It’s All In The Genes

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Bi-polar II disorder some 2½ years ago I have been pushing against everything about it.  At first I was all, “Oh, hey!  Cool!  I get something to hang my hat on now!  I know what is wrong with me so I can do something about it!  I can stop feeling the way I feel and my brain is going to stop trying to kill me!  YAY!”

I was put on medication which I happily took, and my then Psychiatrist had me buy a copy of “The Bi-polar Disorder Survival Guide” by David Miklowitz.  After reading the first few chapters of this book I started getting mad.  The book’s premise is that there is something wrong with you and that you will just have to learn to manage it for the rest of your life.  Things like you’ll be on medication (with multiple side effects) forever, you may not be able to hold a job down, you may lose all your friends, your medication may stop working, your family may disown you, and other such lovely things to look forward to.  It then goes on to tell you what to do that might help you manage these unavoidable outcomes and still live an OK life.  It read like a living death sentence.  Like I had been taken over by an alien and my life was no longer my own.  Like I would just have to learn to become a bystander to the disorder that would henceforth decide the course of my life, and how others perceived and treated me.  Like a huge, scary monster had moved in and would lumber around after me wherever I went and whatever I did.

I didn’t want to have Bi-polar.  Do I for sure have Bi-polar?  What if I don’t actually have Bi-polar?  I certainly didn’t want the Bi-polar label if I didn’t actually have the disorder.  Having to be medicated felt like I was no longer me – like they had changed who I truly am because they altered my symptoms and behavior with a pill.  It felt like all of a sudden, since some psychiatrist had decided I had Bi-polar disorder, I was unacceptable to the world.  The label meant that the world no longer saw me as I was, but as something that was mentally ill, someone who might go off the deep end at any moment, that was no longer employable, trustworthy, or reliable.  But I hadn’t actually changed, other than having been given a label and a pill bottle.

The thought that this was just something I had to suck up and deal with did not sit well with me.  Psychiatry, after all, is an entirely made up science.  Psychiatrists don’t actually know what they are doing.  My own psychiatrist confirmed that this is true when I called him out.  There are no tests for Bi-polar disorders – they just look at you and lump you into whichever group your behavior and symptoms most align with.  If it looks like Bi-polar then it is.  And then, because they don’t know anything about it or how it works, they prescribe you the medication(s) that they think *might* work based on things that have worked for others who have a similar set of behaviors and symptoms as you.  Then, when the first thing they put you on doesn’t work (and which can have disastrous consequences), they either add something else to it or they put you on something different and sit back to see what happens.  This process can go on for months, even years, and in the meantime we have to go through not only the original symptoms of the disorder but also the side effects and symptoms of the medication – which can be truly awful; even worse than just dealing with the symptoms of the disorder itself.  This is one of the reasons why so many people with Bi-polar quit their medications – life can actually be easier and more pleasant without them.  The process of finding the right medication can be the very thing that makes you unemployable, untrustworthy, unreliable, or any of the other bad things that Bi-polar peeps have become famous for – because these medications, I tell you, can cause all sorts of mayhem.  Then add the all-too-common issue where you need higher and higher doses to keep you stable, or the medication stops working and you need to start the whole process again until you find something else that works.

I didn’t want to deal with any of this, and neither did I want to be suddenly labelled when nothing about me had actually changed other than some psychiatrist putting me in a box.  And why do people say, “She’s Bi-polar”, instead of, “She has Bi-polar”?  No one says, “She’s cancer”, or “She’s a migraine”, or “She’s heart disease”.  Why is that Bi-polar is seen as being who you are instead of a disorder that you have?  A disorder that can be cured, or at least put into permanent remission like cancer.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being given band-aid after band-aid with no attempt to uncover the real problem.

I just didn’t buy into the whole you’re ill and you need to be medicated forever thing.  I didn’t want to deal with the panic or judgement of those around me if I felt a bit down some days:  “DID YOU TAKE YOUR MEDS TODAY???”  like I am simply the sum of my medication.  I couldn’t be me anymore without being questioned about the state of my medications.  It just didn’t feel right.  Why was no one trying to figure out what was actually causing me to have the symptoms known as Bi-polar disorder?  Why did everyone treat it as the core problem and not just a collection of symptoms?

