Monthly Archives: September 2012

Wednesday Wishes: Number 17

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Seventeen: This is a quote from an adolescent in recovery that spoke at a Mental Heath Symposium I attended (more details to come!)

“Sometimes I’m just having a bad “mental health” day. I might not be able to give you a reason or describe it, so don’t push it. Just support me.”

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

Tips for mitigating the anxiety of dumb traveling decisions

I’m writing this post to distract myself from the fact that I just paid $9.65 for breakfast. It was from Starbucks…in an airport. My bottle of water alone was $2.99. I’m telling myself that it was flown in directly from Antarctica—and the ice berg melted along the way.

A $2,500 bottle of water……….

Now, for those of you who know me (Sidney in particular), spending money this way is VERY unlike me. I pack my lunch every day for work to avoid eating out and try to cook dinner most nights. And even a year ago, in this type of situation, I would just not eat—or I would choose something cheaper (like a $5.00 Big Mac!)

I’m confused….what on this rack is suppose to be “better for me”? Must be a loose definition of ‘better’

But as I’ve been traveling a lot recently, I’ve begun making notes of lessons that can make traveling less stressful for me.  Everything about a short weekend “get away” is bad news for someone with bipolar or other mental illness.  It gets you off routine, you don’t get to sleep in your own bed (if you sleep at all!), you’re likely rushed around a crowded airport, and you are guaranteed to be sitting by the sickest person on the plane. Mostly likely squished right in the middle of two of them.

I hate traveling. I love seeing my friends or getting my hubby to myself for the weekend, but I will be first in line if a mad scientist ever needs a volunteer to test out human wings or transporting.

Here’s a few things that I’ve learned to help me stay sane while traveling. Now, there’s more—significant—advice that I could give you (or you could find on another blog). Such as don’t come home on the last flight of the night and get in at 12:06AM. But that’s not realistic. If I’m going to pay for the plane ticket I’m going to see as much of the friend as possible!  So maybe that’s why I called this list “Tips for mitigating the anxiety of dumb travel decisions”

  1. Suck it up and pay for the good healthy food.  When I go on vacation I tend to eat like calories don’t exist. While probably not a great idea for anyone, it makes my brain go haywire. Making good food choices the whole trip can go a long way.
  2. Get an aisle seat. I’ve “sweet talked” (or maybe flirted…sorry Sidney) my way to an aisle seat when I couldn’t choose one during the initial ticketing process. It makes such a difference in anxiety levels that Sidney can’t hold the means against me.
  3. Bring a comfort item: A bracelet, necklace, stuffed animal—something that you can hold or see to be your sense of stability in the middle of the change.  Keep this item the same throughout all traveling trips if possible. (See photo for mine—that’s right, cute stuffed animals my hubby gave me! They even got to see the Liberty Bell)

    The pink dog is “princess” (that’s me) and the cow is my husband (REMINDER–he picked the animals not me! The cow has blue eyes…like him)

  4. Keep bags to a minimum. This one is impossibly hard for me.  I want to pack everything! Pick a small bag and only take what fits into it. And for me, I have to wear a fanny pack so I don’t lose my purse….just kidding. Though if I could find a fuzzy one I might reconsider. And if you can get your boarding pass on your phone, do it.  The less you have to keep track of the less anxious you will be.
  5. Buy a book. Or other non-electronic item you can absorb yourself in to block out chaos around you. If traveling in the car, an audio book can be great.
  6. Meditate. I put guided meditations and visualizations on my Ipod so I can listen to them when I get stressed out. It’s a good idea for me to start all days during the vacation with them as well!

And lastly, I do admit to taking anti-anxiety meds when I travel. This is a touchy subject for many readers because of the high risk of dependence. However, taking a low dose of my medication BEFORE I begin the trip will help ensure I have as smooth of a trip as possible and arrive at my destination ready to P-A-R-T-Y….not cry! If I wait to take them until I desperately NEED them (a mistake I’ve made plenty of times) it’s often too late and I’ve wasted a significant part of what is already a short trip.

