Five Bipolar Medication Side Effects

I was diagnosed with bipolar II ten years ago. After finding the right “med cocktail” I was able to function as a pastor of a mid-size church with the unique stresses and pressures that come with that profession.

But medicine has side effects. Sometimes I would like to wrap up the side effects and take them to the garbage.

Unfortunately that is not possible. The meds keep me reasonably healthy and side effects and are part of my healthy life.

Here are some of my side effects and how I try to cope with them. Perhaps some of this will be helpful.

Dry Mouth. For a pastor who speaks regularly this became a real problem. It is hard to talk when your tongue is stuck to the top of your mouth! Sips of water were not enough to ease the dryness. I found using a cough drop helped to keep my mouth moist enough that I could speak for some time. Sometimes I felt like a chip monk with the cough drop in the side of my cheek…but hey it worked!

Clumsiness.I stumble easier. It may be on the sidewalk or have other causes. My sense of bodily presence in is not as defined as it once was. Perhaps doing yoga or physical exercise might help that problem.

Tremors. My hands shake. Sometimes it takes both hands to hold a cup of coffee. Sometimes just a quick explanation “my hands shake because of my meds” is an appropriate explanation if needed.

Once I was going through customs. One of the agents pulled me aside when he saw my hands shaking. Being pulled off to the side at customs in a foreign country is a thrill. One I don’t care to repeat. He thought I was nervous because I was doing something illegal. I quickly explained that my meds caused the shaking. He apologized for the inconvenience and let me back into the line. Whew!

Some people find tremors interfer with daily functioning. It would be wise to let your psychiatrist know and see if a medicine change could relieve that symptom.

Drowsiness. I get sleepy through the day. Because I am able to schedule my day, I often would try a “coffee nap”. Drink one cup of coffee and then rest for fifteen minutes. It leaves me more refreshed than either coffee or a brief nap by itself. I can then go for another four hours without suffering from the “sleepies.” 

I try not to schedule activities in the late evening so I stay on a regular sleep schedule. I require nine hours of sleep at night to keep stable. Your needs will probably be different.

Concentration. My concentration abilities give me the most difficulty. It is difficult to retain the contents of a book. Pastors need to read and remember. 

One solution is to take careful notes, marking heavily in a book. Taking extensive notes is another way to cope. Outlining or sketching are an excellent help. Tremors make that difficult sometimes. That is when making notes in the book are extremely helpful.

A Bible verse that helps me stay centered is: 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

Accepting both strengths and weaknesses create humility. Everyone has weakness. I have bipolar depression. I have side effects from my medicine. In humility I accept those things I cannot change and change the things I can.

We can cast our cares on God. He cares for us, regardless of our weaknesses, disabilities, no matter our age or stage in life.

Blessings to you for a healthy life!

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