Category Archives: Think about it

Prescription medication vs herbal remedies

I’m almost a little scared to write about this, because it seems like these to very distinctive camps simply cannot agree. But in this post I don’t want to discuss which one is better than the other, or what I prefer. I just want to bring some facts to everyone’s attention, and hopefully give some insight. I’ll do my best to keep my personal opinion to myself.

Most people who prefer to uses herbal stuff are all-natural, free range, organic kind of people. The whole thing, as I understand it, is about not putting anything that the earth didn’t produce itself, into your body. I think. I respect that. The prescription drugs we take to keep our brains under control can have nasty side-effects and while they are good for your brain, they’re not always so good for your body. But is herbal remedies really that much better, just because it is only made from plants and things?

My major problem (and hopefully the last of my opinions) with herbal remedies is that it leaves waaaaay too much room to be swindled out of your money with nothing to show for it. A quick google search shows you that you can use anything from lavender to kava to a whole lot of unpronounceable herbs to ‘cure’ your depression. And these drugs are not tested by the FDA. Often, or dare I say most of the time, no studies were performed on these remedies, or the sample size was very tiny. So we can’t even know what the side-effects are most of the time, until we experience it. If you take a remedy with say hibiscus, your whole oral cavity can swell up and you wouldn’t have known that it would happen. At least when I took anti-convulsants, I knew of the possibility that a rash could develop.

The other major problem is that herbal remedies aren’t usually tested to find out how they interact with other herbal remedies, or western medicine. Maybe someone can help me with this one (honest question because I really don’t know): I’ve never used St. John’s Wart, mostly because the leaflets in my medicine boxes says it can cause a bad reaction. My question is if St. John’s Wart comes with the same warning label? How about its interaction with ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine etc? Is it safe?

I understand why someone would want to use herbal remedies instead of medication for things like insomnia, anxiety, depression, energy etc. Heck, I used to use them for anxiety and insomnia. They aren’t addictive, for one. And maybe some of them actually work and are safer. I didn’t experience any side-effects from the ones I tried. But then again I didn’t experience any effects at all!

So here’s what I’m saying: Don’t dis western prescription medication. They have been tried and tested and refined. Sure, they can be bad for you, but there is at least some science behind them. You can talk to various specialists and while they won’t agree 100%, they will agree on the principles. And don’t start the ‘big pharma’ debate where I can hear you. If it wasn’t for medication I wouldn’t be typing here, I’d be dead by my own hand.

If you prefer herbal remedies, that is your prerogative, and if you have found something that has been proven safe AND effective, please let me know so I can check it out. But before you stick anything into your mouth, whether herbal or not, DO YOUR RESEARCH. And that’s not just checking the first site you can find on google. Find at least three corroborating  sources. TALK TO AN EXPERT, whether traditional alternative therapy practitioners, or western trained doctors, and make sure you find out about possible side-effects and interactions. MONITOR CHANGES TO YOUR BODY, just like you would with anything else you take. DON’T GRAB THE FIRST THING YOU SEE, because more expensive is not necessarily better. CHECK THAT THE MANUFACTURER IS CREDIBLE.

Don’t be a sheep and don’t be taken for a fool either. No matter what you choose to treat yourself with, be sure to check the facts and get your bang for your buck.


How mental illness is good for the environment

Let’s face it, in recent years, and maybe not so recent, us humans have been abusing and destroying our beautiful planet. My country is classified as a ‘developing’ one, and our government is incompetent at best. So when it comes to all things environmental, despite having brilliant scientists, I would say that we are generally a bit behind.

So when we had electricity shortages a few years ago, and then again a few years after that, no one was prepared. And when we went into a massive drought, where some areas have now been declared as disaster areas, no one was prepared. ‘Yeah, so what?’ I hear you thinking. ‘What has this got to do with bipolar or mental health?’

