health

‘I was diagnosed with bipolar. Then I was refused the medication to treat it.’

Warning: This post deals with mental health and might be triggering for some readers. 

It took 28 years for me to receive the diagnosis I had always been expecting. After all, I’d inherited every other hereditary condition (and undesirable trait) that ran in the family – why not this one?

Throughout my teenage years, the thought of this diagnosis had crippled me. But as I sat in that sterile white office, the word almost came as a relief.

Bipolar.

“You have bipolar.”

She said it so matter-of-factly. So indisputably.

And yet I wasn’t there to dispute. I was there to accept. To embrace. To move forward on a path towards health and (optimistically, I know) happiness.

So when she said that word, it felt like validation. Like a ticket to wellness.

Bestselling author, Marian Keyes, speaks to Mia Freedman about overcoming depression on the No Filter podcast.  Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

I liked my new psychiatrist. I liked her infinitely more than all the curmudgeonly old men I had been forced to see since the age of 12.

She was positive, youthful, and – most importantly – female. My first female psychiatrist. It took more than half my life, but I finally managed to find one. The fact I liked her just felt like an added bonus!

So I was bipolar. What next?

Medication, naturally.

Yet this time I had hope – hope that, for the first time in my life, I would find a medication that would actually work, because I finally had a diagnosis that not only fit, but felt complete.

What medication do you need for bipolar? Lithium.

For cancer, you need chemo. For bipolar, you need lithium.

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Or, you used to.

My new doctor explained that the current thinking in the psychiatry industry was not to bring out the big guns first.

And then she said something that left me in a state of shock: she did not want to put me on lithium because I could not get pregnant on lithium.

I’m sure that statement is ambiguous enough to confuse you as much as it did me, so allow me to clarify. Did that mean lithium was some kind of contraception wonder drug, capable of fending off all fertilisation?

Alas, no. Lithium is not a form of contraception.

It seems that fertile folks with a uterus are just as capable of becoming pregnant with or without lithium. So what’s the problem?

Well, it seems that lithium is proven to be harmful to foetuses.

Let me be clear, that is not a good thing … for foetuses. The last time I checked, I am not a foetus. I am a fully-grown, (semi-)adult woman, capable of paying her phone bill on time and driving a soccer mum Prius.

bipolar disorder
"Would my new psychiatrist have put me straight onto lithium today had I been a man. Maybe. How could I know?." Image: Getty

My first appointment with my new psychiatrist lasted approximately one hour. She asked me many questions in that hour, not one of which included "Would you like to have a baby or nah?"

There has been much literature written of late on the new wave of childless millennials choosing to forgo parenthood for a myriad of reasons, from lack of finances to global warming. Whether I am one of these individuals is not relevant. What is relevant is the fact I was never once asked.

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I was never once asked if I would like to carry a foetus in my uterus, nor any of the associated questions that commonly go along with that.

For the record, I am a fertile, heterosexual, 28-year-old woman. Those facts alone suggest the possibility for me to become pregnant are actually quite high, compared to say if I were a woman who was homosexual, menopausal, or suffered fertility issues.

Or, say... a man.

And yet I am not currently in a position where becoming pregnant is likely to be an issue – I am not in a relationship nor seeing anyone casually. Most importantly, however, I am not presently capable of taking care of any human body except my own – if you could even say I am capable of that.

So the fact that decisions about my health are being made for the benefit of an non-existent foetus is utterly ludicrous.

I’m not entirely without perspective here, despite what my recent diagnosis may suggest. I do acknowledge that – as a fertile, heterosexual woman with the desire to someday birth children – it is actually quite sensible for my new psychiatrist to search for an effective medication that would not need to be changed should I wish to have a baby. But how would she know any of this without having ever actually... asked?

As a young woman, I just want to receive the same level of healthcare as every other member of the community. That’s what equality is. That’s what feminism is.

I do not want my healthcare compromised by a non-existent foetus.

Would my new psychiatrist have put me straight onto lithium today had I been a man. Maybe. How could I know?

What matters is that I receive the best healthcare possible to treat my condition, regardless of whether or not I intend to someday house another human being inside my body. No short-term tenant should ever get priority over me. I am, after all, the only permanent resident of this body.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Rayner S Carter is a graduate student at the University of Melbourne studying a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing. She is a passionate mental health advocate and a proud feminist who would someday like to house a foetus in her uterus.

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