Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stopping medication

Many mentally ill people stop their medication because they believe they are "well" because they feel better. What they don't realize, is that the reason they feel better is because the medication is working. Coming off the medication is the absolute worst thing someone could do-it causes the person to crash and for the medication to immediately stop working. Bipolar cannot be cured, it can only be controlled. Medications to two things-stopping an acute episode; and preventing a further episode. A good example is insulin. Insulin is used to control certain types of diabetes, but does not cure the the underlying disease, it just helps to control the symptoms so the diabetic patient can live a more normal life. If the insulin is stopped, symptoms of the disease reappear. Although the insulin helps to control many of the the symptoms, the diabetes is still present. Other examples are high blood pressure and arthritis.

Please, please, please speak to your docor before stopping ANY medication. Even if you feel horrible, stopping your medication can make things 100 times worse.

On that note, this will probably be my last post in 2009. Let's hope that 2010 brings lots of health, hope, and happiness to all of us! Hope you all have a wonderful New Years!

Let's keep in mind in the next year:
 "My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle." - PATTY DUKE (Bipolar)

All about Valproic Acid

I've had a few people ask me about Valproic Acid (it's a less commonly known treatment for Bipolar) so here it is. The information in quotations is from the "Lithium Information Centre from the Dean Foundation for Health, Research and Education."

Info: Valproic is a medication used to treat Bipolar patients who have not responded to more conventional treatments such as Lithium. The brand name is Depakene in Canada and is available in 125 mg, 250 mg, and 500 mg. I currently take 2000 mg (500 mg in the morning, 750 mg at night). My daily amount is based on the type of Bipolar I have, and my body composition (weight, height, etc).

Mania (a very good description I thought) was described as:

"A condition during which one's mood changes from normal to an extremely overactive state, is often marked by feelings of elation, expansiveness or euphoria-a state often described as being "on top of the world". During a manic episode a person may sleep very little, talk very rapidly, and continually take little time of eat, show marked irritability and impatience, and have racing thoughts. Often the manic state progresses to the point where judgment is impaired and contact with reality is lost. It may become difficult to understand what a person is saying. Sometimes poorly thought-out decisions are acted on impulsively, with devastating financial, social, occupational, or legal consequences for self, family, and others. Hospitalization may be necessary for effective treatment.

Depression was described as:

"A condition during which one's mood changes from normal to that of being very low, blue, sad, or unhappy. A person may experience changes in sleep pattern, altered appetite, loss of sexual interest, lack of energy, increased worrying, decreased interest in usual activities, loss of ability to experience pleasure, and difficultly with concentration or memory (though I find that to be true of mania too). Accomplishing normal daily activities, such as going to work, may become difficult or impossible. Depressed people often consider or attempt suicide. Hospitalization is often necessary. At times, episodes are characterized by both manic and depressive symptoms and are referred to ads "mixed states".

Some side effects:

For many patients, the treatment plan is often more difficult to deal with than the disorder or diagnosis. Having to accept a lifelong chronic medical illness is difficult. Some people feel they should people to use their "willpower" or "be like everybody else". I know I've had those feelings; every mentally ill person I know has experienced those feelings at some time or another. The hardest issue is reaching out to be treated and knowing many people will ostracize you. Unlike diabetes (or other physical illnesses), being treated for a mental illness often causes problems with family members, friends and jobs. The mentally ill are called "crazy" (or worse) simply for seeking out help; which keeps many continuing to suffer instead of seeking out help.

Some patients (especially those who tend to me more manic, like myself) miss some of the "good" aspects of being manic-the energy, the euphoria, and they often forget about the "bad" feelings. Many patients also have trouble accepting that they will have to take medication for the rest of their lives (something no one wants to do). And worst than that, (for me anyways), is the side effects. I've come so close many times to stopping my pills because of the side effects. No one can truly understand them unless you've been on them. They are mind altering drugs that can (often) make you feel more crazy than you already are. Plus, the fact that most drugs have only recently been approved for use is rather scary. But the alternative is to live drug-free, where I'd either end up in a mental institution or dead. So I take the drugs.

