Bipolar Disorder and Memory

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This topic has probably been discussed to death between those with bipolar, their friends and their loved ones – but honestly, I can’t remember.

(I thought about taking that cheap laugh out of there, but I’m in a good mood today.  So it stays.)

Medication side effect warnings, info pamphlets on bipolar, talks with your doc, lists and lists of symptoms about this lovely condition. None of it prepares you for the day you are confronted with and have to accept the fact bipolar is affecting your memory.

It started slowly, a few years ago.  I’d be speaking to colleagues and forget a term, which progressed into forgetting my train of thought which blossomed into forgetting my words all together.  Med has helped, but my ability to remember the important sh** is waning again.  I can’t remember what that last email stated so I wind up recreating the wheel. Oh, and prepositions are my enemy.  Ninety percent of the time I use the wrong one, which makes it necessary to go back and reread everything I write before saving or sending.  As a bonus, without auto-correct, some days it looks like I’m typing in Klingon or Elvish.

Not to be done in by being unable to remember what the URL for Google is, I resorted to using my toolbar-insta-search-field and poked around the results for ‘bipolar disorder memory.’  About one-third of bipolar people suffer from disruptions in their cognitive abilities, the jury is divided on whether antipsychotics have any positive effects helping with bipolar memory issues (run like hell!! I say) and a recent study discusses the idea Long-Term Memory Formation Altered In Schizophrenic And Bipolar Patients, Linked To Specific Protein.  (Yes, I am reading my notes on what I found interesting as I type this out.)  In all seriousness, much has been researched and published regarding schizophrenia and memory.    It would be nice if the same amount of research could be conducted about bipolar disorder and….  Wait, what?  Oh yeah.  Memory.

If you’re bipolar, reading this post and are turned off by my flip sense of humor on the subject, all I can say is if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.  And just go on reading, because chances are you won’t remember being insulted in 20 more minutes anyway.

Big topics never matter until they shrink enough to fit into your home. Frustration at work is something I can handle (I work in IT.  I’m a professional Frustration Engineer.).  But when the memory BS started negatively impacting my personal relationships is when I started to really feel it.

Twenty seconds after my husband asks me to help him with something I’m on to something else, leaving him feeling frustrated and ignored. I forget to call my son on the weekends, I forgot to pay the international shipper and forgot to follow up with the county over an incorrect bill for the tabs on my car.  I’ve downloaded and tried more task managers in one week than I care to admit.  Or, maybe I’ve downloaded the same set multiple times and duplicated my testing.  (Kidding!)

Then, there is the more serious issue of being at a stop light and forgetting why I am there.  It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened more than twice. I wind up having to look around me to make sure I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.  I am stopped?  Check.  The light is red?  Check.  The other cars are stopped?  Check.  Do I remember where I am supposed to be going when the light turns green?  Uh… Sometimes.  Sometimes I’ll just go with the flow of traffic until the brain fog clears and/or Bitchin’ Betty on the GPS chimes in again.

Memory issues worry me greatly, of course. I know I’m aging.  We all do. Even at the age of 47 it’s not uncommon for healthy people to start showing concern about memory loss.  But the bipolar meds and those used to help with the comorbid anxiety and sleep issues?  Does anyone else worry about this?  Of course they do.  I’m not unique – none of us are.  It’s just hard to make peace with what could be the fact that my condition and the fabulous pharmaceuticals used to keep it in check are ruining my…



Sigh.  If what it takes is living by the tone of a reminder from my smartphone for as long as I can remember what that tone is, so be it.  Who cares?  I’ll forget in 15 I was ever sad about it all of this in the first place.

18 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder and Memory

    M. Devin Fernandes said:
    January 25, 2014 at 3:30 AM

    My memory issues started when I started taking Lamictal. Well, that’s when I started noticing them. I have the sneaking suspicion that there’s been an issue since before I started medication.

      ManicMuses responded:
      January 25, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Things have definitely gotten worse on Lamictal. Losing my words with colleagues started before the meds but as frustrating as it is I don’t dare to try and tweak the cocktail.

    DeeDee said:
    January 25, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    My memory tanked on Lamictal. As soon as I stopped taking it, the aphasia and brain fog disappeared. Go figure.

    But most of what you’re talking about here is just everyday life for me with ADD. It makes for an extremely big difference between when I’m on meds and when I’m not, since stimulants are short-acting, that means I experience this stuff pretty much every day.

    I get lost driving to familiar places or miss my turns because I wasn’t paying close enough attention or forgot where I was supposed to be going. I also tend to repeat myself a lot in the evenings (when meds are worn off) because I forget that I already said that 2 minutes ago.

