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Episode 96 Transcript: Regaining Mental Health through Naturopathic Medicine with Dr. Christina Bjorndal, ND.

Chris: You know, I say to people, look, the full range of human experience is from, if this was a graph, you know, from suicide at the bottom to psychosis at the top, okay, that’s the full range of human experience. It’s not fun. Not fun to be down here in the depths of suicidal ideation. And it’s not fun to be losing your mind up here in psychosis. I’ve been in both places. But to say that you’re not normal perpetuates the problem. 

Nancy: Hi, and Welcome to Your Permission Prescription, the podcast that teaches you how to confidently say yes to you and consciously create the life you desire. I’m Nancy Levin, bestselling author, master life coach, and founder of Levin Life Coach Academy. 

But it wasn’t too long ago that I was a burnt out people pleaser, living my life for everyone around me and ignoring my own needs. Fast forward to today and I’ve successfully coached thousands of recovering people pleasers to set boundaries with themselves and the people around them so they can live a more fulfilling life on their own terms. I created Your Permission Prescription to help you do the same. 

Be sure to tune in for actionable coaching methods from me, interviews with other incredible coaches, speakers and authors, plus one-on-one live coaching calls, and so much more. If you’re ready to start saying yes to you, then you are in the right place. 

Nancy: Welcome back to another episode of Your Permission Prescription. I am thrilled today to introduce you to my guest, Dr. Christina Bjorndal ND, is considered an authority in the treatment of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, using a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual approach. Having overcome many mental health challenges, Chris is a gifted speaker and a bestselling author, who has shared her wellness philosophy with platforms such as the Jenny McCarthy Show, The International Bipolar Foundation, and many health summits and docu-series. She is recognized as a top ND to follow by two independent organizations. Her book Beyond the Label is a comprehensive guide to Naturopathic mental health. 

Welcome, Chris. 

Chris: Thanks for having me, Nancy. 

Nancy: I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I know from having worked with you over the years, as well as reading your book, that you have a very direct approach to dealing with circumstances that are often kept in the shadows, that are often kept hidden.

And I know, again, from coaching you that this comes from your own experience, as most often the work we choose to do in the world where we are helping others does originate. So I’d love to begin with you sharing a bit about your own story with our listeners and what brought you into this place of helping others heal. 

Chris: Yeah, well thank you. So this journey to regaining my mental health is really because of my own struggles that I’ve had. And so those started in high school with an eating disorder, and then when I got into university, I found myself in a place that I’d never been before, which was experiencing depression and anxiety. 

I was prescribed medication for that, which I took. And then a few months after I had a psychotic episode which it took six people to wrestle me into a straight jacket and off I went to the hospital where I was left in a rubber room to come back to reality. And when I came back, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type One.

 And what I did with that was basically put it as far away from me as possible. That was not happening to me. Thank you very much, I do not have that. And I had a lot of shame and stigma around that. And so I kept that in the shadows and then I continued marching through the world wearing this mask that I’m okay on the outside, but I’m actually not doing that well on the inside. 

So fast forward to working in the corporate world, I ended up having a suicide attempt which left me in a coma with kidney failure. And I was told that I would need a kidney transplant. And when I was recovering from that, you know, I can tell you that I wasn’t super happy to still be here. And so I, a friend gave me Maryanne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love to read and there’s a quote in that book on surrender.

So the quote goes along these lines that surrender isn’t about breaking out of anything. It’s a gentle melting into who you really are. So you let down your armor and you discover that all God needs is just one surrendered moment where love matters more than anything and nothing really matters at all. And so the keyword in that phrase for me was love. I was not in love with myself and anyone who’s struggling with staying here on the planet is at war with themselves in some way in their mind or in their physical body, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. 

And so I realized that I needed to find another way to navigate my mental health. And so that’s when I started this journey of looking into other avenues. And I eventually found myself with at a naturopathic doctor’s office and a nutritionally oriented psychiatrist office. And then eventually I made this career change for myself. So that’s the journey in a nutshell. 

Nancy: Yes. And so tell everyone listening what an ND is and how an ND is different from an MD. 

Chris: Sure. So naturopathic doctors are trained like medical doctors in terms of the sciences. So we dissect cadavers, we study pharmacology, we simply, we just don’t use drugs to treat.

Now I’m saying that sort of with a little bit of a sidebar because in certain provinces and states, some naturopathic doctors or some licensing bodies do grant prescription rights. But where I live, we do not have prescription rights. So what we use instead is nutrition, homeopathy, botanical or herbal medicine, acupuncture, hydrotherapy and then I have additional training in five types of counseling that I incorporate.

