Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Weight of It

I was watching the news a few days ago and there was a story about a woman who wanted to get lap-band surgery to help her lose weight. Apparently it was news because she wasn’t overweight enough to qualify for the surgery and decided to eat a steady stream of junk food until she had gained enough weight to get the surgery.

I paid attention to this with half an ear until a diagram came up on the screen. They said for a specific trial of the lap-band surgery they required people to have a 30% BMI. The little overweight silhouette of the woman on the screen showed that an example of someone with this BMI would be someone who is 5’6″ and 180 lbs.

That is me. I am 5’6″ and 180 lbs, but I definitely wouldn’t constitute myself as being particularly overweight. I joked to my boyfriend that maybe I have reverse anorexia (where the larger I get the skinnier I believe myself to be), but I was totally confounded. I do not consider myself to be a big girl, and if someone offered me lap-band surgery I would laugh in their face.

I’ve seen several articles now that assume people with bipolar disorder struggle with weight.

Why?

The medications most likely prescribed to treat bipolar disorder are also likely to cause weight gain.

This article suggests otherwise, stating in one portion, “America is fat, there’s simply no easy or other way to say it,” as one of the answers to the Bipolar & weight gain riddle.

I think that is a load of crap, to put it nicely.

I know from experience that if I have a desk job, I will gain weight. Likewise, if I have a job where I am on my feet, I generally lose weight.

Also, if I am depressed I have less energy to be physical and I tend to eat more, so I gain weight. The energy I have in a hypomanic state has attributed to weight loss in at least one situation in my life, so there’s that too.

I know that I have issues with food (as discussed in The Diet Variable), particularly hoarding it at times, but not necessarily eating it… so there’s another thing for me to watch out for.

BUT

None of these things can explain gaining 40 lbs while taking Zyprexa for 2 months.

Magical weight gain fairy? Being, simply, “American”? Yeah, I think not.

Thankfully my psychiatrist pulled me off the drug when he realized weight gain was becoming a problem. I’ve heard that many doctors don’t consider this type of weight gain to be enough of a life-threatening side effect to warrant stopping with that particular medication, which seems foolish since we know obesity is linked to a myriad of other health problems.

I find weight gain to be a particularly disheartening side effect, and being subjected to it simply because there isn’t anything better to treat my particular illness infuriates me.

So I am 180 lbs now, which, like I said, doesn’t feel huge, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had kept taking it. How much more weight would I have gained? How much more of my body would be covered in dark purple stretch marks from gaining weight too fast? At what point would I begin to snore? At what point might I develop diabetes?

And does the prospect of being more “stable” make it worth it?

Don’t Be Such a Hallo-weenie

I’ve been doing surprisingly well, just stuffed to the brim with different activities and tasks to do (which incidentally left zero time yesterday for writing).

Halloween has been a treacherous time for me, both because of the October Curse and because of the intense drama Halloween has managed to host in the previous years of my life.

The October Curse is a theory I’ve been working on for a while, my six years in Seattle have contributed largely to its research and though I can’t say for sure that the Curse extends beyond the city of Seattle (it may be a local thing, much like the “Seattle Freeze”) I’ve heard rumors that friends in other portions of Washington State have witnessed a similar phenomenon.

In Seattle, October is the month where the clouds set in. The weather makes a big shift and the rain begins. I think that is where the October Curse begins, because almost instantly the city becomes alive.

Not the way it is alive in the summer when the city is full of tourists, Seattle becomes alive with its inhabitants and for the first time in months, locals are creeping out of their homes.

Maybe the clouds are necessary to keep our fragile, pale, pacific-northwest skin from being exposed to too much sunlight. Perhaps our eyes are better accustomed to more dull hues. Whatever the reason, locals break out in full force.

I think it has something to do with the sudden, but serious promise that winter is coming, because once winter comes the locals worm themselves back into their comfortable, warm abodes.

October is the window of opportunity for most to find a mate before the weather becomes, once again, disagreeable.

 

I try not to go out in public in October much for this very reason. I can spent 11 months out of the year with my headphones plugged in without a soul talking to me, but in October all bets are off. Two days ago I was chatted up by no less than 3 different men, which would sound much more surprising if you knew the icy exterior I put on while walking downtown (usually in an attempt to deter this sort of interaction).

From my experience the Curse only seems to effect men, some kind of wolf-man scenario but with hormones, and the month of October acts as the full moon.