The blood tests. For Lithium and Valproic Acid you need to have regular blood tests (for me it's about every 3 weeks). This doesn't bother me; I went to nursing school and blood is not a problem. It's a hassle time wise, but that's about it. However, some patients (especially those terrified of blood) hate it, and it becomes a large problem. It is very important that the levels of the medications are measured in the blood so that they aren't too low (and therefore not helping) or too high (and toxic).

Here's a list of common side effects when beginning Valproic treatment:

-nausea (I had this HORRIBLY, I was so sick the doctors kept testing me for pregnancy and then all sorts of other things like a bladder infection, kidney stones, and a burst appendix....I was in the hospital every other day!)
-indigestion (I would go 12 hours of not being able to eat and then I'd be STARVING! And I had strange cravings-pickles and cheese-again why all the doctors thought I was pregnant! :P)
-hair loss

Less Common or Rare

-poor appetite
-diarrhea (another major problem I had)
-abdominal pain (another major problem-I also managed have a ovarian cyst burst at the same it's hard to tell what what causing the problems!)
-weight loss (I wish)
-constipation (sometimes, it was one way or the other)
-menstrual irregularities

It took about a month or so for these side effects to clear. I don't feel any problems now; everything seems to have cleared up. I can't really tell you how I feel mentally because I've come off Seroquel and Paxil in the meantime, and that's totally thrown me, but hopefully in a few months I'll know how I'm feeling.
Anyways, I'm exhausted. Off to bed I go. I plan on doing a write up on Lithium and Anxiety/Social Phobia as well as OCD in the new year.

One more quick note: A woman should NEVER get pregnant on Valproic Acid. Though there are many options for pregnant Bipolar women, Valproic is not one of them. Many studies have proved that severe damage is done to the fetus in the first three months of pregnancy. So use protection!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Valproic Acid and Lithium

I'm working on a post on Valproic Acid and Lithium (the two main medications I'm on) based on information I've received from The Dean Foundation for Health, Research and Education.

I hope to have a new post up in the next couple days-I think you will all find it very informative and beneficial-I did! :)

I am feeling slightly better today, I've been spending time with my family and talking to those I love, which really helps.

Talk soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Hope everyone had a good Christmas (or whatever you celebrate). Mine was busy, but good.

Sadly today I had a huge fight with a best friend and completely crashed. My husband found me sitting in the bathroom staring at a bottle of pills...the only thing stopping me from taking them was thinking of the pain it would cause him to cart me down to the hospital (or worse). For most people fights and disagreements are part of life: for the mentally ill they are the difference between a manic day and a suicide attempt. This particular fight was very difficult because I didn't understand what I'd done wrong. My friend wanted to take a break  from our friendship and "maybe" re-evaluate it. Which to me means she was not interested in continuing our friendship. That killed me. Some of the things she said (which I had never heard before) were like stabs in the heart. With everything else going on in my life (physical problems, changing meds, fighting insurance companies, etc) I just couldn't take it anymore. It the same feeling I felt when I was 17, and that scared the shit out of me. I know this is part of the disorder, and thankfully I realized that this was my brain talking crap-not the truth, but often it's so incredibly difficult to tell the difference. So instead, Chris calmed me down, I took some clonzaepam, and now I'm on here, writing my thoughts away while listening to the Beatles. But I have to wonder; Can make it? Most days I'm strong, and I want to fight. But some days, like today, I just want to give up. Thinking about living with this disorder for my entire life-having to go on and off work, having problems with pregnancy and perhaps raising kids, not to mention all the med changes and medication side effects. I'm tired of seeing doctors all the time. I'm tired of having my blood taken every two weeks. I'm tired of people asking me "how I'm doing?" but not really caring. I'm tired of being fat, no matter what I eat or how much I work out (and people making comments about it, not realizing I'm probably healthier than they are).

