Bipolar Symptoms Are NOT a Disease, They ARE Information

When someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they are led to believe that they suffer from a clearly defined medical condition or disease similar to diabetes. However, bipolar symptoms are not a disease, they are information

The Problem with the Disease Model of Treatment

Over the past fifty plus years the psychiatric industry has been operating under the assumption that bipolar symptoms are evidence of a medical condition. The problem is that they have never identified any underlying medical condition, despite diligently searching for one for over five decades.

The chemical imbalance theory continues to be used to explain the need for medications, but there are three problems with this theory:

  1. It has been repeatedly debunked. “…mental disorders have. . .been touted to the public as diseases caused by chemical imbalances but there was never any evidence to support those claims.”
  2. This false claim is used to justify the use of psychiatric drugs in treatment and those drugs themselves cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.
  3. It prevents any curiosity into the actual underlying source of symptoms. 

The Medication Trap

Psychiatrists use the DSM criteria to assess symptoms and assign a diagnosis based on symptom clusters and then prescribe drugs. This is a bit like playing Russian Roulette because everyone reacts differently to the medications and often the drugs can make things worse. For example “…60 percent of those with a bipolar diagnosis said they had initially fallen ill with major depression and had turned bipolar after exposure to an antidepressant.” 

The psychotropic drugs cause a chemical imbalance in the brain—they abnormalize brain function instead of normalizing it. Therefore, for some people with depressive symptoms, when their brains attempt to adapt to the introduction of the “antidepressant” it causes symptoms of mania. It is not revealing that a person actually has bipolar, it is causing it.

In addition to the potential for side-effects that are identified as another psychiatric diagnosis (i.e. depression turning into bipolar), when someone discontinues the use of the medication it causes withdrawal symptoms and often those symptoms are attributed to the bipolar disorder instead of the drug withdrawal.

Because there is an assumption of an underlying medical condition and zero curiosity about what else might be causing the symptoms the underlying issues that led to the diagnosis persist and are never addressed. This leads to a dependence on drugs and doctors for life!

Doctors tell you that bipolar disorder is a chronic, incurable mental illness that you will need medication to manage for the rest of your life. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! The reality is that the disease model of treatment is creating a chronic, incurable, medication dependent condition. The treatment is preventing the cure.

Bipolar symptoms are not a disease, they are information. If you can learn to interpret that information and treat the source(s) of your symptoms you can heal. A bipolar diagnosis does not need to be a life-sentence!

To learn more about how some of the causes of bipolar symptoms see The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Two: What is Bipolar, Anyway? 

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. 

You Must Have Been Misdiagnosed

When I share that I have healed my bipolar disorder I frequently have people accuse me of never having bipolar in the first place. They say, “You must have been misdiagnosed.”

This brings up a couple of important questions: “What constitutes an accurate diagnosis?” and “What is bipolar disorder?”

What Constitutes an Accurate Diagnosis?

A medically reviewed article on Psycom.net describes bipolar based on the DSM-5:

 “Bipolar disorders are described by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.”

The article then goes on to define the three subcategories of bipolar:

  • Bipolar I disorder is a manic-depressive disorder that can exist both with and without psychotic episodes
  • Bipolar II disorder consists of depressive and manic episodes which alternate and are typically less severe and do not inhibit function
  • Cyclothymic disorder is a cyclic disorder that causes brief episodes of hypomania and depression

The problem with these categories is that there is no underlying cause identified, the categories are clusters of symptoms that can vary widely from person to person—if you meet the diagnostic criteria you are diagnosed with the “disorder”.

I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1998 and during my first twelve years of treatment saw more than seven separate psychiatrists due to moves and hospitalizations and each one independently confirmed my diagnosis. I met all of the diagnostic criteria initially for bipolar two and later for bipolar one after I experienced a psychotic episode during a hospitalization.

What is bipolar disorder?

When you received your bipolar diagnosis what explanation did your doctor give you? I was told that I had a chemical imbalance that required medication to correct. I was later told that bipolar was like having diabetes and medication was like insulin and finally I was told that bipolar is chronic and incurable.

Chemical Imbalance Theory

Did you know that the chemical imbalance theory was debunked in the late 1980s? It was a theory that was developed to try and explain the need for psychotropic medications in treating mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. 

The theory was repeatedly put to the test and consistently failed. Interestingly in the effort to try and prove the theory scientists actually discovered that although there was no preexisting chemical imbalance in the brain, the psychotropic drugs used to “treat” the disorders was causing a chemical imbalance to occur. 

Bipolar is Like Diabetes?

The first time I heard this claim it was made by my psychiatrist. I was struggling with my medication and had told my doctor how much I hated taking the drugs—the side-effects were intolerable and I was still experiencing symptoms.

My doctor had told me that having bipolar was like having diabetes and the medication was like insulin. He reassured me that although I was still struggling that eventually we would find the right combination of medications to give my brain what it was missing.

At the time this convinced me to keep taking the medications because I hoped that I could eventually find relief but looking back the comparison is ludicrous! Bipolar and diabetes are NOT THE SAME!

Diabetes is a clearly defined, measurable medical problem with a consistently effective treatment protocol. The insulin is replacing something the body is missing.

“Bipolar disorder”, on the other hand, has no single, clearly defined cause. It is diagnosed based solely on symptoms and then the drugs used to treat the symptoms are not something the body normally produces. In fact, as stated above, the chemicals introduced into the brain with psychiatric drugs abnormalize the function of the brain instead of normalizing it.

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.

Is Bipolar Disorder Really Incurable?

The reason people assume that I was misdiagnosed when I share that I have healed my bipolar disorder is that they believe it is impossible to heal. I often ask people why they believe that and no one can ever adequately answer the question. 

The reality is that the treatment approach of using psychotropic medications long-term to address the symptoms is itself preventing the cure. Bipolar is a group of symptoms that indicate the brain is in distress. There can be a number of different underlying causes.

Researchers have begun to uncover some of these underlying issues that lead to symptoms of mania and depression: 

The first twelve years after my diagnosis I diligently took every psychotropic drug I was prescribed and got progressively worse. Then I began to gradually uncover the causes of the symptoms and the tools and resources to treat those issues. As the underlying problems were treated the symptoms went away and I healed.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t need to become chronic and incurable; it can be healed using an integrated, research-based approach designed to address the underlying causes of the symptoms. 

