Wednesday, October 13, 2004

When Medication Just Doesn't Work

Disclaimer:This article comes from my experience only. This is not a recommendation for treatment. I am not against medication for mood disorders when necessary. Before making any decisions for treatment of your problems, please consult an experienced health professional.

When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression. I began the merry-go-round of finding the right medication at age 16, and quickly became frustrated with the severe side effects of what I took.

Then, I went to a Natural Doctor (ND), and learned that my disease included physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual symptoms. Unlike the other doctors, she didn't tell me I was abnormal. So began my quest for treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, about 2 million Americans suffer from Bipolar disorder. It usually begins in early adolescence, with the first manic episode occurring at about the age of 21.

The causes of this disorder are uncertain, and there is no known cure. Symptoms are contradictory, and depend on the "cycle" (manic or depressive) that one is in.

Traditionally, treatment has been a combination of drugs and therapy, though the drugs must be closely monitored. More extreme cases may also involve shock therapy (ECT). Many bipolars take a combination of mood stabilizers, such as Lithium or Depakote, and antidepressants, like Paxil or Prozac. Dosages are constantly monitored and frequently adjusted, and medications may be changed several times because they lose effectiveness.

In my experience, taking two drugs which should effectively cancel each other out is ridiculous. Antidepressants triggered my mania, and mood stabilizers led to extreme weight gain and depression.

After my last bout with medications, I decided I was through. A psychotherapist I saw confirmed by beliefs by telling me that the doctors I had seen had tried every possible combination of drugs possible, all to no avail. I had joined a 12-step program to help with my alcohol and drug addictions, and threw myself into "working a good program." This experience brought relief, and it has been over two years since I have taken any mood-altering substance, legal or otherwise.

Here are some of the things which have helped me maintain without using medication:

1. Watch your diet. The biggest changes I had to make were regarding caffeine and sugar. These ingredients were a key component in triggering my mania.

2. Know your cycles. Pay attention to your body and mind at all times. If you are off-kilter for two weeks or more, you may be going through a manic or depressive phase. Stress and seasons can also be triggers.

3. Get plenty of sleep, but not too much. When manic, people sleep little but have loads of energy. Depression might cause you to sleep all the time.

4. Exercise. This will help ward off depression, and burn off excess energy when manic. Be careful not to overdo it.

5. Grow your spiritual side. Meditation and prayer have worked wonders for many people. Church isn't necessary, but try exploring many different cultures and philosophies to find a set of beliefs that works for you. There are also 12-step groups available for people with affective (mood) disorders.

6. Create a routine and stick to it. Even if you don't feel like getting out of bed, do it anyway. This will keep you from giving in to whatever impulses that may pop up, from binge shopping to marathon sleeping.

7. Get support. This disease is much bigger than you are. Seek out others who understand what you are going through. You need to have the support of others around you, for without this you will fail. It doesn't mean you are weak. It also doesn't hurt to have a therapist you trust.

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