So much is happening, yet nothing is happening at all…

IMG_1651

I totally weirded out my doctor last week.  Twelve days without an antidepressant and I had no symptoms, none.  Six weeks ago I decided to taper off my meds so we could try IVF.  I had initially decided to stay on meds while we tried to conceive and throughout pregnancy after discussing with my a perinatal specialist and my former psychiatrist.  Chad and I thought it would be best considering my past episodes of psychosis and the risks that could pose for me and our child.  It was a tough decision, but I had tried to stop in the past and ended up having a fairly intense episode in March of 2013.  That’s when I started seeing a naturopath and began taking loads of amino acids that caused major digestive issues.  I stuck it out for 18 months, but when I was up to 62 pills a day and still couldn’t go without an antidepressant for long, I threw in the towel.  Not to mention we were spending $1,000 per month.

Recently though my gut starting telling me I should stop meds.  I’ve been stable for over 3 years and my new psychiatrist considered me to be in remission.  I began cutting my antipsychotic dose in half for a week then my antidepressant.  I then cut the antidepressant in half again for a week and stopped.  I didn’t have any Bipolar symptoms at all and started sleeping better than I had in years.  I had struggled for years with anxiety and racing thoughts at bedtime which caused onset insomnia.  It was so frustrating and sometimes I wouldn’t fall asleep until the middle of the night which made getting up for work on time almost impossible.  I’m lucky my work is flexible with my hours and last year I started supporting California so I was able to change my schedule.  Right now I am still on an antipsychotic, but my last dose is tomorrow.  I haven’t missed a dose in years, but when I have in the past I barely slept and struggled to get through the following day.  I felt completely off and uncomfortable in my own skin, counting down the hours to dinner when i could take my med and go to sleep.  Antipsychotic withdrawal is no joke so I decided to take two weeks off work after i stop to give me time to adjust.

I am a little nervous about stopping this last med.  It is going to take a lot of strength and patience to get through the first few days.  My psychiatrist said stopping the antidepressant should have been harder than stopping the antipsychotic, but miraculously I’ve been doing fine.  This gives me hope.  I am in such a good place right now.  I couldn’t have asked for a better time to go through this process.  The timing is perfect and I am so incredibly grateful.  Good things are on the horizon.  I can just feel it.

Master of Routine

clocks-1098080_1920My illness has totally turned me into a creature of habit.  Studies have shown that routines can ease Bipolar and I have found that to be true as well.  I typically eat at the same time every day (5 times a day) which helps keep my blood sugar stable and in turn regulates my moods and energy.  I try my best to go to sleep every night and wake every morning at the same time also.  I’ve found planning my meals and snacks and having good sleep hygiene to be keys to managing my illness.  If you aren’t on a good eating and sleeping routine, I suggest you work on that first and foremost.  I also try to plan my work days by scheduling tasks on my calendar.  I get what’s most important done first thing in the morning before my territory gets going and I also schedule weekly and monthly responsibilities to make sure I stay on track.

My mind likes life to be predictable and I always feel the need to be in control so when change happens it often leaves my head spinning.   For instance, I recently had two full days of meetings at work and team activities after work.  It completely threw me for a loop and gave me some pretty intense anxiety.  I had to be at work an hour and a half earlier than normal which I found to be stressful.  That is a big change for someone who is on a strict schedule.  I had to take medicine to put myself to sleep earlier to ensure I got enough rest.  This would be probably be no big deal for a lot of people, but I was experiencing a bout of Irritable Bowel Syndrome also during this time so the thought of not having control over when and what I ate as well as being stuck in a room for hours on end really freaked me out.  So I decided to take some of my control back by bringing my own food for breakfast and lunch.  I left the room during lunch to eat my own food in peace and be close to a bathroom in case my stomach acted up.  This helped ease my anxious mind.

I find traveling work to be challenging as well, but I am getting better at managing it.  The first time I travelled for work, I had my first and only panic attack.  I was not medicated at the time and not doing so well mentally when I was asked to drive to Illinois and Wisconsin with a co-worker.  The first day we spent at a job site watching an installation of one of our stormwater quality units followed by lunch with a sales person then a visit to one of our supplier’s warehouses.  Something I ate during lunch upset my stomach and when we got the supplier I found myself getting sick in the bathroom while everyone was waiting on me to go on a plant tour.  I tried to pull myself together and go on the tour, but i became worried about having an accident as I wandered around the huge warehouse not knowing where the closest bathroom was.  My heart started pounding and I found it difficult to breathe and I high tailed it to the car where I sat for the rest of the visit.  I was completely panicked and mortified.

