Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


Leave a comment

9 Tools for Health

I was watching a documentary called Heal on Netflix.

One of the experts said she looked at what people with chronic or fatal illnesses did to promote health, and came up with a list of 15 items. Now not everyone did all of them, but they all did 9 of them. She didn’t provide the entire list, but she did provide the 9:

  1. Radically changing your diet
  2. Taking control of your health
  3. Following your intuition
  4. Using herbs and supplements
  5. Releasing suppressed emotion
  6. Increasing positive emotions
  7. Embracing social support
  8. Deepening your spiritual connection
  9. Have a strong reason for living

So here I am, just an average person, not having a life-threatening illness. I believe I can benefit from following the same guidelines. So this is my assessment of my general health from these traits.

I am working on changing my diet. My roommate has gone keto and I have shifted to low carb in solidarity. I admit that I eat sandwiches and burgers away from home, which involve bread. But I don’t bring carbs into the house and I eat most meals here. I’ve lost about 10 lbs since starting this, which is not a lot but it’s better than gaining which has been my default for the past several years.

I can take control of my health. I can be proactive about making healthier choices, like more exercise. And I can be more outspoken with my doctor in terms of advocating for myself.

I can definitely learn to follow my intuition more. We all have that little voice that tells us when things aren’t quite right. It can also tell you when to move forward, even if you don’t think you’re ready yet. For me, intuition is that moment when the universe opens up and gives you a hint about what’s coming and what to do. I can pay more attention to that and act accordingly.

Using herbs and supplements. I’m not so good at that. I do have a multivitamin that I try to remember to take in the morning. I don’t succeed that often. I should just add it to the box with my other meds. I have used to take potassium; calcium; fish oil; vitamins B, C and E; liver powder; and cinnamon. I don’t know if I felt much different on any of them. Except the fish oil, because I have no gall bladder so it’s difficult for me to digest that kind of fat. I guess I can look into different herbal supplements and see if anything else makes a difference.

I don’t know about releasing emotion. Part of it is, I’m bipolar and letting big emotion express itself is likely to increase my symptoms. That said, I can work on letting go of negative stuck emotions even if I can’t release them to the desired degree. I don’t have to hold onto toxic emotions.

I’m pretty sure I already work to increase positive emotions. I’m equally sure that everybody on the planet does that. People don’t usually choose to stay in the negative place. People usually choose to keep doing what makes them happy. I think this is part of human nature.

Ah, social support. So necessary and so hard to find. That’s part of why I go to group so often, pure and simple support. It’s difficult to ask for support. It’s almost like dating, people are afraid of being rejected. If you ask for help, you have to be open to the possibility that the answer is no. No doesn’t feel good. It takes courage to ask for support.

I don’t really have any plans to deepen my spirituality. I’m not a religious person. I do believe in a higher power of some kind. Mostly I believe in science to explain what is going on, and the idea that everything is made of energy which we get from quantum mechanics. Matter seems to be made of waves of energy. If it’s all energy, and I am energy, then the fields can interact and I can make actual changes to myself. That sounds very airy-fairy new age, and yet . . .

I do have a strong reason for living. I am bipolar, my ex husband was bipolar, and our daughter is bipolar. About 3 years ago, my ex completed a suicide. I need my daughter to know that having this diagnosis is not a death sentence. Having this diagnosis is just a way to explain my experience of life. It does not limit me or define me, and it does not mean that I can’t handle living in this world.

So I think I’m doing pretty good on my way to health, and I still have a lot to do. What are you doing?

Advertisements


4 Comments

Can I Do This?

Last Monday, I facilitated a group.

On Monday afternoons, I attend the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance support group, because I have bipolar II, which I’ve mentioned before.  I’ve been going for about 3 years now.  I’ve worked through the book more than once.  I know the answers, haha, as if I could know the right answers to mental health when it’s different for everyone.

The regular facilitator was having a hard day and asked me if I would lead.  None of this is surprising, since he is a peer and the group could be led by any peer.  I said yes, and I was happy to do this favor for him.

