Healing Bipolar Part Three: Why Mindfulness Meditation is Necessary

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Years ago I was reading the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey in yet another attempt to fix myself with a self-help book. As I was reading one day I came across this quote from Victor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power–the freedom to choose.” As I read that statement, I knew that was the key, I needed to work on making space between the stimulus and the response so I could choose how to act. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t create that space. 

When I experienced bipolar symptoms of mania or depression if felt nearly impossible to discipline my brain. My mind was bombarded by a tsunami of intrusive thoughts and overwhelming emotions that made attempts to take control of what was going on in my mind feel useless and futile. I felt like I was in bondage to my bipolar symptoms, and I felt hopeless.

The first glimmer of hope was when I finally found the micronutrients that enabled me to get off medication and help my brain begin to heal (see my post Why Do You “Push” Micronutrients). That made it possible to create the space because my brain was starting to function in a healthy, balanced way. That was when I learned the value of mindfulness meditation in taking responsibility for my life.

by Pixabay

My Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

The first exposure I had to the practice of mindfulness was around 2006 when one of my sisters was getting her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She recommended a guided meditation CD by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I bought the cd, listened to it for a few minutes, and thought, “what kind of hippy, dippy stuff is this?” I put the CD back in its case and didn’t look at it again for several years. 

In 2013, when I was pregnant with my third baby, a friend of mine recommended that I try hypnobirthing. I really wanted to have a natural birth and I was very open to her recommendation. Hypnobirthing is a form of mindfulness practice, and the birth was such an amazing experience that I wanted to have another baby just so I could do it again (my husband said no, we’re done).

In 2014 my mom told me that she and my stepfather had started practicing mindfulness meditation to help with some health issues. They were using the same guided meditation CD’s that my sister had recommended. Because of my experience with hypnobirthing I was more open to it. This time I bought Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living to try to understand the science behind the practice. 

I only made it through two chapters of the book and three weeks of sporadic practice before I gave it up. The guided meditations were so long that even though I could see the benefits of the practice, I was really having a hard time consistently finding 45 minutes a day to dedicate to it. The book was also difficult for me to read because it was 499 pages longway more information than I wanted or needed.

A Simple Program That Works

Then in 2016 a childhood friend of mine posted on Facebook about his struggle with anxiety and depression and how much mindfulness meditation had helped him. He referenced a book I hadn’t heard of Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, both of whom had studied or worked with Jon Kabat-Zinn. I got the book and decided to try again. This book was so easy to read and understand and the practices were shorter. 

I had a few false starts with this program. I struggled with consistency and prioritizing the time for practice. Little by little, though, I was starting to learn the tremendous value of mindfulness meditation. As I began to read and practice consistently I finally started to see why this was so essential to my healing. 

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

Why You Need Mindfulness

Often when you have a thought or experience, your mind tries to decide how to engage with it by going through its “files” and pulling up every possible scenario in the past it thinks is related, and every possible outcome that could result from the present situation. It does all of thiswithout you realizing itto tell you how you should feel, think and act in response. 

When you are living with bipolar symptoms, this scenario is amplified because you feel like your symptoms are outside your control and your mind has a mind of its ownyou’re just along for the ride. Mindfulness meditation puts you back in the driver’s seat.

Learning to Exercise Your Mental Muscles

This process takes time, like beginning an exercise program when you are totally out of shape. The way this program is set up reminds me of a couch to 5k running program. It is designed to slowly retrain your brain and exercise your mental muscles. 

Each week you read a chapter that teaches you a new principle and then use guided meditation practices to practice that principle. Just as with exercise, consistency is the keyyou need to make it a prioritywhich means making the time in your day to do the meditation practices for that week. The amazing thing is that the small amount of time that you dedicate to the practice doesn’t feel like a sacrifice once you start to experience the benefits. 

Grounding

Some of the symptoms of bipolar–depression and anxiety–are sometimes caused or exacerbated by you mind dragging you into the past or future or an inability to cope with intense or uncomfortable emotions. Mindfulness meditation helps you learn how to ground yourself in the present often dissipating those symptoms or emotions.

Interrupting the “Feed-back Loop”:

When you get “triggered” by something your body has a physical response–tense muscles, tight chest, difficulty breathing, numbness–which then in turn signals distress to the brain. This creates a feedback loop that can spin out of control. Mindfulness interrupts that feedback loop and enables you to engage your rational mind to make a decision about how to respond, rather than react.

You Are Not Your Thoughts

When your mind is having negative, intrusive thought it can make you feel like a horrible person. I used to say to myself “normal people don’t have thoughts like that, I must be a bad person.” Mindfulness helps you step back and observe your thoughts without judgement and then decide if you want to engage with the thought or let it go.

Becoming More Effective and Proactive in Therapy

Mindfulness is especially beneficial in helping you to become more self-aware and productive in therapy. You become aware of negative thought patterns and even manage distress when doing trauma processing.

