The Big 4-0

IMG_12672018 has been a little bit of a rollercoaster so far.  I started it off sick with a sinus infection which was annoying.  I felt pretty rotten, but Chad would not let me cancel the little 40th birthday party he had planned.  He is so freaking stubborn.  I returned to work after 12 days off and it was quiet for a change.  I was busy, but it wasn’t crazy hectic like it normally is.  We had some bitterly cold days that had me wanting to stay in bed the whole day, but I didn’t.  I never do. No matter how I am feeling, I get up and “get my day going” as Chad likes to say.  For one thing Chad WILL NOT let me stay in bed.  No way.  Really though, even when I’ve been incredibly depressed, I have always pushed through.  I always got up.  I always went to work.  I have a strong will, sometimes too strong.  I have pushed through and continued on with things when I should have been taking care of myself.  That’s what caused me to go into psychosis at work 8 years ago. I am getting much better at it, but I still rarely take a sick day.  If I stay home sick, I still work basically all day.  Anyway…I’ve been having a midlife crisis of sorts.  Turning 40 triggered something in me.  It has me reevaluating everything in my life.  I mean EVERYTHING.  It also triggered a mini Bipolar episode.  I say mini because I caught it before it got out of control.

Turning 40 without children has been fucking hard.  I am not going to lie.  This is not the life I pictured for myself when I was younger.  I am really good a faking it, having this facade that life is good and fun all the time and I’ve got my shit together, but that number started to make my head spin.  I started putting all this pressure on myself.  OK, this is it.  This is your last year to try to have a baby.  You’ve gotta figure this out right now!      Then the fear kicked in.  You can’t give birth to a healthy child with this illness.  You can’t raise a child and work full time with this illness.  How can you take care of another human when there are times when you can barely take care of yourself?  I’ve been conflicted about starting a family for years.  I have a lot of fears.  That’s probably part of the reason why I haven’t been able to conceive even with the assistance of fertility treatments.  I haven’t had the right energy around having a baby.  I’m fully aware of that.

So…along with this pressure and fear came some depression.  I started to feel very apathetic which is not like me at all.  I usually care too much.  I started to lose hope and I started to feel trapped.  I began to want to isolate.  I felt like I was alone in the world.  I started to focus on all the things that make me feel separate from the rest of the world.  I no longer drink alcohol (I’ve given it up for good this time, 6 weeks alcohol free!) and sometimes that makes me feel like an alien at social events.  That and not having children to talk about with other women my age frequently makes me feel like I’m from another planet in social situations.  I live in a small suburban town in Ohio.  Literally everyone around me has kids and drinks on the weekends (at least).  The depression lasted about a week then the mania kicked in.  I was rapid cycling (going from depression to mania quickly).  The mania showed up as wanting to spend money on shit I didn’t need, obsessively cleaning out my closet and wanting to get rid of half my clothes, having zero appetite, and insomnia.  I barely sat down or ate anything last Sunday. When I had trouble sleeping that night and felt like my head was in the clouds on Monday, I knew I had to do something.

I called my psychiatrist and had him increase my antipsychotic to stabilize my mood.  The higher dose put the smack down on the mania instantly.  Praise Jesus for atypical antipsychotics!  It could have been a lot worse if I let it continue and didn’t call my doctor.  While we are on the topics of meds, I want to clear something up.  Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them I take medication because I am so focused on having a clean lifestyle.  I have been on medication consistently for the last 5 years.  It has greatly improved my quality of life.  I’ve tried in the past to go without meds and it has not worked for me.  I went to the Cleveland Clinic and saw a Functional Medicine doctor for the sole purpose of stopping meds.  Functional Medicine looks that the root cause of illness.  I had a shit ton of tests done to see if there was some underlying problem causing my illness, they found nothing and the doctor advised me to stay on a mood stabilizer for the rest of my life.  She told me even if I ate perfect organic paleo meals, I would still need to be on meds.  Now don’t get me wrong, cleaning up your diet and lifestyle helps a ton, but it may not always keep you sane.  That is not a risk I am willing to take right now. Due to my history of psychosis, I have chosen to stay on meds.

So…I am just taking it day by day now.  I’m doing much better than I was a week ago and I am grateful for that. I am blessed to have family and friends that support me and a doctor who actually listens and cares.  I thank God that we have excellent health insurance and can afford everything I need to take care of myself.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I realize that I have it easy compared to others that struggle with mental health issues.  My prayer is that one day everyone will have access to to the medical care they need.  I also pray that my words help people feel less alone and give them courage to speak up about mental illness instead of being ashamed.  That is what it is all about friends.

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.

 

Food and Mood

So here I am once again trying to play with my diet to see if it makes a difference.  I’ve been attempting to get off caffeine, gluten, and dairy for the last couple of weeks.  So far it has been going well, but I am definitely craving some comfort food.  Eliminating caffeine has been fairly easy.  I just tapered down for a couple of days then stopped.  Wow, what a difference it has made in my energy level!  It is easy to stay on track when you immediately get results. If you are struggling with fatigue, you should experiment with cutting out caffeine.  Fatigue has been the one symptom I haven’t been able to shake, but this seems to be doing the trick. Gluten has been tricky because it is seemingly in everything and I’ve had long love affairs with bagels and pizza.  I haven’t had much time to prep and cook my own meals so I’ve been living off veggies, hummus, and nuts during the day then cooking a meal in the evening.  Dairy hasn’t been too bad so far, but again I keep fantasizing about Donato’s  pizza.

So why gluten and dairy?  I’ve done a lot of reading about diet and mental illness and I keep seeing gluten and casein (protein found in milk) as being the culprit in many mental illnesses.  I got my health coach certificate from The Institute of Integrative Nutrition last year and I was introduced to Dr. Mark Hyman in my studies.  I read his book “The UltraMind Solution” and he suggests getting rid of all processed, high-sugar foods and the two main allergens (gluten and dairy).  He has seen depression and anxiety symptoms improve in his patients while on this diet.  So I am working on these two then it will be my crutch, sugar.  I’ve grown to love Dr. Hyman so much that I’ve made an appointment at The Cleveland Clinic Center of Functional Medicine where he is the director.  I’ll be meeting with a functional medicine doctor, a nutritionist, and health coach.  I’m super excited!  Hoping to see if I can manage my illness through diet and lifestyle changes and get rid of meds while we try to conceive again.  If you’re interested in reading about food and mental illness, you should also check out “Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection” by Leslie Korn and “Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter.

These drastic changes to my diet can sometimes be a struggle since eating has been one of my coping mechanisms when dealing with depression and anxiety.  I’ve turned to food often in the past to comfort myself.  Giving my favorite foods up has always been difficult for me (especially when I’m not smoking). So I am slowly learning how to deal and trying to find healthy foods to love.  I’m hoping to see some improvements in the next month or so.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.