Bipolar Without Drugs

   The following moving account was sent to me by the daughter of one of my email friends:


   The standard treatment for bipolar disorder, like many emotional issues, is drugs. Most think that it's the only way to control this debilitating emotional seesaw. I am not a doctor, MD or Ph.D. My opinion has no basis in medical facts. But I suffer from bi-polar disorder, as I have since puberty. I haven't taken drugs since the age of fourteen, and I am now twenty-eight. The methods I employed may help others who feel as I do.

   I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 10. I was immediately put on lithium. In a nutshell, it didn't work. I felt sick all the time, I couldn't be as athletic as I had before due to dehydration, (I once fainted during gym class) and I resented the continuous blood testing required to "pinpoint my proper level". I could have endured these side effects if the drug actually helped me. The closest it came to controlling my mood swings was its ability to keep me in a depressive phase. In fact, since I was so helpfully informed by my psychologist of its poisonous qualities, I used it when I attempted suicide at age 13.

   Thankfully, the attempt failed. I refused to take the medication any longer, and my mother did not insist. I did know, however that my moods were extremely taxing on those who loved me. I needed to control a disorder that from the information I received could not be controlled. Over the years, I developed my own personal methods for heading off the mood-swings.

   The first step to control is self-introspection. I needed to know what the warning signs were. For instance, when I was heading into a depressive phase, I sometimes felt extremely wired, fidgety, and tense, almost like the air right before an electrical storm. A manic episode was usually prefaced by a period of severe apathy. I eventually learned to "feel" my changes coming.

   Once I had my warning system down, I headed them off. If I was feeling a depressive phase coming on, I distracted myself before I could drift off. Listening to music sometimes did it, or watching a movie. For some reason, watching Pink Floyd's "The Wall" worked pretty well. Anyone who has seen it will probably wonder how. Creative endeavors also helped, such as writing poetry or drawing, even singing and dancing. Working out, once I had access to a facility, was a godsend. Anything I could focus on besides my woes. Eventually, I would get past the depression before it could take hold.

   The manic phases were easier to deal with. I just went with them and tried to find constructive things to do with the energy. I would rest, so I did not wear myself out. If I had trouble falling asleep, I would take a hot bath and drink chamomile tea. It worked excellently. Valerian Root also helped, particularly when I worked nights and got wound up.

   These methods are not foolproof. Part of the process involved putting a mental barrier between my mood and my mouth. Sometimes, the depressive phase would break through, and its good friend Paranoia would also visit. When this occurred, I would be extremely irrational, and make some wild accusations. I had to stop when I felt this way. If I felt out of control, I went away from people until I felt I had regained it. This has been the most difficult adjustment, both for others, and me. I am glad I have very patient friends, who have been a major part of my rehabilitation.

   These methods have kept me off drugs for 14 years. No side effects, no blood tests, and no having to drink gallons of water. I am under control. I feel like I should put the disclaimer one sees on workout videos about consulting your doctor before trying this. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for me when lithium did not, and I feel like I beat the disorder instead of just drugging it into submission.

   The method described here is sound. She stumbled on the technique used in Cognitive-Behavioral approaches for any problem (see How to solve any problem).

   The first step, developing an early warning system, is helped by keeping a diary: noting down the thoughts, emotions and experiences just before the change being monitored. The second phase, of taking corrective action before the mood swing is fully in control, is helped by the use of reminders: notes on the wall, certain objects that have hidden meaning assigned to them, anything that will remind you to take action against the enemy before it is too late. The enemy is the mood swing of course.

   Lithium and other drugs are said to work for about 85% of sufferers. There is hope for those who miss out. Follow this young lady's example. And even if drugs help you, her approach will make life easier for you and those who live around you.