Tag Archives: alternative medicine

Electroacupuncture May Help Relieve Depression

Last year in a state of severe depression I found myself willing to try almost anything to help it abate more quickly. One of the things I tried was acupuncture.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much success with it treating my depressive symptoms (though I seemed to have a little luck with the relaxing environment helping my anxiety) but an article yesterday centered around a study involving electroacupuncture relieving some of the symptoms of depression caught my eye.

Researchers at the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, and the Department of Psychiatry in Kowloon Hospital did a clinical trial using dense cranial electroacupuncture stimulation (DCEAS) on patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).

To dumb that down a little bit, consider DCEAS to be something like acupuncture on the head (primarily) that involves the added bonus of electric pulses (yes, electricity) to those needles. This is a new treatment technique developed only recently, and I am sure it is a lot less terrifying than it sounds. From my own experience, regular acupuncture is considerably less painful and scary than it looks (and I’ve had it done on my head/face), so I wouldn’t let that deter one from potentially seeking this treatment in the future, if this is something that becomes more widespread and seems like it might be desirable to you.

The article leaves out a lot of details, but the takeaway seems to be that notable improvement was said to be seen in patients receiving electroacupuncture in as few as three days, with continued improvement throughout the trial.

Want to read more? Read the full article here…

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Chasing Hypomania

I recently had someone ask me a very good question, one that I’d never thought of before.

If it is possible to trigger episodes, why don’t people just constantly trigger hypomanic episodes?

For many folks with bipolar disorder, hypomania is the holy grail of the experience. It is usually the window of time where people who are cycling can kick butt at seemingly any task (usually outperforming at work), appear more confident and collected, and just plain feel great. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that the depression or mania they experience is overwhelming, but is all worth it if they get a chance to experience hypomania periodically.

I think the answer to the specific question above is two-fold.

  • There are people that do try to maintain a constant state of hypomnia.

I’ve seen this happen, and it is common for people to try and either trigger themselves into this state or try to maintain the hypomania for as long as possible (or both). The manner in which they attempt to achieve this can be in several different ways, but it just depends on what things trigger that particular individual. 

It could be overloading on caffeine, sleep deprivation, manipulating the diet, manipulating medications and/or doctors to receive particular medications, using “street drugs”, and the list goes on and on.

While I’m definitely an advocate for manipulation of different elements in one’s life to try to help maintain stability, I can’t say that the aftermath of these sorts of actions (that I’ve seen anyway) lend themselves to attempting something of this caliber. Again, I try not to judge others on how they attempt to navigate living with bipolar disorder, but having seen the end result leads me to the second portion of my response.

  • The result of prolonged hypomania or the attempts to trigger it can have pretty severe, devastating effects. 

A recent study suggested that memory is linked to our sleep patterns. People who get more sleep are less likely to develop diseases like Alzheimers. I’m sure most folks who have gone a few days without sleep can attest what kind of immediate effect that seems to have on the memory portion of the brain, so sleep deprivation to attempt to trigger hypomania can be extremely dangerous and have rough consequences in the long-haul.

Some “street drugs” (I hate that term, shouldn’t there be a better one by now?) are also notorious for contributing to delusions, psychosis, & paranoia -even if there was none evident in the person before. Is this going to be less likely for anyone who has experienced those things without the drugs? Probably not.

Also, attempting to trigger a hypomanic episode can have the opposite effect as intended, either triggering depression or full on mania.

Someone with bipolar type II might argue that the risk when playing this game isn’t quite as great because that diagnosis means they haven’t experienced true mania, so that would mean the only negative possibility might be triggering depression. But, just because you haven’t had full mania in the past doesn’t mean you can’t in the future, and it is widely accepted in the medical world that if bipolar disorder isn’t treated or is agitated (like possibly triggering it on purpose over and over again?), it can get worse. Yes, that means the potential introduction of true mania, or even an introduction of psychosis with depression or mania, for someone who hasn’t previously had those symptoms.

On top of that, this tends to be an illness where what goes up must come down. Triggering hypomanic episodes will potentially be triggering depression, once the hypomania abates.

For me? Trying to trigger hypomania is way too much of a gamble. After experiencing a full-on manic episode with psychosis (triggered by medication), I constantly live in fear of reaching that place again. I’m really trying to get my shit together these days, so rocking the boat on purpose seems like it would be a very foolish thing for me to do right now. I also still have episodes occurring on their own, so trying to shake up that rhythm could potentially land me in a bad place.

