Healing Bipolar Part Two: Therapy and Trauma Healing, What I Wish I’d Known

During the first decade after my bipolar diagnosis, I was encouraged to go to therapy by my psychiatrists to learn coping mechanisms for managing my bipolar. I attempted therapy several times but found it frustratingly unhelpful. 

The coping “tips” that I was given were largely ineffective and did nothing to help me cope with the overwhelming symptoms I experienced: the mood swings, negative intrusive thoughts, compulsive spending, out of control rage and suicidal ideation. 

I was exhausted with trying to “cope” with my life; I needed help!

Once I switched from medication to micronutrients and my brain began to heal, I had my first positive experience with therapy that finally helped me see the potential in this powerful tool. Over the years as I studied and continued to utilize therapy for healing, I learned some valuable lessons that I wished someone would have shared with me in the beginning.

What Is the Point of Therapy?

The purpose of therapy in treating bipolar should not just be “coping” with your symptoms. The symptoms you are experiencing are the body and mind’s indication it is in distress. What is causing the distress?

While it can be helpful to develop skills for how to manage uncomfortable symptoms in the short term, the long-term objective should be getting to the bottom of what is causing the symptoms to occur in the first place! 

Some of the underlying causes of symptoms are:

  • unhealed trauma, 
  • unhealthy thought and behavior patterns,
  • unhealthy boundaries and relationship patterns, and 
  • unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

A competent therapist can help you identify these various issues and then devise a plan to process and resolve them.

Find a Competent Therapist You Feel Safe Working With

Therapy is a tool, and the therapist is a facilitator. You need to find a competent facilitator:

  • who you feel comfortable and safe working with, 
  • Who is proactive about helping you heal, not just cope, and
  • Who is trained in modalities that will best meet your needs.

Therapy “modalities” are approaches and techniques that are used by therapists to address different issues. Most therapy modalities require specialized training; therefore therapists tend to specialize in specific areas.

It will be helpful to learn more about various options before selecting a therapist. If you have a history of trauma, you might look for a trauma therapist that specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Internal Family Systems (IFS), Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT), or Somatic therapy, for example. (This is by no means a comprehensive list but serves as an example of some common trauma modalities.)

Give Your Therapist Something to Work With

Often people don’t know what to talk about when they go to therapy. It can be awkward or uncomfortable opening up to a stranger about the most personal parts of yourself. The first step is of course making sure you feel safe with your chosen therapist, but then you need to be honest with them. They aren’t mind readers and if you hold back or hide things it can hinder your healing process.

Two of the best tools I have found helpful in identifying things to work on in therapy are:

  • Using a Mood Cycle Survival Guide to help you become more self-aware and proactive in identifying connections between symptoms and triggers, and
  • Journaling, both short and long form, to help you get your thoughts out on paper.

Be Proactive, Not Just Reactive

For years I viewed therapy as a sort of triage, something to help me when I was in crisis and then when the crisis was over, I stopped. The problem this creates is twofold:

  • The therapist got a skewed picture of who I was because they only ever saw me when I was dysregulated emotionally.
  • I was never getting to the bottom of what was causing the crisis to occur in the first place!

Finally, I realized my mistake and I decided to go to therapy until I had nothing left to talk about. Working proactively with a competent therapist to identify the sources of emotional pain and dysregulation empowers you to heal instead of just cope.

Focus on Healing, Not Blaming

When you are working to heal emotional trauma or unhealthy boundaries it is easy to get focused on the person or persons who have hurt you. The problem this creates is that you have no control over another person. Focusing on them can keep you in a victim mentality and prevent healing.

A great analogy came to mind one day that helped me understand a healthier, more empowering approach. If someone caused you to break your leg–whether intentionally or accidentally–you would initially tell the doctor what happened to aid in diagnostics. The focus would then be on the injury itself, not on the person who caused the injury. You might need to set some boundaries to protect yourself from future harm, but the focus would be on healing the wound.

In therapy you can choose to empower yourself by doing the work to heal and choosing not to be a victim.

You Get Out What You Put In

When you go to therapy you need to identify changes you can make in your life–your thoughts, behaviors, self-care, etc.–that are going to move you forward on the path to healing. This requires effort outside of your sessions with your therapist. 

I have found it extremely beneficial to use a therapy notebook to write down new habits, tools and resources that my therapist and I discuss and then follow through with those things between sessions—do my homework!

Therapy Takes Time

Be patient! Therapy is like peeling back layers of an onion. It takes time to establish a safe connection with your therapist, it takes time to identify the things you need to work on, and it takes time to learn the tools that will help you heal moving forward. 

Therapy is an important element in the integrated, research-based model for healing and recovery from bipolar disorder. It enables you to identify sources of symptoms in order to process and resolve them. Learning how to use therapy effectively and proactively will move you forward on your path to living a joyful, healthy, balanced, productive life.

Click here for part one in this series: Healing Bipolar Part One: From Medication to Micronutrients, What I Wish I’d Known

Why Do You “Push” Micronutrients?

