I am in charge of my recovery from bipolar disorder

by Tammy Ozolins

Tammy is a middle school teacher who contributes regularly to this blog on subjects related to mental health

Being diagnosed with a mental condition called Bipolar Disorder (I do not call it an illness anymore, because my brain is not sick, it is just different) has been challenging at times but it has made me such a stronger person in so many ways.

When I was first getting medical treatment I would go into the psychiatrist’s office and just nod my head, yes, and say Uhm, and not say much, even if I felt like the medicine was not working. Why? Well, the main reason was I thought the psychiatrist knew what to do so I was like, “Why do I have to say anything this person has the medical background, not me?” 

Quite a few sessions where I did not say anything, even though I did not feel like the medicine was working and/or I had unpleasant side effects. Plus, I often felt like my psychiatrist did not care. I would go into the office and talk for a few minutes and then he would hand me the prescription and out the door I went. 

I felt like I was talking to a wall

I would say I often felt like a number at a deli market, my number would be called and dealt with and that was it. It was not a good feeling at all.

At the time I was seeing a wonderful counselor by the name of Eleanor. She had a “grandmother” type personality and we really clicked. She was so sweet and understanding and I always looked forward to going to see her. At several sessions, I complained about my visits with the psychiatrist and would tell her how I felt undervalued when I was in the office. I added that the medication was not working. 

She would say to me, “Why do you put up with that?” 

I said to her, “What do you mean? The doctor is the expert, so what good would it do anyway?” 

She responded by saying because it is my body and I should be the one in charge, not the doctor. 

After being hospitalized for a second time due to a manic episode I realized Eleanor was right! This is when my true recovery began. I thought maybe I was not on the right medication and maybe if I felt more comfortable talking to my psychiatrist I would have said something, but I did not feel comfortable at all. So, the BIG change happened, I actually found a new psychiatrist! 

It was scary because even though I did not like my doctor it was a change and it was comfortable and any sort of change like this would freak me out. In the back of my mind, I would need to basically start over with my story and how my body was feeling etc., and start from the beginning. That to me was exhausting. 

However, I realized the change needed to happen 

Yes, I did have to start from the beginning. The good news is that I REALLY like this new doctor and I feel very comfortable with him. This was definitely a great change I made and a needed one.

Looking back I realize for me to be able to stay in recovery I needed to be the one in charge of my medical treatment. I use this analogy.

I will go shopping for clothes and I will try on like 5-6 pairs of jeans, or several tops to find the right fit, sometimes spending like 2-3 hours in the dressing room making sure things fit right. So, why would I not do the same for my mental health condition? 

I believe that my doctors prescribe medicine according to how I feel. Doctors are going off of my symptoms. I often felt like a pez dispenser at times where it was one pill after another. But, I realize that my doctors can not guarantee the medicine is going to work and everyone’s chemical makeup is different. I would get frustrated because this pill would not work etc, it was like I was looking for the “magic pill.” 

I now am in charge of my medical treatment plan

I speak up when I feel like the medicine is not working (my body I feel like hits a plateau with some medicines) and if I am having side effects that I do not like etc. My psychiatrist does listen to me and he will make the changes if need be.

I have been doing so well with my recovery that I was able to decrease the pills I take to two times a day instead of three because I told him it felt like it was too much. I speak openly and willingly to my psychiatrist and I have not once felt like he rushes me out of the office. I do not see him looking at the clock and truly enjoy having him as my doctor.

So, what is my treatment plan?

It consists of taking a mood stabilizer twice a day. Then I see my psych doctor every 6 months. I go to one-on-one counseling when needed and I help run a support group for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I have several coping skills I use if needed as well such as writing, reading, listening to music, and talking to family or friends.

My recovery is going awesome, and I owe it to taking charge of my treatment plan. Just like when clothes shopping when I find that right pair of jeans that make me feel so good, I know I have the same for my treatment plan.

Do not be afraid to speak up about your treatment plan with your doctor. I know my body better than he does! Recovery is hard work and I hope anyone managing or coping with a mental health condition finds the right treatments.

Do not give up HOPE you can live a joyous life.

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