Life on Abilify: is it worth it?


Untreated, bipolar disorder is a burr of restlessness constantly bothering my brain. I feel like something is wrong even if everything is actually ok. I’m always convinced something terrible is just about to happen. I’m up and down all the time. Manic one day, depressed the next. There are mean voices in my head telling me I’m a horrible person, telling me I should just kill myself. Sometimes the voice shouts at me. Sometimes I see things that aren’t there—shadows of people following me. These things are always on the periphery of my vision. I can never really get a good look at them.

But if someone asks me to explain what’s wrong in my life, what I’m worried about, what I’m restless about, I have a hard time pinpointing anything. By all accounts, everything is pretty much ok. Nothing is terribly wrong. My kids are healthy, I have a roof over my head and food on the table. I get to create art and stay home to raise my kids. I should be happy. I should feel normal.

But when my bipolar is untreated, my brain won’t give up until it’s found something—anything—to be suspicious about. My brain can collect evidence of wrongness even when there’s no wrongness to be found. At various times in my life I’ve become unwaveringly convinced that I didn’t have enough pets (I had five), that my husband was cheating on me (he wasn’t), that the FBI was spying on me (they weren’t——I think), that I desperately needed an RV (I hate camping). Let’s just put it this way: my untreated bipolar brain likes to lie to me. And many, many times in my life I’ve believed those lies.

Initially, Abilify was a life-saver. No more psychosis, no more suspicions that the FBI was spying on me, no more paranoia. No more dramatic mood swings. No more mean voices in my head.

Everything just leveled out and got really quiet. My brain changed from a storm-tossed ocean to a glassy smooth lake. Worn out and exhausted from the months of mania and depression, I was content to just rest in this newfound quiet. I didn’t even mind that I was putting on weight at an alarming rate. I just wanted to eat and rest.

But eventually, I began to notice that not only was I on a glassy smooth lake, but there was no wind in my sails, either. Everything—everything— was flat.

Sure, I wasn’t irritable anymore. The usual things that annoyed me—a barking dog, grumpy customers at work, traffic noise, jerks on the highway, the kids being too loud—just didn’t bug me. I didn’t get angry, either. One time I tried to hang onto my anger but it was slipped through my fingers like sand. I couldn’t stay angry. I couldn’t feel it. The same thing went for joy. I no longer feel joy. I don’t feel happy about anything. I don’t have that creative spark I’ve always had. I used to be super ambitious and driven to create. But my motivation and drive to create have simply dwindled away.

Even my facial expressions are flat. My husband says he has a hard time reading my emotions now because they don’t show as much on my face. Sometimes I’ll catch him chuckling when he looks at me and when I ask why he’ll say: “You have that blank, innocent look on your face again.”

But here’s the thing: there are no emotions to read. I feel very little of anything. I don’t feel happy but I don’t feel sad, either. Everything just feels sort of numb.

I can watch violent movies now and not be bothered. But at the same time, beautiful music no longer moves me. I can see a beautiful sunset and think: Meh, no big deal. Before, this would inspire me to write poetry. Now, I just yawn.

That’s another thing. I yawn all the time. I can sleep and sleep and sleep. I’m always sleepy. Not tired, just sleepy. I feel as if I’m never fully awake. I can drink a gallon of coffee and not feel perked up in the slightest. I can drink coffee at 8pm and it won’t keep me up.

My sex drive has totally disappeared. I feel asexual. Like I could go for the rest of my life without sex and not miss it too much.

The one thing I do feel is the absence. I miss things. I remember what it used to feel like to feel intimate, to feel alive, to experience the joys and sorrows of life. I feel the absence of those things.

Everything is flat except my appetite. In two months I’ve gained 23 pounds and I’m still gaining.

I’ve had to buy bigger pants. Sometimes it seems like eating is the only joy I have left in life. Nothing else makes me happy.

But I’m worried about going off Abilify because what if the emotions come back too strongly? I’m worried that even a lower dosage of Abilify will bring back the roller-coaster emotions again. What if the mean voices come back? What if I start seeing shadows again? This is all just so hard.

I’m going to see a new psychiatrist this week. I’m hoping he’ll be able to help me.