10-12 Pills

Most days I take 10–12 pills to help manage my bipolar disorder. Some help with symptoms, and some help with side effects from the ones that help with symptoms. “Most days” because some days I forget some or all. One of the side effects is poor memory. (One of the support drugs is usually given to people with traumatic brain injuries to help heal holes in the brain.)

I started on this combination a year before the pandemic hit. I had been misdiagnosed and mis-medicated for decades. After a new psychologist (not my psychiatrist mind you) landed on rapid-cycling bipolar 2, I spent three years going on and off different psychotropic medications and combinations. It was not fun.

Finally, my psychiatrist (whom I do love even if I was snarky about him above), approached me with this experimental regimen after digging deep in the journals.

Right away, it pumped the brakes on my suicidal ideation, which had been midrange-to-severe since adolescence. It also reined in my manic and depressive episodes. It tripled if not quadrupled the number of days in a month that I felt like myself. Yay drugs!

That was two years ago. But nothing exacerbates mental illness like stress. Throughout the pandemic, my episodes have been slowly but steadily becoming more frequent and more intense. It isn’t bad enough to make me want to start dicking around with my meds though, especially since my suicidal ideation is still tiny compared to how it used to be.

So, I will stay on my 10–12 pills a day. I can’t imagine what Covid-era living would have been like without them.

Hidden in this discussion is the fact that there’s more to managing bipolar than taking pills. Even in the best of times, faithfully taking the right meds has only meant my episodes eased up. I still had to do what I could to prevent them; I still had to avoid those behaviors that invite them. And when episodes happened, I still had to navigate them and the fallout from them.

That’s all still true today, only more so because it’s no longer the best of times.

Having a mental illness is hard. Having an untreated one is even harder. If that’s your situation, keep trying. Join a support group (online for now). Find somebody who can advocate for you when you can’t do it for yourself. Ask for help when you need it.

It took me decades to get to a place where life feels worth living more than half of the time. Decades because I didn’t want to be a burden, I didn’t want to be seen as weak or crazy.

Don’t be like me.

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