Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CrossFit: A Lesson in Support

At my CrossFit gym this Monday, I had just finished my workout and sat catching my breath and trying not to die, when I looked up and saw in the other room all of the Crossfitters who had competed their workout doing the last set of 34 burpees with another member to help him finish. Now, if you know Crossfit, (and burpees) you know that the workouts are hard and everyone tries their best so you are exhausted by the time you finish. All you want to do is lay on the ground and not move. Ever. Again.

For these people to do more of the workout in order to support someone is amazing. Being one of the slowest people in the gym, I am always grateful when people start doing the workout with me to help me finish it. They don't care that I am slow, they still think I am doing a great job because I am trying as hard as I can.
CrossFit Cleveland Member Board

I am often asked by people wanting to help their loved one with mental illness: "What can I do to support them?" It is hard to describe that often times the best way to support someone is just by being there with them, going through the hard times with them.

There are some illnesses we just can't fix or cure, bipolar disorder being one of them. This is extremely frustrating to people in our American society which believes if we have enough science and money we can fix anything. During such an illness, sometimes the thing someone needs the most is just your presence. You can't fix us, you can't do the work for us, but you can accompany us on our journey.

That is why CrossFit is such a good example. No one can do my workout for me. And no one at CrossFit would ever suggest that I give up. They do not judge me for my abilities. They support you by going through it with you and helping you find the strength in yourself that you never thought you had.


Rev. Katie

P.S. I do not suggest that you accompany someone all the way into dysfunction, like follow them into a bad situation or let them be mean to you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie Review: Of Two Minds

Photo from Of Two Minds Facebook Page
I saw the new movie Of Two Minds by Lisa Klein and Doug Blush at the Cleveland International Film Festival this past weekend. It is a documentary that follows about four people with bipolar disorder over a three year period. One of the things I like about this documentary is that there is no narrator or scripted talk giving a certain idea or belief about bipolar disorder. Instead the film follows the lives of these amazing people and allows them to tell their own story in their own words.

In the movie you can see that everyone's experience of bipolar disorder is different. I find many people define bipolar in one way-depression and mania-but in reality there are so many other parts to the disorder and it manifests itself differently in every person. Some people were taking medication, some were not. Some had hallucinations, some did not. Some had symptoms starting in childhood, others started seeing symptoms later in life.

What was really important to me was that the movie shows the reality of the illness without sensationalizing it. They handle the topic with compassion and dignity. As someone with bipolar disorder, I was a bit apprehensive going to see the movie as so often the media shows us in such a bad light. I was worried I might see the film and feel bad about having this illness. I did not at all. It was an honest and understanding representation of what bipolar disorder is like.

I saw this movie with some members of my family and I think it is a good movie to watch together. It helps them see the illness from an outside perspective. It can open up conversation about your particular experience of the illness. It also helps other people understand the struggle to stay well with all the work you have to do around medications, lifestyle, work, etc... 

One of the things I hope to see in the future of documentaries about bipolar disorder is a bit more about how it affects your partner and children. Some partners handle the illness well, but many don't, and our kids have a hard time understanding it. Navigating how to have a healthy family in the midst of this illness is one of the hardest things about the illness, in my experience. I think it would help families a lot to know they are not alone. They need just as much support as those of us with bipolar.

One of the other interesting things I noticed is that almost all of the people featured in the film kept a journal. Journaling is really helpful for us, and that is why I started the Finding You program for people with mental illness. I don't hear this being talked about often as part of a treatment plan, but I am hoping more people realize how beneficial it is.

I am very grateful to the directors for taking on this project and to the wonderful people with bipolar disorder who shared their life, on screen, for so many years. I do not think there are enough people who talk about this illness and raise awareness about it. Bipolar disorder comes with the baggage of stigma and assumptions which all too often means society sees us as inept, irresponsible, selfish, and weird. This is not true. The movie shows that all different kinds of people have this illness and while we struggle, we can often have jobs and productive lives.

If the movie comes to your area, be sure to see it.


Rev. Katie

Monday, March 26, 2012

Church Makes You Happier

According to an article in the Huffington Post, people who go to church are happier than non-church goers.

The article says:
"Who are the happiest people? According to a new report from Gallup, it's those who regularly go to a place of worship, whether it be a church, mosque or synagogue." 

"Last month, Gallup came out with a report showing that religious people in America have higher levels of wellbeing than the nonreligious and moderately religious.

