Managing Bipolar Illness Naturally

 Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is not only a mood disorder, but also a serious illness, and I suffer from it. I could tell you of all the times I was out of balance and the weird things I did. Instead I want to focus on what I did to heal myself and how I manage my disorder naturally without drugs. I hope by telling my story it will help people to understand this illness more, or manage their condition better.

 You would think by the way we act that mental illness is contagious. It scares us, causes shame and embarrassment, and makes us ridicule, reject and finally isolate a person as if he/she has an infectious disease. Perhaps we do this because deep down we know that no one is immune. However, the more informed we are about this forbidden subject, the less frightening it will become.

 There are more cases of people with manic depression in those born after 1940 than before that date. The environment may be hugely responsible because of increased use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and stress. These in some way may cause genetic vulnerability. An estimated one million children under the age of 18 in North America have currently been diagnosed with this disorder.

 Also there is more depression in this century. Some causes of this include our higher materialistic expectations and the greater informational load we experience from an early age. In addition, in the past we were more physical which kept us well grounded.

 What actually causes a person to have a mood disorder? Is it caused by genetics, poor coping skills, bad mothering, a karmic debt, a past life, a bad womb experience, or something that happened at birth? One theory is gene penetrance, which refers to the increasing development of a genetic disorder the further along the generational chain it has been passed. Descendants may be more likely than their forebears to develop bipolar disorder. This phenomenon could also be viewed in energetic terms, with the energetic influence becoming more powerful the more times it is passed down. We are made of the same chemistry as our ancestors and whatever we don't heal, we pass on. Perhaps in this century, as DNA is further researched, we will find a way to fix the problem.

 Then there is the current conventional medical view that bipolar illness is a brain disorder involving some kind of neurotransmitter malfunction. In some cases heavy metals have been found in the brain which work like antennae picking up the electromagnetic or geopathic interference, which exacerbates the symptoms of mood disorders.

 Nutritional medicine points to biochemical imbalances in the brain, nutrient deficiencies, or toxicity as possible causes of much mental distress. Today there are many more toxins in the environment. In Chinese medicine, the belief is that if one gets rid of excess heat in the body, the mind will balance itself out.

 There are so many theories and for each of us, there may be several contributing factors.It is important to focus on solutions as we may never really know the source of our illness.Nevertheless, there are many things we can do today to make our lives and illness more manageable.

 I can't say exactly when my mood swings began but there were sign posts along the way. A tendency towards having anxious, excitable, or sad moments seemed to have been present most of my life. It is just that no one recognized the symptoms as such when they first occurred and I was so disassociated from my body that I did not even notice.

 I learned very early in life to repress all my feelings and obey orders. Eventually the suppressed emotions were released in an outburst, or more often than not, in sickness. By the time I was in my teens I was considered to be too high strung, too smart for my own good and by my twenties I was often out of control.

 It does not matter what caused my mood swings. It is sufficient to say that I was diagnosed when I was 28 and put on numerous drugs such as Lithium, Cogentin, Elavil, Valium, and sleeping pills. However, chemicals are not natural to our bodies and seem to compound a problem with disturbing side effects. Only by treating the underlying imbalances rather than suppressing symptoms as most drugs do, can we achieve lasting recovery.

 Somewhere within me I knew there must be a better way to exist rather than to be controlled by drugs that had ballooned my weight, scarred my face, damaged my vision, and dried my mouth. The pills numbed me and all I felt lifeless. When most of the people I knew were getting married, having babies, or dating, I was doing my best to cope with a mood disorder and also blood diseases.

 Often during this time I contemplated suicide. I felt there was no point in going on if I would be like a zombie dragging myself through one day after another. I was frightened of going out of control again and I was terrified to live. What eventually saved me was meeting an amazing psychotherapist who brought me back to wellness. After I worked with him for a few years he advised me to come off the Lithium which he believed would eventually cause problems with my liver. It was frightening to let go of all the pills but I did it slowly over time. Once before I had tried to come off the drugs on my own but no one had warned me it could throw me into a manic episode. And it did.

 As I came off the drugs, I also paid attention to my diet and allergies and went to the gym regularly, but I still did not feel very happy. Talk therapy had helped me to understand, forgive and accept the past, but my body was telling a different story.

 I prayed to get better because I just could not start over one more time, or survive one more thing. I not only had come off all the drugs, but I had weakened my system so much that I incurred several blood diseases, and had also undergone a few surgeries. To add to the distress, I was partially paralyzed for a year when I was accidentally sprayed with DDT while in a third world country on holiday.

 Over the years I had read every book on self improvement, or psychology, took every affordable course, joined a gym, did yoga, fasted, listened to subliminals, spent year after year in Jungian, Freudian and Adlerian therapy, and support groups, was hypnotized, put on a time line, discovered my inner child, and learned to meditate. I chanted, drummed, sweated, had my numerology and astrology charts done, learned color therapy, and delved into my past lives. I have come out of therapies black and blue, had fingers stuck down my throat and elbows or knuckles pushed into my body to get me in touch with my suppressed feelings. I crawled down a make believe birth canal, screamed into pillows and so much more. However, I still suffered from crippling depression.

