There have been two good recent Kos diaries on psych meds and the ethical issues surrounding their use and promotion, so I decided to weigh in from the “consumer” side of the equation.

I didn’t pick the “psychotic” part of The Psychotic Patriot out of thin air; it was a sideways reference to a series of experiences which defined my life. My bipolar disorder is not cured, but I’m in the best emotional and situational territory of my life.

Allegedly, there are chemicals in my brain that are imbalanced, and these psych meds work to restore the balance.

Not.

I submit to you that the drug manufacturers are right. They, in most cases, have no idea why the pills work. I also have found, after 40 years, that the balance I seek must come from almost everywhere but the pills.
When one is standing in a ring of fire, it is beneficial to throw away the open gas cans.

No, I am not a doctor, nor a researcher, and this writing is done anecdotally. But I did run a support group for people with this condition, as well as their families, and while I didn’t keep scientific notes, the commonality with which many of us viewed this condition was pretty consistent. I have also written about my bipolar experiences, researching them from many angles: totally medical, totally natural, metaphysical/mystical, etc. After 40 years with this diagnosis, I lean slightly toward the metaphysical, because not everything that happened while I was “crazy”… was crazy, if you get my drift. And in full disclosure, I do in fact take medication. But if you look at the ten psychotic episodes I’ve survived (we’re talking complete psychosis here), seven of them happened while on a “therapeutic” dose of several medications.

For thirty-three years I was an active drug addict. You’d be amazed at how many of us “self-medicate” this condition with drugs and alcohol. Why? Denial is a good candidate; we refuse to accept the condition, and by using tortured logic, if we don’t take the pills, we don’t have the diagnosis. By keeping the symptoms under control with street drugs and/or alcohol, we live in a nasty biochemical and emotional stew, swimming against the tide of rationality, as well as creating more problems along the way. In my case, I snorted and smoked anything I could find, spiking my own stew, trying in vain to balance the dysfunction with meds, and predictably, getting nowhere. I totally accepted the diagnosis, I just refused to use any lifestyle common sense with it. No, I am not calling anyone an addict except myself.

I got sober over five years ago. I have been on the psych ward once since then; a very bad episode in 2003 (on meds). I did not relapse then, but I did identify a bipolar trigger which I had not dealt with: a gnawing, desperate, codependent need for approval and acceptance. I found and used the same 12 step process for codependency, and in the ensuing years since the episode, I have found a balance missing in the previous forty years.

In the past three years I have used the smallest amount of medication, and had the smallest number of symptoms, while encountering – even conquering – what would have been highly triggering experiences: the breakup of a relationship, a new job in a new field (at 55 years of age) which requires a new language and culture (ASL), college, and beginning a new relationship.

Why am I having the most success with the fewest medications? Sure, the literature will point to “remission”, and warn that I’m at huge risk without having a much larger load of medications on board to guard against symptoms I don’t have. I use a relatively small dose of Seroquel for sleep, a glorious luxury I’ve never experienced with any consistency before. Nothing, in my opinion, physically benefits bipolar disorder more than a regular sleep cycle. I believe I’ve discovered, and, through serious inner examination and stepwork, reduced the biggest threat to my sanity; not the lack or balance of expensive medications, but the triggers most likely to start that manic motor running: addiction, denial, guilt, shame, and codependency.

So for me, identifying and killing triggers has been more constructive than an endless search for the right drug cocktail. The former comes form serious inner spiritual work, and the latter can result in complete dependence on the doctor and Big Pharma. I applaud anyone in my shoes; it’s a difficult life, but I would never trade the intuitive intelligence and creative upside that comes along with the downside.

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