On these days, this is where I usually sit and listen to music to cry, but I thought I would post because here because there has to be other mentally ill people out there that feel like I do today. And I know the only way we'll get through it is to get through it together. I wish I could feel like every day the reason I want to stay alive is for me-but I can't. Often the only reason I push myself to stay alive and push to be the healthiest I can be is because of my husband, family and friends. I hope someday that changes. I hope that with the right meds, and the right job, I will feel stronger. But I can't lie to myself anymore. People think I'm so much stronger than I am. They think because I write my feelings down on a blog it makes me a "mentor" and "advocate" but really honestly sometimes I just feel like a broken-down version of everyone else. I wanted this blog to be about the bad and the good. There's been a lot of good and information-but I think everyone needs to understand (or try) how truly exhausting this disorder is-every day, every moment we're fighting it. And often it seems like we're losing.

But I can only hope that in the end, with more acceptance and knowledge we'll be able to have more days where we can live for ourselves, and not for our loved ones. Because what scares me is those who don't have any loved ones to live for. The rate of suicide is 10-20 times more in Bipolars than non-Bipolars (Wikipedia). That's scary. The best thing for me when I'm feeling like this is to relax, listen to music, and be with those I love. But there are so many options-check out CMHA website for different group sessions and therapy sessions around the areas. I also check out this website (and some of you may find this strange, but it reminds me of all the people who love me and who would be in pain if I left this world):

It's a page for family members/friends who have had a loved one who committed suicide. Often their words get right to my heart....especially since I was touched closely in my life with suicide as well. I think about how I felt....and how I couldn't do that to my family. I hope I'm not babbling along here; but I had to get my thoughts out. It feels like I've cried all the tears I could cry tonight; I feel drained. I hope all of you reading this take away how difficult this illness is-not to feel sorry for us or pity us-but to support us.

Because we can't be strong all the time. It just isn't possible. Just like the physically ill need people to open doors and help them get in and out of wheelchairs; we need help keeping our minds healthy-we need you to tell us you love us (constantly), and how much you need us in this world.

Do it everyday, even many times a day. It makes a world of difference.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and great New Year! It's been crazy around here (but a good crazy)-seeing lots of family and friends.

Keep checking, I will be putting up a blog soon; I'm working on a couple.

All the best! :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Quick Update

Hi Everyone,

Feeling better the last couple days. I just wanted to let you know I won't be writing as much the next couple weeks or so, simply because it's Christmastime and we're totally packed up between my family and my hubby's. I love Christmas and New Year's but it takes A LOT out of me, so I spend a lot more time sleeping and taking care of myself. So hang in, I promise to be back at it in the new year. I had a LOT of responses (thank you!) to my last post, which I plan to address. I also plan to address a bunch of other issues in the new year: psychiatric hospitals (and what it is truly like to be in one); Bipolar and anger; I want to do a section on just OCD and Social Phobia and well as Anxiety; New studies and research that are being done all over the world-and that's just some of the ideas. I'm also hoping to sit down with my hubby and get his perspective of my illness (which I think would help the friends and loved ones out there that deal with a mentally ill person).

So to all of you, if I'm not able to post before Christmastime; Have a fantastic holiday, thanks so much for following, it means more than you all could know, and all the best for the new year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Just a random note

Hey all. I'm not sure what to write about today, but I had to write something. I feel awful, and for some reason writing on here always calms me down. Even if no one is reading, it helps to "get it out". I saw my psychiatrist last week, and I was expecting him to put me on a new anti-depressant, since I've now come off the Paxil and I'm having severe problems being off it. But no, he wants me to wait it out for a while later (easy for him to say). I've been having the most amount of anxiety I've ever experienced. I feel like I'm jumping constantly-like I just need to get out of my skin. Normally I would go to the gym and go for walks (which help) but I just had surgery, and I'm not allowed. No surprise, I'm going batty. Plus my hubby has been working extra long hours, so he hasn't been around as much to support me (though he does try). I often wonder if this stress is too much for one relationship to take (the divorce rate of a couple where one has Bipolar is two to three times higher than a normal divorce rate). But we just keep plugging away because we love each other, and my hubby realizes none of this is my fault. When he took his wedding vows he truly meant for "better or worse", even though it seems to be mostly "worst" since we've gotten married. I really have the best husband in the world! I'm also starting to realize who is truly my life long friend and who can't handle my illness. Some people just aren't strong enough and I need to let them go. Those who love me (always my family, and my best friends) are always there when I need them, no matter what is going on in their lives. They realize the severity of my illness, and how quickly it can turn. But they also realize that when I'm well I'm the most loyal, caring friend they could possibly ask for. And I think that's why they stick around, haha.

