Tracking Bipolar Mood States and the Herbs that Love ThemPosted in Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Diet, Herbal Medicine, Personal Stories, Self-Care, Stigma By Corvus On November 5, 2012
I am not a doctor. I am not against pharmaceuticals when they work for people (the industry itself is another story). The following are things I have found to be true for me in my journey of experimenting on myself and with my recovery in choosing to be pharmaceutical medication free. It is not meant as a judgment of those who take meds or those who do things differently than me, however much I may judge the research behind said medications and the marketing used to sell them to the public.
Bipolar “disorder”. It seems to haunt me yet I also find the descriptions of it to be right on in terms of my experience. As many people know, I dislike the term “disorder” and often prefer “difference” or simply “bipolar” or “mad” or “crazy” used as a neutral, or even positive descriptive term. Sort of like tall and short- neither is bad, just different. Bipolar and non-bipolar, just different. Part of this is because of my love of neurodiversity. Part of it is because I despise the fact that those who claim to know so much about this “disorder” are the ones who often do not experience it, and sit writing books about it. We should be writing about it, not them.
On my journey through worlds of medications, being on several that were later recalled from the market, and several others that made me physically ill or incredibly insane, I decided about 7.5 years ago that I was done with pharmaceuticals forever. I laugh when their commercials come on TV claiming to cure us all of our “chemical imbalances”. Chemical imbalance itself is something that they tell us because we want a reason why the medications might work. Some of them work for some people, but the truth is, most researchers and doctors are not exactly sure why.
I decided to track my moods intensely and also experiment on myself quite a bit with certain herbs and diets. I have written a couple of times before how a gluten-free vegan diet, and how reducing my refined sugar intake have drastically aided in helping me stabilize my mood rollercoaster. Another thing that greatly helped me was tracking my moods over time in a journal. I was able to take a few months and track my mania, depression, mixed states of every variety, as well as social, environmental, hormonal, and physical triggers for said mood shifts. I found that many of my mood changes are triggered by certain things (sexual assault triggers, social conflicts, hormonal shifts, dietary changes, etc) and behind those triggers is a larger more independent cycle of ups and downs lasting a couple of months at a time. In tracking the triggered ups and downs existing along the larger up and down shift of my mood over time, I can now identify when a mood state is changing and can identify where I am at.
In being able to identify these patterns, I found a lot of freedom. I was no longer screaming in anger or having a meltdown and suddenly wondering, “Wait, how the fuck did I get here?” I also was able to identify that suicidal thinking is a very comforting place for me to go, ironically. It is a place that makes me feel like I have control and a way out no matter how bad things get. I have two kinds of suicidal ideation. 1. Where my head goes any time I am under a lot of stress. Thoughts of death and leaving everything behind. Being alone and eventually choosing when I die, peacefully, and 2. The very dangerous and very rare state in which I feel helpless and hopeless and feel like I must kill myself. I am known to make plans at this state and this has only happened to me a few of times over the past 8 years. Another interesting thing is that negative mood triggers can pull me from a happy manic episode into a dangerous mixed state pretty quickly. This has taught me to stay on my toes during my manic states and attempt to find balance and attend to my sensitivity during that time. These are just a couple of examples. The more I tracked and identified these things, the easier it became to combat the negative outcomes of my mood changes, or even to trigger other, more manageable mood states. I became more and more in control of where the train would head, even if it hopped off the tracks.
I also experimented with a lot of herbs. I knew the chemicals helped in some ways, but they were so detrimental in others, I guessed that something more natural might give me what I needed. Note, I do not list sources for research I did because I don’t remember them all. I suggest people also read up on herbs if/when they decide to try them themselves because they affect everyone differently.
St Johns Wort has been shown in clinical studies to not only reduce depression, but also to repair damaged neurons. Our brain cells die from stress and depression. And given my history of alcohol and drug use, I knew I had damaged my brain. I used St Johns wort 3x a day for years until I felt I did not need it anymore and tapered myself off. I gathered my own and made my own tinctures.
I also experimented with Kava and Valerian root which some of my friends had raved about for anxiety and sleep issues. Both of them totally screwed up my head. Kava would make me feel buzzed, then knock me out for two hours at night, give me horrible nightmares, and wake me up feeling horribly anxious a couple of hours later. Valerian’s effects were similar. I gave both a chance for a little while but both did far more harm than good.
Then I found Lemonbalm. A plant in the mint family that can also be harvested in the wild near me, but I usually buy it in bulk and make capsules or tinctures myself since it’s harder to find. This stuff is a life saver. Doesn’t make me feel high, just relaxes me a little. Studies show it can be taken in large quantities with no ill effects. And it is also good for the immune system, preventing cold sores, and boosting our defenses toward infection. Ever since I started Lemonbalm I have taken it 2-3 times per day.
Another awesome herb I found was passionflower. Passionflower cannot be taken in as large quantities from what I have read. But is still safe and has few side effects. It is stronger and more relaxing and sedating than lemonbalm. I take it every night and during hyper manic episodes or mixed states with a lot of anxiety, I will also take it in the morning and mid-day.
For bouts of lower level anxiety that crop up, for traumatic triggers, or for preparation of entering stressful situations, I use Rescue Remedy. I keep it on me at all times.
Herbs I do not take daily but will often make teas with when my anxiety is high or I am having more trouble sleeping are skullcap (not to be taken in high doses, from unknown sources, or for extended periods of time), camomile, lavender, other stuff in sleepytime teas, and so on. Sometimes I will drink sleepy teas early in the day for hyper manic or anxious mixed states.
I am currently experimenting with oatstraw on occasion but have not seen any effects yet.
Let me note again that my little experiments on myself with tracking and herbs involved a lot of work, patience, time, and a lot of support in other areas. There were mistakes, there were hard times, there still are. If you want to try herbs and are on psych meds, please talk to your doctor and pharmacist first in case there are interactions.
If you already have what works for you, keep doing it. This is my story.
I'm a crazy, empathetic, sensitive, queer, transgender butch doing my best to make sense of this world. Career-wise, I spent 5 years doing cognitive neuroscience and psychology research and then worked in the clinical health integration field in a more interactive position. I currently am unable to work. I have had mental diagnoses in various forms most of my life and also deal with physical disability. I live in the United States and write (and organize when possible) with a current focus on nonhuman animal advocacy, mental health diversity, and confronting white supremacy. I hope the things I write here provide experience that people can learn from or relate to. You can donate, if you are able and so inclined, to my medical expenses here: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-corvus-with-medical-expenses/332060
All i can say is thank you so much :) I have also been using herbs and flowers to treat my anxieties and depression. But i learned a lot more from reading this. I am going to start my own journal now, you have inspired me friend!! <3
I am very glad to hear that. Good luck and let us know how it goes!
thank you for sharing your experience and experiments. It was so specific that it helped. I’ve got to try lemon balm! I hope you’ll never give up, as I hope I will.