Bipolar, Leaving Medication Behind, the Shit Storm to Follow and the Start of a Whole New Journey...
About 7 or 8 months ago I decided to come off medications for bipolar and ocd after battles with insurance companies and frustrating side effects. I wrote a post about that decision and this entry is its follow up.
At the time I made the decision, I was hopeful.
I put together a regiment of natural healing and holistic self-care as I titrated off of them. My routines included Yoga, weightlifting, nature walks with my dog, limiting sugar along with taking cbd oil and other natural supplements. I was all in. I felt inspired, empowered, and looked forward to taking care of myself without medication, even through the inevitable mood swings.
I wanted to experience my life alongside my illness rather than masking its elements. I wanted to fully know me.
At the time I began coming off of the medications, it was toward the end of the summer. My daughter would be starting the 1st grade and my husband would be headed back to work. Life was about to get busy again. Yet, I felt hopeful that I could handle the busyness with grace within my regiment of natural healing.
Yet, right around the beginning of September things
began to change.
I had forgotten about one element of bipolar that, years ago, had been the most difficult to cope with. I hadn’t experienced it for nearly 12 years, but when it returned, it was so familiar and so awful.
I became like simmering water just on the verge of a boil. Rage, for me, is not violent or physically aggressive. Instead, it is like a surge of rageful energy that wants to be unleashed onto the world around me, yet I hold it back like an internal tidal wave using all the strength I can muster to keep it contained, to stop it from affecting other people. Yet, even through my vain attempts to hold it all back, the rage would leak through as frustration, annoyance, agitation, and impatience.
Everything and everyone began to feel like an aggravation, even my beautiful daughter.
Sometimes the rage was so intense all I could do was sit and breathe… I mean, that’s all I could do. If I didn’t, I would verbally attack someone or begin storming around the house in an adult tantrum.
One evening we were headed to a restaurant with my parents. I don’t remember what happened in the car to trigger the rage. Honestly, it wouldn't take much. I stopped talking because I simply couldn’t talk. I knew it would be a scream if allowed sound to come out of my mouth. Yet, my silence was as loud as the scream would have been.
We walked into the restaurant, sat at our table. My energy became like boiling lava with eyes hot and glaring, I knew everyone could sense the tension around me. It felt almost out of control. I had to breathe; face burning, body trembling. My husband looked at me with kind, concerned eyes.
Another evening I was getting my daughter ready for bed. I was tired and, again, the rage was just simmering beneath the surface. Per our usual routine, I was laying in the bottom of her bunk bed and, she on the top. I lay there with her while she fell off to sleep safely above me.
That evening, her nose was stuffy and she was having a hard time falling asleep. At the time she had a hard time understanding that she could also breathe through her mouth to fall asleep when her nose was blocked.
The sound of her sniffling as my eyes sagged with exhaustion felt more like nails on a chalkboard. For just a moment, the rage boiled over, slipping through my lips. I demanded to know what was wrong with her, stop sniffing and just breath through your mouth!
She cried out of her own fatigue, her own frustration and own confusion around her mother's quick anger. I felt sick in my soul.
I had also forgotten another element of bipolar that walks along side rage.
When the rage slipped through, shame wafted forward like tepid air, suffocating and sickening. After snapping at my daughter so sharply about something that she was honestly struggling with, the shame was alarmingly intense. It was the same every time my husband looked at me with those deep, concerned eyes. The shame felt like knives stabbing into my solar plexus.
I wasn’t even completely off of the medication yet...
That evening, as I lay beneath my daughter in her bunk bed feeling a dark pool of shame in my center, I began to question myself and my decision to let go of medication.
It’s one thing to manage even the most arduous elements of a mental illness on your own. It’s another to manage it when other people are along for the ride. My daughter did not sign up for that ride. Neither did my husband. Yet, they were experiencing it all right along side me.
I decided to return to the medication.