As Christmastime comes up (my favourite holiday) I've been thinking a lot about my life and where I want to go. I feel lost; I don't know what I want to do with my career. I wish I had one of those "Magic 8 Balls" that would tell me what to do. It's also difficult for me to accept that I most likely will never be able to work full time because of my illness.....and that I most likely have to spend more time in the psychiatric ward and off work on disability. I wake up many days just wishing I was "normal"-so I could just go to work, like everyone else. It makes me feel like I'm not pulling my weight when my hubby is working crazy hours and I'm working part time because I can't take the stress of a full-time job. I know there has to be a job out there for me that would work, but I just don't know how to find it.

Something I have reflected upon is even though I have this horrible lifelong illness, I've been so blessed to have the best hubby, family, and friends imaginable. I don't know how any mentally ill person gets through their day without any loved ones. I would love to find a way to help reach out and tell them-even though life sucks sometimes, it really is possible to live and be happy with this disorder. I did it for a couple years, and I know when I'm stable again, I'll feel happy. But the fact that so many of Bipolars/Schizophrenics/OCD's etc are out there alone kill me. Please don't feel are always welcome here. I realize this is the 'net and it's not very personable, but please don't ever be afraid to comment (or send me a personal message).

Well, I think that's it for this note. No advice today. Just some honest thoughts. I hope our new year is much easier than this year. I hope I'm able to finally get well (between my relapse this year, having melanoma, bursting ovarian cysts and finding lesions on my liver), I don't think I could handle anything more next year. I hope that my hubby doesn't have to work so damn hard because I'm not able to work. And I hope that my family and friends continue to be as amazing and supportive as they've always been.

I hope you have something to look forward to next year, and I wish you all the best in health, hope, support and love. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


You asked.....I answered. Well, to the best of my ability. Again, keep in mind I am not a doctor, I am only answering these questions from my personal experience.

-Is Manic depression is different than bipolar disorder?
No, "Manic Depression" is the old (no longer used) name for "Bipolar Disorder". Bipolar Disorder was found to be a more accurate description of the disorder.

-I’m feeling better since taking my medications, which means I probably don’t need them any more, right?
Wrong, wrong, WRONG! The reason you are feeling better is because the medication is WORKING. Unfortunately this is one of the worst problems with Bipolar (and all mental illness) patients-they assume that because they feel "back to normal" they no longer need the medication. Psychiatric drugs are not like Advil; you can't just take them when you feel like it. They must be taken as prescribed, for as long as prescribed (often for the rest of your life). That's just part of the illness. Often a patient will think they are "cured", come off their medication, and crash. And then they have to go through the whole process of going back onto new medications and becoming stable-it ISN'T worth it!

-Is Bipolar "curable"?
No, it's "treatable". For now at least. Let's hope there's a cure in the future-that's why exposure is so very important.

-How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
Bipolar is usually diagnosed during the teen years (I was 17). Usually a Bipolar patient will go through a manic episode and crash and attempt suicide (and thus end up in the hospital), where they will be diagnosed.. Usually there is a genetic history. The family doctor will refer the patient to a psychiatrist who will evaluate the patient over a length of time.

-What are the two types of Bipolar?
  • Bipolar I defines patients with the classic form of this disease: Recurring episodes of mania and depression.

  • Bipolar II defines those who never experience severe mania but instead the manic episodes are milder, and alternate with depression.

-What causes Bipolar?
The cause of Bipolar is still unknown, but science is getting closer to determining it daily. It is generally thought that the neourtransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine have a great impact, as does genetic factors. Stress also plays a major role in relapses.

