Monthly Archives: April 2014

Obsessing Over Food

Even though I was diagnosed as a teenager with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (due to primarily overwhelming obsessive thinking I couldn’t seem to control), the majority of my obsessive compulsions as a child were centered around food.

Yes, I was that childhood friend, the one you invited over for dinner and wouldn’t eat any of the food at your house, save a hamburger bun with some ketchup on it. In fact, my diet was based largely on ketchup, usually with a side of a potato product or bread. We joked that I was a purveyor of “the white and yellow diet” because I would only eat foods that were white or yellow (minus the ketchup).

If the texture was wrong, I couldn’t eat it. If the color was wrong, I couldn’t eat it. If the taste was wrong, I couldn’t eat it. To ensure that all foods met my needs, I picked them apart thoroughly, looking for anything despicable in there that might turn me off before I ate them. This earned me the nickname, “the Inspector” -something that I thought was hilarious at the time but does sting slightly now.

I realize a lot of kids are picky, but this was much more intense. If the food didn’t fit my standards, I wouldn’t eat.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been introduced to new foods. New flavors, new textures, and I’ve come to appreciate that the crunchiness of a cucumber (though very difficult for me to handle previously) is something I’ve practiced eating and now enjoy. I stopped picking through food and have attempted to embrace the action of taking a bite blind… something that has gone well, up until recently.

A couple months ago I was at a Japanese restaurant and bit into a clump of sand that was swirling around the bottom of my miso soup. I was instantly repulsed, and the childhood voice boomed in my head, “see! Why didn’t you look for that??”

A few days later, it was a hotdog I was eating. I bit into the meaty cylinder into something hard. I threw it down immediately, and was green for the rest of the day.

A few days later I bit into a bone in a breakfast sausage at the hospital where I was getting my blood drawn.

After drinking a glass of water only to see a spot of black mold sitting at the bottom of the glass, the truth of my past came flooding back.

“You can’t trust it, you can’t trust food” it said.

Ever since it has been like taking one step forward and two steps back. I have banned all processed meats, including processed meats in casings in my diet. I am willing to eat ground meat, but only if I am cooking it myself and can personally guarantee what’s inside. No soup. No deli meats with rubs unless the rub has been concocted by me. And that is only the beginning. I can feel the window that I’ve worked so hard to open closing, and I feel helpless to stop it.

I’ve found crap in my food once a week for the last couple months, like some kind of cruel clockwork reminder. How is that possible when I’ve gone years without anything like this happening? It is all I can think about, and when I stop thinking about it for a second… something else goes horribly wrong and I wind up with a mouth full of something inedible.

I realize the issue here is that I am too sensitive. One wrong move on my food’s part is enough to make my world come crashing down, and then obsess over it for days, weeks… even months at this point. Really, as a child, finding a bug in my food was on par with finding onions in there, and I’ve been able to get over the onion bit. The bugs though (minus fruit flies in my tea) -not so much.

This is something important to me, as I’ve been extremely proud of the changes I’ve made in my eating habits and my thinking (even if not as permanent as I hoped) and I expect that when I talk to my new psychiatrist this is going to be one of the things that needs to come up.

In the meantime I will just have to retreat into the world of potatoes and eggs and macaroni. Perhaps pulling back my forces will allow me to muster for another all on food assault.

Asking For Help

I’ve been seeing an alarming number of blog posts in which people discredit the notion of asking for help, or claim that asking for help is for the weak.

I find this claim wildly disturbing. Not only has this idea been deterring people across the globe for seeking help for mental health treatment for ages, but it says something that I believe is entirely false.

The truth is that asking for help draws on many traits that are incredibly far from weakness, such as:

Courage

Stepping forward and making your needs known, even just asking a question takes courage. Since when was courage ever synonymous with weakness?

Trick question, it never has been! Courage requires:

Strength 

Something which is the very opposite of weakness!

It is one thing to have courage, but to use it one must have the strength to move forward and take action.

Intelligence

Have you ever heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one?” Asking for help is essentially the intelligent act of asking for two heads to take on a problem instead of just one. Double the heads means double the chances of finding a solution.

Asking for help can be difficult, but overcoming fear shows a display of courage, strength, and intelligence. These traits are not traits of weakness, but traits that most human beings would hope to portray in their lifetime.

I wanted to take a second to also note that asking for help can feel much easier when faced with many options of people to speak with. A parent, friend, or doctor might seem like an obvious choice, but teachers, co-workers, HR department representatives, local crisis phone lines, even sending an email to a blogger (like me) is an option.

If you don’t get the response you are hoping for when asking for help the first time, consider it a practice run! There are other people you can talk to, so don’t give up!

Hypomania and Physical Burnout

Oftentimes for me, having a revved up mind can lead to having a worn-out body. After all, jumping rapidly from a severely depressed, sedentary state into one of intense energy and hypomania has typically meant going from walking zero miles a week to walking 20 miles a week (with no real form of titration).

