“my 19 years old older brother is suffering from bipolar disorder….we have already started his medication with psychiatrist…. …..mam can u suggest me some good treatment of this illness….“
Since I have been repeatedly receiving queries of this sort, from someone with a loved one with a bipolar diagnosis, I am writing this post as a response.
Please understand that according to psychiatry a person with a diagnosis of either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder requires lifelong medication. You will most likely never hear the word- cure, or recovery in India, from a psychiatrist.
I personally would not use the word cure either, because what can be ‘cured’ today can also recur tomorrow. Distress of the mind is like that. But isn’t the whole body identical. Just because you have overcome a toothache today, does not mean you will never have it again in another or the same tooth again. Life continues and we have to keep responding to whatever the changing situations bring. The important thing is that whatever we face, we need to increase our understanding and our knowledge about the subject. If you face a new subject, say like trigonometry or statistics, will you not make an effort at it? Similarly if you are suffering in your health and your spirits, you need to reach to the bottom of the issue- not just accept what a psychiatrist has to say about it.
In the advanced Western countries however this is not the case. The movement by those who have suffered at the hands of psychiatry has been very strong and robust, from the 1970s and a number of people are well organized into groups that support one another as well as work towards recovery alternatives. (This is also beginning to percolate towards low income countries like India, as the flow of knowledge is usually from the richer to the poorer countries). In its earliest phases the idea of recovery came from former patients who chose to get out of psychiatric systems and remained patients no longer. They began to be called as ex-patients or even psychiatric- survivors. But one must understand that in the advanced Western countries because of their advancement the level of psychiatrization of the population is quite high and people are often forcibly medicated, without their consent (naturally). That also happens in India I am now seeing.
As survivors became more organized the mainstream psychiatry also adopted the idea of recovery from them. So now they also have their own version of ‘recovery’- which essentially means becoming functional in day-to-day life while living a life like any other person- return to the ordinary life. A large number of people keep taking psychiatric medication and yet have professions that pay their bills, enter into relationships and do everything else. They keep visiting their psychiatrists once in a while and yet function ‘normally’ – to the extent that even their spouses cannot make out that they are taking medication (if they have hidden it from their spouses in the first place!!).
Is there another version of Recovery
The other version of recovery actually resides in rejection of the psychiatric model and seeking out alternatives. Many people take the non-psychiatric path, find alternative medical systems, practitioners or practices (like yoga, pranayama, Zen, or anything according to their disposition). But a vast number of such people take the psychiatric route in the first instance ( I myself was on psychiatric medication for 18 uninterrupted years from November 1992-Nov 2010).
At a suitable point, with the consolidation of many resources people go off psychiatric medication. That usually does NOT happen with the assistance of a psychiatrist, because largely no psychiatrist is going to advise a patient to stop taking medicines- they derive their bread and butter from it after all. The greatest risk lies in going off psychiatric medication because these are chemicals that have been affecting your nervous system for so long that the body is now used to it.. Going off medication can happen slowly and by proper mediation of those who can assist a patient to go off medication- it would require support from many others including family.
What can be done when someone is newly diagnosed
I know and I can well imagine that getting a sudden diagnosis can be a very unsettling experience for anyone and the family concerned. Ordinarily one would not even know that such a thing or ‘illness’ exists and you would start poring over all resources to understand what the hell it is all about. The first resource you would naturally tap is the internet.
Now the internet is FULLLL of resources to befuddle the mind- confuse you and scare the life out of you. If you read article after article and millions of testimonies around, you will become more and more convinced that you are condemned to remain a patient for the rest of your life. I suggest keep reading but do not give up on ideas of recovery and the determination that someday you have to be well and get off medication as well. Unless you decide it for yourself, you can never ever recover. I have learnt this over time. I have seen countless families wanting their loved ones to recover (especially when they meet me it kindles a ray of hope that someone has recovered, and so can their loved one too). But the loved ones are so comfortable or resigned to the idea that they are ‘ill’ that they do not believe that recovery is possible and therefore are unwilling to make any effort in that direction!
Here is a potential roadmap-
- Take a deep breath and understand the implications of the diagnosis
- Take an alternative view- second opinion does not hurt. Do not tell the second person the first person’s diagnosis
- Life may be jeopardized for a short while, but don’t let it off the rails for long. Continue doing what you were doing. May be your efficiency would get affected and you will not perform as well as you could earlier, because medicines given to you would have side-effects. But don’t despair- continuity is more important at this moment. Giving up will be very damaging and have long term consequences.
- If you know alternative practitioners such as homeopaths, ayurvedacharyas or other medical systems, approach them and seek their guidance and interventions. The authentic people in these systems have very thorough knowledge about many things, and they do not adopt psychiatric diagnostic categories.
- Try to stabilize as much as possible, while you continue living your life- whether as a student, a working person or anything else. Take an off if necessary, but do not freeze- take heart. You will get a grip on it sooner than later.
- Once you achieve a certain level of stability- with your medicines and professional roles/goals, you have managed the first level of recovery- from the point of view of psychiatry.
- Now start looking for alternatives that can take you off the neuroleptics (psychiatric drugs).
- Seek counseling- this is the trickiest bit because finding a counselor/therapist who supports your decision to go off medication is going to be extremely DIFFFFFIIICULT. But the good news it that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. Keep your courage and keep moving slowly.
- Hopefully you will meet many others like me as well, who can support your process of recovery to the last bit. Or some counselor or a rare psychiatrist who will assist you gently (more likely in the West than in India though)
I hope you get some clarity from this. Stay connected with this blog and I will keep sharing further ideas about side-effects of medicines, further strategies for recovery and so forth. You can always consult me professionally or help/support Hansadhwani Foundation that supports me – so that I may offer my services for free. For right now, they are chargeable. We are a non-funded, non-profit and whatever we do, it is for the sheer love of sharing knowledge, & for people and a desire to assist them in their suffering.