 One day I read an article about Rebirthing, a breath therapy. Because I had experienced numerous other therapies, I thought I might just as well give it a try. I had nothing to lose. As I began the sessions, the pain of my past was released easily and effortlessly by doing various breathing rhythms. The focus in rebirthing is on releasing any trauma of unexpressed emotions, rather than re-experiencing them. Once the material has come to the surface, it is then integrated into a positive context. Very quickly I felt much more focused and started to make healthier choices for myself. So much stress was released from my body that within a six month period I changed my eye glasses three times for lesser prescriptions. My life began to improve drastically and I had never felt so well or alive. Eventually I left a well paid job to train to become a Rebirther and have been in private practice for the past twenty five years.

 By now the reader is no doubt wondering how I came off all the drugs and what I do to stay balanced. I received a lot of insight from studying the native way of life and organized my life around their wisdom. They believe that for us to be happy, healthy and wholesome, we must walk in four directions every day and not just one. These directions are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual, or earth, air, fire and water. If any of these aspects are out of balance, we become out of balance. This means we cannot spend all our time in the mental or physical realm and no time in the emotional and spiritual areas.

 When we look to the wisdom of the ancients, most had a system of managing their health by employing nature’s elements: earth (food and herbs) air (oxygen) fire (physical exercise) and water (fresh life giving water which makes up over 90% of our bodies).

 We are in our minds too much, as most of us are on computers at work or school all day and then come home and spend more time using technology. Currently the average person may spend three quarters of their day at work or studying. No wonder we become so unbalanced. First, begin with the physical aspect. Get everything working well on the physical and then work on emotional balance.

 Physical - This area of work relates to your physical health. It is necessary to be active - walk, go to the gym, or play a sport to get grounded. Get at least 7/8 hours of sleep each night. It is also important to eat well. People with bipolar disorder usually have nutritional deficiencies, especially the lack of essential fatty acids. or have an imbalance of intestinal flora. Eat organic as much as possible and include foods that will ground you and give you energy such as root vegetables and live foods. Stay away from junk food and food with a lot of preservatives and additives. Most of our ancestors were fish eaters so if you don't eat fish, at least takes a few fish oil pills such as cod or salmon each day. Countries where a lot of fish are eaten have fewer cases of depression. Check your diet for allergies or any nutrients you are missing. Ask your doctor to recommend a nutritionist for you. Chronic malnutrition may lead to biochemical imbalances and there is little doubt that this can play a large part in mood disorders. Detox your body regularly. Nourishing and strengthening the body helps to reduce stress and tension. Work at a profession you respect and enjoy.

 Emotional - This work enhances a person's ability to relate to the world and to other people. Good health requires free flow of emotions. It is enough to feel and know your own feelings and be responsible for yourself. It is fine to empathize with others but do not take responsibility for their feelings or their lives. Clear your past because any traumatic episode can trigger symptoms in people who are bipolar. Create a balance where you are neither too emotional, nor too introspective, nor too detailed oriented. Don't hang out with "poor me's" or victims. Have a good support team of professionals and friends and family who will empower you to be well.

 Mental - Manage your mind. Notice the minute you get into some negative thinking. Empower yourself and stop being a victim in any way. If I am depressed I ask myself why. Is it something I am thinking? Is there something I can do about it? What thoughts am I putting in my head? Am I criticizing myself or negating myself in any way? For example, I have noticed that if I do not problem- solve I will go over and over the same problem working myself into a negative or anxious state. We must look at our lives in terms of all the influences we allow into our environment. Watch what books you read, shows you watch, and people you associate with. If we spend all our time in our heads, we may become wise, but we may be cold and without feelings.

 Spiritual - This is what a person considers to be sacred, including their relationship to the Creator, religion, and to spiritual teachers and teachings. Take time to be creative, go inside, meditate, or pray. What do you do to relax, have fun, and be spontaneous? Where are you not taking care of yourself?

 Have I gone out of balance since my late twenties and early thirties? Yes, I have several times but each time was only for a few days and I quickly got back on track. Both times there was some terrible stress in my life such as a weekend intensive workshop where they deprived us of sleep and food, or when my mother died.

 I have been drug free for over twenty five years now. It has not been easy and I do not advise this for everyone. I continue to learn to take care of myself and to discover what stresses or triggers me. There is a wonderful informative book I recommend called The Natural Medicine Guide to Bipolar Disorder by Stephanie Marohn which taught me how to manage my illness and what to avoid. A fish cannot whistle and neither can I. This means I have certain limitations and I know what they are. I do not do extremes anymore such as staying up all night, intense courses, or even fasting. I lead a very conservative balanced life.

 One reason that treatment of mood disorders has had a poor success record and is costing more all the time, is that we place too much emphasis on pharmaceutical drugs. At this time, psychiatry has been almost completely taken over by the drug companies.

 While drugs do have certain advantages, and in some instances they save lives, they do not cure the disorder or underlying problems. If we want to stay on top of the current mental health crisis, we are going to have to turn to other approaches in order to treat those with mood disorders.

 I believe there is a cure. I believe we can manage our diseases. I believe we can heal, but healing takes time and hard work. A thorn hurts as it goes in and it hurts as it is pulled out. We just can’t take a pill and expect our life to be healed. We also must make the effort to do what it takes to balance our lives by taking responsibility for our wellness. We have to start putting as much time and energy and money into researching mood disorders as we do physical diseases or viruses. We have to start understanding and stop locking our emotionally disturbed people away in prisons or letting them wander unprotected on the streets. We have to stop discriminating against paying for the treatment of "mental" disorders as if they were separate and distinct from "medical" disorders. We have to stop the drastic cuts in the funding of care for those with mood disorders. We have to stop denying coverage for mood disorders. We have to care, because a society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people. We have to, we just have to.

Lynne Jenkins