Drug resistant bipolar disorder. I’ve written quite a bit now about my experiences the past 30 years with BP-1, including a book and now on this blog.
A part of that writing has been about pyschotropic medications and how even though they can be helpful and necessary in a crisis (mania, suicidal depression) long-term use can lead to debilitating health consequences.
But what I haven’t talked about is another part of my experience – the times I was drug resistant. I was in a very ill state, but no med helped.
What is Drug Resistant Bipolar Disorder?
Psychiatrists call patient’s who do not respond to medications ‘treatment-resistant’. Sometimes not only does the person not respond to meds, they get worse and more symptomatic when doing med trials i.e. trying out a medication to treat symptoms then having to discontinue taking it a day, a week, a month or so after as it isn’t helping.
How shitty is that? I can tell you – it is awful. You are being a ‘good patient’ only to become worse and in danger of losing your life… you know it, the doctors know it and no one really knows what to do about it.
Related post: Ronald Pies M.D. and the Bipolar Spectrum.
Sound like fun? It’s a nightmare. Here is an exerpt from a 2006 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry talking about this issue and sleep deprivation and light therapy as possible alternative treatments:
“At least 40% of patients treated for depression do not respond to the initial trial of antidepressant medication, and at least one half of this percentage do not respond satisfactorily to several further treatment trials. Treatment-resistant depression is, then, costly and associated with extensive use of depression-related and general medical services.”
“The issue of drug resistance remains a persistent source of morbidity and mortality for patients with bipolar depression, who require careful clinical management that takes into account the life-threatening potential of their depression and the risk of iatrogenic mania or rapid cycling.”
I was one of those drug resistant patients. I took the drug lithium in high doses for a year only to bit by bit become more ill. Antidepressants did not work for me, and when then went off the lithium was terrified of taking any med at all.
When you have Bipolar 1 Disorder antidepressant medications can swing you into the high state of mania.
I was terrified of becoming manic and for good reason. I knew how frightening it was to become psychotic and completely out of control then having to be hospitalized. It is not only terrifying, it is traumatic.
And I had a chronic pain condition from being mugged that made the situation worse. Both medical conditions (bipolar and severe pinching hip pain) were feeding off of each other, having a heyday getting their kicks mocking the doctors who were trying to find a medication or therapy to help and provide some relief.
It was hell. I was young (age 22 to 26 or so during this time) and only wanted to get things accomplished and have a little fun; make money, live life.
I describe these times and 10 alternative treatments I had that did eventually give some relief and help me move forward in life in my book – is too much information to include here.
When you are a medication-resistent patient, you have little choice but to search out innovative therapies (and doctors) to treat your illness when the things that helped others didn’t help you. And of course there is always the possibility the problem has not been identified correctly; depression can be indicative of many illnesses (hypothyroidism, B12 deficiency, etc.).
The article above from 2006 describes just a couple of the many alternative treatments you have available to you. I will try to continue to research and write about what I discover on this blog, in addition to sharing my own personal experiences.