Withdrawal – Part 5: Med-Free Bipolar

At long last, we come to the final post in this series. As I promised in the previous post, I will be explaining about the supplements that have been critical to my recovery and stability in the aftermath of coming off all my medications and living med-free long term. So lets begin.

If you’ve followed the previous posts in this series, then you already know why I decided to ween off my medications, as well as the pretty major pitfalls I encountered doing so (if you haven’t read them, please do check them out! You can find Part 1 here.) If you had asked me 5 years ago whether it was possible for someone with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder to live a happy, stable life without any pharmaceutical medications, I’d have told you a very emphatic “No way!” I’d have said you’d be crazy to even try it—after all, the life threatening dangers of psychotic mania and suicidal depression are all too real. And yet, as I write this post, I have passed the 1 year mark of living a completely medication free existence. How is this possible?

For the record, I’m in no way affiliated with the company I’m about to point you toward. I’m not getting any perks for promoting them. Their products have just worked so incredibly well for me that I can’t not point them out to other people to try.

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The company is called Truehope. As a side note, I have to share a funny detail with you all. A few years back, before I started this blog, and before I had even the slightest notion I would ever be coming off my meds, I had the idea come to me in prayer that I ought to write a book about journeying through the spiritual life with mental illness, and entitle it Finding Hope. The title came to me so clearly and emphatically that I wrote it down at the front of my journal and kept it there. While I haven’t dismissed the idea of writing a book, I later decided to start this blog first as a more immediately doable option. I just have to say I find it ironic that years in advance I was prompted to “find hope,” only to discover the eventual solution to my mental illness problems in a company called Truehope.

So what is this company? Well, here is their mission statement in their own words:

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And because the story of how they all started is so compelling, I will quote it in full, as it’s described on their website:

The Truehope Story

The Stephan Family

Before Truehope… the beginning

Ten children were left motherless the cold January day that Debbie took her own life. She had been suffering the pains of Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD) for years and finally succumbed to the dark and irrational side of the disease. Somehow, out of the sheer agony and crushing pain of her loss came a determination for Anthony her husband. He began a prayerful and desperate search to find hope and health for their children who were also ravaged by the disease. At the time of her death, two of Debbie’s children had also been diagnosed with BAD. As a desperate father, and after exhausting all known medical routes, Anthony sought the help of a friend. Together these two men established a program of nutritional supplementation that would eventually lead to the recovery of Anthony’s children and the formation of The Synergy Group of Canada Inc. – a non medical research group dedicated to researching and overcoming the disorders of the central nervous system. Debbie’s tragic death had initiated that series of events which would change the grim picture of mental illness forever.

Joseph’s Story

Joseph Stephan exhibited signs of attention deficit disorder as a child. By the time he entered puberty, the symptoms were escalating into panic attacks, delusions and violent fits of rage. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with BAD shortly after Debbie’s death.

Joseph was first treated with lithium, an element used to make batteries, which caused severe side effects. When he refused to take it, he lapsed into severe mania and panic within a couple of days.

Then, on January 20, 1996, Joseph started using the nutritional supplementation program created by his father. The results were dramatic and immediate. Within four days he was off the lithium; within two weeks, his mood and emotional control improved immensely. In the years since, he has maintained his well being and has had no recurring symptoms of BAD.

Autumn’s Story

Autumn Stringam’s recovery is, if anything, more dramatic than her brother’s. At 12, she showed signs of suffering from Bipolar Disorder, a condition which deteriorated throughout her teens. She married Dana, had a child at 20, and was subsequently diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder I with rapid cycles; a daily seesaw of mania and depression. Those eventually gave way to regular visual and aural hallucinations and the belief her husband and other family members were conspiring to kill her. These visions often led her to act out violently.

Following a particularly terrifying episode, Autumn was admitted to a psychiatric ward. After many adjustments to her medications, she was released a few weeks later. Drugged and with her cognition impaired, she “broke through” her medications frequently and was extremely unstable.

After threatening suicide, she was again hospitalized. Upon release, she was taking a pharmaceutical cocktail of Haldol, Rivotril, Ativan, Epival and Cogentin, a combination that failed to control her psychosis. She continued to rapid cycle.

