Why I’m Living Unmedicated With Bipolar Disorder
Editors note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
So much of the conversation around bipolar disorder is often focused on the importance of medication and with good reason. It seems like the ongoing struggle for people living with bipolar disorder is finding the right meds. Ive read countless stories from many people, arguing mostly for the use of medication. What I havent seen before is an experiential account of being indefinitely unmedicated as someone with bipolar disorder.
So let me share with you my reasons for being unmedicated and why I dont really recommend it.
Ive lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders for around 18 years now, although the bipolar was initially diagnosed as major depression. I was medicated for a year or so around the age of 18 and spent much of that time feeling as though Id been robbed of my emotions. I also stopped feeling that desperate and pressing need to end my life.
Three years later, I was rapid cycling and ended up having to take several weeks off from work. Id be up, energized and overconfident in my abilities, but always two steps away from agitation and rage then I would crash into suicidal depressions. I ended up working with a psychologist for the next few months who had me chart my moods and eventually gave me a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder type II, with some rapid cycling.
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Unsplash photo via Daniel Monteiro
Mental Health Treatment Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
Push For Residential Treatment
Bipolar disorder is a complicated illness that touches every area of a persons life and that usually requires time to adjust to and benefit from therapy and medication. Outpatient care can help, but for your loved one, push residential care to get the best outcome. Residential treatment will provide them with the time and safe environment in which to really focus on learning how to live well with this chronic illness.
There are several things a residential treatment center can offer that outpatient treatment cannot necessarily provide:
- A multi-disciplinary staff with several areas of expertise
- Several types of therapy
- Around-the-clock supervision with medical care
- Individualized treatment plans
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Pregnancy And Bipolar Medicines
One of the main problems is that the risks of taking bipolar medicines during pregnancy are not well understood.
If you’re pregnant and you have bipolar disorder, a written plan for your treatment should be developed as soon as possible.
The plan should be drawn up with you, your partner, your obstetrician , midwife, GP and health visitor.
The following medicines are not routinely prescribed for pregnant women with bipolar disorder, as they may harm the baby:
The Role Of Medication In Bipolar Disorder Treatment
If you have bipolar disorder, medication will likely be a part of your treatment plan. Medication can bring mania and depression under control and prevent relapse once your mood has stabilized. You may not like the idea of taking bipolar medication long term, especially if youre struggling with unpleasant side effects. But just as a diabetic needs to take insulin in order to stay healthy, taking medication for bipolar disorder will help you maintain a stable mood.
Since finding the right drug and dose can be tricky, its important to work closely with a specialist and re-evaluate your medication regularly. Its also important to remember that taking medication is just one aspect of a successful treatment program. There are plenty of other steps you can take to manage your symptoms and even reduce the amount of medication required. Healthy lifestyle changes, self-help coping strategies, and exploring therapy are also important in coping with bipolar disorder symptoms and helping you live a full, productive life.
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Do I Have To Take Medication Forever
The simplest answer to this question is it depends.
Much of the information available says thatonce you are diagnosed with bipolar disorderyou will have to take medication for the rest of your life. Most commonly included medications are Lithium, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. But different things work for different people.
Some people find that medications are very helpful for them in their recovery. They experience little to no side effects and see benefits from their medication with the things they were struggling with. Even for those who experience serious side effects, they may decidejust like with any other type of medicine or medical procedurethat the risks and side effects are worth the benefits. Some choose to stay on medication when they are feeling ok to lessen the likelihood and intensity of future episodes of mania, hypomania, or depression.
Other people use medication for short periods of time. These are individuals who may not want to be on medication all the time, and may work with their doctors to adjust their medications based on what is happening in their lives. People may have years go by where they take no medications at all.
Some people choose to not take medications at all. Often, they do not want to deal with the side effects of medications or do not find them especially helpful.
How Is Nimh Addressing Bipolar Disorder
The National Institute of Mental Health conducts and supports research on bipolar disorder that increases our understanding of its causes and helps develop new treatments. Researchers continue to study genetics and bipolar disorder, brain function, and symptoms in children and teens who have bipolar disorder, as well as family history in health and behavior.
Learn more about NIMHs research priorities and current studies.
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What To Ask A Doctor
A doctor cannot offer a cure for bipolar disorder, but they can support a person with the condition to manage their symptoms.
