Archive | April, 2013

“Honesty Leading to Transformation” by Bret Bernhoft

30 Apr
By Bret Bernhoft, from the Being Bipolar blog (

“One of the hardest parts for me about adapting to this disorder is the continual process ‘being honest’ with myself. But about what and why is it so hard?

For so long I had avoided my illness and managed to do so quite successfully too; or at least I thought so. But, it wasn’t until I was honest with myself and realized what (personal responsibility), why (lack of strength) and how (ignoring) I was avoiding. It was after I reached the point of ‘not being willing to endure any more pain’ that I found my strength. It was after I reached this point that I realized my simple task, ‘To be honest with myself meant accepting my present situation and verbalizing my goal(s).’ That’s it.

I accepted that I was mentally ill and that I was in a great deal of pain. My goal was to rise above that state of being.

This was hard for a number of reasons, but in large part because of the momentum that my previous identity/reality had achieved, both inside and outside of myself. That identity was one of ‘being in control’ and neutrality. But in reality I wasn’t even aware of the chaos inside of myself. That’s why it was hard to be honest with myself about these kinds of things, because of the amount of energy that I expected to be required to transform exceeded what I thought was possible.

But, I found that the benefits of honesty and of transformation also exceeded my understanding of what was possible; a more permanent clarity.”

Incidentally: this is the absolute best thing I could possibly have stumbled upon on this particular day. Not being honest has been a fundamental obstacle in my recovery, and I am only now beginning to appreciate the need to address it. Thank you Mr. Bernhoft.

Amber Alert

26 Apr

I’m having a rough patch. I can look at in two ways. The first way is that I’m a mess who is never going to get her shit together and woe is me it’s so hard. The second, more constructive way, is to acknowledge that as much as I’m struggling right now, I haven’t fallen to pieces and as long as I get and keep my sleep cycle under control, I am not going to find myself giving in to the Swamps of Sadness–which for anyone who’s never seen the 1984 fantasy classic The Neverending Story, is this:

I used to cry my eyes out during that scene.

Anyhoo: I’m not doing great, but I’m still on a somewhat even keel, except I’m having the worst insomnia I’ve had in a very, very long time. Once I get that under control, I’ll be almost somewhat okay.

Unfortunately, my appetite has dwindled. Food isn’t appetizing and my stomach’s in knots. This morning, I stared at my breakfast and actually felt repulsed. I’ve never had an eating disorder but I think I may have achieved some empathy today.

I also keep clenching my jaw. Not exactly grinding my teeth, but certainly applying pressure.

But I’m up. I’m showered. I’m cleaning and cooking and doing things. I’m not having any flashbacks or thoughts about hurting myself.

I think of mood management as a ship at sea. Sometimes the waters are clear and calm. Sometimes they’re choppy. Just try to keep the damn ship upright.

So: how do we do that in this particularly stormy time?

1. SLEEP CYCLE. That needs to be addressed posthaste. To whit: limit consumption of coffee to one cup in the morning. Begin winding down for bed two hours before intended bedtime. Benedryl and sleepy time tea. I hate sleeping pills, so I work with what I’ve got. This isn’t going to be easy, but if I keep at it for a couple of days, I’m confident I can get it under control.

2. Once the insomnia is in check and I no longer wake up embarrassingly late in the day feeling like I was hit by a bus, back to exercising. Walks in Forest Park are excellent for both fitness and general peace of mind.

3. Take a hiatus from reading about and engaging in the culture wars online, and limit my news consumption to local and international current events. I’ll skim the headlines on the national stuff, but nothing more in depth than that.

4. Go back to my support group–I missed it last week because I’m embarrassed to be around people when I’m like this, but that’s the entire goddamn point of the support group, so I need to put my big girl panties on and engage.

5. Answer my phone when it rings and answer texts when they come. I let my phone die and ignored it for two days. No more of that.

6. Lots of reminders to pause, take a diaphragmatic breath, and be mindful about whatever loopiness my mind is currently producing.

7. Stop watching dark messed up shit like Hemlock Grove. If a television show, film, or piece of writing gets even slightly rape-y, immediately put it aside and cleanse the palate with lighter fare. Watch and read enjoyable things; my sweet spot is standup comedy.

8. Make myself eat light things that can get me through the day, such as bananas and yogurt. Carbs and meat are too heavy and sit in my stomach.

9. Do the dishes and laundry. Once I break through the inertia and start, it’s actually quite soothing.

We’ll start there and build on it in a few days when things are more manageable. I’m stoked.

“The Boston Marathon Bombings: You Don’t Have to Watch the Media Coverage” by Julie Fast

18 Apr
From the blog Bipolar Happens by Julia Fast:

“Regarding the bombings at the Boston Marathon in the United States

It’s so important to remember that we don’t have to follow the news if
it upsets us. We can read about it next week- or ask others for an

A 24 hour CNN stream of the aftermath of this event is detrimental if you are not doing well.

If you are upset right now, I highly suggest staying off the internet
and turning off the TV. That is what I do. Anxiety, especially OCD,
paranoia, fear, depression and worry about the future can be triggered. I
always remind myself that I can learn about a world event and then let it
go. If donations are needed, I always find it helps to support an
organization like the Red Cross.”

