Friday, May 16, 2008


Hope is something there is precious little of in the mental health system. Once you are labeled with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, you are told that you are going to need to take medication for the rest of your life. That you have a lifelong condition, and that although you may have periods of stability between episodes, it is not something that ever goes away. You are told that you will ruin your life if you don't take your medication. And you are told that the side effects from the medications just aren't that important in light of the alternative--losing your sanity. Oh, there are things you can do to help--you can chart your moods diligently and look for can make sure you get enough can eat right and can get therapy...but even if you do all of those things, there's still basically no hope. You will be saddled with this illness for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, once you get into the mental health system and start believing these things about yourself, what they've told you becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And rather than look for different answers when the medications they give you makes you worse, they nod knowingly and tell you that this is the natural course of the illness, and isn't it a good thing you started taking medication when you did. Think how much worse it would be if you hadn't!

But there is hope out there. There are people out there looking for alternative answers and treatments--and finding them. And there are many of us who were misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed. I've been reading a lot about hope lately, and in my readings, I think I've found some of my own.

When I was in college--about the same time I started showing mild symptoms of bipolar disorder--I went on a diet. Here's the thing. I needed to study. I needed to work. I needed caffeine to stay awake. But I hated coffee. For the first year of college, Mountain Dew was my drug of choice. But it didn't take long to notice that I was packing on the pounds (C'mon, Jazz, six cans a day, what did you expect?) Hence the diet. Which led to the Diet Coke. Which led to me consuming vast quantities of aspartame--six or more cans a day, for years on end. Which continued until--wait for it--the day I went off the bipolar meds, and decided I was going to start taking proper care of myself. Aspartame, I have learned, can cause all of the symptoms I experienced, and more.

Coincidence? Maybe. Irrelevant? Possibly. But I'd prefer to think of it as extremely relevant, considering the fact that I have been more stable in the three years since I stopped taking medication and stopped consuming aspartame than I have ever been.

It gives me hope.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Very interesting piece. I'm rushing, but just wanted you to know I've mentioned it in a new post! Have a nice weekend.


Jazz said...

Thanks for the mention, Susan!

Coco said...

Interesting - I've never heard of that connection.

Jazz said...

I hadn't, either! I was quite surprised to realize it, and when I started thinking about it, I realized that the times in my life when I'd had mood swings coincided with the times when I'd been drinking a lot of diet soda.

KJ said...

wow - that first paragraph is exactly what I have been told, having just been diagnosed bipolar.

I am told I'm being irresponsible by looking at other options and not just going straight on medication.

Right now I'm just searching for answers. Thanks for the post.

Jazz said...

Hi, KJ, and thanks for stopping by!

If you've just been diagnosed, my best advice to you is to continue your search. And don't just search the mainstream, like the books on bipolar you will find at Barnes and Noble or Borders. Keep searching the internet, keep reading about peoples' experiences, learn all you can about the medications your doctor suggests, and make sure that if you do choose to take the meds, you are making the most informed decision you can.

I'm not anti-meds--I think they can do wonders for some people. What I do object to is doctors handing them out without giving patients the information they need to make a truly informed arm yourself with knowledg, KJ. It's the best weapon you've got.

Good luck with your search!