That first work trip made me terrified to travel for work again and I did everything I could to avoid it.  It almost became a phobia of sorts.  So when my boss called me into his office a little over three years ago and told me I was getting promoted and I had to fly to Oregon and present in front of over 100 of my co-workers, I freaking flipped.  I have little experience presenting and public speaking is my number one fear.  That combined with my fear of traveling for work threw me into a Bipolar episode that lasted for months.  I ended up traveling to the meetings, but I made sure my flight times fit into my normal daily schedule and I did not present.  I did it on my terms and I survived.  Each time I have travelled since, it has gotten a little easier and my last work trip was even my idea.  I refuse to take super early flights so my sleep routine is not disturbed and I also book the shortest travel time (even if that means flying into LAX or traveling on a weekend, ugh).  I bring snacks with me so my blood sugar doesn’t get too low and I try to set my own schedule, always.

This might sound like a boring way to live, but my routines help keep me stable.  The consistency they provide in my life make them worthwhile to me.  If you are struggling to stabilize your moods, I highly suggest you try to your best to stick to a schedule.  It could be exactly what you are missing.

The Dreaded “T” Word

IMG_1321

I recently broke up with my therapist of 3 1/2 years.  Well she doesn’t know it yet, but I’m not going back.  For one thing, her office is now way out of the way since we moved.  For another, I feel like it has been a waste of my time for over two years.  We basically just chat about a few things that are going on in my life and I often run out of things to say and constantly glance at the clock.  I’ve been seeing her every 3-4 weeks just to check in and make sure I’m ok.  Sometimes I’m not the best judge of how I’m doing and I’m really good at faking it and covering up ally shit.  I also tend to be fairly quiet so Chad isn’t always clued in either. I’ve been pretty stable since the spring of 2015 and I am tired of throwing twenty-five dollars away each month so I’ve decided to cut the cord.  I need to give her a call and explain.  I’m sure she will understand.

I first started seeing a therapist in 2005 when I was 27.  She was a hippie that didn’t believe in medication unless it was absolutely necessary.  She believed I learned to be depressed by seeing others in my family depressed, said I was an alcoholic and love addict, recommended self-help books along with some crazy bovine liver supplements from her chiropractor and told me to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for support.  I was nearly suicidal at the time, thinking of garages I could park my car in and end the pain easily.  She dragged up the past during every visit and I left feeling worse than when we started.  I basically cried the entire visit.  She had me doing mirror work and affirmations to improve my self-esteem.  I repeated “I am enough” while staring at myself in the mirror.  None of these approaches worked for me.  If she were a responsible therapist she would have recommended I see a psychiatrist first.  As I look back now, I can see it was very dangerous not to do so.

I saw another therapist in my late twenties for a few visits that thought I had Bipolar Disorder and wanted to me to see a psychiatrist so I could get on a mood stabilizer, specifically Depakote.  I can’t remember what happened there, but I don’t think I liked what she had to say and the psychiatrist she wanted me to see was not taking new patients so I missed my opportunity to get my diagnosis earlier.  In my early thirties I saw another one for a few months.  Again, the visits made me feel worse than I normally did and I didn’t get anything out of it.  After the psychotic episode in 2010, I saw a therapist that my nurse practitioner referred me to.  She was really aggressive and I was so doped up on an antipsychotic the first visit that she couldn’t get anywhere with me because I could hardly answer her questions.  I just kept saying I don’t know.  I went back a couple more times and she was really pushing me to work on myself, but I was still recovering from psychosis and not thinking clearly so we didn’t accomplish much.

