Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Love Hypomania

Taking care of myself is so hard to do sometimes.  I want to take care of everyone else first and when I do something for myself (even out of necessity) I feel guilty.  I have learned that it is what it is....a necessity.  It's alright to pamper myself or do what I need to do to take care of myself.  I can't be "me" if I am run down, stressed, tired, and can't think clearly.

I love to laugh and laughter is what keeps me going.  My kids are at that age where they are so quick witted that it catches me off guard sometimes!  I love it, though, and wouldn't have it any other way.  If I've taught them anything at all, it is the ability to laugh at themselves and at life.  They know when I need a burst of laughter at just the right moment!  We played a 3 hour game of Monopoly on our recent trip and I can't remember when I laughed so much!

Our family just got back from a nice family trip to Central Oregon and it was great to relax.  However, traveling sets off my mania a bit and luckily, it was mostly just Hypomania this time.  Hypomania is when you get all those feel good feelings and for a person who has Bipolar Disorder, it pretty much just makes you appear "normal"!  Actually, I don't know if that is true.  ha.  What is "normal" anyway, right?  For me, I find humor in everything and my hypomania makes me sillier, in a good mood and I'm not run down or tired.  I like feeling this way.  I love hypomania!  However, hypomania usually takes me over the edge to "mania".  Mania is like driving a car a hundred miles an hour on the freeway....then 110 mph...then 120...I try to slam on the brakes but they've gone out and I have people yelling at me, police chasing me, I'm panicked and don't know what to do and know that I'm going to crash and possibly die.  It's horrible.  That's the difference.  Hypomania is good.  Mania is bad. Ugh.  The other side of mania is depression (the "Crash").  Depression is like going 5 mph on the freeway and you can't go any faster no matter how hard you try.  The accelerator isn't working at all and people are honking at you, screaming at you, making terrible gestures towards you and you already feel bad enough.

Today and this week are good days.  I rely heavily on my faith in God and use every tool I have been blessed with to keep myself functioning to my very best.

If you are feeling run down, depressed, tired, irritable, or even hyper, in a good mood, or possibly manic, know that you will make it through to the next day. Keep your mind, ears, eyes and soul filled with positive words and images.  You are not alone...ever.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Communication and Healthy Environments

Everyone needs a great support system and healthy environment in life.  No matter what challenges you are facing today, it is so important to keep a good perspective and surround yourself with healthy individuals.There are also practical things that you can do to help those who are stressed out or anxious about something and need some compassion and understanding.

Recently, I have been dealing with a lot of stress that has triggered my anxiety and depression.  The key to getting better and feeling better for myself is communication.  I used to expect my husband and close family and friends to just know why I am depressed or manic or having an anxiety attack.  I thought they could basically read my mind! ha.  The biggest, healthy coping skill that I've had to learn to use is to actually ASK for help and COMMUNICATE it verbally to others. 

Men are obviously different than us women.  I have finally figured it out that my husband, Jonathan, actually wants me to spell things out for him in simple terms.  Before, I used to think that was a bit insulting to him, but he wants to know exactly what, why, when and where did my stess begin. 

I was feeling really irritated yesterday and I knew that my irritable state of mind was from trying to fight off the depression that I was feeling, from my Bipolar Disorder.  Somehow, I used to think it should be obvious for Jonathan to just know that I'm depressed because I live with Bipolar Disorder.  Duh! Right? Not so.  So, yesterday, when I was very irritable and short with him and the kids, he asked that one question that all men like to ask women...."What is wrong with you???"! ha.  Really?  Having learned from being the only female in our household, I have finally caught on (at least a little bit) to how guys think. What is obvious to me is not always obvious to my husband.  So, instead of being more annoyed by the question and the fact that Jonathan has already forgotten that I live with Bipolar Disorder, I explained in short sentences what was irritating me like this..." Joanthan, I know I am irritable and stressed out.  It is because I am fighting off depression and I realize it's a symptom from my depression.  I feel like I'm sinking and I'm angry about it because I can't control it. I am sorry it is effecting eveyone."  Jonathan's response, "Why are you depressed?"  Again....the desire to snap, "Because I live with Bipolar Disorder dummy!" is short lived in my mind and I've matured as a woman (sarcasm there-ha.), I decided to reply nicely and say, "My depression is frustrating to me because I have no idea why I am feeling depressed.  That's why I am so angry and frustrated and irritable."  Immediately, Jonathan got it and was very compassionate and did everything he could do to help fix the problem.  Jonathan helped me with dinner, with our boys and their homework, picking up around the house and stayed in a calm state of mind.  He was my anchor.  That meant the world to me and helped me decompress.