To learn more, check out: The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder

Healing Bipolar Part One: From Medication to Micronutrients, What I Wish I’d Known

When I was first diagnosed, I was told that bipolar disorder was chronic and incurable and required psychotropic medications to treat. 

After following that treatment plan for over a decade and getting progressively worse I finally discovered that there was another way to treat bipolar. Utilizing an integrated, research-based method that included micronutrients as part of the treatment plan I began to heal. There are a few lessons I learned along the way that I wish I’d understood beforehand.

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.

The Difference Between Psychotropic Drugs and Micronutrients

Psychotropic drugs and micronutrients do not serve the same purpose in treating bipolar disorder. Medication is designed to address the symptoms, not the underlying causes. They also cause a chemical imbalance in the brain and often cause uncomfortable or even damaging side-effects. 

Micronutrients, on the other hand, are designed to treat one of the underlying causes of bipolar symptoms—micronutrient insufficiency. This occurs when the brain is not getting a sufficient level of micronutrients to function in a healthy, balanced way which leads to symptoms of mental illness. Micronutrients are not foreign substances to the body and brain and therefore do not produce the damaging side-effects that the drugs often cause. 

Not All Micronutrient Supplements Are Effective for Treating Bipolar

In the book The Better Brain Dr. Bonnie Kaplan and Dr. Julia Rucklidge shared that while the best source of essential nutrients is through a natural, whole food diet, there are some people who need higher levels of micronutrients than they can get through food alone.

When I first switched from medication to micronutrients, I used EMPowerPlus by Truehope. Over the following years I tried two alternate treatments and discovered quickly that although the ingredient lists looked similar, they did not provide the same benefits as EMPowerPlus.

I later learned that just because a bottle lists certain vitamins and minerals doesn’t mean that it is all being metabolized into your body. In The Better Brain Kaplan and Rucklidge state that “99 percent of [over the counter] supplements have never been tested at all for health benefits! Even fewer have been evaluated by independent scientists—people not biased by any affiliation with the manufacturer.”

Truehope developed EMPowerPlus in the 1990s as a treatment for bipolar disorder and has been refining and improving the formulation continuously over the past two decades. They have had thirty-five separate independent clinical trials done providing proof of their efficacy.

NOTE: I have never and will never receive any compensation for recommending EMPowerPlus. I recommend that treatment because it has been independently verified as effective and it helped me heal.

Work with an Expert!

When I first decided to switch from medication to micronutrients, I learned how important it was to work with an expert who understood how to help me safely through the cross-titration (cross-tapering) process. Cross-titration involves very slowly, carefully decreasing the dose of medications while increasing the dose of micronutrients. In my case I worked with Truehope’s customer support department very closely throughout the entire process.

There are three main challenges created by psychotropic drugs in cross-titration: withdrawals, overmedication and med-releases.

Withdrawals

Psychotropic drugs don’t fix a chemical imbalance in the brain, they create one. The problem this causes is that when you stop taking the drug you go through withdrawals which can range from uncomfortable to dangerous–even life-threatening–if not done properly. You should never attempt this process without guidance from someone who understands how to safely navigate drug titration and withdrawal.

Overmedication

As your brain begins to heal on the micronutrients it doesn’t need the medication anymore and you can become overmedicated. As in the case of withdrawals, it is necessary to work with an expert to recognize and safely address overmedication symptoms.

Med-release

One of the most frustrating discoveries I made was that psychotropic medication builds up in your soft tissues and can stay there for years. Extreme stress can cause what’s known as a med-release and push that medication back out into your system. When you don’t need it, that leftover drug can cause uncomfortable symptoms—for me it caused depression.

Thankfully each time I was able to work with Truehope customer support to treat the problem and get it out of my body safely and quickly. 

WARNING: Popular over the counter detox cleanses can be extremely harmful for those who have been on psychotropic medications—especially for those on them for years. Cleanses can trigger med-release and severe symptoms.

Be Consistent and Patient

To be successful with healing your brain using micronutrients you need to be consistent with taking your supplements, tracking your symptoms and communicating regularly with your expert. 

You also need to be patient and persistent because healing takes time. In The Better Brain Kaplan and Rucklidge recommend that if you aren’t taking medications, it can take about three months for you to feel the effect of the micronutrients on your brain. If you are taking medication, it can take six months to a year due to the cross-titration process. It can be challenging but the result is worth it! 

One of the best resources for me during this process was developing a Mood Cycle Survival Guide to help me proactively manage my symptoms when they occurred and to become more self-aware. 

There’s No “Magic Bullet”

As I mentioned earlier, micronutrients treat only one of the underlying causes of bipolar symptoms. An unfortunate misconception created by the “bipolar disorder” diagnosis is that everyone is suffering from the same illness. The reality is the underlying causes vary from person to person. The good news is that it is possible to use an integrated, research-based approach that will help you identify and treat the underlying sources of your bipolar symptoms so you can heal!

To learn more, see The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder.

For part two in this series go to: Healing Bipolar Part Two: Therapy and Trauma Healing, What I Wish I’d Known

To Medicate or Not to Medicate, That is the Bipolar Question

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was told that I had a chemical imbalance that required medication to treat. The doctor’s explanation seemed to make sense to me at the time. I definitely knew something was wrong with me—I had been living on an emotional rollercoaster for over two years and I needed help.

For the following decade I proactively went to every psychiatric appointment and took every medication my doctors prescribed but became progressively worse. My nightmare culminated in a massive breakdown in 2008 when I was hospitalized three times in a two-month period, received electroconvulsive (shock) therapy which triggered psychosis–and was put on medications that triggered three suicide attempts.

Medication wasn’t helping me; it was making things worse.

When I read social media posts that insist medication is necessary to treat bipolar–comparing bipolar medication to insulin for diabetics–I think back to my experience with medication and know it is not true. 

Yes, the symptoms of bipolar are frightening, and we all want solutions. The reality is, bipolar is not a chemical imbalance and it cannot be cured with drugs. In fact, drugs often make the condition worse, as my experience bears out.

