Complementary Therapist, special interest in bipolar disorder, Allied Health Professions Council, South Africa

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Is there a cure for bipolar disorder? Will we ever overcome the stigma?

I, like you John, have chosen to help others by admitting and talking about the problems of my past and how I overcame them. Mine is the other extreme of bipolar mania. Bipolar disorder is not a curse if you can learn how to manage it. If you can constructively channel the energy previously trapped in the illness it can become your greatest asset. I believe I have done this and, to give hope to others, I speak about in my DVD called 'ON THE EDGE OF MADNESS - Living well with bipolar." Ask for order form at integratingpolarites@gmail.com. I was told I had to be on medicaton for the rest of my life and now, years later, when I tell people I manage my life without medication they say I must have been wrongly diagnosed or that I will relapse. It wasn't easy and I had some wise help but with detremination and focus I have retrained myself into a stable and balanced life style which takes a lot of discipline and self honouring. Maybe it's not a cure but it's certainly management and maybe that's what we all need. As for stigma, talking and understanding helps to overcome the fear of what people don't know how to handle. The people I know who have been mentally unstable are also very sensitivity, creativity and have great intellegence - that's not something to be embarrased about, rather proud of unusual assets.

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    Jun 23 2011: I worked with adults highly affected by type I. One woman had a hx of at least one strong manic episode per yr that caused hospitalization. When she talked about stability, having to leave work, worrying if the event would change the way others, co-workers, neighbors, etc. viewed her from then on, I felt for her. I work with a lot of teens now & some with BP, type II mostly. Accepting this may be causing their depression & behind some of their anger & frustration when they can't let things go & argue, fight, & at times end up with legal charges, mostly related to assault, domestic or otherwise, Is very hard. I think they feel very hopeless at first when it becomes clear & that it has a strong biological component. In the case of whether to use medications or not? I usually try to generalize this decision to the same one I have to see many others, with many disorders (whether they have organic or environmental or situational components affecting the degree of the symptoms) make. I relate an empowerment philosophy whereby they can use many ways to help them with this, increased knowledge, awareness, tracking their moods and changes in them to try to look for patterns, using relaxation or thought blockers or other therapeutic techniques to mediate or mitigate changes. I know that anything can happen in terms of how their illness plays out & they may manage well. However, at times when a person continues to essentially be miserable & or toughing out what is well beyond what you'd expect anyone to handle alone, or stuck d/t guilt/shame at having the illness etc. which is uncomfortable to see in a person's life. I suggest they talk to a psychiatrist & discuss medications. It may be short term. But I tell them my hope they have some times with clearity, & able to engage other ways to manage this. I also discuss stigma & that if medications are needed long term & increase their quality of life, accept that vs. the affect it has on them & others who they care about.
  • Jul 9 2011: I doubt that the mental illness stigma will ever cease to exist. You cannot change the minds of people that being bipolar makes you in some sense 'crazy'. But perhaps if people who are bipolar like me, show how gifted we are because of our "abnormalities", then perhaps the stigma will start to shift. People whom I meet that are particularly intellectual or creative many times turn out to be bipolar and this makes me very excited. Perhaps psychiatry and psychology should work on encouraging the talents of bipolar people and enrich the world of medicine, art, culture.

    I spent 10 years on medications and never had lasting relief. I finally made the decision to stop taking medication and follow a diet, exercise and life strategy that took me a year to plan before I titrated myself off medications. I researched which foods had which effects on neurotransmitters, read stories from others who did it, emailed prominent bipolar experts, etc. I experimented with the foods, types of exercise and different ways to slightly structure my time to prevent mood switches. It worked. Just recently I went back to see the research/psychiatrist clinical director at an Ivy League medical center where I once received my psychiatric treatment. He evaluated me and then told me that he considered me in "remission". He also told me that medications only work for 50% of the population, that often times those not on medication still have mood switches, but they are much slower and sometimes less intense. Medications change the cycling pattern, but do not cure it, he said.