Today is a new day and I've re-charged my batteries and feel really good.  Jonathan had a key role in me being able to do that.

It is so important to communicate verbally how you feel exactly, no matter how trivial or simple it sounds, to a trusted friend or family member.  Even if you have no words to articulate it, think of how it makes you feel physically, maybe.  Like you are "sinking" or in wet cement that has dried and "you can't move".  Just trying to articulate your emotions and thoughts is better than saying nothing at all. 

If you have a loved one who is stressed out from a hard day at work someone in your life who lives with anxiety, depression, or any other kind of challenge, be patient. Don't even try to talk them out of their feelings because it isn't something you can snap out of.  Believe me, I've tried!  If they need to sleep, let them sleep and don't judge.  That is a survival skill for depression and an actual healthy coping skill for those who live with Bipolar Disorder.  Sleep is essential.

 Also, try to get that loved one to be in a calm state of mind and to verbally communicate with you by asking simple questions like, "When did you start feeling anxious or depressed?"  "Who did you see or talk to today?"  "Did you watch something on the news or TV that might have triggered something?"  Those are important questions in keeping a safe and healthy environment.  If they are not up to talking, then that is alright, too.  Give them time.

Other things you can do right away to help eleviate stress is to cook dinner for them or take food to them, watch their children for a couple of hours, turn on soothing music, fold their laundry, watch a sitcom or funny movie with them, or if they are up to it, go for a walk (not a fast paced walk, but slow, relaxing walk).  If they need to sleep, sometimes that's all it takes if they are sleep deprived. Or, just sit at the table with them, make them tea and watch the birds eat out of your bird feeder like I do!  That always brings my blood pressure down and puts a smile on my face.

These are just a few practical things that you can do to help your family and friends overcome everyday life stressors.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Say No to the Good and Yes to the Best!

These last 2 weeks have been the hardest two weeks that I've had in a while.  I haven't had a chance to get caught up on sleep, people and situations are triggering my Bipolar Disorder symptoms and anxiety and I am trying to keep my head above water.

It's difficult living with a Mood Disorder and Brain Disorder.  I may look fine on the outside and have developed skills to cope with everyday issues so that people won't think I'm a freak at times-ha.  But sometimes the littlest things seem like marathons that I'm required to making dinner, calling a friend or relative who calls me over 15 times a day begging for my time...getting out of bed.

I did a training for some patients at Oregon state Hospital through "National Alliance on Mental Illness" a couple weeks ago.  It went great, but took a lot out of me emotionally.  After the workshop, the very next day, our oldest son was very sick and ended up missing 2 1/2 days of school.  He had a sinus infection which he passed along to my husband and then our youngest son in 4th grade who has had it the most severe. Ugh.  Getting up in the middle of the night with sick kids and having sleep deprivation from not allowing myself adequate sleep after doing a 2 day workshop has triggered my mania.

One of my brothers is also going through a very difficult time and I love him to death, but it has drained me mentally and emotionally and again triggered my symptoms.  I don't think people realize that I am not cured of Bipolar Disorder.  I am not well, either!  I understand that they need someone to vent to, but I've had to put boundaries up to keep myself healthy as well.

Coming from a long line of mental illness, my grandma is severely ill with Bipolar Disorder/Schitzoaffective Disorder (Bipolar Disorder with the main symptom being psychosis).  She has been so upset with me over not returning her calls this week that she has threatened me. Ugh.  Manipulation is her tool that she's used all her life.  Not a good survival skill.

So....why can't I just get a cast to put on my head so people KNOW that I am not well and I am sick, too, and struggle like them?  If someone sees a person with a cast on their leg, they don't ask them to run a mile around the track or even walk their dog for them! ha.  Should I just wear a sign that says "I look fine but am broken on the inside"?  Actually, most of us I think would wear that sign! 

I have to learn to keep my healthy boundaries and let the guilt of not answering phone calls or the door just run off of me.  In my past, I would become so hurt and then angry, but I have realized that I know my limits and it's up to me to let others know my limits or I'm not good to anyone.

