I have suffered from manic depressive psychosis for most of my life. I’ve experienced violent mood swings from the deepest depression to ecstatic states of grand delusion, and have been hospitalised on various psychiatric wards several times during manic episodes. Manic depressive psychosis is a chronic, incurable disease with a poor prognosis, and drug treatment is practically the only one available. The drugs are administered by psychiatrists; they do not claim to cure the illness, but maintain that they help to control and manage its worst effects. There are many different drugs on offer, from mood stabilisers to antipsychotics to antidepressants to sedatives, and many people with this condition are dependent on a permanent cocktail, with only the dosage and type of drug being changed.
Many of these drugs, however, are very controversial with regard to their serious side effects, and the damage they can do to the body over the long term; most are also highly addictive. Indeed, in my long experience with psychiatric drugs they have caused me much more harm than good; their effects were often quite terrible, and I have never taken any one that stopped the delusions. When on the psychiatric ward I refused to take them as they made me feel so ill, I was sectioned and they were injected into me against my will. I gradually learnt that, under the guise of the medical model, the psychiatric system was actually concerned with modifying and controlling my aberrant behaviour and was not at all concerned in helping me understand and deal with the underlying causes of my extreme distress.
So I decided I had to take the responsibility of managing it for myself. Importantly, I took a holistic approach, which I believe has meant a much healthier way of life, and which includes looking after my spiritual as well as my physical and psychological needs; the trick is to try and maintain a balance in all these aspects. Over the years I’ve learnt to recognise the warning signs of hypomania and depression and how best to deal with these at an early stage so that I don’t go spiralling down or up into madness, and as a possible consequence, I haven’t experienced either extremes of agony and ecstasy for nearly ten years. So far, so good . . .
If this sounds easy, it isn’t – and self-management certainly does not mean managing it by myself; on the contrary, I need a whole raft of help and support to keep my balance, including emotional and practical support from my family and friends, the occasional psychological therapy (talk treatments can be very helpful, if you can get hold of them on the NHS), financial security, tai chi practice and, yes, drugs play an important part, too. My choice of drugs, that is. Actually, I have swapped their drugs for my herbal remedies. Their psychotropic drugs are mostly chemicals concocted in the laboratories of large international drug companies; they are purported to target specific mental conditions, including depression, psychosis, schizophrenia. Curiously, not one of these drugs that I’ve been prescribed was originally designed for mental health problems – they are all, as far as I am aware, the result of side effects for another cure – lithium, for example, is still commonly used as a mood stabiliser, but was originally introduced as a cure for gout.
On the other hand, I have found medicinal herbs to be a gentler, more effective treatment, and I use them as a preventative. For example, severe lack of sleep can rapidly lead to hypomania, so when necessary I use a heavy dose of chamomile flower tea to help me sleep instead of the highly addictive temazepam. I have also used cannabis for many years as the most effective, fast-acting antidepressant; within thirty minutes it can lift my mood sufficiently for me to explore the possible cause or causes of my depressive state, which is important as, if I know why I’m depressed, it’s a lot easier for me to handle. Surprisingly, it can also calm me down from an excitable state, too; in fact, over the long years of suffering, cannabis has enabled me to examine and explore my emotional states more dispassionately and to come to a deeper understanding and awareness of my dis-ease.
However, I must reiterate that this drug is definitely not a cure, and that I have many other strategies for ensuring my continuing sanity. Nor have I ever found it effective when I was suffering from the extremes of mania or deep depression; prolonged sleep is probably the best solution there. And yes, unfortunately a few people are allergic to it, and it can trigger a psychotic episode. Drugs are “personal”, though – I’m allergic to penicillin, others have killed themselves as a result of taking Prozac, yet these drugs are still legal. Perhaps every drug is a risk the first time you take it.
It is much better for me, then, not to get into extreme states of mind, so a preventative, holistic approach is best. Unfortunately and absurdly, cannabis, one of my most important herbal remedies, is illegal. Which means, of course, that it costs money, is not always or easily available, the quality is not assured and I could be imprisoned for using it. The cannabis plant, more widely known as hemp in the UK, as well as providing us with the means to make cloth (the word “canvas” is derived from the same Greek root as “cannabis”), has also, of course, been an invaluable medicinal herb for all sorts of complaints since ancient times. It is outrageous and ludicrous that such a valuable therapeutic drug should be illegal; I suspect that one main reason is that it’s so cheap to produce that the drug companies wouldn’t make enough of a profit; their addictive drugs are far more lucrative. Alas, I don’t think I’ll ever get it on prescription – it’s not only illicit - it’s a herbal remedy!