So we are really trying to figure out what the root of the problem is for people and then restore them back to balance as best as we can. 

Nancy: And it’s a very holistic approach. 

Chris: Yes.

Nancy: Especially the way that you bring in the physical along with mental health. Let’s talk a little bit about that. How big a role our physical health plays in our mental health and how by treating the physical it can have an impact on the mental health? 

Chris: Yeah. So for me, it started with that physical level. So what I want people to understand is there’s three macro systems in your body. So you have your neurotransmitters, you have your hormones, and then you have your organs of detoxification and your immune system. 

And it’s my role to figure out which macro system or systems do I need to support in you. Now, often when someone’s coming in to my office, depending on their age, say they’re in their teenage years or in their mid to late forties, that’s more a time of hormonal change. So we wanna take a look at what’s happening there, because every single hormone in your body can result in symptoms of mental health issues. 

So for me, it started with, and often with many people, we just start with putting in those nutritional building blocks, making sure that you can make the neurotransmitters because everything in your body that you make is derived from the food that you give it or don’t give it. 

Nancy: I’m interested in when you began sharing your story, you mentioned an eating disorder that you have had, I have also had eating disorders. And I imagine for many of our listeners, this is something that has touched them personally, or their own lives, or in with family friends. And it seems that you, and I agree with this, you put it in the category of mental health, disordered eating. And I’d love for you to expound on that, share a bit more about that aspect. 

Chris: Well, it’s funny, just a little side story for you on that one. So I, one time was hospitalized and at that time the eating disorder unit and the psychiatric unit were separate, separate floors. And fast forward a few years, I was hospitalized again and they were combined. And I thought it was really interesting. And you know, and as a joke, I said to my psychiatrist, oh well, so I can get a two for one deal now, right? Really. I catch the bulimia for me very secret, right? It’s a very secretive, another thing we keep in the shadows, and whether it’s anorexia, or bulimia, or disordered eating, it really comes down to this love piece that I mentioned.It comes down to the relationship you’re having with yourself and how you feel about yourself. And looking at the root of how it began and why it began. 

You know, in my case, it began as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. It was like sugar was my drug and yet the messaging from society around body image and the perfect type of body that we’re to have, you know, that all plays a role in, in our psyches as women. 

So I think that it’s definitely a mind, body, spirit approach to dealing with eating disorders. And they definitely are mental, you know, they’re mental illnesses. Absolutely. 

So I think that, you know, I look at, I look at the piece, that piece as recover, I get to ask this question a lot, are you recovered or are you recovering? And you know, I have to say for myself, I’m in the recovering phase. You know, I could still look at, for example, a chocolate bar and think about its impact or consequences or how it’s gonna affect me or what it could potentially,


But the choice that you make is how you can navigate this condition. It all comes down to bringing into, your conscious awareness, these pieces. So why am I reaching, how can I get behind that or ahead of that? And what is the stress perhaps as driving you to reach for whatever it is and, and the need to soothe.

And it’s, it’s no different than it’s just another addiction, if you will, 

Nancy: Right. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And you know, in my work, I will often talk about these avoidant strategies that we have so that we don’t have to feel or deal. And it’s the same thing, right. So when a new patient comes to you, what is your diagnostic approach and how do you then make your choices as an ND around how to support? 

Chris: So when you come in, then I’m basically taking your case history, finding out when things just started, that’s always a really important piece, is when did things begin? And as you know, many times things begin, you know, way back in our early, early years. I mean, one piece that I left out of my intro was that I am adopted. And so that left me with some limiting beliefs or core beliefs that were limiting and served me to become an overachiever in the world. 

So I’ll take your case and I’m going to try to figure out, you know, whether there was any trauma in your background, looking at things on that physical, mental, emotional, spiritual level. I’m really listening carefully to the words that you’re using. There’s a lot of limiting language that people aren’t aware of, like “should” and “can’t” and “try”. These are all words that limit us in our lives. 

And then I’m using some diagnostic tools from Christine Padesky, she’s a cognitive behavioral therapist in her book Mind Over Mood. So I’m using those to determine whether, and patients have a sense of obviously their felt experience and what they’re going through, so some people, I mean not everybody with depression has anxiety and not everyone with anxiety has depression. So you know, it’s teasing those out. And those are different neurotransmitters that are implicated in those. So then depending on the case, then I’m going to be supporting, whether it’s the neurotransmitters and or the hormones, generally. Oftentimes I am working on all three of those macrosystems that I mentioned. 

