The exchange above is from Lewis Carroll’s notorious fictional story, Alice in Wonderland, which in my professional opinion stands with more validity than today’s psychiatric and mental health paradigms. In fact, Alice shares the same view as some of the greatest thinkers of all-time, such as Socrates who once declared: “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift.”Plato too referred to insanity as “a divine gift and the source of the chief blessings granted to men.”
So, to best understand bipolar disorder the modern day epidemic of medicated “madness”, down the rabbit hole we go…
Down the Rabbit Hole
Going back to our friend Alice, on the first page of the classic story, we find Alice is disinterested in the dull, boring, everyday existence in which she resides. She peers into her sister’s book to see it has no illustrations or even conversations, which to Alice has no use or interest. She ponders the idea of making a daisy-chain, but lacks the energy or motivation to take the time to pick the daisies. She is disinterested in ‘normal’ life. Then, suddenly, a talking white-rabbit runs past her; he appears to be late. Of course, Alice is curious about this bizarre occurrence and follows him down the rabbit hole — and most of us will be familiar with the rest of the story.
By today’s standards and diagnostic references, Alice’s disinterest in ‘normal’ life would very likely be diagnosed as a mental disorder. With this diagnosis, she would then be medicated for life, after a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital to stabilize her on the medications that are claimed to be capable of normalizing her mental sickness.
But, is Alice really sick? Or is she a creative, intelligent, deep-thinking, imaginative, or even gifted child? I would wager everything I own on the latter!
Bipolar disorder is one of the oldest recognized ‘mental disorders’, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood. As a psychiatric Registered Nurse, it is my belief that people with bipolar disorder are not “sick” – the real sickness lies in the treatment and medications they receive.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Formerly known as manic-depressive disorder or manic-depression, bipolar disorder refers to the experience of opposing poles with regard to a person’s mood. Essentially, bipolar disorder is distinguished by the experience of polarity.
At one pole is mania, which includes intense energy, racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, inflated grandiosity or sense of self, impulsiveness and risk-taking behavior. The other pole includes depression, which presents the opposite symptoms, such as fatigue (to the point of inability to get out of bed), moving or talking so slowly that others notice, a feeling of emptiness, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of self-harm.
It is important to understand the distinction between moods and emotions here. Moods are essentially emotional feelings that last for a period of time – typically for more than two or three days, which can be difficult to shift. While everyone has their ups-and-downs, bipolar disorder is far more disabling, with symptoms far more severe than a typical mood swing from happiness to sadness. The extremes of bipolar disorder can take you from feeling that you are omnipotent to the point of wanting to end your own life.
Inside The Bipolar Mind
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” ~ Krishnamurti
Just as Alice does in the opening chapter of her story, many people with bipolar disorder realize that “normal life” is far too phony, boring and constrained. They realize that there is much more to this mundane existence than what is commonly suggested. So, with this insight, one can see how easily it would be to slip into a depressed mood with thoughts such as:
– Why would I want to go through with this life?
– Nobody understands me!
– I am all alone.
– Why am I the only one who thinks this way?
– Maybe they are right, maybe I amcrazy.
– What is the point of it all?
– What reason do I have to keep going?
This depression sucks the life out of you, to the point that you lack the energy to even get up and pour a glass of water. If I got up, then I would have to find a glass, wait for the water to filter, and then put the glass away… it is not worth the effort.Furthermore, the person experiencing these thoughts realizes that this thought process is illogical, and destructive, which only creates a tidal-wave effect, inducing further feelings of sadness and dejection.
How Does Bipolar Come On?
At birth, we are free — we are born with a clean slate and we see the world is magical. But as we grow, things change. We are trained to behave a certain way; we are domesticated to a set of standards that our society has agreed are “normal”. We learn to create a mask and put it on every day; To conform. We learn to use different masks for different groups of people, different occasions, and different times. We are taught that this is “normal life”, and that wearing these masks is “normal” human behavior.