-Are Bipolars dangerous to others?
When Bipolars are manic, they can become very reckless and dangerous. That's one of the reasons why it is important for Bipolars to recognize their own "triggers" and realize when they are starting to slide in "manic mode" (as I call it). Family members and friends can also help by keeping an eye out. The Bipolar patient should head straight to their psychiatrist as soon as they feel "off".

-What is "hypomania"?
Hypomania means, literally, "mild mania."

-What is "Rapid Cycling"?
Rapid Cycling is officially defined as "experiencing 4 or more bipolar episodes within 12 months". I am an extreme rapid cycler-often expericing cycles in a couple days or even hours. For some reason this is much more common in women.

-What can I do if my loved one is Bipolar?

Twelve things to do if your loved one has depression, manic-depression,
or some other mood disorder:

1. Don't regard this as a family disgrace or a subject of shame.
Mood disorders are biochemical in nature, just like diabetes, and
are just as treatable.

2. Don't nag, preach or lecture to the person. Chances are
he/she has already told him or herself everything you can
tell them. He/she will take just so much and shut out the rest.
You may only increase their feeling of isolation or force one
to make promises that cannot possibly be kept. (I promise I'll
feel better tomorrow honey; I'll do it then, okay?)

3. Guard against the "holier-than-thou" or martyr-like attitude.
It is possible to create this impression without saying a word.
A person suffering from a mood disorder has an emotional
sensitivity such that he/she judges other people's attitudes
toward him/her more by actions, even small ones, than by spoken

4. Don't use the "if you loved me" appeal. Since persons with mood
disorders are not in control of their affliction, this approach
only increases guilt. It is like saying, "If you loved me, you
would not have diabetes."

5. Avoid any threats unless you think them through carefully and
definitely intend to carry them out. There may be times, of
course, when a specific action is necessary to protect children.
Idle threats only make the person feel you don't mean what you say.

6. If the person uses drugs and/or alcohol, don't take it away from
them or try to hide it. Usually this only pushes the person into
a state of desperation and/or depression. In the end he/she will
simply find news ways of getting more drugs or alcohol if he/she
wants them badly enough. This is not the time or place for a
power struggle.

7. On the other hand, if excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol is
really a problem, don't let the person persuade you to use drugs
or drink with him/her on the grounds that it will make him/her
use less. It rarely does. Besides, when you condone the use of
drugs or alcohol, it is likely to cause the person to put off
seeking necessary help.

8. Don't be jealous of the method of recovery the person chooses.
The tendency is to think that love of home and family is enough
incentive to get well, and that outside therapy should not be

Frequently the motivation of regaining self respect is more
compelling for the person than resumption of family
responsibilities. You may feel left out when the person turns
to other people for mutual support. You wouldn't be jealous
of their doctor for treating them, would you?

9. Don't expect an immediate 100 percent recovery. In any
illness, there is a period of convalescence. There may be
relapses and times of tension and resentment.

10. Don't try to protect the person from situations which you believe
they might find stressful or depressing. One of the quickest ways
to push someone with a mood disorder away from you is to make them
feel like you want them to be dependent on you.

Each person must learn for themselves what works best for them,
especially in social situations. If, for example, you try to
"shush" people who ask questions about the disorder, treatment,
medications, etc., you will most likely stir up old feelings of
resentment and inadequacy. Let the person decide for THEMSELVES
whether to answer questions, or to gracefully say "I'd prefer to
discuss something else, and I really hope that doesn't offend you".

11. Don't do for the person that which he/she can do for him/herself.
You cannot take the medicine for him/her; you cannot feel his/her
feelings for him/her, and you can't solve his/her problems for
him/her; so don't try. Don't remove problems before the person
can face them, solve them or suffer the consequences.

12. Do offer love, support, and understanding in the recovery,
regardless of the method chosen. For example, some people
choose to take meds; some choose not to. Each has advantages
and disadvantages (more side-effects versus greater possibility of
relapse, for example). Expressing disapproval of the method
chosen will only deepen the person's feeling that anything
they do will be wrong.

-How can I explain Bipolar to others?

