Dream incubation: from ancient practice to DIY


By Katherine Loritz


What is dream incubation, and how can you use dreams to heal yourself or receive life guidance?

Dream incubation is a practice in which a person performs a ritual to invoke a dream. People may ask for guidance, knowledge, or even to be directly healed through dream incubation. The dream world will usually respond to a sincere querent with a message – from a god, a higher power, the inner self, or the collective unconscious – depending on the person’s beliefs and the dream.


The ancient roots of dream incubation


Dream incubation is at least as old as written history. Variations on the practice were recorded in Ancient Egypt, by the Hittites in Anatolia, and in Sumeria. 

In The Epic of Gilgamesh – which was written about 4000 years ago – the hero makes an offering to Shamash, the sun god, asking the god to send him a dream with a good omen. He does this several times, and when he wakes up, Gilgamesh tells his friend Enkidu his dreams. Even though Gilgamesh’s dreams are foreboding, Enkidu interprets them positively, and they carry on in their quest to defeat the monster Humbaba. Yes, the epic is fictional, but we can imagine that it reflects a real practice of dream incubation in Sumerian culture.

Another example of dream incubation in the ancient world can be found among the Hittites of Anatolia. Around 1300 BC, they suffered from an epidemic lasting several years, which may have been Bubonic plague. The king performed several rituals with offerings and elaborate prayers to the gods, known as the plague prayers of Mursilis II. In the prayers, the king praises the gods, pleads with them, and asks for a dream from the gods to tell him what the Hittites have done to displease them and cause the plague.


The Temple of Isis at Empúries. Catalonia, Spain.

An ancient Egyptian dream incubation ritual was found inscribed on papyrus from 1350 BC. It advises the reader to draw an image of Besa, a goddess of childbirth, protection, art, and music, on their left hand, wrap it in black cloth consecrated to the goddess Isis, wrap the rest of the cloth around their neck, to be silent, and sleep.



Dream healing at the temples of Asclepius


Dream incubation became popularized in Ancient Greece, where sick people would travel from around the world to temples of Asclepius, the god of medicine.


Statue of Asclepius at the Asclepeion in Empúries. Catalonia, Spain.


The temples, called Asclepieia, were like ancient hospitals, where “priest-physicians” would perform surgeries and other medical interventions. Around 420 Asclepieia have been discovered throughout the Mediterranean. Asclepieia have also been likened to spas or ancient resorts, as many of them were located next to gyms and theaters for leisure, and constructed along beautiful landscapes. This way patients could not only undergo treatments, but spend time in convalescence, peacefully recovering while receiving friends and family as visitors.

After arriving at an Asclepeion, patients would make offerings to Asclepius, have a ritual bath to purify themselves, and at some temples, also fast for a period. They would then be led to underground chambers called “abaton” where priest-physicians would induce sleep with opium. Patients would then dream of Asclepius, who would either heal them directly through the dream, or give the dreamer advice on how to cure their malady.

Many of the treatments “prescribed” by Asclepius through dreams were straightforward, like removing a tumor, but some were unusual, like walking through snow. If a dream wasn’t clear, the priest-physicians would help the patient interpret the dream and carry out the appropriate intervention. At the Asclepeion of Epidaurus, successful treatments were inscribed into large tiles called iamata, which graced the temple’s entrance.

People would usually make the pilgrimage to an Asclepeion when they had an illness that was persistent or couldn’t be cured in their hometown, but there were some people who went to Asclepieia all the time, like the Greek orator Aelius Aristides, who was a known hypochondriac.



Dream incubation in Christian Byzantium


The practice of dream incubation continued into Byzantium, but instead of occuring at temples of Asclepius it would take place at churches or the shrines of saints, who would appear in dreams to heal or advise the querent.

In one account in a collection of dream healings by Saint Demetrius from the 7th century CE, Demetrius appears as a beloved friend to a dreamer who is suffering from paralysis. When the dreamer asks Demetrius what he should do, Demetrius replies:

“First of all I advise you to cheer up, and not to bury yourself into soul-destroying sadness, to keep your hopes to the providence of God, who has created everything. Because you know well that each illness is sent by our Creator’s provident force, and aims at the sufferer’s benefit: if he is a right man the illness is given to him for not becoming proud, or rather for becoming more notable; just as the gold in a melting pit becomes more genuine through fire. If he is a sinner the illness is given to him to clear his sins …”

At the end of the dream, Saint Demetrius tells the man that because he shows sincerity and humility, he will heal him through the power of Jesus Christ. The man is so inspired by the dream that his attitude changes entirely and he begins to express joy. Saint Demetrius then appears to him in a second dream to remove his physical suffering.

Many dream incubation stories from Byzantium emphasize the connection between physical and spiritual health, to encourage us to see illness as an opportunity for spiritual growth rather than cause for despair.