I know that hypomania can be intoxicating, especially while you’re experiencing it, and I don’t think experiencing it is a bad thing -on the contrary! The bipolar brain seems to be able to accomplish SO MUCH in this state that it is important to get to experience it, I think.

That said, I also know how hard it can be to go very long periods of time without it. My last big episode of depression was a year long, and feeling terrible for a year without one of those fun natural highs was really rough. I understand the desperation, but I hope people will (at least) consider the consequences to their actions before trying to trigger any kind of episode. Is it really worth the risk?

Finding the Right Therapist

It seems like last week’s post Is Therapy Pointless for the Unmedicated Bipolar Patient? caused a bit of a stir. In the last week I’ve received quite a lot of responses with many different opinions on the matter, which have led me to the following conclusion:

people’s expectations of what having a relationship with a therapist means varies WIDELY, and there is no single answer when it comes to what folks expect their therapists to do for them. 

On top of that, I would say at least 50% of the people I’ve talked to are unhappy with their relationship with their therapist and weren’t sure what to do about it.

Most responses I heard were very clear that the effectiveness relies, in large part, to having a patient/therapist relationship that works for you. Is therapy pointless? That depends on what you are trying to get out of it, and what your therapist is able to provide.

So I thought I would spend a little time today on finding the right therapist.

I definitely agree that getting what you want out of therapy can not only be tricky, but finding a therapist who is on the same page can be a grueling process as well. Should you pick one and just give them a go? Try out a few and then decide who you feel most comfortable with? There are a lot of different ways to go about this process.

Never had a therapist before? That’s ok. Here’s a quick rundown of how this process normally works.

If you are going to a clinic, there is usually someone who does an intake appointment, and the person usually is not going to be your therapist. You may or may not be charged for this initial evaluation, where you will be asked about your history and current situation. After a brief evaluation period you may get a call letting you know whether you have been accepted or denied into the clinic, at which point you will be scheduled with a therapist.

Clinics can be great because if you don’t mesh with your initial therapist, there are often many more in the same office you can switch to. On the downside, you don’t always have as much of a say in who you will be seeing specifically (at least initially), and having an intake appointment with someone who wont be your final therapist can mean telling the same story twice.

If you are seeking someone in private practice, you can often read people’s bios on the internet or get information through your psychiatrist or general physician. This can be nice if you already know that you are looking for something specific, like art therapy, for example. Generally I’ve found that private therapists will give you one free session to get a feel for how things fit between you, and do not require a next appointment right away.

Private therapists can be great if you are looking for something specific, and having a free session means you could potentially try out several before making a final decision about who you like best. On the downside, some will ask for a specific commitment period (which would mean agreeing to something like weekly sessions for a 6 month period), and they tend to be a little more expensive overall.

If you are short on funds there are a few options. Sometimes local schools have programs for those getting advanced degrees to become therapists which can offer free or low-cost therapy if you are willing to see a student. Sometimes this can mean being recorded or videotaped in your sessions so their instructor can review how they’re working, but this is something that can be helpful in a pinch if you can’t afford any other options.

On the plus side, potentially free! On the downside, these folks are much more inexperienced so it is possible that having a diagnosis such as bipolar disorder may not qualify you for therapy at their level.

In addition to where the person is practicing and what the cost is, there is more you’ll want to consider.  I know, shocker right? Some people don’t take the time to read any further into what they’ll be getting out of this relationship though, and those tend to be the ones that are frustrated or disappointed with what they get. It is ok to be picky. Granted, some people have limitations based on the population of the area they live in, which is something I’ve had to deal with in the past, but there is a big difference between compromising and just saying yes to the first person you meet.

Here are the three things I would consider, to get a better understanding of what I’m looking for:

  1. Values
  2. Perspective
  3. Expectations

1. What kind of values are you looking for in your therapist?

At the same time you can ask yourself, what kind of values do you have? Is natural or alternative medicine something that appeals to you? Are you interested in an artistic or spiritual approach to whatever you’re dealing with? Should the person be LGBT friendly?

My own therapist is really big on reinforcing that she doesn’t look at anyone as a label or specific disorder, she considers everyone she sees to just be people, all on a level playing field. That is a value that is important to our relationship.

Some people aren’t particular about the values of their therapist, which leads me to the second consideration,

2. What kind of perspective are you hoping to gain?

Do you want a therapist with the same values as you, or are you hoping to gain an “outside” perspective? Some people chose their therapist based on what perspective they hope to gain. Personally, I feel more comfortable with a woman therapist, and it isn’t that a man’s perspective isn’t valuable to me, it just isn’t as helpful with my own personal situation. Are you potentially interested in a therapist who is much older than you, or one around the same age? It all depends on what kind of perspective you’re interested in and who you feel comfortable with.