Stick to the basics. Most people can't retain everything about Bipolar; a lot of people don't want to. Just explain that Bipolar means you get mood swings, from elation to depression, and those mood swings have nothing to do with what is going on with their lives. It's caused by electrochemical abnormalities in the brain. Mania doesn't mean "crazy"-it refers to high emotions, fast talking, full of energy, not need much (any) sleep....etc. I'm a rapid cycler, which means that  I can be ultra-excited one day and deeply depressed the next, for no obvious reason. I get into what are called "mixed states" when I seem to have a lot of energy but at the same time am really down, angry or panicky. When I'm manic, I have particular problems with spending money and shopping. Inappropriate anger can be a symptom of bipolar disorder. I might say or have said hurtful things that I really don't mean - I'm sorry! Just keep it short and simple, otherwise it becomes overwhelming.

-How Often Do People with Bipolar Disorder Cycle?

It depends on the patient!

-What can a girlfriend/boyfriend do for THEMSELVES to stay grounded while trying to deal with the emotional and mental struggles of their significant other?

I think my hubby (and family) would probably be able to better answer this one, but I'll do my best. It's important for loved ones to stay strong, which means being able to give to support, but sometimes means stepping back too. Mental illness is exhausting for everyone involved, and everyone needs a break at some point. Loved ones have to realize that the mental illness has nothing to do with them; you cannot control it; it's beyond your power. You can make suggestions and try and give support to the mentally ill, but often they will push you away. Be patient. That is the best advice I can give. Eventually, we will either hit our "wall" or something will change, and we'll realize we need the help/support/whatever. Realize that when you get into a relationship with a mentally ill person, it's lifelong. It never goes away, and you (as a couple) have to fight it daily. I'm not saying it's not worth it; but sometimes (often, actually) I question why my hubby sticks around with all the crap I throw at him. But he loves me, and I love him. And that's what it comes down to. I never asked for this illness, I don't want it, but I have it....and I try and make the best of it-I take my medications always as prescribed, I always see my doctors when I'm supposed to-so my hubby sees the effort I put into staying healthy, and that means he'll let it slide when I do screw up. So there's no real easy answer here. It's a long, very difficult road (like any life long illness), but the best advice I can give to the loved ones-stay strong, stay healthy, get therapy for yourself if you need it, and don't be afraid to reach out to others-many cities have family and friend groups for the mentally ill!
Hi Everyone,

I'm still working on some questions from my last post. I've been feeling horrible the last couple days, and I've had some bad news from my insurance company (which you will hear about later on) so I hope to finish up the "questions" post and hopefully a new one about my new situation (since I've found it to be quite common among Bipolars).

Hope you all are well.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What would you like to know?

Hey everyone. I'm doing better physically today-actually made it to the gym for a kick ass workout. I'm worse mentally unfortunately; had to bump up my psychiatrist appointment from next week to this week. I'm having severe anxiety, and I'm having problems related to my new medication-a lot of swelling, and my thyroid levels are all off, which means my hormones are all off. So I will keep you all informed as to what happens (my doctors appointment is on Thursday). But....on a happier note:

I wanted to send out to you; the readers, (and I'm hoping you will respond honestly here), if you could ask a mentally ill person a question, what would it be? What do you want to know? What don't you understand?

Please post a comment (or send one to me on Facebook or my email: if you don't want it to be public). I'd like to explore the "common misconceptions" together!

Hope everyone is well!

 Question Number One I Received :

"What can a girlfriend/boyfriend do for THEMSELVES to stay grounded while trying to deal with the emotional and mental struggles of their significant other?"

  ** Note, I'm working through the questions and answers....hope to have them up by the end of the week!**

Sunday, December 6, 2009

So I was hoping to post more often than this, but the last couple weeks have been absolute hell. My psychiatrist is changing all my medications around, and I've felt HORRIBLE. I've been in and out of the hospital plus taking constant blood work and tests-not fun! But anyways, I will try and get back to my usual posting, hopefully my health will start to improve now. I haven't even started my Christmas shopping because I've spent all my time at a doctor's office, the hospital, or sleeping all day on my couch!

