Upon hearing the words in 2009 from Dr. Darmal, a psychiatrist at the Amen Clinics, that would change my relationship with myself, I was stunned, shocked, and mostly mortified.
“You have a low-level mood disorder and extreme ADD,” he said.
After 45 years of struggling with my moods, behaviors, and mental state, the SPECT imaging done at the Amen Clinics gave me insight into WHY I was easily provoked into outbursts of anger, had bouts of depression, followed by times of hyper focus, creativity, and extreme extroversion, bouncing around from one thing to another, not finishing things I started. This struggle has been my normal state from as far back as I can remember, and even beyond. Stories my parents have told about me as a toddler go there, too.
“Elisabeth was such a happy baby,” my mom often recalls. And yet, I know that I had huge temper tantrums. The terrible twos were especially terrible. Once my dad told me that Mom has PTSD around my childhood and young adolescent years. I was hell on wheels.
But this post is to explore the impact learning I had a mood disorder had. The sheer knowledge of how my brain was functioning and why I was prone to a cyclical expression of moods was empowering, but the emotional impact it had was paralyzing.
Before this confirmation, I had sought help from other types of doctors: my gynecologist who said I had Premenstrual Dysphoric Dysfunction, Clinical Depression, and Anxiety, prescribing antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and hormones; my neurologist who said I had a migraine syndrome and prescribed prophylactic migraine medication I took all of the time, not only when a migraine manifested itself; and my psychotherapist who said I had ADD and challenges with task switching and prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy, life coaching, and journaling. I even availed myself of pastoral counseling and interventional prayer.
And still I would reach points where I would simply breakdown, either in tears and extreme anxiety moving toward panic, or explode in rage and hostility. All of these treatments were not “fixing” the problem.
Some of what I was being treated for was socially acceptable, like ADD, but having a mood disorder didn’t seem socially acceptable to me. I felt ashamed, like I should have done something differently — like I was broken. As a result, I did not share the results of my SPECT scan with most of my family and virtually any of my friends. I ended up using several types of psychiatric medications, which was also mortifying to me. I dreaded going to the pharmacy to pick up my refills, and I hid the pill bottles at home so my children wouldn’t see them and know I was using them. Knowing I “had” a psychiatrict diagnosis actually changed how I felt about myself — some of that change was for the good, but most of it was negative.
As I write this today, I have come so far from where I was ten years ago, but I still have the symptoms of a low-level mood disorder when I allow myself to become over-busy, over-tired, over-hungry, or other ways of being physically out of balance. I no longer use any medications; however, I do use targeted supplementation for brain health which includes Fish Oils, Lithium Orotate, Theanine, Phosphytidal Serine and Phosphytidal Choline, as well as GABA. I use other supplements that are not yet widely recognized as “vitamins”, but which are powerfully supportive of healthy brain function: vitamin N(ature), vitamin M(editation), and vitamin PT (physical therapy). Oh, and I cannot forget vitamin S(leep).
My ADD is now being treated with herbs and other targeted supplements. ADD medication, even the lowest dose of the lightest medicine available, causes a bad reaction in my brain. Basically it gives me suicidal ideation, and I’m not going there!
I recently emailed Dr. Amen to ask him if I will always have a mood disorder. His reply was satisfying: “No, our hope is that you will NOT always have a mood disorder. As you heal your brain, your mind should be better as well. Once you have had depression, you have to be watchful for signs of it recurring and do the right things to prevent it.”
I am also finding that being embarrassed about my diagnosis with a mood disorder is not an appropriate response. I am a productive, creative, powerful woman with so much to give to so many people. If I shrink back from my life purpose because my brain sometimes does not work at its optimal level, I am short changing myself and others by not giving that which I am alive to give.
Ask yourself what you can do to be a part of the groundswell to normalize the pursuit of brain health. I plan to do the same: I already advocate for the pursuit of health, so including the brain along with the rest of the body is (wait for it!) a no brainer!