Today was wonderful for me. Just really amazing. Nothing particularly special happened to make it that way. It actually started out fairly distressing. But I put that aside, got up, and made myself all pretty because I was going to the hairdresser. I love to do that, put on some lovely clothes and jewelry and makeup when I’m going to get my hair done, because my stylist always makes my hair so fancy that I want to feel beautiful all over.
And despite the unpleasant start, I had an amazing, wonderful, fantastic, lovely, thoroughly enjoyable day. I noted on facebook that it was one of those days where I loved the world and the world loved me.
And a response by a friend of mine prompted me to write this.
Because people with mental illness, especially those with bipolar disorder, I think, and especially especially those who are of an artistic bent often complain about medication “flattening” them, taking away their creative nature, causing them to lose the highs and joy that they used to have. And trust me when I tell you that I know from my own experience that this is a very real problem. I wouldn’t hesitate to term it an epidemic in the community I referenced (bipolar and artistic). Which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen in other subsets of mental illness. It happens in all of them. And it’s one of the most frustrating feelings in the world.
When you’re in that flattened state, you tend to feel like you have only two options.
- Option number one: You accept this gray life of “stability”, with all you have to sacrifice to live in a world that doesn’t much feel worth living in at all.
- Option number two: You go off of your meds. Your moods may go all kinds of out of control, but you’ll at least be feeling something again.
So which do you choose? Which one of those is a worse future to knowingly condemn yourself to? And what if I told you that there was a third option?
Option three is to be medicated properly. You will lose your extreme mood states, but you won’t be flat. Life will still be as full and rich and beautiful as it ever was. Perhaps more so. This is the option I chose.
It isn’t as easy as all of that, of course. My God, to think about it, for me it took this strength I never would have thought I possessed. Strength, along with my personal brand of world-leveling stubbornness: no way in hell was I going to let mental illness win against me. But I do look back at the past six or seven years of my life and wonder at the fact that I am alive. I am alive, and I am happy to be alive. And next is the part where I tell you what I think was most crucial for me in getting here – at least the things that can be applied outside of my life particularly.
The first thing you need is the most difficult to find, and the easiest to lose. It is, put simply, the determination that you don’t deserve anything less than a happy, fulfilling life. You deserve not to live with a net. You cannot settle for a life where you are always watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop. You cannot settle, period.
I wrote a post on my personal blog almost six months ago. And it contained, for me, some of the most important words I have ever or will ever manage to string together.
That’s something else that changed for me. I’m not living my life in fear anymore. I’m not putting into place backup plans that are only marginally better than the state they would get me out of. Less miserable is still miserable and I refuse to live my life accepting the presence of that spectre. Un-uh. Not me. Not anymore. Not ever again.
Of course it does take more than just that determination. I know a lot of things vary for individuals, but for me it took the presence of a strong support system (my parents), excellent doctors who were willing and able to think outside of the treatment box (for me personally, way outside), and a great deal of really hard work and insight on my part.
I showed up at every single doctors’ appointment I had. No matter how bad things were. Sometimes I needed assistance getting to them (and I actually did three by phone), but no matter how f*cking depressed miserable verging on catatonia I was, I knew that there was only one way to improve that.
I called my psychiatrist every single time my moods were getting out of control, up or down, and as soon as I noticed. Of course no one wants to go down, but I realized that the ups weren’t a place I wanted to be, either. First of all, being a bystander to my own behavior when I was that completely out of control grew very tiresome. Second of all, I had the classic pattern of a down inescapably following an up. And the higher the up, the lower the down.
I also put my brain to use and became an expert on psychoactive medications. And I branched out from just psychoactive, because many of the pills I swallowed over the years didn’t qualify as such. But they all had an effect on me, and I now have a three-inch-thick binder filled with notes on them. I was never hesitant to be extremely vocal and ask endless questions about the medications I was taking. And if I forgot to ask or found a new question after my appointment, I called my doctor and asked it. I still will not swallow any pill without researching the crap out of it. And a happy little “side effect” of that fastidiousness is that I found at least one interaction (possibly more) not on the books that most definitely should have killed me.
But the primary effect of my work was finding the cocktail that suited, the particular mix of meds that was right for me. I didn’t get that from any one doctor. My psychiatrist may write the prescriptions, but I was the person who arrived on the medications, the dosage, and the frequency.
There’s more, if you aren’t feeling overloaded already. I can’t possibly condense everything that got me from then to now into a blog post. Probably there are a few things I couldn’t even put words around. But I think those are the most important elements that could be applied generally.
And if you think it sounds difficult, it was at least five times as hard as all that. And now, I have my basic medication cocktail, which I have to adjust based on what day of my menstrual cycle it is (stability in me unmasked a raging case of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which actually has been remarkably easy to treat – chalk that one up to my knowledge of psychoactives), or even just the way I feel the wind inside of me blowing. Pills taken at six, two, and ten daily. And occasionally as needed in between.
Wow. That certainly doesn’t sound like anything I would ever aspire to, when I read it back. And it shouldn’t, because that’s not my life. It is a crucial, but from where I sit, pretty minor part. It’s the part that allows me to live my life.
And in that life there are still blissful, beautiful days of exuberance and ordinary perfection. Thomas Hardy and a good haircut can still have me dancing on air. A date with my girls has me swinging from the trees. And saddening life changes can still shatter my heart. The difference is, I have come to a place where I can keep moving while I mend it.
Moreover, everything that I went through to get here – the medications (and medication reactions), the talk and behavioral therapies, the horrifying electroconvulsive therapy and resultant post-traumatic stress disorder – I would go through every single bit of it again, just to get to where I am now. Which actually isn’t an ending at all. It’s just the beginning.
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