different than everyone else’s.

That said, here are some things none of us should have to apologize for or explain.

1. Not Drinking

I can’t drink more than a glass or two of wine. More than that interferes with my medication and I start to feel depressed. I haven’t been a teenager since the 90s, and yet I still experience peer pressure to drink from well-intentioned friends who want me to have fun. “I really can’t drink,” I tell them. No apology. Just fact.

2. Sleeping In

If I could have a superpower, I think it would be not to fly or to freeze time but to simply be a short sleeper. Unfortunately, I need 8-9 hours to feel rested. In relationships or on vacations with friends who are early risers, I’ve found myself apologizing for sleeping late in the past. But now I’ve come to accept that this is just part of who I am.

3. Feeling Sad

Over the weekend, I spent time with an acquaintance who is always upbeat, cheerful. I so admire her disposition. But I am not her. These days, smiling takes effort. Optimism is hard; crying is easy. I’m not particularly proud when I feel this way, but I understand that this too shall pass. And I’m not about to apologize for my feelings.




Need to Nap? Don’t Feel Guilty

I need a lot of sleep. If I don’t get at least eight hours in a night, I suffer and slip into the strange grip of hypomania. Suddenly, my emails get a little longer and more rambling. My conversations with co-workers reveal overly personal information about myself. I end up in the middle of conversations, talking far more frequently than I normally do, yet forgetting my point. “I completely forgot what I was about to say,” I’ll add.

One of the things that has kept me out of the hospital since my first hospitalization many years ago, is that I take naps when I get overtired. Sometimes it’s the only way to get back on track.

This week has been exhausting. There was a lot of stress at work, and I didn’t get my requisite eight hours each night. And so, today, unapologetically, I’m going to lay down for a few hours and get the rest I need to keep my mind healthy.

It’s not news that napping is good for us. The research shows it’s true for especially short naps— but I find that I need to nap for longer to get the benefits. And I also find that my main issue is not feeling guilty about doing it. What I think all of us with any mental health issues especially need to remember is that sleep is medicine: this is true for both sleeping at night and curling up under the covers or on the couch in the mid-afternoon.

To reference this adorable photo: no harm in sleeping like a puppy dog.