    I am now going back to this same school for Neuroscience and perhaps medical school so I can study alternative treatments on the brain. I have also been helping to coach people SAFELY get off of their medicines, listen to themselves and guidance in designing exercise and nutrition programs. I am still learning, but have gone from a chronic mental patient to a happy and fulfilled human being.
  • Jun 17 2011: Is there a cure for Bi-Polar, depression, schizophrenia? It depends how you look at illness or dis-ease in general.Until the medical profession starts to recognise that we are all energy, both physically and emotionally, there will be no progress. Using a chemical cosh is not the answer, as there are many people who have been on medication for years, but not cured.Alternative therapies are helpful, but not always the answer. I suffered from depression for many years without any respite even though I was prescribed medication and psychotherapy. My cure was discovering food intolerance as the cause. This is an area that is always overlooked, yet is very easy, and cheap to find out.I will not go into details, as these can be found on the Internet. However, recently, I have looking at the effects of deep seated emotional traumas,destructive cellular memories,and negative images on cancer and mental health. These can be buried so deep that one cannot even remember them. They, and our thoughts, are all energy and can impinge on our physical and mental bodies in a negative way, causing dis-ease.I fel that there should be more research into this area, rather than relying on palliative chemical means
    • Jun 25 2011: I agree more research should be done, but for some, it is just a chemical inbalance, and they need the pills or chemicals presribed. If that has to be the first choice for most people, you can tell after a few months if they won't work, but make sure you are weaned off of them so you don't have negative effects. You know yourself more than any doctor will, but you may need help from one. You will be able to find out what's best for you, but no matter what choice it may take months for one to know that their choice is really effective.
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    Jun 14 2011: Hi would love to have you stop by our ongping discussion on bi-polar remission..review what is there anad comment.

    Will join you here as well.
    • Jul 9 2011: Hi Lindsay,
      If there are any conversations on bipolar and especially remission on treatment, I would love to know about them. Thanks!
  • Jul 15 2011: Hi Suzanne

    Thank you for taking the time to look at the website, if we all work together we can overcome stigma.

    James
  • Jul 15 2011: Hi Suzanne

    i have schizophrenia and have also overcome it. I find the best way to overcome stigma is by showing people how normal we are after recovery by self-disclosing to large audiences. I do it for a living and I'm on a website if you ever want to here me speak go to www.choicesinrecovery.com and then to video treatment and there I will be.
    • Jul 15 2011: Hi James I had a look at the website and your video and I think you can be rpoud of the work you're doing. I agree - the way to overcome stigma is to talk as much as possible - my workshops are interactive so everyone talks and all the different opinions can be heard. Well done, Suzanne
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    Jul 12 2011: Sorry this is the end of my story:

    Because of the accident I was taking medicines that probably were not good for my sleep, especially when I decide to go back to work even if I was not well yet. So I start to don’t sleep well, then to don’t sleep at all and to don’t eat well (almost nothing) and finally I was in a total crisis. I went out in the street one morning in pyjama like in a dream or nightmare and ask for help so finally I got in the hospital. During the crisis I had moments of maniac (so euphoria) and moments of total anxiety, fear (depression).
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    Jul 12 2011: Sorry for my English in advance. I’ll try to let you know what I know about it...as I've got a diagnostic of bipolar disorder.
    This is my experience so you should know that bipolar have many different aspects and change a bit between each subject.
    Bipolar disorder it is a kind of deep mood oscillation and in my case has appeared since I was 24 years old.
    In that year I took a medicine “Lariam” (against malaria) to make a trip in the forest. This medicine has secondary effects in some people like insomnia and hallucination. I didn’t know I was included in that “some people”. Any way doctors now, says to me that it might help my illness to appear but that was probably not the causing, and they are probably right, but I’m not totally convinced.
    I had periodical crisis (only when doctors took me off my medicine) so it happen 4 times in 9 years.
    Usually without medicine, in a good moment of life so having good sleep and having a good alimentation I can keep going very well. Only when I start a stressfully moment, it can be hard to control my sleep and so to eat well and finally even if understanding that I’m starting the crisis …it’s like a little child taking the power of my decisions and emotions. So fears appear and maybe I can’t choose the right, like to take the medicine to sleep because I’m afraid of something. It’s like to be sleepwalking for some days. In my last crisis a lot of stressful things came together like:
    Moving to Italy (because I was living in Spain but I’m Italian) +
    So leaving my job +
    Motorbike accident (so radical change of my routine) +
    Boss calling me to get back even if I was not totally well +
    Thinking of beginning a new “life” in Italy (coming back in Italy, after 6 years it means live with my parents & search for a new job) +
    Planning to get married with my boyfriend once finding a job in Italy
    TOTAL=Anxiety
    Because of the accident I was taking medicines that probably were not good for my sleep, especially when I decide to go back to work
  • Jul 10 2011: There's a lot of merit in sharing ideas and what works. Luckily for us complementary theraists, neuroscience is proving to the world what we know but didn't have sceinticfic proof before. Some people have been enchanted by medication but talking and sharing can show that's there's another way.
    That is why I also run awareness workshops with a short presentation of my complementary approach to shift the thinking and then I use facilitated conversation to get the audience to connect with each other. My DVD also helps share my thinking.
    In the workshops, I bring together my two areas of interest that most people think of with horror – public speaking and mental illness. The results are very rewarding, as people finally feel understood and not so alone. Although it’s difficult (and I get told it won’t work!!) I do it with mixed audiences which is far more beneficial. e.g. with students, teachers and parents; doctors, patients, staff and families and in corporate all employees together (these w/s include stress management). I’ve been trained in big group dynamics but I still find it hard to get people to invite me do it because they can’t envisage it working. Anyway I’ve been doing it on a voluntary basis at the hospitals, schools and in the community a lot, so many important people have seen it work - to their amazement.
    I’m doing some training of this method at a nurses’ conference soon and feel pleased that that proposal was accepted. Slowly, slowly, if it works, people do eventually realize. I’ve been doing this for 22 years!

