Mental Health Awareness Month: What it Means to Be a Survivor

Someone recently asked me, “What do you mean when you say you are a survivor of bipolar disorder?” I paused for a second. What does it mean?

I ended up responding with this, “I no longer exhibit the symptoms of bipolar disorder.“

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since. 

Does not exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder mean that I no longer suffer from this illness?

Did my diagnosis match my symptomology in the first place?

This caused me to reflect back on the symptoms of bipolar disorder, which consists of fluctuation between a depressed state and a manic state.

Symptoms of mania (an episode includes 3 or more):

  • Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
  • Increased activity, energy or agitation
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Distractibility
  • Poor decision-making — for example, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments

Symptoms of depression (an episode includes 5 or more):

  • Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as irritability)
  • Marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all — or almost all — activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Either insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Either restlessness or slowed behavior
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide

I haven’t shown consistent symptoms in either category for well over a decade. Now, do I sometimes feel a little euphoric, an increase in energy, and unusually talkative? Yes, every time I finish my menstruation phase of my menstrual cycle and my hormones shift. Do I sometimes feel fatigue or loss of energy or loss of interest in my usual activities? At times. I’m a busy mom of three, trying to run a business and do all things well. Of course I have times where it all hits me. But experiencing prolonged episodes of either? That isn’t part of my life anymore, especially now that I am more self aware and better able to spot symptoms before they get out of control.

I no longer need medication to maintain mental stability. I have found other tools to be more useful in regulating my mood. I take great care to maintain a consistent sleep routine, take vitamins and supplements to improve gut health and nutrient absorption, drink plenty of water, eat nutrient-dense whole foods, move my body every day, stay away from refined carbs and processed sugar, journal regularly, spend time in prayer and reflection, and practice gratitude. This has been a gradual process the last two decades of learning more about my symptoms and tuning into changes that occur in my body and brain.

I can say this: at one time I exhibited symptoms of a mood disorder that required treatment, but that doesn’t mean that the treatment made me better, brought me healing, gave me long-lasting stability, or supported the ROOT CAUSE. That is why I had to advocate for myself and find other tools. The cause of my mental dysfunction was never at the brain level for me. When I look back at my health history and trauma history, I can now see that my immune system and my gut health greatly impacted what happened in my brain.

That is also why I am passionate about sharing all the tools to support mental illness. Medication is one tool, but that alone may not make a dent in someone’s illness if it isn’t addressing the root cause.

Root causes will differ for every individual. Root causes can include, but are not limited by: emotional trauma, food sensitivities, enhanced intestinal permeability, genetic SNPs, HPA dysregulation, histamine intolerance, methylation dysfunction, neuroinflammation/microglial activation, microbiome dysbiosis, nutrient imbalances, anemia, metabolic illness, mold and mycotoxin exposure, gluten intolerance, thyroid imbalances, low vagal tone, oxidative stress, head injury, hormone imbalances, EMF sensitivity, and heavy metal toxicity.

This month, as we create awareness for mental health, my hope is that we continue to draw awareness to reversing the disease dynamics that contribute to these diagnoses. It is how I believe we truly will find sustained hope and healing.

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