DIY dream incubation



Though historically dream has involved sleeping in a sacred place, you don’t have to travel to an Asclepeion to try it out. You can practice dream incubation from home, and ask the dream world about any problem you’re facing in life.

In Dream Guidance: Connection to the Soul through Dream Incubation, the author, Machiel Klerk, tells us that dreams want to help us. If we approach them with reverence, intentionality, and openness, they can show us our path, and how to solve some of our most difficult problems.

Klerk outlines a five step dream healing incubation process that you can carry out from the comfort of your home.


Step 1: Identify the problem you want guidance with


Step 2: Formulate the question


Klerk emphasizes the importance of coming up with the right question. Firstly, dreams probably won’t give you a yes or no answer, so it’s best to leave questions somewhat open ended. Dream entities might be less willing to help you with issues that you haven’t tried to solve or investigate consciously, so he emphasizes that the dreamer needs to do their part and make an effort here. Connected to your question or intention is the attitude with which you approach a dream. If you have a bad attitude in approaching the dreamworld, it’s more likely to meet you with a nightmare – just as someone who takes psychedelics for granted is more likely to have a bad trip.


Step 3: Create a small bedtime ritual to ask for the dream


This could be as simple as lighting a candle and doing a short meditation or saying a prayer. Or it could be more elaborate, and involve spending time in nature, doing yoga, making art, journaling, or any number of other practices.


Step 4: Go to bed and sleep – possibly multiple consecutive nights before getting a clear response


Step 5: Write down the dream when you wake up


Spend some time reflecting on the dream’s meaning, interpreting it, and thinking about how to carry out the dream’s advice or integrate your new knowledge into your daily life. This process could take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the question you ask and the answer you receive.

There you have it – a simple five step process for discovering hidden knowledge and healing potential through dream incubation.









Askitopoulou, H., Konsolaki, E., Ramoutsaki, I. A., & Anastassaki, M. (2002). Surgical cures under sleep induction in the asclepieion of epidauros. International Congress Series, 1242, 11–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0531-5131(02)00717-3

El-Kilany, E., & Elgammal, I. (2019). Dream incubation tourism: the resurrection of ancient Egyptian heritage of sleep temples. International Journal of Heritage and Museum Studies, 1(1), 93–106. https://doi.org/10.21608/ijhms.2019.118759

Harrisson, J. (2016.) The classical Greek practice of incubation and some Near Eastern predecessors, www.academia.edu, accessed in 28//l/2016.

Klerk, M. (2022). Dream guidance: connecting to the soul through dream incubation. Hay House.

Nielsen, T. (2012). Dream incubation: ancient techniques of dream influence,

Oberhelman, S. M. (Ed.). (2013). Dreams, healing, and medicine in Greece: from antiquity to the present. Ashgate Publishing Company.






The neuroscience behind ayahuasca’s efficacy


By Katherine Loritz


Ayahuasca is an Amazonian tea traditionally used by shamans for making contact with the spirit world, as well as for sorcery, divination, religious ceremonies, and healing. The decoction, which typically combines the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi with another plant containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT) like Psychotria Vidris, has been growing in popularity in Europe and North America over the past two decades for its powerful therapeutic effects.

Research studies have been rolling in to confirm innumerable anecdotal reports of ayahuasca’s ability to heal disorders like depression, addiction, and PTSD. With the psychedelic renaissance underway, entheogens are the hottest new area of research in mental health. Not just ayahuasca, but magic mushrooms and LSD are being researched at universities and consumed medicinally in legal and underground settings around the world. However the benefits of ayahuasca are rumored to be above and beyond those of its counterparts. At least one study has found that ayahuasca experiences are more positive and their effects more enduring than experiences with LSD, psilocybin, or plain old DMT. Ayahuasca users also tend to have higher levels of well-being than LSD or psilocybin users.

If you’ve seen a documentary featuring Dr. Gabor Maté, like The Wisdom of Trauma, you may know that ayahuasca has also received attention for its potential to heal cancer and other chronic diseases.

So what makes ayahuasca so powerful? Does the answer lie in biology? Or could environmental factors explain ayahuasca’s extra magic? Could this panacea’s efficacy come from the supernatural realm?

Is it even possible to know?

Does it matter?

Maybe not. However by looking at the various factors influencing the ayahuasca experience (biological, physical, social, cultural, and spiritual) we can at least hope to gain some new insights and ideas about why we trip, and how to trip well.

I’ll begin by summarizing the science of the so-called civilized, with a deepish dive into the neurobiology of ayahuasca.



The neuroscience of ayahuasca


Disconnecting & transcending


What’s the first thing you do when your computer doesn’t work? Restart it, right? You may even unplug the machine in hopes that a short break from the electrical current will reset it. We don’t know why this works. So why should we understand a million year old process between our brains and nature?

