I avoided medications of all varieties for much of my adult life. When I was 36, I had had too much of my depression and opted to start taking Prozac under the care of a psychiatrist at Redwood City Kaiser. I stayed on anti-depressants alone until I was 47 when I finally acknowledged my bipolar disorder after a suicide attempt and added mood stabilizers to the list of drugs that I was taking. Why did I go so long before I sought relief? Mostly because of a prejudice that had been drummed into my head by my mother, a registered nurse, who believed that medications should be avoided at all costs and that my depression and manic swings were character flaws. When I stopped listening to her, the quality of my life improved and I was able to be the person who I always knew that I was.
Many people feel that people who refuse to take medications should be forced to take them. They cite incidents such as a New York City man who went off his meds and started hitting people with a hammer or a schizophrenic woman who killed her baby in a fast food restaurant’s bathroom. The recitation of such litanies by certain advocates who favor forced medication is stigmatizing because the vast majority of people who go unmedicated don’t commit such crimes. Their struggles are worse than those of us who don’t take them, but it is important to understand their reasons for refusing.
Weekend time on the ward was spent waiting for someone to talk to you. I was standing in front of the nurses’ station, having completed the obligatory morning group therapy, when I was guided to a small room and told to have a seat. Then a large bearded man with a file came into the room and read over the notes that had been collected since my arrival the night before. I had arrived late the previous afternoon after I had texted my last will and testament to my wife and sat on a log studying which vein to cut. A phone call from my psychiatrist interrupted my concentration. We talked for a few minutes and I agreed to go to the hospital. Once I got there, I — the fellow who had been thinking of ending it all — walked up to the nurses’ station and told them that I was diabetic and needed my night meds delivered on schedule if I was going to maintain my blood sugar levels. They nodded dutifully and wrote notes in my chart.
This information was in the manila folder that Dr. Spears brought into the room. After reviewing the annotations, he looked up at me, leaned forward, and asked in a gentle voice “Has anyone ever told you that you were bipolar?”
Many people have told me that they were devastated when they heard the news. Others refused to believe it. I was of that class of people who felt a moment’s pause and then felt relief. At last I had a workable explanation of the torrential moods that afflicted me over the years. I had tried the boot-strap method of getting through my despairs. People had sometimes asked me if I was taking drugs — a question that surprised me because I was the opposite of an addict and a self-medicator — I didn’t touch drugs or alcohol. For 11 years, I had relied on Prozac because it had worked almost instantly to curb my depression. The dark nights of the soul I experienced during that time I wrote off to normal ups and downs. I spent up our credit cards to $40,000, messed up my already fragile teeth by grinding on them, and fought frequently with people on the Net. Was this bipolar disorder? Then, I felt, there was a treatment and I threw myself into recovery.
Bipolar_Blogs arose when I learned that it was possible to set up a special account for retweeting news. I knew that there were many people out there in the world who wrote good blogs about their struggle with bipolar disorder (including me) whose work just wasn’t making it out to the rest of the world. The blogs I knew from my own explorations told many stories about bipolar disorder. I collected a list, set them up at a feed retweeter, and released it into the Twitterverse. What people also missed was recent and reliable information about their disorder. So I added feeds from the various government agencies that provided abstracts on the latest developments in understanding organic brain dysfunctions. When my ADD allowed it, I sought out more blogs, found new news sources, and hand-posted numerous articles that I had found which talked about bipolar disorder and other matters concerning the brain.
But not every voice could be heard via the feeds. Some of them tweeted their concerns directly to Bipolar_Blogs and I made it the policy to retweet them as long as they weren’t hateful, promoting pseudo-science, or simply advertising. When I had the energy, I checked my ever-expanding feed to glean what I could from others. There is only so much one can say in 140 characters even if you are a Twitter master. I kept running into people who wanted their own blogs and didn’t know how to start. The day came when I put out feelers, asking who would like to take part in a group blog. I also asked in some chatrooms and on Facebook. A few people indicated their interest, so I wrote out some rules for the blog and invited those who felt silenced by the circumstances of their illness to take part.