*Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment.*
One of the biggest issues with mental illness is our lack of understanding of what causes it. The majority of people look to psychiatrists and psychologists for answers, but even these “experts” cannot provide a definitive answer regarding the origin of mental illness. They can spout the same information that I read in textbooks as a psychology student that told us how genetics and environmental factors play a role, but those explanations fall short when it comes to understanding what mental illness really is and how we can overcome it.
Unfortunately, most mental health professionals and their clients are brainwashed into believing that there is no cure for certain mental disorders. Then making the situation seem even more hopeless, clients/patients are told they will probably need to take medication for the rest of their life. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 20, I heard that same story about how important it is to be compliant and take lithium for possibly the rest of my life to avoid another episode. I was a good little patient and remained compliant for about five or six years, but as I drastically transformed my diet and took my health into my own hands, I started becoming very turned off by the idea of putting something toxic into my body every day without knowing what kind of damage the medication might have been doing to my organs. Now, I am completely medication free without any bipolar symptoms.
Before I get too deep into anything, let me first mention that if you are currently taking medication for bipolar disorder or are considering it, I cannot tell you what is the best course of action for you. We individually have different reactions to medications and treatments, so what works for me may not be suitable for you. If you feel that taking medication is the best option for you right now, go for it. I remember how scary and painful it was to suffer from severe mood swings, and I believe medication truly helped me for a while. Some people who’ve never suffered from mental illness get on a high horse and almost seem to imply that we are creating our suffering and just need to try a little harder to feel better. If I somehow come across that way at any point, please remember that I’ve had my own struggles with depression and mood instability and am very sensitive to the struggles that others experience. Also, I feel it’s important to mention that if you decide you don’t want to take medication anymore, don’t abruptly stop. You’ll want to come up with a tapering schedule with your doctor so you can wean yourself off the medication slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms. I was very patient with tapering off of lithium over the course of several months and did not experience any withdrawal effects.
Now, getting into one of my preferred theories about the causation of bipolar disorder, it’s helpful to understand the basic idea of what bipolar disorder is. Quite simply, bipolar disorder is the label we apply to someone who experiences drastic mood fluctuations, usually from “mania” and euphoria to debilitating depression and suicidal ideation. These mood swings are much more than “I felt great yesterday, but now I’m a little moody.” Nah, it’s way more severe and extreme than that. It’s not something that should be downplayed. It can be absolutely horrible for someone who has recurring manic-depressive episodes that continuously strike without warning. I experienced those ups and downs for three years and started feeling really helpless and uncertain about how I would ever live a normal life. If you’re dealing with this same issue, being on medication for a little while might be what you need to gain some stability. Once stability is achieved, you can start looking into other solutions because, let me tell you, the long-term consequences of taking medication for several years can be downright scary.
So, if bipolar disorder is basically characterized by mood instability, it seems reasonable to me to suspect that something about our life has become very imbalanced. I don’t mean just a chemical imbalance in the brain because chemical imbalances usually reveal a deeper, underlying issue that needs to be addressed. If you consider the basic tenet behind functional medicine, the food, medicines, substances, and toxins that enter our body affect all organs and systems, not just our stomach. To have a better understanding of mental illness, remember that your stomach and brain are intimately connected. Whatever you feed your stomach, you’re also feeding it to your brain. If you don’t think there’s any connection between the two, read this. When a substance enters our body, we can’t force it to go to only one part of our body. The human body is a large organized system, and within that large system, you’ll find many more organized, complex systems that affect one another. Systems, no matter how large or small, continuously interact with one another to keep the whole system functioning properly.
When something goes amiss with your health, particularly your mental health, consider how the affected system may be impaired by an entirely different system, such as your gastrointestinal or endocrine system. This really isn’t a revolutionary idea, but mainstream doctors fail to apply this knowledge when they formulate a treatment plan for their patients. They target the affected system only instead of looking at the big picture, which means most patients never discover the core problem that is contributing to their illness. Without discovering the deeper issue, the problem never goes away. That’s why doctors often say “there is no cure.” Dig a little deeper, and you’ll often find one.
From a nutritional perspective, there are several vitamins and supplements that can be very beneficial for treating bipolar disorder. One of the common supplements is omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed. Lesser known supplements that have worked for some people include ashwagandha and borage oil. Because I think nutrition has played a significant role in my recovery from mood and digestive issues, I will soon make a detailed post about my diet and daily supplement routine. Just so you know, it’s not as simple as avoiding caffeine and taking a multivitamin. Sure, avoiding caffeine helps, but I once made the mistake of assuming I could avoid a few unhealthy things and still be in good health. As the years went by, I eventually exposed myself to some disturbing truths about the food industry and totally transformed my views on what is and isn’t healthy. My diet is radically different now compared to what I ate when I was 20.
Besides nutritional influences, there are some other interesting theories I’ve come across that attempt to explain the cause of bipolar disorder. Some people view bipolar disorder as a spiritual emergency. Some people believe that bipolar disorder is a misdiagnosis for hormonal imbalances, such as adrenal fatigue or thyroid disorders. I can’t find the link now, but I remember reading about the idea that people who withdraw too much from others can have an aura that does not project much from the body, which results in manic behaviors. I even came across a really interesting theory that says that bipolar disorder is caused by a reversal of the chakra system. Another fascinating theory is that mental illness signals the birth of a healer. You may not buy into any of those theories, but I think it’s worth considering each one since we still don’t have the answers yet on what causes bipolar disorder. I also think there’s a lot of value in taking a holistic approach, so maybe it’s more helpful to understand how a combination of one’s nutrition, social support, and spiritual views can impact his/her emotional state.
Even if you don’t agree with some of the ideas expressed here, please question the popular and frequently accepted views that bipolar disorder is incurable and that medication is required to cope with it. It is so disempowering to hold such a view that you lack the ability to heal yourself. I’m here to tell you there may be better, healthier, more effective options for you if you’re suffering. Healing is possible, but it can only happen if you take matters into your own hands and stop trusting medical professionals as the only source of truth and knowledge. Countless people have successfully managed bipolar disorder through natural, holistic treatments, and I believe the same option is available to many others. Based on my experience with recovery, I genuinely believe there is a much better way than our currently flawed mental health system that essentially slaps band-aids on problems with medication instead of investigating the underlying issue.