Joanne, a Bipolar UK supporter, talks about her bipolar journey and the challenge of stopping her lithium medication.

Joanne talks about bipolar and the challenge of stopping lithium

I'm pleased that we regularly hear about the importance of talking about our mental health. However, as a long-term sufferer of bipolar, I have mixed feelings about the disclosure of my illness. The experience of stigma has a huge impact on anyone who has experienced mental health problems.

When I was a Trustee for Mind and also took part in the lived experience session for the Mental Health First Aid courses, I was very open about my illness and how I manage. I think that I had a certain degree of anonymity and felt that I was in a safe and secure environment. By being a Trustee and being a speaker, I was hopefully making my condition more understood.

I have always made sure that I have regular blood tests for my lithium levels because I was made aware from the early days that lithium can affect your kidneys and thyroid.

Three months ago I received a call from my GP. My last blood test had shown that my kidneys weren't functioning properly. My very thorough GP had contacted the psychiatrist and had been advised that I must stop taking lithium with immediate effect. Since being diagnosed all those years ago, this would rank as one of the scariest moments of my mental health career! It had been drummed into me from the very start of taking lithium that this drug could help keep my stable and well.

I knew that my self-management strategies were very effective but was now being told that I would be relying on them full-time with no lithium medication as a back-up.

My GP arranged for an appointment with the psychiatrist from the local mental health team and this came through within the week. I also had the major worry of the damage that had been done to my kidneys; a long-term risk of lithium I had always known. Amazingly, as soon as I stopped taking lithium my kidney function came back into the normal range. A big relief! But how would my mood cope off the lithium? Although I had generally stayed well, I knew the devastation in my life caused by the highs and lows of bipolar.

The psychiatrist was happy for me to try life without the lithium and continue using my self-management skills. He also felt my lifestyle was a contributory factor to staying well.

So three months in and I can report I am doing well. In fact, coming off the lithium feels like I have reinvented myself. I'm always pleased with my self-management, which includes keeping to a routine; avoiding overstimulating situations like too much social media; shopping; socialising, and generally trying to take life fairly quietly. My confidence in coping with life has improved tremendously.

While not yet driving a car or writing my first book, at 55 I feel these things and other excitements(!) may be quite possible now. I feel I am the expert on my own mental health.

Learn more about different medical treatments for bipolar here.