The truth is that bipolar symptoms are just that, symptoms—an indication that the mind and body are in distress. Over the past thirty years there has been a rapidly growing body of research indicating the underlying causes of bipolar symptoms and providing effective treatments that resolve the symptoms

Medications do not treat the cause of the bipolar symptoms. They attempt to mitigate the symptoms by messing with the brain chemistry and if used long-term could do serious damage to both the brain and body, which is why 83% of people treated with medication for bipolar will become severely impaired and will die on average 8-12 years earlier than the rest of the population.

If medication isn’t the best long-term treatment for bipolar symptoms, what is?

Micronutrition

The research of Dr. Bonnie Kaplan and Dr. Julia Rucklidge connects micronutrient deficiencies to symptoms of mental illness, including bipolar. In their book The Better Brain they explain::

“Our brains demand a disproportionately large amount of the 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.”

I discovered this for myself when I found a micronutrient treatment for bipolar disorder called EMPowerPlus from a company aptly named Truehope. Studies confirm it is three times more effective in treating bipolar symptoms than psychotropic drugs. Why is this so? Because while medications are attempting to treat the symptoms, the micronutrients are addressing one of the primary causes of the symptoms—micronutrient insufficiency.

It is important to note that not all supplements are the same. In fact, in their book Drs. Kaplan and Rucklidge indicate that there are only two micronutrient treatments that have been proven effective at treating bipolar and other mental illnesses. EMPowerPlus has had 35 independent clinical trials done across the United States and Canada proving its efficacy.

When I went through the process of cross-titration (titrating off of the medications and onto EMPowerPlus) I experienced some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms—exhaustion, confusion, depression. Then one day, several months into the process I woke up one morning and felt like I was fully awake for the first time in over a decade. Over the following years my brain continued to heal as I worked with Truehope’s customer support to optimize my micronutrient intake. 

I have been off of medications for over thirteen years and my brain feels healthier and more balanced than ever before!

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.

Unhealed Trauma

Another underlying cause of bipolar symptoms is unhealed trauma which can lead to emotional dysregulation, unhealthy thought and behavior patterns and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, as Dr. Bessell van der Kolk noted in his book The Body Keeps the Score, diagnosing someone with a mental illness like bipolar disorder doesn’t “begin to meaningfully describe who these patients are and what they suffer from.”

Trauma should be treated through effective therapies like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), among others. This enables you to 

  • heal the deep emotional wounding caused by trauma, 
  • re-regulate your emotions, and
  • learn to interact with the world in a healthy way—eliminating this as a source of bipolar symptoms.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation—ironically referred to often as an “alternative treatment”—has been around for thousands of years. Over the past fifty years, however, it has become the subject of rigorous research and study. A treatment that has grown out of this research is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). In their book Mindfulness: An Eight-week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World Dr. Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman share that MBCT is:

“…at least as effective as antidepressants, and has none of their downside. In fact, it is so effective that it’s now one of the preferred treatments recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.”

Mindfulness addresses two of the sources of bipolar symptoms: antidepressants and negative, intrusive thoughts. 

Antidepressants are a leading cause of bipolar symptoms; 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. 

When I was struggling with bipolar symptoms my emotions were heavy and my mind was trying to make sense of it by going through the “files of my mind” looking for a reason to explain the darkness. This resulted in a barrage of negative, intrusive thoughts that made my mind a horrible place to be. I developed coping mechanisms to try and escape my mind, which caused anxiety because I couldn’t handle my life.

Mindfulness meditation taught me how to stay present in my mind and body. It helped me learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions and experience them without judgment. That skill halted the spiral and helped me become friends with my mind again.

To Medicate or Not to Medicate

When you are making the decision whether to treat your bipolar symptoms with medication ask yourself, what is your goal? Do you want to put a band aid on the symptoms and try to learn to cope with them or do you want to heal and live a healthy, balanced, productive life?

Bipolar is not a “disorder”—a disease that you will live with for the rest of your life. It is a group of symptoms that are indications that your brain and body are in distress. You can learn to listen to what your brain is trying to tell you and give it what it needs to heal by using a research-based, integrated treatment plan that addresses the underlying causes of your symptoms.

What choice will you make?

Can You Heal Bipolar Disorder?

Can you heal bipolar disorder? I remember asking that question when I was first diagnosed back in 1998. I struggled with accepting my diagnosis because there was no tangible evidence of my disorder. No blood tests or brain scans, just a lot of ambiguous, hard to define symptoms that felt like character flaws and moral failings to me. 

Then one of my doctors compared my diagnosis to having diabetes. He asked me if I would be embarrassed if I was diagnosed with type one diabetes and I told him no because diabetes is a clearly defined and measurable physical problem that causes your body to be unable to regulate your blood sugar. The treatment is to monitor and balance your blood sugar so your body can function in a healthy way. 

My doctor then told me the same was true for having bipolar. My brain chemistry was unable to regulate itself properly and we needed to find the right medication to help it function in a healthy way.

At the time this comparison really helped me accept my diagnosis and I believed that I would find the right medication and eventually be able to live well with my bipolar. But it wasn’t true. I didn’t understand that the diagnosis of bipolar is not based on the cause, it is based on the symptoms. The generally accepted treatment doesn’t treat the cause, it treats the symptoms. 

Treating the symptoms of bipolar doesn’t help people to heal. At best it helps them manage the symptoms a little better, at worst it causes additional damage to the body and mind and creates new problems and diagnoses. So why are alternative treatments that aim to identify and treat the causes of bipolar symptoms considered taboo? 

Normalizing Suffering

Something that is especially discouraging in the online “support” communities for bipolar disorder is the insistence that no one discuss any treatment for bipolar other than psychotropic medications. Alternative treatments, no matter how well researched or validated, are off limits and called dangerous. The result is that the groups end up normalizing suffering with bipolar.

Over half of the posts in these groups are people asking for advice on what to do about the terrible side-effects they are experienceing from their medications–weight gain, insomnia, lost libido, etc. The other half are people talking about the horrible symptoms they are continuing to experience even on medication–excessive spending, hypersexuality, explosive rage, etc. 

People continuously lament medication related issues like drastic weight gain or “medication hangovers” that make it feel impossible to wake up in the morning. They also talk about not being able to work or maintain healthy relationships and share feelings of fear and despair at the prospect that their life may never get any better. 

The medication route often doesn’t provide long-term relief for people either. Recently in an online group someone asked how many times people in the group had been hospitalized–the results were staggering! Dozens of people responded with numerous hospitalizations and several had been hospitalized over twenty times! It was so disheartening to see how much everyone was suffering! 