I decided when I started seeing my most recent therapist that we would not discuss the past and I would not let her try to figure out why I am the way I am.  I was upfront about that on my first visit.  I wanted to focus on the present.  I wanted her to help me determine if my mind was healthy, a monthly check-in to make sure I was on the right track.  We both followed that protocol and I found that it was a much better way for me personally.  What a freaking relief.  I believe I am the way I am because I have a chemical imbalance.  I inherited it from my family (I have it on both sides).  Digging around in my past trying to find some reason for it is absurd to me.  I have no history of trauma or abuse.  I was raised by parents who love me and would do anything for me.  We had our issues like all families do, but my environment did not trigger this illness.  So please for the love of God, don’t try to psychoanalyze me.  So I’m closing the book on therapy for now and if things work out they way I have planned, I will not be opening it anytime soon.

I Still Stumble

stumblingConfession time.  I had a total meltdown the week before Christmas.  I cried all evening.  I woke up completely exhausted with my eyes so swollen I could barely see.  I took a half day to get my shit together.  I had not cried in several months.  My emotions reached a boiling point.  Weeks of stress from work, preparing for Christmas, and taking on too much at once took its toll on me.  Apparently working a demanding job full-time, starting a side hustle, writing a book, thinking about my biological clock ticking with my 40th birthday on the horizon, and managing a chronic illness was a little too much for me.  Go figure.  I was totally overwhelmed, had difficulty concentrating, and had a seriously short fuse.  I started slacking with my eating habits.  I wouldn’t eat enough during the day because of the stress then when it was time to relax, I would eat too much. I had trouble sleeping and started to feel fatigued because I was pushing myself too hard and trying to do everything perfectly.  When my perfectionism becomes obsessive, I start to feel exhausted and procrastination inevitably creeps in.  So basically I procrastinate then worry about all the shit I have to do.  It’s a vicious and super frustrating cycle.

After the cry-fest, I knew I had to make some changes.  I immediately asked my husband for help and intentionally started to slow down.  I limited my time on social media to cut down on distractions, began nightly yoga nidra meditations, and put my book on hold.  I did my best to focus on the present so I wouldn’t get caught up worrying about the future.  Luckily Chad’s schedule was starting to slow down and he helped me stay on track with the Christmas stuff and manage all the day-to-day things at home.  He helped me decide what to eat for dinner and went to the grocery with me.  If you deal with any type of depression or anxiety you know how overwhelming the grocery store can be.  It’s like the worst place to go.  Too many decisions and if you go without a list it can be a freaking nightmare.  There have been times when I desperately wanted to leave my cart half full and freaking bolt.

I somehow managed to get through ending the fiscal year at work while preparing for vacation with only cussing out one person on our sales team (I later called and apologized in my super sweet voice). Vacation could not have come at a better time.  Because I did what I needed to do to get control of myself, I was able to be present and thoroughly enjoy the holidays.  I had 12 wonderful days off and came back refreshed with a much better mood and outlook for the new year.  So there you have it, I still have my moments when this illness tries to knock me down.  I still stumble every now and then, but I’m much, much better at knowing what to do to stay standing.

 

Overcoming Fatigue: My 5 Secret Weapons

shutterstock_468543974Fatigue has been a real bitch for me.  The kind of bitch that lingers on and won’t let go.  It was the one symptom I couldn’t shake until recently.  Fatigue from Bipolar can be debilitating.  I’m not talking about being tired after a meal or a long day.  I’m talking about complete exhaustion, bone-tired, total energy depletion.  There were many days when I woke up feeling this way, but went to work anyway and pushed through.  By the end of the day I could hardly make dinner or do the dishes.  I’ve had to take vacation days and lie in bed for 24 hours when I pushed myself too hard.  I’ve had to plan my weeks out knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything after a day at work.  It was frustrating to say the least and my quality of life was seriously suffering.  Through the years I’ve experimented in several different ways to find relief.  The following are my  5 secret weapons to keep fatigue at bay.