If you're overwhelmed, stressed out, or just needing some sleep, learn to allow yourself to not answer the phone, return the texts, or answer your door.  Say "No" to things that are good and say "Yes" to things that are the best for you.  Live in the moment and treat yourself with compassion and love because you are a masterpiece!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Organic Food and Bipolar Disorder

When it comes to Bipolar Disorder and eating organic food, I would have to say “no” for Bipolar I Disorder and “maybe” for Bipolar II Disorder and Cyclothymia, which are more mild forms of Bipolar Disorder.  

Many individuals do not realize that there are different types of Bipolar Disorder.  Organic foods can be very helpful in treating more mild forms of Bipolar Disorder, but when it comes to Bipolar I Disorder, the best form of treatment is medication and talk therapy. Without medication and talk therapy, statistics prove that up to 20% of people with Bipolar I Disorder commit suicide. 

What is Bipolar Disorder and the different types of Bipolar?  Bipolar Disorder is also known as Manic Depression.  It is a physical brain disorder that comes out in emotional ways.  Bipolar Disorder involves severe “highs” (mania) and severe “lows” (depression) with some “normal” moods between the two.  Anything that causes an emotional response can lead to a Bipolar Disorder mood swing. 

Bipolar Disorder is not a character flaw or a reflection on one’s integrity.  It is a disease just like heart disease or diabetes.

Bipolar Disorder affects individuals differently. There are different types of Bipolar Disorder such as Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia.

Bipolar I Disorder is the most severe form of Bipolar Disorder with overly “highs”, known as mania, and severe “lows”, known as depression. Bipolar I Disorder also includes episodes of psychosis (the inability to distinguish reality from fantasy or belief).  Medications are needed for relief of psychosis. 

I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder when I was 29 years old and medications have literally saved my life. Exercise and good nutrition are apart of my life, but alone, it is not a treatment for my Bipolar I Disorder.  It was apart of my life before I was diagnosed and my life was in total chaos then.

Bipolar II Disorder is usually misdiagnosed due to its subtleties.  This is a more mild form of Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar II Disorder involves episodes of “hypomania”, instead of full-blown mania, and has even longer periods of severe depression.  Also, psychosis is usually not present with Bipolar II Disorder.

I do have friends that use diet and exercise to maintain their stability with Bipolar II Disorder, but most individuals need medication to deal with the severity of the depression that can be life threatening.

Cyclothymia is the mildest form of Bipolar Disorder.  Many people with this disorder never seek treatment.  These individuals are able to function well in life and experience mild to moderate episodes of depression alternating with mild episodes of hypomania.

Individuals with Cyclothymia can become very ill, however, to the point of impairment in response to certain substances or medications such as marijuana, alcohol, anti-depressants, steroids, and in some cases, high doses of decongestants.  These substances and medications may trigger episodes of depression or even a full-blown mania.

Bipolar Disorder can be a life-threatening illness no matter what type it manifests itself. Like any other life threatening disease, Bipolar Disorder has the potential to take lives. 

If someone is suicidal or severely depressed, please seek help right away from a professional and please encourage that loved one to go on medication.  Medication saves lives no matter what you believe about it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Anxiety & Mania

"Dad! Mom is acting weird again and she's bothering me!" is a common phrase our oldest son, who is 13, usually hollers to my husband. He quickly tries to intervene before I become full blown manic in front of the kids.

I know what it's like to be severely depressed.  I know what it's like to be extremely manic, full of anxiety and paranoia.

Full blown mania starts from some simple, euphoric, happy mood feelings that are called, "hypomania". That is the beginning stage of mania for me.  Hypomania makes me feel full of energy and like I can do ANYTHING. My thoughts and movement are quick as I attack our house and move furniture around and clean like never before. I'm creative, inspired, quick witted, I write and compose music at lightening speed, I love everyone around me, I'm the life of the party and life is more than great! My kids love my wacky, entertaining, spontaneous ways until I get too crazy. 

Going from zero to 60 in nothing flat over absolutely nothing is normal for someone living with Bipolar Disorder. Rage comes on like a caged tiger ready to attack once released. I don't have time to process it or figure out why it came on.  I despise this part of my chemical imbalance. 

A series of adrenal, mania highs from shopping sprees to spontaneous trips to other countries fill a void of craziness. 

Anxiety is tremendously high which triggers an explosion of paranoia and irritability as well as staggered breathing, sweating palms, tremors, chest pains and stomach pains. 

