I was 26 and had been taking medication for bipolar disorder since I was 18 when I had the brilliant idea that I didn’t need it anymore.
I decreased, with my “doctor’s” recommendation and the support of my friends in Portland, all of my meds until I was only on a low dose of one. I can’t remember what horrible thing happened first. I just know that in the next month all of things happened (in no particular order):
I walked out of my writing class to walk across the street to get a shot of vodka to try and tame my mania. I ran across a highway in the middle of the night in heels and sprained my ankle. I trashed my room while sobbing and praying. I couldn’t sleep so I kept making and eating cheese quesadillas throughout the night to try and pass out. I searched a grocery store for vodka for hours, not remembering or having the ability to remember that in Oregon you can only by alcohol at liquor stores. I wore bright red lipstick, an itty-bitty dress and talked to a stranger on his porch until the sun came up.
As odd as this sounds, it’s pretty common. Luckily, this is the only time it happened and this is why:
- I did not have educated support of the people I lived with and surrounded myself with. I was not living with my family, I was living with a friend in Portland. This friend is an amazing person, but she doesn’t really believe in modern medicine. She kept talking about how I needed more yoga, how I could replace my seroquel with herbs and how chanting and acupuncture could sort me out. After awhile I started wondering if she had a point – I mean, she was doing great and she was doing it all naturally with herbs! Maybe I had rushed into the whole western medicine gig.
- My psychiatrist was not a psychiatrist. I was on disability in Portland and the person they set me up with for my psych meds was actually a nurse practitioner. I didn’t think about this too hard. What I did start thinking about was the way he was telling me to change my diet to eat cleaner. He told me exercise and diet could treat my bipolar disorder, and I started to believe him.
- I was doing really well. I had new friends, I was volunteering and I got into Marge Piercy’s first Writer’s Intensive Workshop in Wellfleet. If I was doing so well, how did I KNOW that I couldn’t do even better without all the side effects of my medication?
I knew I had gone completely crazy when I thought that if I wrote a line of poetry down it would cause chemical warfare in the streets. I called my nurse practitioner – he recommended that I eat coconut oil for the mania. I called a friend back in my hometown. “COCONUT OIL?” He yelled. “I’m calling your dad!” Soon my family and friends back home had ordered me a taxi to take me from my apartment to the airport. They bought me a plane ticket. (I know I am very blessed to have had these resources.) They picked me up and drove me to the psychiatrist I had seen when I was first diagnosed. He did not scold me – no one did – because he knew how bad I felt. He didn’t have to tell me to never ever do this again. I had hit a rock bottom. I had needed Southern California to band together to get me out of Portland, Oregon. My ankle was sprained and my confidence was bruised. I knew I would never get off of my meds – that I would never believe myself to be “better.”
I’m “better” because I’m on them – and I always take time to listen to my friends who are taking meds, making sure that they remember that, too.