Told Autumn would require round-the-clock adult supervision, Dana took her to her father to begin the alternative treatment, which had helped Joseph. Within four days she was forced to eliminate Haldol and Rivotril because of the drastically increasing side effects. Ativan was no longer required when hallucinations ceased. After one week on the program, she returned home to her husband. Less than a month later, she reduced, then eliminated, the mood stabilizer Epival. Her only “medication” now was the nutrient supplement which would become Empowerplus.

Autumn’s recovery exceeded the expectations of her psychiatrist, doctor and family. The woman who was expected to remain a prisoner of BAD, confined by a medley of psychotropic drugs and pursued by thoughts of suicide for the rest of her life, continues to be healthy and stable to this day.

But perhaps even more compelling is how Autumn, once counseled to be sterilized after the birth of her son, gave birth in 1999 to a happy, healthy daughter, and again in 2001 and 2003 to two more healthy daughters!

“My life is a miracle and an example for all who suffer,” she says now. “There is hope, healing and ultimately, health for all who seek it; there is an alternative to despair.” Autumn spends her time raising her four wonderful children, remains happily married to Dana, her beloved husband and volunteers for her church and community. Hers is a parable of hope to those who follow her footsteps.

Click here to read more about Autumn’s story, as well as video interviews, magazine articles and especially Autumn,s book, “A Promise of Hope”!

Reflections of Faith and Hope

Anthony Stephan, in reflecting on the marvelous recovery of his children, said; “Truly God has answered my pleadings and intense prayers with a great blessing.” Hundreds of participants have borne that same witness and acknowledged the hand of God in bringing restoration to their life or that of a loved one. Hence, we have named this web site “TRUEHOPE” because we believe that true hope can only be found in the healing sustenance that God has provided for us. No man or company or science can ever replicate or replace that which our Creator has provided for us. In seeking to treat the symptom, we have all ignored the Source.

My mother (a pharmacist) had been pointed in the direction of this company back in 2017, however since I didn’t seem to be having any major problems at that time, she didn’t bother looking into it. After my psycho-manic episode and hospitalization in early 2018, she began searching for solutions for me, since despite having succeeded in coming off all my meds, I was far from stable and only just barely getting through my daily life. She found Truehope again in the spring and got in touch with the branch of the company which operates in southern Alberta. The lady she spoke with, Teresa, has since kept in regular contact with us. She was able to give mom very helpful advice and reassurance. They sent us a number of supplements, most importantly the EMPowerplus Advanced micronutrient formula.

I noticed immediate, dramatic results within a day or two of starting the EMPowerplus supplement. Previously, I’d been dealing with high levels of anxiety and panic attacks (the result of my ongoing mania and some mild PTSD from the trauma surrounding my hospitalization), not to mention agitation and racing thoughts. The EMPowerplus completely halted the anxiety and panic attacks, reduced my agitation and slowed my thoughts to something approaching normalcy. This is not to say it made me groggy–I felt none of the fatigue, drowsiness or befuddlement that I was used to living with when taking antipsychotic medication.  I was simply beginning to feel normal again.

I first began taking the supplements in April. By May,  the mania had dissipated almost completely, leaving me with only mild hypomania. Then, as I mentioned, following my exam, I crashed into depression. From my understanding of it, this supplement is more effective for treating mania than depression, but it helps with depression too. However, my body needed to go through a healing process after being on various psychiatric med combinations for close to 6 years. Teresa stayed in touch with me, suggesting supplement tweaks, and promising me hope that yes, the depressive episode would end and I would be stable in the future.

To be honest, I didn’t believe her. But I kept on taking the supplements because there was no way I would ever go back on pharmaceutical medications again. And slowly, the depression eased. The “greyness” lingered, the sense of anhedonia and lack of any creative drive, clung on for months. Then suddenly, in December 2018, it began to lift. My creative drive began to slowly come back to life. My sense of joy and pleasure at life returned. And by January, 2019, I felt completely back to normal.