Grandiose thoughts sneak in during full blown mania. I think that I can do ANYTHING!  It's embarrassing to remember those moments or be reminded by a close family member.  Thoughts of KNOWING I have the next great invention or #1 song to hit the charts consume my thinking.

Mania gets worse and it takes a destructive turn into full blown mania. My mind is racing so fast that I get scared because I can't focus on the littles things like driving, cooking dinner, or even just get ready for the day.  I can hardly breathe because it's like I'm running a marathon with my slurred and rapid speech. 

Risky behavior takes over sometimes from driving 110 miles per hour to other bad decisions.

I was teaching a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) class on mental illness and sharing my story for the Salem Police Officer's "Crisis Intervention Training" a few months ago and one of the police officers asked me, "How, as police officers, can we tell if someone is intoxicated or just manic?"  What a great question!  All in all, I told them that it was a hard call but sometimes you may have to have that individual simply take a drug test or alcohol test to find out.  The symptoms are so similiar.  Unlike drugs or alcohol, Bipolar Disorder is something that is uncontrollable and not a character flaw, but an actual physical illness that is a chemical imbalance.  An illness like heart disease or diabetes.

Mania sounds fun at first during the hypomania phase, but then it turns into a torterous stage with Bipolar I Disorder.  Thoughts of suicide creep in....not because you want to die, but because you can't handle the pain anymore.  Self-destruction seems inevitable and you want it to end, so rational thinking goes out the window and you are overcome with paranoia which can lead to psychosis (seeing or hearing things that are not real).

My paranoia can be about what people are saying.  I see everything, every move a person makes through body ltheir body anguage...all within seconds of when they start talking to me.  The littlest thing from the tone of voice one uses, to the way they tilt their head when they talk to me.  You could give me a compliment and all I would hear is a negative remark.  Paranoia equals distorted thinking.

It's hard to articulate any of this when you are in the midst of it all and that's why it's so important to take my medication and check in with my psychiatrist who has been terrific and perfect for me for the past 12 years.

My medication has changed quite a bit because I am super sensitive to many of them, but for the past 10 years, Lithium, Depakote ER and Zoloft have kept me stable. When psychosis hits in times of trauma triggers, I then take Haldol which works the best for me.  And for my anxiety, Alprazolam (Xanax) is what works the best fo me.

My depression and mania used to be a huge part of my life, but I have been pretty stable for the last 14 years.  There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, so it DOES hit me once in a while and medication can't contain it, but I always know that it's my illness and that "this too shall pass".

I am more afraid of NOT taking my meds than of taking medication.  I like who I am when I am on them....I am "me" and whatever it takes to be "me", that's what I'm going to do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coping Skills & Humor: "My Little Garden Monkey"

Coping skills are just as important as medications & doctors when it comes to dealing with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorders or any kind of challenge.
The one thing my life has not been is boring.  Through some of my darkest times, my mom taught me one of the most important coping skills of all and that is to remember to fill my mind with good thoughts & memories and always try to find something to laugh at even if it's myself!
So, this is one of my favorite, funny memories growing up that I wanted to share about my pet monkey, Jaimie.

"My Little Garden Monkey"
When I was in 2nd grade, I vividly remember going outside in our backyard to help my dad in our vegetable garden. My family lived on a small farm out in the country, in the beautiful state of Washington.  I loved helping my parents in the vegetable garden and playing hide and go seek with them in the many rows of corn that towered over me. 
One particular day, it was just me and dad in the garden picking green beans when all of a sudden we heard a faint screaming noise and then several swooshing noises coming from our apple trees on the other side of the garden.  My dad and I looked up into the apple trees, shading our eyes from the sun, and dad said, “Honey, there’s a monkey swinging in our apple trees!  I’m going to try to catch it!  Go inside and get your mom while I get a ladder.”  I ran as fast as I could into our yellow farmhouse and got mom, barely being able to speak from all my huffing and puffing from my fast sprint into the house.  As mom was drying her hands on the kitchen towel, I dragged her outside, by the arm, to show her what dad and I had found! We couldn’t believe our eyes!  Dad had actually caught the little spider monkey and was bringing him down the ladder with him!  Hastily getting an old rabbit cage, my parents put the monkey in it and I immediately called my monkey, “Jamie”.  Yep, I claimed ownership to the monkey.  Mom told me not to get attached to the monkey because he most likely belonged to someone else. Barely hearing her words, I gave Jamie a banana, he peeled it and handed the peeling back to me and proceeded to eat the banana. Hmmm…I was already having great plans for this pet monkey of mine.   I was in awe of my garden monkey, Jamie, and couldn’t wait to dress him up, like any other 2nd grade girl would do of course! 
After the initial shock of catching a monkey in our back yard, dad immediately called the fire department and told them about the situation.  Ironically enough, the fire department accused my father, who was a pastor of a little community church in town, of being intoxicated and hung up on him!  Having a good sense of humor, mom and dad laughed it off.  Brushing that abrupt phone call off, my parents decided to post an ad in the local newspaper regarding a lost little spider monkey.  No one responded within the first few days or weeks and eventually months.  I grew very attached to Jamie and loved him very much.  Almost one year went by until one day someone called about Jamie.  It was the dreaded phone call.  The owners of this precious monkey called to claim him and pick him up.  I cried and sobbed as they took my little garden monkey, Jamie, away.  I will never forget my little garden monkey, Jamie, and that special day in the garden along with many other memories.
I no longer cry tears for Jamie but now smile with giggles as I tell this story to my friends and our kids.  Distracting my thoughts from negative ones or just starting my day out with a positive thought or memory can set the tone for the rest of my day and help me cope with any kind of struggles or challenges that may come up.  So, here's to all the little garden monkeys out there who can brighten up our day!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Anxiety & Triggers