Symptoms are not the problem.  A broken leg is a symptom.  The problem is putting enough force on your leg bones to break them.  Putting your leg in a cast will fix the symptom, but that doesn’t stop you from breaking your leg again.  The only thing that will stop you from doing it again is to stop putting enough force on your leg to break it.  Psoriasis is a symptom.  The problem is whatever is causing the skin to respond that way.  Steroid creams and medications will clear up the symptoms, but they won’t fix the problem.  And yet the medical profession seem perfectly content to just deal with the symptoms with no thought to stopping the body causing them in the first place.  To me, symptoms are simply the body’s way of telling us, “Houston, we have a problem”.

I didn’t buy into Bi-polar being the end game.  Something caused the symptoms to manifest and therefore there is a problem that needs solving that has nothing to do with the symptoms – other than it produces them.  Something is happening to cause my body to produce the symptoms that psychiatrists call Bi-polar.  Why was nobody else wondering this?  Why did the medical profession just call it a thing and hand out band aids instead of looking at the root cause?

Ever since I read that book I have been pondering the question of why do I have Bi-polar.  What is the problem here?  Why did I start exhibiting the symptoms of Bi-polar?  Was it genetic, environmental, chemical, stress-induced, something else entirely, or a combination of all of the above?

Since I didn’t want to have Bi-polar and be on medication (and the associated side effects) forever I decided that come hell or high water I was going to find out.  I was going to get off this medication and ditch the label if it killed me.  {HA HA :-) }

www.carriebrown.comI decided to start with genetics, since those are written in blood.  {HA HA :-) } and non-negotiable.  Your genetic code is just what it is, so I figured it made sense to start there before moving onto all the other possibilities and variables.

I merrily spit into an assortment of vials and sent them winging their way across America.  A little while later I got a full DNA report.  To say it was fascinating is an understatement.

Why do I think cilantro (coriander) tastes like soap?  Turns out it’s a genetic thing.  Who knew?!  See, I am not just a picky eater.

My super-tasting abilities?  Genetic.  This drove my mother crazy because she always tried to sneak cheap brand name knock-offs onto my plate and I wasn’t having any of it.  Turns out you made me that way, Mum :-)

The rare ability to detect ‘bitter’ way before most people?  Genetic.  This is why turnip, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables taste more interesting and less horribly bland to me.  See?  Your dislike of Brussels may just be genetic.  They really are awesome! :-)

The probability that I will live to be 100 (assuming I don’t get shot or drive off the side of a mountain)?  Genetic.  Note to self: get some *really* good medical insurance and up my retirement savings.

I am related to Bono.  And Benjamin Franklin.  True story.

I am 51.6% British and Irish, 19.5% French and German, 2.7% Scandinavian, 0.6% Spanish, and 100% European.  Oh, and 2.7% Neanderthal :-)

My dry ear wax?  Genetic.

Inability to maintain weight loss without high intensity exercise?  Genetic.

Psoriasis – genetic.  Dependence on alcohol – genetic.  Depression – genetic.  Bi-polar – genetic (WOOHOO!!!).  Higher BMI – genetic.  Freckles – genetic.  Antidepressants less effective – genetic.  Reduced metabolism – genetic.  No change in urine smell after eating asparagus – genetic.  Migraines – genetic.  More difficult to hypnotize – genetic.  Crazy good memory and attention to detail – genetic.

Fascinating!!!  These are all things that have expressed themselves in me physically, and which I was predisposed to genetically.  There are a whole bunch of other things that appeared on my DNA that I do not have physically.  And there are a whole bunch more things that are on my DNA that I do have physically…some of which I will introduce you to in the next several posts as we unravel my health challenges.

So let me be clear about what your DNA report tells you.  It tells you where you are at a higher or lower risk for developing things – it does NOT tell you that you are definitely going to have these things.  For example – all over my DNA it shows I have higher risk for macular degeneration and eye problems.  In reality none of that dodgy genetic code has manifested itself into symptoms, since I still have 20/20 vision and have never experienced any issues.  So just because something shows up on your DNA does not mean that you will get whatever it is.  It just means that your DNA coding indicates a higher or lower risk.  As I understand it – and I am sure I am not using the correct terminology here – the bits on your DNA that indicate outcomes are not necessarily expressed.  For example – my DNA indicated that I had a very high likelihood of blue eyes.  I have green eyes.  My DNA indicated that I would have blond hair.  Now while I do have blond hair, I can assure you it is nothing to do with my genes (!!!).  But, as I look at the symptoms that I have in real life and then look at my genetic blueprint I can see if I was predisposed to those things.  Some genes express themselves from birth – eye color, height, hair color, etc. – but others don’t express themselves until other factors – environmental, diet, situational, etc. –  ‘switch on’ the genes.  Some genes never express themselves.

