Tag Archives: alternative medicine

What’s Color Got To Do With It?

I was walking home from the bus today when I noticed Queen Anne Hill is more colorful than usual.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have a huge smattering of leaves that change color in the fall. Really, I’ve seen the most in the residential areas of Seattle, but I’d say at least 90% of the trees around here are evergreens.

Growing up in Washington, I’ve always attributed the colors blue, green, and gray to this place.

I had a bit of a revelation when I moved to Colorado to go to college because the color palette is much different. Boulder is much more of a red, yellow, and brown place.

Seeing the reds and browns on the hill across the way today made me think of Boulder and I found myself suddenly feeling optimistic.

Do the colors of a place make a difference in the way we feel about it, or how we feel when we’re there? If so, is the relationship something that we’re born with or is it learned (and dependent upon our culture and experiences)?

Color Psychology is the study of color as a factor in human behavior.

I did a little research, but it doesn’t seem like there is a definitive answer to my question. The general answer seems to be yes, colors do make a difference in our moods, but there is some discrepancy about which colors conjure which moods.


Purple is said to be uplifting, calming, and promote spirituality, but can be unsettling and can promote pride and arrogance.

Blue is said to be a calming and relaxing color, for the most part, however one article I read stated that too much blue could bring sadness or indifference, or could come off as being cold and uncaring.

Green is supposedly related to emotional stability (though you wouldn’t know that here in Seattle) and is suggested to help depression and anxiety, but (like blue) too much can conjure sadness or indifference. 

Yellow is optimistic and sparks energy and creativity, but can also cause anger, hyperactivity, and poor concentration.

Orange is warm, energetic, and is said to stimulate appetite and socialization, but can lead to pessimism, confusion, anger, and hostility.

Red is exciting, stimulates energy and enthusiasm, and strengthens willpower, but is most likely to trigger anger and hostility.

Brown is associated with stability, orderliness, and wholesomeness. (I didn’t find any negatives on brown for some reason.)

White is said to evoke purification (cleaning cluttered areas, clearing a cluttered mind) and aid in mental clarity, but can also be unsettling at times.

Grey is supposedly neutral, but I found other sources saying it can be unsettling and depressing.

Black is associated with authoritativeness and mysteriousness, but is easily overwhelming.


Before you run to the hardware store to pick out a new shade for your living room, you should note that research has demonstrated that mood-altering effects of color might only be temporary, wearing off after a short period of time. I’m no scientist, so I don’t know if that means our mood is effected every time we walk into a blue room, or only the first time we see it. I would expect that any color someone is around for a significant amount of time would make a difference over time, but who knows.

There is also something called Color Therapy (or Chromatherapy), a practice in which colors are used to influence things like mood, mental state, energy level, and physical functioning. An interesting concept, but it is viewed highly skeptically by most medical professionals.

I tend to lean toward thinking that our responses to color are more likely to be something we’ve picked up from our culture and personal experiences. In America, wearing white is associated with weddings, while in India it is associated with funerals. It seems like that would make a difference in one’s overall perception!

At the end of the day, yes I associate the colors of the blue, gray, and green of Seattle with depression. I know there are countless other variables here, the weather (which is pretty depressing in itself) included, and maybe this is one of those times where I feel that way simply because that’s been my own experience. I can’t deny that the fall colors really perk me up though, and there could be more to it than meets the eye.

The Sleep Variable

Sleep as a Stabilizer

Sleep is one of the first thing I address when it comes to attempting to manipulate any external variables in an attempt to stabilize myself. Obviously it isn’t any sort of instant cure for any problem but I have never once had getting more sleep when I wasn’t sleeping backfire on my mood (I would know, I keep charts!). Trying to manipulate oneself to sleep less while oversleeping is a tad more risky, but more often than not when I fail in that category it isn’t my mood that suffers, I just continue to sleep too much. For me, many larger mood swings can be offset by adding or tweaking the sleep variable. In addition, having a solid, set sleep schedule can largely help keep my mood more even in general.

Though having a set sleep schedule is best idea I can think of for myself, it has been very difficult for me to execute. Having a job with an irregular schedule can wreak havoc on regular sleep habits, and events requiring one to stay up a little later or wake up a little earlier are a fact of life. Though sleep regulation has been a difficult thing for me to work on, the more attention I pay to it the more it pays off.

Sleep as an Emergency Reset Button

Pretty much any time I am in the sort of mood where lights are flashing and sirens are going off, any intensely uncomfortable or dangerous mood, sleep is my number one answer. If I can go to sleep and get a good 10-12 hour chunk of sleep it acts as a reset button. For sudden episodes this technique acts as my sort of emergency reboot.

Shut down the ol’ brain, ‘boot her back up.

From what I understand, many psychiatrists prescribe drugs for this very situation and sleeping is usually the immediate course of action advised upon getting an emergency phone call (as long as hospitalization is not immediately required). It seems extremely unlikely (because I couldn’t say for sure if it is impossible) that anyone who is sleeping will carry out a suicide attempt, right? In that regard I think sleeping in an emergency situation is one of the safest things you can do.

