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? 

Psychology Today Article Review “A Psychiatric Diagnosis is Not a Disease”

This week I read a fantastic article in Psychology Today that highlights one of the primary issues with bipolar diagnosis and treatment. The article titled “A Psychiatric Diagnosis is Not a Disease” by Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D., points out that the diagnoses listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) identify descriptions of symptoms, not causes.
In the article Dr. Shedler states,

“Confusion arises because medical diagnoses often point to etiology—underlying biological causes. This is why “chest pain” is not a disease, it is a symptom. Atherosclerosis, myocarditis, and pneumonia are diseases. They are underlying biological conditions that can cause chest pain.

Psychiatric diagnoses are categorically different because they are merely descriptive, not explanatory. It’s not that we don’t know their causes yet. It’s that DSM diagnoses cannot speak to causes, now or ever. The DSM was not designed to speak to causes, only describe effects.”

The problem with the DSM diagnosis of bipolar disorder is that it promotes the misconception that an underlying cause has been identified when in fact the diagnosis is simply describing a symptom cluster.

Dr. Shedler further clarifies:

“The ever-expanding list of entries in the DSM sound a lot like medical diseases, especially with the ominously-appended term disorder, but they are not. If we speak of generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder as if they were equivalent to pneumonia or diabetes, we are committing a logical fallacy called a category error. A category error means ascribing a property to something that cannot possess it—like emotions to a rock.”

A bipolar diagnosis does not need to be a life-sentence. If you become curious about what is causing your bipolar symptoms and then treat the source of the symptoms, you can heal.

To learn more about healing your bipolar symptoms, check out The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder.

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

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

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 Insuficiency

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.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnosis of bipolar disorder is describing symptoms, not the cause.

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

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!

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.