Humans have been resetting our brains for thousands of years with psychedelics. And they work. Like a switch that lights up your unconscious – maybe you see your shadow, your guardian angel, your spirit animal or your inner child. Turn it off and on again, and the next day when you wake up you may find that your depression has lifted. You may even have a death and rebirth experience. You may find that the experience changes you profoundly as a person. It’s okay to say goodbye to people we were or parts of ourselves – that’s how we grow. Hanging on to the ego is where trips can sometimes go south. We have to let go and trust in the plant spirits. Or the science, if you prefer.

Like other tryptamines, DMT disrupts major neural networks, those well-worn pathways connecting different brain regions. One such network is called the default mode network (DMN), and its disconnection is liberating. Known as the seat of the ego (and of depression), at higher doses DMT and other psychedelics thoroughly deactivate the DMN, decoupling its various nodes, inducing ego death and unleashing intensely meaningful and mystical experiences.

The DMN’s main nodes in the brain are the medial prefrontal cortex (the mPFC), the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and the angular gyrus. Together, these nodes are responsible for many of our mental processes – especially dysfunctional ones.

The DMN directs our attention internally – but not in the same way ayahuasca turns us inwards. The DMN is active when we’re daydreaming, recalling our pasts,  planning for the future, and entertaining complex social thoughts like ethical judgments or mentalization about another’s state of mind. The construction and maintenance of a stable sense of self also takes place in the DMN. So it’s not unimportant – but the DMN has a real dark side.

At the center of the DMN is the PCC. The PCC is implicated in just about every disorder of the mind you could think of from Alzheimer’s to depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, and traumatic brain injury.

The PCC is highly sensitive to our emotions, which triggers it to call forth relevant autobiographical memories. This could be a way of monitoring our experiences and comparing them to our pasts, thereby ensuring the continuity of the ego by reinforcing our self-concept and bringing the same person, thoughts, or behaviors into the present.

However a hyperactive PCC will take that self-referential thought and go wild. It will obsess – turning attention not just inwards but against oneself with negative self-criticism, self-aggression, and doubts, leading to a spiral of rumination that makes it difficult to pay attention to what’s going on outside ourselves. Creating our own personal hell.


It seems to me that the PCC is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more it grows – and it grows into monster.

Meditation, however, deactivates the PCC. And if your PCC begins to shrink, well praise be – you may become a boddhisatva after all. You’re on your way to Nirvana.

A recent study found that members of the Santo Daime, the Brazilian ayahuasca church (where ‘daimistas’ may take ‘daime’ as frequently as once a week during religious rituals), have significantly thinner PCCs than the rest of us, according to a recent study. The thinness of the daimistas’ PCCs was directly correlated with the duration of their use and the quantities of daime they consumed. And the thinner their PCCs, the higher the daimistas scored on a scale measuring “self-transcendence.”




Freeing our depths from logical repression


The neocortex is the outer layer of the brain, where our gray matter and logical thoughts live. Under normal circumstances, the neocortex controls the rest of the brain through neural networks like the DMN. Serotonergic psychedelics like DMT deactivate and decouple these networks, disabling the top-down control that the neocortex usually exerts over the more ancient, emotional limbic midbrain. This allows repressed feelings and memories to surface from deeper brain areas without being suppressed by the thinking, judging neocortex.

DMT also deactivates our right amygdala and binds to the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor , which is thought to decrease anxiety. These are like safety mechanisms that help protect us from being frightened by any traumatic content arising from our unconscious, or from being overwhelmed by whatever other vision ayahuasca may present us with. These mechanisms may also help us feel safe enough to confront and process any sensitive material that comes up for us in new and creative ways.

The inhibition of top-down cortical control also allows a more anarchic, “entropic,” pattern to form in the brain. Not only do psychedelics disconnect normal neueal pathways, but new ones begin to emerge, as nodes that don’t usually talk start to communicate. This opens us to new ways of thinking, ideas, and insights.

Like other psychedelics, DMT binds to the serotonin-glutamate combination receptor 5-HT2A/mGlu2. How does this play out in the brain? Serotonin doesn’t have its own special type of neuron, but is expressed on many different neurons. The 5-HT2A/mGlu2 combo receptors are expressed on both excitatory pyramidal cells (which release the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate) and inhibitory interneurons (which release the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA) in the neocortex. However the mGlu2 receptor is an inhibitory glutamate receptor, and it prevents the release of glutamate into the next neuron. So the activation of this receptor creates an inhibitory pattern in the brain. This is what quiets the neocortex, and opens the brain up to information buried deep within.

DMT’s activation of the 5-HT2A/mGlu2 receptor also causes the release of what’s called a G protein at the receptor. The protein is released into the neuron, spurring a series of intracellular processes that end up stimulating the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that’s essential for the development and sustained health of neurons.