My boyfriend has witnessed enough at this point to know when to grasp me by the shoulders and say, “hon, go to bed.” It has been invaluable to have someone around to remind me of that because usually when I need it the most I am too emotionally distraught to recognize it.

Offsetting Too Little Sleep

Even when I am having a euphoric mood with no need for sleep, 9 times out of 10 things will start to escalate and I will begin losing control after two or three sleepless, energetic nights. Ideas suddenly become that much more grandiose, my desire to curb the mood will begin to fail, and soon I can rationalize even the most irrational thoughts. It is important for me to bring myself down before the whole thing gets blown out of proportion, and that is a situation where sleep becomes my number one ally.

With little or no desire to sleep in this phase it can be incredibly overwhelming trying to sleep after one realizes they somehow can’t.

I’ve compiled a list of things that one might use to get to sleep in those situations, and there are some nights where I have to use several in one night to get to sleep.

  • Taking a nice hot bath or shower
  • Receiving a relaxing massage
  • Physical touch (a nice cuddle) with another warm body (human or pet)
  • Deep breathing and/or meditation
  • Aromatherapy – lavender, chamomile, and sage are supposedly soothing for falling asleep
  • Stretching – it sounds simple, but can help with physical discomfort and relaxation
  • Drinking a warm (decaf) beverage
  • Reading a book – now, this can backfire if the book is too interesting, it’ll just keep you awake. I try to use books with more difficult vocabulary or more complex writing styles, that way I have to really slow down while I read, which usually helps. Anything a bit more taxing than what you’re used to reading is ideal.
  • Watching a movie – this works for some people, again it depends on the movie. I know it isn’t a bad movie or anything but for some reason any time I put on 3:10 to Yuma I fall asleep within the first ten minutes. Those sorts of movies are great to have in your arsenal. I shy away from anything too “triumphant” (aka anything scored by John Williams). Also, beware of televisions without a “sleep” feature that turn themselves off after a specific amount of time, without that you might wake up after listening to the dvd menu music/dialog for three hours straight while sleeping which totally puts me in a funk.
  • Listening to music – I had a specific mix tape at one point dedicated to making me fall asleep, mostly instrumental sorts of music (Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, movie scores)
  • Listening to white noise/ambient noise – great with an ipod or iphone, stick in your headphones and go!
  • Listening to binaural waves – I would highly suggest the Mindwave app for ipod/iphone. This uses sound waves at different frequencies to stimulate different parts of the brain, again just stick in your headphones and go!
  • Medical cannabis is something that some people swear by as a sleep aid, though currently only legal in a few states.
  • And if all else fails, that’s usually about the time I take a sleep-aid (Ambien would be an example).

Personally it is very important to me that I don’t rely too much on sleep aids because I have already experienced what pharmaceutical dependence is like and it is not a pretty thing. Also Ambien caused me to have extremely intense hallucinations once, so again, I try to use these only as a last resort but sometimes a last resort is necessary.

Offsetting Too Much Sleep

It tends to be more difficult for me to cut back oversleeping when I am depressed vs. inducing sleep while hypomanic. Even so, I have noticed that it helps to have a set amount of time dedicated to being conscious while I’m depressed instead of allowing myself to sleep the day away.

  • Fresh air – it doesn’t have to be as much as going outside (which can seem daunting while depressed) but if you can that’s great. If not, just opening a window can help get rid of groggy sleepiness.
  • Eating healthier – again, sounds like a task when I’m depressed, all I want to do is eat comfort food that puts me into a food coma! Eating a salad instead of continuous mac n’ cheese is helpful for me every once in a while.
  • Performing repetitive tasks – nothing huge, but if I am to knit or play solitaire while being a couch potato I am much more likely to make it though that movie or tv show without napping.
  • Exercise – exercise is proven to increase energy, even though it usually feels to me that it is initially sapping all the energy I have at the time. Yoga is great for being energizing without requiring much energy to perform.
  • Making plans – I try to make plans at times I know I shouldn’t be sleeping (like the mid afternoon) so I am occupied during that time and can’t sleep.
  • Caffeine – I usually avoid this but when I’m depressed I’ll allow myself a cup of tea. Some people can handle caffeine fine but it can trigger hypomania for me.
  • Having a pet – kind of like making plans, but this is more of a permanent solution. I have to be up at certain times to take out my dog, so having that repetitive daily commitment helps keep me up. Also having to take her outside means I get fresh air as well, two birds with one stone!
  • Turn on a lamp – supposedly dim lighting can add to fatigue, so the more light, the better
  • Do a puzzle – personally I love puzzles, and not just the fluffy kitty cat jigsaw puzzles either. Doing a crossword, sudoku, watching Jeopardy, anything to keep my mind working (even a little) will likely keep me awake too.

Like I said, I really think it is much more difficult to offset too much sleep because usually when I need to my motivation is gone entirely.

How Much?

I guess everyone is different, as far as how much sleep is a good amount for each person. I need a little more than the average person. It usually takes me 10-12 hours to feel rested so I try to avoid napping, sleeping an hour or two at a time tends to leave me more cranky than refreshed. After particularly strenuous activities or after having gone a long time without the comfort of my own bed I tend to need 14-18 hours of sleep to recover.