  1. Limit Caffeine: I cut way back on caffeine a couple of years ago and I noticed a difference within a couple of days.  I was drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day.  That combined with constant stress from my illness did a number on my adrenal glands.  These endocrine glands above your kidneys produce several hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.  Caffeine stimulates these glands and when your adrenals are overworked, production of cortisol can decrease in turn causing fatigue.  I also noticed that I had trouble balancing my blood sugar when I drank too much caffeine.  I was starving an hour or so before lunch time and if I didn’t eat, my energy would crash.  I slowly began lowering my caffeine intake over a few days to avoid getting headaches from withdrawal, mixing regular coffee with decaf.  I then switched to all decaf.  I still have green tea and the occasional chai, but I’m careful not to overdo it.
  2. Move Your Body:  I have a small gym at work and one of the best things I can do is a little workout at lunch.    Nothing crazy, just a brisk walk on the treadmill or workout on the elliptical for a half hour.  It breaks up my day, boosts my mood, and keeps me going for the rest of the day and evening.  If it’s nice outside, I’ll talk a walk.  The fresh air really helps and getting my heart rate up a little kicks my energy up a notch.  I sit at work for long amounts of time and work on a computer which often kills my energy.  Having this break and time to myself really pays off.  If I am too busy to fit this in, I’ll do it when I get home at night.  JessicaSmithTv on YouTube has tons of great low impact workouts to try as well and they are free.  I am not a morning person, but I am sure a little exercise in the morning can rev you up for the day too.
  3. Ask Your Doctor about Deplin: Deplin is a prescription medical food that can help fight fatigue caused by depression.  It contains l-methylfolate, an active form of folate (B vitamin).  L-methylfolate is different from non-prescription folic acid which has to be activated by the body before it can be used.  Up to 70% of people with depression have limited ability to complete this activation.  I began Deplin about a year and a half ago and I noticed a change in my fatigue right away.  It can also help other symptoms of depression.  I encourage you to ask your doctor.  This could be one of your tickets to a happy and energized life.
  4. Reduce Stress: Stress is a total energy zapper.  I still struggle with fatigue when I’ve had a taxing day at work.  I’ve found meditating to be helpful.  I use an app on my phone called Insight Timer to help me.  My mind tends to wander when I try to do it on my own.  Listening to guided meditations on this app keeps me in the moment.  I also use a HeartMath monitor.  It is a techie way to meditate.  It monitors your heart rate as you follow a visual to control your breathing.  It doesn’t take long to reap the benefits.  Essential oils are great too.  I like to use a diffuser next to my bed with lavender, bergamot, or rose for relaxation.  Reach out and ask for help when your feeling stressed.  When work becomes too much for me, I raise my hand and ask for help.  I am a little Type A and a perfectionist, but I’ve learned that I don’t need to pretend like I’m Superwomen.  It’s ok to ask for help when you need it.
  5. Get Proper Nutrition: Nutrition is key in controlling fatigue.  Pay attention to what you are putting in your body.  Processed food will deplete your vitality.  Sugar will give you a temporary boost, but then you’ll crash and burn out.  I’ve recently found a super convenient and yummy way to get nutrients in the form of a super food shake.  It has been extremely helpful in getting over the last bit of fatigue that was holding on to me.  It has as much nutrients as three plated organic meals. I feel like I hit the jackpot.  I had been looking for a meal replacement for a while, but I couldn’t find a clean one until I was introduced by a friend to these gems.  I was spending hours on the weekend planning and prepping food for the week which got old fast.  This plan requires much less effort and the results have blown me away.

What are your weapons against fatigue?  I would love to hear your tips and tricks to stop fatigue in the comments.  If you are interested in learning more about my nutrition plan, please reach out.  I would love to give you the scoop.

 

 

 

 

Bipolar and Infertility: Haven’t I been given enough already?

shutterstock_427218448During the first five years of marriage, starting a family was kind of off the table.  I was struggling so terribly with depression and anxiety that I couldn’t handle even the thought of trying to take care of a child.  I could hardly take care of myself at times.  The fatigue was so bad that it took everything I had to get out of bed and finish a day of work.  I was so exhausted by the time I got home that often I could not prepare dinner and do the dishes.  I was having serious trouble sleeping and just functioning on a daily basis.  When I thought about trying to get pregnant, I had so many fears.  How would I be able to function if I was getting up with a baby at night?  Not to mention my anxiety about trying to stop meds to have a healthy baby in the first place.  And what about postpartum depression?  Having bipolar puts me in a higher risk category.  What if I had another serious episode and had to be hospitalized?  What if I became psychotic while I was alone with the baby?  It all just seemed too risky for me.

