Holistic Approach

I’d briefly like to explain what approach I’m currently taking towards my mental illness.

In October 2008 my medication was reduced and in return I got a lot clearer in my mind (less brain fog) and was also able to sleep less. On the downside I felt a lot more down then before. After discussing this with my doctor/nurse they explained there were two choices a) go back to the old dosage or b) find a way to deal with it. I didn’t want to go back so I was forced to find another way.

I started by answering some of the big questions I always seem to come back to when I’m feeling low (why am I here, what’s my purpose, etc). Plan for the low periods while still feeling good. This helped and I’ve actually managed to write some of these things down.

My wife then suggested attacking the problem from as many angles as possible. So here’s what I’m currently doing.

Be proactive
Don’t be a victim, but take control of your life. If you don’t; life will be nothing but a series of random events that make no sense. It takes courage to become a conscious creator of your life. No matter how bad it gets, it’s up to you how to respond when life throws you the odd curve-ball. Catch! 🙂

From experience I can tell you that the quality of life when you’re being proactive is much better then when you merely react to what happens around you.

A great example of this is Christopher Reeve (who played Superman in four films). After an accident he was paralyzed from the neck down. He eventually found the courage within and became an inspiration to many. He lobbied for people with spinal cord injuries and stem cell research. It shows how strong and resilient a person can be. I’d like to believe there’s a hero in all of us.

Have a big enough why
If you don’t have a big enough reason as to why you want to do this you are more likely to fail. In my case there are several reasons; being a good husband, keeping up with my son, but also to have more energy so I can help/inspire more people. Coming home tired every evening does not help any of those things.

Lose weight
When I was first hospitalized I gained approximately 20 kgs. For me that was huge. I then went on to lose 15 kgs and then gained 10 kgs again. I definitely felt better when I didn’t have to drag so much weight around all the time (not to mention the difficulties I have tying my show laces when I’m overweight again). You can really tell when you’re body is overweight and it takes away a lot of the fun in life.

If you want to get an idea of what it’s like to be 10 kgs overweight try carrying around some weights for a while and notice how exhausting it really is.

Loosing weight in itself is not a very good goal by itself. I see my weight more as a function of my life style and requirements. In other words if I need the energy for something I really believe in I’m far more likely to lose weight as a result of that.

If you’re not already doing this, I can highly recommend it. I’ve been walking in my lunch breaks daily for the last 2-3 years and it’s great (especially if you have a desk job). Swimming is cool too (if you can afford it).

Mental Health Group
I’ve joined a Health Group organized by some hospital staff (on a voluntary basis). Other people with a mental illness are there and it’s a bit like a social club. There is no real structure for the meetings; it’s just people with similar problems chatting about life, health, spirituality, etc.

Now, the biggest thing you can gain from attending these meetings is other people’s distinctions. They may vary well have already adopted a certain approach to their mental illness that might dramatically improve the quality of your life. For example, you might hear things like “things happen for a reason” or “the best captains aren’t formed on calm waters”. These kinds of approaches to life can be incredibly valuable.

It’s heart warming to hear other people’s stories I must admit. When you hear what other people have gone through then sometimes your problem doesn’t seem as big anymore.

It’s also very fulfilling if you happen to be the one actually helping another person with your story and ‘wisdom’ (or a hug if you’re that way inclined). 🙂

“A problem shared is a problem halved”

I’m seeing a counselor to help me with my anxiety. This means a gradual exposure right up to the things I fear the most. This one is probably the hardest for me. My mind has created so many barricades and avoidance strategies that it is hard to break them down again.

I have been to anxiety group counseling (at the hospital) before as well and that was quite good, so I’m fairly certain I will be able to grab back some control in this area.

My wife encouraged me to go see a well-known nutritionist. In the beginning I was somewhat skeptical about it, but I’m now convinced that our diet is one of the most overlooked areas in mental illness.

After a questionnaire a hair sample was send to a lab looking for allergens (hair shows a history of what foods you might be sensitive too). The results came back saying I had food intolerances to:

  • dairy products and beef
  • cane sugar
  • onion, garlic, chives
  • all artificial additives especially fizzy drinks
  • soy products
  • caffeine and cocoa
  • peanuts

Okay, so that’s pretty much everything, but that’s okay because I only have to avoid these things for two months so we can compare the results.

The idea is that any allergic reactions will inflame the digestive system. That prevents nutrients from being absorbed properly. The gut produces most of the serotonin (controls mood) and melatonin (controls sleep) in our body. This is really interesting as it could explain why my mood is so low and why I feel so tired all the time (from well before I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar).

The nutritionist even stated that the allergens could very well have caused the Bi-Polar in the first place. This is hard to prove of course, but it’s certainly interesting.

There is not much I can eat at the moment with the “Back to the basis” diet I’m on now. Once the digestive system has had a bit of a break (holiday) we can start re-introducing the offending foods and see what effects they have.

Some things are quite obvious of course; like the caffeine. That’s not new. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to break down and can seriously interfere with the quality of your sleep. Some have suggested that if caffeine were to be discovered today it would be classified as a non-prescribable drug. Ouch!

Goodbye lollies…

Externalizing your thoughts
There are various ways to do this (writing this article being one of them). It can be very powerful to see your one thoughts in front of you on paper and your brain can create an entirely new perspective on your problems (just by looking at it). Also, when you start writing things down your brain takes it seriously and starts throwing more thoughts at ya.

Journalizing over a long period of time is good because it allows you to see how far you’ve come. I’ve examined some of my older journals before and it’s great fun (and yes sometimes a bit embarrassing) to look back at your thoughts like that.

Tell someone
By telling people what you intend to do you will also gain valuable support when things get tough. It’s a great way to commit yourself to the changes you want to make in your life because now everybody is asking about it. It’s also why you’re reading this article right now! 🙂

To be continued…
I believe it’s good to tackle any problem from as many angles as you can think of. Something is bound to work if you follow this approach long enough. Maybe you can think of something today that will increase your quality of life; order a book, talk to someone who has already managed a similar problem, join a group, go see a counselor/nutritionist whatever works for ya. Often it’s only one or two distinctions that can make a huge difference in your life. And if all else fails then at least you can tick it off your to-do list and find something else to try.

I already feel so much better just thinking of the possibilities, and it certainly has already lifted my mood. To dream again, to hope…

I’ll keep you posted… 😉