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Are you helping by asking, “Did you take your meds?”
Author: Lynne Taetzsch

Copyright 2006 Lynne Taetzsch

Sometimes it’s appropriate and helpful to ask a family member or friend, “Did you take your meds?” My husband, Adrian, for example, is forgetful and wants to be reminded when he needs to take any medication. I probably ask him three or four times a day if he’s taken one of his numerous prescription drugs, and he’s happy to get the extra help.

For those of us who have a mental illness, however, like depression or bipolar disorder, we may not appreciate being asked, “Did you take your meds?” This issue was discussed at a bipolar support group meeting I attended, and most people felt such a question was not helpful, especially since “the meds” are anything but a cure-all for our problems.

There is no guarantee that if you take your Lithium or Depakote or "X" on a regular basis, you will never have another manic or depressive episode. Add to this general problem, the variety of side effects such as weight gain, ringing in the ears, itchy rashes, liver damage, energy depletion, mind numbing, ad infinitum, you'll see that there is no simple plan that will "fix" us.

"Fixing us" is, of course, what our loving family would like to do. In their mind there is a logical correlation between "taking your meds" and leading a peaceful, productive, non-combative life. It is understandable that they fear the phone call telling them we've been arrested or are in the mental ward of a hospital or have had a car accident because in our manic state, we thought we were indestructible. Of course they want us to take our meds! It's their only hope.

One parent I know, who has lived through years of trying to "fix" his daughter with policing so that she would "take her meds," has come to a more peaceful place. "It's her life," he says. "She has to want to get better for herself, not for me. I no longer ask her if she's taking her medication or doing the things she needs to in order to stay healthy. I stay out of it." He added that he is there for his daughter if she needs him and asks for the help, but that's it.

It's hard as a parent to stand back and watch the destructive behavior of our children. I am a parent, and I was a fanatic when I thought anything was threatening my daughter. Fortunately, she didn't inherit my bipolar genes. I didn't have to watch any wild, destructive behavior in her that my parents had to watch in me. For those of us who have a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder, we need to give our family members some slack. Most of them do mean well when they ask, "Did you take your meds?" But if you're a family member reading this, realize that such a question only frustrates and antagonizes the person suffering from a mental disorder.

If our meds really worked, if they really "fixed us" so that we could lead lives filled with peace, energy, purpose, and a guaranteed good night’s sleep, don't you think we'd be taking them?

The key to being helpful rather than hurtful is to assist your loved one in ways they have asked you to rather than assuming a parental role. “How can I be helpful?” is a better question than “Did you take your meds?”

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Lynne Taetzsch is an artist and writer who has been bipolar since she was a teenager. Her latest book, The Bipolar Dementia Art Chronicles: How A Manic-Depressive Artist Survives Being the Primary Caregiver for Her Father and Ex-Mother-in-Law, is a memoir. For more information, see www.artbylt.com/book.htm .



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