Life After Bipolar Disorder: One Woman’s Story of Recovery
Living proof. That’s what this story is about. Shauna’s healing and redemptive recovery from years of disability, suicide attempts, and near homelessness makes clear one simple message: healing and recovering from mental illness and psychiatric medication injury are possible for anyone. No doctor required.
This is what I now know: people require basic tools, simple truths, and community. Add in the tincture of commitment and epic stories of healing are possible.
Shauna completed the first cycle of Vital Mind Reset, and here’s what she had to say:
Learn about how she did this program on food stamps, why she thinks volunteering was a major element in her process, and how she now is med free and has had the diagnosis of Bipolar scrubbed from her medical record. Also get ready to watch me cry beginning with the introduction ; )
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Hi, everyone. I am here today with Shauna. I have been looking forward to this interview for many, many weeks now. I think this is probably going to be one of the most important conversations of my career.
And the reason is because this is living proof of what I have always known in my heart was possible. And I think the realness and authenticity that Shauna brings to this experience will be very evident to you.
So, I want to just preface this by saying that when I began my work, bringing women off of psychiatric medication, I began to see a pattern over and over again of a kind of transformation that I never knew was even possible. My goal was just to get them safely and efficiently off of their medication.
But of course, the unintended consequences were that many, many of these women were reborn. They took on a whole different set of beliefs. Their life possibilities and potential began to expand almost exponentially. They began to take on literally almost like radiance and glow from the inside out that inspired me literally daily.
So, I knew that there had to be a way to get these simple, basic tools to women who were not coming to my office. Obviously, coming to my office is very prohibitive not only time-wise, financially, travel-wise. And it’s just honestly not necessary.
So, it was with that in mind that I wrote a book. And even before writing the book, I began to create—well, it took three years—this online program, The Vital Mind Reset.
My intention was to just see if it was possible, to put these tools in the hands of people that I wouldn’t necessarily directly interact with. So, it’s true self-initiated healing.
And my goal—honestly, many people ask me when am I going to train doctors and other clinicians. It’s not at the top of my list because my intention is really to cut out the middleman and to activate this self-healing potential in individuals directly.
So, this is where Shauna and I crossed paths. We did a beta launch in June. And honestly, we were just hoping it would make sense to people. I don’t know whether my expectations were even that high. But we put I think 200 people through the initial run.
And Shauna’s experience and the articulate way that she’s able to express herself in the written word, it was like a lighthouse radiating from the Internet, calling me towards it. I was so inspired.
I remember reading one of your commentaries on this closed Facebook group that we started back then. And literally—I could cry talking about it—I was crying in my kitchen because I just never knew it was possible.
So, with that, I’m really, really excited to learn more about you because you’re not a patient of mine and don’t need to be a patient of mine. I’m so honored to learn more about what this process looked like when it comes from the inside out and to learn more about you as a woman.
So, with that, I will pass the mic on to you. And I hope to learn a bit about really what your experience consisted of, what brought you to this shifts, and what you think maybe were the most important ingredients of your personal transformation.
Shauna: Well, I had a pretty long mental health journey before I even found your work. I really started back I’d say probably as a teenager. I had experienced quite a bit of trauma and some pretty extreme traumas.
And I think when I went off to boarding school to finish the last years of high school, I didn’t have any support, I didn’t have any counseling, I would keep myself awake for days at a time because I was afraid to sleep because I would have nightmares. And so, I drank copious amounts of coffee and diet soda.
And then, it sort of took on a life of its own. I started having periods where I didn’t really need the caffeine to stay awake for days at a time. I think that was sort of the first time that the manias really started.
And then, usually, with the manias, there was a bit of disconnection with reality, especially towards the end of it. It could probably be defined as psychotic symptoms. I would just lose touch with what was real.
And then, eventually, I crashed into depression.
I guess in my mind, it was really the depression that was the problem because I felt pretty good at the beginning of the manias. My creativity really came out. I would write, I would paint, I would draw.
And by the time I got to college, that was the first opportunity I had to go to counseling in trying to deal with some of the experiences that I have had. I really didn’t know how to deal with the magnitude of what had happened to me. I was really struggling with the depression and everything coming up. And so that was the first time that it was suggested to me that I try an anti-depressant.
