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How My Colorless Days Became Colorful Again

A story of bipolar disorder & how homeopathy can revolutionize mental health care

Woman painting

I first came to homeopathy skeptically. I had been wending my way through the conventional healthcare system with moderate success that came with a price.  What I mean is, I had to take medications twice a day that helped control some of my symptoms but made me feel like a dulled-down, less vibrant version of myself. I ended up trying homeopathy almost as a “Hail Mary pass” because the answers I was being given by my conventional doctors were unsatisfactory at best, dismal and frightening at worst. “What if

I want to get pregnant and can’t take this toxic drug from the time I start trying to conceive till the time I’m finished breastfeeding?” I asked. The answer: “You can use electroconvulsive therapy.” My question, “Why can’t I feel any strong emotion anymore?” was met with, “At least you aren’t feeling too much.”

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depression). People with this disorder will cycle between periods of elation and/or excessive energy and periods of depression, with periods of feeling “normal” in between.

Radical mood changes

Jennifer Bahr, ND, hiking with her companion, Sadie.For me, it started with depression at age 16. I didn’t really notice that my mood had changed, but my mom did. She saw her vibrant, active, social, honors-student daughter quitting the dance and swim teams, sleeping excessively, avoiding friends, and not completing schoolwork. I spent much of my waking hours hating myself, wishing I had never been born, and crying for seemingly no reason. Eventually, I came out of that depression, but for the next several years, I experienced major ups and downs in my mood.

It wasn’t until I was 23 that someone suggested that what I thought was normal—that is, intervals of excessive energy when I talked fast, socialized to the extreme, survived on very little sleep, engaged in academically challenging activities, and believed strongly that I could and would change the world - were actually indications of hypomania or the “manic side” of bipolar disorder. (Hypomania is an elevated, energetic mood that is less severe than mania; whereas full-blown mania is so severe that a person typically can’t function in the world and may need to be hospitalized.)

In many ways, having hypomania was helpful to me. It allowed me to go to school full time in a challenging major while being on active duty in the military. Hypomania felt really good, and it was a welcome reprieve from the times when I felt so low that I could barely get out of bed. Learning that what I felt was the “true me” was actually the manifestation of a serious disorder, however, was devastating, to say the least.

Colorless days & career move

Once diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I began taking lithium—a common mood stabilizer used by conventional psychiatrists. This meant getting my kidney function checked every six months because therapeutic lithium doses are almost enough to kill you, and the slightest change in metabolism and excretion could be life threatening. I didn’t get too happy or too sad anymore, but I rarely felt just plain old, run-of-the-mill happiness or appropriate sadness either. I was functioning predictably, but the color had been drained from my days.

This bleak outlook for what I could expect for the rest of my life is what led me to pursue a career in naturopathic medicine at age 29. I refused to believe that how I felt on medication is how everyone else felt all the time. I refused to believe that there wasn’t a better way to manage the more challenging symptoms in mental illness without removing the vibrancy and personhood of the individual.

Nevertheless, I was moderately disappointed in what I saw with herbs and ­vitamins used in high doses in place of drugs. Sure, they were more “natural” than most psychotropic meds, but were they really effecting change or stimulating healing? Not from what I saw, both in the clinic and in my own experience. And I was highly skeptical of homeopathy, too. I remember sitting through my intro-to-homeopathy course at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine thinking, “I’ll never use it!” With a pre-med background in physiology and neurobiology and my first career having been in the military, I was adamant in thinking: “Non-material doses could never be effective with something as serious as bipolar disorder.” 

Love at first dose

Then, in a fortuitous and nothing short of life-changing chain of events during my first year of naturopathic medical school, I happened to hear Mark Janikula, ND, speak at a conference. He shared inspiring cases of healing people with serious mental health issues with homeopathy, and he demonstrated such a profound understanding of bipolar disorder that I was willing to give homeopathy a try.

To my surprise, it was love at first dose! Well, not exactly. It wasn’t actually until my third or fourth month of treatment that I experienced the power of homeopathy firsthand. You see, I was still on conventional lithium treatment when I started seeing Dr. Janikula; he suggested I continue until we saw enough improvement from homeopathy that we could begin to wean off lithium gradually. On my own, however, I decided that there was no way I could tell if the homeopathic treatment was helping as long as lithium was suppressing my symptoms. So I weaned myself off, without medical supervision and quicker than I should have.