It’s simple. In trying to be more vigilant by finding ways I can save resources, I have found that due to my mental illness, I already do! Let’s look at saving water, for example: when I’m depressed I save loads of water from not showering or washing my hair. I’m not proud of this, but if you’ve been depressed you’d know that personal hygiene is really too much of an effort. I mostly just swap one pair of pajamas for another pair, so I very rarely have to do laundry. And even when I do, I just don’t. I certainly don’t touch the dishes (if I even eat), and my mushy brain completely forgets to water my few pot plants. The only water I really use, is for drinking, brushing my teeth (the one thing I always do) and flushing the toilet.

As for electricity, no need to turn the lights on when you’re sleeping most of the time. I don’t use much hot water, or big appliances. My food intake is normally restricted to pizza delivery, ramen noodles, bread and cheese or a meal replacement shake. And lots of chocolate. So no using stoves and ovens here!

And my carbon footprint? Well as we know many people with mental illness are unemployed or work from home. I now fall in the second category, which means I might leave the house once a day to buy groceries or see family (I would love to add ‘and go to the gym’ but that’s not exactly happening right now, or when I’m depressed).

So there you go. If your depression, anxiety, medication side-effects or whatever your brain problem is makes you behave in a similar way that I do, always remind yourself that even though you feel like trash, you are helping mother earth to survive. Who knows, maybe that is our collective goal as the mentally ill. When the planet is in trouble, we get sick so lighten its burden and help it get better, if that makes sense. That’s what I’m going to tell myself the next time I’m horribly depressed, anyway: The planet needs me!


*This post is meant to be a bit tongue in the cheek-ish, so if you are an environmentalist reading here, please don’t be mean and bury me under links to piles of scientific research. I might have a panic attack and slip into a deep depression. Or get mad and go into bipolar rage, and you really wouldn’t want that.*

A history of the Madhouse documentary

I watched this BBC documentary today called A history of the Madhouse. Be warned that it is not for the sensitive viewer and if you don’t know much about the history of asylums and the treatments they performed, you might be quite shocked and horrified. I was, even with my limited knowledge. Dorms with 32 beds, every inch of the place locked up, padded sound proof cells, abuse by nurses, early forms of ECTs with no anesthesia, insulin treatment, lobotomies. The poor crazies (and actually not so crazies) at the time really got it in the 30s to 50s especially. Some went in for one week of observation and only left 5 years, 20, 30 years later. Locked up and isolated from the world. Most of these people weren’t even mentally ill, just unwanted or problematic. Patients were not seen as people but as research projects. Many died from lobotomies and insulin treatment that sent them into comas to ‘reset’ their brains. We look back on these treatments and regard them as barbaric. Others, like a more refined form of ECT and Lithium, are still used today. Some of us owe our lives to the poor people who were subjected to these atrocities year after year.

I think of the private clinic that I frequented and cannot even imagine how it must have been to be locked up in an asylum. Margaret Thatcher can be thanked for them finally being closed in Britain. Problem was, the community care everyone was raving about didn’t really work since most of these poor people didn’t have a vocation or basic life skills. Many of them ended up on the streets or at the Salvation Army, which I suppose is better than the streets at least. Thatcher’s plan was to destigmatise mental illness, to have society view it as illness rather than madness. How she must be turning in her grave to see that these prejudices still exist world wide.

The documentary made me wonder, will some of the treatments that we are subjected to today also be viewed as barbaric 50, 70 years from now? Will people be appalled about how we’ve been medicating our lives away just to function within society’s norms? Or will what is done now be considered as ground breaking, pathing the the way for more specific and sophisticated treatment? I know that some research is being done at the Mayo Clinic about isolating genes and then determining your exact bipolar type so that treatment can be tailored for you needs. But how long is this going to take? Another 50 years? We can only hope that it’s sooner, since those of us with mental health issues are not having such a bloody good time of it.

There is hope, I suppose, one never knows. In the meantime I am extremely grateful to the people who had to subjected to life threatening and debilitating treatment like lab rats, so that I can sleep a bit sounder, or function a bit better.