So what other ideas do you have?!  What are ways you’ve found to lower the stress on your brain while traveling?!

How slippers diagnose an anxiety disorder…

Take a good look at the slippers below, because you’re about to get to read a whole blog post about them. Don’t stop reading, I’m only kidding.  Kinda…

My amazing dolphin slippers

My husband brought these slippers home from the zoo the other day.  He picked them for two main reasons: one, in my fantasy world I’m a dolphin trainer and two, my hands and feet are always cold! I tell you the first reason as just a fun fact about Nicole. The second reason is the connection to my mental illness and reason behind this post.

Dr. Andrew Weil is founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He’s a great resource for understanding the science behind mental illness as well as alternative health treatments.  In a few of Dr. Weil’s books he claims he can diagnose an anxiety disorder in five minutes. How? Dr. Weil shakes the patient’s hand and if the patient’s hand is exceptionally cold asks, “Are your hands typically colder than the rest of your body?”.  (After all, he lives in AZ so even I would be warmer there….). If the answer is yes, Dr. Weil says this is a signal to continue to explore the possibility of an anxiety disorder.

Seems like a random and rather haphazard way to diagnose an anxiety disorder until you understand the biology of the illness. During panic attacks or intense anxiety, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates, preparing you to “fight or flee”. This causes your body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes, such as activation of the immune system, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. In addition, blood is shunted away from extremities to the vital organs such as the heart and larger muscles groups needed to “flight” or “flee”.  This lack of blood to the extremities results in cold hands and feet.

I address this biological reaction of anxiety disorders for several reasons. First, I always like when things explain characteristics about me that I didn’t understand (especially if they are things about me that are annoying…who doesn’t like an excuse for something they don’t particularly like?!).

The second reason is more important.  While I usually address the more emotional and less measurable signs and symptoms of mental illness, educating the public of these less obvious but still valuable and useful signs of a mental illness can be especially beneficial. Being aware of these sings can lead to earlier identification and treatment. My personal story underscores this point. Around the age of 14-15 I saw a specialist for the constant headaches I was having.  After numerous tests, he determined that I had poor circulation.  He suggested several activities to help mitigate the symptoms, but doctor did not check for other signs of an anxiety disorder. This is one moment of my life I look back on as a “What if…” moment.  Now life can’t be changed and I don’t say this to blame anyone.  Instead, it’s a lesson learned that I want to be certain to pass on to others so they do not suffer as long as I did.

Finally, it’s one more reminder and proof that my illness is truly a chemical imbalance. I’ve noticed on days when I’m more anxious or feel a panic attack coming on, my hands and feet get colder. When I’m calm I notice I’m not constantly rubbing my hands together to warm them up!  It’s good for me to have these physical reminders that my craziness is not my fault!

The added bonus of it all? It gives me an amazing excuse to wear all my warm soft fuzzy clothes that my husband hates.  The slippers (his words when he gave them to me “I hated them so I figured you’d love them”), my onesie, knee high socks…….

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Man’s best friend…continued

In June I posted an article about treating PTSD in service veterans with guide dogs (https://ridingthewavez.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/ive-never-bee/) . This has been a hot topic among the mental health and military community, as the debate surrounding the legality, effectiveness, and cost continues. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is now fighting for insurance to cover dogs for service members. While there are many factors surrounding this issue, such as the exploratory status of this treatment, the debate brings awareness to the parity of mental health care with “physical” healthcare in the insurance industry. In particular, insurance’s role in paying for alternative treatments. Will definitely be an interesting topic to follow.  Check out the article below for more information.