We’re now partway into March. My stability has remained rock solid in a way it never did when I was on psych meds. The few times I’ve thought maybe I was getting more energetic, and my old fears about mania reared their head, I simply increased the dose of my supplement and added in some Choline for a day or two, and the anxiety and hints of hypomania vanish without a trace. It’s so much more effective than my old medications that it makes the thought of them laughable.

Teresa told me that as long as I’m on these supplements, I won’t ever have a relapse of mania. I didn’t believe her initially, but I do now. I’m back to a place where I don’t even think about my disorder much anymore. I’m still careful with my sleep schedule and I take my supplements consistently. But I’ve stopped worrying about having episodes. Despite having experienced several major former triggers (various stressful, emotionally difficult situations that would have formerly sent me swinging up or down with a certainty) I’ve remained completely stable.

Lastly, did I mention there are no unpleasant side effects with any of these supplements? None. Zero. In fact, I’ve noticed a number of positive side effects: my hair is way healthier, I don’t feel tired, and I find stress way easier to manage than I ever have before. I only wish I could have found these supplements before I started coming off my medications because they would have made the whole process much easier and I probably wouldn’t have ended up hospitalized at the end of it for mania.

If you or a loved one is on any psychiatric medications, I encourage you to check out the Truehope website for their much healthier alternatives. They don’t just specialize with Bipolar Disorder. They also work with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Depression, Fatigue and Stress related problems. I’ve heard they also help people with schizophrenia, even though it’s not listed on their website specifically. At the very least, it can’t hurt you to learn more about the alternatives that are out there.

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

My Story – Part 2: The Aftermath

After the ship of my old life had been shattered on the rocks of hospitalization, I was dragged aboard a new, unfamiliar vessel, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Fully coming to terms with my diagnosis would end up taking several years.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While still in the hospital, after medications had grounded me once more in reality, my doctor tried to explain to me that in bipolar disorder, what goes up must come down. A depressive episode almost always follows on the heels of a manic one. But I was still hypomanic (the term for mild mania), and thus cheerful and optimistic and feeling great. I assured him that I was overall a very happy person and I was sure I’d be fine. And I wasn’t deluded in thinking this. I was going on experience. For most of my life I’d been a happy, well-adjusted person. Happy was my norm. I had no way of knowing just how radically that would change.

Not surprisingly, I did experience a depressive episode a couple weeks later. At the time, I thought it was the worst experience of my life, mainly because it contrasted so drastically with the euphoria of the preceding manic episode. But looking back, I can see it was pretty mild. It only lasted a little under two weeks, and I didn’t end up needing antidepressants. After that episode, God granted me 7 months of almost total stability. This allowed me to get back on my feet and start trying to live my old life again, but it did nothing to prepare me for the reality of my disorder.

d6uhuht-d7e8ebca-0a65-4cc5-9640-179e1bc594b1By the time August rolled around, I was completely adjusted to my disorder (so I thought) and not the least bit embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it. It was a bit like a cool new label that put me in a separate category from most people– like a weird sort of bragging right (boy, did that ever change over the next several months…). My best friend, who had been diagnosed with ADHD within the same month that I was diagnosed with Bipolar (funny how these things work out), was amazed by my nonchalant attitude towards my disorder. She had been having a difficult time coming to grips with her own diagnosis without it completely destroying her self-esteem.

The difference between her and me was that she had been struggling with the effects of her illness every day of her life without fully understanding it, and now she was still having to deal with it every day but with the added bonus of having a label slapped onto her that essentially declared her “defective” because of it. There was no way to deny the reality of it. It was part of her life 24/7. The fact that she was a straight-A student, whom her friend’s thought the world of, did nothing to ease the initial sting of the diagnosis. She did eventually come to grips with it, and even met and befriended some fellow sufferers of the disorder, but adjusting to the diagnosis of a mental illness takes time.

For me, the fact that I had a mental illness hadn’t yet sunk in. While the events surrounding my hospitalization had been very dramatic, the disorder seemed to have vanished into thin air after a month had gone by. Once I stabilized, it was as if it had never happened. The only changes in my life were that I was now on medication and I had to monitor my sleep and stress levels to avoid triggering another episode. Other than that I felt normal. It wasn’t compromising my ability to function like a normal person. I didn’t feel the least bit embarrassed about it.

