Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just Can't Get a Break

Every time it seems like I am getting a little better, something else goes all wrong. I posted last week about not having that sense of doom all the time in Goodbye Heavy Heart. Well, that did not last for too long. I am severly depressed again and I am now having extreme panic attacks.

I have two classes of panic attacks, one is my everyday attack. Sweaty palms, racing heart, anxiety and fear. I can usually mentally talk myself through those. There is a second class of panic attack that I rarely get, but when I do they are horriffic. It is like the most extreme terror you have ever felt in your life, magnified because you have no idea why it is happening. You feel like you might die, or your mind will split in two because the fear is so intense. Reality is all distorted and you think extremely bad things will happen. Usually I get these attacks in response to something and it stops after the trigger is gone or I have talked it through with Jeff (my reality meter.) This past week though, they keep happening.

Love statue in PA. Photo by Jeff Norris

I have to admit, I hate feeling crazy. I hate that just when I get a whole bunch of stuff in order to be healthy, bad things still happen. In times like these, all I have left is faith. Faith that somehow things will get better and we will figure this all out. I will get the right medications and work on whatever issues bring up the trigger so I can get through this. I have faith, but honestly I have no idea where this faith comes from. It's basically a belief that love conquers all and there can be a Happily Ever After.


Rev. Katie

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stopping a Manic Episode

The other day I went to get weighed at Weight Watchers. I have had a great week- exercised every day and not over eaten at all, even on Thanksgiving- so I was very excited to see how much weight I had lost this week. Instead I gained 1.6 pounds. Instantly, I was a wreck. I was mad, sad, and felt like life was not worth living because no matter what I try to do to get better, I never will. I came home and told Jeff and then said "You're taking me shopping today because I should get something good out of all the work I did this week."

Jeff instantly recognized the trigger and knew I was spiraling into a manic episode. I did not recognize it at all. The trigger he noticed was my comment: "You're taking me shopping today because I should get something good out of all the work I did this week."

As Julie Fast and John Preston mention in their book, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, poor self awareness and poor self control show you are about to enter into a manic episode. One thing they say to watch for is: "Ignoring the signs that thoughts such a, 'I deserve to have a good time. I've been sick for so long!' mean that they are ill." Then there is also the excessive spending that comes along with mania as well which they mention later.

So, what do you do to lessen or stop a manic episode before it starts? Have a plan. Our plan is to make sure I eat correctly, exercise, take my medication, get enough sleep, have some down time, and take a walk with Jeff, which is exactly what we did yesterday. It did not make me better instantly and today is still not such a great day, but I am far better off than had I gone on a shopping and eating binge all day. By having a plan in place, we stopped a manic spending and eating spree combined with what probably would have ended in us fighting and me not taking my medication. Instead we ended up with a fun day together, a great long walk this morning talking, and some basic depression, which is far better than the other option.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Staying Well During the Holidays

The holidays can stress out even the most mentally balanced of people and the holidays can really mess up those of us who have mental illness. Why? Because of family dynamics that bring you right back to your childhood so you revert back to your unhealthy self. Because many of us need to follow specific diets and schedules to manage our illness and those get thrown out the window with travel and other people thinking you are "weird."

This post is a reminder to stay sane during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday which kicks off the holiday season. I did a bit of preparing today so I can stay sane for the holiday tomorrow. We have scheduled in exercise for tomorrow morning. I made my sugar free, gluten free, healthy versions of stuffing and sweet potatoes. I don't drink alcohol or sugary drinks, so I have my Chocolate Mint black tea ready. I don't eat dessert so I have some flavorful yogurt prepared. I have my alarm set (as always) to take my medicine. I have my backup anti-anxiety meds should I need them. I have taken the time to remind myself of who I am and what is truly important in life.
Cooking cornbread stuffing. (Photo by Jeff Norris)

Here is a list you can use to help you keep well:

1. Keep your sleep schedule as routine as possible, even if people think you are weird for going to bed early.
2. If you can't drink due to your medications or other reasons, don't let peer pressure get to you.
3. If there is no healthy food for you at the event, bring your own food. And don't volunteer or allow people to convince you to make foods you know you can't eat; you know you will at least taste them and then it's all down hill from there.
4. Don't take home leftovers you don't want in your house.
5. Get out an exercise.
6. Remember, your health is more important than pleasing a family member, looking cool, or whatever else might seem more important at the time. 
7. And lastly, there is really no nice way to say this - Don't take shit from anybody. Do what you have to do to be well.

May your holidays be joyful and balanced.


Rev. Katie

Monday, November 14, 2011

Goodbye Heavy Heart

Photo by Jeff Norris
I was at an event last night where I saw old friends. We were catching up with each other and asking how work and family life are. As I honestly answered them, with the good and not so good, I realized that this is the first time I have not had a heavy heart. Often I have felt so weighed down with life that when friends asked how I was, I always felt this sadness in my heart. Even though not much has changed about life, I no longer feel that weight of sadness. I was just fine with things being the way they are. Some stuff is really good in life, some things are hard to handle, like being a caregiver for my mom. It is not that I don't care or feel nothing (as has happened with other medications), I actually feel a bit at peace with the way things are overall.

I admit that I hate my medicine because it has side effects I am scared of. However, I like it too because it has gotten rid of the heaviness, the weighed down spirit, the extreme anger, and it lets me deal with life better. It has taken away a lot from me and this type of drug increases in risk the longer you stay on it, but it does work. What scares me now is what if the risks get too high and I have to stop the medication at some point? I don't want to go back to having a heavy heart and all the symptoms of bipolar that are so much better now.

I also know that what works today may not work tomorrow, or a year from now. The only thing predictable about this illness is that it is not predictable. That is why you take the illness one day at a time and enjoy what you can, which is why I appreciate the weight being lifted. Before, I could not enjoy anything without having a heavy heart, last night I noticed I feel free, which is new for me.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Exercise and the Brain

For my birthday yesterday, my husband gave me the gift of sanity...exercise.

Exercise makes a big difference in our mental health, even for those who do not have a mental illness. It makes us feel happier, more balanced, and allows us to focus better. In the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey talks about finding the power of exercise and the brain when a school teacher started having her students run on a treadmill each day. His book is amazing and speaks to one of the most important aspects of exercising for brain health, it must be done at a high level, at an aerobic level. While we are often told just 30 minutes of walking three times a week in enough, it is not enough for mental health, especially not for people with mental illness.

That is why my husband got me the gift of CrossFit for my birthday. We needed to make sure I had an exercise which is scheduled so I will show up, and that gets my heartrate up so I feel better. We have done two half marathons together so I know high intensity exercise works to treat my bipolar disorder, but it is often hard to actually stick with exercise when your illness is at it's worst. You need to have as many safeguards as possible to keep you exercising. The author of the blog Lithium and Lamictal writes about this in her post called Spinning.

At a 5K benefiting the Alzheimer's Association
As soon as I started running the other week, which increased the intensity of my workouts again, I was immediately better. I felt happier during the day and I could get more work done. The CrossFit workouts are high intensity, perfect for crosstraining, and I get to spend time with Jeff which makes it fun and great for my mental health.

So, take a class where someone will notice if you miss, workout with a friend, sign up for a 5K or even a marathon which requires that you train consistently. Read up on exercise and the brain and write down all of the benefits in a place where you can see the list so you always remember to exercise, even when you don't want to. Check out the links I have above in this post, and for information on how exercise helps for ADD, read Riding is My Ritalin.


Rev. Katie