The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder

Continued from Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Two: What is Bipolar, Anyway?

NOTE: This post DOES NOT contain affiliate links. All links are provided for the convenience of the reader.

One of the misconceptions created by the “bipolar disorder” diagnosis is that everyone is suffering from the same illness. The reality is there are underlying causes that vary from person to person. 

Clearly, the treatment model being used does not treat the cause of bipolar but attempts to mitigate the symptoms. Additionally, as mentioned in part one of this series, the medication used to “treat” bipolar is causing a chemical imbalance in the brain that compounds the problem.

In order to heal bipolar, the underlying causes need to be assessed and treated using an integrated, research-based approach that helps the brain and body heal.

Step One: Mood Cycle Survival Guide

The first step in this process is to proactively manage the symptoms of bipolar using a Mood Cycle Survival Guide (MCSG). Over the first decade of living with bipolar symptoms, each time I experienced a mood swing—mania or depression—I felt helpless, like a victim getting yanked onto a rollercoaster and holding on for dear life until the ride was over. Those mood swings were often devastating to me and those I loved.

I finally learned, however, that it was possible to take back control with simple tools found in a MCSG. This helped l minimize the impact of the mood swings, on me and my family, and shorten their duration.

This is an essential first step because healing takes time; and having an MCSG in place at the beginning of the process will help you manage your symptoms more effectively and keep you moving towards healing.

Step Two: Specialized Micronutrients

The second step is to provide the brain the nutrients necessary to function in a healthy, balanced way. Our brains demand significantly higher levels of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) than the rest of our body. In The Better Brain, Drs. Bonnie Kaplan and Julia Rucklidge explain:

“…brain metabolism responsible for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine is dependent on an ample supply of micronutrients…We now know that there are many people with underlying risk factors, often genetic, that may make them more vulnerable to emotional distress when their diet is poor.”

Drs. Kaplan and Rucklidge also share that in recent decades eating whole food diets is not always sufficient because:

  • the soil has become so depleted in nutrients, and 
  • there are people who have a genetic need for higher nutrient levels to support healthy brain function. 

That combination has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of people suffering from mental illnesses like bipolar. 

EMPowerPlus is a micronutrient treatment proven through numerous independent studies to be three times more effective than any medication on the market because it actually addresses common underlying causes of the bipolar symptoms.

Switching from medication to micronutrients requires a process called cross-titration where you very gradually reduce the psychotropic drugs and simultaneously increase the micronutrients. This process should be carefully supported by Truehope’s customer support. They have developed a cross-titration protocol to guide people in recognizing and managing drug withdrawals and optimizing the micronutrients for you personally.

WARNING: Do not ever attempt to stop taking psychotropic medications cold turkey (stopping suddenly). This can be VERY DANGEROUS, even life threatening, due to effects of drug withdrawals. 

Step Three: Therapy

Many people who develop bipolar symptoms are suffering from emotional dysregulation caused by unhealed trauma, unhealthy thought and behavior patterns and unhealthy boundaries. The difficulty that many people have, however, is that they don’t understand how to use therapy effectively to process and heal trauma.

In the post Six Tips for Getting the Most Out of Therapy I share how to utilize therapy as a healing modality—not just for coping.

  • Find a good therapist: Therapy is a tool, and the therapist is a facilitator. You need to find someone that you feel safe working with and opening up to. It is also important to find someone proactive and well trained that is going to help you heal, not just cope.
  • Give your therapist something to work with: Therapists aren’t mind readers; they only have the information you provide. You can become more self-aware through utilizing the MCSG, mood tracking apps and journaling. Then share what you learn with your therapist to get to the root of triggers and symptoms in order to heal and recover.
  • Use therapy proactively, not just reactively: Only going to therapy when you are in a serious crisis as a sort of triage isn’t helpful if you stop when the crisis is past. Use therapy in a proactive manner that will help you uncover the underlying causes of symptoms to heal and prevent future issues.
  • Focus on healing, not blaming: If the focus in therapy is on a person or people who harmed you rather than the resultant emotional and mental injury it can be disempowering and prevent progress and healing. Instead, a focus on healing and setting healthy boundaries will empower you to recover.
  • You get out of therapy what you put into it: Do your homework! It is as simple as that. If you want to change, you have to make changes. Set goals with your therapist, use a therapy notebook and follow through on implementing changes in thought and behavior between sessions in order to progress towards healing.
  • Therapy takes time: Be patient. It takes time to uncover and heal emotional and mental injuries. It may not be comfortable, but the end result is absolutely worth the effort, no matter how long it takes.