It went surprisingly well.  We worked our way through 2 pages in the book.  That may not be much but it included some conversation and it was the end of a section.  Didn’t make sense to start a new section with only 15 minutes left.  The group appreciated the chance to chat during the session.  It was a little more active than the usual facilitator likes, but we have different philosophies.  He is trying to get through the book, whereas I use the book as a jumping-off point.  Nothing wrong with either one, just different.

At the same time, I have been hearing about women who lead seminars to help other women.  I think I could lead one about vision boards and creating goals.  It would be maybe 3 hours, give or take.  Part of it would be about setting goals, where do you want to be in, say, 5 years?  Or indeed, ever?  Part of it would be making the actual vision board.  And part of it would be about sharing our dreams and visions.  I think I could manage about 10 women, and they would have to bring their own scissors since I don’t own that many pairs.  Glue and magazines I’ve got, scissors not so much.

So I am looking for goal setting exercises.  They are surprisingly hard to find.  There are a lot of sites devoted to professional development and goal setting in that regard but really almost nothing about personal goal setting.  The principles must be the same however so I just need to tweak them.  Of course I would need to tweak them in any case to make them my own.  I’m about being inspired by other people, not stealing their work.

I believe I can do this.  It seems very do-able.  It also doesn’t overlap the government job so there should be no conflict of interest.  The first one or two would be free while I get my feet under me, then I would have to start charging.  I wonder if I could even do it monthly.

Words of encouragement and suggestions only, please.  I have enough nay-sayers in my own head as it is.  I could stand some support around this idea.


1 Comment

Being Bipolar

This is actually a draft of a paper I’m writing for my abnormal psych class. Enjoy.

My Experience with Bipolar Disorder

Over the years, I’ve known several people with bipolar disorder. Most of them were men. Joe is a research biologist who had a psychotic break in college that resulted in being fished out of a tree on the quad in nothing but his underwear. He now takes almost the lowest possible dose of lithium that even doctors don’t agree is therapeutic but if he misses a dose, he feels like he’s losing touch with reality. Pete was a musician with a tender heart who chose electro-convulsive therapy, known as ECT, to treat his bouts of debilitating depression. This is a rather extreme therapy that involves running electrical current through the brain. Doctors are not entirely sure why this works but in some percentage of cases it’s very effective. Jim was my ex-husband. He did not take his medicine regularly and this past fall he committed suicide. I wonder if he felt this would make things better for the rest of us or if he just got tired and overwhelmed, and wanted to rest. I think the difference would be whether he was manic or depressed at the time. There is one woman I know through work named Mary. Mary takes her medicine and lives alone with her 2 dogs. She comes into work daily and has what appears to be a normal if solitary life.

And then there is me. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I treat it with medicine and therapy. I have never been depressed enough to be suicidal and I do not have the extreme mania where I lose touch completely with the everyday world. I do have long stretches of time that feel hopeless and stuck combined with more energetic periods of little sleep and poor decision making. I believe part of the reason this wasn’t noticed when I was younger is that it follows a school schedule. I tend to be depressed during the summer months, which I find too hot in way that saps energy. The energetic period generally runs during the holiday season, from about my birthday in the beginning of November until sometime in January when Christmas shopping probably hides the true extent of retail therapy in which I engage. The rest of the time, I am what I consider to be normal. I am not sure my understanding of normal is correct so it’s hard to be definitive about it.

I had originally planned to look at the individual diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and talk about what those look like in my life. I think that may be beyond the scope of this short paper. Suffice to say, I was surprised to find out that things I thought were, I don’t know, charming or quirky were actually signs and symptoms. Apparently eccentric is a good way to describe bipolar II and it is a description that’s been applied to me for most of my life.

I take Prozac and Abilify. The Prozac makes me a bit jittery and I need to watch my eating with it. I need to be sure both that I eat enough and regularly, and that I don’t eat too much. It’s not that I’m hungry so much as that I tend to interpret other problems like tiredness as needing to eat. The Abilify I take at night and usually I’m asleep about a half hour after taking it. Good sleep hygiene is also very important for me, things like maintaining regular hours even when on weekends.