If their current treatment plan is not working, a person should speak to their doctor about trying different:
- talk therapies
- support groups
Working together with a trusted doctor is the best way to find the right combination of treatments. Effective, consistent treatment can reduce the frequency and severity of mood episodes.
Cognitive Impairment In Bipolar Disorder
Many people find this scary. We already have bipolar, does this mean we have memory problems as well? Maybe. Cognitive impairment from memory lapses, forgetting appointments, being unable to remember information, and experiencing brain fog during certain episodes is common! If you have bipolar, youve probably felt the sluggish brain that comes with depression. If you have mania, you have probably tripped over your words, said things you didnt mean, and had trouble thinking thoughts in order.
My cognitive symptoms visit me daily. Im not able to remember dates and numbers, and I need help with calendars and appointments. Mine got worse after intense therapy I had for severe depression. Its something I find distressing, but its easy to manage.
I want us to be open about cognitive issues. This is the only way we can get help! My cognitive symptoms tend to linger all of the time, but they get worse with mood swings. A perfect example of this: I was supposed to submit this blog by midnight. Yesterday, I reminded myself all day to submit it, but I still managed to go to sleep without sharing it on time. I have to live with these symptoms, and even though a few things slip through, I do control the majority of my minor memory problems with a good support system!
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Natural Remedies For Treating Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts in mood, energy, and levels of activity. Medications can help people manage symptoms, but these can have adverse effects. A number of natural remedies may also help.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimate that around 2.6 percent of people in the United States have bipolar disorder, and nearly 83 percent of cases are severe. On average, it starts when a person is 25 years old.
A person with bipolar disorder experiences times of severe depression and times of mania, or high mood. The risks during a low mood include an inability to function at work and in other areas of life.
During mania, the person may be at risk of making reckless decisions. If the mood becomes too high or low, psychosis can develop.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatment enables people to manage it. Some lifestyle adaptations can also help, alongside the medication.
Bipolar Disorder Without Meds
The first episodes of bipolar disorder often happen in teens and young adults. This can be a confusing and scary time, but with help you can live a happy fulfilling life. Staying on top of treatment for bipolar disorder can help you keep your life on track while feeling good. You can help yourself cope with bipolar disorder by keeping your stress low, living a healthy lifestyle, and getting support from family and professionals.
Eric Buck specializes in helping bipolar sufferers and their families weather the transition to life with a bipolar diagnosis and provides therapy and lifestyle help to treat bipolar disorder without medication.
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Young Adults May Outgrow Bipolar Disorder
- University of Missouri-Columbia
- Bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, causes severe and unusual shifts in mood and energy, affecting a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks. With symptoms often starting in early adulthood, bipolar disorder has been thought of traditionally as a lifelong disorder. Now, researchers have found evidence that nearly half of those diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 25 may outgrow the disorder by the time they reach 30.
Bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, causes severe and unusual shifts in mood and energy, affecting a persons ability to perform everyday tasks. With symptoms often starting in early adulthood, bipolar disorder has been thought of traditionally as a lifelong disorder. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found evidence that nearly half of those diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 25 may outgrow the disorder by the time they reach 30.
Using two large nationally representative studies, we found that there was a strikingly high peak prevalence of bipolar disorders in emerging adulthood, said David Cicero, doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science
and lead author of the paper. During the third decade of life, the prevalence of the disorder appears to resolve substantially, suggesting patients become less symptomatic and may have a greater chance of recovery.
Types Of Bipolar Disorder
There are three basic types of bipolar disorder all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely up, elated, and energized behavior or increased activity levels to very sad, down, hopeless, or low activity-level periods . People with bipolar disorder also may have a normal mood alternating with depression. Four or more episodes of mania or depression in a year are termed rapid cycling.
- Bipolar I Disorder is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days or when manic symptoms are so severe that hospital care is needed. Usually, separate depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks. Episodes of mood disturbance with mixed features are also possible.
- Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.
- Cyclothymic Disorder is defined by persistent hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not intense enough or do not last long enough to qualify as hypomanic or depressive episodes. The symptoms usually occur for at least two years in adults and for one year in children and teenagers.
- Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders is a category that refers to bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match any of the recognized categories.