The Oscar Pistorius trial, mental health and the ignorance of the masses

I actually can’t believe that I am writing about Oscar Pistorius and his trial. I have been avoiding any reports on it because the way people have been treating it as entertainment is enough to enrage me. Unfortunately it’s been nearly impossible as everywhere you go it’s on TV, radio, front pages of magazines and newspapers, twitter, facebook and in every conversation. If you’re not South African, you can read all about the trial online if you want to. However, this post is not about the actual trial. It’s about him going for psychiatric observation and people’s reaction to it. And basically me ranting over how stupid people can be.

Some background: About a month ago Oscar went for psychiatric observation to determine whether he suffers from a mental illness, specifically GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and whether or no he could distinguish right from wrong. The report came in and it was determined that Oscar did not suffer from mental illness at the time. However, what most people neglect to add when they talk about this around the water cooler is that after the incidence he suffers from PTSD and is of committing suicide.

Let me just state up front that I am not condoning murder. What he did was WRONG, no matter how you look at it. What gets to me is how people are now saying, “Ja so he’s not mad hey! chuckle chuckle chuckle” and “apparently he’s going to kill himself now, chuckle chuckle chuckle.” I know I am over sensitive when it comes to issues surrounding mental health. I find these kind of statements incredibly upsetting and insensitive. I suffer from mental illness after all and the only one allowed to call me mad, is ME. Suicide is serious. PTSD is serious. Murder is serious. Human suffering, even when broadcast onto international television, is REAL. What these statements demonstrate is that the masses, your average person, still thinks that mental illness is not real. That it is a joke and something reserved for the crazies in institutions who have to wear straitjackets and have to be locked in padded rooms. They see it as something removed from themselves, while they are surrounded by people suffering from mental illness every day.

On the one hand I feel like I need to speak up when I hear things like this being said, but on the other hand, what is the point of fighting a losing battle, at work, with people who are too set in their ways to change their minds and of then opening myself up to being talked about in the same way? It just blows my mind that people can still be so ignorant in this day and age. I sometimes feel like I’m just screaming this silent scream over and over again.

Any thoughts on how to tackle this problem?

“Just” Bipolar Disorder: A bit of perspective

I’ve been having a rough couple of weeks. A situation arose at work that has created a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. This situation also brought with it many exhausting and time consuming meetings. I have not felt like doing anything with my free time except sleep. Until a series of events today gave me a wake-up call.

I was standing in front of our offices having a smoke with my morning coffee when a colleague of mine came out. We work on projects together but she is my superior and we don’t know each other very well personally. I do know that her son has cancer and underwent an operation. I was surprised when she walked out towards me. When she got to me she just broke down. I held her and stroked her hair while she was crying uncontrollably. She told me about the complications with his operation and how she didn’t know if he was going to make it. She told me about her granddaughter who is suppose to be writing exams and her daughter who also has health issues. I waited with her until her husband came to pick her up. She told me how she couldn’t understand why this was happening. I was caught off guard. As she shared some of her life with me, I shared some of mine. Not to make her feel that what she was going through was anything less than horrific, but to reveal myself as a fellow sufferer.

This evening, just as I was about to head out the door to my church small group meeting, I received a message from a friend telling me that another friend’s dad passed away today. It came as a shock, and I am waiting to hear about he circumstances and what I can do to support him. I was caught off guard.

We had just gotten our meeting started and were chatting about our weeks when one of the girls walked in, late because she written a test. She had barely walked two steps when she had a seizure. No one could catch her in time and she fell and hit her head. Luckily someone in the group knew how to keep her cool under pressure and could give instructions. I have some experience with Epilepsy so I knew how to comfort her. After the fit had passed, I held her hand and stroked her hair and kept telling her to breathe while the others were looking for emergency contacts and phoning doctors. We managed to get her to a bed and she came out of it after about half an hour, and she was okay. I didn’t want her to feel too embarrassed as we don’t know each other that well, I didn’t want her to feel like I’m judging because I didn’t understand. She felt bad about the gaps in her memory, so I told her mine has gaps too, from episodes I can’t fully remember. I revealed myself as a fellow sufferer. I still got home shaking. I was caught completely off guard.