What I have learned in my brief research is how lucky I am. I have been more or less functional until into my 50’s so I really am not hugely afflicted by this disorder. I was born at a time when medicine is available to treat my struggles, which is really only since the mid-1950’s, about 10 years before I was born. I have a small experience with other bipolar people whose lives can be object lessons of what to do and what not to do. The great strength of people like Pete, Joe, Mary and even Jim remind me of our common resilience and simple human weakness. I have options for support groups if I feel like I need one, and a therapist who knows me, who is capable of letting me know if I’m heading into mania often before I realize what’s going on. That’s important to me because I find the mania harder to manage than the depression.

I am still learning to navigate this strange and amazing disorder. I am learning to build a life that makes me happy and takes into consideration that I am very changeable over the course of a year. My guideline is not “what is normal?” so much as “what is healthy?” In a world full of choices, I choose to pursue health.


Leave a comment

What Is Identity?

Lately one of the family history websites has been running a series of ads about finding your “true” ethnicity by sending them a DNA sample.  The one I remember best is a man in lederhosen talking about how he was raised believing he was German but DNA testing showed his heritage was more Scottish, so he traded in his lederhosen for a kilt.

Part of me says, both are non-pants ethnic costumes, not a big change.  Part of me says, Celts settled in Germany and France as well as Ireland, so not such a leap considering that there has to be a common base culture underlying it all.  At least the Romans thought so.

And part of me wonders, how did it turn out that he “thought” he was German but he’s “really” Scottish?  Are we now supposed to worry that the culture we thought our family embodied is somehow wrong because it doesn’t match our genes?  Doesn’t this sound a lot like the eugenics that are fundamental to Nazism?   If someone moves to another country, are the children the ethnicity of their parents or of the adopted country?  

But what interests me here is the idea that ethnicity can change.  Just like that, you’re not Black Irish, you’re actually Spanish.  Which is historically accurate, since the Black Irish are descended from the remnants of the Spanish Armada.  So trade in your whiskey, shamrocks and St Patrick for sangria, bull fights and St Anthony.  Because somehow you are wrong about who you are.

So for me, as I’m dealing with this new diagnosis, the question has been whether I am still me.  Which is silly because of course I am the same me I have always been, or at least the same me I was before the diagnosis changed.  My internal process isn’t any difference.  My values have not changed.  I love the same people, enjoy the same activities, face the same dilemmas.  Nothing changed except a label, and those change all the time anyway.

Labels change.  I am no longer anyone’s daughter, since both my parents are deceased.  I am also no longer a wife, since I am a divorced person.  Don’t call me Mrs. because I used my father’s last name not my ex-husband’s.  Labels can tell us something about a person but therein lies the risk of stereotyping.

Stereotyping is a slippery thing.  In some ways, it’s useful because it allows our lazy brains to categorize people in ways that can be surprisingly accurate.  However, it is also limiting and it can be very wrong.

Story about that:  I was at a party where there were people of various ethnicity present.  Several black people were comparing notes on their childhoods:  “Do you remember eating beans and rice for dinner and going to the food pantry?  Did you ever go to school with your sneakers taped up because they were coming apart but you couldn’t afford new ones?  And what about hand-me-downs?”  Their point was that black Americans live in a very different country than white Americans do, and the larger context was white privilege.  (Black experience is different from white experience, and I’m not saying white privilege is or isn’t real.)

The hostess, who passes for white but recently discovered she very much embodies her Native American heritage, overheard their conversation.  “I remember those things,” she said, “but I thought that was because we were poor.  I didn’t know I was black.”  (And of course in American there is a huge wealth/class divide that breaks along lines of race, but that also isn’t my point here.)