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/sep/18/new-push-cover-costs-ptsd-service-dogs-veterans/

Wednesday Wishes: Number 16

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Sixteen: Two weeks ago my “Wednesday Wish” was for family and friends to go along with my weird OCD habits.  Now that I’ve given you two weeks to practice that, I want to take it a step further. When going along with our habits, do it without comment and as if it’s “normal”.  Just like my parents’ favorite bible verse to quote to my siblings and I, “Do everything without complaining or arguing”.

I’m often embarrassed and self-conscious about these habits and fear that you will resent me for them.  When you go along with these habits as if they are normal, you can help alleviate these feelings.

For example, like most individuals with OCD one of my weird habits is a germ phobia. There are random things cause intense anxiety if someone does not wash their hands after. If those around me can just wash their hands (preferably twice!) after these things, it not only will lower my anxiety but also relieve the guilt and embarrassment I might feel about the habit.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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Who inspires you?

I like to believe that I’m not competitive. Sure, I like winning—but I’d rather we all just get along and sing camp songs. My husband used to disagree with this perception of myself, seeing me as “extremely competitive”, but I’ve rescued him from that misplaced belief.

Here’s how I convinced him. I’m not competitive; I’m determined. It’s not about winning, it’s about doing what I said I was going to do—benchmarking my performance to my abilities.  My parents must be so proud—how many times do parents and teachers say “Just do your best, don’t compare yourself to anyone else”?  While I’d like to say it’s because I’m perfect, it’s primarily that have no filter and end up feeling terrible for the people I beat.

I was pondering the distinction between competition and determination during the 16 mile bike ride of a triathlon I participated in this weekend. As a strong swimmer, I started off the bike at the front of the pack. As I cycled merrily along, several guys passed me and I just smiled and waved. Proving that I’m not competitive! But then a female came up on me and I thought, “I can do that”, and kicked my effort up a notch. Was I competitive after all? I don’t think so. Several other females passed me that I felt no desire to keep pace with—they were too crazy fast. It wasn’t about beating the girl; it was about finding someone who realistically challenged me.

You can argue this distinction with me later—but for now go along with me to see how this applies to “real life”. 

I do a lot of reading, particularly in the mental health field. I’ve found a lot of good resources out there, but one particular author, Therese Borchard, inspired me and my decision to write. We have a lot in common—she’s a Christian, struggles with bipolar disorder, and a wonderful plethora of other delightful challenges. When you read her writing, you feel like you are being allowed the privilege of taking a journey with a friend. In her book and blog, she strikes a balance between being entertaining, hopeful, and inspiring, but at the same time being realistic, vulnerable, and honest about the messy parts of mental illness.

While reading her book, “Beyond Blue” gave me a lot of great advice for dealing with my own illness, its most lasting impact was making me go “I can do that!”. I can use writing and my personal story to raise awareness for mental illness.

My husband likes to read biographies about famous business and historical figures such as Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. He says that he learns a lot from them and they “inspire” him to be better. Frankly, all I learn is that you can accomplish a heck of a lot if you can survive on less than five hours of sleep a night. 

I don’t have that ability. To keep my mood stable I need to sleep at least 7.5 – 8.5 hours of sleep a night. A lot of my time is dedicated to other necessary things such as therapy, doctors’ appointments, yoga, thought correction, etc.—I mean even taking all my meds in the morning runs close to a half hour. I can’t even imagine imitating these “successful” people. But Therese’s book was refreshing. Here was someone I respected who had similar limitations and brain functions as me. Finally someone who made me realistically say, “I can do that!”

AS I’ve started writing, I’m sure that some aspects of my writing style are similar to hers, particularly in her older blogs. After all, I like to think I’m also witty and insightful. But despite some elements of hers that I might imitate, my voice is also present. After all, my favorite element of her style is her personal tone, the ability to make your reader feel like they know you and are just chatting with an old friend over slushies and ice cream. 

As I continue to read and write, I’m sure other authors and books will continue to shape and influence my tone. But one thing I will not forget from her writing is to be myself. To be open about my flaws, my strengths, my limitations, my preferences, my successes, my struggles. I hope my readers can relate to me that way, and I might inspire someone else to say, “I can do that”.

