Medication Side Effects Suck, Why Take Bipolar Medications?

July 15, 2016 Natasha Tracy

The idea that bipolar medication side effects suck is not a new idea. I am not the first person to mention this nugget. This is something every person with bipolar disorder who is on medication knows. In fact, when it comes to every medication, side effects suck. The reason why bipolar medications stand out for me is, of course, I take them, but not only that, they are medications that most of us have to take for the rest of our lives. When bipolar medication side effects suck, they suck for a very, very long time, so why take bipolar medications?

Initial Bipolar Medication Side Effects

Something important to understand is if you’ve just started bipolar medication and you’re in the first couple of months, the side effects are going to be at their worst. You need to know that side effects often calm down over time (Fear of Taking Psychiatric Medication). You need to know that you shouldn’t give up on medication just because of immediate side effects. Things do, most often, get better, to some degree.

Long-Term Bipolar Medication Side Effects that Suck

The sucky bipolar medication side effects that I’m talking about are the ones that are long-term.

It is well known that bipolar medication side effects suck, but if this is true, why do people take bipolar medications? Learn why. Read this.For example, last year I started a new medication that was touted as being “weight neutral.” In other words, you’re not supposed to gain weight on it. Well, if you saw me before the medication and now, you would see this just wasn’t the case for me. I was an exception to the rule and gained weight even though that wasn’t supposed to be a side effect.

Of course, there are also more common side effects. Right now I’m experiencing akathisia from a medication we added on to replace the medication that made me gain weight. (Akathisia is an inner and outer restlessness that typically causes distress because you can’t stay still.) About one-in-five people on one of my medications experiences akathisia and, because of the combination I’m on, I now experience it, too.

And, of course, over the years I have experienced many other medication side effects including hair loss, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, being cold all the time, not being able to wake up in the morning, and, oh, so many others.

If Bipolar Medication Side Effects Suck, Why Take Bipolar Medications?

The thing that I try to remember is that while bipolar medication side effects do absolutely suck, they suck less than untreated bipolar disorder. The reason why I take bipolar medications in spite of the side effects is because they keep me alive. Sometimes this feels like a very small gain, but it’s a pretty big one if you ask my loved ones.

I hate living with bipolar medications and I hate living with bipolar medication side effects. But they are the lesser of two evils (and yes, bipolar disorder certainly is evil).

And one thing I will say is that that newer medications are better than the older ones. Vastly imperfect, sure, but better, nonetheless. And new medications do come out every year and they may be able to handle your illness and any address side effects you’re currently experiencing.

So to people who are currently struggling with bipolar medication side effects that suck, I say this: please don’t forget why you started them in the first place. Please don’t forget how unmanageable a life with untreated bipolar disorder is. Please don’t forget your loved ones who may not be able to handle an untreated you. Please don’t forget how you destroyed your credit or a marriage, or spent months in bed or became psychotic before you were treated. Please don’t forget that small gains and still gains, nonetheless.

And one other thing: if you really feel that you can’t withstand a particular side effect, make sure you’re clear about that with your doctor. Some side effects can be handled with additional medication but that won’t happen unless you’re very clear with your doctor, as, in my opinion, doctors tend to write off side effects until you’re pretty clear that’s unacceptable.

When You Have Sucky Bipolar Medication Side Effects, Remember This

Work with your doctor, consider trying newer medications and remember the benefits. I am the first one to stand in line and complain about bipolar medication side effects but I’m also the first one in line to talk about their benefits.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2016, July 15). Medication Side Effects Suck, Why Take Bipolar Medications?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Ignacio Welms
August, 28 2016 at 11:24 pm

Research needs to be evaluated with an open mind and requires some degree of scientific sophistication. So, I ask readers of this thread to keep in mind the fact that the body of research on Lithium is positive and has found Lithium to be the only med documented to stop and even heal the damage done to the brain by bipolar.