Sure enough, within a month of discontinuing my conventional medication, I had a hypomanic episode. The resurgence of so much feeling and awareness after so many years of suppression was exhilarating and overwhelming! I couldn’t sit still no matter how hard I tried. I was full of expansive and grandiose ideas, and I was beyond in love with everything in life. I was so agitated that I had to leave class, and I doubted that I would be able to go to dinner with my friends that evening as planned either.

As luck would have it, I already had a follow-up appointment scheduled that afternoon with Dr. Janikula. He thoroughly reviewed my current symptoms and explained that I was indeed having my first hypomanic episode off medication, but that this was to be expected as homeopathic treatment is often “two or three steps forward and one step back.” He said that my symptoms still fit the remedy he had first prescribed for me, and all I needed to do was to take another dose. 

A skeptic no more

You can imagine from what I have shared thus far that I was doubtful it would change anything. How could I be so agitated that I was jumping out of my skin and then expect that a non-material dose of anything would help? Well, it did. I took another dose of Phosphorus 1M (probably my fourth since starting treatment) at around 4:00 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., I was calmly sitting in a restaurant booth with three friends enjoying a lovely dinner. I could sit still and focus. The grandiose ideas and need to escape were no longer overwhelming me—they weren’t even noticeable. Prior to this, my hypomanic episodes had lasted for long stretches—anywhere from four days to four months—so needless to say, I was amazed at the quick turnaround. This is when I knew that I had found what I was looking for. From that point forward, my life and my practice has been devoted to the treatment of mental illness with homeopathy.

Special skills, amazing results

Palette and brushPerhaps my story seems too good to be true. There are those among my colleagues and peers who fear serious mental illness or perhaps just don’t quite understand it. Some trust in the power of homeopathy but are worried about the risks of an ­initial aggravation in a suicidally depressed, manic, or psychotic patient.  And for most people in general practice,I would agree that that is a concern.  Managing the case of a person with schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, or suicidal depression requires agility, skill, and precise knowledge of the conditions. It requires expertise to decide when to follow up and how to handle more volatile conditions. It requires intense dedication, homeopathic mastery, and a deep clinical understanding of the experience of the profoundly mentally ill in order to find accurate remedies and to successfully manage such cases. But it can be done. And when it is done well, the results are nothing short of amazing. 

These special requirements for treating people with serious mental health concerns are what led Dr. Mark Janikula and Dr. Brooke McNeal, both naturopathic doctors, to open a clinic devoted to the homeopathic treatment of mental health issues. Fountainhead Naturopathic Mental Health Clinic opened its doors in Santa Cruz, CA, in September 2011, and I was fortunate enough to be the first doctor to join them just a year later. My story: the color is back!

I didn’t mean to leave you hanging on my fourth dose of Phosphorus 1M. I won’t bore you with all the details of my homeopathic journey (although I have responded well to some very interesting remedies, and you can read about a few of them "3 Stories, 3 Remedies from My Path of   Homeopathic Healing"). Instead my goal is to leave you with hope. It took some time, but I have gotten better. I have been using homeopathic treatment for just over four years now, and I no longer have ups or downs that prohibit me from reaching “the lofty goal of human existence” as Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, so eloquently states in aphorism 9 of the Organon of Medicine. I feel things appropriately without the amplified sensations of hypomania or depression and without the blunted, colorless feel of being on lithium. I no longer have to ask the questions and receive the unacceptable answers that I did when undergoing conventional treatment for bipolar disorder. The questions are no longer relevant. I don’t have to worry about what my current homeopathic treatment would do to an unborn child. I don’t have to worry about homeopathic treatment damaging my kidneys, as I did with conventional treatment.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been given the chance to take this path. Without having had this “illness,” I wouldn’t be in the unique place that I am. I am able to provide excellent homeopathic care to those who are suffering in or out of the conventional system, empathize with them in a way many ­others cannot, and provide hope that recovery is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Bahr, ND, is a naturopathic doctor practicing in Santa Cruz, CA. She is part of a practice devoted to the ­homeopathic treatment of ­mental health concerns where she focuses on child and adolescent behavioral health as well as mood and personality disorders. She can be reached at 831-475-2604. For more information about the clinic, please visit www.fountainheadclinic.com.