As people become more aware of mental illness in our society, people are starting to share about their mental illness and how it impacts them more frequently. Treatments, self-care regimens, and overall ideas on how to lessen the blow that is associated with mental illness are also prevalent topics. And with all prevalent topics, discussion abounds about the good, the bad, and the ugly of each process that is used to alleviate symptoms. The controversy over medication versus homeopathic treatment brings forth varying arguments. In lieu of taking 14 pills a day, I’ve been encouraged to try yoga, meditation, exercise, a proper diet, and various more specific natural dietary supplements such as the B vitamins to control my bipolar disorder naturally.
I received my Bipolar II Disorder diagnosis over two years ago after several months of fighting a depression so brutal I was barely able to hold myself upright. My initial diagnosis was Major Depressive Disorder, but before my family physician had me in to see a psychiatrist in order to prescribe appropriate medication, my mind swirled into a hypomanic state in which I was planning to quit my job as an RN so I could sell mascara through a multi-level marketing plan – I know…don’t ask…however, it was my sudden wild-eyed, euphoric flight from suicidal ideation into the world of entrepreneurial ideation which alerted my doctor to my true diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. (As an aside, for those who are wondering, all mascara wands were removed from my possession and my letter of resignation was confiscated before it could be handed in.)
My issue with this debate between modern medicine and alternative medicine flares up whenever I’m lectured about the evils of medication when treating mental illness, especially when substance-induced-mood-disorders (SIMD) are used as the predominant argument. In my case, I was a hot mess for years before the introduction of medication. Now I’m a hot mess who doesn’t wonder what it would be like to crash my car into a tree.
However, in an effort to try all available means to lessen my symptoms and to demonstrate an open mind, I have attempted deep breathing, meditation, and visualization while in the midst of a crippling anxiety attack. The results however have left me even more overwhelmed as I worried that I wasn’t deep breathing correctly. Kudos to those who have the strength of will to keep the antianxiety meds out of reach while their rapid-fire inhaling and exhaling of the anxiety attack is slowed down naturally with the “in with the good air, out with the bad air” approach. Personally, as I’m reaching for a bucket in case I vomit and I’m seeking the closest horizontal surface in case I pass out, I’d rather sort out the issue by taking a medically prescribed drug, and go on with my day. And I’d like to do all of this without the judgment of those who are able to accomplish the same things minus the vile chemicals you say I’m putting into my panic-stricken body. During depressive periods, the feeling of doom that swallows me for days, weeks, and months as I cling to life is unfortunately not alleviated by homeopathic methods. I am barely able to leave my bed much less attend a yoga class where my ‘downward dog’ would be substituted for Shavasana (which, FYI, means ‘corpse pose’; how’s that for irony?).
Nonetheless I am envious of those who are managing their illness via natural remedies. As someone who was very active in the fitness industry and competed in body building competitions on a national level, I would love to be back in the gym. But I can’t. My strength is limited to that which I give to my work and my family. Most of my free time is spent recuperating in the indents my body has made in all of the soft surfaces around my house such as the couch and my bed. And so to be told by someone who is not living my life that I could be a normal, active member of society if only I committed to alternative medicine rather than the pretty orange pills that stabilize my moods only serves to make me more depressed. So thanks for that.
Although I know you mean well when you tell me how bad my medication is for me, and self-care is all the rage, maybe you should think twice before blurting that out and realize that for me, at this point in my illness, self-care doesn’t mean a brisk walk around the block or even a leisurely, relaxing massage. For me self-care is making it through the day alive.
About Sandra Charron
I'm the mother of four children working as a registered nurse on a postpartum unit. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder two years ago, and in my constant search for information as to how to handle life with this illness, I write whenever and wherever I can in an effort to advocate to end the stigma associated with mental illness. I speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.