AnGela Reinhard’s husband suspected something was very much awry when his characteristically circumspect wife couldn’t stop gushing about the very ordinary eggs and bacon breakfast they’d just finished at a St. Armands restaurant and tried to leave the waitress a $50 tip. Worried that she may have hit her head or been drugged, he took her to the hospital, where she danced and twirled up and down the hallways singing Rod Stewart’s “Reason to Believe” with such gusto the nurses asked if she was a professional performer.
The truth was something harsher. After 10 days of tests and blood draws and scans, Reinhard got a diagnosis that shocked her to the core.
“They told me I’d had a psychotic manic episode, that I had bipolar disorder and I’d have to be on medication the rest of my life,” says Reinhard, who capitalizes the “g” in her first name to signify its correct Greek pronunciation. “I thought it couldn’t be that. Let it not be that! I really thought my life was over.”
There was only one incident in her history that might have presaged any mental distress. She’d grown up in Baltimore, a private, sensitive and introverted child who blushed easily and only shed her shyness during performances in school musicals. At 15, a traumatic “childhood experience” that she can’t entirely recall landed her in the hospital with what was diagnosed as PTSD and depression. Art therapy, a means of expression she found easier than talking, allowed her to rebound fairly quickly and, for a time, seemed it might also provide a career path.
But after her family moved to Palm Harbor when she was in 11th grade, she learned there weren’t many opportunities for art therapists in Florida. Instead, after her graduating from high school, where she was the art club president, she studied graphic design and took a job with a physical therapy company. Through friends, she also met Aaron, who was born and raised in Sarasota, and they married a year later. Life was good.
It was during a period of high pressure at work and after several days of little sleep that the manic outbreak occurred. She has little memory of her time in the hospital, but she does remember the multiple drugs she was put on afterward that made her feel shaky and unable to focus. An extremely rational, pragmatic person, she hated being “without my full power of reason.”
After her release, she happened to meet Dr. “Patch” Adams, the physician who was the model for the film of the same name starring Robin Williams. Adams, known for his humor therapy, had founded an institute devoted to a more holistic approach to well-being. The chance encounter inspired Reinhard to “see there were other options.”
Thus began an intense period of relentless online research. Reinhard taught herself to do Google scholarly searches and decipher highly technical medical language. She read — and tried — alternative supplements and therapies, like fish oil, amino acids, acupuncture and neurofeedback. When she subsequently developed an allergy to the mood disorder medication she was on, she went to her doctor and asked if she could “treat my symptoms rather than my diagnosis.” When he discharged her, she found another doctor who was willing to try an alternative route.
“On meds, I was like a zombie,” she says. “The medication began clearing from my system and I started to feel like a human again — feeling sadness and happiness in different ways. It took a year and a half before the symptoms started popping up again.”
Still, she remained committed to maintaining an “an active role” in her health care. She continued her research, tweaked her supplements and monitored everything from her sleep schedules to her nutrition and dietary intake. For a time, her intense focus put a strain on her marriage and tested her faith, but ultimately, the alternative therapies stabilized her condition.
“For several years my life was consumed with getting to the bottom of my illness,” she admits. “I felt I needed to do it because my doctor wasn’t going to do it for me. I prayed all the time for the wisdom to find a way to understand all this. God asks us to serve him with our power of reason. I prayed for him to make that possible.”
It has been eight years now since Reinhard gave up her prescription medications. She has had no significant relapses, though she acknowledges periods of “excitement and creativity.” She has channeled some of that energy into her company, Community Events, which coordinates health and home fairs in senior living communities. She just finished producing her second annual Gluten-Free and Healthy Lifestyles Expo. At 36 — poised and striking, confident and articulate — she seems like a walking advertisement for the health care regimen she promotes.
Reinhard is also in the process of launching a blog, yourpowerofreason.com, in which she details her own mental health journey publicly for the first time, shares useful resources and information and encourages others to “think differently about their health care by taking an active role” in treating their symptoms.
“Functional medicine is the wave of the future — looking at lab results and tests and the individual person, not just the medical literature,” she says. “Just because a doctor gives you a prescription doesn’t mean you have to take it. I don’t want to come off as anti-medication, because I’m not. But if anyone is interested in doing it, they can figure things out for themselves and make choices.”
Taking her health care into her own hands – FACEing Mental Illness