I spent my sophomore year focusing on school and trying to get used to my new life on medication. I had some friends on a cycling team who knew that I had quit playing soccer, but not really why, and they asked me to ride with them the upcoming summer. After a couple of rides they told me that I was really good and asked me to join the team. So, I joined the team, but something was still off physically, and I knew it. After not performing as well as I would have liked in the first few races, and also having unpleasant problems with dehydration, I decided to quit taking lithium. I told my teammates that I had manic depression, as it was called at the time, and that I had decided to quit taking my medication because it slowed me down too much. My athletic performance improved almost immediately. After discontinuing lithium, I usually placed first, second, or third in my races and was ranked third in the Midwest in women's collegiate cycling. My team also won the Women's Little 500 bike race, which was very exciting! However, I was having trouble concentrating, and feeling very restless, unstable, and pulled in different directions, and also experiencing psychosis at times, so after not graduating on time, I decided to start taking lithium, quit racing, and focus on my studies. Of course, I ended up gaining weight and suffering physically. I did not enjoy feeling slowed down, but I thought it was the price I would have to pay to get on with my life, and I finally graduated.
After graduating, it seemed like the best thing to do would be to continue to take my medication, even though it felt like a weight was tied to my feet when everyone was encouraging me to swim. I was not only physically slowed down, but I also experienced cognitive dulling. When I moved to Louisville, where I still live, I started seeing a new psychiatrist. I remained in his care for 16 years because he had a good reputation, my parents had chosen him for me, and it is really hard to find a good, or even decent psychiatrist. He seemed to believe that I needed to be heavily medicated. At my most highly medicated, I was taking 1800 mg. lithium, 400 mg. Lamictal, 600 mg. Seroquel XR, Ambien to sleep, and Provigil for alertness (which didn't work for me). It felt like way too much medication and I was exhausted all the time. My life was out of balance. Work was my focus because I had little time or energy for anything else. My psychiatrist was resistant to making changes to my medication, insisted that I take lithium, and told me that he would not continue to treat me if I quit taking lithium, as he considered it to be the cornerstone of my cocktail of psychiatric medications. I consulted with a lawyer to discuss filing a lawsuit for malpractice, because I felt I had been turned into a zombie, and she did some research and told me that I was taking enough medication to knock a horse over. Instead of going through with the lawsuit though, I let it go and quit taking my medication without consulting with my psychiatrist. I lost 60 pounds in a year without trying that hard, and felt better, but I ended up becoming manic and being hospitalized again. After that hospitalization I told myself I would take my medication no matter what, and I did. I still had severe mood episodes and I developed serious side effects: hypertension, borderline metabolic syndrome, and sleep apnea. I also gained a tremendous amount of weight. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I weighed 130 pounds, and after taking medication for close to 20 years, I was up to 278. I had gained 148 pounds. My weight had more than doubled.
After suffering a terrible depression, having ECT, and ending up on disability, I finally decided that the seemingly substandard psychiatric treatment was just too much for me to handle and I couldn't take it anymore, so I found a new psychiatrist. She is a woman who is a few years younger than I am and she understands my concerns about weight gain and side effects and agreed to help me change my medication since I knew I could not just quit taking it myself without serious repercussions. I had educated myself about withdrawal from psychiatric medication and I found that many medications have withdrawals that mimic symptoms of bipolar disorder. She agreed to let me taper off of lithium. When I did, I experienced a bout of hypomania, but I also lost weight, was not thirsty all of the time, my hair became thicker (it had been falling out for years at that point), my psoriasis began to clear up, and I felt sharper and had more energy, and started becoming more active and taking better care of myself, and with alternative medications, my moods began to stabilize.
I have kept regular appointments with my new psychiatrist since 2010 and my health has improved a great deal. I no longer feel extremely slowed down by my medication and it is easier to work, cook, clean, exercise, socialize, spend time with family, go to doctors' appointments, and to appointments with my therapist. I have realized that in the past I waited too long to seek treatment too many times. Mania, psychosis, anxiety, paranoia, and depression can overwhelm me pretty quickly both mentally and physically. I need to take action and get help from my psychiatrist and therapist before I get swept into a downward or upward spiral.
Now that I have time to live a balanced life, because I am appropriately medicated instead of overmedicated, I focus on taking care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. I do not live a perfect lifestyle, but it is greatly improved from how I lived after my first breakdown, and for many years afterward. I work part-time and try to keep my stress levels low. I exercise, meditate, spend time with friends and family, and do volunteer work. Wellness is the focus of my life because if I am not well I can't enjoy anything or be of service to others.