I know if I wasn’t on medication I would have been a total nervous mess by now. But it wasn’t about me and I provided support to these people to the best of my abilities. It did make me realise that I often feel very sorry for myself or like my life sucks when really being able to have an existential crisis is a luxury. I’m not playing down the seriousness of my own illness, not at all. I’ve experienced first hand the damage it can do. And I always say that we can’t compare ‘burdens’, because no matter big or small, life is difficult.

I guess what I realised today is that life can always be worse. Things happen that people are completely unprepared for and in a second life can change. I took my evening meds with a little prayer of thanks, that I have meds that work and have stabilised me and that my illness is one that can be managed. I have reached a point where I know it well enough so it doesn’t often catch me off guard. Although I’m sure it will again.

Having Bipolar Disorder sucks, a lot, and I’m definitely not denying that. But there are people, GOOD people, experiencing the same or worse suffering than we are, and I feel quite privileged that I could somehow just be there for people how deserve so much respect for the way they keep going despite their circumstances. There is a certain beauty that is revealed in that state of vulnerability, from both sides. I don’t know if I’m getting my point across effectively, but I suppose what I’m trying to say that suffering is an integral part of the human condition. No one can get away from it, and every person deals with their own form. If those who suffer, regardless of what they suffer from, can support each other, the shared burden will be much easier for everyone to bear.

Bipolar Disorder: The ‘flu’ of mental health?

I recently read something about celebrities and Bipolar Disorder where Bipolar Disorder was being described as a ‘fashionable diagnosis’ and ‘the flu of mental health’. I practically blew my top. This after hearing people say things like ‘everyone is bipolar these days’, ‘the weather is so bipolar’, ‘I think being bipolar is awesome’.

Generally, I have learned to keep my cool when I am faced with ignorant statements like these. Sometimes I would come out of my Bipolar closet and take time to educate the uneducated, but often I just don’t respond to a statement like that. However, hearing the chronic mental illness that my broken mind cannot get rid of being compared to the flu (I mean, FLU), really hit a nerve. But before I turn this post into a rant against those who I deem to be the ignorant and uneducated, it is worth looking at WHY a statement like that would even be made.

In this article about myths about Bipolar Disorder, the myth right at the top reads:’ Bipolar Disorder is a rare condition.’ A survey that  was done found that at least 2.4% of the world’s population  have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, (245 million people) with less than half of those diagnosed actually receiving treatment. Although the percentage is actually higher than one would think, the reality is that about 4% of the world population suffers from Depression, which is also the second-leading cause of disability worldwide. We should also keep in mind that these statistics don’t include populations that still deny the very existence of Depression. What about Schizophrenia? 1.1% of the population. If you look at how many people are affected worldwide by these and other mental illnesses, it’s clear that it’s a much bigger problem than most people realise. I can’t help but wonder why there is still so much stigma attached to these illnesses.

Those who say that Bipolar Disorder is the flu of mental health are obviously not referring to statistics, and they might be snarky about it, but in a way they are not wrong. It is true that more people have Bipolar Disorder now than ever before. This is simply because the illness cannot be cured. So it makes sense that not as many people with Bipolar Disorder die as are being diagnosed daily, especially since the general public is now more aware than before and health professionals have become better at diagnosing it. Personally I’m a word person, but to me this sounds like simple mathematics.

Thanks to celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and more recently Demi Lovato coming out of the bipolar closet, the illness has received more media coverage in recent years. You just have to search ‘Celebrities with Bipolar Disorder’ to find a whole list. What we ‘regular people’ have to keep in mind is the kind of lifestyle that celebrities lead. With this I don’t mean drugs and parties and alcohol (although that is part of the lifestyle in many cases). The typical lifestyle of an entertainer includes a lot of travelling across different time zones, lack of sleep, high stress, high pressure, ridiculous work hours, sporadic eating and other things that would cause problems to the most stable person’s mental health. Place someone with just the smallest predisposition to Bipolar Disorder in a life like that and chances are they’ll get it, and struggle immensely with recovery and becoming stable. An unstructured and unhealthy lifestyle like that is a recipe for disaster if you suffer from Bipolar Disorder.