    I have spoken at many conferences and once did a presentation at the brain science department at the University of Cape Town.
    I’d love to travel with my workshops if there’s ever an opportunity for that. I haven’t heard of many other people doing it this way. It sometimes feels very slow but over the many years I notice that chage is increasing which is good news. Suzanne
  • Jul 10 2011: Hi James you can be proud of what you do in self disclosing, especially to groups. The more we talk the less of a mystery it becomes. By talking and showing people that we manage our lives they can have hope by seeing there is a way forward. That is why I made my DVD about bipolar disorder and run awareness workshops. Well done and keep going, Suzanne (suzl@mweb.co.za)
  • Jul 8 2011: Hi Suzanne
    I have schizophrenia and have no symptoms, I do take medication however. If we are to break down stigma we must be very public about our illness and show people that we are just regular people with an extra obsicle to overcome. I self disclose to large groups of people as I speak publicly on the matter, I'm glad you do also.
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    Jul 6 2011: There is a convincing argument that says many mental illnesses are not illnesses at all.

    It seems very strange to me that there is a current pandemic of neurochemical deficit in westernised societies. Why not in other more traditional societies?

    My own take on this, for what it's worth, is that neurochemical deficit is a symptom of mental disorder rather than a cause. yet the medical profession treat it as though it were a cause. Cynics might argue that it is in the medical profession's best interests to treat a symptom rather than address a cause, because one guarantees a constant income stream and the other does not.

    I speculate that depressive illnesses are normal reactions to something externally dysfunctional, rather than dysfunctional reactions to something we regard as normal.
    • Jul 8 2011: Hi Allan
      I have schizophrenia and the percentage of people who have this illness is equal in every country, around 1% of the population worldwide. Fact is that people do much worse without western treatment of medication and recovery. In Africa they are abused and chained and other countries are much the same. The statistics you read are skewed and other people around the world suffer far more than we do in the west. Thank you for listening and your comment. By the way, I have had a fortunate and fine upbringing by a loving family and friends, no external factors here.