Step Four: Mindfulness Meditation

Bipolar symptoms can cause you to feel like you can’t trust your own mind. There is often a disconnect that can result from the emotional overwhelm and coping mechanisms developed as a result. Mindfulness meditation will put you back in the driver’s seat of your mind and help you become friends with your brain again.

One of the best programs for understanding and practicing mindfulness meditation is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This therapy is recognized in the United Kingdom as being more effective than antidepressants for treating depression. The book Mindfulness: An Eight-week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman teaches MBCT in a very simple, easy to use format. 

MBCT facilitates:

  • a deeper level of self-awareness making therapy more effective, and
  • your ability to stay present thus overcoming many of the causes of anxiety, and depressive symptoms.

Step Five: Yoga

The mental distress that causes bipolar symptoms has a profound impact on the body. Yoga takes the benefits of mindfulness and incorporates them into the body. Yoga has proven to be a powerful healing modality for mental illness and trauma. It can facilitate reintegration of the mind and body and heal the mental and emotional dysregulation that was caused by trauma.

Step Six: Exercise

Perhaps the most well-known of the steps is the positive impact of simple, consistent exercise on healing mental health. It is important to keep the exercise:

  • Simple,
  • Easy, 
  • Accessible, and
  • Focused on supporting your mental health, not damaging it.

Check out the post The Benefits of Exercise to learn more.

Step Seven: Living Mindfully

Recovery from bipolar symptoms is a process that takes time and is not linear. Understanding what the recovery process looks like will help you be more intentional and persistent. 

Recovery Cycle

Recognize that when you experience symptoms you have not failed, it is an opportunity to learn. The recovery from bipolar symptoms is similar to the addiction recovery cycle. Each time you “relapse” or experience symptoms is an opportunity to learn something new—identify a trigger, better understand your micronutrition needs, establish healthy boundaries, etc.

Over time your self-awareness and knowledge will grow, your recovery will progress, and you will experience longer periods without symptoms and begin to live a healthy, balanced, productive life.

If you are ready to begin healing your bipolar disorder, check out the Upsiders’ Tribe where we support people through the steps to heal. 2024 is the Year of Healing—are you ready to heal?

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, and I am not offering medical advice. I am sharing what I have learned about healing bipolar through my personal experience and research.

Click here for Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part One: Three Bipolar Myths

The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Two: What is Bipolar, Anyway?

Continued from The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part One: Three Bipolar Myths

When the bipolar diagnosis was first created it was done in hopes of finding a “magic bullet” treatment to cure what was thought to be a disorder. Since psychiatrists were unable to identify the underlying cause of the symptoms people presented, they developed a diagnosis based solely on symptoms. Over time, as people did not fit into the categories they created, the diagnostic parameters were expanded.

The reason bipolar has become chronic and incurable is the treatment model. Instead of investigating the underlying causes of symptoms, psychiatrists prescribe psychotropic medications that “muck up” normal brain function which compounds the problem.

Misdiagnosed?

When I share with people that I have healed my bipolar I am told that I must have been misdiagnosed. So, I ask you to consider this question: What constitutes an accurate diagnosis?

From the time of my initial diagnosis I met all of the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder 2—I cycled between periods of severe depression and hypomanic episodes. I was treated by at least seven separate psychiatrists due to moves and hospitalizations. Each doctor affirmed my diagnosis. When I experienced my first psychotic episode, my diagnosis was changed to bipolar 1. 

On the website for the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) it states that the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. However, it is not true that the root cause of symptoms is still unknown. The following are three of the most common causes of bipolar symptoms.

