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Anyone have any success without meds- e.g. exercise and nutrition?


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HI all, I'm new. This is a great forum. I was hoping to get some advice from people with similar experience, as I'm not sure I have the strength to continue with the 'treatment' I am on, or if it's even worth trying so hard. Hopefully someone out there is similar to me...

Diagnosis confirmed me as bipolar 2 at the start of 2013 and 6 months later I haven't tried any meds. I like to run and I have my hands full with 4 children, so the thought of some of the side-effects were just too much to take, even though I have Seroquel in my cupboard (can't bring myself to take it). I've coped for the past 20 years with the cycles of bipolar without damaging the world around me too much and in fact achieving some great things. The past 4 years though have been a confusing mess of depression, hypomania and relationship sabotage which left me asking "What the hell is going on?!"  I'm mostly depressed, punctuated by rapid cycling episodes where there are mixed states and hypomania. Living depressed most of the time is..well..really depressing. All the enjoyment of life is gone and most of the time I think "What's the point?"I know that's not the real me, and my brain just hasnt got access to the right chemicals. I want to ask for a certain anti-depressant that I think may be worth a try.

Before anyone thinks I'm a new-ager or fitness freak- I'm just a regular person (with bipolar) who doesn't want to trade one set of symptoms for another unless I really have to. My current 'natural' treatment regime is vitamin B group and iron supplements, 2gms fish oil and daily 5km run. I also supplement the run with yoga classes that Ive just started. I've been on the fish oil tablets for 6 months, but the extra vitamin Bs only 2 weeks. I noticed an improvement in stability with the B's which wasn't there before- more resilience against potential triggers. I also noticed some improvement with fish oil. The underlying bleakness and lack of enjoyment hasn't changed though- just over the top reactions to things have lessened. I sleep 8 hours a night without trouble but really have trouble getting up to go for a run. I feel like I could sleep for 15 hours. I'm negative about exercise, but make myself go.

My question is has anyone had any success treating bipolar with natural methods such as these? Maybe I need to hang in there longer and see what happens. I'm just tired of trying so hard for so little gain. My whole world revolves around trying to lift this depression- eating right and exercising. It's very mentally draining and I remember life never used to be this hard and unrewarding (depressed much?) 

I guess I'm looking for someone to tell me it can be done, but I'm willing to hear from others have had a good crack and what happened.

Here's hoping for a better future understanding of what's going on in our interesting brains so we can really target our individual biochemistry needs. I wish that for everyone with a mental illness.

TL

 

 

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You might find that if you get established on the 'right' medication....which may or may not be Seroquel, you might find that you function better with proper treatment for your bipolar depression.  Do you understand that Bipolar Illness is a biological condition?  You would not hesitate to take medication for diabetes or epilepsy would you?  I suggest you do some reading about your illness.

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Well if it is depression you want help for, you won't find it in eating right, although it can help. Exercise can ease depression symtoms as well as Prozac according to some studies but are you up to rigorously working out, it can be hard if you are depressed to put this much energy into working out. With Bipolar 2, it really is up to you whether you want to take medication or not. I have the severe form of Bipolar Disorder, and I'll probably be on medication for a while, but I too know what it is like to have to feel dependent on medication. You could try getting on an antidepressant or trying an antipsychotic like Abilify that has antidepressant qualities. Whatever you are facing with your diagnosis you can always try to battle it without the right "tools" (medicaton) but it is just going to be much harder. Don't fear medication, and no one has to know what you are taking if you decide to take anything if you don't want to. Wellbutrin is a great antidepressant that worked wonders on me, look into it.

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Welcome to CB! :)

 

I find that eating better and exercising helps me feel better, but it does not do anything to help control my episodes. 

 

I have accepted that I have a serious illness and will need to be on medication for the rest of my life. I think you should think about why you don't want to use medication? Is there underlying stigma? Do you not want to feel "crazy?"  You may not need medication for the rest of your life. Maybe you just need it to help you out of your depression. 