And even earlier this year, a Queen's University study showed that thinking about religion is linked with practicing greater self-control in a non-religious task."
Photo by Jeff Norris

What do you think? Are us churchy types happier than our non-churchy friends?

I am not sure, and I can only speak from experience, but church does make me happy. Actually, my husband can tell if my illness is getting worse if I start saying I don't want to go to church. If there is a Sunday that I say I won't go (one where I am not working of course), he makes me go anyway because it always puts me in a better mood. Making sure I go to church is part of my treatment plan.

However, church will not "cure" your mental illness. I do think the self introspection, feeling of being part of something greater than yourself, and beloved community all help in combating our illness though. Church can be a great addition to your plan for health if you are struggling with mental illness. Of course, you need to go to a church that aligns with your values and beliefs and honors you for the amazing person you are. God loves us all, with mental illness or without, never let anyone tell you any different.

See you in church!


Rev. Katie

I Did The Dishes

I did the dishes. I helped make breakfast and pack lunch for our son. I have kept up with going to the gym. I got work done early. I have been able to make good food choices. I panic less when I have a new task fall into my life.

None of these things may seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it is. Usually I can't really do most of those things. My husband takes care of my son in the mornings and doing the dishes seems like such a big task I start to panic. By the middle of this week though I have been able to do all of those things. It could be that I am manic (I do have an urge to stay up all night), but also I think the Paleo diet is helping.

While I can feel the start of mania, I actually know I will go to bed in a few minutes and not stay up all night. While I desperately wanted to go to McDonald's and get a chocolate shake to self medicate, I ate salmon and strawberries instead. While I struggled with a lot of irritability this evening, I came out of it pretty quickly and had a fun evening with my son and husband. It seems that I am a bit better at seeing reality and fighting off the bipolar symptoms that come at me. Even my son was impressed with how quickly I was able to get back to living life with them today.

Clearly, I don't think I can say the diet is a sure thing until I have been on it at least a year, (we all know from previous posts that I have had times where things are looking up only to fall apart again) but this week is promising. More promising than my first week on a new medication that can leave me so out of it I can't think, stops my creativity, ends my emotions, or makes me an anxious wreck. And I don't feel fake like I do on medication. I don't know how to describe it, but on most of my medications I got this feeling either that I was numb or that I was overly optimistic and oblivious.

We will see how this goes. Thankfully my husband and son have been working with me on all these dietary chages. I also have great support from my sister and brother-in-law so I have a really good support system in place to make this a success. As we all know, we can't do this alone.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paleo / Whole30 Diet for Bipolar II

These past few weeks have been pretty bad with my husband traveling so much. So of course, I rarely slept, ate badly, and did not exercise enough. My medications don't really work anymore as I was getting very bad side effects from them, so we are back to the drawing board of how to take care of me. As you can assume, all of the emotional ups and downs and bad self care led to illness; I now have shingles (for those of us who had chicken pox, we all have shingles in our system and it can become active when your immune system is low), and some issue with my wrist that is pretty painful.

With the medications not working and my health getting worse, we have decided to take more action around my diet. We have known for a long time that a sugar-free, gluten-free diet has helped me, but I always have such a hard time sticking to it and I found ways around eating healthy. I would just eat tons of gluten-free substitutes and artificial sweetener and I still didn't feel well. Also, I get wrapped up into the whole "one piece of cake won't hurt you" mentality and it is all down hill from there.
Photo by Jeff Norris

In looking for a better diet for me we found that quite a few people with mood disorders have had success with a Paleo diet, and my doctor has mentioned trying it as well. In short a Paleo diet means you eat lean meats, vegetables, and some fruits and nuts. You also make an big effort to buy "happy meat" (grass-fed, pastured meat) and local as often as possible. We have decided to kick off the Paleo diet with a Whole30, which is an even more strict version of Paleo for 30 days that makes sure you cut out sugars, dairy, and soy even in things like the sauce on your meat. This way your body can really reset itself and be free of all the things that could be bothering your system. Then if you want you can add in some things like gluten-free substitutes or a bit more fruit and see how you react so you can create the perfect diet for your body.

I will be writing a few posts over the next week with more information about the research behind the link between sugar and bipolar disorder and other effects our diet can have on our mood. As one article in Everyday Health says "For people with bipolar disorder sugar and other simple carbohydrates may harm more than help. Carbohydrate cravings in bipolar patients are legendary, so much so that increased intake of sugary treats is considered a clue to bipolar disorder during diagnosis."

