Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Do You Choose to Do That?

It must be eternally frustrating for people without mental illness to see those of us with it doing things that are bad for us. Even though we know all the reasons we shouldn't. Even though our loved one told us we shouldn't. Even though to them it seems like our life is perfect, or at least happy enough that we should not have a problem.

The only thing I can tell you is, that's how you know it's an illness.

When we do things that are detrimental, from eating bad food, to spending our savings, even to suicide, we do them because we really think we need to. We think it is the only way to end the extreme pain and suffering we feel.

I have no idea how to describe this to someone without mental illness. I know that being able to understand this would help end one of the biggest stigmas against this illness, which is people assume we choose to be this way and we are just being irresponsible.
Photo by tommychheng, Flickr Creative Commons

My husband still asks me "Why do you choose to do that?," especially when I eat poorly. As if I sat down and thought, "Yes, I know eating this doughnut will send me into a mania risking my health and the happiness of my family. I don't care about myself or anyone else. I would like bad things to happen so I'll eat the doughnut." That's not the way it happens. It's more like this: "I know eating this doughnut will make me worse and cause issues for my family but I am in so much pain that if I have to spend one more second like this I'll die. I am not that important to my family anyway." That doughnut will increase my serotonin and make me feel good, for an hour, before I get worse again.  But when you have a mental illness you often live your life second by second, hour by hour just trying to stay alive and ridiculous things seem rational at the time. Or like how in the middle of the night when my mania is mixed with my depression I truly, 100% believe my husband doesn't love me and we should separate. Seriously? In reality he loves me 110% and we are like Adelie penguins, together for life.

Photo by linpadgham, Flickr Creative Commons
That is just my experience of how my mind can be irrational. For other people with other illnesses, it will present different for them. For instance with manic spending the person may actually think they are invincible and running out of money is not realistically possible.

Expecting someone with a mental illness never to do detrimental things or irresponsible things is like asking someone with an amputated leg to walk. However, you could get the person an artificial leg which could help manage the issue they have and that is what I hope my blog helps people do, manage their illness. While it is essential that we understand mental illness, that does not mean the bad behavior is ok. Particularly if the person is emotionally or physically abusive. Understanding it means we can then discover appropriate ways to deal with it, not that you don't hold the person accountable for their actions.

Overall, I hope that much of my blog talks about ways in which to manage mental illness (please read some of my other posts for more on that), but I really want people to understand the fundamentals of it first. If we don't understand the true nature of the illness we will try the wrong management techniques and not be able to help our loved ones.


Rev. Katie

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Making Your Brain Do What You Want

One of the problems with mental illness is that your brain does not always act rationally. You may have anxiety and excessively worry about unrealistic events happening, like someone breaking into your house every night. You may be depressed and think there is nothing good in your life. You may be manic and think you are invincible. One of the things we need to do in times like these it to remind ourselves that this thinking is just a glitch in our system, just our minds being irrational because of a chemical imbalance. Sometimes that helps us not act on the irrational thoughts we are having.

Other times you need to outsmart your irrational brain. For instance, I have been having trouble and I keep staying up all night. I do this partially because that's when my mind goes on overdrive and partially because I think if I stay up late I wont have to exercise in the morning because I will be too tired. I know exercise is good for me and I actually love it, but when I am either manic or depressed I don't want to exercise because it's a lot of work and I just want to stay at home. It's true, if I make myself stay up all night I am dizzy, exhausted, and can't even stand up straight at times. It would not be safe to exercise in that state. So, my irrational brain has been winning over the past few weeks creating a situation in which I can't exercise.

Finally yesterday I realized I just had to outsmart my brain. True, I was too tired in the morning to go to the gym, however, I eventually do fall asleep and the gym is open in the evening. I realized I had no excuse not to get to the gym in the evening instead. I just had to tell myself over and over again that I could get to the gym, that I could do this, that I deserved to get better, and so I ended up convincing my brain that going to the gym in the evening would be ok. It would not be too hard or too scary and I would not be too tired.
CrossFit Cleveland

I know this seems really simple to people without mental illness who have no problem adjusting their schedule or doing the right thing to stay healthy. However, for those of us with uncooperative brains, we have to work very hard to continually say "no" to the illness and say "yes" to health.

Another thing that can help if you need to do certain things to stay healthy but in the hard times your brain convinces you they are not needed is to write down how doing these things make you feel. Don't write all the reasons why you should do them because your irrational mind will think of a million other reasons not to do them. Write down how you feel when you sleep enough, when you eat right, when you exercise, or when you take your medication. Then when your mind gives you a million excuses, you can go back and read what the reality is and get a sense of what it will really feel like if you make the right choice.

