Book Introduction

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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.   

What Recovery Looks Like

shutterstock_578764816I say I am in recovery, but what does that look like?  Recovery takes work.  I still have good days and bad days.  I still struggle with sleep and sometimes don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning.  I still have some anxiety and mild depression.  I still have slight mood swings.  On those days when I’ve gotten very little sleep, I try to sleep in and go into work a little later or work from home.  I am lucky that my boss is cool with that.  I’ve been open with him about my illness and he knows that I will get my work done.  I will put in extra hours if needed to make up my time, but I put my health first.  I don’t push myself because I know that can trigger an episode.  I know my triggers and I’ve learned what I need to do to stay on track.

I take my medications religiously.  I’ve been on the same antidepressant and antipsychotic for the past 4 years.  My psychiatrist had me take a DNA test to see what meds work best for me and it has been a lifesaver.  I have very few side effects from my meds and they help control the majority of my symptoms.  I don’t rely solely on my meds though. I take a lot of supplements.  Currently I am taking a multivitamin, vitamins D and C, a B complex, fish oil, magnesium citrate, 5htp, and l-methylfolate.  I feel like an old lady when I break out all of my pills after with dinner.  L-methylfolate has been a game changer for me.  It helped relieve the lingering depression and fatigue.  If any of you are taking an antidepressant, but still struggling with these symptoms, I encourage you to try it.  The brand name is Deplin.

I also watch what I put into my body.  I drink very little caffeine.  Cutting out coffee has helped my fatigue tremendously.  I’ve found that keeping my blood sugar balanced helps balance my moods and energy.  Coffee made my blood sugar drop which made me hungry and cranky.  Too much caffeine also increased my anxiety and insomnia.  If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or insomnia I encourage you to ditch your cup of joe.  The benefits are totally worth it and if you find the right decaf, it is not so bad.  I’ve recently given up alcohol as well.  I haven’t had wine in seven months and I stopped drinking beer six weeks ago.  Alcohol makes me bitchy and drowsy.  I’ve learned that it is not a good idea to mix booze with meds.  It affects my mood significantly.  It might be fun for a few hours, but the effect it has on my emotional well being is just not worth it to me. I’ve found that I can still have fun without it and I’d rather be sober and completely alert than drunk, tired, and moody.

As far as nutrition goes, I try to watch my sugar intake which is tricky for me since I have a sweet tooth.  Instead of reaching for a cookie or candy bar, I’ve been eating fruit.  My favorites are strawberries, cantaloupe, and grapes.  I do still have the occasional dessert, but I don’t do it on a daily basis anymore.  Most of our dinners are paleo, basically meat and vegetables.  I find that eating this way helps keep my blood sugar in check which balances my moods and energy.  I am getting ready to start a strict paleo diet for three months called Whole30.  No gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, or processed foods.  My husband and I have done it before, but for only 30 days.  We are doing it longer this time with hope that it will help my fertility issues.  It is not an easy diet to follow, but we are motivated to stick to it.

I also see my therapist every 2-3 weeks just to check in to see how I am doing.  I’ve found that it is difficult for me to assess how I am doing sometimes, especially when I am in the middle of an episode.  My therapist can help me see things that I may not notice day to day and uncover areas that need some work.  When I find myself feeling anxious, I do breathing exercises, a guided meditation, or use my HearthMath monitor to calm myself down.  This usually helps me sleep.  I’ve recently started taking yoga which is also great for relaxation.  I am also in the process of writing a book about my illness and recovery.  This is exciting for me and has given me something positive to focus on.  Working on the book and writing in this blog is a passion of mine and is definitely therapeutic.  My goal is to help others recover and feel less alone as well as fight stigma.

I am by no means perfect.  Recovery is a process and I will be working at it for the rest of my life.  I still stumble and sometimes fall, but I get up, dust myself off, and keep going.

 

Book Preview

So when did it all begin?  Well I was a fussy baby and very sensitive from the start.  I had severe separation anxiety, so much that my mom quit her job and started working at my daycare center.  I was so sensitive that my mom had to literally drag me to first grade sometimes because I thought my teacher was mean.  If I didn’t get my way I would throw tantrums, like the time I threw my best friend’s jelly shoes at her because she wouldn’t let me wear them.  I was a moody little shit sometimes and always a little anxious, but nothing to be overly concerned with.  I didn’t say much because I was super shy and still am somewhat to this day.  It is easier for me to type my thoughts and feelings than it is to talk about them.