This may seem like a drastic step to some, or even ridiculous that food can affect your mood, but, the medicines don't work and I have to make the choice to either let my bipolar control my life or choose that I deserve a good life instead. Michael Ellsberg did the same thing with his decision to use a sugar, coffee, and alcohol free diet to treat his bipolar II. There is a 20% suicide rate for bipolar II disorder and I am choosing to save my life even if it means a strict diet that doesn't fit in with societal norms.


Rev. Katie

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Being Honest With Our Kids

As you can read here, last week was pretty bad and it was just my son Jeffrey and I home alone. Jeffrey saw me struggle though my days and sleep a lot. Then when my husband Jeff got home I was angry and a mess. Jeffrey said nothing about this bothering him, but I could tell he was a little upset. He just seemed a bit concerned and was really working hard to think of things we could do together that I could handle, like going to a movie. Since he was concerned, yesterday I felt it was important to update him on how I am doing and what our plan was going forward.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have discovered that my bipolar gets much worse around my period. When I told Jeffrey that I saw my therapist today and we realized why I was doing so bad last week, he let out a huge sigh of relief, smiled, and said "Thank goodness."  I asked him how he felt about the week and he said he had been kind of scared because of the few times Jeff and I were arguing. Of course I validated his feelings and apologized to him. Then told him how we were going to track the days to anticipate when this will happen again. I said that the next time Daddy goes out of town we will make all our food in advance so cooking doesn't stress me out and we don't end up eating McDonald's. I also said we had a plan for making sure I can get to sleep each night. I let him know this plan means things will be a lot better, maybe not perfect, but better.

Mommy & Jeffrey

I think it is VERY important that our kids know what is going on. Some may think that my son is too young to know much about my illness. However, our kids know something is wrong even when we don't tell them. We all remember it from when we were little. Those times when our parents thought we could not hear them fighting. Or when we knew tragedy had struck our family but no one would tell us what it was and we sat in our room scared and wondering. Our children are far more intelligent and intuitive than we give them credit for and if we are not honest with them, their imaginations will run wild. They will think of the worse case scenarios and be scared to death. And they won't tell us they are scared because they don't want to stress us out any more than we already are.

If we are honest with our kids they will feel more secure in life. They will know they can trust us and eventually they will learn that things like illness happen and you work through it together as a family. And when we mess up, we must apologize to them. No one is perfect and all of us parents will make mistakes. It is important that our kids know we value and respect them enough to apologize to them and this also helps them learn how to do the same in their own life.

Talking to Jeffrey made him feel much better and let him know things were not falling apart. It helped him make a bit of order out of an illness and life that sometimes seems chaotic and unpredictable.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Women Struggling with Bipolar

This past week did not go well for me, especially since my husband was out of town. One thing that really bugs me though is that I should have seen it coming and been better able to handle it, but neither Jeff or I paid attention enough to catch it. If you look back through my blog you will notice that I mentioned here that I can actually track things to predict my depression better. Basically, every week before my period I get extreme depression and some anger. One would think that I would track that in my calender to make sure I could anticipate it, but I didn't and Jeff didn't think to either. Thus this week was horrific and we couldn't figure out why until yesterday. So yes, now we will be vigilantly tracking the days to catch this next month. We will also be looking into possible medications that I can take a week or two each month to help me.

I don't feel that monthly mood fluctuations is widely accepted by the general public as a true problem. From my experience, people just make fun of you and say jokingly that you have PMS. For many women, and especially women with mental illness, this is a real problem that we should not be made fun of for. I have to admit, it is kind of embarrassing to write about it actually. I am not sure if it will make people think I am a weak person just because I am a woman.

However, this should be taken seriously and treated as appropriate. Unfortunately, good treatment is hard to find as it is mainly assumed we should just take medication all the time to regulate moods and not as many doctors believe in how bad these hormone changes can be. Not all of us can tolerate the medications for mental illness and some may only need that much help for a few weeks a month. This could give us the benefits of medication without the side effects that come with taking the medication full time.

I recently found an article about this issue which really helped me understand it better and gave me options to talk to my Psychiatrist about. It talks about the effect of PMS on women with bipolar calling this symptom PME, premenstrual exacerbation. Maybe the article can help you too: All The Rage by Ayelet Waldman.


Rev. Katie