One of the big and pressing questions is whether Bipolar Disorder was previously under-diagnosed or is now over-diagnosed. Since it took me, doctors and psychologists about ten years to figure out what was actually wrong with me, my personal opinion is that the illness is still under-diagnosed. Until there are blood tests or a brain scan that can conclusively diagnosed mental illnesses, correct diagnosis will always be a problem. After what I came to know as an ‘episode’ that landed me in the hospital, the psychiatrist assigned to me immediately thought that I had Bipolar Disorder, but since I couldn’t give him the information and history he needed, mostly because I didn’t really understand what he wanted to know, the official diagnoses took a month of hospitalisation, loads of talking an playing around with different medications. It was more a case of ‘since all this bipolar medication has made you better, you must be Bipolar’. I think that is often the case. It is still very much a diagnosis of exclusion.

But getting back to the issue of over- or under-diagnosis, there are mental health professionals that have done studies and reached the conclusion that psychiatrists might have become a bit overly enthusiastic with their diagnosis. On the flipside though, is it better to treat someone with mood stabilisers when you suspect that they have Bipolar Disorder, or to treat them with anti-depressants and risk them becoming manic (which is what happened to me, btw)?

The term ‘bipolar’ is also thrown around very easily to describe any state or being that is not seen as ‘unipolar’. Perhaps Manic Depression is then still a better name for it. I think people are much more likely to describe the weather as bipolar than as having Manic Depression.

I’m of the opinion that all the reasons mentioned above and the fact that more people are being correctly diagnosed now creates the illusion that it has become an illness that is no worse than the flu. A larger percentage of those living with mental illness have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, yes, but I still find the statement offensive; like people think that I can just take a few pills, rest and get over it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I AM not Bipolar

Personally I have never had a problem with being labelled as Bipolar. In fact, being able to give myself labels gives me a sense of comfort and control. I guess because things in my head can be so chaotic, I need to have labels that in a way ‘ground’ my identity. I know that this is not the case for everyone. Some people despise being called Bipolar. I understand that too; it can be particularly damaging in certain contexts.

At the support group I go to, we go around the circle giving our names and why we’re attending. Personally I just say “Name, Bipolar”. Others say “I have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder”, “I have bipolar disorder” or even “According to my doctor I am Bipolar”. Very rarely does anyone say “I am Bipolar”. If you think about it, why would anyone say that? Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, a real illness, but an illness does not define your being. No one says “I am Cancer” or “She is Diabetes”, so why are we so quick to say “I AM Bipolar”?

People with BD think about it all the time. Some people think that focusing on it so much does more damage than good, but the fact is that since it is a chronic illness that affects every aspect and every day of your life, you can’t not think about it. Just taking your medication first thing in the morning and last thing at night reminds you; how could it not? Then there are the visits to psychiatrists and therapists, adjusting dosages to find the right mix, charting your moods and side-effects of medications.

It is easy to completely disappear into this ‘thought commitment’. Your live starts revolving solely around your illness. Your crazy racing thoughts become all about your crazing racing thoughts. Or whether or not your thoughts are actually crazier than usual. You get back into the vicious cycle. And then, without noticing, you lose yourself and become Bipolar.

But Bipolar Disorder is a treatable illness. Chronic, yes. But treatable. Allowing your whole identity to become wrapped up in it, would be a mistake. Unfortunately since it is not a physical illness but a mood disorder, it is often difficult for sufferers to distinguish normal from ‘not’ normal. It becomes confusing to figure out what your real emotions are and when you are overreacting. And people who don’t have Bipolar Disorder find it even more difficult to understand.

As long as we remember that having Bipolar Disorder does not define us. We are mothers, fathers, workers, children, brothers, teachers, writers. We are PEOPLE, first.

How do you feel about your ‘labels’?