Another question in an online group was how many mood-swings is it normal to have in a year. The responses were varied, but the people responding found it normal to continue to experience mood swings, even on medications. They have been convinced that this will be normal for them for the rest of their life. Why? 

If so many people are suffering with continued mood swings, side-effects, poor quality of life and hospitalizations, why is medication continually propped up as the only “effective” treatment for bipolar? Why are alternative treatments that seek to identify and treat the cause of the symptoms considered taboo?

Healing my Bipolar

I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1998 and for the first decade after my diagnosis I actively sought treatment with psychotropic medications, but I just got progressively worse. In 2008 I was hospitalized multiple times, experienced my first psychotic episodes, had electroconvulsive therapy done on me causing major memory loss and made multiple suicide attempts. I was actively seeking treatment and nothing was working.

In 2010 my doctor and I discovered an alternative treatment option that was well researched and had a surprisingly high success rate in helping people manage or eliminate the symptoms of their bipolar. With the help of my doctor and the company’s customer support I was able to titrate off of my medications and onto the micronutrient treatment. 

My doctor admitted to me during this process that he normally would not have even considered this treatment option. He told me that the only treatment option they were taught in medical school was psychotropic medication and all of the continuing education is funded by the pharmaceutical companies. The only reason he was even willing to consider this alternative treatment was because he could see how hard I was trying with medication and how much I was suffering. He had become as desperate to help me as I was.

A few months after I started on the new treatment I woke up one morning and felt like I was finally truly awake for the first time in over a decade. It took several years for my brain to fully heal, but during that time I was so much more stable on the micronutrients than I had ever been on medication so I stuck it out. I am so grateful that I did! 

Over the past 13 years I have gradually learned the other tools necessary to heal my mind, eliminating triggers and finally becoming mentally healthy and balanced for the first time in my adult life. That is why I was so excited to start my blog! I wanted to share what I had learned. I wanted to help people suffering with bipolar to learn how to actually heal and become mentally well.

When I first started my blog at the end of 2020 I was filled with hope and enthusiasm for sharing what I had learned. Imagine my surprise when I joined online support groups for bipolar and discovered that there seemed to be no interest in helping people to actually get well. The groups seemed designed to create a space for everyone to struggle together. These groups perpetuated the idea that the best anyone with bipolar could hope for was suffering well with their disorder.

Alternative Treatments are Taboo

I soon discovered in the groups that if you could commiserate with a person on how they were suffering, you were allowed to comment. If you had tips for how to cope with side-effects from medication, you were allowed to comment. If you had recommendations for other medications that might work better, you were allowed to comment. 

If, however, you suggested that there might be an alternative treatment that would help heal their brain and eliminate symptoms and side-effects, you were censored and kicked out of the group. Even simply answering questions from people asking if anyone managed their disorder without medication would result in being removed from the groups.

The problem is that for decades–as my doctor admitted to me–we have been told that the only viable treatment option for bipolar is medication. But why? Medications are not actually treating the cause of bipolar, they only treat the symptoms. 

Treating Only the Symptoms, Not the Cause

There are risks for not seeking to identify and treat the underlying causes of bipolar symptoms. To use another medical analogy, if you have strep throat but the doctor doesn’t treat the strep just the symptoms–giving you something for your sore throat and something for your fever–you might get some short-term relief but it increases your risk for additional issues. The untreated strep could progress and cause further serious infections and even damage your kidneys or heart.

Medication can have potential value in the short term to treat the serious symptoms of bipolar like psychosis and suicidality. This is similar to giving a patient with strep ibuprofen to help bring their fever down temporarily to give the antibiotic time to work on the underlying infection. But long-term if a person wants to actually heal, they need to treat the underlying causes of their illness. If you want to live well with bipolar you need to identify and treat the causes of your symptoms. 

Some of the suggested causes of bipolar disorder symptoms are nutrient deficiencies that cause the chemicals in the brain to be out of balance. Severe, unhealed trauma has been linked to the occurrence of bipolar symptoms in many people. Bipolar symptoms are also perpetuated by unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction and unhealthy boundaries. 

Long-term treatment that only addresses the symptoms of bipolar isn’t bringing relief and healing for most people, it is just prolonging and even compounding the suffering. People on medication long-term can also develop serious, permanent issues like tardive dyskinesia (TD), lowered immune system function, and damage to the liver or kidneys.

Healing Your Bipolar

It is possible to get to the bottom of what is causing your bipolar symptoms and heal. It will require a lifestyle change for your mind. This is why I created the Map to Wellness, to show you the way to healing.

Begin first, by learning to successfully manage your mood swings by creating a Mood Cycle Survival Guide. This will help you be proactive in managing your symptoms so you can lessen the impact they have on you and your family and shorten the duration of the mood cycle.

Second, identify what your brain needs to get healthy and balanced. There are organizations and doctors that are focused on helping people identify exactly what their body and brain need to function in a healthy, balanced way. Using a mood-tracking app will help you in this process to identify symptoms that can indicate specific deficiencies. This process takes some detective work, but it will be worth the effort as your brain begins to heal.

Third, working with a good, competent therapist is crucial. You need to identify and heal:

  • Trauma,
  • Unhealthy thought and behavior patterns,
  • Damaging coping mechanisms, and
  • Unhealthy boundaries.

This will take some time, so learn how to utilize therapy proactively and stick with it.

Fourth, develop a self-care routine that includes:

  • Mindfulness meditation,
  • Yoga,
  • Simple exercise,
  • Healthy, consistent sleep habits, and
  • Simplifying your life to eliminate unnecessary stressors.

Developing this self-care routine is a process. Learn and apply one tool at a time and you will eventually be able to create a lifestyle that will support you in living mentally and physically well.

Finally, seek support from others who are on the path to wellness with bipolar. It is important to have support and encouragement as you work on this life-style change for your mind. If you are a mom, or potential mom with bipolar join Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.

You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with your bipolar disorder. There is hope and there is help! Are you tired of suffering and ready to live well with your bipolar? Get started on the Map to Wellness here!