I don’t react like most people react to anti-depressants. They trigger mania in me. And then, every time I’ve been on an anti-depressant, since then, I’ve become manic and then psychotic and then attempted suicide.
So, that was my first experience at the beginning of college. I actually ended up in the hospital first. That was my first visit to a psychiatric unit. They threw a bunch of meds at me and were just trying to make me sleep, basically. So, it was the anti-depressant and then some tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
And then, about a month after I got out of the hospital, I was still on medication, that was when I had my first suicide attempt.
I remember I overdosed. I took handful of pills.
And then, right after, I had a friend show up and I told him what I had done. He got me to the hospital and they ended up pumping my stomach.
And I remember, when they were discharging me, the nurse handed me a referral to the psychiatrist and said, “Well, here, you can go meet with this doctor and they can put you on something for your depression.”
I remember just looking at her and I was like, “But I was on something.” No one had asked me what meds.
And then, I had a period where I wasn’t actually on medication. And that was mostly just because I didn’t have insurance at the time, so I quit taking the medications that they had prescribed.
And then, I began self-medicating. I’m a recovering alcoholic, but I’ve been sober for about 9 ½ years now. So I experimented with drugs and alcohol, and then eventually got myself sober.
And then, when I got sober, it came back to “I needed to deal with the things that had happened to me” and I began struggling with that, which again, landed me in the office of a psychiatrist. And that was when they started putting me back on medications.
And it took several anti-depressants for them to realize that that was how I reacted to anti-depressants.
So, I had—gosh, I don’t even know. I think I’ve lost count of the number of hospitalizations I had and the number of suicide attempts to—I don’t know, it’s probably about half a dozen of each. And not all of the suicide attempts—I didn’t always end up in the emergency room. Some of them, I just didn’t die. I just sort of woke up a day or two later and was really sick.
But one of those hospitalizations is when somebody finally put it together that that was how I reacted to anti-depressants. They were like, “Oh, well, you must be bipolar. That explains why you don’t react normally to these medications.”
And then, looking back on it, I had a history of pretty distinct manias and depressions even prior to going on medications. It was just the manias triggered by the anti-depressants. They looked a bit different than the manias I had just on my own.
So, at the point that I got labeled with bipolar 1, I was so manic that time when I landed in the hospital. And again, they just threw meds at me trying to knock me out, trying to get me to come down.
And by the time I left the hospital, around that time—and my memory is a little fuzzy because of all the medications I was on. But around that time, I was probably at the worst. I was on probably 10 to 12 different medications, most of them psychiatric medications.
I was a complete zombie when I left. It was a struggle just to get out of bed to get a glass of water. I had trouble standing up long enough to take even a 5-minute shower. Sometimes, I’d have to take a break and sit down in the middle of the shower because I couldn’t stand long enough. I just didn’t feel human.
I don’t really know what I did for all those years. I pretty much lived in bed. I would leave the house to go to appointments, and then sometimes the grocery store. But I would just lie in bed with my cats.
I couldn’t read. I lost the ability to read. And I was a voracious reader back in the day. I would devour a book on my day off. I totally lost that ability.
I couldn’t watch TV or movies because I couldn’t focus. Everything was overwhelming to me. I couldn’t listen to music because it was too much.
So I think I pretty much just laid in bed for several years by myself just staring at the wall.
I had such trouble with just small daily tasks. I couldn’t handle washing the dishes. I would just use paper plates or I pretty much just ate microwaveable meals. And then, I even buzzed off all of my hair because I couldn’t handle washing and styling my hair. It was just too much especially when I was struggling just to stand up in the shower.
So, the last couple of years that I was on medication, I pretty much had no hair. That was one thing I could literally cut out of my routine.
Dr. Kelly: So, this is a lot like what Robert Whittaker speaks to in the Anatomy of an Epidemic where he talks about how an otherwise healthy potentially functional person can slide down this slope into disability through the backdoor of medication. It sounds very much like that’s what you—you were one of those statistics that he called through his presentation.
Shauna: Absolutely! That book really spoke to me when I read it.
Dr. Kelly: Yeah, I can imagine.
Shauna: I could relate to it quite a bit.
And then, the point that I decided to come off of medication, the best way I can really describe it is that I just—I think my survival instinct just started screaming at me. I knew I couldn’t keep going, and I knew that I had to try something. And that seems like a direction that I could go in. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to if I just kept medicating myself and stayed in bed.