In pathologies such as depression, stress, and PTSD, neurons fry and their dendrites wither. Through a dramatic uptick in BDNF in the brain, neurons begin to flourish – growing new dendrites, forming new connections at synapses, and nourishing baby neurons from the dentate gyrus. This neuroplasticity means there are more neurons, and they’re healthier and more able to communicate with each other, and new connections form in the brain, creating new neural networks and thought patterns. These new neural networks provide an escape from the well-worn, dysfunctional thought loops of the DMN that we may have been trapped in. If we nurture these new thoughts, they can turn into permanent changes in our attitudes, behavior, and lifestyles. We can shed our old skins and become new people.


O Sigma-1


All serotonergic psychedelics are understood to work in the ways described above, not just ayahuasca or DMT. However DMT binds not only to the 5-HT2A/mGlu2 receptors, but a receptor called Sigma-1. The Sigma-1 receptor “has so far been implicated in illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, cardiomyopathy, retinal dysfunction, perinatal and traumatic brain injury, frontal motor neuron degeneration, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV-related dementia, major depression, and psychostimulant addiction.”

Activation of the Sigma-1 receptor through DMT may be a way to prevent, heal, and even cure some of the diseases listed above. How? Well, Sigma-1 protects against oxidative stress, low grade inflammation (LGI), and endoplasmic reticulum stress. All of these cellular stresses are closely related to and exacerbate one another. Oxidative stress can lead to cancer and apoptosis (cell death). Research increasingly implicates LGI in most chronic diseases, including disorders of the brain. The endoplasmic reticulum is responsible for protein folding, which goes awry in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Sigma-1 also supports mitochondrial activity and cellular survival, thus promoting neuroplasticity and preventing the neural degeneration typical of many brain disorders.


B. Caapi to the rescue


Banisteriopsis Caapi, the vine that constitutes half of a typical ayahuasca recipe, contains no DMT, but shamans have long considered it to be the key ingredient in ayahuasca. It contains alkaloids that prevent the immediate breakdown of DMT in the gut, allowing us to enjoy the trip for a few hours instead of seconds. These alkaloids have also been found to stimulate neurogenesis – the growth of new neurons in adults.

What could be better for your brain? I mean, maybe bolstering the brain’s immune system to kill free radicals and prevent cell death, which B. Caapi also does. It turns out the vine also has compounds with anti-inflammatory effects in microglia, protecting and strengthening the brain’s immune system. So ayahuasca doesn’t just heal by way of DMT, and scientists are now studying B. Caapi to find ways to prevent neurological diseases.


This short neuroscientific overview may explain some of ayahuasca’s proclaimed magic, its curative powers – but there are more variables at play in the complex interactions that occur between the biological, personal, physical, and social worlds.

In Part II, I’ll introduce the epistemologies of Peruvian shamans (though I’ll hardly be able to do them justice), before returning to Western thought and looking at aspects of set and setting in ayahuasca ceremonies. Hopefully, Spirit will guide me away from too much reductionism or empiricism in the realm of the personal, social, and spiritual, where most things are invisible and immeasurable.


living with bipolar disorder



What’s it like living with bipolar disorder? Learning to ride the bipolar roller coaster 

by Tina Phillips, MSW

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric condition which causes intense mood swings, often between depression, or low mood, and mania, high mood. Most of us are familiar with depression, but may not be as familiar with mania.

Mania can cause different kinds of behavior including grandiosity or inflated self-esteem, pressured speech or talking fast, racing thoughts or flights of ideas, impulsivity or taking risks that put one in danger, and decreased need for sleep, among some other symptoms.

Some people with bipolar disorder experience paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, among other psychotic symptoms. Not every person will experience all of these symptoms, but to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder a person must experience at least three of the diagnostic criteria. There are varying symptoms and it can be hard to recognize if one is not aware of how it manifests. It is important to be aware of what bipolar disorder looks like so one can seek diagnosis and treatment or help a loved one in need.

There are several subtypes of bipolar disorder and some consider bipolar disorder to be a spectrum disorder. Bipolar disorder is largely considered a serious psychiatric disorder and around 2.8 percent of the population has it. Bipolar disorder is considered one of the more stigmatized forms of mental illness, making it particularly hard for those who have it to recognize, acknowledge, seek treatment for it, and stick with treatment the rest of their lives in order to manage it. 


Types of bipolar disorder


Bipolar I

Bipolar I disorder is a mental illness comprising episodes of mania. Many have both episodes of mania and depression. To receive a Bipolar I diagnosis a person must have a mania last at least a week or be so profound that it requires hospitalization.


Bipolar II

Bipolar II disorder is a type of bipolar disorder where a person experiences depression with episodes of hypomania, which is not a full blown version of mania, but shares some features.


Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia

Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia encompasses a period of unstable mood in which a person experiences both hypomania and mild depression. This must last for at least two years to meet the criteria and sometimes one can experience leveling off periods of normal mood, but this usually lasts less than eight weeks.


Bipolar disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified”

Bipolar disorder, “other specified” or “unspecified” is when a person doesn’t meet the criteria for bipolar I, II, or cyclothymia, but does experience periods of abnormally elevated mood.


What causes bipolar disorder?

Scientists are still studying the cause of bipolar disorder, and it appears there are several complex factors at play. These include genetics, brain structure and chemical makeup, and stress/triggers. While each of these plays a part, there isn’t one reason scientists can pinpoint or say every person with bipolar disorder developed it because of something specific. Bipolar disorder is known to run in families, but there is no one gene responsible, and there is no direct connection between one family member to the next. There is some evidence that disruptions in a protein called Akt can lead to brain changes that can contribute to developing bipolar disorder. Also stressful events in our lives can sometimes be a trigger for an underlying condition to express itself. It is most common to see bipolar disorder develop in one’s late teens or early 20s. However, some people don’t get diagnosed until later years, and unfortunately many experience misdiagnosis, leading to many years of suffering without proper treatment.


What’s it like living with bipolar disorder?

I can speak from my own experience of living with bipolar disorder. Diagnosed at age 14, I have lived with bipolar disorder for a little over 25 years, more than half my life. I have Bipolar I, which means I have the most severe type of bipolar disorder. For me this includes manic episodes with psychotic features, such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and complete black outs, in addition to most of the symptoms from the basic diagnostic criteria list.

It always starts out as feeling good, and ends with feeling bad. I develop a lot of energy and creative ideas, I come up with grand projects, I start to believe I have special powers, I start talking fast, I have a decreased need for food and sleep, I talk to complete strangers and become flirty, my inhibitions go away, but then my behavior becomes stranger as time goes on. I end up becoming so irritating to those around me, and I cannot believe it when they say there is something wrong with me. To me I am more than fine, I am great. It adds to my stress when others don’t believe what I am saying. My paranoia picks up and then the darkness takes over. 

In the early part of my life I had been on and off several different medications trying to find the right medication for me, working with different psychiatrists. I experienced three major manic episodes, and was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward twice. I stabilized on Carbamazepine in my early 20s and have been on it ever since. However I suffer from traumatic memories of those manic episodes even now. I also recently had an aggravation of my symptoms due to life stressors and had to add medication to treat bipolar depression. 

Although I am medicated I also experience some depression and a lot of anxiety, which I only recently learned is often a large part of bipolar disorder. Even after this long I am still discovering things about the disorder and how it manifests for me. It’s very complex, not every person experiences the exact same symptoms, and it can also shift throughout time. I am starting to look at my emotional patterns and seeing how my mood swings despite being on medication, which is frustrating, but part of the reality with living with bipolar disorder. 

I am still learning about what my triggers are, how to manage my bipolar disorder, and what about me is because of my bipolar disorder. Some of the things other people dislike about me are because of my bipolar disorder, and they aren’t things that can be medicated away. Things like my sensitivity, intense emotions such as anger, how fast and dramatically my mood can change, my anxiety, my loudness, my sleep schedule/being a night owl, my bluntness, and my bossiness. I have to remind myself that I don’t have control over what others think of me, and I need to learn to love myself, even the challenging parts of me.

Many people with bipolar disorder experience isolation and many lose family, friends, jobs, and romantic partners in part due to their bipolar disorder. This can make people feel ashamed for having it and it can lead to further depression. Despite the challenges and heart breaks bipolar disorder can bring to our lives, it’s not something we should be ashamed of. There is nothing we did to deserve having it, and there’s only so much we can do about it. It takes a lot of work to manage our moods and all the parts of life impacted by our disorder.

Sometimes bipolar disorder is like riding a roller coaster we cannot get off, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do to improve the quality of our lives, learn to cope, and find treatments that work for us. There are many other experiences of bipolar disorder, and no two stories are exactly alike. 


Bipolar emotions: Intense and sensitive 

Many people with bipolar disorder are accused of being overly “intense” or “sensitive.” In fact, these are common traits and there’s not much one can do about this, as this is the person they are. Medications can stabilize moods to some degree, but some traits cannot be medicated away. People need to try to adjust to their loved ones, friends, or co-workers who display sensitivity and emotionality. When people in a persons’ life don’t try to accept their differences, it can leave a person with bipolar disorder feeling isolated, depressed, anxious, and misunderstood. Often stresses in life and mistreatment can lead to trauma and other disorders.