    Or another annoying routine: pick something up, forget why you have it in your hand, put it down somewhere, 5 minutes later frantically search everywhere under the sun for it with no success, even though it could only possibly be in one room. Forgetting what you said you’d do 20 seconds later is a classic attention issue at least as much as it is a memory issue, so perhaps attention is to blame as well. But I’m guessing you probably can’t take stimulants for that.

    On the plus side, if the issue is in part attention, doing physical activities that emphasize balance and coordination can help strengthen the part of the brain that manages attention. Can’t hurt, might help, right?

      ManicMuses responded:
      January 25, 2014 at 10:46 PM

      Hi, DeeDee! How are things? Yeah, the physical exercise thing does wonders. Yoga does amazing things for concentration – signing on for a class above your level doesn’t do much for the self-esteem but it sure makes you concentrate more.

      I’m wondering (if you care to share) were you diagnosed with BP or ADD first? Sometimes I want to talk to a doc about what’s going on / getting worse, but tweaking the med cocktail just doesn’t seem like a good idea right now.

        DeeDee said:
        January 25, 2014 at 10:59 PM

        ADD first, by a long shot. Like 15 years.

        And we’ve pretty much discarded the BP diagnosis now — seems it’s actually endocrine issues. Go figure!

        ManicMuses responded:
        January 25, 2014 at 11:02 PM

        Wow! (See how far behind I am with your blog?) Are you relieved about the new diagnosis? Changes your med for sure. Any adverse reactions to weaning off the psychiatric meds?

        DeeDee said:
        January 25, 2014 at 11:07 PM

        Relieved only because treatment is actually working, but it’s still a slow process to get it “right”, month by month.

        No problems going off Lamictal, and hoping to reduce/eliminate Wellbutrin in the future, but it’s hard to predict how it’ll go. Especially because Wellbutrin and Adderall are complementary for me, both therapeutically and metabolically. The Wellbutrin slows down the absorption of the Adderall, which I otherwise burn through really fast. So I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop the antidepressants.:-/

        And I’m now on brand-name drugs, which work about a million times better with a lot less side effects. But that will probably cause financial problems when I move to a new job because no insurer really covers brand name drugs anymore, even if you can demonstrate medical necessity… Par for the course, eh?

        ManicMuses responded:
        January 26, 2014 at 4:54 PM

        I’m happy the new treatment is working. When it comes right down to it, the time it takes to tweak a bipolar med cocktail s probably just as much of a lengthy process (maybe even longer) as getting the new meds right.

        Would it be a bad thing if you do have to stay on the Wellbutrin? Adderall isn’t something you can just quit:) I get not wanting to be on so much med, though. The bills are outrageous and you’re right to worry a new employer’s plan won’t cover brand name drugs. Why just this past week my husband and I had a bitch-fest over stomach med. Didn’t you have issues with the generic Wellbutrin a while back? I don’t even know how expensive that med is.

        DeeDee said:
        January 30, 2014 at 7:39 PM

        The cost of the Rx’s is prohibitive. My new employer, regardless of who they are, will NOT cover brand drugs, so I will have to pay the premium between generic and brand plus the highest copay rate. That’s a minimum of $6K/year between for Adderall XR and Wellbutrin XL.

        And yes, generic bupropion gave me tachycardia just last week. It doesn’t matter that there’s ample evidence on record that generics for both of those drugs are not bioequivalent and that I’ve had suboptimal response to generics. “Medically necessary” will get me nowhere with Express Scripts or CVS Caremark or any major prescription coverage plan.

        Also, I just found some interesting data on genetics and methylation that suggests I’m stuck with Wellbutrin for good. My body produces exceptionally low dopamine levels, inadequate Vitamin D, and probably isn’t metabolizing B12 properly either.

        No end to the good news, is there? I’m SO glad I decided I’d never perpetuate my genes; passing on my screwed up drug metabolism and inability to synthesize or absorb crucial nutrients would have been the cruelest thing I could ever do to anyone.

    Christy@SweetandSavoring said:
    January 25, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Not being able to remember things is one of the most frustrating things in the world. And, understandably, it can be scary, too. My aunt has bipolar and she comments on this often- “I just can’t remember”, she says, about a lot of stuff from her kids’ youth, or something from just a few days ago.
    Sending hugs to you:)

      ManicMuses responded:
      January 25, 2014 at 10:50 PM

      Hi, Christy – thanks much! Sounds like your Aunt has trouble with both short and long term memory? It really is scary. I empathize with your Aunt – forgetting things about your kid’s childhood isn’t pleasant. (I thank the gods often my kid is such a smart a@@ and can laugh it off:) )

    Sandy Sue said:
    January 25, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    Oh, I’m wiping tears, laughing so hard. You do that when something is SO TRUE! Lists, datebooks, stuffed taped to my front door, writing everything down—they all help, but the best cure for my non-existent memory was to quit worrying about it so much. It’s part of who I am now. I’m okay with that.