And yet this mask, this image that we create and send out to the world, is our false self. It is a learned function of the ego. It is only behind the mask that we find our true self — our soul.
Manic episodes — those times of euphoria, grandiosity and impulsiveness — are triggered by the collapsing of the ego or mask. It is as though the soul is allowed to be free for the first time. Just like a dog that is tied to a chain its entire life and then finally breaks free, it runs wild, explores, and does whatever it can, because it can finally be the animal it was meant to be.
A spiritual awakening is much the same process. Like those times of mania, it involves taking off the mask and living as our true self for the first time. If treated as a spiritual dis-ease, this is the unexpected gift that bipolar disorder can offer — a short-cut to enlightenment. The mania pole can reveal to us our strongest and deepest desires, and exactly how our personal energy truly wishes to be expressed, while the depression pole shows us – in no uncertain terms – the areas of our lives that are not being lived in total alignment with our most honest truth.
But, like the dog that just got off its leash and is running wild without care, there can be great danger if those manic episodes that are not controlled. Experiencing and freely expressing the impulses of your true self for the first time, you may begin to test reality in life-threatening ways, such as trying to fly out a window, walking into the middle of traffic, etc. In contrast, if the dog (the soul) has always been allowed to roam freely, it learns not to run in traffic or to chase people, and knows how to regulate its natural energy and exuberance for life.
The key is balance; learning always to roam free, not just in moments of mania.
Bipolar Disorder: Science, Medicine, and Statistics
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 5.7 million Americans (or 2.6 percent of the population) have bipolar disorder. This is the highest rate of any country in the world. The official position of the NIMH is also that bipolar disorder cannot be cured. As stated on the NIMH website:
“Bipolar disorder cannot be cured… Because it is a lifelong illness, long-term, continuous treatment is needed to control symptoms.” 
With the United States having the highest prevalence of bipolar disorder, which is deemed incurable by the mental health establishment, it would make sense that the United States would have the finest diagnostic tools and science available, wouldn’t it? However, contrary to popular belief, there is no science involved in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, rather it is diagnosed from a subjective set of criteria. There are no scans or medical tests, nor is there anything scientific about the process. Patients are simply asked questions in a brief consultation, and someone with a license makes a subjective interpretation as to whether or not they have a “lifelong, incurable disease”.
The primary treatment for bipolar disorder is the prescription of psychotropic medication(s), mood-stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, or antidepressant medications. A government study published in 2005 reported that just 11% of mental health facilities provided psychotherapy to all patients diagnosed with bipolar. 
Regrettably, the medical establishment’s preference for treating bipolar disorder with medication over psychotherapy has less to do with results than one would like to think. When it comes to this disorder, it would seem psychiatric pay-checks and pharmaceutical profits rate far more highly than patients’ needs. In the past, psychiatrists would tend to the needs of 40 to 50 clients at most, conducting 45-minute sessions with each one. Today, they see up to 1,200 clients, holding only 15-minute appointments that focus on refilling medication prescriptions.
Why Are So Many Diagnosed with Bipolar?
In 1955, about one in every 13,000 people was diagnosed with bipolar disorder or manic-depression.  Today, that number has skyrocketed to nearly one in every forty!
Are there really that many more people displaying symptoms of such a disease, or could there be another factor accounting for this sharp rise in diagnoses? Let’s look at some statistics:
- In 1970, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved the first mood-stabilizer medication Lithium (althoughmany U.S. physicians were already prescribing it in the late 1960’s without seeking an investigational new drug permit (IND) from the FDA, meaning its initial introduction to the U.S. population was entirely unregulated.) Following the official release of this new medication, an increase in the rate of official diagnoses of bipolar disorder naturally followed.
- In 1995 Zyprexa was the first of the atypical antipsychotic medications approved for treatment of mania, and again, a surge in diagnosis ensued.
- America is home to only 5% of the world’s population, yet it is currently prescribed more than 50% of all pharmaceutical drugs worldwide.