What is Your Bipolar Treatment Plan?

treatment plan

What is your bipolar treatment plan? When I was initially diagnosed with bipolar the treatment plan my doctor gave me was to find the right combination of psychotropic medications. I actively pursued this treatment plan for over a decade but became progressively worse, culminating in multiple hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy–which caused memory loss and migraines–and multiple suicide attempts.

One of the most challenging issues with the generally accepted approach to treating bipolar disorder is that it does not treat the cause of bipolar, it treats the symptoms. This is because there is no consensus as to what causes bipolar. There are a number of theories, but none have been proven to be true for every person who displays the symptoms of the disorder. 

Bipolar is a disorder that is diagnosed based on mental and emotional symptoms. It is in many ways a subjective diagnosis with subjective criteria that can vary from person to person. 

Is Bipolar Like Diabetes?

Many people like to compare bipolar disorder to type one diabetes. I had a doctor use this comparison with me years ago to help me accept my diagnosis. It was easier to understand diabetes because it is a clearly defined physical disorder with measurable physical criteria and a universally accepted and generally effective treatment protocol.

When the comparison was first given to me I latched onto it because it was something concrete to help me understand something abstract. The comparison also helped my diagnosis feel more legitimate. It has been a helpful analogy over the years in some aspects. 

Yes…

I use this comparison with diabetes to help explain why mood and symptom tracking is so important with bipolar. When someone has diabetes they need to monitor their blood sugar on a regular basis to make sure they are proactive in keeping it in a safe range. 

Even though you cannot track your bipolar through blood levels it is helpful to track your symptoms and triggers. The more information you gather the more effective you can be in treating and managing your disorder.

It is also helpful to understand that even though you cannot measure the imbalance in your blood does not mean you are not experiencing a very real emotional and mental imbalance in your mind.

This comparison also helped me recognize the importance of having a plan to successfully manage my mood swings. A friend of mine who has diabetes told me once about the response plan she had for when her blood sugar was out of balance. It laid out a clear plan of action to manage her diabetes and what she and her loved ones would do if she was in a medical crisis. It saved her life on more than one occasion. 

I recognized the importance of developing a plan for managing my mood cycles successfully. I call it the Mood Cycle Survival Guide. Its purpose is to help me proactively manage my mood swings to:

  • lessen the impact of my mood cycles on me and my family and 
  • shorten the duration of the cycles.

…and No

The comparison to diabetes doesn’t work, however, when it comes to treatment plans. Diabetes has a clear, definable cause, and a consistent, generally effective treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause. The plan is the same for every person with diabetes–it doesn’t change from person to person.

The generally accepted treatment plan for bipolar, however, is not clear, consistent or generally effective. This is because it does not address the cause of the disorder, only the symptoms. Psychiatrists play guess and check with medications in an attempt to manage symptoms. 

At best someone with bipolar disorder may find some relief from symptoms with the first try, but it is much more common to have to try a number of different medications over many years. 

Medications can become ineffective over time and  medications are considered effective if the symptoms are brought into a “manageable range”. If someone is unable to find medications that will help them manage the symptoms of their disorder they are considered to be “treatment resistant.”

Most medications come with side-effects. Side-effects can range from mild irritations like fatigue and brain fog to more serious issues like major weight gain, loss of libido, long term damage to vital organs and sometimes even suicidality. Many people develop additional physical or mental health issues as the result of prolonged use of psychotropic medications resulting in additional medications being prescribed.

The general consensus with bipolar treatment seems to be the goal of helping the patient learn to suffer well with their disorder. I believed that for years. I didn’t have anyone to tell me anything different. 

Creating My Own Treatment Plan

Beginning in 2010 I began to discover tools and resources that addressed the causes of my bipolar disorder. As I developed this new treatment plan my brain began to heal. 

Medication to Micronutrients

The first part of the plan was figuring out what my brain needed to function in a healthy balanced way. My doctor and I found a non-profit company in Canada called Truehope that developed a treatment to address a suspected underlying cause of bipolar symptoms in many people–micronutrient deficiency in the brain. 

With the help of my doctor and Truehope’s customer support I went through the challenging process of titrating off of my medications–with the horrible withdrawal symptoms–and transitioning to the micronutrients. It was rough for a few months, but I woke up one day and it felt like I was truly awake for the first time in over a decade.

It still took years for my brain to completely heal from the effects of long-term psychotropic medication use, but eventually my mind became healthy and balanced.

Proactive Therapy

The second part of the plan was therapy. I learned through study that it is common for people with bipolar to have experienced trauma. The more I researched the link the more I began to suspect that unhealed trauma was contributing to my mood swings. When I finally began to utilize therapy diligently I learned the role that:

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

played in triggering mood cycles. I also learned how to be proactive in utilizing therapy as a tool for healing. 

Some valuable tips that will help you get the most out of therapy as a tool to heal your bipolar are:

  • Find the right therapist for you.
  • Give your therapist something to work with–they are not mind readers.
  • Use therapy proactively, not reactively.
  • Focus on healing not blaming.
  • You get out of therapy what you put into it.
  • Therapy takes time, be patient with the process.

Over the years I have identified and resolved the triggers of mood cycles. It became easier to recognize trauma responses and anxiety for what they were and work with the therapist to heal. 

Mindfulness Meditation

The next part of the treatment plan was mindfulness meditation. When you have a mental illness your mind feels like your enemy. You feel like a victim to racing, intrusive, irrational thoughts and become unsure of reality, afraid to trust yourself. Mindfulness meditation enables you to become friends with your mind again and puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life.

Many people learn some basic mindfulness techniques in therapy or during hospitalizations but do not gain the full benefit of mindfulness practice because they lack true understanding of why it works and how to practice it effectively. 

This was the case for me for many years. I had learned a few mindfulness techniques that had some minor impact as a “coping skill” for managing episodes of anxiety. When I really understood what mindfulness was and how to utilize it effectively it stopped being just a coping skill. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool that can aid in healing your mind.

Self-care

The final element to the treatment plan was learning how to put together a self-care routine that aided healing and helped me maintain balanced mental and emotional health. The basic elements of self-care for bipolar include:

  • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
  • Yoga
  • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
  • Good nutrition
  • Hygiene habits
  • Carefully evaluating and managing stressors

Why did I have to figure this out myself???

After over 10 years putting together my treatment plan and learning how to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar I began to wonder why I had to figure this out for myself? None of the pieces in my plan are really unique or mysterious, so why was I left to discover it on my own? This was the inspiration for starting my blog.