It isn’t uncommon for people to hit the gym harder than usual when hypomanic, and since we can’t seem to feel the strain or pain associated with working out we assume it isn’t there.

Fast forward a few days or weeks or months and what you’ve got is a total physical burnout.

It can be very difficult to rest (or sit still at all) when in the middle of a hypomanic state. Resting can feel uncomfortable, and for me it is a sure-fire way for negative thoughts to creep back into my life, something that keeping myself extremely busy tends to help block out.

Well, Saturday (in the wee hours of the morning) I went to the emergency room. Though the pain I was feeling was  not a product of strenuous physical activity, I believe my hypomanic fast-paced attitude the last few weeks definitely contributed to my situation.

I have a pretty intense case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, something I normally regulate through what I’m eating and medication I take (errr, am supposed to take) several times a week. As I mentioned above, sometimes when my mind is revved up, I don’t pay enough attention to my body. Not only that, hypomania can often mask the physical pain that lets me gauge how well (or not) I am feeling due to IBS symptoms.

By the time I realized how severely my symptoms had gotten out of hand, I was in a hospital bed at 2 am loaded up on morphine after waking up an hour earlier at my apartment in so much pain I could barely speak or walk. It wasn’t until the doctor asked me how long the problem had been going on and I checked my notes (I keep notes for mood charting purposes on my physical and mental health) and I realized it had been escalating for three weeks and I hadn’t stopped to notice.

Ooops?

I was lucky that even though I was in intense pain, the problem wasn’t life-threatening. Still, as high as I was on morphine, all I wanted to do was kick myself for not taking time out sooner to pay attention to my own body.

Hypomania may make us feel invincible, but the truth of the matter is that we are not. Running our bodies into the ground is a sure-fire way to trigger depression, so taking a moment to rest a few times throughout the week can not only help maintain our physical health but may also help maintain hypomania longer by keeping physical triggers at bay!

I am still planning on going to Florida this week, I am just working hard to rest until then. I’ve already seen improvements in my physical health, and even though my mind keeps saying,

“Go, go, go! There is so much to do and so little time to do it in!”

I am taking my own advice and plopping myself down on the couch for as long as my brain will let me!

Pet Separation Anxiety

Luna, A Seattle Pup

Luna, A Seattle Pup

I’m sure it is no surprise to hear that having a pet cat or dog can help decrease anxiety and depression in most patients, and for the most part I find that having Luna in my life has helped my anxiety and helps me take care of myself better when depressed.

Spending so much time with my funny little dog friend has not come without its drawbacks though. After all, the folks I care about most are the ones I tend to have anxiety about… and Luna is no exception.

I was very excited to find out that this week Corey and his friends had set up a trip for the two of us to Florida to help celebrate our anniversary. We’ll be gone for roughly five days, that’s a time period five times longer than any we’ve ever left Luna in the care of someone else before.

I know that the issue here is not who will be taking care of her, how good a job they’ll be doing, or even really the state of her own health while we’re gone. I feel confident in all of those things, the area I don’t feel confident in is myself.

Even though Luna gets kind of bummed out when I’m not around, that isn’t much compared with the anxiety I feel (and the horrible conclusions my own brain jumps to) when I am away from her for too long. I find myself in a constant state of panic and total disbelief that she might be ok, curled up in a ball, sleeping on the couch.

This is not uncommon for me. These are the same feelings I have when Corey is away from me for more than 12 hours, and the difference is that I can’t exactly text Luna. Having to simply believe she is fine is very difficult for me… where, for some reason, believing she has burned down the house seems much more likely.

I know there must be some way we can meet in the middle, both me keeping as stiff an upper lip as I can (heh) and maybe working out some kind of daily update from our petsitting friends (something I generally require from Corey when he is away as well). All in all, this issue wont keep me from having a good time in Florida, but it is one more thing I wish I wasn’t worrying about! I just have to keep reminding myself that things will be fine, and I will enjoy myself much more if I can let this go.

Still Waiting for an SSDI Decision

After the SSDI hearing in February (but pre post-hearing mental breakdown) my attorney told me to expect a letter in the mail with a decision in 3-5 weeks.

In the midst of the intensely depressed meltdown that followed, I checked the mail each day (some days twice) in hopes of hearing something. Every day since February 13th I have put my mail key in the mailbox and experienced a panic attack being triggered. The faster I put the key in and open it before closing it again, the more quickly the panic attack ends.

This has been the routine every day (except Sundays, and as I mentioned, some days twice because the mail didn’t come on time) for nine weeks now.

The intense depression dissipated. The notion that my life would end if I wasn’t awarded SSDI has passed. I’ve formulated a new future in my mind, a future where I don’t have the things that I wanted… and that is ok with me now. I know that leaving my home and having to find a new one farther away from the city is part of that future, but in the last couple weeks (without the depression) it doesn’t feel like the burden it felt like before.

