When I decided to get off my bipolar medication and antidepressant after years of being on them it was after a lot of inner work and healing.
I could justifiably say that I realized I was depressed junior year in high school after my cousin died. (Although if I honestly look back, I think I was depressed long before that.)
I went into a dark place and started to cut myself. I had all these intense emotions and feelings and no coping skills. So I did what I could to remember that I was alive and to punish myself for the very same fact. The red lines on my wrists were my little secrets.
I saw the darkest parts of my soul for the next decade.
I got sober at 22 and suffered severely after being removed from my main coping mechanism of alcohol and drugs. Starting to cut more frequently, I was given an ultimatum from my boyfriend at the time: him or the self-destructive behavior. I chose him, which may have saved my life.
He immediately took me to the hospital where we shared a single hospital bed, waiting to see if there was space for me. I was admitted to room that seemed like quarantine, dozens of recliners and televisions and locked doors on all sides. Overnight hospital watch.
They eventually determined that I didn’t need to be admitted into the inpatient facility and so I was released the next day with a treatment plan for therapy and a tentative diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
I’ll glaze over these next few months because it was a long, arduous Sisyphean journey. I was submerged in an intense depression and a fading will to live.
I still remember one day clearly. It was probably the deepest, non-functioning depression of my life: I had slept all day and woke up because my body needed to pee but I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed so I just laid there and eventually fell back asleep, not getting up to eat or do anything. I had a soft-core suicide attempt and was giving up hope when my insurance finally approved outpatient therapy.
I was given three rounds of outpatient group therapy — one CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and two rounds — they thought I needed more help — of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).
During this time I was a guinea pig for medication, constantly trying new prescriptions and doses and even new psychiatrists. It all eventually led to a Bipolar NOS diagnosis. NOS stands for Not Otherwise Specified, which basically means I didn’t fit into one of their DSM classifications and they weren’t quite sure what was “wrong” with me, but since I had had at least one manic episode they settled on bipolar.
After a series of malpractice with two different psychiatrists, life-threatening reactions from multiple medications, and too many trial and error prescriptions to count, I was moderately regulated and ready to ship off to graduate school.
I had managed amidst all the therapy to apply to graduate school, and get in. It was actually in group therapy that they suggested I apply. I didn’t have the courage or vocabulary to express what I was feeling during the sessions, but I could write poetry. So I would write poems during our breaks and then come back and share it with the group. If it wasn’t for their encouragement I never would have considered submitting my candidacy for an MFA in Poetry.
Brain Still Broken
Unfortunately though, this move didn’t solve my problems. Three months after moving to Boston I was hospitalized, a result of not being properly medicated and the unforgiving and harsh winter. I was only taking medication for depression and that didn’t seem to be enough.
I was hoodwinked into being institutionalized. Thinking that I was just going to get new medication that night, I agreed to go to the hospital. However, after talking to two of my closest friends back home, they wouldn’t release me and I was admitted to an inpatient facility.
My nine institutionalized days showed me that I had come far and wasn’t as bad or suicidal as I used to be, although I did have a backup plan of falling from my fourth story apartment window if the medication didn’t work. (To this day I thank god for the blessing of staying sober, because I fear if I had relapsed I would have actually acted out my suicidal plans.)
I was a guinea pig again in the hospital which was disempowering, but they gave us three meals a day and you could tell that most of them were genuinely concerned about our well-being — I felt taken care of.
The life skills I had learned in AA and therapy gave me a foundation that a lot of the other people in the unit didn’t have. I realized I wasn’t starting from zero, which was encouraging. Eventually they found a medication combination that seemed to work and I was free to go.
Figuring Out a Life on Meds
I resigned to be on medication for the rest of my life, and then I didn’t. It was a battle I struggled with constantly. I would try to get off my medication and then go into a depression or have a hypomanic episode and realize that I had to start taking them again. This fight of perceived helplessness tore me up inside. I wanted to feel free and independent.
Years went by while I was medicated and I started to improve my life in general and my moods were improving overall. The Boston winters were too depressing for me though and so I moved back to Arizona to pursue acting again.
I still struggled with the idea of being medicated my whole life and hoped that one day I would be med-free. I knew deep down that I wasn’t meant to be medicated forever, but I didn’t know when was the right time and what it would look like.
It was when I was out in Italy for my second graduate school adventure that it came to me that I wanted to get off my bipolar medication and antidepressant. The few months before making this decision I had gotten into a lot of fights with my ex-boyfriend about my medications and I wondered if I still needed them.
We were in our second year and I felt more adjusted to life and thought maybe it was time. So I started by discontinuing my bipolar medication first. This went decently, other than several restless and sleepless nights.
It wasn’t a medication typically given for bipolar (I don’t believe I was truly ever bipolar, but rather had a mood disorder that had symptoms that looked like bipolar) and it was such a low dosage that I didn’t experience too many repercussions. I weaned myself off it over the course of two weeks.
Encouraged by the result, I decided to get off my antidepressants. I thought that it had worked surprisingly well getting off my “bipolar” medication that I had been on for over four years, why wouldn’t it work on this one?
This one was a different story. Like I said before, I don’t believe I had a full-blown bipolar disorder — yes I had a few manic episodes, but I was always more depressed than anything else. And so when I decided to get off my antidepressants I should have been more cautious and consulted a doctor. But I was in a foreign country and stubborn as can be.
Like Icarus in his hubris, I flew too close to the sun. After a decade of being on one type of antidepressant or another, I was arrogant and thought I was stable enough to stop cold turkey. I thought about weaning myself off, but didn’t have a pill cutter so I decided to just stop taking the medicine altogether (one of my more stupid moves).