 

I’ve wanted to have a family for as long as I can remember.  If you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I was younger, I would have told you I wanted to be a mother.  I had no interest in a career.  I just wanted to stay home and raise babies.  My mother worked as a preschool teacher at daycare centers and later ran a center out of our home.  I loved being around kids.  I would often visit her at the daycare after school and I would go straight to the baby room to fawn over them.  When I got older I became very close with my nephew.  I spent as much time as I could with him in my twenties.  He would spend weekends at my apartment.  I took him on trips to see my mom and stepdad in Florida.  I took him to Disney World.  I took him everywhere with me.  He was the most important person in my life.  He did not have a relationship with my brother and something in me told me I needed to be there for him no matter what.  I made sure he knew his other side of the family.  I spoiled him with affection, toys, clothes, anything he wanted.  I mothered him in a way.  When his parents decided he should move to Maryland with my brother, I cried my eyes out.  He brought so much joy to my life during some of my most darkest days.

 

In 2012, Chad and I decided I would stop meds to try to have a baby.  I tapered off for a couple weeks, one day on and one day off, which was sometimes excruciating.  I had terrible withdrawals from the antipsychotic.  On the nights I didn’t take it, I would barely sleep, waking up every hour with anxiety.  I had horrible dreams and night sweats.  It was rough.  Eventually it got easier and I functioned pretty well for five months before relapsing with a fairly intense episode of anxiety.  I promptly went back on meds and felt defeated.  That’s when my friend found a naturopath in the area that treated mental illness with high doses of vitamins.  I started the therapy and eight months later I tried stopping meds again.  This time I started with the antidepressant since I had such a terrible time with the antipsychotic.  Three months later I was struggling with depression and anxiety.  I was having trouble working so I went back on.  The vitamin regimen was tough.  I took up to 65 pills a day.  I had to take them at specific times so I always had a bag of pills with me and set alarms on my phone.  Sometimes I had to take powders mixed with juice and one in particular made me vomit as soon as I took it so I had to take like 15 pills instead.  For the entire 15 months I was on them, I had to avoid processed carbohydrates or I would have terrible diarrhea. Often I would have intestinal upset even if I didn’t have the processed carbs.  I was fed up so I stop seeing that doctor and resigned to my regular medication.  

 

A couple months later Chad and I saw a perinatal specialist to see if it would be safe for me to stay on meds during pregnancy.  She went over the risks and decided since I had a history of psychosis that the benefits outweighed the risks. I still had concerns because both meds I was on are pregnancy category C which means they don’t really know because there is not enough research since scientists can’t ethically perform drug testing on pregnant women.  I struggled a lot with the decision, but Chad wanted to go for it and after a lot of thought and prayers I decided that I couldn’t keep living in fear.  I decided that I only have one life and I didn’t want to regret not trying.  We started trying right away.  After a year I saw my gynecologist to see if anything was wrong.  I went through the tests he recommended.  They checked Chad and he was better than normal (super sperm).  The hysterosalpingogram checked to see if my tubes were open and they were.  The post coital test checked how the sperm interacted with me and it was normal.  I also had surgery to check for endometriosis.  The doctor said I was as pretty on the inside as I was on the outside which made me smile (my doc is the sweetest).  We kept trying for a while since they didn’t find anything wrong, but then took a break for six months because I had another bipolar episode which was heartbreaking.

 

In January of 2017, we decided to see a fertility specialist.  They did blood work and checked my tubes again.  Everything came back normal.  We tried a cycle of the fertility drug Clomid and intrauterine insemination, but didn’t get the positive pregnancy test we were expecting.  The doctor said my uterine lining was too thin so we tried another drug called Femara and IUI again.  Again I didn’t get knocked up.  It was beyond frustrating.  I had a cyst the following month so I could not take any fertility meds then we took a vacation and I had to travel for work so we missed three months of treatments.  We then decided to try a bigger practice in Cincinnati that was recommended by a friend.  We chose to try the drug Femara again with injections to improve our chances.  Chad had to give me shots in my stomach seven times and we did IUI again.  I started my period the day before the start of vacation which was hard to take.  Currently I am trying the Whole30 diet (some have had success with it ) for a while before we do another IUI or decide on IVF.  We haven’t made up our minds about IVF because of the cost and the doctors think I might not be getting good quality eggs.  So if the egg isn’t healthy, IVF will not work.  My age doesn’t help things.  They have suggested donor eggs, but that is super expensive and neither of us want to have someone else’s child.  We’ve discussed adoption, but Chad is not too keen on it and I don’t know if they would consider me to be a good parent because of my mental illness.