- In 1976, Americans owned just 18.4% of the world market-share in pharmaceutical interests, but by the year 2000, that figure had climbed to 52.9%. 
- In 2001, worldwide revenue for pharmaceutical drugs was around $390.2 billion U.S. Ten years later (2011), this figure stood at almost one trillion U.S. dollars.
With BIG money to be made from the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, it’s not difficult to see why the mental health establishment’s treatment of bipolar disorder with psychotherapy waned — It was a question of financial incentive not effective treatment.
While United States has the highest rate of lifetime diagnosis of bipolar disorder, population-based surveys show that New Zealand is in second place , where a startling rate of almost 5% of the nation’s Maori (indigenous) population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Outside the U.S. and New Zealand, no other country even comes close.
Importantly, high bipolar rates are not the only thing these two countries have in common. In 1997, the United States became the second country — New Zealand was the first — to allow Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising of pharmaceuticals, enabling drug companies to advertise their products directly to consumers.  By doing so, the U.S. FDA loosened the regulatory chains that previously kept drug companies in check, allowing them to advertise their “products” on television, radio and other media. This kind of marketing (like all mass-marketing) creates a sense of need where one previously did not exist; it allows the consumer to become familiar with the drugs available and their supposed “benefits”, to specifically ask their doctor for that medication, and if the doctor refuses, to find another doctor that will fulfil their request.
Of course none of this has anything to do with science. What it does involve is a multi-million dollar marketing scheme. And if you wonder why you never hear anything about this on the TV news, that’s because doing so would constitute a massive conflict of commercial interests for the media corporations that are heavily funded by pharmaceutical advertising. And despite the clear conflict of moral interests here, media corporations and the shareholders who ultimately benefit from this kind of direct-to-consumer marketing, prefer not to bite the hand that feeds them.
Are Prescription Drugs Actually Helping?
Psychotropic pharmaceutical drugs, like all drugs, can initially relieve symptoms of bipolar disorder, in the same way that alcohol or any number of illicit substances can be used to mask symptoms. Such substances artificially relieve us of unwanted feelings or states of mind, by affecting the brain’s chemistry. But as with all consciousness-altering drugs, relief is only temporary. You only get to ‘rent the relief’. In other words, everything that the drug gives you will eventually have to be paid back at some time.
The brain is always working to create balance – known as homeostasis – and when conditions change, the brain’s neurology also changes. Therefore the perceived positive effects of pharmaceutical intervention are therefore short-lived.
According to the reductionist medical and mental-health paradigms, a medication is deemed successful when the patients’s symptoms diminish. Although the do nothing to address theroot cause of psychosis, antipsychotic drugs can remove or mask the symptoms at first. This is the same principle that applies to alcohol, which can temporarily remove feelings of anxiety or depression — but it is by no means a long-term solution. In fact, what happens is that the brain quickly develops a tolerance to the substance and the individual taking it then needs more of the drug in order to feel the same effects. Eventually, a threshold is reached at which the individual no longer feels any effect and cannot be prescribed an increased dosage; the drug becomes the ‘new normal’. Then, when you try to stop taking the drug, your body suffers serious physical, mental, and emotional effects, because it has grown dependent on it. The body then needs to create homeostasis again, to cope without the drug. This is what is known as withdrawal.
In an August 2014 letter to The Psychiatric Times, psychiatrist Sandra Steingard M.D. (the Medical Director of Howard Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington) compared a number of different studies that demonstrate just how those suffering bipolar disorder and other psychoses are actually more effectively treated without antipsychotic drugs. She compared studies of individuals who stayed on antipsychotic drugs with studies of those who stopped using the medications after a period of two years.