There are several common co-occurring disorders with bipolar disorder. These include ADHD, OCD, substance abuse disorders, anxiety, and eating disorders. Some of these may come along the same genetic line as bipolar disorder, but also could be triggered by stress in a person’s life. Some people use substances to self-medicate, and eating disorders are often a way for people gain control when they feel their lives are out of their control. In addition, suicide attempts and completed suicides are more common in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, “up to 20% of (mostly untreated) bipolar disorder subjects end their life by suicide, and 20–60% of them attempt suicide at least one in their lifetime.” Given such alarming rates, it’s vitally important we take a look at what can prevent people with bipolar disorder from attempting to take their own lives. Important factors in reducing suicide attempts include early diagnosis, effective treatment, and clinical interventions. 


Treatment for bipolar disorder




One of the main treatments for bipolar disorder is psychiatric medication. Medication can be very effective in helping to manage symptoms. There are a range of medications that treat mood disorders, mania, psychotic symptoms, anxiety, and depression. Many people with bipolar disorder see a psychiatrist regularly to help manage medications and make adjustments as needed. Some people require multiple medications to effectively manage their symptoms.

Many people with bipolar disorder struggle to take their medications or do not stay on their medications. Reasons behind this vary. Many experience side effects that become intolerable or they don’t like how the medication dulls their personality. Some people like the way mania makes them feel and are used to living life with mania, and go off of their medication to gain back what they feel like they lost. Some people start to feel better on their medications, and think they no longer need their medication. However, it’s often the medication that is making them feel better and once off the medication they can backslide.

Some people feel the pressure of the stigma of being dependent on medications, or worry about what other people think of them and cave to pressure of wanting to appear “normal.” This is ironic because medication actually stabilizes mood and can help people manage their condition, making them more functional. Some people worry being on medication for life will affect their long-term physical health or even shorten their lifespan.

It’s important not to judge people for their decision not to take medications because we don’t walk in their shoes. Respecting the self-determination of people with mental illness is key. We should work towards research that will develop new therapies that have less side effects. People with bipolar disorder should work closely with their healthcare team to address any concerns and adjust medications as needed. 



Psychotherapy can also help people manage moods, learn their triggers, develop and practice coping skills, and find creative ways to regulate their mood. Several types of therapy have been shown effective in treating bipolar disorder including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Family Focused Therapy, Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy, and Group Psychoeducation. Group therapy also helps some people as they can talk with peers experiencing similar struggles, feel validation, and share social support.

Learning coping skills and having a wellness action recovery plan can really help people navigate the bipolar journey. Different techniques work for different people and so it’s important to be open to trying various tools and strategies to find which ones fit best for you. Some people also use apps to manage their symptoms or keep track of their moods. 


Finding balance: ways to manage bipolar disorder

There are many ways to manage bipolar disorder outside of traditional methods. These include exercise and other coping mechanisms such as art, journaling, and mindfulness/meditation, among other activities. Other important factors are proper nutrition, getting enough sleep, keeping a schedule/routine, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Disruptions in these key factors can lead to mood destabilization or lead to medications being less effective. 

Furthermore, managing stress and triggers, relaxation and rest, and having social support are very important in managing bipolar disorder. Having places to go and community that is inclusive decreases stigma, gives people hope, and builds skills that help people recover. One such place is a clubhouse for those with mental illness. Putting together the right plan for each individual to successfully manage bipolar disorder may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the journey of exploration. It takes a lot of adjustment and readjustment throughout the lifespan to learn to ride the waves of bipolar disorder. It is not an easy life, but it is a life that can be worth living. Seeking help to manage the mood swings and creating a good quality of life through various coping skills and strategies is how we thrive through the ups and downs of life. 


Further resources and recommended reading
















city budget cuts and mental health services


Accessing treatment in a deteriorating system


By Angel V.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder about six months ago. Before that I’d had a diagnosis of bipolar one, a severe form of bipolar where rapid cycling and suicidal ideation are particularly common. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, makes it difficult for someone to control and regulate their emotions, affecting interpersonal relationships, basic day to day functioning, and employment.

Finding treatment and therapy for both of these diagnoses is difficult. Even under the best of circumstances.

Before covid, my options were limited. Most people choose to go on a waitlist and wait for the type of therapy that is known to work best with borderline personality disorder, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, to become available. This type of therapy works best in a group setting and takes the form of a course wherein a person is taught better coping mechanisms, based on a practice of mindfulness.

I’ve been waitlisted for almost a year now.

Covid made treatments like this near impossible. People can meet in Zoom chat rooms, but scheduling can be difficult. And it requires a full group doing the full 6 to 12 week program in order to work.


mental health budget cuts


Cutting mental health budgets, militarizing the police

Part of the problem lies with state funding. Without people who are experienced in this type of treatment, who can facilitate the group, the number of groups that are available dwindles.

Funding for programs in Chicago and throughout Illinois was cut years ago.

Under Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, the state decided to allow mental health services to receive little or no funding during sweeping budget cuts. True to form, it was the most at need that received the least assistance under the new budget.

