Friday, November 30, 2012

What Harm Could One Little Cup of Coffee Do?

I have been eating well for about a week and feeling much better. My moods are more even, and now that I am also exercising again I am much less depressed than I usually am. I was doing so well that yesterday I figured it could not hurt much if I went to the coffee shop and got one of those sweet mocha concoctions. Yes, that was stupid, irrational thinking on my part. Basically it was my eating disorder thinking for me. But at the time it seemed rational. I mean I had eaten Paleo all week, one drink would not hurt me, and I would not have another one for at least another week. (I do realize that sounds like an alcohol addiction and there is a lot of research about how sugar addiction and alcohol addiction are linked.)

An hour after finishing my milk-filled, caffeine-filled, sugar-filled drink, I was shaking, angry and easily irritated. My son would ask me a simple question and I felt like I wanted to scream at him. When I typed on the computer I was missing keys because my hands were so shaky sometimes. I ate some protein and vegetables to try and even things out, but I just got worse and ended up with a severe stomach ache and shaking that lasted well into the night. All from a darn Venti Mocha.

Photo by Katie Norris

Despite the research out there, there are still many people who do not think food affects our mood. I keep trying to convince myself of that as well, but every time I eat something that is not good for me, not only does my mental illness get worse but frequently by body become physically ill as well. I should have learned my lesson by now and not listen to people who tell me I can have sugar just once a day or a few times a week, or that I can eat junk food in moderation.

I think some of us are more sensitive to the foods we eat than others and we do not have the luxury of eating unhealthy foods "in moderation." I have been craving chocolate and sugar ever since that mocha drink and all I can think about is if I can get some sugary treat somewhere. For me, I can't do "moderation" because clearly foods trigger chemicals in my brain that just get out of control and it is too hard to try and make up for it later. For instance, one way to combat depression is to increase serotonin. Eating sugar does increase serotonin but in an unbalanced way which makes you feel better for a bit but then causes an even bigger dip in your levels later causing you to become more and more depressed. (Check out this article about sugar and mental illness: Scientist Shows Link Between Diet and Onset of Mental Illness.  There are many other research studies out there showing the same thing.) Instead, eating a balanced diet of protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates from vegetables balances out your serotonin for a longer time period causing a more even mood.

I really encourage people to research what kind of diet might work for them in helping to treat their mental illness. I am not a doctor so I can't tell you what to eat. I can only go by my own research and what my doctors suggest for me, and I recommend you do the same.

My husband said today that if I had started a new medication last Friday and I was doing this well, he would say the medication was working. All I did last Friday was change my diet, exercise, and sleep and it is working as well as medication (for me) without the terrible side effects I would get from prescriptions. I would say that the biggest risk is that lifestyle changes are hard to stick to and I do go back and forth on them but I also believe that if we keep trying we will be able to find what works for us and stick with it, we just need a lot of help along the way.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Service Dog Saves the Day

Rosie, my Psychiatric Service Dog in Training, helped me immensely today and I don't even know if she meant to. Part of my treatment plan includes exercising and I had just gotten back to it on Monday and was supposed to go again this morning. All of my muscles were sore from Monday's workout and I had not slept well so when it came time to wake up, neither my husband or son could convince me to get up and get to CrossFit.

My husband sent Rosie in to see me. She curled up with me on the bed and I was content to sleep the morning away with her. But then she started being a bit wiggly and waking me up. Then she put her paws on me and slowly crawled her way up to my pillow and pushed me aside as she took over my pillow. She has never done this before. She usually just sleeps next to me or at the foot of the bed. I don't know if she just really wanted a pillow today or if in some way she knew I needed to wake up, but she succeeded in getting me up in time for the last workout of the morning. Had she jumped up on the bed, barked, and been hyper, I would have gotten upset and put her out of the bedroom. Instead she slowly woke me up, which is always the way I need to be woken up since I have a really hard time with the loud noise of an alarm and waking up quickly. A frantic wake up tends to make me very anxious and a wreck the whole day.

Rosie is still so early in her training and she does not even know her tasks yet, but somehow she manages to help me in the ways I need it most without even knowing she is supposed to do it. My illness definitely has been better and easier to treat having Rosie in our life now.

Without Rosie I would have missed a workout which would have led to a less stable mood and a slide into a bad day that could have carried on all week. Instead she helped me treat my illness so that I have a chance at a better life.
I love life with a service dog.


