I Need My Meds
By: Keith O'Neil
A week after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I made my first trip to the pharmacy. On the way there I realized that I had never actually been to one before. Sure, I had been to a Walgreens but I had never visted a pharmacy to get medication. I was 30 years old, kind of pathetic. Until then medication was provided by my team doctor and before that my parents.
I will never forget that trip to the pharmacy. Just one week after a severe manic episode which had spiraled into psychosis here I was walking through Target panicking. I was still feeling the symptoms of mania-mixed episode including paranoia, anxiety, confusion, overwhelmed. At this point, the intense delusions and hallucinations were gone but the other symptoms were present. I was slowly adapting to the anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers I recently begun taking. Things were weird, to say the least. I was a mess and I’m sure if I had ran into someone I knew, it would have been an extremely interesting encounter.
As I approached the pharmacy counter I thought everyone in the pharmacy knew I was bipolar. I thought everyone was staring at me and the people standing in line could somehow hear my heart beat. I was sweating and I was certain that everyone noticed the sweat rolling down the sides of my face. In reality, the other customers most likely coudn’t have cared any less about me. As I approached the pharmacist’s counter I felt like she knew why I was there, like “they” told her. She was waiting for me. That’s how I felt. My paranoia was off the charts. I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I was extremely paranoid. I walked up to the counter, leaned over and whispered “can my wife come get my meds?” The pharmacist said, “yes” and I fled.
For the two years that followed my pharmacist incident my wife took care of the dozen plus meds I tried. One after another; I have anxiety, try this, I have no motivation, try that. I couldn’t keep up. All these meds took a toll on me. Not only mentally but physically as well. The side effects of the meds were almost worse than the illness itself. I needed help, I needed a new direction.
I met with Dr. Stephen Dubofsky, Chair and Professor of the Department of Psychiatry at the University at Buffalo. My wife and I walked into his office and he took one look at me and said, “I looked over your file, how do you even know your name?” I replied, “I don’t know, can you please help?” And that is exactly what he did. He found me a new psychiatrist and we began the long process of changing all my medications. About six months after that initial meeting with Dr. Dubofsky I was a new person. I was “out of the fog” that had been the constant stream of medications. I wanted to move my body again. My mind began to think again. I was living again.
Almost everyone in the bipolar community has medication stories to share. We have to go through the grueling process finding out which combination of medications work best for the individual. For some it’s easier than others. I’ve learned that everyone is different. Just because one medication works for me doesn’t mean it’s going to work for someone else. This has fed my fascination with how the human brain works and is why I am very passionate about funding research. Funding research is one of the missions of my foundation, 4th and Forever. One of the many reasons more research is needed is so those suffering with mental illness don’t also have to suffer with the grueling process of being a medication guinea pig.
I believe I am finally on the right medication. I have to tweak it every so often but they’re working pretty well right now. Currently, I take 2100mg of Lithium and 1200mg of Trileptal a day. Both are mood stabilizers. I recently started taking 10mg of Abilify which is an anti-psychotic. I also take Klonopin - as needed for anxiety and Ambien - as needed for sleep. I’m finally off all the anti-depressants. Anti-depressants are still debated as a medication that can treat bipolar disorder effectively. From my personal experience I do not believe anti-depressants effectively treat bipolar disorder. Anti- depressants shot me into mixed states which had a huge negative effect on my ability to find wellness.
Medication alone doesn’t bring wellness to those who live with bipolar. It is just one piece of the puzzle. For me an active lifestyle is very important. I really enjoy running distance as it brings me clarity. Constant support from family and friends is also crucial. Finally, Faith! Faith in a higher power. For me it’s Jesus Christ. He got me through the most difficult time in my life. No doubt. He is still working in my life daily. I have yet to speak with someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder that doesn’t have faith in some type of higher power.
Below are all the medications I have taken since December 2010:
Depekote (mood stabilizer)
Lithium (mood stabilizer)
Trileptal (mood stabilizer)
Lamictal (mood stabilizer, anti-depressant)
Wellbutrin XL (anti-depressant)
Trazadone (anxiety, depression, insomnia)