It shouldn’t have taken me over twenty years to learn how to live well with bipolar! I shouldn’t have been led to believe that the best I could expect from a life with bipolar was just suffering well. I should have been given a treatment plan to treat the causes of my bipolar, not just medication to manage the symptoms.

I created the Map to Wellness to teach the treatment plan I use so that you can learn how to live well with your bipolar, too! If you:

✔️commit to the path, 

✔️choose to take the steps, and 

✔️recommit yourself each day to continue the journey,

you can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar.

If you’re tired of being controlled by your disorder and are ready to live well, then let’s get started!

Should I Have Children If I Have Bipolar Disorder?

One question I hear frequently is:

 “Should I have children if I have bipolar disorder?” 

This question and the worry underlying it are understandable. There are so many unknowns with motherhood from the stress of pregnancy and hormone changes to the worries over the unpredictability of motherhood and passing on mental illness to your children. 

While there is not a one size fits all answer to these questions, learning how to proactively manage your disorder will prepare you to be successful as a mother with bipolar. 

Mindset

The first thing to address is your mindset about your disorder. It is essential to acknowledge that you have bipolar and that you are responsible for treating it consistently if you want to have children. 

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness and can be dangerous, even life threatening if it goes untreated. It is possible to live well with bipolar disorder if you proactively treat it and that begins with:

  • accepting that you have bipolar, 
  • not comparing yourself to others without bipolar, and 
  • understanding what wellness with bipolar disorder looks like.

Accept that you have bipolar

Acknowledge that you have bipolar disorder and take ownership for treating it. Although this seems like it should go without saying, many people struggle with accepting their diagnosis. You might wonder if you were diagnosed correctly in the first place–bipolar is diagnosed using such intangible symptoms. 

You may go through periods when you start to feel healthy and balanced and begin to think that maybe the diagnosis was wrong or that you don’t have it anymore. There are also periods when you will feel angry about your diagnosis and refuse to treat it because you are sick of how hard everything is. Regardless of what prompts your denial it can be a major barrier to living well with your disorder. 

Do not compare yourself to others–you are not broken!

Women have difficulty not comparing themselves to each other already. As a society there is tremendous pressure to conform to certain “ideals” of womanhood from many different directions. This is amplified by social media where people post their “highlight” reels and distorted versions of reality which can cause you to feel inadequate, or worse. 

With bipolar it is even more important to not compare yourself to others without the disorder because it can create a barrier to learning to live well. The pressure to be and do everything can prevent you from eliminating unnecessary stressors while you learn how to effectively manage your bipolar.

Recognize what “wellness” with bipolar disorder looks like

For years as I was trying to learn how to live well with bipolar, I always thought of wellness as a linear path–like climbing a mountain–with the destination being never having a mood swing again. The problem this created for me is that I felt like I had failed each time I experienced a mood cycle. One time I had been healthy and balanced for months and then suddenly became depressed and I was so angry. I went to see my therapist and told her that I felt like a failure. I had been almost to the top of the mountain and now I was all the way back down at the bottom again!

That day my therapist helped me to understand that learning to live well with bipolar is not a linear process. It looks more like the addiction recovery cycle where there will be times when you relapse into mood swings, but this isn’t failure. The key is to learn how to successfully manage your mood cycles so that you can lessen the impact on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycle. 

Preparing for Motherhood with Bipolar

Once you have acknowledged the reality of your disorder and your responsibility to treat it you can start learning the tools on the path to wellness with bipolar. 

Mood Cycle Survival Guide

One of the most important tools you will have as a mother with bipolar disorder is your Mood Cycle Survival Guide. While you are learning to live well with bipolar disorder you need to have a plan to help you successfully manage your mood swings. This guide will help you:

  • Minimize the impact on the mood-swing on yourself and your family, and
  • Shorten the duration of the mood-swing by creating a plan to get back to mental health and balance.

Be Intentional about Prioritizing Self-care 

If a mother has diabetes, she needs to be very deliberate and conscientious about prioritizing her self-care–monitoring her blood sugar, eating healthy and caring for her overall health. If she doesn’t take care of herself, she won’t be able to take care of her children because there can be serious, sometimes life-threatening consequences if she’s not careful. 

The same is true for a mother with bipolar disorder. Self-care for bipolar is essential to keep yourself and your children safe and healthy. This includes:

Balancing your brain chemistry

Most people with bipolar disorder need some form of intervention to address the imbalance in the brain. This can look different for different people. Some people do well on medication, while others, like me, find healing with specialized micronutrient treatments. 

If you take medication, it is necessary to discuss with your doctor which medications are safe to take while pregnant or nursing. Remember to stay consistent with your psychiatric appointments and monitor your mood and symptoms consistently during and after pregnancy as hormone changes can affect your body and brain chemistry. 

Regardless of the type of treatment you choose it is essential to stay consistent with taking your medications or micronutrients and ask for help immediately if you start to notice changes in your mood.

Working with a therapist

Therapy is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to live well with bipolar and it is especially important as you enter parenthood. Anxiety and worry can increase, and unhealed trauma may be revealed as you enter this new phase of life. Working with a competent therapist is critical to help you navigate the new challenges and continue to work on identifying unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and coping mechanisms, processing and healing trauma, and setting healthy boundaries.

Developing a daily routine

Setting up a healthy daily routine specifically to manage your bipolar disorder is going to help you manage stress and live healthier–body and mind. Each of the tools listed here are important but you need to learn one at a time and figure out the best way to incorporate them into your day.

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
  • Yoga
  • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
  • Good nutrition
  • Hygiene habits
  • Carefully evaluating and managing stressors

Get support from other moms with bipolar disorder

Motherhood with bipolar disorder can feel lonely and isolating because you feel like no one understands the challenges you are facing. Join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support from other moms on the same journey.

As a mother with bipolar disorder, I can tell you that it wasn’t always easy. I was very sick with my disorder when my children were little. Over time I discovered how to live well with bipolar. I started my blog to share what I learned so you don’t have to figure it out the hard way like I did. 

I am forever thankful for my children. They are the greatest joys of my life, and I am filled with gratitude every day to be their mother. You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar–including children–if you choose to:

  • Shift your mindset to accept your disorder, don’t compare yourself to others and learn what wellness with bipolar looks like, and
  • Prepare for motherhood by proactively treating your bipolar.