 

My first major depressive episode started my senior year in high school as my parents were getting divorced.  It hit me like a ton of bricks and by the end of my senior year my dad was living over four hours away and I wasn’t speaking to my mother.  It felt like I lost my family overnight.  Then I tried to go to college near my dad, but I hated being so far away from my friends and boyfriend.   I felt completely alone on campus.  I cried my eyes out when my boyfriend and dad left me there.  I only lasted a week.  I went back to my hometown and stayed at my boyfriend’s parents’ for a few months.  I still struggled even though I was back home.  My boyfriend worked a lot so on the weekends I would spend hours in bed watching tv.  I stopped hanging out with my friends and often found myself crying for no reason.  When I would visit my dad, I would stay up late by myself crying because it felt so strange not having my family together.  Holidays were the worst.  I dreaded them.  The first year out of high school was painful, but I never thought about seeing a doctor.  I never thought that there was something wrong with me, but clearly there was.

 

I struggled with my self esteem in college. I went on birth control which gave me some small broken capillaries on my legs which I thought was the end of the world.  I obsessed about them constantly.  I would hide my legs, wearing long pants even in the summer.  I was convinced I was ugly, stupid, and worthless.  I never spoke up in class for fear of what others would think.  I was so distracted with my negative self talk that I had a hard time focusing on school work.  I still got decent grades, but I am sure I could have done better if I wasn’t dealing with such nonsense in my head.  I had a difficult time picking a major because I was convinced that I was too stupid to do anything.  I settled ironically on Psychology because I was interested in it and the bachelors of arts didn’t require much math or science.  Even though I studied mental health, for some reason it didn’t click that I was mentally ill.  I did very well in my classes and I knew all of the signs or symptoms, but it never occurred to me that I needed help.
It all came to a head as graduation approached.  I had to figure what I was going to do to make a living.  Since I felt like I was an idiot, I didn’t know what I was going to do.  I interviewed for jobs in my field and was offered one to work in a group home for children with emotional and behavioral problems, but I turned it down because I didn’t feel like I was emotionally equipped to handle it.  The stress of looking for a job took it’s toll on me.  My immune system was affected and I ended up at the doctor twice in one month with swollen glands.  The doctor thought I might have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which of course made me freak out even more.  It ended up being a virus that caused me to breakout with canker sores in my mouth and throat.  It was extremely painful I could hardly eat for days.  My anxiety was at an all time high and I ended up seeing my doctor about it.  She asked me if I had typical symptoms of anxiety and depression and I think I said yes to every single one on the list.  I was crying hysterically. I did not want to admit that there was something wrong.  At this point I was very good at pretending everything was fine.  I was a great actress.  I had been clinically depressed for five years and I don’t think anyone around me knew.  I didn’t want to admit it to myself and for some reason I felt like I would be letting my dad down.  My doctor prescribed an antidepressant and I started feeling better a couple weeks later.  It kicked in when I went to Florida to visit my mom and stepdad.  I was like turning on a light switch.  Oh, this is what life is supposed to me like!  It made me realize just how sick I was.  I felt like a kid again.  Every experience felt like it was happening for the first time.  I was in love with life and for the first time truly happy.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was probably experiencing a little euphoric mania induced by the antidepressant.

Escapism

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All of us have our ways we try to escape from our problems.  Some do this more often than others, but I feel most people can relate to this in some way.  My escaping techniques or ways I’ve numbed my feelings have included smoking, drinking, eating, spending, love, work, and social media.  For others it is television, role playing games, gambling, or drugs.  No matter what it is, we use it as a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions or disconnect from reality.  It is a way to anesthetize, a distraction, a temporary exit from life’s problems.  When you are trying to escape from depression, things can get out of control.  Addictions and mental illness go hand and hand.

As I child I turned to food for comfort.  Junk food became my friend when I was lonely or sad.  I would overeat when I was alone and bored.  I would plow through a bag of Doritos while I watched tv.  I would eat huge bowls of sugary cereal and boxes of cookies or cupcakes.  When I was dealing with anxiety and not able to sleep as an adult, I would eat loads of cookies or granola bars.  I would make special trips to the convenience store for sweets or a fast food drive-thru and eat secretly in my car.  I would obsess over food.  I would wake up thinking about what my next meal would be.  I was eating my feelings and I still struggle with it somewhat today.  If I try to restrict myself too much, I end up bingeing on unhealthy foods.  At the end of a strict diet last year, I went straight to a fast food restaurant for a hamburger and fries then to the gas station for packaged cupcakes.  I would pay for this junk food with a credit card that my husband didn’t know about because I was ashamed of what I was doing.  I would feel incredibly guilty after a binge and beat myself up over it.  I was a certified health coach who clearly didn’t have my diet under control.  These unhealthy habits increased when I tried to quit one of my other addictions like smoking.  I was trading one for the other.

