The summer before I was supposed to start my first semester of grad school, I moved cross country to attend a program that I had been admitted to on a full merit-based scholarship.
I don't know how it started, but one thing led to another, and all of the sudden I went from being "myself" to having the most terrifying experience of my life: I thought that I was being stalked by an ex from college. I even attempted to apply for a restraining order, and called my friends from college to try to ask for help.
I don't remember much of what happened, but after a week of experiencing intense psychotic delusions, I wound up in the ER, and then in the psych ward of the state hospital for a month.
Upon discharge, I started my first week of classes as a graduate student. I was assigned a medical student who I would check in with once a week. She would prescribe my medication to me, and help me to evaluate my symptoms.
The medication made it difficult for me to focus on school. I was fidgety, inattentive, and had a hard time putting together sentences that were longer than one or two words. According to my doctors, this was "good," because it was a sign that my medication was working. I wasn't able to meet my academic requirements, and by the end of the semester, I had done so poorly that my scholarship was revoked.
I decided to leave school rather than take out loans to continue in my graduate program.
After three years on mood stabilizers, I stopped taking them.
I had been seeing a resident psychiatrist through a sliding scale clinic at a hospital in my city, the hospital went out of business and my file was referred to a city health clinic. City Health clinics are not nice places to be, and I was unhappy that I couldn't continue to see the psychiatrist that I had been comfortable with, so I stopped going to appointments to get refills for my medication.
I don't remember if I stopped cold turkey or not, and I don't remember if I had any withdrawal symptoms, but I did lose the 40 pounds that I had gained while on mood stabilizers. I have had three hospitalizations since my diagnosis, which all occurred while I was on medication that was intended to keep me even-keeled.
There is a very big difference for me between "stable" and "on mood stabilizers." It seems like the author of the other IHTM titled "I Have Bipolar Disorder and Choose Not to Take My Medication" has a very different relationship with their symptoms than I do and I wanted to present a different picture of what unmedicated Bipolar Disorder can be like.
It's not a strictly black and white situation: medication doesn't always equal stability, and vice versa.
I am very lucky that I have a supportive family. My mom would also be the first to tell me if she felt that I was truly going to harm myself. I also trust my friends and family to let me know when they think I need to take better care of myself so that I don't go from having a bad week to being manic.
Some warning signs for me are if I am having a very hard time staying asleep at night, if I'm overly anxious, or short tempered, or have racing thoughts. Usually then I try to focus on self-care, and do things to help me calm down like exercise and get enough sleep.
Sometimes I'll take Valerian root before bed to make sure I stay well-rested. I also avoid things that would add to my stress level like extra projects at work or social obligations that aren't 100% necessary.
I also make sure to exercise and eat healthfully. In general, I am very mindful of my stress levels, and take extra care when I am traveling, moving or switching jobs so that I don't get out of sync with myself.
I have a full time job that I like a lot, with excellent health insurance and medical leave should I need it. I do see a psychologist once a month to check in and talk about how I am doing, she works with me to help manage some of my other issues such as anxiety and ADD but she doesn't prescribe me medication for Bipolar Disorder. There's no ostensible need to right now.
My boss doesn't know I am Bipolar. I hope she never has to find out. I don't want to be judged based on what might be a misconception of what my disorder is, especially when it comes to my workplace. I am careful when I am dating about whether or not I choose to tell that person.
I don't need to be babysat, but I do expect whoever I am with to recognize that a lot of what I do to take care of myself helps me to be the me they like to be around.
A lot of the steps that I take to make sure that I stay stable are all things that everyone should be doing to stay healthy, regardless of if they are also on medication to treat their mental health or not. If someone close to your is having problems managing their mental health, please do your best to be supportive.
I should also point out that Bipolar patients are sensitive to stress and change, so stopping medication suddenly without a doctor, social worker, or qualified therapist to help make sure that the transition is a smooth one is not a good idea ever. I have friends who are Bipolar as well, and when we compare experiences they are so varied. Having access to healthcare and a supportive friend or family member makes a gigantic difference.
I take my Bipolar Disorder very seriously because being manic is so disruptive to what is important to me. Luckily I don't need medication right now, but I know I'm not invincible either.