A Multitude of Recoveries Through Alternative Mental Health Treatments
Our eldest daughter is now in her mid-forties, a successful, productive, and relatively happy lawyer. We never thought she’d make it when she was a teen-ager.She had been a healthy child, seldom sick, but always thin, but strong. Her irritability, especially with regard to noises, did not appear abnormal to us. She was (and still is) very verbal and argumentative as well as intelligent. She did not get along well with her two sisters, but adored her brother, the youngest child. When she was about fourteen she began to "hear voices" and experience paranoid feelings about her school-mates. These symptoms became worse developing into long periods of depression and social isolation (although she did manage to attend school regularly). We believed that she needed professional help, and we began to seek it actively, following the advice of our family doctor, who said that he did not know what was wrong. Over a period of about two years we visited at least twelve different therapists, psychiatrists and institutions. Everyone who worked with her (interviews, diagnostic tests, therapy sessions, etc.) explained to us that she was "borderline", or on-the-edge of schizophrenia, and might have to be hospitalized. Certainly she would require anti-psychotic medication. However, there were good days when she could describe her symptoms and emotions from the day before. On these days she did not appear mentally ill at all – just sad, confused, and often angry about some of the therapy she was experiencing. (This was when the "cold" or "icebox parenting" theory to explain how autism develops was influential and was beginning to be applied to the parents of schizophrenics.) She repeatedly explained to the professionals that she was sick – physically ill – in addition to being mentally ill.One therapist requested that her appointment with yet another kind of doctor (an M.D. with a large psychiatric practice, but not a board-certified psychiatrist) be changed so that he could see our daughter much sooner. ("This patient may not last three months – can’t you see her really soon?") He agreed and two days later we drove 40 miles for an 8:00 a.m. appointment. The new doctor interviewed her, looked at her fingernails and the roof of her mouth, and did some tests using blood and urine. He told us to get three additional tests done at a hospital close to our home. (That hospital refused to do the tests – "This doctor does not use the test results for valid medical purposes.") Two weeks later we were back at his office to hear his diagnosis. He said to all of us "I think I know what the problem is – she is allergic to wheat." That was a shock. He went on to explain that there are many individuals who are very intolerant to gluten (the ordinary protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye grains). The medical term for the condition is "gluten enteropathy" or in cases which appear to be genetic "celiac disease". (In Britain, where the illness is more common, it is spelled "celiac".) He recommended a strict gluten-free diet, and lots of nutritional support from vitamins and minerals. (All those pills presented difficulties, but she was scared and we were desperate, so all of us were very compliant.) It was not really difficult to avoid gluten, but it was annoying. My wife had been baking excellent whole-wheat bread for the entire family for many years, and that had to stop; all of us went on the new diet to some extent. It took seven weeks for the symptoms to disappear and for our daughter to return to her old self. Her personality had not changed much – she remained feisty and "prickly". It has taken years for her to achieve a good relationship with her siblings. She later explained to me that she had known that she was not pretty, not athletic, not popular – but she had a good mind, and when that began to "go" ("go bad") she was really scared. She did cheat on her diet. One day she returned to a favorite restaurant for lunch, but did not actually eat any of their good bread. "Dad, I just bit off one bite, chewed it up but did not swallow it – I put it on a napkin and out of sight. For the next three days I had some of the same old hallucinations." A proper diagnosis (using an intestinal tissue biopsy) was never done because the dietary restrictions were so effective. Some physicians would say "Then you do not really know that she has celiac disease" and they might be technically right, however, there is now good evidence that some people whose biopsies are negative still develop symptoms (not always "mental" and do well when they follow the strict gluten-free diet. Many physicians now recommend both a gluten-free and a dairy-free (cow’s milk products) diet.Our daughter was never, in a primary sense, mentally ill. She had, and still has, what some physicians would call a "somatopsychic" disorder, wherein the body processes affect the brain so strongly that the mind does not work right. She was treated successfully by what used to be called "orthomolecular psychiatry" (Linus Pauling’s term) and still follows its recommendations.