Seeing it as a challenge, I wanted to prove to myself that I was strong enough. I made up a story in my head that if I could stop abruptly it meant I could handle the rest of my life off medication (again, one of my more stupid and arrogant moves). Looking back, I think it was a little self-punishing as well.
(Read about the dangers of abruptly stopping antidepressants here.)
Well, my wings melted and I plummeted.
To no surprise, I was terribly depressed. My body reacted poorly; I experienced random sweating, weird appetite changes, lightheadedness, depression, and the impulse to cry constantly. We were also exploring the chaos and trauma inside our bodies in one of our classes at the time, doing exercises specifically built to bring emotions to the surface.
Everyday I was forced to express the pain I was feeling, which, ironically and serendipitously, I believe is actually what helped me ultimately release enough emotions to allow me to get off my medication and stay off. It was a tumultuous and embarrassing time, to say the least. I was crying a lot in class and I shut myself off from everyone around me.
I had the internal struggle of perseverance and fighting for what I wanted coupled with the fear of consequences. Finally free from medication I wondered if it was going to be a horrible mistake.
Here is a journal entry I wrote during this time:
Frustration wells inside my body
The tingling excites me
Confusion sets in like dried mud stuck to the bottom of my feet
My body wants to scream out in ecstasy
But my mind says no
The fear of what could be, of the demons that lie beneath my covers
That image haunts my daily thoughts
How do I find that freedom without having to relive it all
So for now I guess your silhouette remains a part of me
Like a rollercoaster I’ve watched myself flip upside down
A feeling deep within wanting to escape
Can I be nauseous in my chest?
The tears fall uncontrollably
One word triggers
Humans were made to survive
But do we have to?
A word laced with regret and shame
I didn’t choose this, so why did it choose me
They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger
I lay here and feel the anger rise and boil inside of me
I am paralyzed
How do I make it stop?
It sits beneath everything that I touch
Deep within the muscle tissues of my body
It searches and tries to seep into the very essence of me
I want to claw and scratch at my skin until I can see underneath
I want to grab it and pull it from the sinews of my soul
It clings to my body and the stickiness laughs at me as it becomes immobile Unbridled anger shoots around beneath the surface
I stay alone in my room in fear that I may explode
Processing, waiting, praying
But here I am lonely and alone
But don’t worry, I will survive
Using What I Know
I wrote my graduate school thesis about mental illness and theatre, and as a result, I did a lot of research on mental illness and trauma and realized that childhood trauma is often linked to bipolar disorder or other psychiatric disorders. (I don’t list any specific articles because this was years ago and I can’t remember what articles I read and my information is an amalgamate of a lot of articles, too many to mention here. But if you just google “bipolar disorder and trauma” you will see many resources.)
I remember reading that we react certain ways in childhood because of these traumas, it was how our brains managed to cope, but once we get into adulthood we are maladjusted and these reactions become diagnosable disorders. (This I believe I read about in “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, M.D.)
So I challenged myself to do the hard work and dive deep and do inner child work and confront past trauma and I learned through trial and error how to move forward into life as a fully functioning adult (something I’m still learning).
(I highly suggest Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is” about what she terms “The Work” for an enlightening technique for reframing your stories and perspectives on life. Her online resources can be found here.)
I Needed Medication
I was on medication for almost a decade, since I was 19 years old, although I definitely needed it earlier. My brain had enough time to respond and balance itself out. I worked through my major difficulties WHILE on medication, and I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been medicated. It was necessary for me to get the chemicals in my brain steady before it was even a possibility to do the soul-searching.
I also believe I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober if I hadn’t been medicated. Alcohol provided me with the silencing of all those incessant thoughts of self-hatred in my head. And so when alcohol was removed from my life, medication was its replacement.
I want to make this very clear: I am not advocating people to get off their medication. And I fully believe that there are chemical imbalances in the brain and that medication is necessary for people. I don’t advise people to get off their medication without talking to a doctor and coming up with follow-up treatment. Some people may need to be on medication for the rest of their lives.
This is just my story. And my story is that I was able to get off of medication. I don’t know if I’m truly Bipolar NOS or if I was wrongly diagnosed due to my high sensitivity. I know that other people have stronger and more intense reactions and I place no claim on their experiences or assume to know what’s best for anyone. Just for me.
I fought like my life depended on it (because it did) to be where I am today and who I am. Incredibly determined, I made soul-searching and personal development my full-time job.
My Life Today
I have been off of medication for two years now and over the two years I have still felt depressed, but it’s nowhere near the depression that I once experienced. And I believe it was a result of not stepping into my power and my inner strength, but rather allowing myself to believe those stories of my past.
Whenever I feel depressed I check in with myself and reevaluate what I’m doing in my life that needs adjustment and realignment. I realized that the mind is so powerful and if harnessed and used properly, it is unstoppable. We are limitless beings, only limited by our beliefs.
I have worked through my struggles and self-defeating beliefs in many ways: therapy, sympathetic friends and life mentors, trauma release yoga, meditation and prayer, 12 Step programs, self-help books, motivational videos, just to name a few. But I think the thing that has been helping me the
most is art. Because it allows me to use my past to create something beautiful.
I have written poetry, stories, music, and am currently devising a show about my past trauma; I’m transmuting and transforming my pain into art. I’m reframing and redefining how I look at those stories I once told.
I am allowing myself to remember what happened and then to use it as fuel to become a voice for others that are still in pain. Sharing my art with others allows me to provide value and support during their struggles. I am giving purpose to myself and my history.
Today I believe in a higher power and I believe in myself. I believe in love and I believe in hope. And it is these beliefs that have allowed me to believe that anything is possible. ❤
If you’re struggling with bipolar or mental illness or PTSD please reach out to someone and get professional help.
If you’re suicidal, you can call this number: 1–800–273–8255 or text CONNECT to 741741