Recovery Using Restorative Orthomolecular Medicine
by Robert Sealey, BSc, CA
Robert Sealey is the author of Finding Care for Depression, Mental Episodes & Brain Disorders.
My symptoms recurred over 28 years: on-again off-again episodes of depression with anxiety, dark thoughts and blue moods interspersed with high-energy phases and irritable outbursts. Periodically, I consulted physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists. As a trusting and a cooperative patient, I tried pills and therapy but was dismissed, misdiagnosed, mistreated, lied to and laughed at. At age 45, I was finally diagnosed with a bipolar II mood disorder, a form of manic depression. For the first time, I had the right medical words to understand myself. I wasn’t mad, sad or bad, just a person with a mood disorder.
Desperate for help, I updated my Bachelor of Science degree (in biological and medical sciences and psychology) by studying self-help books, psychiatry texts and psychology references. Alone with my symptoms, I needed the reassurance that comes from learning how other people cope with mental problems. Even though I was not well, The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living With Depression and Manic Depression by Mary Ellen Copeland inspired me to learn and renewed my hope for recovery. Reading became my first wellness recovery tool.
Eventually I read the practice guidelines of psychiatry. They recommend accurate diagnosis and effective treatments. Would any competent psychiatrist short cut the guidelines by just labeling a sick patient as depressed, bipolar or disordered, without diagnostic tests? Why rush to prescribe pills like antidepressants, tranquilizers, anticonvulsants and mood stabilizers? Lithium for bipolars, SSRIs for depressives. Sounds quick and easy but what if the medications make a sick patient worse? What if a misdiagnosis leads to a misprescription? For months as my pills made me worse, I thought about suicide – I just wanted the pain to end. As my doctor increased the doses, I deteriorated. I desperately wanted to recover.
Nobody likes it when a moody patient gets sicker, not the doctor, not the family and certainly not the patient. The system has three labels for the worst cases – refractory depression, treatment resistance and borderline personality. My psychiatrist, a published expert specializing in mood disorders, wrote ‘The Clinical Meaning of Refractory Depression’ for the American Journal of Psychiatry in which he defined “refractory depression” as problems with diagnosis and problems with treatment. That brainy expert repeatedly noted “refractory depression” in my medical file and kept writing prescriptions. He did not revisit my diagnosis or revise my treatment plan. While I deteriorated, he short-cut 13 standard procedures. For months, he increased doses and smiled as his pills caused side attacks and toxic effects.
The stigma of a chronic mental illness distances depressives from healthy friends and family. Fault-finding and excluding do not help when sick people need medical care, encouragement and support. Instinctively I sought other people with similar problems, hoping to learn how they got well. Networking became my second wellness recovery tool. At mood disorder association meetings, I met people with diagnoses like depression, manic depression and dysthymia.
Most of them were anxious and unsettled, wondering about their symptoms, treatments and prognosis. I felt comfortable with my moody tribe, welcomed and understood. While discussing our problems, we monitored our progress. We compared symptoms, side effects, diagnoses and therapies. Some people did well on high doses of meds, while others, like me, could not tolerate even low doses of our brain pills. Some talk therapies helped us improve our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving but it was hard to make progress when we were sick.
I started an independent depression project and interviewed more than 150 depressed people and family members, while studying the mental health care system and researching books and articles. One woman suggested the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Imagine my surprise to find helpful information about restorative care just two miles from home in Toronto. The friendly editor of the Journal Of Medicine offered their booklist, newsletter and annual conference.
Still cranky after years of bad moods and failed treatments, I could not resist this pleasant invitation to read about restorative care. My curiosity was aroused by the scientific and medical research, the fifty year history and success of orthomolecular medicine and the progress reports of recovered patients. Would ortho-care heal my brain?
Skeptical, I tried a third wellness recovery tool-orthomolecular medicine. Disillusioned after years of failed doctor-patient relationships and determined to avoid short cuts, I read about orthomolecular health professionals who apply the life science of biochemistry to the art of medicine. Thanks to a little yellow book, The Way Up From Down, by California psychiatrist Dr. Priscilla Slagle, whose own mood disorder resolved when she tried orthomolecular medicine, I learned how to take nutritional supplements. I had already responded quickly to an extract of the world’s oldest plant, gingko biloba but some symptoms continued. A basic orthomolecular regimen of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, taken one by one and continued if they helped, soon restored my mental health.
