How I Treat My Bipolar Disorder

Janet Coburn
5 min readJan 28, 2024

There are many treatments for bipolar disorder, from SSRIs to EMDR and more. I must admit that I haven’t tried all of them, but I have encountered a few over the years. Some worked well, others not so much. But I’m doing well now, so I thought I’d share what works for me — my roadmap to stability.

Note that I said, “How I Treat My Bipolar Disorder.” That’s because my treatment is up to me. My psychiatrist or therapist can recommend a certain treatment, but whether I take that drug, undergo that procedure, or engage in therapy is ultimately my choice. I look at my providers as people who recommend treatments and help me implement them. But they don’t make the decisions. I do. Most of the time, I take their suggestions — they know more than I do about medications, for example. But I feel free to make suggestions, too, if the medication isn’t working like it’s supposed to or is having side effects I can’t deal with.

Meds

My med journey started (approximately 30 years ago) with the then-ubiquitous SSRI, Prozac. It worked well for me, relieving my depressive tendencies (I hadn’t been diagnosed with bipolar yet). Until it didn’t. That’s when my doctors started throwing drugs against the wall, hoping they would stick. Over the years, I’ve been on at least three different SSRIs, two NDRIs, two SNRIs, and a sedative-hypnotic. Probably other ones, too, that I don’t remember. (One of the side effects for one of them was memory loss.)

My previous psychiatrist experimented with a variety of meds until we hit on a cocktail that worked: an SSRI, a broad-spectrum anti-seizure drug, an atypical antipsychotic, and a benzo. My current psychiatrist mostly tweaks the dosages up or down when I need it. I’ve quit the sedative-hypnotic altogether and only take the benzo as needed. Recently, when I told him that I thought I was having mixed states, he upped the dosage of the atypical antipsychotic. (I don’t like to give the names of the drugs I’m taking because what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others.)

I see the psychiatrist four times a year for med checks, though I can call if I have any adverse reactions or increased symptoms.

(When I was looking for illustrations to go with this post, I was astounded at the number of images of mushrooms that I saw. I guess it’s trendy now, but I’ve never tried them. There were also pictures of marijuana plants. There’s a medical dispensary in my area, but I’ve never pursued getting a prescription. I have taken CBD gummies, but the only effect they had was to make me foggy and dizzy, which I didn’t like. They did nothing for my moods. They didn’t even relax me; I was too nervous about my balance and the potential of falling.)

Therapy

Individual talk therapy is my go-to form of therapy, though I recently felt I could stop. (I keep the number handy in case I ever need it again.) I guess you could say I weaned myself off therapy. When I started I was going once a week; later, once every other week. When it got to three or four weeks between appointments, I decided it was time to fly on my own. I don’t know what particular kind of therapy I had — CBT or DBT, for example. She never said and I never asked.

I went to group therapy when I was still undiagnosed, but it wasn’t helpful. Once, when my therapist was out of town, I went to a therapy group she recommended but had an adverse reaction to it. Another group just seemed to have a weird format and a book they used like a “bible,” and I didn’t get anything out of that, either. A few times, my husband and I went to couples therapy, and it seemed to help. Another time, we went to a few sessions with a different therapist and I felt shredded. She seemed to think that I was the “sick one” and my husband was the “normal one.”

Treatments

Most of the modern treatments I haven’t tried because medication and talk therapy work so well for me. I had a close brush with ECT, which frankly frightened me, when I went through multiple drugs for several years and nothing seemed to work. My psychiatrist gave me the information and gave me time to think it over and make my own decision. I was almost ready to try it when, miraculously, a different drug brought my mental function under control. But when it comes to TMS, ketamine, EMDR, et cet., I have no experience with them. I don’t believe in reflexology and won’t try herbal remedies because they might interact badly with my meds. Basically, because what I’m already doing works for me, I see no need to explore alternatives.

Self-Care

It’s hard for me to keep up with self-care. I do stick to a sleep schedule and get 8–9 hours a night, with occasional daytime naps. I don’t exercise. It’s hard enough just to walk with my arthritic knees and bad back.

My husband helps me enormously with self-care. He works at a store with a grocery section, and he makes sure I have a variety of food and beverages on hand — fruits and juices, fizzy water, bread, and cheeses, for example — and fixes meals with protein, starch, and vegetables. Left to myself, I would probably subsist mostly on peanut butter sandwiches and breakfast cereal. Back in the day, he used to drive me to my therapy appointments when I was too nervous or depressed to drive myself. Now he picks up my scripts at the pharmacy department in his store.

What’s the takeaway here? I’m not telling you that I have the answer for how you should treat your bipolar disorder. I know what’s worked for me, but you have to find a path that’s right for you. I merely offer my experiences for what they are — mine. You can create your own roadmap, too.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.