 

I know the side effects can seem startling, but I am on multiple medications, and I have no side effects at all. So, it's possible that you won't experience many side effects. In fact, you may only experience the regular start-up side effects, then they may go away. The most common side effect of Seroquel is heavy sedation. But when I took Seroquel, I just drank extra coffee in the morning to help ease up the groggy feeling. 

 

Also, think of side effects like this: Are you the best mother you can be when you're depressed? Or hypo, or mixed? So, some side effects might make life difficult for a while. But that's nothing compared to what uncontrolled bipolar can do to a family. 

 

You may find that Seroquel helps with your depression. It is often used as an add on to antidepressants to boost their effect, so it does have antidepressant properties. I say, give it a try. If you don't like it after 6-8 weeks, then contact your psychiatrist and ask about stopping it/ changing to a new medication. I personally really love Abilify. 

 

I think exercising and eating well will definitely help you feel better, but I don't think it will help control your moods, unfortunately. If it was that easy, we'd all be doing it. 

Edited by Parapluie
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Maybe medication is what's needed to get you out of the rut you're in.  Who knows, you might find that the meds make life much easier and want to stay on them long term.  Or the meds could just be there to get you out of a hard place, and then you can go off of them.  You always have to weigh the side-effect-to-benefit ratio of meds... and I'll be honest, sometimes meds really aren't worth the side effects.  But some meds do not have awful side effects (really!).  For instance, I'm on Wellbutrin and there are no undesirable side effects for me.  In fact Wellbutrin can make a person lose weight, have more energy, etc.  which may be considered desirable side effects.

 

From my experience, diet and exercise can help a lot, but often they don't help enough.  And it is pretty fucking hard to eat right or exercise when you're too depressed to get out of bed.  Before I became mentally ill I believed that if a person "lived right" (made good decisions, ate right, and exercised) that they would be basically "alright."  But I have learned all too well that this isn't always true.  You are not weak by taking meds (I don't know if this is something you think, but I know I did, for a while.)  You need to do whatever is going to help you the most.  You won't know what the side effects are of your meds until you start taking them, but you can always discontinue taking them if the side effects do not agree with you.  It is important that you work with your doctor... If you communicate with your doctor that you are having intolerable side effects, the doctor will change your meds until hopefully you find something that both works and doesn't cause awful side effects.

Edited by koakua
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Thanks guys. Believe me, I've read up on my condition. I know its biochemical. I've got books on bipolar and they all say 'take your meds'. I just don't want to swap symptoms I know, for symptoms that seem a lot worse, and from what I see there are dozens of drugs and a lucky draw if you happen to find one that works from what I see. There are lots of miserable people on meds. I guess I'm still in a denial phase where I want to try to hang on to my old life (as dysfunctional as that is). Before I got a correct diagnosis, a doctor gave me Lexapro and I went ballistic. It was fun for awhile when I thought I had superpowers (at work!). Forbidden91- thanks for your advice. Exercise does help, it definitely does. So does good nutrition, because bipolar makes me want to eat the worst food and makes me feel worse. I want to ask for Wellbutrin. I had ADHD (they think its a dopamine malfunction) as a child and some research suggests a correlation between ADHD and bipolar- like everything, more research needed! Wellbutrin affects dopamine and seems to have fewer side effects that I find repugnant, which I why I'm thinking about it. Just gotta prepare for a likely manic episode. Forbidden91- were you ever diagnosed with ADHD?

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Welcome to CB! :)

 

I find that eating better and exercising helps me feel better, but it does not do anything to help control my episodes. 

 

I have accepted that I have a serious illness and will need to be on medication for the rest of my life. I think you should think about why you don't want to use medication? Is there underlying stigma? Do you not want to feel "crazy?"  You may not need medication for the rest of your life. Maybe you just need it to help you out of your depression. 

 

I know the side effects can seem startling, but I am on multiple medications, and I have no side effects at all. So, it's possible that you won't experience many side effects. In fact, you may only experience the regular start-up side effects, then they may go away. The most common side effect of Seroquel is heavy sedation. But when I took Seroquel, I just drank extra coffee in the morning to help ease up the groggy feeling. 