In the fall, that changed.

Part-way through September, 2012, I crashed into a depressive episode. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of what would turn into nearly two years of rapid-cycling. After September, I went on to have 12 more episodes over the course of the next year, and 6 the year after that. The first year of that very nearly killed me. From December 2012 to May 2013, I went straight from depressive episode, to hypomanic episode, to depressive episode, to hypomanic episode, with only a day or two of stability here and there. The depressive episodes typically dragged on for close to a month, while the hypomanic episodes usually lasted a couple weeks. If I hadn’t had an antipsychotic medication (Zyprexa) on hand as a PRN, the hypomanic episodes would almost certainly have progressed into full-blown manic ones, and I likely would have had to be hospitalized again. Thankfully that didn’t happen. But most of the hypomanic episodes were dysphoric. In other words, they were mixed episodes. So to say that they didn’t lead to euphoric happiness would be a very impressive understatement. I was miserable.

It was around this time that I began to feel very insecure about my disorder. When I was Disabledstable,  I had successfully taken several university correspondence courses and passed with flying colors. In 2013, I failed a university course because I was hypomanic for my midterm and depressed for my final. I began to think I would never be able to attend an actual university. If I couldn’t handle just one correspondence course, how could I possibly handle a full-time course-load on a real campus?

I withdrew from all my friends except my previously mentioned best friend (most of my friends at that time were not a very positive influence anyway). I muddled along putting one foot in front of the other, and stumbling into a number of pitfalls along the way. I came to have a very intimate understanding of why people self-harm, and thoughts of suicide were rarely far from my mind. As far as I can remember, my faith life did not deteriorate, but it certainly didn’t improve either. To be honest, I’ve forgotten large chunks of that period, especially some of the depressive episodes, and what I do remember is foggy at best. The only reason I know most of what took place in my head in the years of 2012 and 2013 is that I kept a journal. It was one of the coping mechanisms I latched on to.

The year 2014 marked the beginning of my recovery. It was a much stabler year, thanks to changes in my medication. The first mood stabilizer I was put on when I was diagnosed was Lithium. It didn’t work, and over time it began to give me alarming muscle weakness as a side-effect. Any muscle strain at all caused me to shake like a leaf. I looked like a caffeine addict whenever I so much as raised a tall glass of water to my lips, and walking up a single flight of steps left me gasping for air and utterly exhausted.

Thankfully those symptoms went away when I was taken off the drug. The next mood pills  picstabilizer I was put on was Lamictal. My doctor slowly increased the dose until I stopped popping regularly into hypomania, the process of which involved some strange side-effects until I adjusted to it (disorientation, lightheadedness, panic attacks). I also wound up on a constant dose of Wellbutrin (an antidepressant), which my doctor would increase whenever I got depressed, and would decrease again as soon as the increase popped me up into hypomania (which it always did). I also kept the previously mentioned antipsychotic Zyprexa on hand to take whenever hypomanic symptoms appeared. This combination seemed to work, and I was much more stable over the course of 2014 and 2015. However, at the end of 2015, my mother found out some very disturbing things about the medications I was on and after much research and debate, I decided to start weening off all my medications in 2016. You can read about that story here. (As that series details, I am now living completely med-free with the help of some wonderful supplements, and doing far better than when I was on psychiatric medications.)

December 23rd, 2015 marked the end of the fourth year since my diagnosis. A lot happened in those 4 years that I’m not going to try and summarize here. Some of it appears my other posts if it’s relevant to the issue I’m discussing. To wrap up, I am finally adjusted to my disorder. I’m back to living a relatively normal life. I’m happy again. Whether that will last or not is in God’s hands, and I’m content to leave it there.

One of the most important lessons my disorder has taught me is that we have to live in the now. The future is impossible to predict. Life is much less stressful when we let go of the illusion that we’re in control and instead trust God to take over the navigation of our vessel. He knows where we’re supposed to be heading, and he will give us all the grace and support we need in order to get there. We just have to be willing to accept it.

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Take care, and God bless.

Kasani