Most people seem to have a pretty good grasp on how much sleep they need (or like) to get to function properly but if you don’t all it takes it a little experimentation to find out. Once I figured out the tricks for my own body, sleep has become the number one external variable I manipulate to improve my mood.

Variables: an introduction

After having a horrible time with my first antidepressant (fluvoxamine or “Luvox”) and experiencing rapid cycling between ungodly low depression and mania with psychotic symptoms which resulted in my first hospitalization (somehow only for the depression portion), then having to experience the withdrawal of being casually cut off of that medication cold turkey and locked in a room crying, shaking, and vomiting uncontrollably for hours… well, ever since then I haven’t been too keen on the idea of pharmaceutical medication. I can’t help but feel that I experienced what easily borders on torture, and it is very important to me that I do not ever have an experience like that again.

Needless to say, I have spent the vast majority of my life un-medicated. I don’t think things have been terrible, but they have been hard, and the thought of becoming medicated at some point popped back up on my radar as being something I wouldn’t entirely reject, but our healthcare system has made it almost impossible for me to explore that option.

Within the last year I had the opportunity to give things another go, but I’ve been shot down almost every step of the way by a lack of availability of doctors, lack of funds to buy overpriced pharmaceuticals, and living in a body with an extreme sensitivity to all 10 drugs I’ve tried within the last year, except one. For some reason lithium is the only thing that my body can stand, and I have been having almost the opposite reaction as the other drugs; at 900mg there is barely any lithium absorbed into my bloodstream. Even taking that much I haven’t been able to come close to having a “therapeutic amount” absorbed (aka, the amount when it is supposedly having a noticeable effect on your brain).

Please specifically take note that I am in no way trying to discredit the medications within the realm of modern medicine, I’m simply stating that my personal experience with them has been taxing, to say the least.

Living un-medicated has left me making my fair share of bipolar blunders, but through experimentation and experience I’ve devised a few systems for helping myself cope. It is important to me at this point to feel like I am doing everything I can to help myself.

My general philosophy involves tweaking different variables in my life to help push my mood one way or another. Honestly, it is an extremely exhausting process and it isn’t exactly fool proof, but it does help me.

There are a lot of variables that can help influence my mood. The things I would put in this category are things that may have the ability to have a negative influence on my mood (which I might include in my list of triggers -or things that are likely to trigger an episode, something I will write more about later) but are what I consider “variables” because I can change them in different ways to help level out my mood.

  1. Sleep
  2. Diet
  3. Relaxation
  4. Stress
  5. Communication
  6. Creativity
  7. Contact
  8. Exercise
  9. Medicine
  10. Environment

I am planning on exploring each of these variables further individually, however I want to have a breif description here:

1. Sleep – exactly what it sounds like, sleep regulation as both a stabilizing tool and a “reset” button.

2. Diet – people say, “you are what you eat” and most people agree that the more healthily they eat, the better they feel.

3. Relaxation – to me, relaxation and stress have a real yin/yang sort of relationship.

4. Stress – this is a tricky category, but finding creative ways to remove stress/stressors is very helpful.

5. Communication – the main reason I love therapy, verbalization helps slow and organize the thought process.

6. Creativity – another tool I use to help slow and organize the thought process.

7. Contact – anything from being in the same room as another person to physical contact.

8. Exercise – another of those “obvious” sounding ones but more difficult to actually follow through with.

9. Medicine – you are probably thinking “but didn’t you say un-medicated?” Yes, but there are many types of medicine, anything from dietary supplements to more alternative medicines.

10. Environment – our surroundings can make a huge impact on our mood, positive or negative.


Like I said, I am planning on going into each topic in detail beginning tomorrow with topic #1: Sleep.


Please note: In my experience it seems that most people with bipolar disorder ask a lot of personal questions about different medications and if I have tried specific ones when they hear about my bad luck with these drugs. Please refrain from doing so at this time, not because I don’t value your opinion, but simply because the frustration I feel about this topic makes it very difficult for me to talk about. I may drag out the ol’ laundry list at another time, but please leave it be for now. Thank you!

the claims of a disclaimer

After the intense emotional purge of yesterdays post I’ve decided to write something a little less personal today to give myself a bit of break. It occurred to me that most people probably don’t have much of a clue about what bipolar disorder actually is, so I thought I’d give a little bit of an outline about it. However, I might just do what one of my recent doctors did to me -though I wont print the pages for you, just send you on over to the Mayo Clinic website.

I am not a doctor and though in my youth I considered becoming one, the sudden lack of motivation caused by a major depressive episode made me reconsider taking on the enormous task of med school. I admit, though I am not a licensed professional, I do have something that many of those professionals don’t have.

I have eight years of experience observing a bipolar individual.

(Yep, me.)

With all of the experiences I have had with doctors who practice “modern medicine”, as well as exploring other “alternative” techniques (like acupuncture) all I can really say is this:

Each individual with bipolar symptoms is different. Unfortunately, what methods work to improve one person’s health might be entirely different from what will work for the next person.

The methods I use to improve my own health may not be suitable for everyone.

I just want to be very clear about that.