 

Also, think of side effects like this: Are you the best mother you can be when you're depressed? Or hypo, or mixed? So, some side effects might make life difficult for a while. But that's nothing compared to what uncontrolled bipolar can do to a family. 

 

You may find that Seroquel helps with your depression. It is often used as an add on to antidepressants to boost their effect, so it does have antidepressant properties. I say, give it a try. If you don't like it after 6-8 weeks, then contact your psychiatrist and ask about stopping it/ changing to a new medication. I personally really love Abilify. 

 

I think exercising and eating well will definitely help you feel better, but I don't think it will help control your moods, unfortunately. If it was that easy, we'd all be doing it. 

Thanks :-) Great words. I dont think I so much have a stigma, I'm just a bit fearful. Lexapro made me worse- I think it triggered the rapid cycling I have now. I wasn't as bad before I took that. Now things have totally changed and I've lost control. I can't stand being sedated or drowsy, thats no way to be a good mum, which I why Im scared of Seroquel. Im scared I wont be able to run, and that I'll sit around the house eating bon bons all day. Listen to the depressed person being all negative...thinking about taking meds to stop my depression is making me depressed :-)

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Maybe medication is what's needed to get you out of the rut you're in.  Who knows, you might find that the meds make life much easier and want to stay on them long term.  Or the meds could just be there to get you out of a hard place, and then you can go off of them.  You always have to weigh the side-effect-to-benefit ratio of meds... and I'll be honest, sometimes meds really aren't worth the side effects.  But some meds do not have awful side effects (really!).  For instance, I'm on Wellbutrin and there are no undesirable side effects for me.  In fact Wellbutrin can make a person lose weight, have more energy, etc.  which may be considered desirable side effects.

 

From my experience, diet and exercise can help a lot, but often they don't help enough.  And it is pretty fucking hard to eat right or exercise when you're too depressed to get out of bed.  Before I became mentally ill I believed that if a person "lived right" (made good decisions, ate right, and exercised) that they would be basically "alright."  But I have learned all too well that this isn't always true.  You are not weak by taking meds (I don't know if this is something you think, but I know I did, for a while.)  You need to do whatever is going to help you the most.  You won't know what the side effects are of your meds until you start taking them, but you can always discontinue taking them if the side effects do not agree with you.  It is important that you work with your doctor... If you communicate with your doctor that you are having intolerable side effects, the doctor will change your meds until hopefully you find something that both works and doesn't cause awful side effects.

Thanks K. So true. Great advice! 

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The thing about bipolar is that most of us cannot take antidepressants without stabilizers. They tend to make us manic, mixed or do nothing. Wellbutrin without a stabilizer may well make you manic or mixed. There is theory that antidepressants without stabilizers lead to rapid cycling and mixed states. You've been down that road with Lexapro. Why try it again?

 

Seriously, Lamictal is a stabilizer that many people, especially BP2, do well on. It takes a while to get up to dose, but for most it is worth it. It is my antidepressant. On it and another med, I am stable without side effects. Without, I am a mess. Also, I was BP2 for many unmedicated years. Then, hypo went mixed manic with psychosis. It is a progressive illness. Keep that in mind. Meds are thought to slow or stop the progression. I did the exercise, nutrition thing for years and regret it.

 

By the way, I would talk to your doc about trying Lamictal instead of Seroquel unless you don't find Seroquel seriously sedating. But I don't like Seroquel. At any rate, you owe it to your kids to medicate if not to yourself. Unstable bipolar is no way to raise a family.

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The thing about bipolar is that most of us cannot take antidepressants without stabilizers. They tend to make us manic, mixed or do nothing. Wellbutrin without a stabilizer may well make you manic or mixed. There is theory that antidepressants without stabilizers lead to rapid cycling and mixed states. You've been down that road with Lexapro. Why try it again?

 

Seriously, Lamictal is a stabilizer that many people, especially BP2, do well on. It takes a while to get up to dose, but for most it is worth it. It is my antidepressant. On it and another med, I am stable without side effects. Without, I am a mess. Also, I was BP2 for many unmedicated years. Then, hypo went mixed manic with psychosis. It is a progressive illness. Keep that in mind. Meds are thought to slow or stop the progression. I did the exercise, nutrition thing for years and regret it.