According to Dr. Steingard’s research, after two years the results were initially fairly even, with 74% of those who stayed on antipsychotic medications showing psychotic symptoms, compared with the 60% of individuals showing psychotic symptoms in the group that stopped taking their medications after two years. However, as time went on, the gap grew exponentially larger. At 4½ years, 86% of those who continued to take the medications displayed psychotic symptoms, compared to 21% of those who continued to abstain after the two year mark. And after 20 years, the difference was 68% compared to 8% respectively. Says Dr. Steingard:
This raises troubling questions for psychiatry… Psychiatrists are assigned a powerful role in our society; we can force patients into treatment, and this sometimes includes forcing them to take these drugs… In taking on this task, it seems that psychiatry should be assiduous in assessing risk and utterly transparent in our disclosures. This risk includes not only the failure to treat but also the consequences of our treatments. Yet, this has not been our history. Our profession has been slow to address the limitations of our drugs. We were slow to acknowledge tardive dyskinesia [a neurological disorder that occurs as the result of long-term or high-dose use of antipsychotic drugs] and slow to address the metabolic impacts of the newer antipsychotics. Will we be equally slow in addressing their impact on long-term recovery?
Clearly, pharmaceutical intervention is no solution to mental health disorders such as bipolar. All drugs, legal or illegal, have adverse effects on the body’s chemistry. Yet, with the support of regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, pharmaceutical companies label the desirable short-term effects as the “main” effects and the unwanted ones as “side effects.” But, as the science has clearly demonstrated, all antipsychotic drugs will bring about changes in the body that are unnatural and undesirable, which ultimately prolong the suffering of the patient.
Blaming The Patients, Not The Drugs
We’ve all seen those stories on mainstream news where someone has committed a heinous or violent crime, and we are subsequently informed that the cause of their violence was because the individual did not follow their medication plan. The diagnosis of ‘insanity’ and the individual’s failure to medicate is blamed as the cause for their psychotic behavior. But people in true psychosis are not typically violent; that perception is simply not true. It is generally once they stop taking their prescribed antipsychotic medications (perhaps due to the undesirable side-effects being experienced) that the withdrawal/side-effects create these suicidal or homicidal behaviors.
In other words, far from helping the patient, the taking of drugs as a “solution” to their condition actually leads to further problems, sometimes involving the tragic loss of life.
Drugging Adolescents and Children
Like all good product marketers, companies search for untapped markets and seek to create customers for life. This is known as ‘cradle to grave’ marketing; a corporate term that bears an eerie interpretation when viewed in the context of the medical and pharmaceutical industry.
In 1995, around 25 out of 100,000 adolescents aged 19 and under were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By 2002, less than a decade later, that number had risen to 1,679 diagnoses out of 100,000 visits.  This increase is staggering!While the medical establishment shrugs its shoulders, unable to determine a scientific cause for such a sharp increase, realistically, the one factor that has actually changed in that time period is the ready availability and social acceptability of antipsychotic medications.
But this startling trend doesn’t stop with adolescents; there has also been a steady increase in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder. Yes, you read that right – infants! In my experience, diagnosis goes a little like this:
Does your child act silly and crazy at some times? Then other times are they sad or angry? They might have bipolar disorder. Our drug can help you stabilize your child.
In reality, these young children do not have a diagnosable mood disorder — they are four-year-olds! Four-year-olds are simply not meant to always sit still, pay attention to one thing for extended periods, or regulate their own natural moods and emotions the way “socialized” adults do. Adding to this problem, up to 40 percent of U.S. schools are now cutting back on recess — the time when children get to go outside and be children!
And yet, prescribing antipsychotics has become the overwhelming norm, being regularly prescribed for so-called “behavioral disorders” like ADHD and ADD. According to Dr. Michelle Kmiec, an holistic health practitioner and regular contributing writer for Wake Up World:
Since 1990, according to some estimates, there has been a 300% increase with pharmaceuticals used to treat children diagnosed with ADHD. Now doesn’t that statement alone scream that there is something wrong with our medical establishment? It seems the trend is not to question why so many children (and adults) are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but instead to simply keep developing more drugs to counteract the “symptoms”.
Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist from Ithaca, N.Y., elaborates:
These drugs damage developing brains. We have a national catastrophe… This is a situation where we have ruined the brains of millions of children. In controlling behavior, antipsychotics act on the frontal lobes of the brain — the same area of the brain targeted by a lobotomy… These are lobotomizing drugs. Of course, they will reduce all behavior, including irritability.
It should also be noted that long-term use of the antipsychotic risperidone, commonly prescribed to young children, is associated with serious side effects including headache, uneven heartbeats, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
To complete this discussion today, I would like to share a personal account of my time with one of those 1,679 adolescents out of every 100,000 who are diagnosed as “mentally ill for life”.
“How can you say he is intelligent and gifted!?”shouts the mother of a 19-year-old adolescent,“He just tried to kill himself, talks crazy, and is emotionally unstable. Do not tell me he isintelligent!”
Jacob stormed out of the room, slammed the phone against the wall, and began pounding his fists into the corner of the room as if he were a caged animal begging to be set free. Quickly the entire hospital staff sprinted – following the culture and protocols of state hospitals – and Jacob was quickly restrained as though he were a criminal. Tears rolled down his cheek and onto the floor.
I was taken aback by what I just witnessed.
“They say I have bipolar disorder,” Jacob told me later that afternoon. “They tell me that I am sick, that I need to be locked up here, and take these medications. I do not think I am sick, but I am not allowed to say that.”
Believing he was a danger to himself and others, Jacob’s family committed him to a state psychiatric hospital following what they believed to be “bizarre” comments and behavior they had witnessed.
“I don’t think like them,” Jacob told me, “All they care about is money. Money is worthless. I do not want to go to college. College is just a façade. They charge thousands of dollars to have you memorize information. They teach you what to think, not how to think. Those who get good grades are just robots, all they do is repeat what the teacher has told them. But I think the government is corrupt. I do not trust them. I do not want to work for my Dad’s business. I want to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw. I do not have any desire to work just to own material possessions. It is all phony.”
As this continued, I realized that nothing this child told me was bizarre. In fact, I admired his ability to think freely – outside the box – and respected his deep understanding of his own reality. Jacob is not sick; he is misunderstood, creative, and actually quite gifted.
Other gifted individuals such as Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway and Kurt Cobain shared the same diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and gave us some of the greatest art of their respective times. Sadly, each of the aforementioned also ended their own lives due to the depressive pole of the bipolar complex, which brought about overwhelming suicidal tendencies upon which (sadly) they acted.
Jacob had once attempted suicide too.
“There are no people like me. No one understands me. Nobody gets it”, he told me when sharing the story of his suicide attempt, “So what is the point in being here? Everyone is living a fake life, chasing money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. That is not what life is about. I just need an escape from it all and sometimes it feels overwhelming.”
Jacob asked to be taken off his medications because they made him feel like a zombie, feeling nothing at all, just going through the motions of life. But in the psychiatric world, any patient who shares an opinion such as this is simply labeled“resistant to treatment”, and their medication dosage is increased. The only way to be successfully discharged from psychiatric institutionalization is to follow to the letter what the staff believes is best for you, entirely without your input.
For my own sanity, this is a game that I like to call “Saving Normal.” Society and psychiatry have decided what normal is, with no scientific basis or understanding of the human condition, and then we tell ourselves that we are saving people by returning them to a state of mental normalcy.
Understanding his own nature better than any of the so-called experts on staff, Jacob stated that his goals were to stop taking medications, to discuss his feelings with people he trusted which he believed would help to minimize his feelings paranoia. But the staff would not allow it! Jacob was instructed that he can no longer talk about such things as the corruption of government, so he followed his orders and played the game, simply to get discharged.
But is such a protocol really helping people like Jacob? No. We are merely attempting to condition people like Jacob to ‘be’ what they need to be, to meet the expectations of society and to please the people who are empowered by government to run his life for him. This is why no one actually heals in the mental health system. This is why they come back, as life-long customers of the system. And when they do, we repeatedly try to force-feed them our beliefs about ‘normal’, medicate them out of their minds, and punish and restrain them for expressing their most intimate truth.