Micronutrient Deficiency

During the 1990s, Dr. Bonnie Kaplan was doing research into the connection between micronutrient deficiency and the symptoms of mental illness. She tested a specialized micronutrient treatment formula from a nonprofit in Canada called Truehope and found that the bipolar patients in the study showed significant improvement on the treatment.

Dr. Kaplan and a colleague Dr. Julia Rucklidge continued to do research in the field and wrote The Better Brain outlining their findings:

Our brains demand a disproportionately large amount of nutrients we consume. . .Most Americans don’t know that the brain metabolism responsible for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine is dependent on an ample supply of micronutrients. . .We now know that there are many people with underlying risk factors, often genetic, that may make them more vulnerable to emotional distress when their diet is poor. Improve and fix their nutritional needs, and many of them can and will get better. —Dr. Bonnie Kaplan and Dr. Julia Rucklidge

The founding of Truehope itself was in direct response to one founder’s desperate search for an effective treatment for two of his children who were suffering from bipolar and medication was failing them. You can read more about this extraordinary discovery here.

As our diets in our society have become poorer and soils more depleted of nutrients, the number of people being diagnosed with mental illness, including bipolar disorder, has skyrocketed. 

Trauma

One of the great tragedies of the label bipolar “disorder” for people who have a history of trauma is that it makes them feel helpless to heal. The idea that you have a disease that must be treated with medication makes you feel like there is something wrong with you that can only be fixed by drugs.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, talks about how severe trauma, especially in childhood, causes emotional dysregulation and adaptation as the brain tries to protect you to help you survive. The symptoms are indications that the brain and body are in distress. Instead of masking the symptoms with medications, you need to identify the cause to facilitate healing:

Many psychiatrists today work in assembly-line offices where they see patients they hardly know for fifteen minutes and then dole out pills to relieve pain, anxiety, or depression. Their message seems to be ‘Leave it to us to fix you; just be compliant and take these drugs and come back in three months’. . .Our increasing use of drugs to treat these conditions doesn’t address the real issues: What are these patients trying to cope with?  —Bessel van der Kolk

Antidepressants

Strangely, use of antidepressants is now known to be a common cause of bipolar symptoms. Someone goes to a psychiatrist because they are struggling with depressive symptoms and they are put on antidepressants. After being put on antidepressants, they develop manic symptoms. The doctor then tells the person they were misdiagnosed and actually have bipolar disorder. Sadly, doctors do not realize or acknowledge that psychotropic drugs are what caused the manic symptoms.

In his book Anatomy of an Epidemic investigative journalist Robert Whitaker identifies research showing that nearly forty percent of people put on antidepressants will develop manic symptoms. In addition, sixty percent of people with bipolar disorder were initially diagnosed and treated for depression. None of these people started out with a chemical imbalance, however when they are placed on psychotropic medications the drugs cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.

In a 1993 practice guide to depression, the APA confessed that ‘all antidepressant treatments, including ECT [electroconvulsive therapy], may provoke manic or hypomanic episodes.” —Robert Whitaker

WARNING: Do not ever attempt to stop taking psychotropic medications cold turkey (stopping suddenly). This can be VERY DANGEROUS, even life threatening, due to effects of drug withdrawals. 

Physical versus Mental Illness

I frequently see people online suggesting that bipolar is a real, physical illness, just like diabetes. However, we don’t treat them the same. If you went to the doctor with symptoms of diabetes, he or she would not automatically assume you have it and then start you on insulin—that would be dangerous and irresponsible! The physician would run tests to identify the underlying cause of the symptoms before prescribing a treatment.

It may have been true fifty years ago when the bipolar diagnosis was first created that psychiatrists didn’t know what caused the symptoms, however, that is not the case anymore. It is possible to uncover what gave rise to symptoms of mania and depression. Then by following a research-based treatment plan that addresses the source of symptoms it is possible to heal!

Continue to Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder

The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part One: Three Bipolar Myths

Over the first twelve years after my diagnosis with bipolar I was consistently told three things: 

  • Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance,
  • Bipolar is like diabetes and medication is like insulin, and
  • Bipolar is chronic and incurable.

