Five Reasons I No Longer Label Myself Bipolar

And why metabolic brain dysfunction is a more accurate description.

Updated 09/11/2023

Though I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder more than ten years ago, I no longer use this diagnostic label to refer to my illness. Instead, I have swapped the term for a less well-known but more scientifically accurate description of the medical condition that caused my psychosis: metabolic brain dysfunction. I am currently celebrating being two years in remission and on a path to complete recovery.

What is metabolic brain dysfunction?

In his groundbreaking book, Brain EnergyHarvard psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Palmer, posits that mental illnesses are metabolic disorders of the brain. Metabolic brain dysfunction is a new term based on the theory that metabolic defects, such as malfunctioning mitochondria, insulin resistance, inflammation, and nutritional deficiencies, can be the hidden physiological root causes of psychiatric symptoms.

Dr. Palmer suggests addressing underlying metabolic issues through interventions like dietary changes, exercise, and sleep improvement can positively impact mental health. He has given interviews and talks on the potential benefits of a therapeutic ketogenic diet for individuals with mood disorders, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric conditions. Brain Energy details a number of comprehensive and effective metabolic interventions that can complement or sometimes replace psychiatric medications, potentially liberating patients from a myriad of unwanted side effects. 

Here are five reasons that I have decided to relabel my diagnosis:

1. Language is powerful and the stories we tell ourselves matter. 

Words have power. They can be inspiring and energizing or put on mental shackles. For almost a decade, I believed that my condition was a life sentence and that I had no choice but to tolerate the side effects of medication that dramatically diminished my quality of life. Now, I have a metabolic treatment plan that significantly enhances my day-to-day life while providing hope for a bright, healthy future. Every time I tell myself or others that I am in remission from metabolic brain dysfunction, I reaffirm that I am consciously choosing metabolic interventions to repair my cells and revitalize my physical and mental health. This new language represents a fresh beginning. I am starting over, getting an invaluable second chance to relish life as a healthy person. 

2. Metabolic brain dysfunction is a scientifically accurate way to describe the physiological root cause, not just the symptoms associated with mental illness. 

While recovering from a life-shattering “psychotic” break, mainstream mental healthcare professionals repeatedly told me the least reassuring thing imaginable: this illness is a life sentence with a mysterious, unknown cause. Under our current model, almost everyone diagnosed with bipolar disorder has to hear this unbearable news. The brain energy theory offers a total paradigm shift, drawing on decades of evidence-based research to pinpoint a physiological cause of symptoms of mental disorders. Uncovering metabolic dysfunction as the underlying cause reveals appropriate treatments to effectively repair the problem, potentially leading to permanent recovery. 

3. The brain energy theory presents cutting-edge, comprehensive and effective treatment options that can alleviate the symptoms of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, and ultimately lead to complete remission. 

Using metabolic interventions instead of antipsychotic medications has allowed me to transform my health and reclaim my life. I have maintained my mental stability by implementing metabolic treatments, including exercise, optimizing sleep, daily meditation, and, the magical key for me, fasting and a ketogenic diet. Scientific evidence indicates that one of the primary mechanisms of action making these metabolic therapies effective is stimulating mitophagy and mitochondrial biogenesis to repair mitochondrial dysfunction. Simultaneously, I’ve cultivated physical health, which was impossible on medication. I have freed myself from a wide array of side effects caused by antipsychotics, including unwanted weight gain and resulting comorbidities, pervasive brain fog, and constant fatigue. 

The industry norm is to tell patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia that they must take medication indefinitely or risk another psychotic episode and hospitalization. The brain energy theory explains why this is not true. There are, in fact, a number of alternative metabolic interventions like the ones I am currently using that not only eliminate symptoms but actually address and repair underlying causes. 

Instead of telling people that I have bipolar disorder, a lifelong, chronic illness, explaining that I am healing from metabolic brain dysfunction allows me to emphasize the immense hope offered by metabolic treatments. My devotion to Dr. Palmer’s game-changing theory is based on the compelling scientific explanation he outlines in Brain Energy, paired with my firsthand experience of replacing antipsychotics with metabolic interventions. Thanks to these pioneering treatments, my life is happier, healthier, and more fulfilling than I ever dreamed it would be following such a devastating diagnosis. 

4. Referring to “metabolic brain dysfunction” helps fight the stigma of mental illness while buffering some unwanted stereotypes that come with a specific label.  

Now that Brain Energy has helped me restore my health, I can see the value in being forced to overcome the immense challenges of my illness. Implementing metabolic therapies has undeniably made me stronger and more disciplined. I am proud of my “post-traumatic growth.” Sharing what I have been through, from being diagnosed with bipolar 1 to discovering the science of metabolic brain dysfunction, and explaining how the brain energy theory has helped me heal, is an impactful way to fight the stigma and raise awareness of metabolic treatments. In many ways, it also mitigates some of the unfortunate stereotypes and cultural baggage that come with the term “bipolar.” While we have made a lot of progress in terms of accepting mental illnesses, diagnoses that entail psychosis, like bipolar and schizophrenia, are largely misunderstood and still quite stigmatized. Metabolic interventions can be very effective for both disorders, highlighting that psychosis should be understood as a symptom of malfunctioning brain metabolism. 

Metabolic brain dysfunction comes with a new framework that most people have not heard of. In many ways, this is an advantage. It’s a more open-ended term that can help skirt stereotypes and assist people in seeing a more nuanced, individualized experience. I hope that sharing my journey, detailing how I discovered that my psychotic symptoms resulted from metabolic brain dysfunction (rather than merely an arbitrary bipolar 1 diagnosis), will help people see beyond their preconceived notions while piquing their curiosity and sparking interest in the brain energy theory. 

5. The brain energy theory has the power to change the way that mental health is treated across the world. 

Using the term metabolic brain dysfunction will help raise awareness of the brain energy theory, ultimately resulting in more research and increased demand for trained clinicians to assist with metabolic treatments. We have a mental health epidemic with hundreds of millions of people suffering worldwide. While we have made some progress in overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness, encouraging people to seek help when needed, we have not successfully provided treatments that help most people to get better permanently. 

Like so many others who are suffering, I grappled with feeling somehow responsible for my symptoms, as if I had willingly allowed my thought patterns to go astray, giving psychosis the wheel and letting it decimate my life. The brain energy theory has completely liberated me from this falsity, illuminating the biological root cause of my frightening and disabling symptoms. It provides new answers, unveiling a common cause of the symptoms of all mental illnesses and shining a light on more successful treatment options that give hope for lasting recovery. This knowledge has been transformative, helping me to draw a clear line between myself and my malady. I now see how my psychosis was a direct result of a metabolic disorder and, like any other disease, rooted in the body. My identity is no longer defined by the physical illness that temporarily hijacked my brain.