So I have a new label now:  bipolar.  (Hey!  Earth and I have something in common, we both have two opposing poles!  *eye roll, cuz I know I’m a dork*)

It does tell you something about me.  It says I can have big changes in my mood and ability to handle life.  It tells you I can be obsessed today and listless tomorrow.  It tells you I might be a good listener because I have nothing to say or a bad listener because I keep interrupting you.  It tells you I can be changeable.

But it can also cause you to stereotype me.  I am not suicidal, nor do I get that high euphoria and sense of invulnerability that they tell me mania can cause.  I have times when I feel like I might be able to be successful if I just keep at it, and other times when I can’t find the energy to get out of bed let alone get dressed or eat something.

Labels give the illusion of understanding, but really we don’t understand as well as we like to believe.

So I have a new label and it makes me wonder if I’m any different.  And it reminds me that a label doesn’t capture the full reality of something, just an aspect.

I am not just my label.

I am still me.

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Define Normal

I have been having a hard time getting myself together the last several weeks.  It’s hard to talk about because there isn’t always a specific reason.

I did have stomach pain for several days which resulted in a call to a specialist, but it seems like it has resolved itself without much input from him.  Or at least, I moved my tummy meds from morning to bedtime so I don’t wake up with pain.  I have a follow up with him tomorrow.  To me, it feels like this is legit, it’s something actually wrong.

Other stuff doesn’t feel like it should be such a big deal, but it is.

Sometimes the hardest thing is just to get going in the morning.  The alarm goes off and I hit snooze.  It only snoozes 3 times, so I actually have multiple alarms set 15 minutes apart.  It shouldn’t be that hard to wake up when you need to, but for me it is.  It’s uphill the whole way.  Most of the time I just kind of power through it but every now and then I can’t.

And I feel like a failure when that happens.

Starting about a week ago, I’ve been having issues with getting to work.  One time I actually got to the train stop but my ears were ringing and I was just all freaked out.  I actually rode past my stop and called in sick that day.  The ringing stopped after I passed work again on the way back from the end of the line.  I don’t like that.  I don’t know why I couldn’t just get off the train and go to work.

I also saw my psychiatrist again.  I told him about a day when I tried to run a simple bank errand and ended up shopping.  I had to call my daughter to come get me, just to interrupt myself.  I didn’t need to spend that money.  I can still pay my bills, don’t get me wrong, but it was money that should have been saved not spent.

I told him about the first night I was housesitting for a friend.  I couldn’t sleep at all that night even though I tried.  I went to work expecting to be extremely tired at some point and never did.  I went to bed at a more normal time that day and slept just fine.  I also told him about the day I spent just laying in bed.  That was the day my stomach hurt the worst.  Just taking my morning meds and vitamins made me nauseous.  I didn’t eat that day.  I laid in bed with the cats napping on me, didn’t get on the computer, didn’t watch any videos or work on art, no shower, just laid there in my pajamas.

And you know, I could do either one of those right now.  I could get interested in something and stay up all hours to pursue it, or I could get into bed and lay there for 12 or 14 hours.  The obsessive part seems saner than the doing nothing part, but either one seems feasible at the moment.

The doctor changed my diagnosis.  I am no longer having bad pms, I now have bipolar disorder.

I feel like he told me, I’m no longer in the range of things that are normal, I’m actually crazy.

The day I went shopping, I actually felt crazy.  I felt out of control of myself,  My therapist tells me that’s the manic part but I thought there was supposed to be an element of euphoria in mania, and I certainly didn’t feel euphoric.  I didn’t feel bad either.  I felt like it was okay to buy a few things that I want, that I deserve to spend some of my money having fun.  Maybe that’s not true.  Maybe I don’t deserve to enjoy having a little cash.  Maybe it should be all paying bills.  I don’t know.  What do normal people do?  Do they spend money when they want things, or do they just suck it up that there’s nothing left after necessities?  I’m not normal any more so I don’t know.

