Total Darkness Therapy and Supplements for Bipolar “disorder”
A few months back, after a failed attempt at permanently tapering off psychiatric medication, I found myself seeking out the next thing to try to overcome bipolar. Even though now I am adopting the perspective of ultra preparing for the next “episode” or “crisis”, instead of trying to avoid it, I can’t help but look for things that might make it less crazy and easier to navigate. I came across Peter Smith of balancingbrainchemistry.co.uk. What I like about him is that he is managing Bipolar himself with ways he’s come to through his own experience and he’s a naturopath. I’ve been to naturopaths who don’t have the Bipolar rhythm themselves, so they don’t have lived experience as well as scientific knowledge. There is a ton of information on Peter Smith’s website, and I read most of it before setting up a Skype call with him. He was very detailed in his consultation and I promptly bought a zillion dollars worth of vitamins and supplements. I kind of vibe with this as I’m kind of a supplement junkie anyway. I love vitamins and nutrition and health. It’s one of my values so I don’t really freak out spending a bunch of money on it. Some people buy video games and movies, I buy health. I spend more on vitamins than I do on clothes.
I’ve been taking the recommended vitamins for almost 4 months and I’m going to keep going at least another 3 months. I’ve managed to switch from Lithium Orotate to Lithium Carbonate. And, I’m off of all SSRI’s such as Trazadone, and I avoided going back on Zoloft. Since I’m not taking SSRI’s, I can take St. John’s Wort and Tyrptophan. Though I might go back on these meds at sometime in the future if need be, it’s nice to have a break. I am taking 50mg of quetiapine a day. It’s very complex, and I’m sharing my lived experience here, not medical advice.
One thing he shared with me was about how sleeping in total darkness, or total darkness therapy can be helpful for people with Bipolar. He told me about studies they did where people in mania and acute psychosis were put in total darkness for 14 hours, and it made the mania and psychosis go away. Since this is really impractical, and perhaps scary and traumatizing for people in mania and psychosis to be shut in total darkness for that long, a toxic pill is much easier. I’d rather sit in darkness than be drugged. They also did studies that sunglasses with an orange tint that block out blue light can have the same effect. I find it easier and faster to trust someone with 25 years of lived experience and naturopathic training. What I like about Peter Smith is that he advocates for learning how to “self medicate” with vitamins and supplements, and pharmaceuticals when necessary. This can sound scary or “sacrilegious” to psychiatry, but I’d rather take steps to learn how to be somewhat self sufficient than face the alternative of being at the mercy of med changes at the whim of a psychiatrist. I’ve been there and done that and it’s a lot more scary than what I’m learning now. Plus, since I’ve experienced being under someone else’s control as more terrifying than being under the small amount of the control I’ve had at times, and I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital for almost 2 years. Before I’d go running for help and I was hospitalized 3 times in 14 months. Personally I like being in the drivers seat. So, I’m learning his strategy. I won’t really know if it helps during the worst of the worst time until the worst of the worst time hits again, likely in June according to my bipolar biorhythm. If it doesn’t do anything to help, I give up!! (not really)
I set my bedroom up to be totally dark. I’m sure there are many ways to do it, and many ways better than I did it, but I did it. My room is TOTALLY DARK when I sleep. This helps the brain make melatonin out of serotonin. This is handy too, because if I get into a mania or psychosis, I can go sit in there for hours. Hmmmm. How will I know how long I’ve been in there? I’ll set a timer on my phone and leave it outside my room. I also wear my amber sunglasses a few hours before bed. This way, I have in effect, 10-12 hours of total darkness every day. This in theory should help to keep a lid on mania and psychosis.
I need to start doing the relaxation exercise he told me to do. So I’m not doing everything 100%, but pretty close. I think the relaxation exercise is important so I’d better get at it.
What I’m liking so far is that I didn’t have to go back on Zoloft after having a really rough Winter in terms of low executive functioning and high level of depression. I don’t take Trazadone to fall asleep but I take a few supplements. I am taking 50mg of Quetiapine at bed time, which doesn’t seem to be enough to make me sleep without the extra supplements.