But the key that I really want people to understand is that you are more than the label that you may have been given. These are diagnostic criteria that serve to perhaps give some explanation to what you’re going through, but they don’t really explain how you got there. And that’s what we’re looking to figure out is, how did you get there.  And then how can we course correct and restore you back to Optimum Health. 

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Nancy: And so since you are, as you mentioned, not in a geographical location where you can prescribe medicine, what is it that you prescribe? 

Chris: Yeah, so I’ll start, so the physical foundation is nutrition. You know, I know this is a cliche phrase, but you are what you eat. Right? And what you don’t excrete, okay? So you really are what you eat and so an interesting story from my, from my own life and many of my patients, when I did an analysis of my diet in second year nutrition, the only essential amino acid I was deficient in was Tryptophan. Now, tryptophan goes on to make serotonin, which is one of the common neurotransmitters that SSRI medications are serving to increase in the body.

So we really wanna make sure that we’re, we don’t wanna necessarily out supplement a problem, we wanna address the root and making sure that the nutritional pieces are, are there. So bringing in the Tryptophan, forming foods, supporting that Serotonin pathway, as well as the dopamine pathway and the GABA pathway, those are the three main neurotransmitters that we’re wanting to support from a nutritional perspective.

Nancy: This may be a bit of a controversial question, but I’m curious so I’m gonna ask you. Do you believe that all mental health disorders, issues, can be healed without medication? 

Chris: I think it’s, it’s not this or that. 

Nancy: Okay, great.  

Chris: It’s this AND that. 

Nancy: Great.

Chris: Yeah. So what I think, so if you come to me, for example, and I mentioned the diagnostic questionnaires that I use, say you’re in the category where you require medication. And I’m not gonna tell you here, let’s take a little bit of St. John’s Work, right? Like, no, you require medication so let’s get you on that because you’re so far down the hole right now that my rope isn’t gonna reach you.

Nancy: Mm. 

Chris: So I need to get you onto solid ground and then the other work that needs to be done on the mental, emotional, spiritual side is much more easily and readily received. when you have, 

Nancy: So then there are presumably Prescribing Doctors that you collaborate with around a patient. 

Chris: You bet. Yeah. 

Nancy: Great. 

Chris: You bet. Yeah, absolutely. I think the thing too though is that, so especially with diagnoses like, like the one I have, bipolar disorder, right, and schizophrenia for example. Those in particular, you get told that you will never come off medication, ever. And I’m not saying that never to come off, but what I am saying is, why don’t we look at minimum dose for maximum benefit, right? 

Because oftentimes, and I see this in schizophrenia especially, well, and bipolar disorder too. Like I was taking five psychotropic meds at one point, like it’s just medication upon medication. And you know, if you’re not getting better, then absolutely. But the goal is, should get better. 

Nancy: Yeah. I’m curious about the, I guess I would say, the myths around these disorders. So for example, bipolar disorder, if we don’t know someone we only know, and schizophrenia you mentioned both, we only know what we see in the movies, let’s say. Which are extreme exaggerated portrayals, if that’s fair to say. What do you notice in terms of the myth busting around these conditions? 

Chris: Well, I, I don’t actually think there’s a lot of busting of the myths going on, actually. I think the myths are being perpetuated. 

Nancy: Perpetuated. Right. 

So if you right here, right now, can bust some myths for us, what would you like us to know about bipolar disorder? About schizophrenia? 

Chris: Yeah. So I do have a chapter in my book called the, the Myths of Mental, I don’t know exactly what it’s called, the Myths of Mental Illness or something like that.

Nancy: Something like that.  

Chris: Yeah. 23 myths, that, that thing just things that I was told, right? Like, or you should never have children or yeah, you’ll never get off medication. You know, all these kinds of things. 

So I guess the biggest myth that I would like to bust is that no matter what the experience that you’re having, no matter what the diagnosis you’ve received, please understand that there’s an explanation to how you got there  and the a solution is potentially available for you, be it medication or using nutraceuticals, herbs, botanicals, etcetera. 

I think that the more people can lean into compassion for themselves and not relegating these pieces to the shadows like I did for a long time, right? I disowned these aspects of myself because of the shame and stigma around them. 

