Skip to content

Bipolar Disorder Health Center

Font Size

Bipolar Disorder: Managing the Balancing Act

Bipolar disorder symptoms include dramatic shifts in mood and the ability to function. Successful bipolar disorder treatment requires a careful course of medication, psychotherapy, and discipline to stay on track--and avoid an emotional crash

Medicating Mania continued...

Why? Because many people with bipolar disorder struggle with the idea of staying on their medication for life. Some even enjoy the initial phases of the manic stage, while others feel fine and don't want to deal with the side effects of the medications, which can include weight gain and sexual problems.

Having been on lithium for 10 years, Molliner says, "I didn't have that choice [about treatment], because I was 16 at the time of diagnosis. [But] the peak of the mania and the deepest end of the depression were so scary and big that I never wanted to experience them again. In the manic stage, I was totally out of control in my own mind and body, and that is the scariest experience ever," she recalls. "And the depression felt like death.

"The biggest issue with the lithium for me was that it triggered [the skin condition] psoriasis, and I developed a slight hand tremor. But there were no sexual side effects," she says. Weight gain was an issue, though. "For the first six years [of treatment] I could not lose weight for the life of me, but finally my body adjusted."

Balancing Act

One of the concerns voiced by those with bipolar disorder is that medication will wipe out their ability to feel joy and express creativity. Like many artistic types, Maurice Bernard, the Emmy Award-winning actor who for 13 years has played General Hospital's tempestuous mobster, Sonny Corinthos, at first feared that going on lithium would affect his productivity -- and his livelihood.

"If you're an actor, people think if you take medication for bipolar disorder you won't be able to creatively do the work," Bernard tells WebMD. His track record refutes this notion. He received the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Daytime Drama Series in 2003 and was also nominated in 1996, 1997, 2004, and again in 2005.

After a series of personal events ranging from being misdiagnosed with a brain virus and being told he had six months to live, Bernard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22. And even though he knows full well that going off the lithium could result in hospitalization, Bernard says that he flirts with the idea every day.

"I don't want to take them lately," he says of the pills he has been on for more than a dozen years. "I don't have any side effects from the medication -- I just don't feel like taking pills anymore. But the main thing is, I know what the consequences are. It's pretty simple: When I haven't taken my pills, I have a breakdown. So I am not stupid."

The 'Learning Curve'

Bernard, who also serves as a spokesman for the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), admits that there has been a learning curve. "I did go off for one year and had a breakdown, and then I went off for two and a half years and I had a breakdown," he says. The last time he stopped taking his medication, he threatened to kill his wife, Paula, and ended up in a psychiatric facility.

Today on WebMD

lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
Pills on blank prescription paper
Learn about this popular bipolar disorder medication.
serious looking young woman
Assess your symptoms.
teen girl in bad mood
How is each one different?
Feeling Ups and Downs
Foods to Avoid
Anger And Depression
Bipolar or Schizo
Women and Bipolar
Bipolar Symptoms
What is Mania
MRI of a human brain