Psychiatric care for many programs were reduced drastically or eliminated completely as a result. In Chicago, a city of over eight million people, these budget cuts, and the reduction in services that they cause, have had deep and lasting effects.

Under Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, many of the city’s major providers were shuttered because of lack of funding. Unsurprisingly, the first providers to go were the ones in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The money that should be going to mental health services and clinics is going instead toward policing and prisons.

The 2021 budget allocates nearly $1.7 billion dollars toward police spending. This is nearly 40% of the corporate fund, the largest of funds of the city’s spending plan.

As seen during the Black Lives Matter Protests, the city’s police force is better equipped than some military forces. In addition to full riot gear, tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, police have availed themselves the use of the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, a sonic weapon intended to disperse protesters using an ear splitting deterrent tone, capable of causing permanent hearing damage. Use and operation of these weapons is not cheap. Spending suggests the city would rather deal with the problems that having an unhealthy population cause then preventing the problems by providing services.


A history of cuts to mental health services

Cutting health services is a hallmark of Republican budget strategies: As soon as he took office as governor of California, Reagan decided to slash funding for health services. The number of people suffering from mental health issues in the prison system effectively doubled as a direct result of this action.

Private board and care facility operators capitalized on former patients who needed assistance. There was money to be made providing spaces and services for the mentally ill. Those who didn’t end up in prison ended up in one of these facilities, or eventually on the street if their symptoms were severe enough and they were not receiving proper treatment and medication.

Later as president, Reagan decided to cut funding for health services again, reducing federal spending for mental health and pushing the responsibility for funding services onto the states.

This fiscal strategy of intentional neglect continues today. As recent as last year, 45’s proposed budget for 2021 included $2.9 billion in cuts to the National Institute of Health and another $708 million to the CDC, this during a pandemic.

In January, the senate overrode a veto to pass a $740 billion defense budget while denying us our $2,000 survival checks. The Democrats still haven’t delivered.

National policy affects people who are suffering from mental illness personally.

Shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar one, I was prescribed lithium to help with manic episodes and to regulate depressive cycles. I was on lithium for a year before switching to depakote after finding out lithium can damage the liver and kidneys.

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, I qualify for Medicaid.

Without insurance, I would be paying hundreds of dollars for my medication. 

Even with medication, day to day functioning is a challenge. Trying to explain the necessity of taking medication to someone who doesn’t struggle with mental health issues is difficult and adds to the challenges that neurodivergent people face.

I am in constant fear of losing my insurance because of a change in the administration.


Change is possible: cities making progress

Forward-thinking cities have taken matters into their own hands. In 2018, Denver residents passed a measure that would allow for a .25% tax increase that earmarked funds for mental health treatment. Among a rash of suicides and overdoses, Denver wanted to see its citizens receive access to better mental health services. 

Other parts of the country have taken similar steps with positive results. In 2008, King County Washington saw a .1% increase in funding for behavioral health services. Within three years, they witnessed a drop in psychiatric hospital admissions of 29%, with a 35% drop in jail bookings.

The major problem with programs like this is how people access them. A lack of standards means that people might have trouble finding them, and without regulation there is a good chance that those most in need will slip through the cracks.

In Chicago, this has been a big part of the problem as well as limited services. People who are computer literate and who understand how to navigate bureaucratic systems are still left daunted by a confusing and complicated, time consuming, frustrating system.

For those who do not have the time, patience, and wherewithal, it’s easier to find other ways of coping with mental health issues.



volunteer at an animal shelter


10 fun things to do if you’re depressed

By Cane Kelly


The past year has driven most of us to live like angry tigers pacing tiny cages. Isolation isn’t natural and has serious side effects, but one can also cultivate a healthy solitude. Knowing yourself isn’t an easy process and it’s easy to get intimidated by the outside world and its standards and materialistic focus.

This article is for anyone. Even if you have a partner, invest in yourself. Trying new things alone is key to keeping your independence and understanding emotions as they pop up in your life. We learn through new experiences, and this helps to keep our brain young and happy. Living with purpose and open-mindedness makes life a lot more interesting than following someone else’s lead. 

If your’re depressed, try dating yourself. Dating yourself is fun. There’s no compromising – you get to choose what you do. It’s healthy for people in relationships too. Being in the constant company of your partner can be overwhelming and creates a dependence that’s bad for your mental health. 

Before I got married, I spent a lot of time by myself. I made continual efforts to entertain myself and explore who I am. I still date myself. Covid-19 changed my normal patterns. I try to visit a new place alone a few times a year. I haven’t been anywhere this year, and I’ve got a bad case of cabin fever.


traveling alone


While I’m eager to explore places like Romania and Greece, we have to be careful because the crisis isn’t over yet. A few of these suggestions require a little investment but rediscovering and reconnecting with yourself is worth every cent.


Go to the movies alone

This seems like a no–brainer. People watch television by themselves all the time but taking a weekday trip to the movies is fun. Most people don’t show up for the first showing of any film. Some theaters won’t care if you slip into a second movie if you buy concessions. I’ve spent entire days lost watching movies. 


go to the movies alone


Learn how to bake

I have mixed feelings about baking because it is technical. The quality of your tools, like measuring cups, scales, and other items will determine how well your efforts turn out. I’ve made some real stinkers because I wasn’t precise with the measurements.

A few years ago, I tried to make Red Velvet Cup Cakes, but I was sloppy with the chemistry and they turned out as dense as baseballs. My poor husband ate one with a smile on his face. That’s true love.


learn to bake


Meet a new city alone

I must admit traveling alone is my favorite thing in the whole world. You may want to wait a little while as the pandemic finally comes to an end but exploring a new place – even the next town closest to you might have something unexpected to find. The United States is an enormous place with people as different as Europe. It takes an estimated 40 hours of driving to get from one coast to the other. The drive is scenic particularly if you skip the big highways and take the smaller roads. Don’t freak out if you get lost. That is part of the adventure.


visit a city on your own


Check out your local cemetary

I’m from Lexington, Kentucky and our city cemetery is the most beautiful part of the entire city. There are mean ducks that might try to run you off if you get too close to the water or forget to bring grapes or other types of fruit. Bread is bad for ducks and other wildlife. I love cemeteries and I make visiting these monuments to past generations a priority when I visit a new city.




There are endless opportunities to help others. The United States has a serious issue with homeless cats and dogs. Thousands are put to sleep every week because they aren’t enough homes for them all. Volunteering at an animal rescue will make you feel good about yourself and you will be helping creatures that could die without you.

If helping animals isn’t your thing, then try volunteering at a homeless shelter or any number of organizations that desperately need your help. From spending quality time with kids to digging in and helping feed those who sleep on the streets, there are endless opportunities to help out and you get a big dose of serotonin for your efforts.



Take yourself out to dinner

You might have to sit at the bar if the restaurant is full, but most bartenders are excellent listeners and offer advice and understanding. Alternatively, bringing a novel to dig your teeth into as you try a flight of beer or wines is a great way to spend an evening. You end up making new friends or at the very least hear some juicy details about someone else and their experience. You might feel a little uncomfortable at first but try to embrace the discomfort and watch the adventure unfold as you try something new.



Go to an aquarium

You must check out the ratings for any animal attraction. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on places that mistreat any creature. Ethical animal attractions might cost more than their less reputable counterparts, but do you want to see dolphins in tiny tanks living like prisoners? No. Do your research before visiting any animal attraction.



Learn to grow veggies from table scraps

As the climate crisis rages forward it is crucial to embrace a circular economy. Green onions, potatoes, leeks, and herbs are foods you can grow on a window ledge. All you need to do for potatoes has cut them in half after they have grown a few eyes. Cut them in half and deposit them in deep soil. You will have potatoes by winter!

This is easy and quick to do, but if you have more time on your hands, you can start a larger veggie garden. Gardening reduces stress and negative emotions, it gives you a sense of responsibility and you get to nurture something and see it grow and thrive.

gardening with table scraps


Treat yourself to a spa day (or organize one at home)

A spa day is a luxury and if you do a little internet digging you might be able to grab a deal that makes the treatment more affordable. Or you could plan a spa day at home. A bath bomb, essential oil, bath salts, and a few candles and a pumice stone can change your bathroom from an ordinary experience into something truly relaxing, and you can add a face mask or even mix brown sugar and coconut oil for a more natural approach to getting a glow to your skin.

Take your time and pay attention to your feet. A proper foot rub is an easy way to improve your health and help you sleep. Magnesium flakes also can offer an extra element making bedtime a breeze. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin which means if you have a deficiency, this is a great way to resolve the issue.

Get naked, paint your toenails, do yoga. Go crazy taking care of yourself. A full day dedicated to relaxation is a great way to get in touch with yourself and renew your mind and body.



Go to a show or a musical performance

Did you know you are more likely to make new friends and acquaintances when you’re all by yourself? Don’t be afraid to push to the front of the crowd and dance your pants off. This is another exhilarating situation, particularly if you are passionate about the music or play you are watching!


take yourself out


Bonus tip! Take a long walk!

Self reflection should shadow selfies. Understanding yourself and your emotions can be a complex issue to tackle and take hours or days to process. Being human is hard! Taking time to  breathe and think. If people made it common practice to be careful with their words and intentions even when speaking to themselves is becoming a focus throughout many health and wellness experts. 

Compassion for others is important, but compassion for yourself is more crucial than anything you can do for others because if you’re bullying yourself, then you need to readjust and pull that focus of care on you’re on well-being.

take a walk