This won't be a long post since I need to head to bed, but I wanted to go over the different kinds of medications-the ones I've been on personally-that I can remember anyways; and what they actually do. *Disclaimer-I am NOT a doctor, and my words and advice are from a personal standpoint, not a medical basis*

I'll start with the anti-depressants, since they are the most common. I was put on Paxil when I was very young for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Anti-depressants are used for people who are (obviously) depressed, for people with OCD, eating disorders, chronic pain, and anxiety. The most common is called an SSRI: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which affects the level of serotonin in the brain. The worst side effect personally has been weight gain. Other than that, I haven’t noticed a whole lot. The Paxil completely changed my life when I went on it-the OCD was almost completely gone. It changed everything almost overnight.
 For more information:

When I was diagnosed with Bipolar, I was immediately put onto Lithium, the "wonder drug". Lithium is a mood stabilizer used in almost all Bipolar patients; it works by bringing the mania down and “normalizing” the depressive state. Lithium has been used for over 60 years, and is still used the same way is very effective, but has many side effects. The doctors were very hesitant to put me onto it (I was 17) because they worried I would be irresponsible and drink/party and end up back in the ER. You must be constantly monitored on lithium to make sure the levels are not too high in the blood (which would be toxic) which means constant blood tests. Plus, drinking is a VERY bad idea....and even just getting sick with the flu means you have to discontinue your doses for as long as you are sick-if you are losing fluids by throwing up or diarrhea, your lithium levels can become extremely high very quickly. Plus you must drink a TON of fluids, and watch your salt intake. And that's just some of the side effects. I'm constantly monitoring myself; watching for weakness and hand tremors. And I’m not even getting into the “spacey” feeling-like being up in the clouds all the time. I can (somewhat) understand why many Bipolars (and the mentally ill in general) refuse to take drugs-they completely squash any creativity or emotions. Sometimes you feel like a shell in your own body. Plus there is the loss of memory-a HUGE side effect.
More info:

I'm also currently on Valproic Acid (Depakene), an anticonvulsant. I currently haven't noticed too many side effects, but I only started on it about 3 months ago. I am experiencing a severe amount of swelling and weight gain, but my doctors haven't determined if that is related to the drug changes or not. I also have to have constant tests with the Valproic Acid for liver function (a urine test), because that can become a complication. I've also been severely nauseated for the last couple months, but again it's hard to know what drug is causing what side effect!

I'm also on Xanax, which is a benzodiazepine, and I use it for times when I am extremely anxious in a certain situation. It's only works short term, but is meant for anxiety and panic attacks (which I also suffer from). I also take them to sleep (especially recently) when i can't fall asleep.
More info:

Drugs I'm no longer on but have been in the past: 

Seroquel (atypical antipsychotic) - Just came off it 3 months ago to go onto Valproic Acid. I gained at least 50 pounds with Seroquel-which was brutal. It stopped working for me after about 3 years or so. It made me extremely tired a lot of the time, and coming off of it was HELL. I didn't sleep for about 3 weeks straight (Seroquel aids in sleep), and felt like my insides were turning outside.
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Lamictal (anti-convulsant) *** Went onto Lamictal, and my doctor warned me about a very dangerous rash I could develop called the SJS Rash (Stevens-Johnsons Rash) or Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), both which are life-threatening. It starts out small and then spreads throughout the body and the mucus membranes. Only 2% of patients on Lamictal get the rash; needless to say, I was one of the unlucky ones, so I was taken off it immediately.
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The next couple I don't have anything to say about them because they didn't work, so my doctor's took me off of them. I also don't remember what being on them felt like; but I wasn't on them long enough to feel any withdrawal symptoms when I came off them.  I'm sure I'm forgetting a few!

-Topamax (anti-convulsant)
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-Zyprexa (atypical antipsychotic)
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-Risperdal (atypical antipsychotic)
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-Abilify (atypical antipsychotic)
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-Clonazepam (benzodiazepine)-Used for anxiety
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-Ativan (benzodiazepine)-Used for short term anxiety (situational anxiety)
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