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.

Am I a Liar?

This morning my social media feed was filled with bipolar content creators saying things like:

“If someone tells you they healed their bipolar they are a liar,”

or

“You can’t cure bipolar disorder and anyone who says you can is dangerous.”

I was so sad when I saw these videos because I remember believing this once, too! But it isn’t true! 

I was diagnosed and treated for bipolar for over a decade with traditional treatment (psychiatric drugs) and I got progressively worse until I was hospitalized multiple times and made several attempts on my life. I became convinced that the best I could expect out of life was learning how to suffer well with my bipolar.

Mercifully I discovered a research-based, integrated treatment plan that helped me heal and I don’t experience any symptoms anymore—ever.

So why do people believe bipolar is chronic and incurable so strongly that they call me a liar for saying you can heal? What provides their “evidence”?

What is the evidence?

A Paradox

We have been told a story about bipolar disorder for decades that has convinced most people that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain. You’re told that similar to diabetics who need insulin, you need psychotropic drugs to treat your “chemical imbalance.”

That is simply NOT TRUE. The “chemical imbalance” theory of bipolar was disproved decades ago. Even worse, it was discovered that the drugs used to “treat” bipolar create a chemical imbalance in the brain!

If you try to discontinue drug use, you experience terrible withdrawal symptoms and frequently the bipolar symptoms become dramatically worse! The withdrawals and worsening symptoms are then blamed on your “disorder” and you are convinced that you really do need medication to survive.

Bipolar symptoms are not a chemical imbalance, and they aren’t even a “disorder”. They are your brain’s way of asking for help! Instead of trying to “shut up” the symptoms with drugs you need to figure out what it is trying to say so you can help it heal!

The Truth

The truth is there is a rapidly growing mountain of research that is actually identifying the root causes of bipolar symptoms. This research also prescribes effective treatments that resolve the symptoms at the source, which leads to healing!

YES! You can heal bipolar disorder if you use a research-based, integrated treatment plan that addresses the source of your symptoms enabling you to heal and recover!

To learn more, check out the three-part series The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar:

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step One: Mood Cycle Survival Guide

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

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

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

Step Two: Specialized Micronutrients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Three: Therapy

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

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

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

Step Four: Mindfulness Meditation

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

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

MBCT facilitates:

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

Step Five: Yoga

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

Step Six: Exercise

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

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

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

Step Seven: Living Mindfully

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

Recovery Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misdiagnosed?

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

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

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

Micronutrient Deficiency

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma

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

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

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

Antidepressants

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

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

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

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

Physical versus Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #1: Bipolar Disorder is a Chemical Imbalance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: Bipolar is Chronic and Incurable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Symptoms of Mania and Depression: Don’t Normalize Them!

symptoms of mania and depression

Something that I have noticed on social media over the past few years is the normalization of the symptoms of mania and depression. It is usually motivated by the desire to raise awareness or help foster compassion for people that are experiencing the symptoms. Awareness can be helpful if it is done to help people recognize the symptoms in themselves or others so that they can get help, but normalizing the symptoms is different.

To normalize something is to “make it normal and natural in everyday life” but there are things that we shouldn’t be viewing as normal. That includes the symptoms of bipolar. I understand the desire to make it seem normal because it feels like this will be your “normal” for the rest of your life and you want to be accepted as you are.

Is It Normal?

If I had been able to see people normalizing bipolar symptoms 13 years ago it might have felt validating for me and it would have made me feel less alone. At that time, I believed the best I could expect out of my life with bipolar disorder was learning how to suffer well with it. After 12 years of trying dozens of different medications prescribed by my doctors, hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy and suicide attempts I had resigned myself to an existence of just surviving life.

Experience had taught me that no matter how hard I tried, or what medication I took, I would always suffer with unpredictable mood cycles and struggle helplessly through the manic-depressive rollercoaster. I felt like I had no control over my bipolar and I would be at the mercy of the mood-cycles for the rest of my life. The idea of helping people understand what I was going through and asking them to have compassion for me when I was compulsive and irrational would have been very appealing. 

Over the past thirteen years my perspective on bipolar has changed. In 2010 I found the first tool on the road to wellness. My doctor and I found a micronutrient treatment that helped my brain begin to heal. Over the following decade I started finding other tools to continue the healing process and I eventually discovered that I can live a healthy, balanced, productive life. 

Once I recognized that it was possible to live well with bipolar, I started to understand that normalizing the symptoms of the disorder is actually very detrimental to those who are living with it. 

A Mind in Distress

The first problem with normalizing the symptoms of bipolar is that you start to view them as normal or acceptable rather than what they are, indications of a mind in distress. We don’t normalize the symptoms of other illnesses. 

