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Bipolar – Not A Life Sentence


Chaim* was admired in yeshiva for his incredible diligence. His days were consumed with learning and he could be found in the Beis Midrash almost 24/7. For him, sleep was a waste of time. Great things were forecast for his future until neighbors found him lying in the middle of the street in Geula, hallucinating that he was Moshiach. Medications stopped his racing mind but made him feel like a zombie. He became depressed and shell of his former self. His parents thought they were acting responsibly when they had him hospitalized and then put in a hostel.

Rivki*, a lively high school senior, was flattered when she was chosen to lead fifty girls on a two-week, end of the year outing. It was exciting, but between planning the next day’s activities and studying for her final exams, Rivki barely had time to sleep or eat. In fact, she discovered that she needed no sleep at all. By the end of the two weeks, she began to hallucinate and ended up in the emergency room. Despite a six-month stay in a psychiatric facility, where she received shock treatments and a variety of drugs, Rivki’s condition deteriorated over the next three years. Her mother heard about me and was willing to try a different approach. When I first met Rivki, she was overweight, lifeless and depressed. Eventually, during the three months it took to wean her off the meds, she adopted a healthy diet, went to aerobics classes and took the natural mood-stabilizers I recommended. She soon lost weight, regained the spark in her eyes and enrolled in college. She told me recently, “I feel like I’m alive again, having emerged from a three-year nightmare during which I completely lost my sense of self.”

While I do not hesitate to recommend drugs for the severely disturbed or for a short-term crisis, I believe the vast majority of people can improve by learning to overcome negative thoughts and self-harming habits, and especially by getting adequate sleep and propernutrition. Telling people they must be on meds forever is like saying that we must take antibiotics forever due to one infection. This is especially true during the turbulent teen years or during a single crisis, when it is normal to suffer from intense emotions, fears and identity issues.

I know this because I went through one such experience myself forty years ago, at the age of thirty. Like many emotional and sensitive types, I loved the excitement which came with creative endeavors. So, as I was writing my doctoral dissertation in psychology, I gave full expression to the impulse. With ideas flooding my mind, I easily skipped breakfast and then lunch; I was on a high which filled me like no food possibly could. I felt no need for food or sleep. I wrote day and night, only stopping to take care of my daughter until she went to gan or returned. This continued for three weeks during which time I did not lose weight; I was sustained by a delicious divine energy. I thought I had reached such a high level of spirituality that I no longer had physical needs! But then, at the end of three weeks, I began to hallucinate, thinking that I had G-dly powers and secret information to reveal to the world. A relative took me to Dr. L., chief psychiatrist of a prestigious hospital who, after reviewing my history, looked grimly at my family member and said, “She will need to be medicated for the rest of her life and will probably need frequent hospitalizations.” He handed me a list of prescriptions and ushered me briskly out.

Thankfully, this relative took me to a n alternative healer who had helped her in the past. He gave me a shot of vitamins, as well as various supplements to help me calm down. He told me about the importance of sleep and good nutrition, which no one had ever mentioned before. Since then, I have never relapsed, although I still take natural supplements, avoid junk foods and gluten, and make sure to get adequate sleep. I share this in a public forum because Big Pharma and its advertisers have teamed up to convince people that they cannot be sane without psychiatric meds. They minimize the fact that, in addition to the “minor” side-effects, such as dry mouth, stomach upset and loss of libido, these drugs accelerate Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, internal bleeding and osteoporosis. True, some people want to be put out of their misery quickly with drugs, but they must be informed of the consequences. If this article gives people hope to heal without drugs, then it is worth facing the ridicule and censure which is bound to come from people who are threatened by the concept of self-healing techniques.

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More Articles from Dr. Miriam Adahan

Chaim* was admired in yeshiva for his incredible diligence. His days were consumed with learning and he could be found in the Beis Midrash almost 24/7. For him, sleep was a waste of time. Great things were forecast for his future until neighbors found him lying in the middle of the street in Geula, hallucinating that he was Moshiach. Medications stopped his racing mind but made him feel like a zombie. He became depressed and shell of his former self. His parents thought they were acting responsibly when they had him hospitalized and then put in a hostel.

Lessons-logo

Since suffering from colitis as a teen, I finally adopted a strict diet in my 30s that ended my torment. It wasn’t easy to forgo white flour, white sugar and all chemical additives, but it meant that I spend the last 40 years pretty much free of doctors, medications and illness, thank God. Thus, I was surprised when two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, I began to experience increasingly severe stomach discomfort – until I was barely able to move. Despite what I was soon to endure, it helped greatly to focus on the moment-to-moment miracles.

As a teenager, I suffered from occasional panic attacks, social anxiety, and more than the usual amount of teenage angst. In today’s drug-obsessed society, I would certainly have been given psych meds; thankfully, back then, it was expected that maturity would bring greater resilience and awareness. And so it was.

Psychologist David Richo defines love in terms of five A’s: appreciation, affection, attentiveness (listening), acceptance and allowing (as in allowing others the freedom to fulfill their own dreams). Love is the opposite of control.

The couple had barely completed their brief intake papers, which included a small handwriting sample, when, her eyes blazing with fury, the wife pounded on the small table between us and yelled, “He has to grow up! I need a husband who is a real partner, not a lazy good-for-nothing who won’t take responsibility and is totally clueless about my needs!” Her husband sat hunched in his chair, looking like a hapless cat which had somehow survived the spin cycle in a washing machine.

Kindness is such an essential Jewish trait that we are told to suspect that a cruel person is not really Jewish. The media constantly uplifts us with inspirational stories about saintly people who radiated love to their fellowman and did their utmost to avoid hurting others. Yet we are also told, “Those who are kind to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the kind” (Koheles Raba 7:16). It is not a kindness to allow ourselves to be abused, exploited or manipulated. By not taking protective action when possible, we encourage destructive behavior. The following stories are examples of naïve and trusting people who paid a heavy price for being overly “nice.”

In a paper greeted enthusiastically at the May conference of the American Psychiatric Association, in San Francisco, a new name was given to a common problem, Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder. My initial response: another excuse to drug people. However, upon thinking it over, I think that the word embittered does describe the essence of a serious problem. Many of us suffer from some degree of jealousy and bitterness about the injustices in our lives. But does that make us embittered? I would hope not. So, what characterizes embittered people? Here are some actual examples (the names have been changed):

Like medical doctors, every therapist is tormented at times with the question of the hopelessness or hopefulness of a marriage or any other relationship. Everyone is anxious to know if the “broken” spouse/child/parent/sibling can be fixed. With desperation in their voices, they ask, “Can medication, therapy or other interventions turn him/her around and stop him/her from being so depressed, anxious, addicted or angry?” How can a therapist say, “There is no hope.”?

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