He did suggest that I should be able to taper off the Quetiapine, but I haven’t been able to and I don’t think I’ll try yet. I want to buy more months of sanity as the summer approaches. I am concerned that the Quetiapine won’t be enough knock me out if I need to take more when psychosis comes back. I’m going to look into having other PRNs handy in case taking it on a daily basis lessons it’s effect during a crisis. Previously I didn’t take it daily. I’m wondering if I’ll be adapted/addicted to it.
He gave me a few other strategies that I can use when I have another crisis. I feel like I need to review them often, make preparations, and practice in my mind. One of them includes taking Branched Chain Amino Acids to reduce dopamine in my brain when dopamine gets too high. The trouble is, when dopamine is high, and I’m manic and tipping into psychosis, it can be incredibly difficult to think to do this gesture. Often, all one can do is call out for help or call 911. Then all the typical types of help will happen, which is better than death most of the time, but it’s really hard to get through. I’m trying to make it easier on myself, which also makes it harder because I have to take on more responsibility, which includes reaching for branched chain amino acids and other supplements, when I might be feeling like reaching for a knife instead, or more pills than I should take. I’ve never harmed myself in those ways. I only want the pain to go away, and deep down I know I want to live. It’s such a strange feeling when one half of ones energy is reaching for death and the other half is reaching for a life line. All it takes is the strength to tip it 1% in favour of life, and things will be hell on earth instead of the hell of death. For a while, it’s hard to tell the difference. And then eventually, it will be okay again.
So I’m learning how to help myself. I’m wondering if I can go through the next crisis “all alone” by getting through it without alerting anyone. I did that last time, but the mistake I made was being around people and having to pretend I was okay, and doing a shitty job of it, thus projecting all my terrible states of mind onto those around me which seemed to prolong it from a couple weeks to several months. So, learning what I learned from last time, I hope to use that to navigate the next bout of psychosis better. That being said, it always trips me up, no matter what. Psychosis is not static, but dynamic, so it’s hard to predict what factors will be the shittiest next time.
And all these things I’m talking about take a hell of a long time to build up to. What I’m talking about is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. You don’t climb Mount Everest if you’ve only been for walks around the block. For me, knowing I can learn to survive better gives my brain something to do other than worry about the impending doom. Plus, the brain is a learning device, so by learning, I’m doing with it what it’s meant to do. It’s not meant to swim in worry all the time, that only makes it wither.
The other night, I was woken up by a scary bout of perhaps a “mini psychosis”. At the time, I didn’t know it was going to only last a minute or two. It was so terrifying I thought it might last forever. It felt like my brain was dying. I waited it out, and then got up to take extra supplements to fall asleep. And I did fall asleep. I think part of the key was staying in bed and waiting it out instead of trying to take action while it was happening. Had I tried to take action, the fear would have likely “wanted me” to do something harmful to myself to make it stop. Who knew it stops on it’s own? At least in this case. It’s not time for the big one and It ended up being no big deal. I think by having more an more power to get through this process, it is less fearful. And there is no worse fear than being afraid of oneself, and being afraid of the scary things that happen after their over, only gives them further power.
I have many safety plans in place to keep myself safe, as I do want to live through this and with this. I take this very seriously. So seriously that I’m always learning so that over time, I give less and less of my responsibility for a crisis over to someone else to tell me what to do. By knowing somewhere inside me that I’ve taken many steps to keep myself safe, I feel more safe when scary shit comes up. My whole being already knows I want to live because it knows how much I’ve done to prepare for psychosis. The preparations and life affirming gestures that I do over time, build up a mountain of protection that saves my life.
I also like to be healthy and treat my body well as that is also congruent with wanting to live and it tell my being that on a day to day basis. If I do stuff daily that is a gesture of killing myself slowly like eating junk and watching crap, when psychosis comes in, it will gladly expedite the process for me. One must make life energy stronger than death energy. We are surrounded by that which is killing us all slowly and our nervous systems aren’t designed to handle it. Psychosis is made of that same death energy, just more concentrated.
Soon I’m going to write about the many ways that I keep myself safe in order to be able to think and do outside the bipolar crisis box. I have many possibilities therefore I don’t have to reach out for help in ways that can do more harm than good.