By: Aubrey Good
When making the decision to take an active role in handling my bipolar disorder, I was given a lot of advice that warned of the hard times ahead and the need for patience and endurance. The most common conversations, whether it is with my medical team or peers, include phrases like:
-“Finding the right medication will take a lot of trial and error before you find the right fit.”
-“Healing is not linear. There will be plenty of ups and downs throughout this lifelong illness.”
-“A regular sleep schedule will help balance your moods.”
-“Therapy will sometimes be painful and uncomfortable as you face your illness head on.”
All of these examples are sound advice, but they only address the difficulties that arise in managing one’s mental healthcare. What I wish someone would have told me is that you also have to be careful about the periods of time where you feel happy, healthy, and balanced. That is when your mind can play dangerous games with itself: it can tell you that you have no illness or have been cured.
Here and there I have been told stories about bipolar patients who discontinue their medication or other healthcare regimen but without explanation as to why. I generally assumed that these people did not want to deal with the side effects of the medicine, the exhausting and sometimes brutal self-reflection that therapy calls for, or the demands of changing your lifestyle to work with your illness. All of these are real reasons people stop their care plan but what is not as often talked about is the people who stop because they believe they are no longer afflicted.
I have been taking medication, attending therapy, and aggressively adjusting my lifestyle for the last year and a half. I have dealt with every issue I listed above but am now feeling like I am in a good place with a healthy and realistic balance. In fact, I have made great progress on a personal level in the past couple of months that has me feeling hopeful and optimistic about my future. So it was greatly alarming to me when a few weeks ago I began having thoughts that I have been misdiagnosed and have no need for the mental health plan I have so persistently worked on.
To be honest, I started to let slip some very important components to my current regimen. I was going back and forth on whether or not I actually had bipolar disorder. I stopped using my daily pill organizer and missed a few dosages because I couldn’t remember if I had already taken my pills. I started drinking a lot more caffeine that I had previously cut back on drastically. I also allowed my insomnia to take over and lost control over my sleep schedule.
Although I saw the negative consequences of downplaying my mental health needs, I still could not shake this idea that I have been doing so well because I never had a mental illness to begin with and not that it was actually due to my hard work in the face of the illness.
Fortunately, I got back on track quickly as I realized how this way of thinking is dangerous and how much I had to lose by allowing it to flourish in my mind. It felt as though I had a devil and an angel on my shoulder; the devil was the voice telling me that I did not have bipolar and the angel was telling me that I should be proud of the place I am in despite the illness.
I do not doubt that throughout my life I will have these thoughts again, just as I am sure that I am not alone in these moments. I created a general plan for the future times where I feel so well that I doubt my illness. I hope that this can help those of you in your moments of doubt as well.
When In Doubt…
- Do not stop current mental health care regimen.
- Discuss with doctor. Do not make any changes without his/her guidance.
- Do not compare self to others.
- Compare your current wellbeing with the difficult times before taking care of mental health.
- Reflect on the growth achieved over this period of time.
- Talk with family or friends about the positive changes that came from owning mental health.
- Talk it out in a therapy session.
- Remember that there is no shame in living with mental illness!