So, I began discussing with my psychiatrist how to taper. And my psychiatrist, thankfully, he was a very open-minded psychiatrist especially for a conventional one. But I remember, I wasn’t sure how to even approach this with him because he knew I wasn’t doing well, and I didn’t want to just bounce into his office and be like, “I want off all my meds.” I didn’t think that would really go over very well.
But I sort of started testing the waters. I picked one medication and was talking to him about coming off of that. And I remember, he said at one point to me that he was fine with whatever I decided to do, whether that was more medication, less medication or no medication.
The fact that he gave me no medication as an option opened the door for me to be able to have that discussion with him about the fact that I wanted to come off of my meds. And then, he was able to suggest what order we should do it in and give me a taper schedule and all of that.
So, last year, last summer, I started tapering off the remaining meds that I was on. I had come off of a number of them. So, I was probably on about five or six at the point that I started tapering.
And the tapers were way too fast. I didn’t know any better at the time. I had to balance wanting to come off of the meds and wanting to do it correctly with just the fact that I was done. I just wanted to get done with the medications. And I think so many people are so eager when they make that decision to come off.
Dr. Kelly: Understandably so, yeah.
Shauna: They just want it to be over with. And honestly, if I could go back in time and slow down what I did, I absolutely would even if it took ten times as long as it did because I think I would’ve come out a little more intact right after.
But it was while I was in bed sick from the withdrawals that I actually discovered your work. It was like my whole world just came to a stop because I realized through a number of those interviews that not only were there other people out there who felt the same way that I did, that there had to be a better way to do this, but listening to you talk, I realized that there’s actually science to back it up, to back up what I knew in my heart to be true, that these meds are not the answer and that they can often cause more damage than help.
So, I heard that you recommend certain dietary changes to your patients. And so I started making changes slowly. And then, when your book came out, I had it in my hands the day it came out. I had not read a full book in years at that point. A Mind of Your Own was the first book I read all the way through in years. And I finished it the day after it came out.
I’ve been practicing. I sort of had to re-learn how to read. But I had been practicing reading magazine articles out loud to my cats. They loved it. And so I was getting better at it. But yeah, that was the first book that I read all the way through.
And then, I started the reset from the book the following day and felt great doing it.
And then, when The Vital Mind Reset came out and I had the chance to join the beta group, I jumped at the opportunity. I feel like that program really sort of added some of the other components that were missing from my healing journey—specifically like meditation and detox. Meditations have been wonderful.
Dr. Kelly: Yeah, I’ve witnessed that you’ve really taken the meditation component and ran with it. You have developed your own practice. You have a seemingly deep curiosity. You have a relationship to this practice that I think any of the women that I work with would attest to being paramount.
So, the dietary piece is certainly foundational, detox is an amplifier. But if you really want to knock it out of the park, the meditation piece is really key.
And here’s the thing about Kundalini specifically. It either hits or it doesn’t. And when it does, it feels like a remembrance. It feels like, “Oh, here’s that entire toolkit that I forgot about.” And then, it ends up being—
I mean, I think of my practice as like my best friend. It’s what I turn to first when I’m struggling. And what is more valuable than that? It’s really an exercise in a different kind of self-reliance.
And you speak to one of these. One of the principal tenets that I have come upon—I certainly wasn’t born knowing this—is that suffering and struggle and pain and sadness and grief, in many ways, these are the ties that bind.
Like you’re saying, for you to have been to the depth that you’ve been to, explored what it feels like to feel totally hopeless, abandoned, bereft, unlovable, whatever it was, it’s almost a universal current that we all touch at some point in our lives through different portals whether it’s the death of a child or a sexual violation or some kind of loss (of a beloved, of a job). We can be directly plugged into this almost universal experience of pain.
You know what I mean? It’s not like we each get a version. It’s really a universal thing. And so, once you’ve touched that, then you can, as you’ve said, tell someone, “I’ve been there.” Even if you don’t say it, they feel it through your empathy.
And so you had mentioned in our group something about how valuable volunteering has been for you. And I think most of us would hear—even what we’re hearing about your experience at this point—and say, “I thought volunteering was for like rich people who are bored.” Now, it is you. You figured out that that was something in your state of whether it was disability or financial challenge or whatever it was that volunteering was for you.
And you said, in fact, it’s been a major part of your healing. So, I would love for you to say a word about that because I don’t know that it’s very intuitive to many of us.
Shauna: Yeah, I actually started volunteering a month after I took my last dose of my last medication. So I was still pretty sick at that point. But I just felt like I needed to be doing something—and not only in the sense that it got me out of bed and it got me out of the house, but I think there’s something very healing when you can be of service to others.
And so I started volunteering at the local food pantry here in town […] I did their energy assistance appointments too. But just getting to really help in my community which is such a wonderful community—
And the volunteers there have become my family. I don’t have family up here. I have a few really good friends. But most of them didn’t even know what was really going on with me.
And so, the folks where I volunteered have really seen me from the point when I was really, really sick. And then, they’ve seen me kind of blossom over the last year.
Yeah, it’s just been amazing. I don’t think that I would have made the progress in my healing that I have had I not been volunteering, had I not been trying to put my energy towards something else and had the opportunity to just kind of get out of my own head for a while.
Dr. Kelly: Totally! And I think what you illustrate is that it’s not—this kind of service isn’t something that you do when you feel like you’re sick, and then you have a surplus of energy to give to other people.
Obviously, you have a very strong inner compass. I study this like an anthropologist. I come from a place of being all mind, all my decisions being made from my intellect, having really no sense of what it is to just be drawn to something like the way you were drawn from your bed basically to begin to volunteer.
It’s so fascinating for me because I think that that’s what we need to get to particularly as women. Just the sense of being led by an internal knowing, I love that.
So, this knowing also made possible for you the execution of the different steps of the Vital Mind Reset that I think many people would feel very daunted by—whether it was planning or putting together the different kinds of ingredients or replacing products that you were potentially using.
And you made it work “on a shoestring” and that’s probably a generous statement. I think we have so much to learn from you, but I’d love to just learn about the mindset that led you to believe it was possible to even do this on the kind of financial budget that was available to you at the time.
Shauna: Yeah. So, because I ended up on disability on this journey, my monthly income had been literally less than half of what’s considered even the poverty line. I was barely getting by. I barely had a roof over my head. I was grateful just to have a roof over my head.
And so I have not had disposable income. I haven’t had any extra money to spend on anything extra. And when I did, the food portion of the Reset, my food budget was only what I received in SNAP or food stamps.
I was really determined to make this work because, in my heart, I just knew that this was the path I needed to be on. And so I knew what my resources were, and I knew that I had to figure out how to make it work.
So, with the food, definitely, I got better at it as I went along. But I picked certain things that I would not compromise on—so the quality of meat, I wouldn’t compromise on. I used the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. I wouldn’t compromise on those.
And then, with everything else, I really just did the best that I could because I think when your reality is a food budget that’s a few dollars a day—I think the average in this country is $4 a day per person for food stamps—when that’s the reality you’re facing, you really do the best that you can.
But I figured out little tricks as I went along and I got better at doing it.
And then, when it came to looking at all of the other aspects of the program, I obviously didn’t have a lot of money that I could go out and spend. I couldn’t just clear out my bathroom and all of my homecare products in one day and replace everything because, honestly, it was a struggle just to buy a tube of toothpaste. So, that was something that took some time.
Although now, I make my own products and it’s actually cheaper than the conventional stuff I was buying before. And it’s not nearly as hard as you would think.
I wasn’t able to go out and buy an air filter. I still don’t have one. I can’t afford one. But I open my windows on a regular basis. And I try and get outside. You don’t have to go out and buy a $300 water filter. I mean, filtering your water is extremely important, but they actually sell fairly inexpensive water bottles that filter and even some countertop pitchers that actually work. You have some great links on your website.
And everything else, I just kind of done the best that I can. Replacing my cookware, I’m barely into that. But I shop Salvation Army on their 50% off days. And eventually, I’m going to collect everything I need.
So, it’s just taking some time.
And I think one of the things that I had to face in the beginning is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist. And sometimes, when I’m confronted with making changes, my view is “Well, if I can’t do this 100%, then I’m just not going to do it.” And I really had to get over that in the beginning because there was no way for me to just automatically be able to do everything at once. This has been a journey.
And I think once I was able to get past that, and kind of prioritized where I was going to make changes, it’s been working. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on the benefits of this program because I haven’t had a lot of money to throw at it.
And as I continue to make little changes, I continue to see the benefits of it. So, it’s been a journey, but I’ve been enjoying it. It’s been almost fun sometimes to try and figure out how to make this work.
Dr. Kelly: Yes. It really strips away any of the potential for you to delude yourself about points of resistance. We’re talking about how time and money are the very available sources of resistance. It’s very easy for us to say, “It’s so expensive” or “I don’t have the time.” But the kind of creativity that stems from a deep desire for an experience is unstoppable, right?
So, what you’re talking about when you paint this picture of what you crafted over the month is creativity. I mean, you literally applied your creative mind to a dilemma and you made it work.
I find it so inspirational because it’s, again, driven home to me once again that mindset is the most critical ingredient for healing. It’s really all that matters. Again, everything that we do in Vital Mind Reset, everything I do in my practice, who’s to say that it’s not just an elaborate ritual that, again, activates your own inner potential for self-correction and self-repair? I don’t know.
But I do know that the stories that have come out of this very basic toolkit are so incredible. And what these women all have in common is that they decided to believe it was possible, and they chose to commit and there was some current of faith that ran through even the challenges and struggles and many, many obstacles that others might have taken as a sign to just abandon ship.
So, I can literally talk to you all day. And I’m sure I’m leaving people hanging with many, many questions about your tremendously fascinating experience. But I would love to paint for people, Shauna, just sort of what’s become possible for you.
Where are you at now? And what would you say to someone who is in places that you’ve been, sort of in the birth canal, so to speak, sort of thinking about crawling back up into the uterus and how familiar that place was? How might you paint for them a picture of what’s possible out in the world?
Shauna: I’ve said this before, but I think when I started this journey, I really would’ve just been content to just not be depressed all the time. That really was only my initial goal with all of this, to just not feel depressed all the time.
And now that I’ve come this far, this is about so much more than just not feeling depressed. I feel alive for the first time possibly my whole life. I feel like I’m actually living my life. I had lost the feeling of hope. I didn’t know what hope felt like when I was medicated, when I was sick, when I was in bed. And now, I feel like my life can really be anything that I want it to be. It’s like I’m getting to re-create my life.
I’m confident when I leave the house. I feel comfortable in my body, in my skin. I’m a better friend to my friends. I communicate better with people. I can connect with people. I don’t feel like I’m on the outside of life kind of looking in which is what I always felt like. I never felt connected with the universe or with society or with my community. And now, I feel like I’m a vital part of all of that.
I think when you start to wake up, when you start to really feel that hope and feel like, “There’s got to be something better out there,” hold on to it. Hold on to it and it will grow. I think anyone is capable of finding that inner determination if they just hold on to even the tiniest spark of hope.
Dr. Kelly: So inspirational, truly. For me, this experience of knowing you is game-changing because I wasn’t sure that—who knows? I didn’t know that it wasn’t just something in the air of my office that was making this possible. You were really like the early sign to me that this kind of awakening is available to anyone and everyone with no exceptions.
And that is such an important message. Otherwise, people will use the orthodoxy to tell themselves, “Well, that experience of life is for someone else. It’s not for me.”
And so you’re the most inspirational living proof. There’s such great stuff coming from you. And I tell you that every day because you’re such a native healer and you have such tremendous compassion and you’re so articulate. I can envision 400 conscious businesses that you could start today.
And so the tail of your trajectory just makes it all the more poignant. But really, the truth is that you are one person lighting this path for others. And isn’t that pretty much what we’re here to do?
Shauna: And I’m so grateful to you that you’ve put this information out there in other forms that are accessible to people whose situations might be more similar to mine than the people who are able to see you as patients. The fact that your book is out there, that the online program is out there, that you write blogs on it all the time, I’m just so grateful that you’ve been putting this information out there.
Dr. Kelly: Well, we’re doing it together. And I’m just super honored, Shauna. So thank you for your time and for the bravery that is necessary to sort of get real on this level because it’s the greatest act of service. Thank you. I’ll see you on the interwebs and give you a digital hug.
Alright, Shauna, ciao!