What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term “bipolar”? Dysfunctional, crazy, unstable, lunatic? How about “broken”? That’s what I thought the first time I was diagnosed with this illness back in 1998. All I could think about when I heard the words come out of my doctor’s mouth was “I’m broken.”
I had always known that there was something wrong, but I just thought it was my fault, and that if I tried harder I could fix myself. But now the doctor was telling me that there was something wrong with my brain chemistry and that with medication they could help me to manage the symptoms.
I remember the strange feelings I had as I walked out of the doctor’s office. On one hand I felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders because here was someone telling me that it wasn’t my fault–the inconsistency, the instability, the incredible, uncontrollable mood swings.
In 1999 dressed up as Ginger for Halloween
On the other hand, though, I felt this gloom and uncertainty settling in over me. Did this mean I was ALWAYS going to be like this? Would it never matter how hard I tried? Would I always struggle? Who would want me now?
The years that followed were different from the previous years really in one main way–I had been on a roller coaster before, but now I was aware of it. There is no exact science to treating mental illness. It’s a “science” of guess and check.
I remember having a conversation with my uncle, who was a biomedical engineer, and asking him why they couldn’t just measure my brain chemistry and say, oh, here, you need more of this and this, and you’ll be fine. His response was that even if there was a safe way to measure my brain chemistry, there was no standard for what the correct levels are for your brain nor was there any way yet of knowing how to alter the chemicals that were out of balance.
So I was doomed to suffer through endless trials of different medications and the accompanying side-effects and withdrawals. Over twelve years I continued to devolve as I was in and out of hospitals, trying different treatments, changing doctors and suffering more and more every day. It was humiliating and discouraging.
In 1999 dressed up as Ginger for Halloween
The biggest problem that I had was that my body did not tolerate medication and so no matter what I was on, I continued to experience mood cycles and there were increasing instances where I felt like there was no hope of this ever getting any better. My marriage was suffering, my children were suffering and I was suffering. It seemed increasingly apparent that there did not seem to be any hope of relief. My life would be just about surviving.
Finally, however, in 2010, I experienced my first glimmer of hope. My mother contacted me to encourage me to call a friend of hers whose husband had a chemical imbalance and had found a natural supplement that had helped tremendously. I was a little incredulous. I had heard of and even tried some “natural remedies” before and had never found one with any real merit. I had been conditioned by my doctors to believe that medication was my only real hope, even though my experience had taught me otherwise.
After speaking with this woman, I decided to give it a try. I really had nothing to lose. So I started to take the supplement. Incredibly I started to notice a difference. Little by little I started to feel better. I stopped having migraines, which were a terrible, debilitating after effect I had suffered from the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) I had during one of my hospitalizations. I was slowly able to come off of my mood stabilizer, too, although I was not comfortable going off of all my medications But, I was starting to feel better than I had in years.
Then, a couple months later I was introduced to another supplement by a good friend. This was when things really started to turn around. Thankfully my psychiatrist, who I had been seeing for 9 years, was willing to learn about it and help me transition off of the medication to the supplement. It took a couple months to titrate off the medications and to start to really feel the difference, however, I felt so much better. It was like I was awake for the first time in my adult life. It was really quite strange for me, having spent most of my life having such a debilitating, controlling chemical imbalance, to now have control of my thoughts, feelings, moods and emotions.
I remember the first time I talked myself out of an anxiety attack it was surreal. I was so used to having anxiety attacks and not having any control of what was happening to my body–my chest tightened up and I couldn’t breathe, which was usually followed by nausea and panic. But this time as my body began this familiar reaction I was keenly aware of what was happening, what had triggered it, and I was able to recognize that I was having an irrational reaction. I then was able to calm myself down and stop the anxiety attack. When this happened I remember thinking, “Wow, is this what normal people do?!” I was so excited I called my husband and told him all about it!
Although I felt much better, I had a lot of work and learning to do to really learn how to manage my illness naturally. In the 10 years since I started taking these supplements I have worked to learn different skills and find tools that help me to live a healthy well-balanced life.
I decided to start this blog to share what I learned in the hope that I could help others to learn how to live well with bipolar.
It’s not easy, but it is SO WORTH IT!!!