“I would like to be taken off my medications,”Jacob presented to the staff, “I am not sick. You can keep me here longer to monitor me if you wish. The meds make me sick and all I am asking is for an opportunity. I was depressed because I felt alone and nobody understands me. But I am seeing that there are people out there like me, just not as many. I want to be myself, which is why I use drugs and alcohol – it sets me free. Then I get more depressed and feel that life is not worth living. It has nothing to do with a disorder, I have just felt rejected and keep being told that I am not normal. But that’s ok, too. I’m not even sure I would want to be normal.”
The psychiatric team told him they would consider what he had said, but as soon as he left of the room, they burst into collective laughter. I know this because I was there. I was horrified but not surprised.
During his stay, I befriended Jacob and felt a real connection with him. I found him to be a highly sensitive and intelligent young man. He realized he must do as they told him so he would be granted his discharge and move on with his life. He was doped up with medications that made him sleep all day and, rendered inactive by the drugs that were forced upon him, he gained 20 pounds in just a few weeks. Worst of all, he no longer talked about the things that brought him joy and energy.
As far as the psychiatric staff were concerned, Jacob no longer displayed “psychotic symptoms” which, in their eyes, meant that he was clinically making progress. As his symptom diminished, the staff patted themselves on the back for “curing” this poor child, and the family was happy to have ‘saved normal’.
As for me? I was furious! This was simply not right. This child was intelligent, bright, and naturally gifted, and the “mental health” establishment took that away from him, and outwardly congratulated themselves for doing so.
But, when we scratch the surface of psychiatric institutions, the sad reality is that most psychiatric physicians are inadequately trained even to prescribe the psychotropic medications they so commonly substitute for genuine care — and deep down, they know it.
Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard, the Director of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) and a co-Founder of the SENG Misdiagnosis Initiative. In an article for Psychology Today she described this problem as follows:
Pediatric primary care physicians do much of the psychiatric diagnosis and prescribe most of the psychotropic medicine – but a recent survey showed that only 10% felt adequately prepared by their training to do so. They see these kids for very brief visits, and many are too influenced by drug marketing propaganda – as are parents and teachers. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment are commonplace.
Dr. Kuzujanakis went on to state that pediatric misdiagnoses of ADHD, autism, depressive disorders and bipolar disorder are often attributed to highly gifted individuals; and at the same time, other symptoms go unrecognized, such as learning disabilities in those who do genuinely have them.
Dr. Kuzujanakis also asserts that giftedness does not always equate to what our society deems “positive” experiences. In fact, up to 20% of gifted adolescents drop out of the school system, displaying such “symptoms” as talking a lot, high energy levels, and impulsive, inattentive, or distractable behaviours.  Notably, these symptoms of the gifted are remarkably close to the symptoms of a person experiencing the manic pole of the bipolar disorder. And they are the same behaviors I observed in young Jacob, whose only desire was “to travel the world, be a vagabond, read, write, and draw.”
Where Is Jacob Now?
Today, Jacob has a family of his own, lives in the country, spends time in nature and makes enough money to pay the bills. He spends most of his time with his beautiful children, teaching them about life and what he feels is most important. He did end up traveling the world, roughing it with almost no money in his pocket — and he got to experience how other cultures lived, as was his dream.
Jacob rarely sees his immediate family these days, other than at occasional family reunions at which he regularly hears condescendingly mutters about ‘how bad they feel for him and his family’. But Jacob is happy. He knows who he is, and although his family does not understand this, it is Jacob who feels badly for them. While he now enjoys all aspects of the life he has created for himself, they – like most of us – continue to live behind their masks of ‘normalcy’.
So I ask you… Who is the crazy one?
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“Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Cortland Pfeffer spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience.