Living With Bipolar Medication Free
For some people, it is possible to live with bipolar disorder without medication, and still have control of their moods. It is important to note that this is not an option for everybody, and should only be considered after discussing it with a mental health professional. If your treating doctor allows you to wean off your medication, this needs to be done under supervision to prevent withdrawal symptoms and potentially triggering an episode. Regular mental health checks are also required to ensure you are coping without medication.
The best tool you will have in starting a life free of bipolar medication, is self awareness. Take the time to learn your triggers; what time of the year do you generally experience episodes? If stress is a trigger to mania, what causes you stress? Does consuming alcohol leave you feeling depressed? Do you eat properly, and do you find that when you don't keep an eye on your diet that you become more irritable?
Common triggers for depressive episodes include, but are not limited to, anxiety over a situation, stress, fighting with loved ones, financial problems, the end of a relationship, rapid changes in medication (it needs to be done slowly so you have time to adjust), drug or alcohol abuse, changes in weather (depression is more common in winter), and other events that make you feel stressed, hurt or worried.
Common triggers for manic episodes include a lot of the same triggers for depression, such as stress, financial problems and fighting with a loved one. Mania is also more common in spring and is often triggered by lack of sleep.
What can help you recognise your own unique triggers?
A mood diary can be an extremely valuable tool in helping you identify your triggers. You can keep it as short or as detailed as you like. Include things like ‘this event made me feel stressed, then this happened which made me feel anxious. I felt overwhelmed by both these events and experiencing both these emotions at the same time’. From there you can review the diary every so often and if you notice certain events consistently cause you stress you can then work on how to reduce the impact of them on you.
A stress chart is also incredibly beneficial. A stress chart is a chart that maps events that cause you stress. It’s similar to a mood diary, in that you have a record of what has the potential to trigger you, and since stress is one of the main triggers for an episode it can be extremely helpful. You basically rate things that stress you on a scale from 1-5 (1 being minimal stress caused, 5 being extremely stressed). For anything that is rated 3 or higher, you can then work out how to avoid being in that situation or how to deal with it so it lowers how high it is rated on your stress chart.
Once you have an awareness of what triggers you, the best thing you can do is work with a professional to find a way around the things that trigger you, or a way to cope with them. We can’t always avoid stress in our life, but we can find ways to minimise it. If large crowds of people trigger your stress levels, and stress triggers your episodes, then limit the crowds you need to encounter; shop at different times, organise car pooling instead of taking a train in peak hour for example.
Foods to Improve Your Mood
Another factor which can assist in stabilising moods is your diet.
We all know a healthy diet can help contribute to stabilising our moods, but what foods should we be ensuring we eat on a daily basis? Why do some foods affect our moods in a negative way and some in a positive way? The brain is a complex organ and food provides energy to power the brain as well as certain nutrients in foods assisting the production of important chemicals needed for its functioning. Generally we should aim for three small meals a day with snacks between like fresh fruit or vegetables, wholegrains, and unsalted nuts, for example. Long periods in between eating can cause a drop in blood sugar levels which can lead to irritability, poor concentration and tiredness. Here is a brief overview of foods that can help assist you in maintaining your moods:
Why is it important to eat fish?
Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in fish, can assist in nourishing our brain, improve concentration and lower rates of depression. Many breads, yoghurts, juices and other products have added omega-3 in them if you don’t like eating fish. Chia seeds also contain omega-3 and can be sprinkled over most foods, for a vegetarian or vegan alternative to fish.
A balanced breakfast is the way to start out the day.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and eating it can help improve your moods, memory, energy levels and give you a calm feeling throughout the day. Start the day with a high fibre breakfast cereal, yoghurt, a piece of fruit and some wholegrain toast.
Carbohydrates are not always the enemy!
Although so many people these days are on low or no carb diets, eating low GI carbohydrates, such as wholegrain breads, porridge, fruit, milk, pasta, throughout the day actually has a number of health (and mood) benefits. Eating carbohydrates will help you feel fuller for longer, reducing the need to snack on unhealthy foods, it also provides the brain with fuel to help you keep on top of things all day long and can stop you feeling irritable due to the fact that carbohydrates assist in increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain which will improve your mood as well as have a calming effect.
Why is protein important?
The amino acid found in protein rich foods is called tyrosine and it helps the brain cope in times of stress, as well as keeping you alert. It works by increasing the production of chemicals in your brain such as dopamine and norepinephrine which are performance enhancing chemicals. Tyrosine can be found in lean meat, chicken, fish and eggs.
By adding these foods to your daily diet it can help you stay alert all day and help you cope better with stress. By balancing a diet high in mood improving foods, you'll not only feel better mentally, you'll feel better physically. Combined with plenty of sunlight, and regular exercise you will be able to enjoy the benefits of improved mental health.
Bipolar disorder can be successfully treated with different types of psychological techniques. These techniques include supportive counselling, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis, behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, family and marital therapy and many others. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the disorder as well as many other factors.
Here is a brief overview of some of the more common types of psychological treatments available:
Supportive counselling in its most basic form is reassuring, guiding, encouraging and explaining as well as supporting the individual and giving them a chance to express their emotions. Most of us do this to an extent with our friends anyway, but a counsellor has the advantage of not having a personal connection with the individual and therefore can offer unbiased guidance.
Psychoanalysis is a form of treatment that originated with Sigmund Freud. The theory is that current emotional problems are related to unconscious and unresolved conflicts from childhood. Because these conflicts are unconscious, the patient is not often aware of them. Psychoanalysis is not usually recommended when the individual is suffering from acute depression.
Cognitive Therapy is based on the theory that how we feel is a result of how we think. So if we have constant negative thoughts, we will constantly feel negative. Cognitive Therapy aims to change any negative thought patterns. It also helps you learn to monitor your own negative self-talk, recognise the connection between thought, mood and behaviour and challenges your automatic responses to situations and events.
Behavioural Therapy involves structured planning of activities aimed at giving you a sense of achievement and pleasure.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a combination of Cognitive Therapy and Behavioural Therapy. It’s one of the more commonly used forms of therapy and can be very effective in managing bipolar disorder.
Interpersonal Therapy focuses on current problems in your most significant relationships and is designed to improve your relationships with other people.
Family and marital therapy involve talking to examine relationships and aim to recognise and break destructive patterns of behaviour. These therapies are designed to improve both your relationships and your social functioning with those most closely linked to you emotionally.
Problem Solving Therapy is often included in CBT and aims to find solutions to problems in a structured way and can reduce stress and other triggers.
When therapy is combined with an improved diet, awareness of triggers and coping strategies for those triggers, it can be possible to live with bipolar disorder without the need for medication. It can be a long process, particularly if you need to wean off multiple medications, but if your goal is to be medication free then implementing these strategies under the guidance of a treating doctor or mental health professional can be the first step towards it.