Morning Faces Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

In 1995, I discovered that seeing faces in the morning improved my mood the next day. If I saw faces Monday morning I felt better on Tuesday — but not Monday. The delay was astonishing; so was the size of the effect. The faces not only made me cheerful, they also made me eager to do things (the opposite of procrastination) and serene. This is the opposite of depression. Depressed people feel unhappy, don’t want to do anything, and are irritable. Eventually I found that the mood improvement was part of a larger effect: morning faces produced an oscillation in mood (below neutral then above neutral) that began about 6 pm on the day I saw the faces and lasted about a day. As strange as this may sound, there was plenty of supporting data — the connection between depression and insomnia, for example.

After I had observed the effect on myself hundreds of time, I urged a friend with bipolar disorder to try it. Recently he wrote me about how it has helped him.

Here is the very short story of my experience with this treatment.

I have used your treatment since 1997. As an indication of its effectiveness, from 1999 to 2003 I was completely off of medications, and now I’ve been off again since August of last year.

I was severely ill when I began the treatment. I was first hospitalized in 1985 for manic psychosis, and I was hospitalized later for suicidal thoughts and then again for psychosis. In 1997 I was 46 years old, taking Prozac, Depakote, and Moban (an anti-psychotic), and I was barely functioning.

The initial reaction, after three days of the treatment, was astonishing. It felt like a giant headache was just lifted off me. But the [new] clarity of mind enabled me to see my awful condition, and I had acute suicidal thoughts for a day or two. After that initial bounce, the improvement in mood was more subtle, but definitely correlated to how early I started looking at faces.

The early years of the treatment were often rocky. You were still working out some of the kinks in the treatment. The biggest surprise came when you found that exposure to fluorescent lights at night cancelled the effect of the faces. Another problem, also having to do with fluorescent lights, arose when I added early-morning bright-light therapy: the start-time and duration had to be adjusted by trial-and-error. At least six times I was one step away from becoming delusional, and then the treatment would pull me back within 48 hours. You were indispensable during those early years because I could call you and you would give me advice and the will to pull through.

By 2003, I had made some good progress. I had moved back to Berkeley, I was living with “normal” roommates instead of with other bipolar guys, and I had even been able to work for short periods. But along the way I had accumulated several minor pains. Back pain and stress made it difficult to get more than 4 hours of sleep. Sleeping pills did not solve the problem. I was scared that I would have to return to the mental health system; I would be a failure at the only thing I ever cared about [using the face treatment to stay out of the mental health system]. I made a pathetic attempt at suicide and wound up back in Herrick Hospital.

It was back to the crappy life—dulling medications, the psychiatrist and the psychotherapist, the support group, a volunteer job. Then, in 2006, the publicity for your diet book motivated me to try the “faces in the morning” treatment again. By that time, you had found that using a mirror was as effective as using videotapes [such as C-SPAN Booknotes recordings], which greatly simplified the process.

By 2009 I had reduced my doses of Prozac and Depakote to only 10 mg and 250 mg, respectively. (I hadn’t needed Moban since 1999.) In August of 2010, dissatisfied with my low energy level, I decided to go off medications completely again. Getting off of Prozac and Depakote gradually was tricky, because Prozac, which can induce mania, has a plasma half-life of about 10 days, while Depakote, which is anti-manic, has a half-life on the order of only 10 hours.

Today, most people would no doubt say that I’m still a loser. No matter, I’m able to enjoy life and relate to others in ways that I never could my entire life. I’m a Total Believer in the treatment. I don’t proselytize, though. People automatically reject the idea, and in any event I don’t want to be (directly) responsible if the treatment doesn’t work for someone. (Example: My nephew has clinical depression; he also has guns. If he tried this treatment, went off of medications, and then for some reason killed himself, my sister would never speak to me.)

The most difficult aspect of the treatment for me has been simply going to bed early. Even though I feel better the earlier I go to sleep, 10:45 pm is the best I can do on a regular basis.

To sum up, I believe you have discovered a powerful anti-depressant treatment that, in my case, has been effective for severe bipolar disorder. As a complete substitute for medications, however, it has entailed serious risks, and it requires substantial discipline to maintain. It is also important to note that “face therapy” is not the only alternative therapy that I use. In addition to the bright-light therapy that I mentioned above, I currently take 3 grams of omega-3 per day in the form of fish oil capsules.

There are a few more details and observations in these blog posts:

Tomorrow I will comment on this.

5 Replies to “Morning Faces Therapy for Bipolar Disorder”

  1. This is a very inspiring story. Of course, parts of it are, well, very hard to read. Moving back to Berkeley was quite a move. And the ups and downs, well, all one can say is, More power to you. Do you ever get to a gym? You might look for a tough, and we mean that in terms of discipline, gym atmosphere. Maybe a martial arts type. These things can do wonders. Keep moving forward.

  2. Re the above: with the looming phase-out of the incandescent bulb in favor of of the CFL, one has to wonder if we’re heading into a period of low-level yet omnipresent mental illness (one that may dwarf the effect of the low-fat experiment we’re mired in.)

    BTW, Seth, when it comes to “automatically rejected ideas”, you are the thought-leader. 🙂

  3. This is a really interesting read. I love reading inspiring stuff like this
    I was diagnosed with Bipoalr at the age of 17 and really had a torrid time at School because there was confusion between me just been a moody teen and Bipolar.
    Thankfully mental health is taken more seriously these days and the NHS do a fantastic job. (in the UK)

    There is a stigma still attached to mental health issues. its a real shame that in this day and age that this is an issue

    For people researching bipolar I write a Blog that is full of my personal experiences and information. I hope you find it useful. Mental Health has positive side that is often overlooked. (for the blog)

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