The Failures of Modern Psychotropic Medications, Yet No Alternatives Exist By Helaine Sanders, LMSW, JD

As published in the November 2020 issue of Buffalo Healthy Living

Bipolar Disorder Challenges Medications, Compliance, Side-Effects
By Helaine Sanders, LMSW, JD

I live with bipolar disorder (bipolar), a mental health condition that causes episodes of mania, depression, and severe mood swings that can result in serious consequences, including psychiatric hospitalization. Having lived with bipolar for the past 30 years, I can tell you that it’s not easy. Managing bipolar requires lifelong maintenance, professional treatment, and coping with sometimes overwhelming side effects of medications.

My bipolar manifests itself with episodes of depression and mania, and the side effects of my medications require that I plan my day carefully. An antipsychotic mood stabilizer I take causes excessive sleepiness rendering me unable to perform any activity after taking it. If I force myself to stay
awake at bedtime, I become so tired I am unable to fall asleep immediately. When this happens, I divert my attention by flexing my leg muscles in order to fall asleep. I must also sleep an average of 8.5 hours each night in order to function properly. Not getting enough sleep results in loss of balance, and I have slipped in the shower several times because of this. My side effects prevent me from being able to work a paid job. Thus, I make it a point to participate in volunteer activities, which I schedule for afternoons or early evenings.

On top of all of this, the anti-anxiety medication I take to feel more relaxed exacerbates my sleepiness, so I have to make sure that I take it at the appropriate time each day. The anti-seizure medication I require to stabilize my moods makes me so dizzy that I must take it in a lower dose. Last year, when my son suffered a prolonged illness, my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant which has worked well. However, its side effect is anxiety, so when I attended a meeting several weeks after taking the anti-depressant, I found myself interrupting others and ended up crying in the hallway. The incident underscored how hard I have to work to control my reactions.

Most of the drugs I take also cause constipation and weight gain. Medications to control these symptoms are especially challenging while raising two active teenagers. Despite all of this, I have come to learn that my medications help me, and I am stabilized to the point where I only see my psychiatrist for medication-management. However, it is my greatest wish for others who have loved ones struggling with bipolar to understand the monumental effort it takes to manage it. Simple daily life activities most people take for granted like sleeping long enough, eating healthfully, and compliance in taking medication at the appropriate time require a great deal of thought and planning, along with a commitment to being compliant.

Helaine Sanders has an MSW and JD. She teaches a class to local refugees, and is the author of the blog,, which focuses on mental health issues and other topics relating to stigma.

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