A Matter of Life and Death

CC image, “Black Queen Chess Piece”, courtesy George Becker

I was asked recently about how I have approached my diagnosis, my treatment plan, my recovery, and how I am able to put so much work into it.

Some people resent their diagnosis. They treat it as if it is some awful thing. They treat it as though it is a death sentence. That has not been my approach.

Prior to my diagnosis I was in crisis. I was paranoid. I was delusional. I was constantly agitated. I was only sleeping about three hours per night. And I was actively suicidal. I was impossible to live with, and living was becoming impossible for me.

Early on after my diagnosis a certain reality sank in, and that has colored how I approach my treatment and recovery. The reality is that diagnosis was a gift. It gave me a path forward. I realized that bipolar is a disease that could be treated, and I committed myself to doing everything in my power to treat it. Because of the seriousness of this disease, and because of how bad things were prior to my diagnosis, my treatment is literally a matter of life and death.

And I have approached it that way.

Every day.

I monitor sleep and mood on a daily basis. I make sure to take all of my meds as prescribed, taking both my morning and evening meds at about the same time each day. I have placed very strict limitations on my alcohol and caffeine consumption. I try to limit my salt, sugar, and fat intake. I make sure to exercise daily, even if only walking the dog. And I make sure to see my therapist every week, and have wholly committed myself to that process.

It is not always easy. Taking all of my meds as prescribed has been particularly challenging. There have been some significant side effects. It took almost three years for my doctors and me to get my meds dialed in. A lot of that three year time period was spent monitoring meds, dosage, and how they made me feel. That was a lot of work, and frankly, a lot of the time they didn’t make me feel particularly good. The temptation to just quit was very strong. But, even when I didn’t feel like it, I had faith in the process, and now I’m right about where I want to be, meds-wise.

Often people fall into one of two camps. Some people do not feel empowered to help make decisions about their treatment. They passively receive and accept everything that is presented to them rather than being an active participant in their care. This can lead to resentment and despair when things don’t go as well as they would like, and things often don’t go as well as you’d like, especially in the early stages.

Other people do some research on their own, as I did, and then try to dictate to their doctor exactly what they want. While being knowledgeable is certainly a good thing, a Google search and/or WebMD is not going to replace med school and years of practice. It’s just not.

So there is a give and take between doctor and patient. I know that my doctor knows more about the meds that I am on, and best practices, than I do. But I also know that, no matter how much he knows about medicine, I know me a lot better than he does. I know more about my experiences. I know more about my mood. I know more about the way that my treatment plan is impacting my quality of life.

So my doctors, my therapist, and I all work together to treat my bipolar. We communicate openly and honestly with each other. I trust them and their expertise. They trust me and my experience. This is the way things should be. It is incumbent upon me to adhere to my treatment plan, and it is incumbent upon them to make me an active part of that plan. We don’t work against each other, but with each other.

We are all in this together. We are all invested in my mental well-being. It has been a difficult and occasionally frustrating process. But it is a process that has, albeit more slowly than I would like at times, produced incredible results.

I am recovering. And it is because I work my butt off and have a great team behind me and I trust them and the process, literally, with my life.

I simply don’t know any other way to do it.