I started smoking when I was in high school, but I never really considered myself addicted to it.  I didn’t smoke every day.  I mostly did it when I drank alcohol.  That all changed after my first psychotic episode.  I became severely addicted to it.  I smoked up to a pack a day when I was dealing with high stress and anxiety.  My life revolved around it.  All I could think about was my next cigarette.  Chad hates it so I would hide it from him.  I was constantly sneaking around and feeling guilty.  I finally decided to quit this year when I was told it could be affecting my fertility.  It took a couple tries, but I can thankfully now say that I have been off smokes for the last month.  Trying desperately to keep it up while not letting myself eat everything in sight.

In my twenties it was drinking and love.  I was a weekend warrior.  I would binge drink every weekend night.  When I was single, my nights were spent in downtown drinking up to 10 vodka and sodas a night along with a couple shots of liquor.  I would often leave the bar with strangers and stay up all night partying.  Needless to say I put myself in some seriously risky situations.  During one of these drunken nights, I met a man 12 years older than me and began a long, unhealthy relationship.  He caught me as I was ending a serious relationship.  I was super vulnerable and he preyed on my insecurities.  One minute I was the love of his life and the next he would be sleeping with other women.  He was a serial cheater and I was putting myself in some serious danger, but I stayed because my self-esteem was so low that I convinced myself nobody else would love me.  He lied to me about a lot of stuff including his two divorces.  We were together a year before he told me about these marriages.  I finally decided to end it when he told me he would never marry again or have children.  My desire to have children was stronger than my need to be loved by him.  Later I found out some super scary things about him.  I seriously dodged a bullet.

I’ve also had my issues with spending.  When I was manic I would overspend on food, booze, and clothes.  I racked up some debt on credit cards in my twenties that took me about five years to pay off.  I shopped at expensive stores with money I didn’t have.  I would go out to nice dinners with friends and spend some serious cash at the bar.  I would use my credit card or my father’s.  I had no concept of money.  I took vacations I couldn’t afford. If it wasn’t for my dad, I don’t know how I would have put a roof over my head.  I have to watch myself still.  It helps that I have a husband who is a saver.  I still have my moments, but I have come a long way.

So how do you avoid getting caught up in addictions?  I am still trying to figure that all out, but I think the answer lies in facing your problems head on.  I call this Sitting in your Shit.  Sitting in your pain, feeling your emotions no matter how much it hurts.  When you stop escaping, the pain can be intense, but you have to work through it to move on.  I’ve found that meditation, reiki, and exercise can be helpful, also having a good support system.  NAMI support groups were very beneficial to me.  I sometimes would just sit and cry through the entire meeting which helped me release some of my negative emotions. If you are struggling with bipolar and substance abuse, check out this free resource: www.drugrehab.com/co-occurring-disorder/bipolar/ www.advancedrecoverysystems.com/treatment-overview/co-occurring-disorders/.

Spirituality

IMG_0675I thought a lot about religion and spirituality after my first experience with psychosis.  I spent months sorting out in my mind what experiences were real and what were delusions.  The religious delusions actually scared me into thinking I had to be a perfect Christian to prevent it from happening again.  I was raised a Christian, but it wasn’t a huge part of my upbringing and as I got older we spent less time at church.  I did attend church often with a friend and her family while I was in junior high school and I enjoyed it, but it always had a way of making me feel that I wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t have anyone that would attend church with me after my hospital stay and I didn’t want to go by myself, so I spent most of my time reading about religion and scouring the internet for inspiration.  I spent countless hours on beliefnet.com reading articles and blogs.  The messages I found there brought me a lot of comfort and peace.  

Beliefnet.com is where I found Gabrielle Bernstein, a motivational speaker, life coach, and author.  I watched all of her video blogs on YouTube, read all of her books, and did her guided meditations.  Her messages were extremely helpful in my recovery.  She inspired me to find a different way to live and gave me hope.  I could relate to her because she was close to my age and was a former party girl.  She became a sort of guru to me.  I couldn’t wait until Monday when she would post a new video blog.  Gabrielle lead me to the spiritual textbook A Course in Miracles and A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson.  I listened to the audiobook Everyday Grace by Williamson several times in a row.  I became obsessed with turning my fear to love. I was on a freaking spiritual mission.  I couldn’t get enough.  I read so many spiritual books that I can’t count them.  A New Earth and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, to name a few. I also listened to the teachings of Abraham Hicks on the The Law of Attraction.  I watched Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday religiously every Sunday.  

The tools I learned from these people helped me develop a relationship with God.  This might sound like a strange way to find God, but it helped bring me closer to a higher power and find peace in my chaotic mind.  All of these teachings played an important role in my recovery.  They made me see that I wasn’t fighting my battles on my own, they showed me that I had someone in my corner pulling for me, that I wasn’t alone.  I tried to go back to the Christian church a few years ago.  I went with a friend for a few months, but it just didn’t click with me. It felt too strict and judgemental.  When the minister spoke out against same-sex marriage, I realized that it just wasn’t the place for me.  I felt more comfortable with my own spirituality practice at home.  It calmed my anxieties and showed me that I had a purpose.  It helped me accept the person that I am even with my flaws.  It helped me see that my illness as not a curse, but rather a gift.