“What Patients Say Works for Bipolar Disorder” by Alexandra Carmichael

15 Apr
From the blog 23andMe:

“Some of the most effective treatments for bipolar disorder reported by patients are not drugs, according to a new study by CureTogether, a free resource owned by 23andMe that allows people to share information about their health and treatments.

People in the study said they found that lifestyle changes like exercising, reducing alcohol intake, and having a defined sleep schedule were the most effective. The exception, according to those surveyed, was the drug Lamictal. Conversely some popular treatments such as Prozac, Wellbutrin, and anti-depressants in general, were among the least effective, according to the study. These are all treatments suggested and reported by patients, so some redundancy in the terms used is to be expected. In addition, the term “treatment” in this study refers to anything patients describe using to help them feel better whether it is an offically prescribed medical treatment or not.

Most Effective Rated Treatments for People with Bipolar Disorder

1. Regimented sleep
2. Reduce alcohol
3. Exercise
4. Lamictal
5. Sunlight
6. Yoga
7. Psychotherapy
8. Mindfulness meditation
9. Small, frequent snacks
10. Self-tracking

More than five million Americans are affected by bipolar disorder every year, and two-thirds of people with this disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with major depression — evidence that the disease has a heritable component. Finding treatments that work well can be a challenge, so CureTogether asked people suffering from Bipolar Disorder to rate the effectiveness of different treatments.

CureTogether’s study compiled responses from 301 people with Bipolar Disorder, who rated the effectiveness of 45 different treatments. Among the most helpful treatments were yoga, mindfulness meditation, sunlight, and the drug Lamictal. Also highly effective for those in the study were journaling and self-tracking. The people in the study also said that Celexa, Abilify, and Risperdal — all prescription drugs — were not as effective, and were reported to actually make the condition worse.

Where did this data come from? This is the result of a four-year CureTogether study on Bipolar Disorder, in which people living with the condition shared information about their symptoms and what treatments worked best for them. We’d like to thank those who participated. And just as they shared their experience with treatments, we’re freely and openly sharing the results of the Bipolar study.

This is part of a regular series of CureTogether research findings. CureTogether’s research findings are different than those made by 23andMe, which look at genetic associations with illness, traits and drug response. But as we continue our work with the CureTogether community, 23andMe hopes to incorporate more of this kind of self-reported information into our own research. CureTogether present its findings just as they are — patient-reported data — to stimulate discussion and generate new insights for further research.”


9 Apr

I have a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. on the cover of the binder I use for all of my mental health info. It reads:

If you can’t fly, then run.

If you can’t run, then walk.

If you can’t walk, then crawl.

But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Woke up from an unpleasant dream with the image of a helpless baby seal with a broken flipper (don’t ask) stuck in my head. Began my morning ritual: coffee, news, Facebook. My instincts said: you should not go on Facebook today. I ignored my own advice and am now working to gain control over the second panic attack of the day.

I have family issues and the very first post on my feed was a picture directly reminding me of them; people I dearly love but have had to remove from my life because they were detrimental to my mental equilibrium. Like a shot in the solar plexus: oof. My heart rate ramped up almost immediately. I breathed diaphragmatically to try and slow it down. Having just consumed a cup of coffee didn’t help.

Normally, my response when this sort of thing happens in the morning is to surrender and hide for the duration of the day. But today I thought of that quote. I remembered the excellent discussion in yesterday’s support group about how working towards your own recovery shows others that it can be done, and how managing your illness fights stigma.

I continued breathing diaphragmatically and turned to the mountain of laundry dominating my bedroom. I tackled the laundry, then the dishes. Doing something tactile and repetitive that doesn’t involve higher order thinking can be very soothing. Some people knit to calm down, others bead jewelry.

The panic began to recede. Encouraged, I turned to other things that needed cleaning (there are usually many) and occupied myself for several hours. My anxiety abated.

Then I logged onto Facebook again and immediately confronted a post from a friend about gun control in which he referred to the Sandy Hook shooter as a “drooling loony” and said that a few crazies make life interesting, like an ugly sweater in your wardrobe, but that there are a lot of psychos out there.

I don’t think he meant any harm by it. Many people without mental illness are unfamiliar with the issue of stigma, and disparagement and fear of the mentally ill are ingrained in our culture. The “psycho killer” trope is omnipresent in films, music, and literature. Even our vocabulary reinforces it. The word “crazy” has overlapping meanings–it can mean mental illness,  someone who is unpredictable and volatile, or someone or something that flies in the face of logic. Like everyone, I use it to describe the latter all the time. There’s no getting away from that word or separating its multiple meanings. This is a slippery issue.

But we react emotionally before we react intellectually. Once again, my heart started beating that familiar tattoo within my chest. More breathing. I already had momentum, and that made it easier to keep going.

I thought writing about it would help. It does. Later, I’ll hit the gym, and that will help more. I’m taking a week-long break from social media to better concentrate on all of the things that need doing, and there are many because I’ve always shut down when the world bitch-slaps me into an anxious depression. However incremental my progress, I must keep moving forward.

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