Take diabetes, for example. If someone is having excessive thirst and fatigue, blurry vision, losing weight without trying, or passing out you don’t seek to normalize these symptoms because you are afraid the person will feel bad for what they are experiencing. That would be ridiculous! You recognize that there is something wrong with the body. It is in distress and needs treatment to address the underlying cause of the symptoms.

The same should be true for bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania and depression are indications that the mind is in distress and needs treatment to address the underlying cause. Normalizing these symptoms doesn’t help you when you’re suffering, it just prolongs it unnecessarily.

Damaging Relationships

One of the worst challenges that I experienced when I was struggling with bipolar for the first decade was that I would do and say things when I was manic or depressed that I wouldn’t normally say or do. This included behavior that was abusive and painful to my family. 

When I was back in a rational state of mind, I felt humiliated and discouraged by what I had done and vowed that I wouldn’t repeat it again, only to break that promise the next time I was in a mood cycle. This contributed to me feeling helpless and hopeless. I knew I was damaging relationships and I didn’t know how to stop it. 

The worst experiences came in 2008 when my disorder was at its worst. That year I was hospitalized multiple times, experienced my first psychotic episode and I made two attempts on my life. The symptoms I was displaying were emotionally and mentally damaging to my husband and my children. Regardless of whether I was doing them on purpose, my family was being harmed–and I knew it. 

Normalizing the symptoms that were hurting me and my family wouldn’t have helped, it would have hurt us. It wasn’t fair to me that I had bipolar, but it also wasn’t fair to my family. I needed to find a way to treat my disorder effectively, not expect them to accept abusive and damaging behavior as part of our relationship.

Normalizing Perpetuates Stigma

Finally, the idea that trying to create awareness for bipolar by normalizing the symptoms actually has the opposite effect than what is intended. Instead of creating more compassion around the disorder, it can make people who see it from the outside more cautious about entering into relationships, or hiring people who have bipolar because it looks like people are trying to make excuses for unhealthy behavior.

While it can create a feeling of solidarity among those suffering with bipolar, it perpetuates the stigmas for those who do not understand what it feels like to have those symptoms. Additionally, it can make those who are newly diagnosed feel more resistant to accepting their disorder and more helpless and hopeless that they can ever live well with it.

We shouldn’t stigmatize the behavior of someone that is struggling with something that they feel is beyond their control. But it doesn’t help to try and normalize the symptoms of bipolar either. Recognize symptoms as indications that the mind is in distress and needs help because it is possible to treat bipolar and live well with it!

Accept Your Diagnosis

The first step to treating your bipolar is accepting that you have the disorder. This can be a struggle for people often because of the stigma attached to the disorder. When I was early on in my diagnosis, I struggled to accept that I had bipolar because it didn’t feel tangible to me. The diagnosis is based on mental and emotional symptoms that seemed really ambiguous. 

Any time I didn’t experience the symptoms I would think that I had been misdiagnosed and that I didn’t really have the disorder. Then another mood cycle would start up again. Remembering that the symptoms of the disorder are indications of a mind in distress can help you view the symptoms in a healthy way. The symptoms of bipolar are like your body having a fever. They are trying to tell you there is something wrong that needs to be treated.

Track Your Symptoms

Begin tracking the symptoms of your bipolar using a mood tracking app. I highly recommend the Bearable app. 

  • (This is not sponsored and I receive no benefit from recommending the app, it is the one I use and it is very user friendly, highly customizable and the free version is very robust.) 

Tracking your symptoms can help you provide more accurate and complete information to your doctor or therapist for more effective treatment. It also will help you to recognize when you are entering a manic or depressive episode so you can manage the mood-cycle more successfully.

Proactively Manage Mood-swings

Developing a Mood-cycle Survival Guide will help you learn to successfully manage your bipolar mood swings. While you are learning the tools necessary to effectively treat your bipolar will experience mood swings and being proactive about managing them will help you:

  • stop feeling like a victim to the mood-swings, 
  • lessen the impact on you and your family, and 
  • shorten the duration of the mood-cycle.

Get on the Path to Wellness

Unfortunately, the comparison between bipolar and diabetes doesn’t extend to the treatment of the disorder. It would be wonderful if treating bipolar were as simple as taking an insulin shot. When I was first diagnosed, I was told by my doctor that all I needed to do was find the right combination of medications and I would be fine. That idea was appealing to me because it was as simple as taking medication, but it proved to be false. 

Even though treating bipolar isn’t as easy as just taking some medication, it is possible to treat it effectively and live well with the disorder. The path to wellness includes:

You don’t need to suffer with the symptoms of your bipolar for the rest of your life. Remember, symptoms are an indication that your mind is in distress. If you treat the underlying cause, you can heal your mind and lessen or eliminate your symptoms. You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar. There is hope and there is help.

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!