When We Disagree on Meds
(Column: Sex and Relationships)
Question: I am bipolar and have been stable on medication for several years. My boyfriend was raised to believe that all mental and physical illnesses should be dealt with holistically. While he allows that medication works for me he’s constantly pushing me to try dealing with my illness without drugs. I feel pressured to prove to him that my method is acceptable and that it’s the best method for me. Is it possible for a relationship to function when our views on medication, a topic that is central to my life, are so different?
Fiona: The first thing I’d like to address here are your feelings about medication: is this a way of dealing with your illness that you’re completely comfortable with? I ask this because if you have some ambivalence about using drugs that may be contributing to the ongoing struggle with your partner. Is this really an external argument or are you arguing with yourself and grafting your doubts onto your partner [without realizing it]? If you have issues with medication as a way of treating mental illness then you need to discuss those issues with your psychiatrist, not with your partner.
Assuming that you feel that medication is the best course for you, as it is for the majority of mental health consumers, you need to figure out why your partner is harping on this issue. Are there side-effects to your drugs that bother him? Does he think that by seeing you off the medication he will be able to see the “real” you? If the latter is part of his reasoning you need to make it clear to him that what he’s not seeing is a part of you that you consider an element of your illness, not your personality, and that the person he’s in a relationship with is as real as it gets. Since you mentioned that his view on medication has to do with the way he was raised he may be getting up on his soapbox without thinking about who he’s talking to; he may be talking about medication in a more abstract sense without thinking about the consequences that stopping your medication would have on you personally. In that case you would need to remind him that while holistic treatment may work for some people it’s not what you want and that continuing to preach to you isn’t going to change that.
In the end what it comes down to is whether or not you can get him to recognize that he’s not being helpful and stop bringing up this topic. People with different views on a variety of issues can have a very healthy relationship but couples who fight constantly aren’t happy together. You don’t need to convince him that drugs are always necessary; you don’t even have to convince him that they’re necessary for you. What you need to do is make it clear to him that he can’t change your approach to your illness and that if he continues to argue his point of view that the relationship will fall apart. Your two viewpoints can coexist provided he agrees not to interfere with your treatment; otherwise I think the issue will eventually strain the relationship to the breaking point.
Lance: During the bipolar support groups I help facilitate, I remind everyone that every person is different. Our dietary habits are different; compliances are different; each person’s tolerance to side-effects is different. We may have similar diagnoses, but the truth is that our drug regimens must be tailor-fit for each person. Each person’s condition has differences as well.
Dr. Ivan K. Goldberg, a prominent psychiatrist has a text where he professes: “On the average, it takes several different doctors to get an accurate diagnosis, and…medication trials…years to effectively achieve.”
Are Eastern techniques better? I do know someone who has not gone manic in six years because she became a yoga instructor who does two hours of yoga daily, six days a week. She is medication-free. Is she symptom free? No, yet she does not let herself miss a session no matter how she feels.
Holistic medicine is considered outside of the mainstream of scientific medicine. It emphasizes the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts. Often that means this requires more of a proactive approach from you. Further, it will take a period of trial and error just like our own doctors do yet rarely admit that to us.
The frequency you would have to personally see a licensed acupuncturist of herbologist, chiropractor and/or dietician might be daunting and many insurance policies won’t cover these practitioners for very long periods of time.
Is it possible for your relationship to grow? Yes. Probable? Well, now we’re into maybe. If he’s not open to growing in education or if you are not open to his views at all, then your relationship will be lacking in a fundamental building block—trust. Meet each other half-way. Perhaps in the bedroom many of these endearing qualities and hurdles can get solved through some holistic heavy breathing activities.
If not, say repeat after me, “Psychotropics are OK by me!” When your done, present him with a small potted aloe plant.