And finally,

3. What do you expect your therapist to do for you?

When you enter into the initially awkward, yet sacred bond between patient and therapist, what are you hoping to get out of it?

I’ve seen a lot of therapists, and they almost exclusively start the relationship by asking what goals I wish to achieve by participating in therapy. My mind always goes blank and I never feel like I have a good answer, or at least the right answer, as if there is one. The word goals is what usually puts me into a stupor, I’m quickly sent back to school in my mind trying to figure out what my goal is, in regard to how quickly I want to be able to run a mile in class. Since this word makes me like a deer in the headlights, I’ve tried to go about this a different way. What is at the core of the very reason I’ve agreed to see a complete stranger in the first place, what services am I expecting this therapist to provide?

I think this is the part where debate about whether therapy for unmedicated patients is pointless or not becomes murky. Most responses I heard were very clear that the effectiveness relies, in large part, to having a patient/therapist relationship that works for you. Is therapy pointless? That depends on what you are trying to get out of it, and if you’re therapist can realistically give it to you.

If the point is to cure one of bipolar disorder, it’s pretty easy to argue therapy will fail, and is therefore pointless.

There are a ton of other, more realistic reasons for seeing a therapist though, some of which may have gone unconsidered. Here are a few of the big reasons people seek out therapy:

  • A Mentor

Many perfectly “mentally healthy” people see a therapist as a mentor-type figure. Someone who can help weigh the pros and cons of potential big decisions, or give advice on how to conduct onseself in particular situations.

  • Career Therapy

Some people, especially those unemployed, can seek out therapy to help figure out their career goals. If you’re switching industries or want to make a change to another career path, there are therapists who can help with that specifically.

  • A Spiritual Guide

Some people seek out therapy with the intention of finding someone with similar spiritual beliefs that can help guide them. When folks don’t exactly agree with the modern forms of treatment, this is a common alternative, and I’ve seen that there are therapists available in a number of religious and spiritual concentrations.

  • Releasing Steam

Some people have friends or relatives that they talk to on a regular basis about their lives to release steam and let off some pressure, but some people don’t -or don’t feel comfortable talking about specific topics with the people they know. Therapy can be a great way to release steam and decompress when something particularly aggravating is going on.

  • A Support Person

Sometimes we just need a supportive force in our lives, right? For anyone who has been around a lot of negativity, having time around someone who is supportive and can praise our accomplishments can be a big mood-booster. Having that extra support can also mean the difference between succeeding in overcoming a problem, and not.

  • Friend With an Outside Perspective

Many of us surround ourselves with friends with similar values to our own, so some people really find it helpful to have another “friend” who can look at situations from another point of view. Maybe you’re not religious, but your therapist is -can you work together to find common ground to feel good about each other? This is great for people looking to get a more “well-rounded” perspective on things.

  • Learning Coping Skills

This is a common theme among many therapists, they usually want to teach “tools” on how to cope with various situations. This can be helpful for things like anxiety and stress, as well as bipolar disorder, PTSD, & more.

  • Gain an Understanding of Mental Health

For many people, therapists act as a sort of “mental health 101” in regard to informing people about the ins and outs. If you’ve just been diagnosed for the first time, chances are that a therapist might be able to give a little more insight into the world of mental health.

  • Heal From Trauma or Loss

It is common for people to grieve the loss of their “easy” life after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This process can take years and a form of acceptance can be difficult to reach, but therapy could potentially help. It could also be helpful in grieving any kind of loss, or  grieving and healing from past trauma. This is something that can be very uncomfortable, so building a stable foundation with your therapist before starting on this process is considerably helpful.

  • Build Stronger Relationships

It is said that our relationships are based on the ones we grew up around, so therapy is important to a lot of people for either building a new, healthy relationship or learning ways to make a current relationship stronger. These could be relationships with anyone from co-workers, friends, family, or partners.

  • Change Thought Patterns

Low self-esteem from negative thoughts about your self, or negative/unruly thoughts in general? Some people find therapy helpful in alleviating these, as well as obsessive or other harmful thought patterns. Keep in mind, this is not something that will change overnight, but with time changing thought patterns can be exceptionally helpful for changing one’s life for the better.

  • Change Behaviors

Some people want to change certain behaviors but don’t know where to start. Things like addiction can be particularly daunting, so having someone who can guide you through the process can be very helpful.

