Thursday, January 26, 2012

Helping Kids Handle Emotions

People often ask me how my seven year old son handles my mental illness. We have always been open with our son about my illness. Because kids always feel responsible for what is going on at home, I felt it was very important that he know no matter how I am doing, he is not responsible for my mental state. He needs to know that when I am upset or sad, it is part of my illness and not a result of something he did. Jeffrey seems to understand this pretty well and has gotten used to the times when Mommy is anxious, mad, or sad. He doesn't usually talk about my illness and when I am having a hard time he knows some of the things we can do to help me. He is actually really great at helping me stay on my treatment plan. He is the best at making sure I don't eat any ice cream from the freezer! Today though I noticed that he really does see and understand more than he says.

When I picked him up from school he got in the car and said "Today was the worst day in my life. I feel bad today Mommy." I asked him what was wrong and he said "Not like that. I feel bad like you feel a lot of the time." He was clearly able to articulate that there is a difference between physically feeling bad and emotionally feeling bad. I could tell he was in a bad mood and sad so I asked him if he felt sad and angry. He said yes and he didn't want to go to soccer tonight because he felt so bad. So I told him when I feel that way it is always best to do something I like so he should go to soccer because after he gets there, he will like it. So he asked me "What else do you do to feel better Mommy." Then we thought up a plan together to put him in a better mood and get ready for soccer.
Jeffrey at soccer. Photo by Jeff Norris

One of the hard things about having mental illness and having kids is that when something like this happens, you worry your child might have your illness. However, we have to remember that our problems are not their problems. Worrying they may have an illness means we run the risk of giving them more problems than they really have and over analyzing them. Instead we need to remember they are just kids learning to navigate life. If something really is wrong it will show up at home and at school and if you are talking to their teachers, they will let you know.

So, don't panic when your kids are having a hard time. Use your knowledge of how to handle emotions and share that with your kids. Let them know that we will all feel sad or angry at times and there are things we can do to handle those emotions and not let them ruin our day. 


Rev. Katie

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Am I Getting Better or Am I Just Manic?

I have been feeling better the past few days. I have been relatively happy and able to handle things pretty well. My impending sense of doom has been gone since yesterday afternoon. I should be happy about this and would like to think that this means I am getting better. However, I know this probably means I am actually getting sicker.

What Is Happiness? (Photo by Jeff Norris)
How do I know this? Well, I am feeling better even though I have not been very strict with my diet. I just got a bunch of files cleaned up in my office and I have written four blog posts in the past three days. All these signs tell me that I am unreasonably happy. I am probably manic and this could get bad pretty fast.

However, knowing all of these things and paying close attention to what is happening may mean that I can stop the mania from getting out of control. In order to do that I need to make sure my diet is strictly adhered to, make sure I sleep, don't overwork myself, continue to record how I am doing, keep up my exercise, take my medicine, and have Jeff keep a close eye on me.

It makes me sad to know that I can't just enjoy being happy. Happiness is usually actually a sign of illness for me and I wish instead that this were something I could just celebrate. I wish I could see this as a sign of getting better and hope for the future. Anything is possible, but I know from past experience that when I let this happiness run rampant, it quickly turns into mania.

What I am hopeful for is that I can get through this without a severe manic episode. I hope this happiness is productive and not destructive. I hope what I learn from getting through this will mean that I am getting better at treating my illness. It will never go away, I know that now. What I am learning now is how to best live with it so my life is balanced and productive.

If you have bipolar disorder, how do you manage your mania and let it be a productive time in your life without it spiraling out of control?


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Lifestyle Trade-Off

Yesterday I wrote about dealing with the trade-off between medication and side effects. Wendy, from the blog Depression Getaway, commented on my post and talked about the trade-offs not from medication, but from lifestyle changes and I realized I really should have included that topic in my post yesterday as well. As Wendy points out in her comment, lifestyle changes have a great effect on our illness and can be a treatment, just like medication is. Just like with medication though, the lifestyle changes come with trade-offs.

Some of the lifestyle changes that I have made to treat my illness and you have heard me talk about before are diet, exercise, and sleep. I also need to balance my schedule between overworking myself and having down time. I need to keep doing things that bring me joy like scrapbooking and knitting. I also need to keep up a spiritual practice which can be meditation, an art practice, journaling, etc... The trade-off to this lifestyle is that it works. My illness can be managed very well by doing all of these things. However, the other trade-off is that it is a lot of work to keep up this lifestyle.

It is very hard to find things that I can eat when we go out or are with friends. People then seem to want detailed information as to why I eat the way I do and then some people judge my choice. I also have to eat pretty regularly so might have to eat during a meeting which some people find rude. I always need to have back up food in my purse in case I can't find anything to eat. I can't stay out late at parties. Sometimes I can't travel or I need different accommodations at things like retreats which combine people in rooms because that just gives me panic attacks. I have to schedule exercise in the morning, no exceptions, even for meetings. I can't have meetings or events that last all day or late at night because I can't handle the overload of being in the public so long or I need to get to bed so I have enough sleep each night.
Taking an art break with Jeffrey. (Photo by Jeff Norris)

These are hard things to handle because it is hard to have the ability to stick with these things yourself and, in my experience, you get a lot of peer pressure not to follow through on these lifestyle changes. Whereas few people will tell you you are stupid or weird for taking medication. 