Healthier Emotional Responses

Mindfulness helps you develop healthier emotional responses. You decide how you will respond, rather than just reacting. It really is wonderful to not feel like a victim to an out-of-control mind anymore. 

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Meditation Practice, the Key to a Balanced, Healthy Day

My meditation time is an essential part of the beginning of my day now, helping me to remind my brain who’s in charge. It is also the way I calm my mind at the end of the day so I can have a restful night’s sleep. I have also learned how to use my breathing to recenter myself when I am in a difficult situation so that I am able to handle stress in a healthy way.

I heard a saying once that I now understand in the context of mindfulness, 

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” -Lao Tzu

Mindfulness teaches you how to live in the present so that you don’t get swept up in the current of your thoughts and lose control of your mind and your emotions.  As Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power–the freedom to choose.” Mindfulness teaches you how to create that space so you can have that freedom to choose. It is the next essential step on the path to wellness. 

To Learn More Check Out: 

 

Stop Normalizing Bipolar Symptoms!

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 beneficial if it helps 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”; should we normalize bipolar symptoms?

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 helplessly on the manic-depressive rollercoaster. 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 fourteen years, however, my understanding of 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 could recover completely. 

Once I recognized that it was possible to heal, I realized that normalizing bipolar symptoms is actually very detrimental to those who are living with it. 

A Mind in Distress

Bipolar symptoms are information, they are indications of a mind in distress. We don’t normalize the symptoms of other illnesses, so why do we do it with bipolar?

If someone consistently ran high fevers you wouldn’t seek to normalize that because you didn’t want to make the person feel bad. That would be ridiculous! You would recognize that there is something wrong with the body. It is in distress and needs treatment to identify and address the underlying cause of the symptoms.

The same should be true for bipolar symptoms of mania and depression. They 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 experienced symptoms. This left me feeling helpless and hopeless. I knew I was damaging relationships, and I didn’t know how to stop it. 

The most distressing experiences came in 2008 when my symptoms were at their worst. That year I was hospitalized multiple times, experienced my first psychotic episode and I made three 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 symptoms, but it also wasn’t fair to my family. I needed to find a way to heal and recover, 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. Additionally, it can make those who are newly diagnosed feel more helpless and hopeless that they can ever recover.

The Road to Recovery

The road to recovery from bipolar begins with proactively managing your symptoms. Healing takes time and rather than be a victim to the mood swings during your recovery process you can learn to proactively manage them by using a Mood Cycle Survival Guide

This guide 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 symptoms.

The next step is getting curious about what caused your symptoms to occur in the first place. There is a misconception that a bipolar diagnosis is describing an underlying medical condition that is chronic, incurable and requires medication to treat for the rest of your life. None of these have to be true. You can identify the underlying causes of your symptoms and then treat them using a research-based, integrated approach that leads to recovery and healing.

    To learn more read: 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

    Can You Heal Bipolar Disorder?

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

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

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

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

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

    Normalizing Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Healing my Bipolar

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Alternative Treatments are Taboo

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

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

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

    Treating Only the Symptoms, Not the Cause

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

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

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

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

    Healing Your Bipolar

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fourth, develop a self-care routine that includes:

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

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

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

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

    What is Your Bipolar Treatment Plan?

    treatment plan

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

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

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

    Is Bipolar Like Diabetes?

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

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

    Yes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

    …and No

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Creating My Own Treatment Plan

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

    Medication to Micronutrients

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

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

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

    Proactive Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mindfulness Meditation

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

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

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

    Self-care

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ✔️commit to the path, 

    ✔️choose to take the steps, and 

    ✔️recommit yourself each day to continue the journey,

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

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

    Should I Have Children If I Have Bipolar Disorder?

    One question I hear frequently is:

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

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

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

    Mindset

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

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

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

    Accept that you have bipolar

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

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

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

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

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

    Recognize what “wellness” with bipolar disorder looks like

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

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

    Preparing for Motherhood with Bipolar

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

    Mood Cycle Survival Guide

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

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

    Be Intentional about Prioritizing Self-care 

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

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

    Balancing your brain chemistry

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

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

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

    Working with a therapist

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

    Developing a daily routine

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

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

    Get support from other moms with bipolar disorder

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

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

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

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

     There is hope and there is help!

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

    New Years Resolutions for bipolar

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Step One: Mindset

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

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

    Step Two: Manage Your Mood Swings

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

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

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

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

     

    Step Three: Work Towards Maintenance Mode

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

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

    What is Your One Next Step?

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

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

    –Scott Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

    Bipolar Disorder: The Kanye Effect

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

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

    Physical vs. Mental Illness in Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Awareness vs. Normalizing

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

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

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

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

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

    Effective, Proactive Treatment

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

    Recognize the Symptoms

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

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

    Proactively Manage Mood Cycles

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

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

    For a free guide to create an ERP click here.

    Treating the Mood Imbalance

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

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

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

    Therapy

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

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

    Self-care

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

    Changing the Conversation

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

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

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

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