What to Say When Bipolar Treatment Goes Poorly

May 20, 2013 Natasha Tracy

When I speak to kids about my experience with bipolar disorder, really, I have a series of failures to explain. I tell them how treatment after treatment failed. I talk about drug failures, the failure of the vagus nerve stimulator and the failure of electroconvulsive therapy. I lot of my sentences have the word, “unfortunately,” in them.

And after one of my presentations last week, one person asked what I would say to someone who was going through a similar experience. I thought that was a very important question.

So here’s what I would say to someone who’s experiencing treatment failure.

I’m Sorry

I guess the first thing I’d say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re going through this because it isn’t fun and it isn’t fair. Other people get treatment that works and it isn’t right that you’re not having that same experience. I’m sorry this is happening to you.

Treatment Works

I know, you haven’t seen it yet, and you might not believe me, but treatment does, in fact work. I’m living proof. I’m living proof that even after more bipolar treatment failures than I can count, treatment has still worked. It doesn’t work as fast as we would like and it doesn’t work as well as we would like but it does work. Really.

Don’t Give Up

It sounds trite when people say, “don’t give up,” or, “keep fighting,” but really, that’s what you have to do. You have to wake up every morning and try to make treatment work. Many mornings that might be unsuccessful, but you have to keep going because one of those mornings it is going to work and everyone wants to make sure that you’re around to see it.

There are More Treatments to Try

And the truth is you’re not out of options. There are more medication combinations than I can count and on top of that you have psychotherapies and neuromodulation therapies. Believe me, there are still options out there for you and anyone (even a doctor) who says otherwise is wrong. Don’t believe them.

There is a Treatment that Will Work for You

And not only are there more treatments and not only does treatment work, but you will find a treatment that works for you. I know you might not believe me, but I’m the worst case I know of and I did it. You will too. It might take a very long time, but it will happen. If you don’t have faith, that’s okay, you can borrow mine because I have faith in you. I have faith that you will come through this in the end. I have faith that your story will have a better ending than what you are experiencing right now.

It Gets Better

There is a wonderful campaign out to educate gay youths who are being bullied, intimidated and otherwise harassed at school that it gets better. That if they can just live through what might be a horrible time in their lives, it will get better. And over half a million people have shown support for this idea.

And while I am not Tim Gunn or Lady Gaga and while I don’t have half a million people standing behind me, believe me when I tell you that mental illness gets better too. Life is not always this hard. Life is not always this painful. If you can just live through what is likely a horrible time in your life, it will get better.

Take my word on it. I’ve been there and I know it to be true.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, May 20). What to Say When Bipolar Treatment Goes Poorly, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 24 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Greg Mercer
May, 20 2013 at 2:48 pm

Excellent point - while some lucky folks meet with success on the first attemp, psychiatric treatment involves many unknowns including what will work, at what dose, and with what adverse effects, thus many ways to go wrong. I have met many people over the years for whom "nothing works," then something did. Nothing is particularly fair about these illnesses, but you have to try different strategies to find different results.

Lew Yagodnik
May, 21 2013 at 12:00 pm

You are spot on. Treatment works if you et it!

Charles Mistretta
May, 23 2013 at 3:20 am

I have experienced successful treatment and didn't know it. This is indeed confusing. Especially when you realize that normal is not an exceedingly special transformation of being. It's just ordinary. Which leads some people, including myself to prefer delusion over reality. There is no destination for the unreal path, it just goes on and on. Reality has purpose and resolution. But it too is temporary just like this life. Clinging to rapture is like being a happy junkie. Eventually you run out of money, friends, and good health.
This may be hard to follow, but picture yourself in a room full of people. You announce that you have had x number of days without an episode. Now that is something to be scared of. If you don't know why... then you have nothing to be afraid of.

May, 23 2013 at 12:08 pm

I have been on a number of medications and combinations in addition to therapy. I see a nurse practitioner at my psychiatrist's office and she even refers to the number of medicines I've been on as "a lot". :| She said, today, in front of a nurse practitioner student that was sitting in on our session that 'sometimes medicines don't work for everyone'. She has decided, after over more than a year of seeing her, that I need to see the head psychiatrist. I'm nervous. Kind of hurt, too. It isn't fun to hear that maybe meds won't work for me. She has also suggested maybe I go to a local wellness center, which I'm pretty sure won't be covered by insurance. She's also suggested acupuncture. The way she treats treating me worries me a bit. She says she's going to keep trying, but....I just don't know. Any words of advice?

Natasha Tracy
May, 23 2013 at 1:02 pm

Hi Kelly,
Yes, actually I do have a couple of words.
Here they are:
It's _good_ that you get to see the head psychiatrist. Really. This is the guy you want to see. This is the guy who may know how to help. True, the person who has been treating you might have been great, but maybe this guy'll be even better. A second brain on the matter is never a bad thing.
As for the nurse practitioner's other suggestions, well, that's for you to decide. I don't know what the wellness center might offer, but I can't say acupuncture does a thing for mental illness (but that's me).
Also, keep in mind that professionals are humans and sometimes humans get tired. Maybe she's tired. It doesn't mean she's going to give up.
And one more thing. It took two years to find my first successful treatment so don't give up. A year is _not_ that long.
I can see why you might be down given your recent experience, but this is part of the process for many.
- Natasha

May, 23 2013 at 4:15 pm

Thanks for responding! I really appreciate it. Also, I should have mentioned that I've been battling this on and off again since 2001- but was only diagnosed with bipolar II in 2011 and just got to *this* doctor about a year ago. So, I know it takes time, for sure!

David Lazaru
May, 24 2013 at 6:52 am

What about self-management?

May, 24 2013 at 11:39 am

Its hell to walk this path.. In my case medicines worked for a while and then i fell again.. every year it got worse. Didn't think i would last one more year when i hit the jackpot and get a combo of meds that made it bearable.. Hell i even feel good.. But i wonder how my life would have been if i had had them 20 years ago though.. And now it all seems distant and i spin around thinking yeah at last i can start living...

June, 28 2013 at 11:37 am

Thanks Natasha for the encouraging article I would be interested to know what treatments you have had in the past and what you are doing now. I am having an episode and am depressed. I am on leave from work and have a wonderful supervisor thank God. I work to have hope and cling to it when I get it. I believe I can be helped...more articles please.

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