The Icarus Project

My first experience with traditional medication was at age 17, and after it triggered a severe mixed episode and hospitalization (where I was forced through a serious withdrawal for 12 hours by the half-witted staff) I became extremely suspicious of both the standards of American medical practices and psychiatric medications themselves.

Though that whole period was followed by a time where I was a (mostly) willing party to a handful of other drugs, my German psychiatrist was convinced (I’m not sure if it was by me or if it was on his own accord) that I would be fine without the drugs, and after a year I was freed of them. My biggest complaint had been that I wasn’t able to think clearly while taking them, or at least as clearly and rapidly as I had been previously. This made things like mathematics incredibly taxing, when math was something I could do standing on my head before.

This ushered in the drug-free era. Something which only ended recently, as in a year ago.

A year and a half, or maybe two years ago I began to reconsider trying the traditional medication route again. I had been combating my episodes cognitively, and similarly to how I combat them now (with the external variables) but I kept dipping down into depression that I couldn’t seem to shake. Between the depression and managing episodes on my own, I was exhausted.

So, I found a local support group in an attempt to get a little perspective. Being one of only two unmedicated folks there, I was a little intimidated, but I wanted to hear what people who lived the medicated life had to say.

Around the same time I was hearing rumors of another group that was meeting in the Seattle area, comprised of some very unique artists. The rumors were cautionary, as they were said to be so extreme and free-spirited that if one didn’t begin the evening mad, after one night you’d certainly leave that way.

Naturally, I was curious, but I was already leading the sort of alternative bipolar life. The immediate information I was concerned about was of traditional medications, so I forgot about the other group.

When I was reminded of them again recently, I actually took the time to check out The Icarus Project website.

From The Icarus Project main page:

We are a network of people living with and/or affected by experiences that are often diagnosed and labeled as psychiatric conditions. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.

At first I was a little nervous to write about The Icarus Project (heck, this post has been sitting as a draft for the last couple months because of that nervousness), because in a sense what they’ve comprised is relative to The Anarchist Cookbook in regard to mental health. At the same time, though, after my own experiences with medications this last time around (mostly the fact that I tried about 15 in a 6 month period, all of which were incompatible with me except one), where do I sit in regard to alternatives to the traditional, modern medication route?

I don’t believe that medications are the only solution here, whether what we’re looking at is an alternative to medication or in conjunction with medications. Consider therapy, consider diet changes, supplements, sleep hygiene, any number of things. I think alternatives can be ok, it just depends on the situation, the alternative, and the person.

In that respect, I absolutely cannot judge anyone based on what they do in an attempt to navigate having a mental illness. Some of the drugs administered by doctors today can have effects just as deadly or crippling over time as many self-medicating techniques, and what other people do is not my business.

What I do is my business.

When it comes to the decisions I’m going to make, I want to have as much research and perspective as possible. Really, that is the only thing I hope others will consider. I don’t want to push one form of alleviation over another, but I do want to push you to consider what the options are.

For that, I would say The Icarus Project is excellent. They have a massive amount of information on all types of alternatives, and in their forums they are particularly open and accepting of everyone, medicated or not. Plus, learning doesn’t hurt, right?

The forums do not appear to be as active as they once were, and I couldn’t find any information on whether local groups (in various places across the country) are still meeting, but this could provide a good read on a rainy afternoon.

As just a quick end note, I wanted to point out the irony (intentional I’m sure) in the fact that The Icarus Project is named for Icarus. If you’re not familiar with the story, he was the guy who made wings out of wax and feathers, then flew too close to the sun. When his wings melted, he fell to his death. I can’t think of a more fitting parable in regard to what we choose to use to escape mental illness, and how important it is to consider that decision and subsequent actions thereafter.

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4 responses to “The Icarus Project

  1. A very apt name, as you pointed out, as it can result in the same outcome if you get over confident or cocky 😉 .

    Trying alternatives is not a bad thing, especially in terms of behavioural and routines.

    A lot of people, however, take the concept the wrong way and decide to go “All natural” and start using naturally occuring plant remedies. You have to keep in mind, that for most medication, there is a natural counter-part. The difference however, is that the laboratory constructed compounds are much more stable and predictable while plants, on the other hand, can vary in effectiveness and strength from one plant to the next. This is where I become wary of natural medication and even homeopathic remedies.

    The biggest danger of them all, is saint Jon’s Wart, which is often used for it’s anti-depressive qualities but which is extremely dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of the plant.

    That said, what works for you, is a blessing and I hope it will work for me too 😉

  2. Amen. Educate thyself shall be the whole of the law when it comes to mental illness treatments. And don’t judge others – we all have a tough row to hoe. I’ve gotta do the meds because the external variables alone just aren’t enough to keep me under control. But anyone who’s not paying attention to those things is asking for a rougher time of it than necessary. I don’t like that I have to act like a grown-up to take avoid flipping out, but it’s worth the tradeoff.

    I agree with Tery, it gets my hackles up when people say they’re going to go “all natural” and assume that “natural” means “healthy and no side effects” when in fact the herbs and supplements can be just as (or more) damaging as everything else. Besides, what do you think lithium is? Completely natural – it’s even on the periodic table!

    Anyway, good post! I’ve heard of the Icarus Project and will give them a look – been curious about that.

  3. I educate myself about everything. It actually got to the point in the past where it was unhealthy, but that was before my OCD was diagnosed. Now I can recognize and draw the line between being safe, intelligent, informed, and responsible, and making myself crazy(er). 😉

    That being said, I try never to tell other people how to treat their manic-depression, or anything else they may have going on. I will certainly discuss my experiences when people want me to, because they are considerable: I have taken every medication specifically indicated for bipolar, pretty much every medication used off-label (and in more dosages and combinations than I will ever care to recount), I have used supplements, gone the naturalistic route, tried massage, electroconvulsive therapy, CBT, EMDR, IPSRT, talk therapy, and gone medication-free. And I won’t pretend that I don’t sometimes offer unsolicited advice, though I try to refrain (unless it’s in my own blog space or I feel something could be downright dangerous).

    But my long and rambling point is that everyone finds relief in different ways, and a treatment plan needs to be as individualized as, well, the individual. There is no one-size-fits-all, particularly with manic-depression, and I think anyone who purports that there is gives groups like the one you detail here an unfair rap (by common association and assumption).

    So I, for one, am glad you posted this. It may not be applicable to me directly, but it educated me (which is never a bad thing!), and it showed that you have a very open mind, which I respect tremendously.

  4. Hi! A note to your readers: The first link to the Icarus project no longer works (leads to a “Page Not Found” message). Deleting the “/node” part of the address will fix that, or just click the Icarus banner on the “Page not Found” message. Cheers!

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