August, 25 2016 at 10:21 am

I simply MUST take my medications or I would have to be locked up somewhere. When I first started meds and we were trying to find the right combo, I felt worse and I would say things like, "See? This isn't helping at all!" We all had to go through that terrifying time until we finally got something right and felt a little better. It was hell.
I was not accepting my diagnosis at all. Was just a nervous breakdown, too much stress at work, I'm fine. Really.
Then some people in your inner circle start discussing the matter, and you are right there. I had a "friend" who was an RN and said, "You don't need those medications, they are what is making you ill. I've never seen you psychotic!" Yes, I had only been psychotic while inpatient, usually due to a med change. BUT...because I was not accepting my diagnosis, I thought, "You know what? She's right. I've never experienced symptoms like this until I was on the meds. And now I'm worse!
I took her advice. Didn't tell my doc but had a whole plan on which drugs to go off first, etc. Made it slow, bit by bit, med by med. Of course I crashed head on into the walls of the hospital again. Then was dumb enough to do that again, with the same results.
That's when I knew my diagnosis was very real and that I was VERY sick. I approached my doc again with my tail between my legs. We had to start over.
Yes, it still sucks. But it sucks less when you aren't hurting the people you love, alienating every last one of your friends, etc. You are at least semi-stable.
Needless to say, I now fully accept my diagnosis and religiously take my meds. It's not a perfect life, but it's all I have.

August, 20 2016 at 10:51 am

My side effects are bumps all over my back and hair loss...i was gaining weight but I got on weight watchers and have been exercising 2-3 times a day 6 days a week...I miss having thick beautiful hair but Im trying to keep going...i take 4 medications a day for bipolar and another for asthma. Ive been no contact with my abusive family for 1-2 years now and that seems to help as much as the medication.

Dr Musli Ferati
July, 23 2016 at 10:25 am

Psychiatric treatment of bipolar disorder is grounded on psychopharmacotherapy as where psychostabilizators take the first place on complex three dimensional therapeutic approach, the so-called biopsychosocial treatment and management, as well. Depending upon phase of this psychotic disorder it ought to administer antipsychotic or antidepressant therapy, wheras anxiolityc medication is conditioned by involved anxiety as concomitant emotional disorder of bipolar mood disorder. Anyhow, psychostabilizators are the main and crucial medication of bipolar psychosis. Their side and indecipherable effects exhibits great challenge for clinical psychiatrist and patient, as well. But exact and appropriate algorhythm prevents numerous side effects. As to belong to sucky medication bipolar side effects it depends of psychological structure of respective patient, and psychological treatment should be the treatment of choice. Without in regard some side effect of psychiatric medication, it is absolutely necessery to take psychiatric medication in order to prevent the relapse of this circular psychosis. On the other hand the preferable recovery of this psychiatric illnesses is impossible without medication. These and many others benefits of medication make up reasonable and justify taking of medication, against some side effect that are mostly transitory and of temporary nature.

July, 23 2016 at 8:59 am

I quit my meds because I weighed 300 lbs., was borderline diabetic, lost my teeth due to dry mouth and lost motility in my large intestine. Talk about quality of life issues.
I have an appointment to get back on meds. I've been very lucky that I have remained stable but know that I will eventually start cycling again. When side effects are not just unpleasant but potentially life threatening what are you supposed to do? This does suck.

July, 21 2016 at 4:15 am

I have had two really weird rare-but-documented side effects. When I first tried Paxil I lost control of my right arm. It flopped around like a fish kicking out its last few minutes of life in the bottom of a boat. I had to go back in to show the doc what was happening, and this was a teaching hospital so she went to get all the students because "they will probably never see anything like this again." So no more Paxil, obviously. Another time I took one of the fairly new mood stabilizers and almost immediately became obsessed with the idea that I should carve my arms up with a kitchen knife. No particular reason--I didn't feel depressed or suicidal--it just seemed like a good idea. That disappeared within hours of stopping the med. Turned out, this particular med had a warning on it not to give it to teens who cut because it can make that behavior worse, but I wasn't a teen, and I hadn't told anybody I used to cut. My doc said if she'd known about the cutting she'd have given me something else, but I didn't know it was important so I'd never brought it up. Talk to your doc, folks. Bring up the stuff that doesn't seem important. It can make all the difference.

Jim Buchanan
July, 18 2016 at 1:28 pm

I needed to read this, I'm really struggling with side effects, especially weight gain. My prescriber doesn't want to address that as I'm slowly coming out of a mania, and perhaps wisely, doesn't want to rock the boat. On the other hand, why go to a lot of work to get stable and then start all over again with new meds that will certainly give different results.? All I know is that I weigh 110lb more than I did in 2001 when I was Dx, I've been up and down in that time, but the weight is doing me physical harm at least as bad as the psychological harm of the bipolar. At first that wasn't true, but now I'm on insulin, getting diabetic neuropathy, I get out of breath very easily (exercise has been helping there, but not with the weight), getting bad joint and foot problems from the weight, I can hardly walk a block, I could walk miles before, and have to pay people to work on my car and house when I know how to do it myself, but I can barely get up and down from the ground to do the work Sorry, I had to vent!

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