Imagine living life as though all your senses were dulled and muted. As if you were looking through frosted glass or living under water, distanced from the real world. Imagine eating your favourite food but not tasting it, or watching instruments being played but not hearing them. Imagine having an incredible urge to cry and feeling overwhelmingly sad, and being unable to cry. It would seem as if you were living a reality that was less than life.
This is how I feel much of the time on my medication. My range of emotions during an episode is fantastic – wider than you can possibly imagine! Hypomania is like being on cocaine and depression feels like the most intolerable anguish imaginable. My range of emotions even when I am symptom-free is much wider than it is when I’m medicated. Being medicated is like having my emotions and senses caged. I’m stable, but I’m only half alive.
Apart from feeling as if everything is muted, limited emotions also effect other areas of my life. I’m not sad but I’m not happy either and it’s difficult to participate wholly in work and relationships. Something’s missing. I feel flat in my approach at work, simply going through the motions. I want to feel the full extent of love and joy and bliss of my relationship, but the shine is dulled. When I’m sad or angry, I feel an urge to cry but I simply can’t, so I stay sad and angry and the people around me suffer. I want to feel creativity bubbling and overflowing inside me, but the ideas are slow and stunted. I wake and breathe and smile but I feel hollow somehow.
Of course, I’m still in the early days of my journey with bipolar and I fantasise about the day that I can stop taking medication and manage using other strategies. I know that I will experience depression again, and feel unbearably agitated and irritated, and I will have unexpected surges of anger. But I will feel again with the intoxicating potency that I miss so much.
I hear many stories about people with bipolar coming off their medication because they feel well and stable. They don’t think that they need it anymore. But I don’t feel well. I feel stable, but fucking dead inside. How can I say that I feel well? I can see how the medication has stabilised my moods and I know that I will inevitably experience symptoms again if I stop taking them. But I am prepared and will have my defences at the ready – my meditations, relaxation and distraction strategies, techniques to deal with anxiety and agitation and intoxicating energy. I will tell my “well-being team”. I will tell my doctor. And I will take a leap of faith into the land of the unmedicated – the land of the living.
For me, the choice is simple. I am chasing a quality of life that I don’t have whilst taking my medication. I have used my time on medication to gain insight, see my psychologist and practice the strategies in my arsenal. It hasn’t been wasted time, but it has been time spent in which my quality of life has been diminished. But one day soon, it will be time to resurface from this reality that is less than life, take a deep breath, and to feel again.