If you suffer from Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder or any other kind of mental illness, don't feel guilty.  It's genetic and that's it.  Pure and simple.  It's hereditary. 

There are things that can trigger the onset of anxiety, depression, and mental illness in general.  Things such as your environment, thought patterns and life style to name a few.  If you suffer from one of these hurdles in life, most likely someone else in your family has also struggled, too.  It's hereditary and that gene could have been passed down to you from a parent, grand-parent or even great-grandparent. 
Since everyone is unique and deals with life differently, your journey will be different and yours alone.  It's not a death sentence, but more about self-discovery and how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
On my own road to recovery, I've learned some valuable Coping Skills along the way.  In sharing them, I hope that they can benefit you as well.
Healthy boundaries is one of my Coping Skills.  After years of practice, I have finally been able to make healthy boundaries for myself without feeling guilty.  Boundaries from talking, seeing, texting, facebooking (is that a word?) or visiting certain people that need something from me or are just plain too toxic for me at the time.  Some of them mean no harm, others may unintentionally do harm without realizing it. It can be a friend, stranger, organization, job or family. If I'm not in a healthy place, I've realized I will be of no good to them either.  A single text can spiral me into a severe panic attack or anxiety attack.
I have also realized that tracking my daily activities on a chart every day helps me pinpoint my triggers.  Triggers that can cause anxiety and worry, depression or mania from my Bipolar Disorder or even trigger my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My triggers can be anything from over stimulation from being around too many people for long periods of time or the opposite - not enough time around other people.  Most of all, it's the little things that can trigger me.  So, I keep track of who I've texted and received texts from, who I talk to on the phone or see in person, what I ate, how much i slept and if it was broken up sleep, what TV shows I watched or movies I watched, etc.  It sounds trivial, but it really does help.  When I'm suffering from severe anxiety, sounds and light bother me the most.  The hum of a light fixture, the light from the computer.  Little things can cause a lot of anxiety sometimes.
Another one of my triggers was responding, by texting, to a couple of individuals too much.  In my mind, I thought if I texted them back, it wasn't as toxic as seeing them or talking to them on the phone.  For me, it was just as toxic.  Now, I don't respond unless I am in a healthy place mentally, emotionally and it doesn't take away from my family or another important event at the time.  I felt soooooo guilty at first, but realized it was a must.  That alone took out A LOT of my anxiety.
Another anxiety for me is shopping with other women.  Since I'm still in recovery from being a "People Pleaser", I found it extremely difficult to be myself completely without worrying about if my friends (s) was enjoying their self at the mall. Ugh.  I know, it's crazy but it brought on real anxiety for me!
I could go on and on about how commercials or certain movies trigger me, but I think those are more obvious and I wanted to emphasize the importance of how little triggers can cause great damage.  I found out that when I was aware of the little triggers, the larger ones were not as often.
I'll share more on worry, anxiety and panic attacks later this week. 
I Hope that some of these coping skills help some of you with practical things that you can do for yourself to maybe alleviate some of the stress in your life. 
I'll be sharing more coping skills later this week.  Thanks for coming on this journey with me!