I’ve seen the Curse muck up perfectly good male-female platonic relationships. The most cowardly of men have suddenly sprung the ability to talk to even the most gorgeous of women, and that isn’t to say that they are the ones getting most of the attention. Your average, every day woman on the street (even ones in sweatpants who just rolled out of bed) becomes an intensely sought-after commodity.

The desperation is palpable, and is not unlike the desperation one attributes to most women around valentines day. This desperation just doesn’t have a name, so I have dubbed it the October Curse.

 

October is also about the time my villianous ex-boyfriend tended to repeatedly pop back into my life to completely confuse and screw with my emotions. Even though I haven’t seen him in several years now I can tell that my anxiety about it is still there.

Supposedly the body and mind remember these sorts of things and will prepare itself for similar events when the internal clock’s alarm goes off.

Mine is going off, and my nightmares are riddled with threats. Even without his direct presence in a dream, his portrait will be on one wall in a skewed room starting at me.

My physical escape from harm somehow doesn’t mean a mental escape. And I think to myself,

  • I’ve done a good job of not giving out my current address, right? As far as I know, none of his friends even know where I live.
  • I’ve checked the lock on the balcony door, right? In the past, locks have rarely stopped him but it brings a little relief.
  • If he comes anywhere near my home I will unleash a wrath so great he’ll wish he never had.

So don’t.

Pledge of the Pharmacist

You know those moments where you go into an insanely busy pharmacy in the heart of a major metropolitan area and the pharmacist knows you by name?

Yes.

My friend’s bus driver asked her on a date once (she was engaged at the time, so it wasn’t going to happen), the same way I have stumbled upon this sense of recognition my pharmacist has when he sees me (which is pretty frequently). I wonder sometimes about the amount of information my pharmacist knows about me.

I find it a little creepy, really.

Not in a full-blown total creeper sort of way, but in a general discomfort sort of way. Not my sexually harassing high school teacher kind of way, but a “you aren’t a doctor but you know some very intimate things about me,” way.

I’m sure there is some kind of secret pharmacist oath that they have to take.

An Unexpected Presentation

Today I attended this month’s Seattle Weaving Guild meeting. Obviously the guild has nothing to do with bipolar disorder, it is an organization for people interested in weaving in the Seattle area. Basically, myself and a couple hundred little old ladies who appear to have been members since the 60’s and 70’s.

Every month there is a presentation on something related to weaving, and this week a woman spoke about her journey to create a show about weaving for a local public access station.

Before the general presentation there was another short presentation by one of the guild members who was born both blind and with cerebral palsy. She’s a very remarkable woman, and despite those particular hurdles she is an avid weaver and just retired. She told us about her childhood and how nobody knew what to do with her, and about having a terrible time trying to find a job until she had a social worker who helped her find a job where her talents were appreciated. All of this described with intense honesty and with a great amount of humor.

“Don’t live your life based on what other people tell you that you can’t do,” she said.

(Meanwhile, I’m apparently the only one in the room crying and attempting to do so casually as not to draw attention to myself).

The presentation really struck a chord with me. The last 8 months or so I’ve been living my life with the label of being disabled and I’ve just re-entered the workplace with that word still looming in my mind.

People don’t know I have a disability just looking at me (at least most of the time). I don’t require a wheelchair. I can see perfectly fine. But just because people can’t always see it doesn’t mean I don’t have a medical condition that is completely disruptive to my life.

I am very grateful for people like this woman who can bring awareness to others, and equally as grateful to the Seattle Weaving Guild for giving her a platform to do so.

The Diet Variable

First of all, I hate the word “diet”. For me that word conjures up images of people practically starving themselves while eating minuscule portions to lose weight. For the record I just want to make it clear that that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

What we ingest can have an effect on both our physical bodies and our minds, so I usually try to address what I’m consuming when looking at the external variables that are having an effect on my mood.

That said, this is a hugely touchy subject for a lot of people. I’ve never had an eating disorder in the traditional sense, but I have had periods in my life where I could not afford to eat. Obviously not knowing where my next meal was coming from put an incredible strain on me mentally and I’ve had to work very hard to combat some of the effects that has had on my psyche.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the show Surivor, but usually after 40 days without substantial food the contestants return to every day life to find that they have become overly possessive of food. They take extra food and hide it, almost without meaning to, and they can’t stop eating (even when their weight surpasses what it was when they began the show). Their minds have been wired into survival mode, and even when they return to normal life it takes a long time for them to return to having a casual (rather than overbearing) attitude toward food.

