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October 10, 2015 / 27 Tishri, 5776
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Bipolar – Not A Life Sentence

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There are three main reasons why a perfectly functional and responsible person might have a breakdown.

LACK OF SLEEP: Few people are informed about the importance of sleep; in fact, we are constantly surrounded by the opposite message. We praise gedolim who sleep only 2-3 hours. We praise community activists who say, “You can call me 24/7.” Many people see sleep as a waste of time. Young men in yeshiva are proud of their ability to outdo even the gedolim by not sleeping at all! Some creative artists enjoy the flow of energy which accompanies and inspires their work. Writers often welcome the nighttime “high,” when ordinary mortals are asleep and they can use the peace and quiet to create. A new mother may find it impossible to sleep because the baby keeps waking up. She may think, “It’s not worth going to sleep, since I’ll only be woken up anyway.” New mothers may also suffer post-partum depression due to lack of sleep; if and when their babies do sleep, they use the time to work. Teachers often tell me that they sleep only three-four hours a night. Young people are not told that almost any person who goes without sleep for three or more nights will start to hallucinate. While 1% of the population needs between 4-5 hours of sleep, ordinary people need between 6-8 hours. Less than that causes the body to produce cortisol and other stress hormones which can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. During sleep, the body performs numerous rejuvenating activities which it cannot do when we are awake, such as consolidating learned information and cleansing the cells of toxins.

LACK OF NUTRITION: Few people, especially in the frum world, want to hear about proper nutrition. People associate sugar with love and comfort. A good hostess makes people happy and “proves” her love by making rich desserts, regardless of future illness. Most people imbibe junk foods mindlessly, accepting obesity, diabetes and other illnesses as normal and unavoidable. Those who warn others about the dangers of junk foods are often ridiculed. Here are the facts: Every nerve cell in the body is protected by a myelin sheath, which is composed mainly of vitamin B. Without adequate B, people become agitated, depressed and fatigued. B is lowered each time we use drugs or eat white flour and sugar, which also cause iron levels to fall. Ironically, a major sign of low B is a craving for sugar, which sets up a deadly cycle. Diet substitutes (except stevia) are even worse! Few schools teach good nutrition — yeshiva and seminary food is notoriously lacking in B vitamins, because nutritious foods are costly. Many young people detest the taste of whole wheat bread and never eat fruits or vegetables. Such a diet is almost guaranteed to induce mental disorders due to the lack of essential minerals and vitamins. Yet most traditional doctors claim that nutrition has no connection to mental or physical health!

ABSENCE OF LOVING FAMILY OR FULFILLING ACTIVITIES: In this busy world, there is very little time to express love. Parents race off to work and return exhausted. Dysfunction, abuse and addictions abound. Without love, depression and fear flourish. People also get depressed when they are pressured to please others rather than engage in the activities which provide personal fulfillment.

If you have intense mood swings or have had a psychotic episode, many will urge you to take psychiatric medication. It is very tempting to do so, but psychiatric meds will not provide love for the lonely or meaning for the unfulfilled. Nor will meds teach you how to be self-disciplined, loving or full of faith. To avoid meds, we must learn not to be a victim of our moods. To gain “mood mastery,” you need:

1. Regular sleep. Don’t count on your moods to tell you what to eat or when to sleep. Keep to a schedule despite the temptation to stay on the computer or engage in exciting activities! Make sure you get to sleep by 12 a.m. Sleep at least seven hours during a high mood, but not more than nine during a low. L-theanine (100-200 mg.) induces deeper and better quality sleep. Occasional melatonin can help, especially from the age of 50. You can also try hops, passiflora, uzrad and valerian to calm you occasionally. Turn your cell off at night, and do not tell anyone that you are available 24/7.

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