 There is hope and there is help!

New Year’s Resolutions for Bipolar Disorder: The Road to Wellness

New Years Resolutions for bipolar

It’s that time a year again, when many people resolve to make changes in their life to improve in some way. The new year feels like a natural time to consider life and the changes that you want to make. You want to start off the next chapter better than the last one.

Social media is filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Advertisers are encouraging you to make big changes in your life–change your eating habits, lose weight, get organized, clean your house, start a new hobby, and on and on.

When you have bipolar disorder, New Year’s resolutions can be a trigger for a mood cycle because they often involve major lifestyle changes that can trigger mania or depression. The motivation behind the resolution is easy to understand–you don’t like your life the way it is now. The damage caused by manic or depressive episodes can make you feel desperate. 

Living with bipolar disorder is really hard. You often feel like you aren’t in control of yourself or your life and that makes you feel helpless and discouraged. You think maybe a major change is the answer. Start eating healthy, or exercising regularly, or get more organized and then you will be able to live well with your disorder. When the next mood swing happens, it feels like you failed, and this can lead to frustration and hopelessness. 

Why keep trying so hard if it doesn’t change anything anyway? You can’t help it! It’s not your fault! It’s not fair! But, you don’t want to keep living like this so what do you do?

It is possible to learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. A big resolution committing to major change all at once isn’t wise or healthy with bipolar. The best approach is a steady commitment to making one change at a time, one step at a time on the road to wellness. 

 

Step One: Mindset

The first step is recognizing that learning to live well with bipolar requires a mindset shift. There can be some mental and emotional barriers to fully accepting your disorder and committing to managing it well. It is easy to feel like you don’t have any control and develop a victim mindset. The problem with this is that it doesn’t help. Your life just continues to be hard, and you don’t make any progress towards wellness. Three ways that you need to shift your mindset are:

  • Don’t compare yourself. Don’t compare yourself to who you were or thought you should be. Don’t compare yourself to others who don’t have bipolar. Learn to love and appreciate yourself for who you are. 
  • Allow yourself to grieve. It is normal to mourn the loss of who you were, or thought you were, and then you can look forward and embrace who you are and who you can become.
  • Understand the recovery cycle. Learning how to apply the recovery cycle to yourself will help you to stop feeling like you have failed when you have manic or depressive episodes and choose to accept more responsibility for yourself and your disorder.

Step Two: Manage Your Mood Swings

The next step is to learn to manage your bipolar mood swings successfully using the Mood Cycle Survival Guide (MCSG). Eventually the goal is to lessen the frequency and intensity of the mood swings, but while you are in the process of learning how to live well with your bipolar you need to utilize the MCSG to minimize the impact of the mood cycles on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycles.

The Mood Cycle Survival Guide helps you successfully manage your mood cycles by helping you:

  • Identify the people you can ask for help when you’re struggling in a mood cycle.
  • Identify your symptoms and what triggers a mood cycle.
  • Develop a plan for self-care to aid in recovery.
  • Plan for getting back to health and balance.

Start building your own FREE Mood Cycle Survival Guide by clicking here.

 

Step Three: Work Towards Maintenance Mode

Once you have a plan to successfully manage your mood swings you can learn the tools that help you spend more time in maintenance mode–healthy, balanced and productive. You do this by:

  1. Find the treatment your brain needs to be balanced. While there are different treatments that work for different people, most people need some intervention to help their mind function in a healthy way. Some people have found mental balance with medication while others, like me, were able to heal their brains with specialized micronutrient treatments. To learn more about my experience with medication and alternative treatments click here.
  1. Work with a therapist. Living with bipolar you will have periods of time when you are manic or depressed and you have irrational thoughts–you experience the world through a distorted lens. This leads to developing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is also common for people with bipolar to have unhealthy boundaries and unhealed trauma. All of these things can cause you to continue to trigger mood cycles, even if you have found the medication or micronutrients to balance your brain. Working with a therapist will help you to heal and resolve your triggers, enabling you to be more mentally well.
  1. Develop a self-care routine. Self-care is something critical for living well with bipolar. This will take time to develop as each piece needs to be learned and integrated one at a time. Some important tools for self-care include:
    • mindfulness meditation
    • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
    • Yoga
    • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
    • Good nutrition
    • Hygiene habits
  2. Simplifying your life. This is especially important in the beginning. Stress is a major trigger for mood swings and in order to learn to live well with bipolar you need to eliminate unnecessary stressors while you are learning to manage your bipolar successfully. Working with a therapist can be especially helpful in this process. 

What is Your One Next Step?

Hanging in my office is a quote that has special meaning to me in my life. 

“I may not soon make it to the top, but I can do this next step right now.”

–Scott Whiting

Whenever I get overwhelmed or start to feel discouraged, I focus on just the one next step.

Learning to live well with bipolar disorder is not a linear process, there will be ups and downs, mania and depression on the way. Choosing to focus on the one next step, however, will empower you to keep moving forward on the road to wellness. 

If you are struggling with a manic or depressive episode, focus on using your ERP to successfully manage it. When you haven’t found the right medication or micronutrient treatment, focus on that. 

The key is making the commitment to the journey to wellness and then taking one step at a time on that road. It is a journey, not an event. You are working on a lifestyle change for your mind and that takes patient, persistent effort. 

This new year instead of resolving to make major changes in your life that could result in a mood cycle resolve to take your first step on the road to wellness with bipolar and stay on that road, one step at a time.

 

Pro-tip: Get encouragement and support from others on the same road

Trying to live well with bipolar disorder can feel like a lonely road. Don’t travel alone! Seek out others who are on the same road to wellness. There is hope and there is help. 

If you are a mom (or potential mom) with bipolar, join our free Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support on your journey.

Bipolar Disorder: The Kanye Effect

Kanye West has been in the media a lot lately. Every other day there is a story about the latest outrageous thing he has done or said. We all have a front row seat to watch his life imploding. It’s painful to watch. But the thing that has been the most frustrating for me about all of this is the emphasis in the coverage about Kanye’s bipolar disorder. 

