I have only recently come to the realization that I can still experience mood shifts while medicated. For years after my bipolar diagnosis, I assumed that if I was taking my medication as prescribed that I would be symptom-free. Boy, was I wrong. Even after fine-tuning my medication regimen to the point where I experience significant periods of stability, I still experience periods of slight depression or elevation in my mood. Right now, I am on the depressive side of things. It didn’t really occur to me until my husband pointed it out. For the past week or so, it’s been so difficult to fall asleep and wake up in the morning. I feel zapped of energy, dragging my feet for half the day until my heavy dose of sleep meds wear off. My body feels heavy. When I’m out of bed, I have to force myself off the couch and put a great deal of energy into motivating myself to work or take my daughter out on walks. I didn’t think that I was depressed because emotionally I’m alright. I don’t feel the same emotions that usually accompany depressive episodes like sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, guilt, or shame. However, the depression is definitely reflected in my low energy and motivation.
This is a stark contrast to more pronounced depressive episodes I’ve experienced in the passed. I remember one summer after a break up, I was so depressed I barely left my bed. To make matters worse, I only wanted to listen to sad songs and Netflix & Cry, binging entire seasons of Grey’s Anatomy without breaks. I barely ate. My concerned mother made me smoothies, I would usually devour in minutes, which I left almost untouched on my nightstand. Even in this pitiful state, I attempted to leave the house and socialize with others, but their often ‘innocent’ insensitivity to my depression didn’t make it easy. Since I care deeply about keeping my commitments, I decided to hack my depression by setting up brunch dates each day with a friend I had on my list of people who wouldn’t mind my dispirited company. I made a list of names and rotated my morning meetings so as not to put the entire burden on one person. While my commitment to meet people at a certain time helped me hoist myself out of bed in the morning, many of the interactions further contributed to my social anxiety. Several friends drew attention to my dejected countenance. One person even commented that it looked as if I was dead, with pale skin and dimmed lighted in my eyes. This was DEFINITELY confirmation that I should stay away from people and return to my blanket fort in Shondaland where I could cry and be depressed in peace without having to explain myself or try to mask my mood to make others more comfortable. After weeks of suffering, I experienced a paralyzing migraine that was so acute and caused me so much pain that I couldn’t leave the dark cave of my bedroom. When the migraine lifted, so did my depression. It’s like the headache was a chemical switch that snapped the depressive mood right out of me.
While I was medicated back then and I am medicated now, I suspect now and then are completely different experiences because I am medicated differently. After years with my diagnosis, I have finally found a psychiatrist who gets me and collaborates with me to make adjustments when my moods fluctuate and symptoms become problematic. Although I am currently navigating some of the elements of depression, I probably don’t have a full-blown episode because I am on the correct mood stabilizer and on a more effective dose. Do the current symptoms suck? Yeah! I want to wake up with energy, run around with my daughter, feel hyped up to do my summer research, but that’s not my current situation. It is what it is. I’m seeing my psychiatrist next week so hopefully she’ll be able to help. I’ll also be at support groups trading notes with peers about ways I can adjust my habits and lifestyle to reduce symptoms. I’m also so glad my husband is such a rock for me and my daughter, always stepping up to give me moments to rest and just be without constantly striving to be in a mental state that eludes me. Even at 17 months old, my daughter melts my heat when she comes into my room when I sleep in and gets my house slippers to try to coax me out of bed. These people are all my lifeline. It’s been a while since therapy has been a therapeutic space for me, but I got a new therapist so I’m working on that part of my support system too.
For non-bipolar readers, I’m curious: does your mood fluctuate in the summer? For my bipolar readers, do you still experience moods while medicated? I’d love to know.
Image by Nastya Ikusova called Insomnia found on Behance
A wide-eyed seated person rests their head on a pillow they hold up with their hand.