When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997, the first medication I was put on was depakote (valproic acid). Depakote was originally used for seizure disorders, but came into use for bipolar disorder. I remember it like yesterday, because I was seriously manic and never knew that I had racing thoughts. After about 24 hours on depakote I had a realization that you could could have spaces and pauses between your thoughts. It was a true revelation for me and the very first step in managing my illness.
I didn't even know that my thoughts weren't happening the way the should until I was on meds.
I couldn't stay on depakote, though. This was the formula from 16 years ago and it caused me to have severe adema (my ankles were swelling), so I had to make a change. At that time, I was new to the routine of trying different psych meds until you find the right formula and the need to tweak them over time as your biochemistry and mental state change. After 4 years of trying different combinations of meds with varying degrees of success and different side-effects, I gave up on meds altogether for about 7 years. This was the time during which I had the most problems. I would not go unmediated again.
I've been on meds since 2008, but I haven't been on a mood stabilizer per se. After a terrible 3 month run with a med that had rough side-effects for me (just before I started this blog) my doctor asked me if I would try the new Depakote ER (extended release). I was leary, but said I'd give it a shot. That was about 2 months ago. I've had no problems so far. Yesterday, my doctor raised my dosage from 500mg to 1000mg in the hopes of evening out what's still a little crinkly about my mood.
My take-away is that some of the older drugs have newer formulas and a lot has changed over the years. I'm not advocating going back on meds that gave you trouble, but just to keep an open mind, in general to the new drugs coming out. They may not work but they could and if you're needing a change, they might be a part of the answer.