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

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

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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!