This has been an issue I have struggled with for decades watching the media’s portrayal of bipolar disorder, in news stories and in movies and television. It is almost without exception focused on people who are very sick. They are not managing their bipolar disorder effectively and the world witnesses a disorder that is out of control and thinks that it is representative of bipolar disorder broadly. It’s the Kanye Effect.

Physical vs. Mental Illness in Media

As I thought about this I struggled to think of any physical illness where the media consistently, persistently sensationalize the illness at its worst. In fact the opposite seems to be true. The media loves to tell the stories of people overcoming their physical illnesses or disorders and living fulfilling lives by effectively managing them. So why not with mental illness?

The effect of this obsession with focusing on the worst of bipolar disorder is that it perpetuates the stigma of the illness. Anyone who doesn’t have personal experience with bipolar believes that people with the disorder are crazy, irrational lunatics. It also prevents people from seeking treatment or sharing their diagnosis for fear of being viewed in that same light.

What we are seeing in Kanye West is a man with bipolar disorder who is clearly manic. His disorder is not being effectively managed and he and those closest to him are suffering because of it. But that does not mean that all people who have bipolar disorder are like that. It also does not mean that a lifetime of dramatic mood cycles is the end of the story.

Could you imagine the hopelessness a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes would bring if the only thing you ever saw were people with diabetes being rushed off in an ambulance because their blood sugar was dangerously low? Or someone who was in a diabetic coma? Or blind or with limbs missing? 

If the news was only telling you horror stories of people suffering the worst effects of diabetes it would feel like a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Why try learning to manage it if your life is over anyway? You would feel hopeless and helpless, like a victim to your disorder.

Yes, all of those terrible things are potential risks if you have diabetes, especially if you are not managing it proactively. However, hundreds of thousands of people live active, healthy, fulfilling lives every day with diabetes. A person can learn to manage it effectively. The same is true for living with bipolar disorder. You can learn to effectively manage it and live a healthy, balanced, productive life.

How do you counteract the negative portrayal of bipolar in the media?

Awareness vs. Normalizing

First, it’s important to recognize the difference between raising awareness for bipolar disorder and the symptoms of mania and depression versus normalizing these symptoms. Raising awareness of the symptoms of mania and depression can be useful if it is done with a view to help people recognize the disorder and seek diagnosis and treatment. 

We should not seek to normalize the symptoms that indicate a mood imbalance, however, because the symptoms of a disorder are indications that there is something wrong or out of balance and treatment is needed.

We don’t seek to normalize the symptoms of diabetes–like normalizing diabetic comas. Even saying that sounds ridiculous. If someone passes out because their blood sugar is dangerously low, you recognize it for what it is, a symptom of a body in distress. You respond to that symptom by seeking immediate treatment.

The same needs to be true for the symptoms of a mood cycle–mania or depression. The symptoms of your manic or depressive episodes are indications that your mind is in distress and needs treatment.

When I see people on social media trying to normalize the symptoms of bipolar it is frustrating because it perpetuates the Kanye Effect. It further stigmatizes the disorder by showing people who are in mental distress who need treatment. It also can cause people to feel like there is no hope for living well with bipolar. If it appears that for the rest of your life you will struggle with dramatic mood cycles it will cause discouragement and make it hard to want to seek help.

Effective, Proactive Treatment

It is possible to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar if you learn how to treat it effectively. So how do you treat bipolar effectively?

Recognize the Symptoms

First, learn to recognize the symptoms of your manic or depressive episodes so that you can recognize when you are either entering or are in a mood cycle. When you are first diagnosed with bipolar disorder you will likely not recognize all of the symptoms of your mood cycles. The symptoms of a mental illness really are “all in your head”, and they can feel normal to you. 

You can change that by beginning to track your mood. As you track your mood you will start to recognize the symptoms that are indicators that you are entering or in a manic or depressive episode. The more familiar you become with the symptoms you have the earlier you will recognize your mood shifting and be able to treat or proactively manage the mood imbalance.

Proactively Manage Mood Cycles

Second, learn to proactively manage your mood cycles. You can begin by developing a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP). This plan will help you:

  • Identify the people you can ask for help when you’re struggling in a mood cycle.
  • Learn the symptoms and triggers of your mood cycles.
  • Develop a plan for self-care to aid in recovery.
  • Plan for getting back to health and balance.

For a free guide to create an ERP click here.

Treating the Mood Imbalance

Next, learn how to effectively treat your bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a complex disorder that requires an integrated approach to treat effectively. The first step is to treat the imbalance in the brain. 

When I was first diagnosed I was told that I just needed to find the right combination of medications and I would be able to live a normal life. That turned out to be wrong. Like many people I did not respond well to medication. I continued to experience mood cycles–with terrible side-effects from the medications–and over the first decade after my diagnosis my disorder got progressively worse. 

The treatment that finally gave my brain what it needed to start to heal was a micronutrient treatment my doctor and I discovered. This helped my brain begin to be more chemically balanced and gave the other tools I was learning a chance to work.

Therapy

The next step was therapy. When you have bipolar–especially if you live with the mood cycles for a while–you develop unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that can trigger mood cycles even if you are on the right medication or micronutrient treatment. 

Many people with bipolar also have unhealed trauma and don’t understand healthy boundaries. Therapy is a tool that will help you uncover those unhealthy triggers and aid in helping you heal and learning to interact with the world in a healthy and balanced way. 

Self-care

It is also necessary to develop a self-care routine that keeps your body and mind healthy. This includes tools like mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise and consistent, restorative sleep. The health of your body is interconnected with the health of your mind. In order to help your mind heal and stay balanced you need to care for both your mind and body.

Changing the Conversation

Spreading awareness about bipolar disorder can be beneficial if the goal is to cultivate compassion and hope for those with the disorder. Don’t contribute to the Kanye Effect by further stigmatizing those with bipolar by sensationalizing or normalizing the symptoms of the mood cycle. 

For years I thought that the goal with bipolar was to learn to suffer well with it. I believed that dramatic mood cycles with all of the horrible life damaging symptoms would be my “normal” for the rest of my life. Over the past decade, however, I have discovered that isn’t true. You can learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar.

There is a growing community of people with bipolar disorder who are living well with it. Seek support from others who have learned to effectively manage their disorder. Let’s show the world what living well with bipolar disorder looks like together!

If you are a mom (or prospective mom) with bipolar disorder join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.