  • Relating to Others (group therapy)

Many folks facing big issues in their lives feel isolated, group therapy is awesome for getting a chance to relate to others facing similar issues. This can add a lot of perspective and give some the inspiration to persevere in situations where they may not have otherwise.

  • Understanding the Self

Sometimes I ask myself, “why do I do what I do?” and nothing has been more helpful in answering those questions than therapy. We are all such complicated beings that there is usually more going on than meets the eye, and my general thought is that I might as well get to know myself as best I can -we’re going to be stuck together for a while!

  • Improve Communication Skills

Is there a topic in your life that you have trouble talking about with others? Or are there situations where you feel your ability to communicate is hampered? Maybe to your boss, or to strangers, or your family? Therapy can be a great way to learn new methods of communication and improve what you’ve already got!

 

There are certainly plenty more reasons to see a therapist, but I’ll stop there. I really just wanted to give you some idea of the scope of what is available, and what some people find helpful.

Once you figure out what you’re looking for, it is important to discuss what you’re looking for in the relationship and what you’re trying to achieve with your [potential] therapist. It is possible that they may not be able to provide something you are looking for, and if that is the case, that’s ok. You can keep looking, or make a compromise, but the point is that the choice is up to you.

The idea is that by figuring out what we want out of therapy and what we’re looking for in a therapist, we can avoid having those “pointless” therapy/patient relationships. After all, why keep paying for/doing something that isn’t helpful?

Is Therapy Pointless for the Unmedicated Bipolar Patient?

Kind of in conjunction with yesterday’s post, I want to take things back about a year before my quest for trying out modern medicine for the second time.

I was un-medicated and working a full time job in the fashion industry. “Yikes” is about the only way I can put it. That is a rather unforgiving industry, and though I was being pushed past my own limit by the horrendous actions of a couple of bad apples, I was somehow managing to hang on by a thread. My plan of attack was to find a good therapist that could weather the storm with me in an attempt to ride it out.

Unfortunately that plan crashed and burned.

I attempted to cultivate relationship with three different therapists, all of whom dumped me in one way or another.

I use the word “dumped” because there are few other words to describe sitting in the waiting room at my designated time, only not to be fetched by my associated therapist. With no call or explanation, beyond this:

The benefits of therapy are not significant enough for our relationship to continue if you plan to remain unmedicated.

Yep. Therapy, denied. Unless I was willing to also find a psychiatrist and take whatever I was prescribed, none of those therapists were willing to see me on a weekly basis. And mind you, was paying them.

I’ll admit, at the time, I really took it personally. What, I was somehow able to navigate roughly 60 hours a week of work but was suddenly too “crazy” during the hour I was in their office to be able to help without some kind of sedation? My seeming “non-compliance” with the psycopharmalogical world meant I would also reject listening to their perspectives, even though I sought them out? Ridiculous. I assumed I must be farther gone than I had originally thought.

Then, I was furious at these women. Didn’t they get into this field to help people? What, do they only take the easy cases? Why wasn’t anyone willing to rise to the challenge, if I was so nuts? And why were they all so flaky and blowing me off that way, didn’t they think I could handle an actual mature conversation?

So I gave up.

And I don’t have any desire to work in the fashion industry anymore.

There was a third explanation, a third possible reason for these interactions that I was completely unaware of until the Bipolar Disorder in Focus conference two weeks ago.

A woman there gave a presentation on the benefits of psychosocial therapy, and included a number of studies done on the subject. At the end, she said something that made all kinds of bells and whistles go off in my head:

There have been no studies on the impact of psychosocial therapy without the use of medication, in regard to the treatment of bipolar disorder.

HA!

There it is, there’s a big ol’ hole in our knowledge there. Would therapy alone be beneficial to those with bipolar disorder? Technically, since it hasn’t been researched, we don’t know.

I just want to take a second to point out that I realize the last couple posts may have seemed a little anti-drug, and I don’t want people to take that away, and nothing else.

It isn’t that I’m anti-drug, I am just pro-knowledge.

It isn’t that psychological medications are bad, they’re actually quite good for a lot of people. Personally, though, they do not react well with my body. I have a very sensitive body chemistry, which makes taking most of the medications that are out there for bipolar disorder today impossible. Clearly this has made things pretty difficult, especially when trying to find someone like a therapist, because they seem to have a pre-conceived notion of what will or wont help me.

Thankfully since that terrible time I had, I’ve found a therapist who is quite wonderful and doesn’t drive me absolutely bananas.