For me, seeing that a higher risk for depression and bi-polar were all over my DNA (they appeared in multiple, multiple places on multiple, multiple genes) was enormously helpful in starting to unravel my health challenges.  It was also staggeringly helpful emotionally – turns out having bi-polar is no different to cilantro tasting like soap, or having freckles.  Psychologically it took away my label and removed me from the ‘crazy lady’ list.  It wasn’t my fault and I didn’t cause it any more than it was my fault I have green eyes or I caused myself to become a super-taster just to irritate my mother (although that would have been entertaining).

Turns out you can’t positive think your way out of uni- or bi-polar depression any more than you can positive think your way out of dry ear wax.  Plus, there are doubtless a huge number of people who also have a higher risk of depression and bi-polar written into their genes, that are never expressed physically.  You may have the genes for bi-polar just like me, but never have to deal with the physical manifestation of it.  This knowledge also gave me enormous hope that if I could figure out what had ‘switched on’ those genes, I could stop my bi-polar symptoms altogether, or at the very least manage them without the use of medication.  Because while we cannot influence our genes, we can influence how those genes express themselves.

How happy do you think all this made me?

 

Seeing my DNA report helped me in so many ways over the last 3 months as I have unraveled what has been ailing me.  The bi-polar hunt was just the impetus for getting it done.

If you choose to get your DNA report I highly recommend also doing three things:

  • Go over it with a medical professional who can translate it and make sense of it for you.
  • Don’t read it and go, “OMG!  I am going to get *fill in the blank disease* and die!”
  • Remember that just because you have a genetically higher or lower risk of something doesn’t mean it will express itself.
  • Use it to verify the symptoms (or lack thereof) that you already have rather than using it to diagnose what you might get.

Get your DNA report here.  I think you’ll be amazed at how much it’s all in the genes.  When you see how my journey unfolds, DNA has a lot more to do with it all than I imagined.

Happy genotyping!

 

PS. You also have the option of getting connected with hundreds and hundreds of relatives that you never knew you had.  Turns out I have relatives all over the US, and even some in Seattle.  I haven’t been brave enough to call any of them up yet :-)

 

 

 

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  • Dave - Carrie, you are one of my most favorite people ever! If I weren’t already married…..ReplyCancel

  • Belinda Stephens - To a dear and amazing woman:
    I hear you.ReplyCancel

  • Judi - My DNA says I am a high caffeine metabolizer…. so sometimes DNA tells you good things too!

    (I am also 2.9% neanderthal, but the DNA couldn’t tell me why I developed graves disease – another lifetime “learn to deal with it” disease, but not as hard to handle as bipolar and none of the baggage.

    You are a brave wonderful woman. Eat more chocolate… it may not cure you but it makes each of our unique weirdnesses more fun.ReplyCancel

  • Wren - Thank you for being so transparent. You are such a story teller and have a remarkable way with words and phrases. This sounds like the beginnings of a book to me – your journey with bi-polar. I do wish you well and hope that you are not confined to taking medication forever. I know how bad the side effects are since I was on all kinds of meds during my back surgery 5 years ago. Thank goodness that is all behind me now.

    ps. I’m ready and waiting to be your recipe tester anytime (wink wink)ReplyCancel

  • Cindy E. - I’m so very happy you aren’t taking your health issues lying down no pun intended. I also have (had) issues the medical community just didn’t know enough about to get to the root cause and fix it! They were very great at treating the symptoms once you were broken however that wasn’t good enough for me. So when I have followed all the great advice Jonathan recommends and still not seeing results I got a good naturopathic nutritionist that sees the body as a whole unit, heals with food and food like products. I am 75% better and getting better every day thank you for all your work that you and Jonathan have done and the guests he has had on his show. I wouldn’t be as happy and healthy today without you guys showing me there was a better way God blessReplyCancel

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