In 2004, at the age of 43, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Type II. I was very skeptical of the diagnosis at the time. I had made it through 43 years of life as a reliable, responsible, hard-working, well-grounded, over-achiever. I had experienced two serious bouts of depression in my adult life, but got through both on my own--no medications, no doctor, no therapist needed.

In 2003, I was struggling with severe insomnia--a problem that had come and gone my entire life. I had just finished graduate school, I was about to get married for the first time, my husband-to-be and I were trying to buy our first home, both of my pets died, and my father was diagnosed with a fatal illness and given less than two years to live. My work situation was a nightmare that was getting worse. The lack of sleep was wreaking havoc with my ability to manage stress.

I went to see my primary care doctor, a DO and family medicine guy (not an internal medicine doctor). He listened to my story and said, "You can't sleep because you're depressed." I asked, "How do you know it's not the other way around--I feel depressed because I don't sleep?" He just sort of shrugged. He made me take a weird, 10-question quiz that had questions about whether I enjoyed looking at attractive people, among other things. Then he wrote a prescription for Ambien and one for Lexapro. He said Lexapro was weight-neutral and that was preferred for middle-aged women.

That was it--I was diagnosed as having a mood disorder in a 20-minute visit to my primary care doctor, based entirely on my own self-reporting of symptoms.

After a few months, I felt much worse--very agitated and foggy, with volatile moods. I still couldn't sleep, and I hated everyone and everything. My Lexapro dosage went up to 20mg, at which point the doctor said no further increase would be necessary because this was the maximum effective dosage for Lexapro. I told him that if I took a pill late, I got very dizzy, nauseated, and had electrical shock sensations in my head. He said, "Well, don't take your Lexapro late."

I had to take that stupid quiz every time I went in--once a month. At the tenth month, the doctor looked at the quiz (I had it memorized by then), sighed deeply and said, "You're supposed to be getting better, not worse." He told me to put some effort into thinking about why I was so uhappy, and if I could meditate on that, the Lexapro would work better.

Eventually, at the one-year point, when I realized I was becoming suicidal, I went to see a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist said I had BP. He prescribed lithium and Wellbutrin. He said it could take months before I noticed any change. Three months later, I was sent for labs to measure the lithum levels. Lithium made me fat and nauseated. I was still in a perpetual state of agitation and suicide ideation. My insurance changed and I had to change doctors. The next one added Lamictal and said I needed a therapist. Our insurance changed again and the next doctor stopped the SSRI, the Wellbutrin, and the Ambien. A month later, he prescribed EMSAM, a transdermal form of selegiline. Three months later, I started to feel better.

So, now it's about six years later. I feel just fine. I stopped the anti-depressant and the Lamictal about six weeks ago, after whittling down the dosages to miniscule amounts over the course of several months. I am in the process of cutting down the lithium with the goal of stopping it entirely, as well.

As I have thought about my story, I've been very bothered by two things: The diagnoses I was given--and the subsequent medications--were all based entirely on self-reported symptoms. There is no blood test, no neurological test--nothing--to determine that an illness actually exists. Has anyone ever seen a neurotransmitter? I haven't. Has anyone ever had theirs measured in any way? I haven't. I have a couple of chronic illnesses, and they were diagnosed after lung function tests, blood work, and CT scans, among other tests. When it came to depression and BP, my self-reported experiences matched a list of symptoms in a big book, so I was labeled as being mentally ill--and treated as such.

This seems unconscionable to me.

Having done some reading about SSRIs, I believe that although I may have had a genetic predisposition to BP or something like it, it was actually the Lexapro that really set me off. Stopping Lexapro was one of the most horrific experiences of my life--I was so, so sick I thought I was dying.

I believe a couple of doctors prescribed inappropriately in my case, and the situation changed only because I was strong enough to keep going back and saying "This is NOT working."

I'm done with this whole experience, and ready to put it behind me. I don't plan on taking anything again until I have solid, tangible, scientific proof that an illness actually exists. I am curious to know if others have experienced something similar and if stopping medication worked out well for them.


2862 days ago
all mental illnesses are diagnosed by self-reporting and the reports of friends and family members. there are no "tests" to determine mental illness at this time. a LOT of BP patients are initially diagnosed with depression, take anti-depressants, and then go off the deep end. it's really very common, even though i know it's frustrating. the greatest majority of BP patients go through years of meds changes trying to find the combo that works best for them. there's no one set treatment for all BP patients, and no set age at which it can be triggered.

none of us here can tell you whether or not you really do have BP. only a trained professional can do that. however, i would like to express concern about you going off your meds, if you are doing so without your doctor's supervision. if you're truly BP, this can be incredibly dangerous. cessation of mood-stabilisers and/or antipsychotics greatly increases your chance of a major mood episode. so, really, you may know soon whether or not you're BP. i mean, the reason you "feel fine" now is that you've been on meds. once they are out of your system, things will change. if they don't, and you were, in fact, misdiagnosed, then i'm super happy for you, but as of right now, i'm really concerned for you. please be safe and keep your pdoc close while you quit your meds.