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Enjoy Light Or Dark Therapy
Sunlight might have a role to play in managing bipolar disorder symptoms.
Sunlight also helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm, your 24-hour internal clock. Circadian rhythm disruptions are a suspected contributor to bipolar disorder mood episodes.
Sunlight isnt the only light thought to influence symptoms of mood episodes.
Getting Diagnosed And Getting Treated
While bipolar disorder is generally a life-long illness, treatment helps most people manage their symptoms. You may still have lingering symptoms and relapses, but you can enjoy a good and productive life. Because there is no blood test or brain scan that can diagnose bipolar disorder, you need to let your doctor know if you have any of the symptoms. You may be at increased risk of bipolar disorder if you have a family history of the disease.
Symptoms to report include:
Periods of depression when you may be very tired, have no energy, be unable to think straight, feel helpless, or have thoughts of death or suicide
Periods of mania when you may not need sleep, talk very fast, be very restless, have unrealistic ideas, and engage in reckless behaviors
Periods of mania or depression that last for at least seven days
Periods of mania or depression that are a major change from your normal behavior, most likely affecting your work and social life
Shifting back and forth between periods of feeling low, sad and helpless and feeling high, unstoppable and energetic
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How Frequently Do The Periods Of Mania And Depression Occur
Many people with bipolar have long periods of normal mood and functioning in between their highs and lows. Others have rapid cycling symptomsdefined as having episodes of mania or depression four or more times in one year. The majority of people with bipolar have one or two cycles a year, but theres no typical duration for the cyclesthey could last a few hours, days, weeks, or months.
Sometimes the manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time or go from one to the other within a day. People who are experiencing a mixed episode can feel sad, empty, and hopeless as well as wired and full of energy, all at the same time.
Be An Active Participant In Your Treatment
When you receive treatment, make sure that youre playing an active role in whatever that plan is. Take the time to learn about the disorder, understand all the ways in which it impacts you and ask questions.
A big part of figuring out how to deal with bipolar disorder is getting to know yourself. Learn more about your specific symptoms and see if you can identify any situations or triggers that you might need to avoid.
Once you learn more about bipolar and yourself, you can be a collaborator along with your doctor or therapist to plan your treatment. Be someone who asks questions and shares your concerns. If you have a treatment provider you arent comfortable collaborating with or talking to honestly, its okay to find someone different who can be a better partner with you on your journey.
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Make The Right Lifestyle Changes
Making the appropriate lifestyle changes not only mitigates manic episodes and reduces the chances of experiencing an unwanted side effect it also improves your quality of life.
For example, a regular meal plan rich in omega-3 fatty acids can enhance your health and mood. Even little things such as using a meditation app or mood tracking technologies to keep up with your progress can help keep you motivated.
You should also develop a healthy routine that works with your schedule and preferences. This might include daily exercise or conversations with a loved one.
Reality #: Mania Often Needs Medications And Always Needs Trigger Management
A general note: Mania and depression are symptoms. One is not different from the other. Both signal illness in my book.
Its extremely unfair that people with bipolar disorder have to take medications when they feel TOO good. That sucks. Its not cool that coming out of a depression and going into a euphoric mania isnt a good thing when it feels so incredible. Its natural we want to end uncomfortable dysphoric episodes, but cling to the euphoric mania especially after a depression. I want to change how we look at mania. To explode the myth that depression is bad and mania is good. To help us find true stability that is defined by life without depression or mania.
I have a radical question to propose:
I ask this of the people who love a person with bipolar disorder who loves mania more than they love stability.
I ask this of you, if you have bipolar disorder and often seek more help for depression thanmania.
I ask this of myself daily, in order to stay stable.
What if all mania, no matter how a person feels is seen as just as dangerous as suicidal depression?Julie
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What Does It Mean To Be Bipolar
Once called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration and an inability to carry out daily tasks. Moods can range from highs where you feel extremely energized, elated or unusually irritable to lows which can lead to sadness, indifference, or hopelessness.1
Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, its possible to manage mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan that, in most cases, includes medications and psychotherapy.
In general, bipolar disorder is much better controlled if treatment is continuous and tailored to each person since different people respond to treatment in different ways, says Diana Samuel, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center. The combination of psychotherapy and medications together tends to be more effective, providing improvement in symptoms sooner.