I believed what I was told because I didn’t know any better. Doctors are the experts so they must know, right?

I followed the treatment plan I was given, using psychotropic medications to treat my bipolar. During that time, I continued, like tens of thousands of others, to struggle with mood swings and terrible side-effects. And, like 83% of the people diagnosed with bipolar, I was becoming “severely impaired” by my condition. 

Then my doctor and I found a specialized micronutrient that enabled me to get off medication and I began to improve. As I incorporated additional tools my healing progressed and ultimately eliminated all of my symptoms

That was when I began to question what I had been told. I discovered that the beliefs I held about bipolar were actually myths.

Myth #1: Bipolar Disorder is a Chemical Imbalance

I was diagnosed in 1998 and later learned the chemical imbalance theory had already been completely debunked prior to my diagnosis. As I’ve studied the research, I’m shocked that this myth continues to be perpetuated.

To understand the origin of the chemical imbalance theory you need to understand the history of psychiatry. Back in the early 1900s the medical field was making extraordinary discoveries of what were deemed “magic bullet” cures. Previously devastating illnesses were being eradicated thanks to the discovery of treatments like penicillin. 

Psychiatry wanted to find its own magic bullet treatments, but the difficulty was that they couldn’t identify what caused psychiatric symptoms in the first place. This wasn’t like the discovery of penicillin where there was a known pathogen that could be treated.  

The trouble with psychiatry was that they created diagnoses based on symptoms and then developed medications that were discovered almost by accident. The medications only addressed the symptoms. 

To try and justify this approach psychiatrists developed the chemical imbalance theory. The problem was, there was never any evidence to support the hypothesis. By the 1990s, the notion had been completely disproven. Sadly, it was also discovered that the medications being used to treat the symptoms actually caused chemical imbalances in the brain.

“Prior to treatment, patients. . .do not suffer from any known “chemical imbalance.” However, once a person is put on a psychiatric medication, which, in one manner or another, throws a wrench into the usual mechanics of a neuronal pathway, his or her brain begins to function. . .abnormally.” (Whitaker, 2010, 84)

Myth #2: Bipolar is Like Diabetes and Medication is Like Insulin

The comparison of bipolar to diabetes is used over and over by doctors and patients alike to justify the need for medication in treating bipolar, and I believed it for many years. However, I now know there has never been any evidence to support this comparison. 

In reality, the comparison is ludicrous. Even though doctors don’t know what causes diabetes to originate, they understand that the symptoms are caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar. 

This has resulted in a standardized treatment that works for most people. Standard protocol is to monitor blood sugar and regulate it using insulin and food. This approach is designed to normalize the body’s chemistry.

Bipolar, on the other hand, is a “disorder” diagnosed based solely on symptoms with no known cause. The psychotropic medications used to “treat” bipolar are not treating the cause, but instead disrupting the normal function of the brain—abnormalizing it.

“Researchers determined that the drugs work by perturbing the normal functioning of the neuronal pathways in the brain. . .Rather than fix chemical imbalances in the brain, the drugs create them.” (Whitaker, 2010, 207)

Myth #3: Bipolar is Chronic and Incurable

For the first twelve years after my diagnosis, all of my experiences with bipolar seemed to support the claim that bipolar was chronic and incurable. I consistently took my medications for years but became progressively worse.

I discovered there were tools available that helped eliminate my symptoms and allow my brain to heal. I soon understood that the reason bipolar was chronic and incurable was because of the treatments themselves. Psychotropic drugs were the culprit.

Prior to the use of medications, the symptoms that were used to diagnose bipolar were rare and rarely led to permanent disability. 

Since the use of medications became common practice, the number of people diagnosed with bipolar has skyrocketed and the outcomes have been devastating. The treatment of bipolar is actually preventing the cure.

“. . .bipolar outcomes have dramatically worsened during the psychopharmacology era, with experts in the field documenting this at every turn . . .it was becoming apparent that psychiatric medications were worsening the source of a mental illness.” (Whitaker, 2010, 185-6)

If these three common explanations of bipolar are actually myths, what is bipolar disorder?

Continue to Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Two: What is Bipolar, Anyway?