You know, I say to people, look, the full range of human experience is from, if this was a graph, you know, from suicide at the bottom to psychosis at the top, okay, that’s the full range of human experience. It’s not fun. Not fun to be down here in the depths of suicidal ideation. And it’s not fun to be losing your mind up here in psychosis. I’ve been in both places. But to say that you’re not normal, perpetuates the problem. 

You know, another teacher of mine, I mean, you’re a huge teacher of mine, honestly, goodness me, I really wouldn’t, and I’ll probably start to cry. I really wouldn’t be here, I don’t think as far along without the work that I’ve done with you. 

The other person that also has been impactful for me is, has got a new book out called The Myth of Normal Gabor Maté, you know? And he, he really believes that, and I don’t know that I fully subscribe to this theory of his, that he really does feel that a lot of mental, the majority of mental illness is due to trauma. 

I think that many people with mental illness have trauma, but I don’t believe that everyone with mental illness has trauma. 

Nancy: Hmm. Yes. I’m a big studier of his work as well, and I’m, I’m particularly interested in the generational trauma pieces. And with mental health, I do know that there is, whether it’s generational trauma or that it’s actual biology passed down, that this plays a part for people. 

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s this whole epigenetic piece, right? And, and so for people who don’t understand what that means, genes load the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger, but the, the challenge on the epigenetics piece is that some of these key traumas can get locked in,

if you will, and then can get passed down. 

And, and it takes deep healing work to be able to unveil these pieces and restore yourself back to recovery. But it can be done. 

Nancy: You know, you, you mentioned compassion before, in terms of having compassion for ourselves. If we get a diagnosis or if, you know, we find ourselves in a challenging state.

I also think this is such an invitation for all of us to have compassion for each other. That when we may recognize someone in our life who is being challenged in this way, their, I imagine either be the impulse to rescue, save, help fix or the impulse to disassociate, to deny or to distance. And what really is being called upon is humanity, compassion. 

Chris: And that is, I think what’s missing. We walk by the person on the street who’s got their hand out. We turn our back on a child that may be crying. Compassion is self-compassion first and foremost has been really difficult for me to learn to love and accept myself. That’s been the hardest piece of the puzzle. And if you don’t learn to love and accept yourself, it is very difficult to then extend your hand to the other. 

Some people deny themselves, but yet are very good at, at saving and serving others, at the expense of themselves. But it’s a matter of combining, I think, both, right. You need to be able to bring love to yourself and then turn that and extend that outwards. 

Nancy: Yeah. So then that really brings me to considering, you know, this whole piece around like, we’re talking beyond the label, that I am not my diagnosis, that I can learn how to trust myself in the process, I can learn to make choices that will support me best. Yeah. I just, I wonder what you have to say about that, about intuition, choice, trusting my heart, making choices. 

Chris: Yeah. So, you know, we started off talking about the physical level, right and making sure there’s nutritional building blocks in place that you can make the neurotransmitters and the hormones and all that. And that’s, that’s great. And that’s where I started. 

And then eventually I was, well for a while, but then I hit the wall, then I fell into another depression. And so eventually you have to look at your thoughts and your emotions. And so the journey from the head to the heart is not very far right, from here to here, right? But it can take a lifetime for some to walk. 

And so it’s a matter of learning,  with the help of a trusted therapist, counselor, coach, ND, whoever, to silence your mind to get really discerning about the thoughts that you’re thinking. It’s almost like you wanna take the thoughts out of your head and look at them. What an analogy I use is this bus analogy. So your brain is a bus, passengers on the bus are your thoughts, and the driver of the bus is your heart. Okay? 

So you’re driving down your, you know, you’re driving your bus down the journey of life. You wanna get discerning about the passengers you’re allowing to ride with you, right? And understand that you have two branches to your nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic. Think stressed and relaxed. There’s a lot of discussion nowadays as well about Steven Porges and Polyvagal theory.

Nancy: Yes. 

Chris: Right? So what we’re wanting to understand is that your thoughts affect your physiology. Okay? This is Candace Perth’s work, it goes way back to the 1980s called her book Molecules of Emotion. So this big fancy word, psychoneuroimmunology, your thoughts affect your physiology. So here’s the thing, the thoughts you think create neuropeptides. Those neuro peptides affect the hormones that get produced and then those hormones that get produced affect how you feel. So it’s a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem that we have here. 

So the more that you can learn, the first step here is to recognize it. What am I thinking? You don’t have control in a lot of things in life. You really don’t. We can’t control the weather. I woke up to six inches snow this morning, right? You can’t, you can’t control a pandemic, you can’t control the government, but you can control the thoughts you think, right? 

