As I explained in part one, the two most often prescribed medications to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder are lithium carbonate and valproic acid. In part one, we covered lithium. Now we’ll take a look at Depakote and Lamictal.
Valproic Acid (Depakote, mg)
Valproic acid, commonly known as Depakote, is an epilepsy medication which also treats migraines. Researchers have now discovered an additional use: treating manic symptoms in persons with bipolar disorder. Depakote works by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps with relaxation. The medication is compatible with breast-feeding but not pregnancy, as it can lead to birth defects like spina-bifida.
Side effects include nausea, weight gain, and dizziness. You will need recurring blood tests to measure the efficacy of the drug and potential damage to the liver. Also, stopping the drug abruptly may lead to seizure, so please make sure you’re under the supervision of a medical professional while taking it.
As I wrote about in part one, lithium kicked me out of a depression and evened out my moods. Depakote, on the other hand, brought me back from the brink of a manic state cum psychotic episode.
I was first prescribed Depakote during my stay in the mental hospital shortly after Nolan was born. Without it, I don’t know if I would have recovered. I certainly wouldn’t have stabilized in time to care for my son while he was still an infant—and I may not have been able to keep him. I am now lucky enough to act as the primary caregiver for him while he marches off to preschool.
Lamictal (Lamotrigine, mg)
Lamictal is an anti-depressant [Editor’s Note: It has been pointed out in the comments that Lamictal is an anticonvulsant with mood stabilising properties. My apologies.] frequently prescribed for epilepsy and bipolar II. According to studies in 2007, it can treat depression without triggering mania in some patients. Lamictal works by blocking sodium ions in cell channels. Interestingly, because it blocks so many different types of ions, it is known as a broad-spectrum blocker. Its side effects include dizziness, headache, blurred vision, and rash. It also may interfere with hormonal birth control, causing estrogen-based products to be less effective.
I don’t have much to report on Lamictal, because three months is too short of a history with a drug. But I can say that its effect has thus far been positive. Like lithium, it has jump-started my system and brought me up to a more even level. A more “normal” level. One could almost say my life is a bit boring now, but it’s nothing like the sucking apathy of depression.
It’s a hard, long road to find a combination that works, and there are always side effects. But I’ve found that for me, taking the pills helps just enough to be worth it. I’m starting to recognize in therapy the parts of my diseases and what are my own unproductive habits, which I wouldn’t have been able to separate out before. Don’t let anyone shame you at the outset into not going after something that may help you, and do advocate for your own health. Help is out there, regardless of where you are in life.
You are worth exploring this option.