5 Tips for Managing a Mental Health Condition at Work

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I originally wrote this as a blog submission for NAMI several months ago.  They asked for studies to support, but since I don’t do much research I had a difficult time finding them.  Work is hectic right now and this is a reminder for me and others to slow down and take care of you first…

 

During the past ten years, I’ve had a few episodes at work (including going into psychosis). I live with Bipolar Type II and I’ve been amazed by how it has been received in my workplace—they fully support me during my times of need. Along with medications and therapy, I’ve incorporated the following five tips to help me manage my mental health condition at work:

 

Breaks 

The majority of my work is done on the computer. If I sit too long staring at a screen, I start to feel a little wired, but fatigued at the same time. Whenever I start to feel this way, I get up and walk around, get a drink or a healthy snack, or have a quick chat with a co-worker. Getting a little exercise during the day can also help. We have a small gym in my office, and I like to walk on the treadmill during lunch breaks. This helps break up my day and give me a boost of energy. If you do not have exercise equipment at work, try walking outside or climbing the stairs.

 

Managing Stress 

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I focus on my breath. I do Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 exercise for relaxation. Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold it for seven counts and then exhale through your mouth while pressing your tongue against the back your front teeth for a count of eight. This helps to calm and center me. I’ve also found that listening to music while I work helps me relax and focus. 

 

Diet 

Making sure my blood sugar is balanced helps me balance my energy as well as my mood. I eat small meals every 2-3 hours and drink plenty of water. Try eating some snacks like hard boiled eggs and fruit or Greek yogurt and nuts. Steer clear of sugar and caffeine. Too much coffee or sweets can cause blood sugar to plummet.

 

Schedule 

Ask for accommodations if you need them. When I am struggling with sleep, I ask for adjustments to my schedule. My manager allows me to come in late and make up my hours. When my sleep is really off, I ask to work from home. I was even permitted to work from home for three months after an episode.

 

Know Your Limits 

I’ve found that my health plummets when I push myself too hard. One time, I went to work when I hadn’t slept in days and when I was adjusting to new medication and could barely stay awake. Now when my symptoms become too much to handle, I take it easy and take time off work. It has taken me a while to get to this point, but I know now that work is not worth risking my stability.

Spring Mania

My moods tend to align with the seasons these days.  In the spring I get slightly manic.  I am more energetic, have a hard time settling down to go to sleep, and tend to overspend, smoke too much, and overeat.  Unfortunately I don’t typically get the euphoric mania that makes you feel like you are on top of the world.  Mine is more the irritable kind.  I am grouchy and tired, but wired at the same time.  Last year I spent hundreds of dollars on really bright clothes that I will never wear.  If anyone knows me, they know I wear black often and mostly dull colors.  So I will not be caught dead in those loud outfits.  Not to mention they don’t fit because my weight dropped from my head bouncing all over the place.  Hit me up if you’re interested in them.

The following are some tips that I find to be helpful with controlling mania any time of the year.

Limit Caffeine – Drinking a Mountain Dew to stay awake for a college class threw me into a manic episode once.  I know it sounds nuts, but it really happened.  I cut back on caffeine last year.  I stopped drinking 2-4 cups of coffee a day and it really has changed my life.  Caffeine tends to throw me into overdrive then I crash and burn.  My fatigue has improved significantly by just switching to 1-2 cups of green tea with raw honey.

Limit Sugar – I was addicted to dark chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s last year. I started to notice when I ate them at night that my head started to race and I couldn’t sleep.  I also notice this when I eat cake and ice cream at birthday parties.  It just makes me hyper and unwell.

Exercise – It helps to burn off that extra energy and calm your mind.  Try doing some moderate cardio for a 1/2 hour or better yet take a walk in nature.  My head always feels clear after I spend a couple hours walking in the woods.  If only I had the time to do that right now!

Earthing or Grounding – Take advice from my mom and go stand in the grass in your bare feet.  Balance your energy by connecting to the Earth’s electrons.  Research has shown it can improve sleep, lower stress, and reduce inflammation.

Disconnect – Don’t use technology an hour before bedtime.  This includes, smartphones, television, and computers.  Try blue blocker glasses.  I just bought some because I spend a lot of time on the computer and smartphone.  The blue light from these devices suppress melatonin production which affects your sleep.

If all else fails or your mania is severe, call your doctor.  You may need a prescription change.  Ask friends and family members to keep an eye on you because often it is hard for one to tell when they are in a manic episode.  Sometimes it just feels like everything is going right and it is difficult for the person affected to see that it might be problematic.