So, the other day I wrote a poem of sorts as a fun way to remind myself how I feel when I am exercising at CrossFit and why I love it. If you are a CrossFitter, I share it now with you.

Ode To CrossFit

O, CrossFit how I love thee.
Each time we meet, I can't catch my breath and I go weak in the knees.
You inspire me to work harder than I ever thought I could.
You prove that I can jump higher, lift more, and be faster than I imagined was possible.
And you never care that my higher, faster, and stronger is not amazing,
you are just glad that I did my best.

CrossFit, you have shown me that I am stronger than I think I am.

You make me feel invincible, like I can do what I never thought possible.
You are fuel for my mind and hope for my spirit.

While I often curse at your existence because you require so much,

I always feel blessed that we worked together.
You have proven to me that I can always fight and work hard, even when I feel like I can't go on.

CrossFit, you let me know that if I can be fierce in the gym, I can be fierce in life.

Each time we meet, my mind is more clear and you prove that the illness I have been burdened with can be conquered.

One day my toes will touch the bar. One day bipolar disorder will hit the ground.
And so CrossFit, I thank you, for proving that no matter where I am in life physically or mentally, I can still kick ass.

(Sorry for the language at the end, but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is)

I encourage you to write a fun reflection on how it feels when you follow through on a particular thing you need to do to manage your illness. It will make you feel better and be a reminder when you need help.


Rev. Katie

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Managing Bipolar Disorder Isn't Easy

If you remember, I was doing very well on my Paleo diet, exercising, and making sure I got adequate sleep. Well, I had a bad week, as happens every month, and I fell off the diet and everything went down hill from there. I have contemplated writing about this as it feels like such a failure for me and who wants to write about their failures? But then again, this is the reality of this illness. It is constantly up and down. Some people do well for years and have the illness come back, others, like me, do well for a few weeks only to have trouble again. I do have bipolar II, which is rapid cycling and I wonder if that is one of the reasons why I don't do well for longer stretches of time like some people with bipolar I do.

Anyway, even though I have not been doing well for the past few weeks, that doesn't mean I have not learned anything. I have learned that of all the things we have tried to help manage my illness, even medication, diet works the best. The problem is, I can't mess up on the diet at all, or I get worse. And a strict Paleo diet is very hard to stick with in our culture, at least it is for me.

I also learned that the week before my period will always be worse (you can read about how common this is here), even with the diet. It may be the one week where diet is not enough to keep me well. We have decided that I will try some medication for that week only and see if that can keep me on track with the diet instead of having everything fall apart. Then eventually, as I am better for a longer stretch of time and the diet just becomes a habit, I will see if I can stop using medication all together.
Photo by Jeff Norris

Part of the problem we fell into this time was that I was struggling because of my hormones, my husband was out of town, and my son got sick. We did not have food and all the things necessary already made and planned out for me to be able to handle everything myself. So, while we are still working out a system of making sure I am never without food I can eat, which is easily accessible when I am depressed, I might need some help during that one bad week.

I am sad, and a bit ashamed, that I could not keep up with the diet that was working so well. The problem is, when the illness gets bad, you don't see reality. I could not see that the diet was working. You think all kinds of things that are not true. Like you will never get better, you have always been miserable, and that no one loves you so who cares if you are sick. You believe it when other people say eating a little bit of something won't hurt you and you wonder why you can't be "normal" like everyone else. That's the illness, the irrational part of your brain will take over and unless you have a perfected system of management that changes with the cycle of your illness, you will have times when you get worse.

The important thing is that you learn what does work and you get back to doing it again. I am back on the Paleo diet now and can tell that just within a day I have started to feel much better. It is a long process to figure out a good system and it takes a lot of time to make sure we have enough of the right food around at all times. It is time consuming to figure out a schedule where I can eat at the right times, exercise the right amount, and sleep correctly. I am actually amazed at the amount of time, effort, and lifestyle change it takes just to stay well. I told my husband today that I wish we could be like normal couples who go out to dinner, eat what they want, have a few drinks, and stay out late with friends. That is just never going to happen for us.

My next tasks are first to find a way to make the diet, exercise, and sleep requirements just a part of my life. Second, I need to work on ways to stop the irrational thinking that happens when I get worse. I have a few ideas for that which I will be posting about soon.


Rev. Katie