I am no stranger to a sense of paranoia, of distrust, and I admit I was beginning to become suspicious of my mailman. After all, he works so inconsistently… what if he lost my decision letter? What if he was sitting in his little white hatch-back eating fried chicken reading it? I know. But that is where my mind goes!

Two weeks ago someone (Corey? A friend? My sister? I don’t recall) suggested I call my attorney’s office to see if they had any news. I agreed this was a great idea, but was so hypomanic all this time the days kept slipping past, faster and faster, and I forgot (several times).

When I made up my mind to call the office, I couldn’t remember the name of my case worker. Once I remembered it, I couldn’t remember if I was remembering it correctly, and my fear of phone calls was compounded by the thought that I would call the office and ask for someone that didn’t exist.

I finally made the call on Wednesday. The name I remembered was the right name, but the case worker said it isn’t uncommon for the decision to take this long, if not longer. 

The words she said rung in my ears:

“They haven’t made a decision yet.”

As much as I want to know the conclusion of all this fun I can’t help but feel pleased with the fact that there is still some element of mystery. Mystery in the sense that if they want to approve my claim, take your time! On the other hand, if you want to deny it, do it as soon as humanly possible.

At any rate, I’ve been waiting to go into more detail about the hearing until I received my decision letter… which of course I thought would be sooner rather than later. At this point, if the deep contemplation going on over there has things leaning in any way in my favor, take nine more weeks. I really don’t mind.

“Black Box” Features Lead Female Character with Bipolar Disorder

This month abc is premiering a new show called Black Box featuring Kelly Reilly as a leading neurologist with a big secret; she has bipolar disorder. 

This move by a big network name would be more surprising if it weren’t for showtime’s six emmy winning hit Homeland, a drama featuring Claire Danes as a CIA officer who (you guessed it) also has bipolar disorder.

I believe this interest in characters living with mental illness is both because of the increase in exposure Americans are having to celebrities, charities, and positive media concerning bipolar disorder, as well as the evolution of American television anti-heros. Let’s face it, we love it when our main characters have a secret to struggle with (i.e. Dexter, Breaking Bad, etc).

Really, whatever the reason, bipolar disorder is about to be back in the spotlight, and with abc’s new show it will be available for more people to watch than ever before.

Personally, I would say that I was a little confused by the initial preview I saw (a commercial on tv) as I am always a little skeptical about how realistically portrayed bipolar disorder is on television, but I checked out a few clips on the website and saw character Catherine Black displaying several symptoms I have personally experienced (and experience regularly).

At any rate, this is something you may want to keep on your radar. The first episode airs on Thursday, April 24th at 10, so check it out!

The Switch

I’ve been flying high on a cloud made of hypomania the last couple weeks, so high I thought the wonderful feelings and extra energy might last forever.

Then, the switch happened.

A bipolar switch can easily be defined as the moment one mood or episode changes into another. The problem is that the way these switches happen is usually much less straight forward.

Realistically, there are times when folks (myself included) wake up one morning and things have changed. I would say this is the most polite way bipolar disorder can make a shift in mood, but for me that is very rarely the case.

There might also be times where the switch occurs sometime over the course of the day (or night). This seems to be the case most often when an episode is triggered by something, or when one has been holding everything back all day only to get home and have it all explode out in a flurry of emotion. To have your day thus interrupted is certainly inconvenient, and feeling your mood change from one extreme to the next can be uncomfortable, if not totally maddening.

The third (and my decidedly least favorite) option the switch can take is to playfully leap back and forth between moods for hours, days, even weeks before finally settling again on an opposing mood.

This was how my day went down Sunday (yesterday). It was as if my mood had been sent through some kind of cheese grater, switching six times between delightful hypomania and a horrible mixed state.

One minute I was intensely irritable, throwing things in the apartment, stomping around like a child and yelling at the dog, then I would be delightfully enjoying a burrito and moseying along in the Seattle sun. An hour or two later, more scowling, throwing, and stomping, followed by a casual, relaxed couple hours watching a movie.

Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely uncommon for me. There are times when it seems like my brain either wants to ease me into the next type of episode by giving me little hints of it at a time, or wants to “spice up” an episode by sprinkling in all kinds of unwanted turmoil. Either way, going from feeling elated to self-punishing and back to elated within a series of a few minutes can leave one feeling very confused at best, and certainly scared as to what might happen next.

I woke up this morning very alert. I had a dream last night about Las Vegas, which meant mostly waking up with a smile on my face (and you know, I’m not going to speculate why Las Vegas, in my dream, was populated solely by the Chinese) so I feel tentatively optimistic. The problem is that after a day like yesterday, I’m starting my week off very nervously.

After all, will today be a repeat of yesterday? Are my joyous recent days of hypomania over soon, or might I be lucky enough that yesterday’s mixed moments were a product of something fleeting like… hormones? Either way, I suppose being prepared at this point is half the battle, and after yesterday’s roller coaster I don’t expect to let the rest of this switch take me by surprise!