 

By the way, I would talk to your doc about trying Lamictal instead of Seroquel unless you don't find Seroquel seriously sedating. But I don't like Seroquel. At any rate, you owe it to your kids to medicate if not to yourself. Unstable bipolar is no way to raise a family.

Thanks AnneMarie. I'm glad I asked and got some different perspectives. I'm going to talk about all of this with my pdoc. I am noticing the progression of the illness. I have never had a problem with anxiety, and now that's joining the party. Loud noises- eg souped up motorcycles- turn me into a scared little rabbit. Things are just not the same. I appreciate your (and others) advice.

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Exercise helps my depressive episodes - however, my depression cannot be so severe that I can't bathe or leave the house, which is what I am like without meds. Meds provide the foundation for me to use lifestyle interventions and psychotherapy. Without meds, I can't benefit from either. 

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Exercise definitely helps my self esteem and a bit of depression, that is if I can get out of bed even while depressed. Manic? Well that's another story.

Anyways, meds have really been a lifesaver for me. Without them I do not function.

And seroquel is a pretty powerful sedating med. What dose are ou starting on? That can make a difference too. I take seroquel and personally find it wonderful, but your mileage may vary. As you can see some people here did not have seroquel meet their needs or help their symptoms.

But I will second Anne's suggestion for lamictal. BP 2 people seem to do pretty good with it. It is a mood stabilizer and seroquel is an antipsychotic. I'm not trying to say you need lamictal but it is something you can bring up to your pdoc if you want to.

I hope you find a good balance soon!

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Seroquel worked brilliantly for my depression, but the side effects were a deal-breaker and I went off it. Pity. There will be a med out there that will work without giving you SES or at least ones that you can cope with, that are worth the trade-off. I have gone long periods (decades) unmedicated (and undiagnosed) and finally had a series of back-to-back episodes (at 47) that destroyed my life as I knew it and left me a shell of my former self..

 

The thing about meds is you can always stop taking them if they don't work out. I also second (or third?) the point about doing it for your children. My children went though needless suffering because my mood was all over the place. I have to live with the guilt over that. Through their childhoods I only got Rx for depression because I never saw the doc when well and it worsened my BP.

 

The thing is, in years gone by I would have told you, you could do fine with what you are doing now. Just stay strong and keep your act together.. But it's not as simple as that.

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I am glad to hear that you're going to talk with your pdoc b/c, while I commend you for your good diet and exercise, I am concerned that you are going unmedicated.  I understand the fear of side effects, but as other posters have pointed out, there will be meds that you won't have side effects with.

 

I hope that you and your pdoc can come up with some meds that work well for you.

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 I've got books on bipolar and they all say 'take your meds'. I just don't want to swap symptoms I know, for symptoms that seem a lot worse, and from what I see there are dozens of drugs and a lucky draw if you happen to find one that works from what I see. There are lots of miserable people on meds

 

The key thing to remember about potential side effects from meds is that they are all potential.  They have to be listed.  It's not a for-sure thing, it's a YMMV thing.  Additionally, many side effects go away in the first week, weeks, or first month.

 

The balance of side effects with positive affect must be carefully maintained over time.  One does not typically just stick to the same med, dose, or combo for their entire lives.  There can be breakthrough episodes or symptoms, your illness can change over time, your stress levels, your particular needs, your tolerance for certain side effects, your tolerance for a particular medication, etc.  All of this requires up-front and open communication with your doctor, most preferably a pdoc.

 

A lot of those people who are miserable on their meds, well, I won't claim all of them are miserable due to lack of communication with their pdoc, but it does surprise me how commonly people don't seem to realize that it's even an option.  If certain side effects do not go away and/or are intolerable, it's time to talk with your pdoc about things like dose changes, med changes, or a med add-on.

