Welcome to the forum. I hope you find a lot of helpful information here...I have, and a lot of support.
I wanted to chime in because I have been without medications since 2010, managing with a very strict lifestyle. (Thought it was 2011, and wrote that around here somewhere, but checked my journals, I went off meds August/September 2010.)
i went off medication because I was feeling good, typical bipolar story. I wanted to see if I could "do it on my own" and the answer is, I can survive but I cannot thrive. It's been...challenging. I spoke with my fiancé about his feelings regarding how I've done without medication, and he is in agreement with me. My lows are more intense, and my highs have gradually gotten more intense to the point of being frightening. My illness has very slowly and gradually worsened over the past three years. This intensification of the illness may or may not have happened regardless of being on medication or not (I was diagnosed at 19, am 24 now. It is not uncommon for this age range to see changes in their illness), but it's effect on me
was certainly more severe because I didn't have medication to soften the blow.
Slowly, my quality and quantity of work has diminished, and my intense episodes have become more dangerous (example: never totally lost touch with reality until a manic episode this year). That being said, from what I have read here and elsewhere about bipolar, my episodes are no more frequent than other folks with bipolar. It's just really hard to get back on my feet when I do have them, and they last for a long time, sometimes two months or greater. The past 6 months have been extra hard due to major life changes and stressors, but before that, I did pretty well except had persistent dysthymia through winters. I gradually began to use more and more marijuana to cope with the anxiety and sleepless mania...which did make me feel better, but it's hella expensive and you can't reliably get the same dosage of the same type they way you can with meds. So, probably didn't lend to stability, just to coping with symptoms.
I have decided to go back to medication...though as minimal as possible- I would like to see what just a mood stabilizer and perhaps something to help with my sleep would do for me, in the past i was on major cocktails of 6-10 meds. I hated it. I think too many gives me an extremely dulled effect and major side effects. I still want to feel like myself, just safe from my scary extremes! I can handle being a moody broody person, but I cannot handle being a delusional, suicidal danger to myself.
I also have a different attitude about medications than I did three years ago when I left psychiatric treatment. In the past, I expected the pills to make me feel better. I expected them to do the work.
Now, after living with this illness and managing it through lifestyle enough to function, I see that stability is something you have to maintain through awareness and effort. I know medication would protect me from terrible episodes like my most recent one AND improve my life by helping me return to work...but I also know that I will need to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order for me to achieve my goals and feel steady. I don't want to feel okay, I want to feel awesome. I don't want to feel numb and over medicated. I want to feel the regular ups and downs of life, a full spectrum of emotion, but I don't want to battle my mind to survive.
So, I am returning to meds this fall...waiting for a call back from a Pdoc who is accepting new patients! Hallelujah! I've never been so stoked to follow the typical bipolar treatment routine in my life. That being said, I am glad I took this time to see what the power of my own actions and routines can do for my stability (a therapist is helpful too, that's the only thing I actually regret- I didn't keep in touch with my therapist). I had a good run, and now I know that the combination of my "wellness skills" and right combo of medications will set me up for whatever kind of life I would like to lead.
Sorry this is so long, just wanted to give you my story and thoughts while you think about what lays ahead.