I read this post about David Avocado Wolfe this morning. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he’s a self-described “health, eco, nutrition and natural beauty expert”, and for the record, I wholeheartedly agreed with the author’s take on Wolfe’s “science”. The author claims that David tricks people into following him by posting inspiring memes, and that’s definitely true, but I’ve known about people like David Wolfe for a long time, way before his fun memes made their way onto my Facebook Feed. People love David Wolfe because he’s offering a cure to whatever ails them… from anxiety and autism to (gulp) cancer. His cure is tasty (it’s mostly food based), doesn’t have any crazy side effects, and it works one hundred times better than the terrible “western” medicine that your doctor wants you to take. In fact, most illnesses have already been cured, but the evil pharmaceutical companies want everyone to stay sick. Haven’t you heard?
Trust me, I’ve heard. I’m writing this because I completely understand why people would believe the wild stuff that comes out of that guy’s mouth. I used believe all of it. Occasionally I still believe some of it. It’s so much better than the seroquel, clonazepam, lamotragine and wellbutrin cocktail that I take every day. While Mr. Avocado Wolfe knows that he has all the answers, my psychiatrists are the first to admit that they don’t. Psychiatric medication is a relatively new field, and while doctors have countless different pills that have been known to help some people with their mental illness, there is no universal cure. I’ve been going to the psychiatrist’s office every three weeks for the past two years and I still haven’t found a medication that works. I’ve been weened on and off of at least thirteen different pills at this point. Sometimes it takes weeks to get up to what the doctors call a therapeutic dose. Sometimes it takes months. And when I finally reach that therapeutic dose, nine times out of ten, something bad happens. My liver stops working, or I start rocking back and forth on the floor every day, or I’m so tired I can barely walk. Then, I have to withdraw from that medication and start again. It’s a terrible process filled with false hope at every turn, and new side effects that make life complicated. The latest side effects include but are not limited to: feeling nauseous when I smell food, restless leg syndrome (it’s real thing), and the sensation that I’m suffocating every night right before I fall asleep. Honestly, they are some of the best side effects I’ve had all year.
So why do I keep trying? I ask myself that all the time. Even within the medical field, there are people who don’t believe in this medication. Recently I was sent to SAFER, a suicide prevention program at Vancouver General Hospital. The counsellor I was assigned to promptly told me that she didn’t think any medication would help me. Instead, I needed to perform a tapping ritual on my “energy meridians”, and breathe only through my nostrils. This is a woman with a master’s degree, working in a hospital. So do I listen to her, or do I listen to my psychiatrist?
Or do I listen to the nutritionist who did a seminar at the Mood Disorders Wellness Centre? She recommended things like spirulina and chlorella and raw cacao and intravenous magnesium shots. It was all very David Avocado Wolfe. I took home my notes, showed them to Greg, and he quickly pointed out some of her recommendations that had been scientifically debunked by one of his professors at McGill. This woman also has a master’s degree. She works in a clinic. She says that she can help people like me, but how can I trust her, if she is touting un-scientific claims? How can I trust anyone?
I have to decide what I believe. When you have a disorder that has a thousand different treatments, from acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine to mood stabilizers and cognitive behavioural therapy, you have to decide for yourself what you believe. The funny thing about the brain is that it responds best to belief, more than anything else. A lot of anti-depressants barely work any better the placebo effect. If you truly believe that kale smoothies will help you feel better mentally, chances are it probably will. This obviously doesn’t work as well for physical illnesses, especially not cancer (everyone needs to stop saying they have the real cure for cancer immediately). But there’s a reason why, out of the fifteen people I know living with bipolar disorder, ALL of them have a different answer when I ask them how they deal with it. Some say medication, some say marijuana, some say Reiki… and it doesn’t matter what I think of their treatment of choice. If it works for them, even a little bit, then I’m happy for them. Some of my friends even say that they don’t believe bipolar is an illness, that instead it’s a gift, and they ride the highs and lows like they’re surfing in really freaking dangerous waters. I can’t see things that way. I know because I’ve tried. Evidence-based science in this field, at this point, can be just as risky as putting all your faith in Avocados. But the older I get, the more I believe in evidence-based science, whether that be pharmaceutical medication or therapies like CBT and DBT, instead of the ineffable or an instant cure. That’s just me. If the placebo effect is the best shot we’ve got, we all need to believe in something.