Not a typical post for me—but a bit of insight into my story.  So what about you? Who is the person in your life that you might want to imitate? Are you like Sidney and find inspiration in famous well-known figures? Or are you more likely to find inspiration in those similar to you?

Oh and if you’re interested in reading any of Therese’s stuff check it out here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2010/12/the-12-bipolar-days-of-christm.html (this is a link to a post that makes me smile!)

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Fifteen

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Fifteen: Respect that my illness is my story to tell. Please protect my privacy and desires about what you share and with whom. If you’re not sure how I feel about it, ask.  Better to have a clear conversation and expectations upfront than to try to rebuild trust later.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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This is not my legacy….

While a myriad of environmental factors affect and influence mental illness, research shows a causal link between genetics and mental illness. Like many diseases, family history can be a strong predictor of an individual’s mental health. While I do not have any diagnosed mental illness in my immediate family, there is a likely possibility of undiagnosed/untreated illness in extended family. And, there might be individuals that have been diagnosed that I do not know about—how often do we find ourselves hiding from our family more than others?

Because of this link, hearing this song for the first time brought me to tears. The song reminds me I am not doomed to suffer my entire life because of this fluke in my genectic code, but also that I will not be cursing those after me (more on that fear later….)

Family Tree: Matthew West
Lyrics in Italics
Me in Normal….

You didn’t ask for this
Nobody ever would
Caught in the middle of this dysfunction

Caught in the middle, wrapped up in, created the, consumed by, defined by?

It’s your sad reality
It’s your messed up family tree

Why my genes? What about my genetic makeup led to this? Why my branch of the family tree?

And all your left with all these questions
Are you gonna be like your father was and his father was?
Do you have to carry what they’ve handed down?

Can I change? Can I learn to be different? Will I carry the dysfunction my entire life?

No, this is not your legacy
This is not your destiny
Yesterday does not define you

It’s not my destiny to suffer forever; my disease is not I will be remembered for.

No, this is not your legacy
This is not your meant to be

I am meant to be more than just bipolar. I am meant to be more than burdened or held down by my disease

I can break the chains that bind you

The chains that tie me to these old habits, these old thoughts, these old ideas of who I am and what I’m worth.

I have a dream for you
It’s better than where you’ve been

Can it be worse?

It’s bigger than your imagination

Bigger than just my dream of a life where I’m not anxious everyday. Could there really be a greater plan for me?

You’re gonna find real love
And you’re gonna hold your kids
You’ll change the course of generations

I will change the lives of not just my kids, but other families who have been crippled by this disease

No, this is not your legacy
This is not your destiny
Yesterday does not define you

It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. It doesn’t matter how many times the waves have crashed over me. Just because I suffered yesterday does not mean tomorrow will not be better.

No, this is not your legacy
This is not your meant to be

I’ll leave behind me hope and encouragement for those who struggle

I can break the chains that bind you
Cause you’re my child
You’re my chosen

Chosen by Him, despite the limitations of my illness, because I am capable of change and influence…

You are loved
You are loved

By God and by my amazing family.

And I will restore
All that was broken

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” …and I will finally know what it is like to live with a healthy brain.

You are loved
You are loved

And I am worthy of their love.

And just like the seasons change
Winter into spring
You’re bringing new life to your family tree now

Just as my mood improves moving from winter to spring, I bring hope and change to my family, future family, and even families I don’t know

Yes you are
You are

Yes I am……

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My favorite thing…

If your house (or apartment in my case) was burning in a fire and you could only grab one thing—what would it be? Any ideas?!

My first thought is Sidney—now I know he’s not a possession, but the man is pokey. (Love him; don’t love that about him!).  So if our building was burning down he’d probably be meandering around the apartment collecting his hard drive, putting on his shoes, fixing his hair, turning off lights.  [Sidney quotes “The victims always get interviewed. I have to look good for it! haha”] But since he would be adamantly opposed to being called a possession (and I’d agree), I have to figure out something else.

