My toddler son really had to go pee. He was possessive of his potty. So when he had to share the bathroom that he uses at home with his uncle, we was a little miffed.
I took my son’s small hand, sticky fingers and all, and walked him into his bathroom. All the while he complained that Uncle Scott was using his bathroom.
This embarrassed me to no end. I tried so hard to make my brother, who also has a severe chronic mental illness, feel welcomed in our home. My brother was staying with us for the weekend and my son’s behavior was not helping in the hospitality department.
I flipped on the bathroom light switch and my eyes zeroed in on the sink counter and the gigantic clear plastic zip-lock bag filled with pill bottles. Ugh. I hoped my son wouldn’t noticed. I quickly tossed the bag onto the unmade bed in the guest room.
So.many.pills. It made my stomach hurt just thinking about them.
Why did he have so many pills?
For mood stabilizing.
The truth is that medications play a critical part of my brother’s current treatment plan to help him manage his bipolar disorder. And his medications change depending on his symptoms and how the meds interact with each other.
His meds can make him feel super hungry all the time, sleepy, and cause him to have tremors.
Even with all the negative side-effects, the meds can also save his life.
Just in the past year he started on a new medication that significantly decreased his thoughts of suicide. As his family we see a huge improvement in his life because of these medications.
Some people say that mental illness is not real. That it literally is “all in your head.” So they tell their loved ones not to see a doctor or not to take medications.
Some say that mental illness can be managed by talk therapy and self-care like exercise and meditation or prayer alone.
This is not true for my brother and many others like him. Right now these pills are keeping him alive.
My brother recently posted this as his Facebook status update:
I was told that my bizarre thoughts and actions in the fall of 1990 at the age of 18 was the result of manic depression. I rejected this. I flushed the lithium down the toilet whenever I got the chance. I said what I had to say to get released from the mental ward.
It wasn’t for another five years that I accepted my diagnosis and began to take the medicine that changed my life. I still need yearly readjustments of my medicines but now I take them as if my life depended on them (which due to persistent suicidal ideas it really does.)
It’s hard to understand why someone who looks healthy would need so much medication. It’s easy to judge and to question the muchness of medications some people are on. Yet for people like my brother it is their reality and part of the shame and stigma is wrapped up in all the pills they have to take every day.
It’s important that people with mental illness are in the hands of qualified professional mental healthcare providers who help to closely monitor medications.
Even after years of supporting my brother through his bipolar, I’m still shocked every time I see his big bag of pills.
The pills remind me that mental illness is real. It is an organic brain disease. It’s not just all in his head.