      James
  • Jun 26 2011: I suffer from bipolar disorder and have struggled with the illness and the stigma for many years but believe that there are many veiled gifts that come with most forms of this condition because of the manic perseverance of ideas and thought regarding problem solving whilst in a creative phase.
    I think that attitudes have thankfully changed and most reasonable people don’t take the standpoint of ignorance as a default view on mental health anymore. This is possibly due to greater awareness through education and of course the brave individuals who declared their condition in the early days pre the Stephen Fry episode that brought the condition into the mainstream.
    I think that the fact that a highly educated individual that seemed to function “normally” such as Stephen Fry and others admitting their illness did much to dispel the blanket view of people with mental illness as the unstable, unpredictable and often dangerous sub-society menace that they simply are not.
    Thank heavens education and understanding has increased also thanks to the strength and fortitude of those that didn’t deny their illness when stigma was at its most pernicious.
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    Jun 26 2011: I hope their is a relief from the really bad symptoms and the devestation it causes people who suffer and their families.. I desprerately hope their personalities remain vibrant, and full of creativity.... A weird but sidenote is Hitler, who also practiced Eugenics (as did many Countries back then, incl the US) did not act on Bipolar.. Why? Many of his most creative officers would have suffered. Theirs an energy, a spark, something special about a mind with a different way of operating.. ADHD is similar.... Without wild (or just really creative) imagination.. I think we all would still be planting potatoes and saying.. "it sure is hot.. yep... it is..."
  • Jun 17 2011: I'm the grandmother of a 11 yr old child diagnosed as bipolar. After dealing with trying to stabilize her for the past four years, I just want to believe that there is the potential for her to live a somewhat normal life when she grows up. There is so little known about children and bipolar that I feel like we're guinea pigs. I know we are when it comes to medications! I've read lots of books and keep up with research. I just want to understand what causes bipolar and how to fix it. Do we really have to settle for just living with it for the rest of our lives?
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      Jun 20 2011: Linda..your grand child is lucky to have you..it takes a team to manage bi polar disorder ( did you see our other conversation on bi polar remission?)
    • Jun 25 2011: My mom is bipolar, and anytime she tries to stabilize herself on medication the doctor changes the meds every few months even though she's doing fine, and when she's not doing fine and asks to be taken off they don't want to do it. One time they asked her if her insurance even covered the medicine, she believes because no one else on her insurance had taken it, and I agree because generally doctors know what is and isn't covered on insurance. When she finally starts taking meds, they do this and it makes her not want to even try taking meds, but she seriously needs it as she says, I don't like making others decisions. I'm about to go down to her doctors office and try to ask them if they will just keep her on the meds that work. I'm trying to get a psychology degree so I might have more information on how I can help her.
  • Jun 15 2011: Of course their is a cure for Bi Polar. Mental Health is just a book, a proverb, a conversation, an awareness a thought away. I know the universe is consisitant with offering many modes to get you exactly where you need to be. Bi Polar is just a feeling not felt or expressed but repressed. Our minds are thought machines but we are what our feelings are. If our feelings are jammed and stuck then so our we. Sometimes we get stuck very young...and that thought machine takes over. You say how do I untangle...well you start by stating clearly to the universe what your intention is. Usually something like "I want to be me" Then you observe, you listen and you keep the channel open. Your inner teacher will guide you. So much help is out there if you need it; books like the course in miracles, the secret, the bible, books on tapes, yoga classes, friendships, alnon etc...point yourself in the direction you want to go and you will be on your way to a healthier you!
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    Jun 14 2011: I think it is great that you have managed to hang on with out meds. I am bipolar and I need the meds to make it. I have no problem using meds for the rest of my life; I am also a diabetic, and I have no problem using diabetes medication for the rest of my life. A key component of doing well with bipolar is admitting you have the disorder and taking responsibility for managing it.

    I think part of the stigma is perpetuated by doctors who try to make money by peddling their cure or theory. My own sister, an MD, was reading one of this books and was arguing with me because I use medication.

    Another stigma is perpetuated by the media who use dramatic stories about mental illness to sell books, movies, and TV shows.

    I usually don't bring it up unless someone knows me well enough to know I am stable. Also, it is just one facet of my life. I also struggle with sleep apnea. My son died at the age of 16 seven years ago. I am going through menopause. All of those issues affect my mental health. My son's death is just as taboo a subject as my bipolar disorder. It's a fine line between being authentic and being "just" the one thing.
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      Jun 20 2011: Anne,

      Thank you. I am glad that you have found a way to manage your bi-polar dosorder..not easy..and a huge event like the death of your son, is much harder for some with bi-polar disrder to navigate...more risks. and the isolation of having two such important aspects of you "taboo"unbearable..don't let itbe taboo..beak the ice..talk about..teach the people you care about how to talk about it.

      Safe Passage to you
  • Jun 14 2011: I'm interested in both the learning from history (is that similar to facing history and ourselves curriculum?) as well as topic of coming out about bi-polar.
  • Jun 14 2011: Funny you should mention this topic. I'm currently curating a TEDx event in NYC called Learning from History and I'm already thinking about my next TEDx event theme. I'm considering the idea of overcoming life's obstacles and thinking about sharing my own story about Bipolar Disorder.

    The condition is a real pain-in-the-ass sometimes and has to be constantly managed. I think we need more people who are willing to "come out" and share their stories about what life is like when you're BiPolar.

    Thoughts?
    • Jun 15 2011: Holly, perhaps you should approach it a physical illness and explain it from that angle instead of a mental illness which holds the actual stigma. If one were to draw parallels between bipolar and diabetes it might show a lot of people that they are not so different. They are both real pains. They both require constant management.

      There is a real disconnection between public perception of mental illness and the reality of mental illness; that reality being that mental illness is simply physical illness. This all helps beg the question of "Why do we treat people with mental illnesses different?"

      Best of luck,
      Ryan
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        Jun 16 2011: Hi Ryan I am afraid mental illness is quite different from physical illness.Approaching it as a physical illness dosent neccssarily change public perception-stigma which are formed partly becuz of differences and that also means to undermine the seriousness of mental illness , risky one too.
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      Jun 20 2011: Holly,I think it would be great. . (did you see the other conversation on bipolar remission????) There aren't many stories out there about about bipolar remission..very difficult to achieve ( some amazing and moving stories shared at the other conversation (In fact it is open ended and it would be so great if you could leave a post there)I am an advocate for people with cognitive disabilities and mental illness..it is still so much in the closet.. So misunderstood..