About 5-6 years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder NOS (later to be diagnosed mixed state) with generalized anxiety disorder, dysthymia and PTSD. I was immediately put on an anti-psychotic medication and an anti-depressant. With every new problem I was put on a new medication (my old doctor was kind of an idiot) and eventually the grand total was 5 different psychiatric medications and over 10 pills a day.
In the course of this I was hospitalized 3 times (2 outpatient programs and 1 inpatient stay…) and saw counselors on a weekly basis. I eventually switched psychiatrists and my new doctor looked at my psychiatric cocktail and went “Whoa…they just threw pills at you didn’t they? No wonder you’re struggling in school, I would be too if I had all of this floating around my brain.”
While working with the new Doctor, he started prescribing natural supplements and slowly taking me off prescription drugs. I took lots of fish oil and used light therapy to combat my SAD and I was shocked when IT WORKED!
The College Years:
By the time I came to college I was only on 3 psych meds and still seeing a therapist regularly. Mood swings were easier to handle and I did a lot of meditation and mindfulness (through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) to become more self aware about how every factor of my life influenced my well-being.
My first semester of college was filled with anxiety (mostly form home sickness) and self-medicating through the use of food, and lots of it! By the time Christmas rolled around I weighed more than I ever had before (195 lbs) and I felt the worst I have ever felt before. It was a wake up call, and I immediately started trying to exercise more and eat better, but I kept falling off the wagon.
When I came back to school that Spring, I joined the Taekwondo Team at school and one of the first things the Coach said to me was “I would love to have you on the team, but you will need to lose weight before you can compete.”
It was a shock, but I agreed and starting hitting the gym at least once (sometimes twice!) a day and researching nutrition. It took a while, but I eventually found the right balance of nutrients that my body thrived on and the weight started coming off. I felt great!
It has been a year since my Coach told me I needed to lose weight, and since then I have lost a little over 30 lbs. It has been a struggle, but I have succeeded (I’m still working on getting down another 30 lbs…but I need to be patient.)
I have learned a new love of all things healthy, and I have adopted Intuitive Eating as a way to maintain a healthy relationship with food and my body. Right now my favorite food is broccoli, which I never thought would be possible! (I used to feed it to the dog when I was a kid!)
I went to Taekwondo Collegiate Nationals in April and even though I lost my fight 6-5, I still stuck it out in the ring and never backed down. Last week I ran my first 5K and in July I’ll be running a half marathon.
Slowly, I worked down to one psychiatric drug with my doctor, and a couple weeks ago I stopped taking it altogether. I didn’t even realize I had missed my dosage for days at a time. Suddenly I thought “Oh, I have to take my medicine!” and then realized it had been 5 days since I had last taken it. I didn’t feel any sign of emotional instability, in fact I had more energy than I usually do! I decided to continue not taking my medicine as an experiment, just to see if I could handle it because I had a standing appointment with my doctor the next week.
Yesterday, I went to see her. I told her about how great I’m feeling and how exercise (particularly running) has helped to manage my stress and negative emotions. She was dumbfounded but very excited for me. She didn’t prescribe me anything and told me to keep doing what I’m doing, and that being off of all medicine was the best thing for me. I was almost in tears I was so happy! Being off of all meds has been the goal from day one, because while meds were life saving, they were also a crutch.
I am managing my mental illness with nutrition, exercise and meditation. I am living a balanced life.
I never thought this was possible, but the body is capable of amazing things if you take care of it.
PLEASE NOTE: I do not recommend discontinuing psychiatric medication without consulting your doctor. This was a risk that I was willing to take, but I do not recommend it to anybody that still struggles with stress or emotional management. My experiment was mostly accidental and I am lucky that it turned out for the better. Please talk to your doctor before tampering with medication dosage.