But these changes can make us better. These changes make me able to do great work, be a great Mom, and be happy and healthy. What we really need in order to help balance the trade-off of lifestyle changes being so much work is a good support system around us who helps us stick to these changes. Such as friends who exercise with us, a partner who will cook a healthy meal when we are feeling tired, people who on vacation help make sure we eat well and get sleep, workplaces that give people flexible schedules so they can work as productively as possible.

Lifestyle changes help manage your illness even when you take medication, it does not have to be one or the other. If you are not on medication though I always think you should still have a psychiatrist who you see regularly so that just in case you ever need extra help, you can get it.

So, take the plunge, make some liefstyle changes. It will take a lot of work but the trade-off is increased wellness.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Trade-Off: Is It Worth It?

Today Beth Mader, a blogger from BP Hope Magazine, wrote a post called The Trade-Off about the trade-off between the side effects that her medication is causing her and the wellness the medicine brings. I really feel for Ms. Mader as the side effects and health complications she deals with from her medications sound very difficult. She made the choice to stick with the medication despite the side effects because the trade-off is that she is happy and doing well mentally.
Weighing the Side Effects (photo by Jeff Norris)

I have been contemplating this trade-off recently too. My medication does get rid of some of my symptoms, such as much of the mania is decreased with one medication and the anti-depressant I was on decreased my depression and anxiety. However, the anti-depressant came with other side effects like very bad stomach problems and sexual side effects (yep, no one like to talk about the embarrassing side effects, but they are pretty bad.) The medication for my mania is heavy duty and makes me dizzy, sluggish, gives me nightmares, increases my anxiety a lot, makes me gain weight, and is risky enough that I need to have blood tests done from time to time to make sure I don't get diabetes or kidney problems.

For me the trade-off, right now, is too high to stay on so much medication so in consultation with my doctor, we have adjusted things a bit. This means that I need to be even more vigilant about diet, exercise, and sleep as I do not have the higher doses of medication to take some of the edge off of my illness. This also means that I have to keep close track of my moods and if things start to get bad again, I will increase the medication.

Clearly, making decisions like this is hard and each person needs to make the decision with their carepartner and doctors. For instance, I want to stop the medication for the mania all together, but my husband Jeff does not want me to, so I won't. It is his life too after all, and the mania before I started this medicine was seriously negatively affecting our lives.

People who do not understand mental illness often have the false belief that if we just take medication, we will be fine. But no medication has ever made me completely better and symptom free, and all the medications have come with lots of side effects. Medication is not a quick fix and not something to be taken lightly. The trade-off is hard to navigate


Rev. Katie

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I.C.E.: In Case of Emergency

Last night I had horrible anxiety. This weird extreme terror I have been getting for the past four months on my new medication. I was so scared and unsure of how to make myself calm down. I was having an emergency and I didn't have an emergency plan. So today I decided to make one.

Eventually last night I finally thought that instead of crying to Jeff about the intense fear and how my life might be over, I thought I should ask him to talk to me about something happy instead. The problem was that it took me forever to come up with that strategy. And, I completely forgot about my other strategy for dealing with anxiety, which is taking my anti-anxiety medication. You would think that after all these years I would know what to do when I am having a hard time. However, in the moment, you often forget what can help you. I figured in order to avoid this situation again, I should create an I.C.E.: In Case of Emergency plan.

I decorated an old cigar box with paper and then made smaller cards inside it with suggestions on each card of how to handle an emergency. I wrote down such things as: "Take my anti-anxiety medication before my anxiety gets bad." "Take a walk." "Play a simple game with Jeffrey." "Talk about something fun or happy."
Photo by Jeff Norris

My I.C.E. box is an example of the creative journaling I am hoping to share with other people with mental illness through the Finding You program which starts this coming Monday. There are all different ways that journaling can help us treat our illness either by reminding us of what our treatment plan is, or as a way to get our thoughts out instead of having them ruminate in our minds. If you are in the Cleveland, Ohio area I hope you can join me and find ways to help with your illness and create a supporting community for all of us.

What is you I.C.E. plan?


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When Facebook Causes Panic Attacks

I love Facebook, I like to keep in contact with everyone and see what people are up to. However, for me the winter months and Facebook cause me extreme anxiety. You see, during flu season, many people update their status to let you know they spent the night throwing up or their kid has step throat. I am deathly afraid of germs, and particularly afraid of the stomach flu. Just hearing about the stomach flu sends me into a full panic attack. The other night, a few people on Facebook all updated their statuses as having the flu and I was so scared I had to take some anti-anxiety medication.

I know it may sound weird to those of you who do not have an anxiety disorder, but panic over things you think are no big deal are what people like me have to deal with every day. It is a debilitating anxiety which gets in the way of your life and your ability to function. It drains all your energy to have to live like this and it is a constant battle to figure out how to live your life in the midst of extreme fear 24/7.

What is most helpful to people with anxiety is not when people argue with us that our fears are unfounded or silly, but when people are compassionate about what we are going through. When you provide a listening ear, help us calm our mind, or help us focus our attention on something else. Or if we are so anxious as to be unfunctional, if you let us distance ourselves from the situation for a while so we can practice some relaxation techniques and try to sort out fear from reality. And lastly, a hug always works.


Rev. Katie