Alternative Modalities


Integrative medicine, holistic health, aromatherapy, accupuncture, energy healing, Reiki, meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback – these are some alternative modalities effectively used in both physical and mental health. When asked on both Thursday and Friday, by my therapist and psychiatrist what medication had been most helpful to me over the past 40 years, I had to say none of them. The absolutely most helpful thing I ever did was when I had Healing Touch treatments from Jill Zimmerman at Alpha Healing Arts. The funny thing is, when I met her I outright told her that if it wasn’t scientifically or logically provable, then I felt she was wasting both her time and mine (or something to that effect). Besides, I was in such bad shape, and absolutely nothing had worked, why would something a skeptic atheist couldn’t even fathom be helpful?

Jill took me up on the challenge, and I was absolutely blown away. During the time I was receiving these treatments, I learned so much that when I was no longer able to continue I knew enough to help myself. But aye, there’s the rub…I don’t know about you, but when I’m severely depressed self-care is at the bottom of my to-do list. I kept it up for a while, and over the few years (has it been that long?) since I stopped going, she has kindly helped me from a distance (yes, that works too). Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. I’m the kind of person that needs someone to poke me on a regular basis and say “Hey, did you do this today/this week/this month?” Or I need someone to whom I can take my lazy ass, who will sit with me and remind me what I need to do. And I need this now, badly.

Fortunately, I have a wonderful psychiatrist who actually listens to me. He recognizes that I’m one of “those” people for whom medication may not be the complete answer. It’s possible that something on a very low dose or on an as-needed basis will be utilized, but I need to get through December (almost done!) as well as this detox before we make any decisions. My psychiatrist agrees that now, more than ever, I need to get back into regular exercise of my mind as well as my body.

In a previous post, I mentioned I was looking for the secret to bliss. One of my followers, Mike Evans (who has opened my eyes to other ways of looking at my illness), brought to mind what I was telling my mental health team. I know I already said this, but it’s worth repeating – I was at my best when I was holistically taking care of myself. In a week I’m going to a yoga workshop with Explorer Yoga, but meanwhile I need to focus on self-care (and get to the pharmacy today to pick up my estrogen…that’s all I need, to run out of estrogen!).

I know how to do these things, I know who to ask for help, I can do this.

What meds have you NOT taken?

pill headThat’s the question my psychiatrist asked me yesterday, because it’s easier for me to list what I have not taken, than the multitude of meds I’ve tried over the years. He decided to add a low dose of gabapentin, which I have taken in the past but at a higher dose and not for the purpose of a mood stabilizer. Which brings me to another subject…my own surprising ignorance (not to say I know everything) about the purpose of a mood stabilizer. My understanding was that a mood stabilizer makes one “flat.” Instead, he described it as an accordion. People with mood disorders have broad and unreasonable swings of depression and mania; while “normal” people also have mood swings, they’re just not as drastic. The mood stabilizer, when prescribed correctly, will act as an accordion to push those out-of-control moods into a more manageable range.

My feelings of not trying hard enough were discussed as well.  He said he wouldn’t put it that way, but I do need to force myself to do more non-medical/non-traditional self-care (this is why I love my holistic psychiatrist). Starting the DBT class next week will be helpful, but exercise and doing things I used to enjoy (even though I may think I don’t want to do them) will be vital to the prevention of sliding all the way back down the other side of the hill.

So I’ve tucked my new bottle of pills into my arsenal and have begun my trek back up from where I stopped my slide. When the alarm went off this morning, I put on my shorts and my sneakers, grabbed my iPod, and went directly to my elliptical in the basement for 20 minutes. Then I had a healthy breakfast, and while drinking my small amount of coffee I wrote a reasonable to-do list (I usually end up with too much, then get overwhelmed) and ordered some posters (it’s boring to stare at a blank wall even though I listen to an audiobook).


Preventive self-care

calendarPlanning ahead is an important part of my self-care. For example, over the years I have learned that from the first of October through the first of January is my danger zone. It has nothing to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I grew up in Southern California, then after 30 years lived in Arizona. It’s purely situational relating to a few key events that have happened to me over my lifetime during that time of year.

Last year I learned that if my brain is not functioning well as I get closer to October, I will start a quick descent into hell. Once January hits, if I don’t pull out of the downward spiral by mid-March (again, situational) I will most definitely crash and burn.

Many people may think of this as defeatist thinking. That type of person believes in the attitude of “If you think it will go wrong, it will.”  This is not the case. My pre-planning comes from years of evaluating my cycle. Just like a woman tracking her fertility, I track my sanity. As a matter of fact, there are numerous mood trackers on the internet as well as apps for smarter-than-me phones. There’s an old proverb that is something like “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Therefore, in addition to starting DBT in September (unplanned but fortuitous timing), I will need to cut back on commitments. It’s very difficult for me not to feel selfish about putting my mental well-being first; but as I learned last year, it is vital. Survival of another depressive episode, similar to what I just came out of, may not be possible. I simply don’t know if I (or the people who love me) would be able to handle it again, nor do I want to find out.

This is the year I learn how to say “No.” Apologies and explanations are probably not necessary, but in some cases I will feel compelled to do so.

To those of my readers in similar situations, what type of preventive actions do you practice? Is tracking your moods and episodes an important part of your life, or do you just take it as it comes? Most people who are successful in life, whether or not they have a mental illness, probably practice some sort of self-care. It can be beneficial to everyone.

Cognitive Retraining and Body Image

I have a serious body image problem, but my therapist hasn’t put the Body Dismorphic Disorder label on it. I suppose Bipolar I Disorder w/PTSD is enough disorders. Apparently the way I see my body and my eating habits are the absolute opposite of reality, so she taught me how to do cognitive retraining.

The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders defines it thus:

Cognitive retraining is a therapeutic strategy that seeks to improve or restore a person’s skills in the areas of paying attention, remembering, organizing, reasoning and understanding, problem-solving, decision making, and higher level cognitive abilities. These skills are all interrelated. Cognitive retraining is one aspect of cognitive rehabilitation, a comprehensive approach to restoring such skills after brain injury or other disability.

In addition to being used after a brain injury, it is also very useful in retraining thought patterns such as negative thinking. In one column I am to write all the things I think about my body and my eating habits, and in the second I am to write the opposite of what I wrote originally (which is a very simplified way of doing this).

This is an example of what I am to do every time I have one of these negative thoughts:

I am a big fat pig – I have a beautiful body

My blood pressure would be lower if I were thin- I have a very reasonable blood pressure for my age

I eat too much when I feel full – I feel full because I ate enough

I should never eat sweets or too many carbs – If I eat a small amount when I have a craving I wont binge later

These are just a few examples that are a result of a lifetime of training by an anorexic mother and an abusive ex-husband.

This is a very difficult exercise for me, but hopefully with enough repetition I’ll get it through my thick skull that I don’t look anything like I think I do, and my eating habits are just fine.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid beholder a black eye. ~ Miss Piggy