I feel like my whole life is now up for grabs.  Everything is analyzed and second-guessed and reconsidered.  I’m playing a video game and I get caught up in it and lose track of time.  Do normal people do that?  Do they realize what’s going on after an hour, or after 3 hours?  Why do I feel like I have the energy to visit a friend but not the energy to do laundry?  Is that normal?  Do normal people struggle with daily tasks?

The game is to pass as normal.  We changed my meds, and it makes me less normal.  I sleep through my alarm clock now.  I am late leaving for work and my roommates ask  how I’m doing.  Kinda crappy, thank you.  I’m doing my best and I can’t pull it together.  Everything is big and overwhelming and I am alone.  I want it to be okay to be overwhelmed, and it’s not.  It’s not because it affects work and accomplishment and motivation.  People get bothered when I don’t act like other people.  Folks who are inclined to help me start to feel like I’m taking advantage of them.

What it looks like from the outside is not how it feels from the inside.

Give yourself grace, says my therapist.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Really?  The people I live with are freaked out that I’m there at 8:30 in the morning because my shift starts at 7:45 and I need to be out the door between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning to get there in time.  Only apparently I woke up enough to turn off the alarm – which I don’t remember – then slept until 7:30.  The new meds do this to me.  What they don’t do is make me look normal with only 1 or 2 doses.  They take time to build up.

My next step is to call HR and see if we can change my shift.  Right now I work 4 10-hour days and when you add in lunch (which my employer does not count as part of my day) and the 2-hour commute each way to work, well, I’m often out of the house 15 hours at a time.  I come home, eat, and go to bed.  I need enough time in the morning to get dressed etc.  I don’t sleep 8 hours most work nights, more like 5 or 6.  So maybe I can get HR to shift me to another position or at least another shift that isn’t quite so early and is 5 8-hour days instead.  It’s a big company, there are other jobs.  But I don’t want to say too much to them either and have it used against me.  See, there’s the second guessing part.

Give myself grace.  I’m crazy, what does that even mean?  That it’s okay to be crazy?  My crazy freaks people out, why would I want to give that grace?  I feel like I’m going to end up a street person, because I don’t make enough money to get by on my own but I don’t know if other people can live with my crazy.

I need to tidy my room.  That will help.  It won’t resolve anything, but tidy looks more normal and I do need to find my winter clothes so that’s a good excuse.  Tear it apart and put it back together.  Wash the sheets that are covered in black cat hair.  I don’t know how that cat does that, I believe there is more cat hair in my bed than on the cat.

And I need to make art.  Making art feels normal to me.  Making art makes my heart happy and my soul shine.  It seems to eat up the crazy and make all things possible.  Make the room tidy so I have a place to make art.  That’s a decent goal for tomorrow.  That and seeing the doctor again.

One day at a time, just get though today and have a plan for tomorrow.  It’s all I can do anyway.


1 Comment

Mind and Body Are One

I have two chronic conditions and they interact.

I learned in the last year that I am subject to panic attacks. It isn’t regular but when stress gets to me, I have issues. They aren’t hugely severe in a physical sense, but emotionally I become detached and feel like I’m floating or like my head is going to explode. Disconnected. Disembodied. Buzzing in my ears. Can’t make decisions. Even basic things, like getting dressed, become huge trials when you can’t figure out how to put together an outfit. What shirt to wear with what pants should not be overwhelming, esp. since most of pants are black and anything that’s not a t-shirt is fine for work.

Fortunately they make a medicine for this. They probably make several medicines for this, but the one I take is Prozac. Works pretty good. Now I am not a huge fan of medicines as the best answer for everything so I went years of not feeling optimum because I was trying other methods. But sometimes you can’t control your brain, which means you can’t control your thinking.

The body is an organic electromechanical interface between what we think of as self or soul and the physical world. Not going to get metaphysical about the idea of self here, though I could, but it’s not my point today. Sometimes the equipment fails. Maybe it was flawed from the beginning or maybe I did something that caused damage. In either case, functionality was less than peak.

Now that isn’t necessarily bad. Any engineer will tell you that a machine can sufficiently well at less than 100% I mean, if I could feel 90% on an average day, that seems acceptable, It’s not a peak if it is, in fact, a plateau. And a plateau can be a great place to pause, rest and reflect before pushing on again.