My own experience has been similar.

Each person has an individual attitude toward food and have had different experiences (good and bad) surrounding food. I don’t want to encourage any obsessive food monitoring of any kind because from my own experience, even having to monitor my food intake for medical reasons when I was being tested for a food allergy caused me so much stress that my mood was significantly worse than usual.

Today my only suggestion is to just be aware of how different things you ingest effect you.

Awareness goes a long way, and once I became conscious of how certain foods/beverages were effecting me I found that I avoided some things immediately without even trying. Other things, like caffeine, I indulge in every once in a while (heck, I live in Seattle!) even though I know it doesn’t always have a great effect on me.

I know some people who swear that vegetarian or vegan or gluten free diets help manage their symptoms, but like I said… I found that I had the opposite reaction.

Some things to consider exploring their effects:

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – though not used as widely anymore it can still be found in some seasoning salts, canned soups, Asian food, and more. It is a pretty easy thing to check for and many Asian restaurants will put signs up now to signify if they do not use MSG in their food. Some people have allergic reactions to MSG without realizing it, so this is a good one to be aware of.
  • Sodium (salt) – too much sodium has been linked to several health problems (including some heart problems) and I’ve found most of the really intense amounts of sodium in processed foods like hot dogs, frozen pizza, and velveta cheese (to name a few). If I eat some of a frozen pizza my fingers will be so swollen the next morning I can hardly bend them. Yep, that’s the sodium causing water retention. If you are going to change the amount of sodium you ingest and you take Lithium, please consult your doctor. Sodium intake directly effects the amount of lithium absorbed by your body.
  • Sugar – who doesn’t love Kool-aid, right? I’m not usually that into sugar, but it is good to pay attention to this one because of those fun sugar highs, followed by the drop in energy (and potentially mood) when the sugar has worn off.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup – at the very least, this one has a similar effect to sugar. There are several studies going on around HFCS though regarding how it is processed, as some people believe it may be doing more damage to people’s health. I feel like this is a hard one to avoid, because it can be found in anything from soda to condiments (like ketchup). I’ve noticed a lot of cereals and breads now that boast to be free of HFCS, which is nice if you’re trying to avoid it.
  • Caffeine – another culprit of the “crash” when the caffeine wears off, and as I mentioned in Variables: An Introducion I have experienced having hypomanic episodes triggered by caffeine. This may not be something that requires complete elimination from the daily routine but some people choose to. Like I said, I live in Seattle (which may as well be heralded as the caffeine capitol of the US) so it is common for social activities to be centralized around coffee. For the most part, as long as I consume the caffeine before noon I will be ok for the rest of the day.
  • Alcohol – again, I have no business telling people how to live their lives, but it might be beneficial to have a general idea of how alcohol effects you (if you intend to partake). I’ve heard from some that alcohol has triggered mania for them but for me it usually triggers depression. I can usually have a glass of wine or a beer, but for me anything more than that might wreak havoc on my mood. The effects of alcohol are very unpredictable for me.

There are plenty of other things to think about but, like I said, I am not trying to encourage any intense obsessive food monitoring.

Comfort Foods and Baking Beware!

There are periods when I am depressed where the only thing I want to eat is noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese. Seriously, I can go for days without eating anything else, and it isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that I’m not eating anything near a well balanced diet. It can be extremely difficult not to gravitate toward comfort foods while in the throes of depression. Really, all I can say on that is that my boyfriend has played a pivotal role in prompting me to switch out one of those bowls of noodles for a salad every once in a while. The only thing that has helped deter me from comfort foods is the attention of another person.

Likewise I am a big fan of baking, and whether I’m baking while manic or baking while depressed there’s suddenly an awful lot of sugary (but delicious) treats everywhere.

Do I need to eat 6 loaves of zucchini bread? No. Maybe one. I’ve found it is helpful to have a group of people that I can anticipate giving a portion of these treats to. Sharing with co-workers, friends, family, clubs, and my support group means less unhealthy food around for me to eat and less sugar for me to rattle my mood with. Also, others usually really enjoy getting a baked treat!

8pm is about the time that the sugar cravings kick in for me. It only takes a moment before I’m tearing the apartment apart looking for sugar, chocolate being on the top of the list.