At conferences in Toronto and Vancouver, I met recovered patients and interviewed orthomolecular doctors. I read many books about orthomolecular medicine, intrigued by the work of Dr. Abram Hoffer, whose >30 books include Adventures in Psychiatry: The Scientific Memoirs of Dr. Abram Hoffer. He and his colleague Dr. Humphrey Osmond co-founded orthomolecular medicine in Canada in the 1950s while researching schizophrenia, developing an adrenochrome theory and customizing restorative regimens for psychotic patients.
Their regimen for schizophrenia did not work for me; my diagnosis of bipolar disorder meant that I needed a different regimen. Nutrition & Mental Illness by Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, another colleague of Dr. Hoffer’s, explained how one of three regimens could help depending on each patient’s diagnosis and biochemical individuality. Dr. Pfeiffer’s histamine-lowering regimen worked best for me.
The orthomolecular concept makes sense. A depressed brain needs to “refuel” its energy, stabilize its enzymes, balance its neurotransmitters and restore its capabilities. As a sick brain heals, symptoms resolve. The restored brain no longer misfires; bad moods pass; life looks brighter. A bipolar brain also needs to control its tendency to get overexcited. Fortunately, GABA, the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter, taken as a supplement, calmed me right away.
I added TMG (trimethylglycine) and l-taurine and the trace minerals magnesium, zinc and manganese. They worked! With Dr. Slagle’s book as a professional guide, I slowly tested the B vitamins 1, 2, 5, 6 and 12, vitamin D and the antioxidant vitamins C and E. Guided by other books and two doctors, I am taking mitochondrial supplements l-carnitine with ribose and co-enzyme Q-10 and the trace minerals chromium and selenium.
At age 50, new symptoms started – difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and focus, low energy and low libido. After reading a newspaper article about a male hormone deficiency, I found a family doctor who would prescribe testosterone supplements. That helped right away. I got a second opinion from Dr. Jerald Bain, a Toronto endocrinologist and medical professor who specializes in andropause and edited Mechanisms in Andropause. Under his care, I continued my bipolar regimen and adjusted the supplements of testosterone, which also works – restoratively.
Since 1996, an orthomolecular regimen of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, energy and enzyme co-factors, essential fatty acids, hormones and antioxidants has complemented my antidepressant-anxiolytic medication (an extract of gingko biloba). I have been stable for ten years, with no more episodes of depression or hypomania. After years of painful problems, black and blue moods and symptoms of a bipolar II mood disorder, migraines and anxiety, restorative care helped me recover and stay well.
Volunteering became my fourth wellness recovery tool. As an independent volunteer, I can help myself keep well while helping the International Society of Orthomolecular Medicine with their Open Minds campaign – orthomolecular public education and networking. Ten years ago, I started writing books and articles and telling people about restorative care. I appeared in the documentary film Masks of Madness: Science of Healing and spoke at four conferences Nutritional Medicine Today. When people ask about my books or web site www.searpubl.ca I introduce them to restorative orthomolecular care.
I worked hard to develop a wellness recovery action plan which has four key tools: (1) bibliotherapy (reading books by recovered patients and health professionals), (2) networking (with support organizations, patients, caregivers and physicians), (3) taking a daily orthomolecular regimen and (4) volunteering. My bipolar brain is not perfect, but perfectly good enough to work, get along with family and friends, consult with clients, write, network and tell people about orthomolecular medicine: restorative treatments for beautiful minds. Even when things get tough, my W.R.A.P. tools help me find competent health professionals, ask for quality medical care, avoid relapse and live well with a bipolar II mood disorder.
From Robert Sealey:
New books, just out, with more about orthomolecular medicine — —
Mental Health Regained – by Dr. Abram Hoffer
just out from the Intnl. Schizophrenia Foundation
-18 orthomolecular recovery stories – bipolars and schizophrenics, compiled
Healing Depression & Bipolar Disorder Without Drugs – by Gracelyn Guyol
– inspiring storiesof Restoring Mental Health Through Natural Therapies
– from Conn, US – she recovered from bipolar disorder and celiac, using orthomolecular methods, found 13 other people
– currently going across the US speaking at PESI seminars
What Your Doctors May NOT Tell You About Depression: The Breakthrough Integrative Approach for Effective Treatment – by Michael Schachter, MD
– an orthomolecular doctor from New York
– published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine
Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder:
What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell you That You Need to Know – by John McManamy
– Chapter 15 – complementary treatments has several pages about orthomolecular medicine.
John did not know about orthomolecular medicine, but I told him my story
and he evidently researched from others for his book.
-mentions nutritional and orthomolecular psychiatry on pages 791 to 793 of 1262
Goodwin & Jamison
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.