      ManicMuses responded:
      January 25, 2014 at 10:53 PM

      Glad you had a chuckle:) Man, it’s horrible! I have to travel for business next week and I’ve got my flight numbers in three agendas and on a piece of paper in my bag. Thinking of pinning a note on my jacket, too…

    SquirreLeah said:
    January 26, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    So much this. I hadn’t actually realised that it might be to do with the Bipolar. My mum got married in May and I turned around a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t remember anything about her husband at all before the wedding. I had a horrible feeling that I didn’t really know him at all, and I still don’t remember anything about him before then.

    I write lists everywhere, and get so paranoid about paying bills on time that I have to obsess over it to make sure that I remember to do it. Miss my turnings in the car a lot too, Or drive somewhere and forget actually doing the driving.

    Thanks for letting me know it’s not just me! I’m on Lamictal too, and it’s working wonders. I’m a whole new person and haven’t had any side effects at all, well, apart from maybe the memory loss? Do we think it’s the bipolar itself or the meds?

    Thanks! :)

    jmlindy422 said:
    January 27, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    This is my life! I forget to open the app full of the routines that I am supposed to follow so that I won’t forget anything. So, I set a reminder to open the app. I even have a reminder to brush my teeth. It’s pathetic. My kids take advantage of my lack of memory! I know I’ve paid my daughter her allowance twice on at least three occasions. I make her sign for it now.

      ManicMuses responded:
      February 8, 2014 at 9:18 PM

      Signing for your allowance – I love it! You’re right – these damn To Do List apps don’t open themselves. Heck (I’m sure you can relate to this) when I have to put off the completion of a task, I usually forget to set the reminder for somewhere in the future. Does it ever end? LOL Good to hear from you!

    Elizabeth Astor said:
    January 30, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    I’m not sure if this is off topic or not, but I don’t think I’ve read anything about this before:

    I have a photographic memory, at least sometimes. I noticed in high school that during (what turned out to be depressions) I couldn’t memorize anything, but during (what turned out to be hypo-manias and manias) my mind would passively remember everything. I could also write and edit in my head, up to 5 pages, which I didn’t know was a Thing, until I read that Aldous Huxley’s brother could do that and Wow! Wasn’t that amazing! He is a genius! (Does that mean *I’m* a genius? Cat looks!)

    In addition to being bipolar II, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2005. I now have difficulty learning new things, I have trouble with both long- and short-term memory but my photographic memory still works *sometimes*. Between the anti-psychotics, the mood swings and the TBI, my memory just doesn’t structure information — in other words, create a network of memories and related memories — the way it did when I was younger. And the differences between my memory before I began taking psychotropics and after are dramatic.

    I don’t know — or haven’t read anything — suggesting that a photographic memory is affected by mood or hormones or anxiety or serotonin (etc) — and I guess I would like someone to explain the changeableness of it to me. How can I have a photographic memory *sometimes*? Why do psych meds seemingly destroy my memory structures, even preventing their construction to begin with? When I don’t take psych meds my memory roars back to it’s old self … (in other words, I have memory problems during depressions when I mostly half-asleep, and then it’s back to normal/picture perfect). I think psych meds effect on memory is … well … malignant and troubling. So is there anything you’ve run across out there in the googleverse that talks about this in a real way?

    And hey, welcome back! I used to be a research scientist and a database administrator, a fellow-IT person. I love your humor and attitude.

      ManicMuses responded:
      February 8, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      Hi, Elizabeth! Great to be back! Wow – what a story – thanks for sharing. Eidetic memory is such a gift! I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t want it. It must be frustrating to know the meds and/or condition are chipping away at your ability to remember. Just curious – does it make you sad or angry? Or have you accepted it as pretty much par for the course?

      There is only one study I came across and read in its entirety that was close to what we’re talking about here (doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I was too lazy to search for more).
      The Maudsley Bipolar Disorder Project: the effect of medication, family history, and duration of illness on IQ and memory in bipolar I is interesting. In the post I didn’t touch on the fact that some schools of thought hold the belief that a large part of IQ stems from being able to remember ‘stuff.’ With that said, the conclusion of the study states what has taken me many posts and many words to articulate: Current antipsychotic medication, duration of illness, and family history of affective disorder were the most significant predictors of IQ and memory function in bipolar I disorder patients. ( So, yeah, it’s all of the above. Our condition, our meds, our lot in life. Woo hoo! Makes you wonder what we’ll be like in our decrepitude, eh?

      Hope you’re well!

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