My latest tricks to combat the 8pm sugar monster is to make sugar free candy readily available to myself (so I still get some of the sweet flavor without the sugar), or when that doesn’t do it I also keep a bag of chocolate chips in the apartment. I usually only need a few chocolate chips to feel satisfied enough to quit the sugar hunt. In the event that I need something more filling I have been having frosted mini wheat cereal. It does have sugar, but it also has 26% of my daily fiber requirement so I feel a lot less guilty about eating it.

Ideally, my ultimate goal is to be able to consider both nutrition and what will satisfy my craving instead of grabbing the first thing that sounds good and consuming it. It may take a while… but I’m working on it!

Wanted: Sense of Urgency

Yesterday I had an apointment with my therapist at 5pm, a lot later than when I normally take the bus downtown. While I waited for the bus to show up I quickly began to relize that the bus was running late.

It took all the presence of mind I had to keep from screaming at every old lady who took 5 minutes to slowly board or disembark the bus. By the time my bus got downtown I only had 8 minutes to reach capitol hill to make my appointment on time, that’s 6 crowded city blocks with stoplights to be traversed uphill in 8 minutes. You can bet I did a good deal of j-walking, and as I grit my teeth I made my “get the eff out of my way” face until each oncoming pedestrian, startled, parted in a silent sea ahead of me.

As the clock ticked down the moment felt so dire and my sense of urgency so great that I had a panic attack. My legs locked and my half-jog turned into a hobble as the air was suddenly sucked from my chest. The interstate whirled below me as I gasped, tears rushed their way to my flushed face but I continued to teeter on. Three minutes, two minutes, one minute…

By the time I reached the elevator it was a minute past the hour and my panic had already hit its peak. Now I was comprised of jelly, legs and arms weak as I slouched in the corner and attempted to press the button for the third floor. With all of my muscles relaxed at once, the light headed high carried me to the front desk.

I am here, but I am not present.

It has been a while since I’ve had a panic attack but for a while I was having them all the time. I’d have to lock myself in the bathroom at work so I could ride it out without everyone in the building asking me what was wrong.

I have roughly 4 years of retail work experience and I think what has helped me thrive the most in that environment is my sense of urgency. Even my current employer hires based partially on a candidate’s “sense of urgency”, the desire to accomplish a lot in a little amount of time.

Because I have this trait I have often been seen as a star employee, someone who sets an example for others. People have tired to promote me based on it. It is something that made me seem “good” at school while I was doing that too. In this day and age, having a sense of urgency is a quality coveted by many employers.

And I can admit, there are times at work where I wonder what some people are thinking. Or on the bus. Or on the street. People who have no regard for what is going on around them, people that take their time without either realizing or caring that they are somehow making things more difficult for other people. You know, those people who reach the top of the escalator and stand directly in the path of every single person coming up (and unable to stop) behind them.

I suppose that makes me valuable.

Honestly though, I wish it was something that I could turn off. That sense of urgency so prized by my employers is often much more of a burden than a blessing. It has a much darker name, anxiety, and she loves to pump me up and then screw with my emotions. Even when I am depressed it is there, only its twice as furious because I’m accomplishing so little.

Having a History of History

Well I’ve been doing a great job of ignoring everything I was supposed to do today and spent the last several hours reviving a family history project instead.

Stumbling upon an 1880 census record with some of my ancestors information was a bit of a treat, funny how at that time it seems like all of my relatives were farmers with loads of children, everyone living the 1880 hard life so I can go on living the 2011 hard life today.

Dates do give one a general sense of a life that was lived, but I can’t help but wish there was more.

Did any of these people, for example, experience bipolar symptoms? Were there days on the farm where Annie had trouble getting out of bed? Days when she milked all the cows and baked six pies in record time?

The ultimate cause of bipolar disorder is still somewhat debated. Is it caused primarily by external factors? Is it passed down through genetics? Perhaps it is a vulnerability that is passed down that requires an external factor to trigger the onset?

I’m not trying to start a debate here so don’t bother, personally I really don’t care where it comes from. The way I feel now is the way I have felt my whole life. Unlike those who were completely caught off guard by their diagnosis, I’ve always felt that something different was going on inside me.

With hundreds of ancestors though, I find it hard to believe that not one of them might have experienced life similar to the way I experience it with bipolar disorder. As I search the faces in these black and white photos what it all comes down to is speculation.