Rev. Katie

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rosie: Service Dog Helping with Dementia

This is a blog post that is also on my other blog Moving in With Dementia, which is about caring for my Mom who as Lewy Body Dementia.

About four months ago we adopted a puppy who we are training to be my Psychiatirc Service Dog. While this training can take years, and our puppy Rosie is still just trying to learn how to contain her puppy energy, I find her to be an amazingly intuitive service dog. I have had many dogs over my lifetime but few have been so in tune with the emotional needs of the people around them as Rosie is, and she is just in the first few months of training.

Today we had a family party and we were able to have Mom over to our house. Rosie was in her crate for the beginning of the party and after everyone arrived, I let her out. We had about twenty people in the house and instead of saying "hello" to the people that were in the room she was in, Rosie instead went directly to see my Mom. A person she has only met twice.

Rosie was so attached to my Mom that my Aunt thought Rosie must have lived with my parents before we moved into our new house. She assumed Rosie knew Mom and missed her. Rosie was jumping up on my Mom, trying to get into the Broda chair with her. While this was not the best choice for Rosie because she was too hyper, her instincts were correct.

Rosie somehow knows to "ground" people when they are injured or hurting. This is a deep pressure therapy where the weight of the dog helps to calm the person who is anxious. Rosie's instinct is to lay herself on top of people to help make them feel safe and comforted. "Grounding" will be a Psychiatiric Service Dog task that Rosie will be able to do, gently, on command but right now she does it in her hyper puppy way becasuse she just wants to help other people.
Rosie "grounding" me.
I am continually amazed at the connection that animals have to us. I can't believe how Rosie knew, out of a houseful of twenty people who were in separate rooms, to go straight to the person who needed the most love and care. I felt so proud of Rosie today and her ability to help others. I also felt a great connection with Mom as she and I always cared for our dogs together throughout our lives. Rosie trying to take care of Mom was, for me, kind of another way that Mom and I are still connected despite the fog of dementia that keeps getting thicker and thicker. I am glad my puppy can see through the fog even better than most people can.


Rev. Katie

Friday, November 16, 2012

Holiday Rescue: Letting Go of Perfect

For our family, the holiday festivities start this Saturday with the 80 year old tradition of Market Day. The extended family goes to the West Side Market on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My Uncle gives us our assignments of what to buy when we meet at the garbage can in front of the sausage stand. We eat our sausage, shop, and then meet at one of our houses for a party where we eat all the food we bought. The party is at our house this year and this is when all the holiday preparations begin.

We have been talking at church about a Holiday Rescue Project where we try and decrease the emphasis of the holidays being about consumerism and going into debt. There is another part that we need to rescue ourselves from for the holidays and that is all of the stress, depression, guilt, and loneliness that happens.

Today I would like to talk about how our artificial idea of perfect holidays causes us extreme amounts of stress, depression, and feeling of self loathing when we can't get everything right. Or we get ourselves into debt trying to create the perfect tree, perfect table setting, and send out the perfect holiday cards about our perfect family.

I have a secret for you: No one is perfect. So, let go of perfect.

If your friend has a seemingly beautiful house, ask to see their "messy" room. If someone has the perfect dinner, ask how stressful it was for them to make it. And really, that perfect family in the holiday card someone sent us is not reality.

When we compare ourselves to other people, we get stressed, depressed, and start to hate ourselves for not being as good as everyone else. Then, when none of us talk about what our lives are really like, we don't realize that no one is perfect, everyone struggles, and not all families get along. When we don't talk about reality we then feel shame, embarrassment, and obligation. Talk about a recipe for a mental breakdown, even for people who don't deal with a mental illness.

From what I know though, no faith tradition says the holidays are all about perfection, shame, self loathing, guilt, and embarrassment. The holidays are a time when we reflect on our spirituality, spend time with others, give to others in a way that is helpful to them, and create bonds of community that spread the message of love.

In order to maintain your mental sanity, let go of perfect. One time a friend of mine commented on how messy our apartment was, when we had moved from a house with basement to a small two bedroom apartment. In reality, we were going through a lot and were struggling. We wanted our lives to be about caring for other people and spending time with them so we invited people over in an imperfect house. I had to remind myself that this persons issue over a cluttered but clean house was just their issue. That person is not perfect, and neither am I. No one is helped by judgement and criticism, but we are all helped by time together, care, and love. That is why I love our Market Day tradition. It is more about the time we spend together in a tradition started by my Mom's dad where we eat and hang out rather than over decorate, spend tons of money, and rip open gifts we don't need.


Rev. Katie