Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is a personality disorder which could be characterized by manic and depressive episodes and is a disorder experienced by people around the world. Multiple studies and researches dedicated to bipolar disorder is prevalent not just in the United States, but in other countries as well. That said, it should come as no wonder that studies related to patient perspectives on medications used by patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder have been published in scholarly journals. Ellen Forney also discusses in her memoir, Marbles, about her own experience with bipolar disorder along with her personal beliefs regarding bipolar disorder medications. Through studies by experts and Forney’s memoir, one can observe that while there may be some differences, most patients with bipolar disorder have similar perceptions on medications and treatments which could affect their adherence to the said medications and treatments and from which we can understand them better.
Studies by experts have shown that medications play a large part in a bipolar patient’s life and through Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir, the same notion on the vital role of medications in bipolar disorder can also be observed. According to Vargas-Huicochea et al., the need to take medications have been reported by patients with bipolar disorder as one of the aspects of bipolar disorder that seem the most troubling (673). Ellen Forney alludes to this as well in her memoir from which we see Forney drawing herself with a sash, resembling that of a boy scout’s, consisting of the different kinds of medications that Forney has tried during the course of her treatment of bipolar disorder (181). Forney says of her medications, “What a pain in the ass, right?”, as well as “See my burden!”. At the same time, Forney says, “Look at my dedication!” and Forney, in the drawing, seems to flaunt her medications which she draws as badges that a boy scout would typically receive for his achievement (181). Forney’s direct words regarding medications as a “pain in the ass” along with her satirical drawing of her achievements in bipolar disorder medications indicate to us how burdensome she considers her medications are. Both the study by Vargas-Huicochea et al., and Forney’s illustration remind us of a common perception, wherein medications are regarded as troublesome, that persists in patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This bolsters the idea that both experts and patients have observed bipolar disorder medications and can be seen in the same subjective perspective.
The worries and fears of patients in regards to bipolar disorder and its treatment have also been discussed in both the study of Vargas-Huicochea et al., and Forney’s memoir. Some of the fears reported by patients in the study include the risk of relapse, chronicity of bipolarity, risk of suicide, risk of damage to family or friends, and others from which the risk of relapse is the most frequent (Vargas-Huicochea et al. 675). While Forney may not have mentioned anything about the risk of relapse, she did talk about the risk of suicide among people with bipolar disorder. Forney shows us through her memoir about the research she has done on suicide statistics and even draws herself with an alarmed and shocked expression (44). And while Forney disregarded this information when deciding whether to take medications or not at first, the fact that she did research on the subject matter is indicative of her worry regarding suicides related to bipolar disorders. Another instance whereby we can observe Forney’s fear regarding bipolar disorder and medications is when she draws herself aiming for brilliance with her disorder which she first considers as a gift, all the while illustrating the Sword of Damocles hanging over her head (182). This implies one more worry of Forney with regards to bipolar disorder medications from which it follows that there are issues that patients alike have some views on bipolar disorder that is common, if not universal, to all.
Forney, in her memoir, also speaks about her fear of the medications’ side effects on her, and this same perception has been noted by researchers on observations and surveys they have conducted. The researchers have noted that one of the main reasons that patients, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, stop their medications and practice medication nonadherence is because they are disturbed by the side effects of the medications (Mert et al. 90). While Forney did not mention whether she did not adhere to medications, we do know from her memoir that she was worried about the side effects that medications might bring upon her creativity. One instance we see this, through her illustrations, is when she talks to her psychiatrist on the need to take medications wherein the she says, “Why should I take that risk?”, pertaining to the risk of medications lessening her creativity (Forney 39). Forney’s way of drawing the panels side by side with the speech bubbles coming one after the other also shows us how eager Forney is to avoid medications (Forney 39). Although, as time passes, Forney’s psychiatrist finally puts Forney on medications despite the numerous side effects that the drugs have as Forney realizes that she needs it which she depicts in her illustrations as a hole she fell into (Forney 71-72). The illustrations of Forney which shows the desperateness that she feels about the disorder and its treatments is reiterated in the studies done by the researchers thereby supporting the idea of a common perception persisting in the bipolar community and therefore, should help us understand better the difficulties that bipolar patients often encounter.
While these perceptions and beliefs are prevalent in patients with bipolar disorder, we are still reminded by the studies and by Forney that knowing about these perceptions are important for both patients and experts concerned with the field. Mert et al. writes in their study, “Views of psychiatric patients on medication nonadherence may contribute to determining strategies to increase medication adherence and to organize trainings for patients and families to decrease medication nonadherence.” (92). While according to Vargas-Huicochea et al., “All this psychiatric treatment perceptions in patients with bipolar disorder could lead to improvements in therapeutic planning grounded in both the physical needs and subjective experiences of each patient.” (677). Through both researches, we see the importance of these views on psychiatric medications and their role in the enhancement of psychiatric treatment. Forney also suggests this notion in Chapter 8 of her memoir whereby she researches on the link between creativity and bipolar disorder (201-222). In the last pages of the said chapter, Forney draws herself thinking of various artists diagnosed with bipolar disorder all the while with an expression changing from being confused to finally understanding and coming to terms with herself (216-222). Through this chapter, Forney shows us the help that is brought by understanding the perceptions surrounding bipolar disorder and, in particular, creativity on her acceptance of the disease and her journey in moving forward with her disorder. Though the studies are based more on the scientific aspect of the disorder, and Forney focuses on the creativity aspect, both still reinforce the importance of understanding the different perceptions and opinions that accompanies bipolar disorder thereby helping us to look at it from different points of view.
The studies done by Vargas-Huicochea et al. and Mert et al. on the various perspectives of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder and how they may affect medications and treatment echo the same thoughts that Forney voices out in her graphic memoir, Marbles. It is important for one to know these perceptions for different reasons; one of which is for one to be able to put their shoes in a patient’s shoes and be aware of the decisions they make regarding their treatments and why they do so. Almost every patient has his/her own perception on bipolar disorder and while some may have some variations, Forney does a great job in telling the world of her own experience to which patients with bipolar disorder can relate to in one way or another. Through these, we are able to connect and empathize more with Forney and other patients with bipolar disorder observed by experts as we are made aware of the beliefs centered on bipolar disorder.