These are the first five things that came to mind (I know I said one—but I’ll cut you a break if you cut me one):Yes--there are penguins on it.

My onesie: I bought it when I was still single and was trying to save money on heating bills. Seems like a weird favorite possession. But never underestimate the power of keeping me warm…and it’s fun and ridiculous. Two things I really like. Also, as you can see in the photo—it’s very sexy. And what female doesn’t like an outfit that makes them feel sexy?!

My slushy cup: This is the most amazing thing ever invented—they make enjoying my favorite food even better. What’s not to like? And as you read in the June 11th post, slushies have significant meaning for me. My scrapbook: I’m sure you can understand why this is a favorite possession—especially my wedding book where I stored dried flowers, cards, and decorations.

My rock: Rick gave me this rock during our last therapy session and could probably fill a post itself with its symbolism and meaning in this object. Short story: it represents where I’ve been and where I’m going.

 My journals: I have saved my journals (more sophisticated than diaries) from a very young age. They record girlish crushes, my crazy thoughts, secrets, and anger or annoyance I was feeling towards my parents.

Judge me if you want (I judge myself a little!), but these were truly the first five objects that popped into my mind. While each has a particular reason (some more so than others!) that they were chosen, what I find more interesting than each object alone, is what the objects represent collectively. One fear I have (that is actually legitimate, unlike most generated by my anxiety disorder!), is that my life will be represented or consumed by my mental illness.

Matthew 6:21 “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be”

Are my most prized possessions things like my cocktail (meds!), mood chart, books full of techniques and tips, or even the rock I discussed? Is that “where my heart is”? I hope not. Instead, I’d rather someone look at my life and see my love for my family, good times spent with friends, and even my passion for the color turquoise.

With the exception of the rock, things related to my illness weren’t forefront in my mind. When I realized this, I was rather pleased with myself. But in the middle of patting myself on the back, the other foot dropped. The other four objects are actually intricately connected with my illness.

  • My onesie: It’s warm and comfortable. I feel wrapped up and almost ‘safe’ in it. It can help calm me during a panic or anxiety attack.
  • My slushie cup: See June 11th post for detail, but basically it reminds me of my support team
  • My scrapbook: A great tool to help relax me during times of high anxiety
  • My journals: A detailed and vulnerable description of my life and story

Well crap. Maybe my life IS consumed by my mental illness. Or is it?

One goal of this blog is to spread the word that depression/anxiety/bipolar is a chemical imbalance; truly a brain disorder. If that’s the case, then clearly it is going to influence every aspect of my life. As much as I’ve tried, I have yet to figure out how to take my brain out, put it in a glass jar and come back to it later. So in the same way a pair of hazel eyes reads both the journals and scrapbook, or my sense of humor comes across in all four objects (the onesie in particular!), so my mental illness does as well.

The objects above represent me; all sides, facets, and parts of me. Even the ones I might want to hide, such as my lack of artistic talent in my scrapbook, my addiction to caffeine in slushies, or my illness.

And that I’m ok with. I’m learning to treat my illness so it becomes part of my life, but does not consume it. I’m working diligently to manage my illness so when some archeologist in the future finds and analyzes my belongings and prized possessions—they see not a woman dragged under by her illness, but one with the strength to surf the waves instead.

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Fourteen

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Fourteen: Please go along with my OCD compulsions and obsessions. I know it’s inconvenient for you to have to pump the gas to an odd number ($12.00 or $12.50 can send me into a panic!). But trust me, I’d rather not have to do it either, but I do.

Now I’m not saying to avoid encouraging treatment, but if I am working on managing my illness and the compulsion only asks for a minor change for you—go Nike and “just do it”. You’ll save me a significant amount of anxiety.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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