 

This experience has not been easy.  It keeps me up at night (a lot).  I carry a lot of guilt for not being able to give Chad a child.  I feel like my illness has taken a lot from us, years of our life, the wedding we had planned, and now possibly our chance to have children.  If we would have started earlier, we would have had better chances.  All I can do now is have faith that God has this.  I am not in control.  Maybe he has a different plan.  Maybe I couldn’t handle it with my illness.  Maybe he is protecting me.  He works in mysterious ways and for now I am just trying to stay positive and keep believing in miracles.

 

Book Introduction

pexels-photo

I am about 1/3 of the way done with my first book.  Hoping to complete by December 2017.  Just decided on the title…Bipolar is a Bitch: One chick’s journey from Crazyville to kick ass mental wellness.

I found out about my Bipolar Type II diagnosis from a piece of paper.  I had been off meds for about 5 months when I starting having severe anxiety and difficulty sleeping.  I was only sleeping a couple hours a night and was having extreme highs and lows.  One minute I thought I had the solution to all of my problems and the next I felt like I wanted to die.  I was completely freaked out and tried desperately to get in to see my psychiatrist.  Problem is she has too many patients so she is always overbooked.  It took about a week to get in to see her.  I had written down everything that I had been experiencing for the past week and read it to my doctor.  She told me to take a week off work to let the meds get into my system.  As I was leaving I looked down and saw Bipolar II on my visit report.  It was like someone stabbed a knife in my chest.  What?!?  I have Bipolar?  I immediately got defensive.  I don’t have Bipolar!  That doctor is a quack!  For years I had been trying to find excuses for my mental issues.  When my head started to slow down, the diagnosis began to sink in.  As I looked back at my life, I could see the cycles.  It made sense.  It felt so final.  This is it.  I am stuck with this for the rest of my life.  It made me feel separate, different, and even more alone.

From that day on, I have been on a mission to find ways to manage my illness other than just popping pills and praying they work.  By the time I received the diagnosis, I had tried a litany of medications (I could start a side business with the leftovers).  I was even prescribed GHB for sleep (Yes, the date rape drug.  It didn’t help).  I spent a couple years in psychoanalysis which proved to cause more harm than good.   I’ve experimented with alternative therapies as well.  Cranial sacral therapy, reiki, and yoga. All of which did provide some relief.  I was determined to get off meds at one point to start a family so I donated ten grand to a naturopath that promised to cure my illness with high doses of amino acids.  Instead of relieving my symptoms permanently, it gave me nausea and diarrhea for months while I took up to 65 pills a day.  Ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when the runs hit you in the middle of a work meeting.  Good times.  I’ve tried gluten-free, sugar-free, paleo, and veganism.  Cleanses are not my friends.  I once eliminated all gluten, sugar, dairy, meat, caffeine, and alcohol.  I became so depressed after three weeks that only a cheeseburger and milkshake could ease the pain.  These restrictive diets caused even more symptoms.  I’ve learned that changing my diet so drastically affects my mood and energy in a big, not so great way.

My search for alternative therapies led me to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  I took their year long health coach certification training.  The program taught me ways to bring more balance into my life like focusing on what they call primary foods; healthy relationships, physical activity, a fulfilling career, and a spirituality practice.  I learned over 100 dietary theories and studied with the world’s top health and wellness experts.  I gained a wealth of knowledge from this program and it gave me something positive to focus on during a time when I had almost lost hope.  The program helped me discover that listening to my intuition and eating in a more balanced way provides more positive shifts in my health.  It also taught me how to coach others using a holistic approach to health and wellness.

I’ve learned a lot on this journey and my hope for this book is the show others they are not alone and there are better ways to manage symptoms than the standard protocol of most doctors and therapists.  I’ll take you through the ups and downs, the good and the ugly, the road into madness, and the path to recovery.  I spent many years feeling completely alone with my illness and trying desperately to cover it up.  I’ve found that owning it and sharing my story with others gave me my power back and put me back into control of my life.  Shedding light on mental illness, fighting stigma, and showing others how to recover has become my passion and I truly believe it is my purpose in life.  If you are struggling with any mental health condition, I believe you will find my story comforting and helpful in your recovery, and hopefully a little humorous.