Posted by Luna on June 24, 2011
Two decades ago I was diagnosed as having Bipolar II disorder. Since then my life has pretty much revolved around this illness. Fortunately, I have remained “high functioning” although I resigned myself long ago to having a mood disorder. Ever since I was diagnosed, I have been under the care of one psychiatrist or another. Although I have been able to hold down a job for most of those 20 years, at times it has been a challenge.
In retrospect, I think I lost my moxie when I began to believe that others might consider me unstable. Even though I kept my diagnosis a closely guarded secret, I always wondered if others noticed anything unusual about me. I have lived in dread of the recurring ups and downs (mostly downs, in my case).
With the diagnosis came grief. I felt as if I had lost control of my life (although how much control any of us has is debatable). I have grieved for the life I once lived, and especially bothersome is the often profound lack of energy that has kept me from being physically active. There were years when my weekly routine included hiking, ballet classes, jogging, weight training, and swimming. I have missed the high of being physically strong. Whereas I once enjoyed pushing my physical limits, now just pushing the lawn mower (self-propelled) exhausts me. Okay, so I’m 20 years older, but what does that have to do with staying fit? You know what? It makes me angry! Angry with myself, angry with my doctors, and sometimes even angry with God.
The changes in mental energy and physical stamina have made me less able to deal with stress. I have attempted to cope by simplifying my life (especially learning to say “no”), and it has helped, but life is just not as satisfying. As my body is ever-changing, what worked last month may not work today, and that frustrates me.
Recently I have decided to re-evaluate some things; namely, diet and medical care. Over the past nine weeks I have made changes in both, and I am seeing positive results.
Three months ago I learned that I am diabetic. After taking diabetes education classes and doing much reading, Dr Neal Barnard’s low fat, low sugar vegan diet made the most sense for me. Nine weeks later I have lost 16 pounds, and my fasting blood sugars are in the 100-120 range. Now that is encouraging! If you are curious, you can find lots of information at www.nealbarnard.org/diabetes_book.htm.
For 20 years I have followed my psychiatrists’ advice and have NEVER gone off of medication for fear of becoming suicidal again. I have now changed my mind and my position for the following reason: The past year has been extremely difficult. I have changed psychiatrists three times since my doctor of 13 years retired a year ago. Things did not always go smoothly with him either. There were multiple medication changes and even a hospitalization for electroconvulsive therapy (which did no good), but he listened to me and we got along. The next three doctors didn’t really seem to be listening. We tried several medications, and with each change the side effects became more intense and more unpleasant. People were beginning to notice and comment. Someone asked me if I had had a stroke because my speech was impaired. That was nothing compared to the cognitive problems I was experiencing. My psychiatrist wanted to hospitalize me for more ECT.
In the meantime I had been doing some research. I had watched a PBS special hosted by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen. Afterwards I read three of his books. Briefly, Dr. Amen’s work is cutting edge in that his clinics use SPECT brain scans in addition to other testing to evaluate their patients. SPECT scans have traditionally been used in research but not in a clinical setting. The scans show the connection between areas of brain activity and certain behaviors, making treatment more specific. Learn more about Dr. Amen’s research and treatments at www.amenclinics.com.
My present psychiatrist is slightly familiar with Dr. Amen’s research, and although he chided me for wanting to dictate my own care, he reluctantly has agreed to my wishes. I explained to him that I am the only one who knows how the medications affect me and even though I was “tolerating” them, as he put it, I was feeling far from normal. We agreed that I would take lamotrigine, an anticonvulsant, which many doctors currently feel is the drug of choice for bipolar II disorder. It also helps to control my migraines. Gradually I added a supplement, 5-HTP, which I believe is what Dr. Amen starts patients on for depression. If it doesn’t work, antidepressants or other supplements can be tried. According to Dr. Amen, 5-HTP should not be taken along with antidepressants.
After a couple of weeks taking 5-HTP, my depression began to lift. I am thrilled to say that it has not returned. My mind is now clear, no cognitive problems, no racing thoughts, no agitation, no thought blocking, no memory problems, no psychomotor retardation, no apathy, and no anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from activities formerly found enjoyable). Because I have been a “rapid-cycler” with moods shifting every few days, to be stable for several weeks is the most significant relief I have experienced in 20 years!
Going back for a moment to the subject of fitness, we all know how important it is to exercise. In addition to improved mental clarity, I have a bit more energy and stamina than I’ve had for quite some time. This also makes me hopeful. I am planning to build on that as well. Baby steps.
I am still asking myself, “Is this too good to be true?” To paraphrase Forrest Gump, having Bipolar II is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Still, I believe I may have stumbled onto something important here. Time will tell.