Anyway, since hearing that there hasn’t been much to tell us if therapy would help without the drugs (which, spoiler alert, I spent roughly seven years unmedicated so I can tell you it does), I decided to do a little snooping around online myself.

I contacted The Royal College of Psychiatrists‘s library in London to gain access to one of their publications (notably The Psychiatrist) which is available to (you guessed it) those working in the field of psychiatry for free, and pretty much everyone else for a modest fee. To my surprise, they allowed me free access to the article I wanted based on the fact that I am a patient. UK, you’ve just gained some favor in my book!

I try not to go all citation-crazy on this blog because as soon as medical jargon starts getting thrown around, I know a lot of folks lose interest. It can be hard to understand at times, and I usually find myself thinking, “alright, well what was the point of that?” It isn’t that I discount intellectualism, but I do try to write to a broad audience of people. I’d like to include a couple excerpts today though, so you can see exactly what I’m referring to, straight from the horse’s mouth. Or the horse’s keyboard, anyway.

The specific piece I was curious about is entitled, “Psychological Therapies for Bipolar Disorder: addressing some misunderstandings”, and is actually a letter published (by the original authors of a study) in reply to a letter published about the authors’ originally published work. If you can follow that. Right. (See, that’s why I usually don’t venture here!)

The excerpts I have pulled are authored by a team led by Steven H. Jones, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Spectrum Centre for Mental Research, Lancaster University, UK, including Fiona Lobban, Anne Cooke, Warren Mansell, Kim Wright and Joanne Hemmingfield, at the Spectrum Centre for Mental Research, Lancaster University.

We do not argue against the use of medication treatments, but we do discuss the fact that they are not necessarily helpful for everyone and that choice in relation to this, as well as other forms of treatment, is an important consideration. We accept that the evidence for psychological interventions is based mainly on participants who are currently receiving medication as well. This could mean that the sole ingredient offered by psychological interventions is an increase in adherence, but this is no more proven than other possible explanations. P.433

Be sure to replace “psychological interventions” with the word “therapy”, if you feel so inclined, because that is what they’re basically saying. The last sentence suggests there may be others who believe that the only reason therapy is helpful for bipolar disorder is to keep patients on their medications, but that the idea is not more proven than any other ideas of what therapy adds to the mix.

…there are no drug-free studies of psychological interventions in bipolar disorder. Such studies prove an enormous challenge, given the present readiness to prescribe. However, it is encouraging that psychological therapies appear to be superior to medication in the long term for a range of other psychiatric disorders, including unipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. Nevertheless, our approach sees a key role for medication in services, particularly in situations of acute risk, and for clients for whom the benefits are clear. P.433

I find this portion incredibly encouraging. There are obvious situations where medications are necessary, but the fact that therapy is superior to medication (in the long term) for a number of other psychiatric disorders should be some indication of the potential for success with bipolar disorder.

…we provide extensive reports from large numbers of people with bipolar disorder, reporting on how they have learned to cope with their mood swings. We regard such evidence as primary rather than secondary in the pursuit of a scientific understanding of emotion regulation and how it becomes a problem for many people, just as early psychiatrists utilised a phenomenological stance in building their initial categorisations of mental illness. P.433

All I can say here is: awesome. I feel so often that the focus seems to be on eradicating symptoms, but I personally would rather just be better able to cope. I believe bipolar disorder does offer some benefits, and mere eradication usually includes both the benefits and the drawbacks. How better to gain a better understanding of how people cope than to talk to them? Seems deceptively simple, no?

So, just a little nugget, there. After going to that conference I am hungry for more science, more research, and more medical professionals I can actually agree with. It is important to me that I can feel hopeful about what is being done in the mental health field, even if it is only occasionally, and the politics here in America have a tendency to stifle that for me, to some degree.

I also wanted to take the time to say that I really do believe that a partnership with a therapist can do wonders. Medicated or not, as long as you’re willing to be open, honest, and receptive, it really shouldn’t  matter. And if someone tries to give you flack? Me and these 6 psychiatrists, we’ve got your back!

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.

Vitamin D-less in Seattle

I recently started taking Fish Oil (well, again) at the suggestion of one of my medical team members.

I say again because I started taking it a while back, but I was trying to take it with dinner. It didn’t work out because I kept the bottle in the freezer, and I kept forgetting to take it. Now I’m taking it with breakfast (since I’m in the kitchen anyway) and it seems to be working out much better.

Keeping fish oil capsules in the freezer does wonders for keeping the heartburn, indigestion, and fishy taste at bay.

Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to have some kind of effect on reducing depression, or bouts of it. However, every study I’ve read so far is completely different, so nobody seems to really know what is going on.

I guess the consensus by most doctors, though, is that it has the potential to be beneficial. If it were useless, they wouldn’t have suggested it, right?

It seems like this is the case with most supplements, though that is purely speculation. On the news you’ll hear that one day a dose of such-n-such will keep away cancer, and six months later the same dose now puts you for higher risk of cancer.

The studies aren’t particularly conclusive, and when they are there seem to be conflicting conclusions depending on the study.

So how do I know what supplements are ok to take?

I have a couple rules of thumb that I follow regarding supplements & vitamins.

  1. I always try to get the vitamin/mineral from my diet first, because I seriously don’t need to be taking any more pills. If I need iron, maybe I should eat more broccoli or beans or beef. Instead of taking a fiber supplement, I’ll eat whole grains and leafy greens. Call me crazy, but by changing my diet I can hit two birds with one stone! Having a well-balanced diet is helpful for staying fit and feeling good, and I don’t have to take a million supplements.
  2. There are some things that are slightly elusive though. Oh, like Vitamin D in Seattle. Or fish oil. I like fish, but I don’t intend to live on a diet of fish entirely. For these things, I want to talk to my doctor first. Some supplements interact with other medications, so I’m not going to run out and just buy a bunch of things and start taking them. I also like to talk to people who are already taking whatever supplement I’m suggested to see if it is really worth trying.
  3. If I’m really going to commit to taking a supplement, I try and do as much research as I can first. Some fish oil, for example, puts you at a higher risk for mercury poisoning, so that’s kind of important to know. A little research can help me figure out what brands are trustworthy, and have a smaller impact on the environment (if that is important to you, it is to me!).

Having an opinion about what I’m putting in my body and knowing where I draw the line can be very helpful in the otherwise confusing world of supplements. When in doubt, I always talk to a medical professional, whether that is a holistic specialist, naturopath, psychiatrist, or physician.

Since I’m currently sloshing around in the shallow waters of depression I am very hopeful that the fish oil will help, even if just a little. I haven’t noticed a huge difference so far, but I’ll probably keep taking it for about six months to see if I seem to have any benefit.

For now I’m just playing the waiting game.

Could Magic Mushrooms Ease Depression?

There was an article published yesterday on the HealthGrades website that caught my attention, “Could ‘Magic’ Mushrooms Ease Depression?”

Really? I thought, I’m sure this’ll be bizarre.

What I didn’t know is that psilocybin (the active ‘ingredient’ in these mushrooms) was used extensively in psychotherapy in the 1950s, but the biological effects haven’t been thoroughly researched until recently.

When injected with psilocybin and scanned with an MRI, the psilocybin caused decreased activity (the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a mind “expanding” drug) in the “hub” regions of the brain.

A second study found that psilocybin helped patients recall personal memories and increased their emotional well being for up to two weeks after the dose was given.

Finally, a third study suggested that people with anxiety who received one treatment with psilocybin had decreased amounts of depression six months later.

Obviously there is more research to be done, and I would recommend reading the whole article for more details, it’s pretty interesting!

The reason this article caught my attention in particular was because it reminded me of something I recently read in  Welcome to the Jungle, by Hilary Smith. The book is supposed to be a guide about bipolar disorder, but is said to contain, “everything you ever wanted to know about bipolar but were too freaked out to ask.”

I wasn’t thrilled with the book, and for an “alternative” source on bipolar disorder I’d highly recommend another source, one I’m planning on writing about in the next week or so.

The only thing in the book I thought was surprising was that it addresses the concept of psychedelics. Mind you, it is basically two pages of, “these might screw you up for good, or they might not,” but I was shocked to even find that a chapter. It is the only book I’ve stumbled on that had a blurb about medical marijuana as well, even if it was just a few lines of the same wishy-washy non-information.

Personally I’ve opted to avoid psychedelics, a feeling that was certainly confirmed when I unwittingly began having Ambien hallucinations a couple months ago. It isn’t that I experience hallucinations on my own, per-se, but I feel like I am on the brink of having them at all times. Why would I induce something I experience naturally, especially when it is something that can become so unnerving so quickly?

I have, however, babysat folks who were experiencing the effects of psilocybin, and from what I can tell (and have read) it seems like the setting is what really defines the experience. Maybe that is something that makes a huge difference in these medical trials, but I guess we’ll have to wait to find out more.

Imagine those therapy sessions though!