 

I take divalproex sodium (Depakote/Epival) as my mood stabiliser, 1000mg per day.  When I first read about it I was a bit anxious, I can experience severe depressions and was in a severe depression at the time, but it is not typically known for having anti-depressant qualities.  I also read about weight gain and hair loss.  Well it doesn't seem to be doing much of anything to my weight or hair, and it actually does have remarkable anti-depressant qualities for me -- three days seems to be my magic number in fact, I know within that amount of time if the dose will be doing anything for my depression or not.  Divalproex sodium is the second mood stabiliser I was trialled on.

 

There is a higher correlation of ADHD in folks with BP, it's true.  Though sometimes one can be mistaken for the other.  I am one of those who has both, and my pdoc also treats me with the psychostimulant Concerta, of which I require a rather hefty dose per day.

 

Every other med I have a script for is a PRN.  One is predominantly for anxiety issues and is most likely to be used.  One is for more severe anxiety and breakthrough hypomanic episodes.  One is to help with sleep, which is good for me all-around.  Really all three of my PRNs can be used for sleep, if need be.  I've had clonazepam since around the time I began med trails for mood stabilisers, and I've had Seroquel and zopiclone since my breakthrough hypomanic episode back in March.

 

I am far more stable and with it in my medications, even with breakthrough episodes.  The breakthrough episodes are treated effectively and quickly with med changes, because I have learned how to recognize, catch, and report them to my medical team very early on in the episode.  This is key.  I don't have mood episodes lasting for months and months on end, now they last maybe a couple weeks, tops.

 

Edit: I forgot to add, things like exercise, eating right, proper sleep, and tools I learned in CBT do have their place in my life (as does my faith, social interaction, etc.)  However when I am in a depressive episode these things do not snap or lift me out of it.  When I am in a hypomanic episode I can't make myself fit back into a regular sleep pattern on my own without meds, let alone manage to get over my other symptoms.  I require meds for my episodes, and likely will for the rest of my life.  I'm not on the same levels of all my meds all the time.  I have Bipolar NOS.

Edited by Mirazh
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I had ADHD (they think its a dopamine malfunction) as a child and some research suggests a correlation between ADHD and bipolar- like everything, more research needed! Wellbutrin affects dopamine and seems to have fewer side effects that I find repugnant, which I why I'm thinking about it. Just gotta prepare for a likely manic episode.

 

My father did some of the research on this, he is/was an academic and research pdoc, but now he is Emeritus. Having ADHD is a pretty good predictor of developing BP as an adult. Also, if a family member has ADHD, even if you don't, you still have a heightened risk of BP. 

 

Sorry I can't link to a paper, at this point, his papers are only being used as primary sources. His actual papers are hard to find on Google. Just lots of footnotes in more current research related to papers he wrote.  But I swear we talked about this several times; I am just repeating what he said.

 

You can't really count on medications to work based on the neurotransmitters they affect, even though it seems like one would be able to do that. Your brain isn't as straightforward as a bunch of neurotransmitters. I'm not saying Wellbutrin won't work, I have been on it for 25 years, it is the foundation of my cocktail. But please don't turn down medication because it works on different neurotransmitters than you think are relevant. Again, it really isn't that straightforward.

 

Plus, not everyone experiences side effects, even with the most "powerful" medications. Some won't have any side effects at all. Most people have a period in the beginning of a new med where they do experience side effects, but usually they taper off. If a side effect is really unpleasant or disruptive, tell your pdoc. As you guessed, what meds work for you is hit or miss. That is true for the treatment of almost every medical condition. My best friend just had to try 3 types of chemo to find one that worked on her breast cancer. Think about the side effects! But the trade-off (living) was worth it.

 

And remember, bipolar illness has a shockingly high mortality rate, from both natural and self-inflicted causes.

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Just popping in to say, I have ADHD and bipolar. I find the correlation interesting. My ADHD symptoms definitely "flare up" it seems during a hypomanic episode. Or, maybe that's just the natural distractibility that comes with hypomania. *shrug*

 

Anyway, I second the suggestion to try Lamictal! I recently started on it and my hypomania fizzled out right when I started it (I dunno if it fizzled out on it's own or if the Lamictal helped). I have had no side effects from Lamictal, other than being a bit itchier than usual. So, it's worth a shot. :) Good luck!

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