I received an email from someone this weekend accusing me of being a “snake-oil salesman” and asking “Why do you ‘push’ micronutrients” when people really need help. I could feel her pain in the message and wanted to answer her and anyone else who might be wondering the same thing.

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.

To understand why I do what I do you need to understand my story. I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1998 a month before graduating college. I had been struggling with increasingly severe mood swings for a couple years and when I finally went to the psychiatrist for help, I was so severely depressed that I couldn’t think of what to say. 

I was initially diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders, but when the antidepressants triggered mania, my diagnosis was changed to bipolar 2. My doctor told me that I had a chemical imbalance that would require medication to treat for the rest of my life.

Trusting that the doctor knew best I proactively sought treatment with medications for the next decade, taking every psychotropic drug I was prescribed. Nothing really helped and I got progressively worse, especially after the birth of my first two children. 

This culminated in a breakdown in spring 2008 when I was hospitalized three times in two different states. I received twelve rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (shock treatments) during the first hospitalization, experienced my first psychotic episode (resulting in a change of diagnosis to bipolar 1) and made multiple attempts on my life.

I felt completely defeated and hopeless.

Then in 2010 my doctor and I found the first glimmer of hope for me—micronutrients from a non-profit company in Canada called Truehope that specializes in treating bipolar disorder. This proved to be a turning point for me in my struggle. 

The process of titrating off of my psychotropic drugs that I had been on for twelve years was horrible. With the help of Truehope’s customer support, however, I made it through the process. Several months in I woke up one day feeling like I was fully awake for the first time in over a decade.

Over the next decade I gradually discovered the tools and resources to help the rest of my brain and mind heal (although I didn’t realize I was healing at the time). When I began to recognize that I was no longer experiencing symptoms I was incredulous. I had been told it was impossible to heal bipolar. 

I began researching the tools that I used and discovered that there was solid science behind each one proving their efficacy as treatments for the various underlying causes of bipolar symptoms. 

Then I became angry—I felt lied to, robbed and betrayed. Why had I been told it was impossible to heal bipolar? Why had I been left to figure out the path to healing myself?

Finally, I realized that it did no good to nurture bitter, angry feelings in myself and my frustration turned to determination. I was determined to help anyone else who was suffering needlessly, like I had for years, and wanted to heal. I clearly identified the integrated, research-based treatment plan I had used to heal and began sharing it with others.

WARNING: If you decide to switch from medication to micronutrients DO NOT go off of medication “cold turkey”, or stopping all at once. Medication alters your brain chemistry and withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, even life-threatening. DO work closely with someone specifically trained in cross-titration—either Truehope customer support or a trusted psychiatrist who has been specifically trained in cross-titration—to safely withdraw from the drugs and transition to the micronutrients that will help heal your brain.

Taking Your First Step Towards Healing

There is no “quick fix” or “magic bullet” treatment for healing bipolar. It takes time. While you are healing you will continue to experience symptoms at times. The Mood Cycle Survival Guide is a plan to help you manage your symptoms proactively while you go through the healing process. This plan helps lessen the impact of the symptoms on you and your loved ones and shortens the duration of the mood swings.

Micronutrients

Here we come to the reason I “push” micronutrients. Psychotropic drugs do not treat the underlying cause of bipolar symptoms, they treat the symptoms. They do this not by normalizing your brain function but by abnormalizing it. Medications cause a chemical imbalance in the brain. While medication may be helpful in the short term for extreme symptoms–when someone is a danger to themselves or others–long term they can prevent healing and even lead to early death.

Micronutrients, on the other hand, address one of the underlying causes of symptoms—micronutrient insufficiency. They help the brain get what it needs to function in a healthy, balanced way, which makes it possible to work through the other steps to healing the underlying causes of your bipolar symptoms. (For more on the steps to healing read: The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder)

Why Do I Speak Specifically About EMPowerPlus? Am I Being Paid?

First, no, I have never and will never receive compensation in any form from Truehope for promoting EMPowerPlus. I share their treatment first, because it helped me heal. Second, they have been tested in 35 independent clinical trials and proven their efficacy (none of the researchers received any compensation from the company for their research). 

Finally, in the book The Better Brain they share that most micronutrient treatments have never been tested for brain health. While anecdotal testimonials are nice, they aren’t scientific proof.

I don’t want to inadvertently harm someone by encouraging them to just take any vitamin/mineral supplement on the market. I want to help people heal and so I promote a company that was started for the purpose of helping people with bipolar heal and has been independently verified through research to be effective.

(To learn more about how to be successful in switching from medications to micronutrients read: Healing Bipolar Part One: From Medication to Micronutrients, What I Wish I’d Known)

I understand not everyone is going to resonate with my message. I am here to help people who are struggling, like I was for so many years. People who don’t want to live the rest of their lives trying to learn to suffer well with their bipolar. 

I teach the treatment plan I wish I had been given when I was first diagnosed twenty-six years ago. An integrated, research-based method for healing and recovery.