Anyway, with regard to brains. Brains need a certain balance of chemicals in order to function properly. If the chemicals are out of balance, your brain doesn’t work well. All the positive thinking and motivation in the world are not going to help a brain that misfires. I tried many kinds of self-improvement which did not solve my problem. Medicine helps. So I take it, and feel disbelief that it works because life should not become manageable due to taking a pill. But it does. (See the title of this post again, mind and body are one, because changing the chemical situation in my body actually changes my mind.)

The other condition is a highly acid stomach. I apparently don’t have an ulcer, but I do take medicine. It stops my stomach from hurting. Since this crept up on me, I didn’t realize I was in so much pain until I started taking the medicine. Now if I miss a dose, I have PAIN. Eating sometimes helps since anything bready soaks up the acid and moves it out of my stomach, so for a long time I was frustrated by trying to diet (since I am a person who should really lose a few pounds) and the fact that restricting food intake made my tummy hurt. Now I have medicine that stops the pain. It’s kind of amazing.

Again, I’m not a huge fan of medication for no reason, but the right drug at the right time is a real blessing.

So how do these interact?

I don’t get big physical effects from the anxiety, just a little shortness of breath sometimes and a sort of butterflies in the tummy feeling. Stress goes right to my stomach, always has, my mom even commented on it when I was a kid, and the way to help was to eat something.

Wait now. Physical symptoms of stress can be resolved the same way high stomach acid was resolved? So, yes, my emotional state affects how my body works. Treating the anxiety helps the stomach problem. That doesn’t seem so hard to understand.

It’s the fact that it works in the other direction that astounds me.

If I miss my stomach meds, I become anxious. This is not because I am somehow concerned that I’m sicker than I am. It’s because my body reacts very similarly to missing this medicine as it does to anxiety. Close enough, in fact, that my subconscious interprets the symptoms as being upset and will add in the other signs of anxiety. I can be aware that I do not feel emotionally bothered at all, but my body is acting like I’m really freaked out about something.

For example, I might have a cup coffee at breakfast and at lunch have a sandwich that had a tomato on it and a pickle on the side. These are all common foods, all of which I enjoy, any of which I might eat on a typical day. Only, all together, it’s too much acid and my stomach is already highly acid, so now I have butterflies and tension. Then my subconscious decides this is a sign of anxiety, and suddenly I feel like I can’t breathe properly and I can’t focus on my job. Not bad enough for me to call it a panic attack, but enough to distract me and affect performance. Then I do become stressed, because I realize I am not doing as well as I could and I know I can do better, and the stress increases the acid.

It’s all connected, body and mind, mind and body. What affects one, affects the other. Finding balance becomes very important. Sometimes it seems impossible. Sometimes I have to be very regulated, even though it means I look like a party pooper, because for me the consequences are greater than simply being tired the next day. Sometimes I get frustrated with restrictions and limitations. Yet the most beautiful Shakespearean sonnets are created within specific guidelines, so knowing your functional boundaries can be a great thing.

Tomorrow is Christmas and then we are heading into a new year. What I wish for you, is finding your balance.


Leave a comment

The Lucky Iron Fish

This is very cool.

Low iron is a very real health problem. And it’s systemic, by which I mean it affects the entire system of the body. It’s not like a broken bone where one part doesn’t function well, it actually causes problems throughout a body.

Here in the US, doctors used to prescribe “nail tea” to people with anemia. You took a couple of iron nails, boiled them in water for several minutes, and drank it down. The water, not the nails.

Cast iron cookware is another solution, since microscopic bits of iron get mixed into anything cooked in the pan.

This is a lovely, elegant, culturally sensitive to a very real health problem.

Check out the video.

Oh, and after I posted this link in social media, I found out that a friend of mine is the admin for their main American office. I knew what she was doing, I just didn’t know for whom.

Lucky Iron Fish