Lent and Bipolar

Lent is the 40 day period of fasting, repentance, and spiritual discipline before Easter, not including Sundays.  My usual ritual is to give up something that I enjoy or something that is bad for me, pick days to fast, and choose a spiritual discipline like meditation, prayer, or Bible reading.

My question this year is whether or not fasting is ok for someone with bipolar.  I ran across the following article, Who Should Not Fast on fasting.com.  It says

Additionally, fasting is contraindicated for those who are severely weak and debilitated, or with diseases caused by undernourishment or malnutrition, severe anemia and porphyria (a hereditary defect of blood pigment metabolism); bleeding disorders of the stomach and intestines; FSGS (familial focal segmental glomerulosclerosis); psychiatric disorders including severe manic-depressive illness (a.k.a bipolar disorder)and/or taking Lithium, schizophrenia, severe neuroses, severe anorexia nervosa or severe bulimia, and finally, those with insufficient understanding of the fasting process leading to their perceived inability to do without solid food for a prolonged period (despite countless hundreds of millions having done so before us).

A study in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, studies Muslim people with bipolar during Ramadan.

Twenty bipolar patients were enrolled during the month of Ramadan in 1997. Diagnosis of bipolar disorder was according to ICD-10 criteria. Patients were assessed during the week before Ramadan, the second and the fourth weeks of the fasting month and the first week after its end, with the Hamilton Depression and Bech–Rafaelsen scales. The plasma concentration of lithium was also assessed. The main finding of the study was that 45% of the patients relapsed, 70% during the second week and the remaining patients at the end of Ramadan. These relapses were not related to plasma concentration of lithium. Most of the relapses were manic (71.4 %). Patients who did not relapse had insomnia and anxiety during the second and third weeks of the study. Side-effects of lithium increased and were observed in 48% of the sample, mostly dryness of the mouth with thirst and tremor. The result of this pilot study indicates that the Ramadan month may disrupt the mood state of bipolar patients.

My conclusion is that all day fasting is not an acceptable practice for someone with bipolar.  There are, however, other ways of fasting.  I could give up certain kinds of food.  I could give up sweets, red meat, or some such.

This is a very meaningful time of the year for me.  I’m never more peaceful then during Lent.  If you’ve never practiced it, I encourage you to do so.  It doesn’t really even have to be a religious observance for you.  It’s good to practice denial and be introspective.  This would be a good time to cultivate a new daily discipline like yoga or breath work or exercise.  For me, it is deeply spiritual.  It’s a time to focus on my relationship with God.  It’s a time to simplify and shed all the bullshit that I’ve picked up over the year.

It starts with Ash Wednesday, which is today.  Tonight, I’ll go to church, and the pastor will make the sign of the cross on my forehead, and my journey will begin.

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5 thoughts on “Lent and Bipolar

  1. I remember 4 years ago when I was getting ready to join the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil service. I fasted on Good Friday as part of the preparation (and had fasted earlier in the week as well). I almost didn’t make it to the service on Saturday night, I was so emotionally distraught. I remember on Friday evening wanting to cut myself and ended up cutting my hair off just to avoid anything worse.
    I mention all this just to illustrate that I agree — from experience — with everything you have said here. I did not realize there were scientific sources that backed up my feelings.
    My fasting now consists of one regular meal and two small ones. I also abstain from meat. This seems to work pretty well for me and accomplishes the same idea of denial of self.

  2. Great thoughts!

    I have always been big on fasting…and can now look back with my diagnosis and see how it irritated my imbalance. To think I even belittled others who wouldn’t food fast.

    I do love Lent, and look forward to expressions of the season that facilitate wholeness rather than counter act against it.

  3. A nice, reflective post. I like to think of Lent as a time to bring myself spiritually closer to God too. As for fasting, well, I don’t know if I could do it myself- it feels like my life is ready to explode anyway- but I think it’s definitely a great discipline to practise 🙂

  4. Pingback: Self-denial and Self-discipline During Lent | News of My Bipolar Brain

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