2862 days ago
That sounds like great advice, kate..

2862 days ago
I totally agree with Kate about checking with your doctor first when detoxifying your system of these medications. Even if you never needed them in the first place, your system is now reliant upon them, please be careful and document on paper your moods and changes in habits to have something tangible so you wont forget anything vital.

I do find it concerning that doctors would rather shove a precription at you in your first appointment than actually getting to the root of something, even if tests are not available. That experience was mine, too, but I declined the meds thinking there was something more to it. Ive come to find that the depressions I am feeling are a mixture of a whole range of things that include a verbally abusive parent, peri-menopause and being unemployed not finding work. Life can suck sometimes in big doses, nothing a hug and knowing people are going through the same thing cant help you get through.

BTW: having doctors in the family and knowing there are some here, I hope I dont offend anyone but let's not forget the factor of the all mighty drug companies having their hand in all of this. Whenever I am prescribed something, I never go get it filled until I do my research. Get it filled if you need it - not saying dont - just be an informed consumer!

2862 days ago
Oh, you have got to scour this site! It is incredible and they have so much information on just about everything you can thing of. Check out the "drug" tab. Wowie cazowie, its rather impressive. ((((HUGS))))

2862 days ago
well, I am one who agrees that doctors are far too quick to write a prescription these days for symptoms than to try to find the root of the problems. Then when you start having new symptoms that are side effects from the first med, they add another med for those symptoms and on and on it goes!

having said that, there are certain illnesses and disorders that do require medication to stabilize the condition, and so I do urge you to be careful if in fact you do have bipolar disorder, as you may really need that lithium

there is a very enlightening book by Peter Breggin M.D. called "your drug may be your problem" that may be of interest to you

Maybe consider finding an Integrative Physician (conventional MD or DO who is also specialized in alternative medicine) as it really is a good idea to have a doctor you feel you can rely on just in case a crisis arises

all the best and do be careful.

May Voirrey
2861 days ago
I just want to clarify that I started the process of tapering off my medications six months ago. My lithium dosage was 750 in December and is now at 450. The other medications also were eliminated after verrrry slowly tapering down the dosages. I want to be clear that I did not just suddenly stop taking medication, nor did I adjust all of them at the same time.

I told my psychiatrist what I was doing when I saw him in February. He said that I was free to proceed however I felt was appropriate--and that he would still be there if it all went wrong. He was not my diagnosisng physician--he was the third psychiatrist and fourth doctor involved, so he had to try to unravel everyone else's decisions. He understands that I want a do-over.

I understand that I may have to go back on lithium if this doesn't work out, but at least I will have some kind of proof that BP was the problem all along.

I cannot justify taking an anti-depressant indefinitely. six years is a long time. I'd like to know for sure if I still need that particular medication. I assume I am NOT depressed based on my ability to manage stress, be productive, interact appropriately with others, and function in general. I like to think that an anti-depressant "re-sets" us rather than becomes a lifelong necessity--especially when it never was before.

The older I get and the more I see how psych meds are prescribed, the more skeptical I am about the whole business.

Proof! I want proof that the diagnosis was correct! If the proof turns out to be hypomania, then so be it. I really am curious how others have fared after trying a meds-free life, though.

2860 days ago
Oh, if you enjoy reading, I hope you will consider reading "Manufacturing Depression" by Gary Greenburg. I am just now reading it. Very interesting views on depression and how it came to be so frequently and quickly diagnosed. Which came first, the diagnosis or the medication...

I stopped taking Prozac after years on it. I realized I was emotionally numb and still depressed, so why take it? I wanted to know what I was like without it.

I now am med free and am in weekly psychotherapy. It works better for me.

2860 days ago
I really identify with the question and the subject of the accuracy and validity of psychiatric diagnoses. I have been seeing psychiatrists and using meds on and off for the past 5 years and it is clear to me that there is a lot of guess work and personal opinion involved when it comes to diagnosis and prescriptions. Plus there is the problem as the writer points out of "self-reporting" I have been diagnosed with everything under the sun, thanks, I believe to the unscientific means of diagnoses of psychiatric disorders. I am choosing to get rid of therapy for now and just stick with meds because meds seem to me to be more scientific. Some meds do work for some people, although nobody seems to know how or why.

I am on EMSAM now for about 3 weeks. I believe there is science in the making of the drugs just not in the prescribing of them if that makes any sense.

I wish everybody good luck on their mental health journey.