MEDICATION, MEDICATION, MEDICATION
I must have been on every drug in the psychiatric armoury. It’s taken me 20 years to find the right combination of pills to keep me stable – during that period, I’ve had 24 admissions to various hospitals. To take or not to take? Big question – I’ve been medicated for 25 years now and haven’t quite got the bottle to try without. However, I have suffered from disastrous side effects over the years and now I have to settle for being overweight by three or four stone, and I get the added bonus of arthritis in my knees so I find it difficult to exercise. Bummer.
At least one of the drugs I’ve been prescribed has now been taken off the market as it was too dangerous. On olanzapine, my face swelled up and half my hair fell out, so badly that I had to wear a wig for two months. On haloperidol, I locked up completely and had to take vast quantities of procyclidine to get unlocked again. On sertraline, I had to go to loo all the time, and on lofepramine, I couldn’t go at all. Except at night, of course, when I wanted to sleep. Sleep – now there’s an issue. Ever had chloral hydrate? It is the MOST disgusting syrup – and when you’ve managed to swallow it, you feel as though you’ve had a general anaesthetic. I veered between not sleeping and passing out.
I went to see a psychiatrist who told me that lithium was a drug of last resort and if it didn’t work, there was nothing else he could do for me. It didn’t work, because I completely lost any interest I had in anything, and mislaid my personality along the way. We are nothing without a personality. I was put on sodium valproate, which didn’t work either, so I came off any mood stabilisers. I’d tried a lot of anti-depressants (Prozac sent me manic in 3 days) and ended up on sertraline, with risperidone as an anti psychotic. I also took nitrazepam at night.
Hospital was an eye-opener. It served a purpose, though; I’d been coping on my own, and when I was admitted, I realized that others felt the way I did, suffering extreme mood swings and generally having one’s life constantly upset. I made friends with people who had the same diagnosis and tried to get better. Eventually, I was discharged on sertraline and chlorpromazine.
I had three cats at that stage, and two were run over. The other one died of leukaemia. Admission number two followed. Eventually, I began to get back to a fairly functioning life, interspersed with admission. I had a new psychiatrist who seemed to understand that I wanted my life back, and she offered me the chance to take a new drug – aripiprazole It was an anti psychotic, but was in the process of being licensed as a mood stabilizer. I jumped at the chance – I was also prescribed venlafaxine, at quite a high dose, and chlorpromazine and nitrazepam for when I went high.
It proved to be a robust combination. My hospital admissions decreased and I began to do things again, like fly fishing, which I love. Although I still have episodes, they are more manageable and I haven’t been in hospital for a couple of years. Instead, I’m treated by the Home Treatment team.
I now take aripiprazole, venlafaxine and quetiapine when I’m unwell. It sounds like a lot of medication, and indeed it is, but at last I’ve got my personality back and I’m achieving things in my life. I have to watch out to make sure that I sleep, as lack of sleep is a big trigger for mania.
So – to take or not to take. Me – I take the meds. I suppose that’s mostly because I believe bipolar disorder is a bio chemical illness, precipitated by stressful events. I hate the side effects, particularly the weight gain, but I’m prepared to put up with them in order to stay well. The combination I’m on seems to work – I haven’t plucked up the courage to try without drugs as yet. Maybe one day. In the meantime, I’ll go on taking the tablets
I spent 16 years in the RAF defending the Free World , then got bunged out unceremoniously for being bipolar. I and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. Funny old world, isn't it?