Note: This article includes Natalia’s experiences of having taken antipsychotic medication, but individual experiences may differ and have different issues. If you have any questions about medications or treatment plans, please reach out to your psychiatrist or a medical professional.
When I was in my early thirties, I was trying to be a superwoman caseworker at an agency for individuals with developmental disabilities. As I reflect back, I was giving much more energy to my job than I should have. I worked a lot of unpaid overtime. And to make everything worse, I was working part time at an agency serving individuals with chronic mental illness.
I was neglecting my body by binge eating and slowly became a diabetic. I had neglected most of my interpersonal relationships and did not go to wedding or baby showers, which most of my friends were intermittently having. I found those events depressing, as I was not dating or having babies. I was convinced that no man would want me because I had bipolar disorder.
I was very attached to the clients on my caseload at the agency where I worked with persons with intellectual disabilities. After nearly six years, it was decided by administration that I would be transferred to another caseload in a different office. I never expected this to happen and I was devastated. I was very suicidal.
All of the antidepressants had been tried. I was on Lamictal, Lithium and Effexor XR. I was also taking Luvox for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was dead set against taking a typical or antitypical antipsychotic, because of having a terribly bad experience with Haldol in my early twenties.
Long before I was transferred, I was exhausted. I had a difficult time waking up each morning because I was so depressed. Functioning became very difficult. It became a tough task to take a shower and tend to my personal grooming. I let my hair grow out and often went to work with it wet, clamped up in a clip. This was unusual because I historically kept my hair short and tend to primp.
My new caseload caused disruptions with sleeping, and it is critical that a person get good sleep when they have bipolar disorder. I was getting pages from the emergency room, asking for medical documentation in the middle of the night for one client, and others were paging for tasks at all hours for life tragedies and would have to be redirected. More often than not, their issues could wait until the next business day. The pager caused added anxiety, and if there was an emergency, I was expected to react at the drop of a hat.
This all became too much, and it had become impossible to get along with coworkers and parents. My supervisor was not sympathetic to my decompensation. One day I had an appointment with my psychiatrist and I told her that I was going to the doctor and that I might not be back. I did not tell her what kind of doctor. She paged me at the end of the day and asked me why I had not been back to the office. I told her that I was being admitted to the hospital. She became enraged with me and she said that I never told her that I was not returning to work. Long story short, I was so emotionally sacked that I hung up on her because she would not stop bullying me.
I spent eleven days in the psychiatric ward. Rest, time away from my pager, and tinkering with my medications was not making a difference. I was nearly catatonic. I could not eat much and getting out of bed was difficult. I was not showering very often and I slept a lot. I could not leave my room, because I feared that I would run into one of the psychiatric practitioners that I worked with at my job seeing other patients on the ward and they would learn that I was a patient there (two practitioners did).
My psychiatrist all but pleaded with me to try an antipsychotic medication. I repeatedly said “NO.” Finally, on day eight in the hospital, I was so despondent about being there and the out of pocket charges that I was incurring that when my psychiatrist asked me if I would take an antipsychotic, I cried. I told him, “Yes, because I have nothing to lose anymore.” He immediately left the room and within a short period of time, I began taking an atypical antipsychotic.
Two days later, I went into the dining hall and sat at the table. A staff member reported that it was the first time that she had seen me smile. I literally felt like a new person. My doctor and I did have to tweak the dose quite a bit, as the atypical antipsychotic made me very sleepy. It made me feel alive again, and I will always remain grateful to my psychiatrist that he kept offering it to me and did not give up.
The moral of this story:
One may have to try many different options before the one that “works” is located. One may have to resort to taking an atypical antipsychotic to get better. At the time, I felt as if the antipsychotic was very extreme, but so was my depression. If you find that you have a psychiatrist that will not work with you to help you have less mania or depression, educate yourself the best that you can on other modalities and ask lots of questions. If your practitioner cannot or will not help, try to locate a practitioner that will.