I had been free from these most debilitating elements of bipolar for so long that I had forgotten how horrific they can be and why I chose medication in the first place. Yet, the familiarity was just as scary as this new experience. They were reminders of what my life had been like before being diagnosed. All of those moments I’d forgotten about because I’d been free from the rage and shame for so long…
The moment I was so enraged that I punched my bed until I had whiplash…
The moments I would hit or pinch my tiny dog…
The moments I would sob, gripping myself, feeling purely and completely out of control…
The moments I would punch against my steering wheel sitting in traffic or scream at another driver…
And so many more moments…
Resuming medication was even more for my family than for myself. Once I titrated back up to a therapeutic dose again, I started to feel better...not completely centered, but no rage.
Unfortunately, my story with medication doesn't stop there in a neatly tied up package.
After titrating back to the typical dose, it became clear that the medication I had been on for 12 years was no longer working effectively. While I wasn't experiencing rage, the exhausting cycle of hypo-mania, agitation and depression was breaking through.
Within the last few months I've found myself on a bipolar roller-coaster ride, the upward hill of hypo-mania followed by a downward slide into agitation and anger, then falling deeply into depression. I haven’t experienced this rhythm of bipolar so acutely in 12 years.
Recently I found myself nearly debilitated by depression, yet, the strength that has always resided deep within me called my name through the numbness, through the tears and loneliness and demanded I go to the gym, move my body, engage with the world…so I did.
As I drove there I began to cry. The thought of moving my body, the thought of interacting with other people felt physically painful. I pulled into the parking lot, holding the steering wheel, tears rolling down my damp face…the voice shouting, go inside, Sarah, you need to do this. So I did.
I felt a little uplifted after leaving, yet it was short lived as the tears quickly found their way back over and over throughout the day. I called my medication provider and met with her later in the afternoon. I cried for no reason other than for the mass of depression in my body.
She suggested a new medication, an anti-psychotic also used for bipolar. I was afraid of trying something under that scary label. Even as a seasoned psychotherapist, even after witnessing the success others had had on the same medication, fear still gripped me. Even still, holding my fear and hopelessness, I said, anything, I just need this to change.
I began this new medication about two weeks ago, its effect was, thankfully, fast acting. I felt some relief from the depression the day after starting it. I will soon be exploring Ketamine therapy in search of a way to find healing beyond daily medication, which is a journey I will be sure to document. Until then, I am hopeful I will continue to find mental stability medicinally.
So here I am... and I have learned so much.
I have grown exponentially in my spiritual journey and in my personal relationship with my illness.
Thinking back, one of my goals in stopping medication was to get to know me...all of me. All the swings back and forth from depression to hypo-mania, all of my emotions no matter how deep or how grandiose, all of my physical sensations and experiences within my active illness.
I accomplished my goal.
I have gained a deep understanding of my illness's ebbs and flows, creating an intuitive relationship with it. Regardless of the pain and my ultimate decision to resume medication, I entered into a relationship with bipolar and ocd rather than a fearful battle against them.
I was graced with such wisdom as a spiritual teacher and light worker, wisdom that I continue to delve into and understand, as is the journey with all wisdom graced upon us. We rarely understand the breadth and depth of wisdom until we take time in retrospective investigation. This I will share in my next entry.
I close with this...
...we are all Divine beings, mentally ill or mentally typical, neuro-diverse or neuro-typical, able bodied or disabled and on and on...no matter how we choose to engage in relationship with, manage or treat our challenges and limitations does not change this reality.
That's simply not what it's all about. What it is all about is joy, love and being engaged fully in life. However you choose to do that...do it in your individually beautiful way and allow others to do the same. Continue to grow, explore and understand your brand of hard and your brand of fullness.
And the Journey continues.
Sarah is a psychotherapist, Ayurvedic nutritionist and Light Worker in Halifax, MA. Her powerful practices are based in the compassion of Yoga and Ayurveda. Find out more about Sarah and her work.
Contact Sarah by email.