Starting out on lithium

I was thirty-two when first diagnosed with bipolar and immediately put on lithium as my treatment. Apart from the regular blood tests to check kidney and thyroid function, it’s not meant too much disruption to my life and I have responded well to it as a mood stabiliser.

Coming off lithium

So much so, that after a couple of years I felt myself cured and brought my psychiatrist round to the idea that I could be weaned off medication and resume my previous bipolar-free life. I lived for several years meds-free, but the events of autumn 2001 – notably 9/11 coupled with a stressful time at work, meant that the topsy-turvy visitor that is psychosis came to see me again and I was hospitalised for the third time. I resumed lithium therapy.

The view that when stable on medication this indicates a cure seems a common one amongst some bipolar folk and it’s true that for some people going meds-free does work. Some people, but not for me.

In terms of a risk assessment I’d rather the slight inconvenience of minor side effects, that metallic taste in the mouth, limits on getting hot and by extension, sunbathing than deal with the chaos of psychosis and its aftermath. So, I dutifully take my meds each night before going to sleep and rest in the security that whilst lithium does not completely eliminate mood swings, it renders them manageable. In the present turbulent times this is the spoonful of sugar I need.

Finding the right level of medication

For some people though the journey to stability through medication is a difficult one, involving much trial and error, swapping-in and swapping-out the combination of drugs, varying dosages until the right mix is found. Side effects for some can be unacceptable, making the commitment to comply with medication regimes a challenge, but people do persevere in search of the right combination that will bring relief from bipolar symptoms. So, taking those tablets is a means to an end, but one that many see the need for when living with bipolar.