From Medication to Acceptance

Mental illness is a problem misunderstood by many and experienced by few. I have some personal experience with mental illness but always as an outsider to the illness itself. Minke Voorhorst, a life coach at her practice in Utrecht, ActWild, was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder almost twenty-five years ago. For a long time, the illness controlled her everyday life. Minke blamed her illness for what she could not do and saw it as the main hurdle to having a fulfilling life. She shared with me the experience of her mental illness, the journey she has taken to come to the point where she is now and how it has inspired her practice of coaching.
‘Wild’ in the name of Minke’s coaching practice ActWild does not necessarily mean to act untamable or crazy. Although we all have that little part inside of us, Minke encourages people to engage with our most pure and primal self, our most base desires, strengths and elements. To be stripped bare of all conventions and structures that tell us how to behave, then try to interpret them into something that is a valuable goal or outcome.

A lot of what Minke said in relation to her own experience, can also be related to those of us who do not suffer mental illness. Much of what she said was common sense and easy to identify with, however, we have lost the drive or the capacity to see it in that way. To understand our bodies, understand what we put into our bodies, identify with the reason why something is making us feel a certain way and then remedy it with the help of a collective group of friends and family.
We can learn so much by just looking into ourselves and understanding what it is we really need and want. This resonates for me in the work I am doing in my Masters in Social Design. I believe now we are in a state of perceived freedom, where we think we are making choices defined by our own needs or wants. Yet I think we are not allowed the time or the space to make these choices, self-reflection and slow unraveling is not encouraged in a fast paced society with too many inputs.

“I am not my pain, I am not my illness. I can stay present and look at it”

Minke’s first hand description of her illness clarified for me so many misconceptions I had of bipolar. Listening to this description was inspiring, as it was not full of clinical jargon or difficult terms. It was an honest reflection on what it is really like to have bipolar.
She explained the different levels of how the illness can manifest itself in a human being: the physical level(either experiencing a lot of physical symptoms or not feeling anything at all); the acting level(restlessness or being lethargic); the mental level(acceleratedthinking and talking or being completely empty and thoughtless) andthe emotional level(a roller coaster of emotions or being in a state of indifference). The soul is NOT damaged in any way – which was her rescue focus!

I think this somehow applies to all of us, of course on less extreme levels.We can all experience feelings of anxiety, fear, depression and elation for better or for worse. The key is to remain present in your space, to find a way to remain in a moment long enough to understand it and why it is making you feel what you feel. In Minke’s case, the body could be very slow and inactive, while the mind would be very fast paced and busy or vice versa, all in one and the same moment. If manic and depressive symptoms persistently occur simultaneously or in very rapid alternation, one speaks of a ‘mixed episode’. This is difficult to treat with medication: when given anti-depressants drugs, the tops are lifted as well and become even higher peaks – which needs anti-psychotics to get that down again. Since these medications work in an adversely way, they created a lot of side effects in her body (which were treated with medication – creating even more chaos in her body and mind).

“The way we are (mis)treating our bodies is so strange, since our body is our temple and our vehicle. It’s literally our vehicle that brings us in this life wherever we want to go. If we put the wrong fuel in a car it breaks down… the body is the same.”

“A healthy body, a healthy mind” as my mother would say. Most of the time, especially in Minke’s experience, the importance of the body and what we put into our bodies (our fuel) is overlooked in relation to the mind. If we understand the body as the vehicle that carries us through our lives, and has a direct influence on the way our mind works, this could create a more holistic approach to the treatment of mental illness. We do not take the time to understand the science of our body enough, in the treatment of our mind.

“Then I am gliding in a space where no one can follow me and I cannot come out”

When presenting herself to people with the mask of normalcy, neighbours and friends were not able to help Minke because they couldn’t see through the veil into the struggle within. Once Minke found the strength to reveal her true self and the struggle she was going through, they were available for help.

Communication is difficult within mental illness. It is scary to open up about what is going on inside and to trust somebody with the knowledge with what is happening to you. To be touched in times of crisis is a very beneficial way of creating a mode of communication between people suffering and their carers. Perhaps touch is a type of communication that is not so identified with. That is the reason why Minke is a practitioner of massage, the act of being touched is very healing in her opinion.

 “I used meditation instead of medication”

The last time Minke had a severe relapse, she refused psychiatric admission in the hospital so she had to find another solution. She listened to herself and decided to go for a retreat in the mountains instead. Meditating and walking through nature again, opened up new horizons for her. It was a tremendous victory over her illness.

Deep inside we know what is good for us and we know what we need. But to materialize that is difficult.”

The conversation I had with Minke was not just an interesting insight into her life and the immense bravery she has needed to get to where she is now. What I found amazing was that she had the courage to communicate to me in a positive way her story and that she uses her own experience as a big inspiration for coaching: “In my coaching I support people to walk their own path instead of going in the treadmill of our ‘health care system’ which only treats the symptoms and not the cause. It made me a victim of my illness, until I stepped out.”Minke helps her clients with good healthy food, detoxing and meditation instead of medication. The same way she cured herself.”

“They walk their own path, but I’m with them all the way”

Sophie Rzepecky, November 14th, 2013

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