So then if we can get into this space where we’re not always stuck in this thought-emotion cycle, spiraling, spiraling upwards or downwards, then we can get in as Wayne Dyer talks about the gap. And then your physiology can relax and calm, and then you can come to this place of where you might be able to actually be able to hear the whispers of your soul. 

Nancy: Hmm. 

Chris: That’s well, and that’s how you learn to eventually hear and trust your heart and hear the voice of your heart. You know, I made my career change after, all these people that you know,

So Sheryl Richardson, I heard her say, if money didn’t matter, what would you be doing with your life? If money didn’t matter, what would you be doing? 

So this is, I worked in the corporate world, I reported to a CEO, I had a great job on paper, but I was, I had two suicide attempts in five years. Like, goodness me, clearly wasn’t thriving, right. 

Nancy: Yeah. 

Chris: And so I journaled that, you know, I kept asking that question and the answer kept coming up to me, go back to school, you know, become a naturopathic doctor, help people like you’ve been helped. And immediately, right, the next voice was, are you outta your mind? You can’t do that.

So great example of the ego versus the soul, right? 

Nancy: Yeah. And I mean, you know, well, from working with me and you know I feel like so much of my mission is to really help people understand what you’re saying around, and Louise Hay always said, don’t think the thoughts that scare you. You know that we actually have control of our thoughts, we can make choices around our thoughts. We have choices around what we believe, the old imprinted beliefs are coming to us in someone else’s voice. Whose voice is that, it’s not mine. What is my voice? What is my belief? And it’s potent. When we realize how powerful we are, it’s very potent. 

Chris: Very. And I’ll just say to people who listen, I have spent so much time in depression that, so I get it. I get that it’s hard to think, think positive when you are down in, in that deep, dark hole. And what I would say to people is, here’s the thing, and I think this is why I struggled for so much longer than I really needed to because, A. I didn’t know about psychoneuroimmunology. And so here’s rephrase, so an important thing to do is to recognize the thought. 

If it’s a problematic one, then you’re gonna wanna rephrase it, okay? But if the rephrase is too big of a leap, so going from I am unworthy to I am worthy, because this feels like spraying whipping cream on a pile of bologna, then just go neutral. And the neutral would be, I am, and you don’t fill in the blank because your ego is very busy, constantly throwing off suggestions, opinions, comments, ideas, criticisms. And it’s very rarely being kind in, in a way, it’s, it’s not a, it’s just designed to protect you. It’s just a construct that has been created, right, for protection. 

However, nobody ever said in this rephrase piece that you actually have to believe the thought. Okay? But if you say it, you have a different physiological cascade, hormonally. And then, and then in time you actually will feel better. 

So I really resisted Louise, hey, for many years because I was like, I, I just, but I don’t believe that about myself, right? I don’t believe that about myself. I can’t just say positive things, right? But I’m a huge Louise Hay fan and I also believe that, what everything I’m saying, you will feel better. Trust me. You really will. 

Nancy: Yeah because this is the way that what we think impacts us physiologically. Yeah. 

Chris, thank you so much for everything you’ve shared today. I know that our conversation will help so many. 

So you know, the name of this podcast is Your Permission Prescription, I would love to know what you invite our listeners to give themselves permission for, to give themselves permission to do. 

Chris: I would ask the listeners to just give yourself permission to love yourself with each breath you take. 

Nancy: Beautiful. 

And let people know where to best find you, follow you, all the things. 

Chris: Yeah. Just I’m, you know, social media, @drchrisbjorndal, and my website, drchristinabjorndal.com. And then the books are on, you know, Amazon and in Canada, Chapters, Barnes and Noble.

Nancy: Yeah. Wonderful. Thank you so much. I really appreciate our conversation and this time together. 

Chris: Thank you, thanks for having me. 

Nancy: And to everyone listening, we’ll be back again next time. 

Thanks so much for listening to today’s episode. If you loved what you heard, I’d be so grateful if you’d leave a review and share your experience. Even better. Follow this podcast so you never miss a new episode. And if you’d like some extra support or guidance, head over to My Transform Together Facebook Group for an engaged community, where you can speak your truth, receive inspiration, and ask for help as you navigate life’s journey or visit my website, nancylevin.com, where you can find resources to help guide your path to reclaiming what’s truly important to you.

Thanks again for joining me.