Friday, January 25, 2013

Tools and Tips for Mental Health

After 13 years, I have developed some tools or tricks to help battle my Bipolar Disorder.  Here ya go:

1)  The first thing is called a Mental Toolbox.  This is a collection of things I can do if I feel like I am spinning out of control or falling into a depression.  For me it's things like getting outside, getting exercise, seeing my therapist, talking to a friend, journaling, listening to music, etc.  I just flip through these tools mentally and find one that fits my situation and go with it.  If I get through three or four and nothing works over a few days, then it's definitely time to see my psychiatrist.  It helps me to always know a doctor or nurse at my clinic is available on the phone 24/7.  My mom knows all about my Mental Toolbox and if she is concerned about my mental state she will remind me to try the Toolbox.  It really helps to have some shared language between you and your family.  Bywords that you both are familiar with help to focus on the problem.

2)  It used to be that with the slightest sign of mania I would call my psychiatrist and see if I needed to change my medications.  We've both figured out this is not the best course all the time.  You don't always know the nature of the problem if you don't give it a few days to see what's really going on.  A knee jerk reaction to up the Risperdal or lower the Lamictal may not be what you need.  There can be a lot of external factors that cause a blip on your mental health radar.  I think about whether I've been eating too much or too little, whether I have had to stay up late or wake up in the middle of the night with the kids.  Whether I have been drinking too much.  What time of the menstrual cycle I am in (my excellent psychiatrist specializes in women's mental illness and is well-versed in the effects your cycle can have on your mental state).  Whether it's a full moon (seriously!).  Whether I am having a personal or financial problem.  There are usually things going on outside my brain that are causing a change in how I feel.  It's a good idea to evaluate those triggers before reaching for the pillbox.  I can now recognize what part of Bipolar I am feeling after a day or two.  If it gets better by using something in my Toolbox, then I don't need to adjust my meds.  I've grown comfortable with waiting it out for a few days because each time something scary starts to happen I grow more confident in how I deal with it.  I've become very in tune with my illness and it's symptoms. 

3) A quick coping test for me is this:  I say "Has anything changed in my life since last week when I didn't feel this agitated, phobic, paranoid, or manic?"  I think about whether there have been big changes in my finances, my work, my kids, my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, my in-laws or the like.  If none of those have really changed since last week, I know my anxiety is purely chemical, a pure distortion in my brain, a true chemical imbalance.  This forces me to calm down and think before I make a big (and potentially regrettable) decision in the aforementioned areas.  It also tells me I do need to make a change in my dosages, with my psychiatrist's help.  It's hard to tell sometimes what is normal mood change that anyone would feel and what's bipolar, and asking this question really helps.  Meds really do fix your brain.  And quick. 

4)  My illness is organic and it changes.  As I get stronger so does it, and it finds alternate disguises and new ways to chip away at me.  It helped me when I analogized it to a video game, like old school Zelda or Donkey Kong.  Through great effort and sometimes repeated failure, I would finally figure out how to "beat a level" or beat the enemy in one level of the game.  I would unlock the door to the next level and a new enemy or a new kind or test would await on the next screen.  It gives me a chance to feel proud of beating the first level of the Bipolar game, but guards me against getting complacent in the face of my illness as the next challenge is literally right around the corner.  Mental illness is the dragon that never sleeps.  It started out, when I was hospitalized for three weeks, that I could not make any headway in the game, and seemed to fall back to square one if I ever did.  Now I gain more ground that I lose, and that will be true for all life-long sufferers of this chronic disease. 

The bottom line is that there is lots you can do on your own to fight this thing, but you are never alone.  We can help each other get healthy every single day.  Be brave.  Share your story and you are bound to help someone else who is struggling. 

Happy Friday Bright Lights!


Friday, January 4, 2013


I heard an oldie but goodie today.  Ironic by Alanis Morissette.  "It's like a black fly in your chardonnay, ten thousands spoons when all you need is a knife, meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his Beautiful wife..."  Isn't it ironic.  It's about the things that go wrong just when you most want them to go right.  Today was the opposite kind of day for me. 

A green light day.  When things run, for the most part, just like they should.  Most of the time those days mean I am trending toward mania.  I feel good, and I immediately have to think (I have been trained to think), do I feel TOO good?  Should I take more meds to un-good how I feel?  Isn't that a sad way to have to think about happiness.  Never mind, it's just how bipolars have to think. 

Anyway, I didn't sleep as well a few days last week.  I was over-saturated with holiday wine and food and year-end worries.  I was getting a cold.  I was getting paranoid about little things.  All of these things were warning signs.  Thanks to great poise and counsel from Nathan, and with the aid of a couple extra lorazepam, I came off the ledge and got back to normal.  What's left though is a nice feeling of synchronicity with the world.  When this usually happens I tend toward the hyperreligious and get all preachy about the end of religion.  I think a lot about heaven.  I get going too fast and high and have a car accident or lock myself out of the house or drop a kid on his head.  There was a hint of that a few days ago but I slowed down and willed myself to be within myself and it seems to have passed. 

So today:  I ran out of my risperdal and there was a delay with the doctor getting the new prescription but it came through just before the pharmacy closed, so I don't have to go without it this weekend.  I saw four dear friends with great big smiles on their faces and had really touching conversations with them.  I was just putting my four year old's dinner on the table as he came into the dining room and said "I'm hungry."  He has started the basics of reading and we played freeze tag and hopscotch in the sun.  His grandmother met us at the park and watch as he helped my one year old son slide down the slide for the first time.  The baby has started signing "all done" and saying "thank you."  My husband helped me clean up the kitchen.  I uploaded some work files to the social security website just before the close of business.  Both kids napped.  Etc etc etc. 

BUT, then also we had an explosive diaper.  I spilled water all over the newly varnished table.  And my one year old has not gone to bed yet at 10:08.  So not everything went as perfect as you please, which makes me know I am staying healthy and arresting mania.  There is a lot of love in this family today and the good things about being a wife and mom are all in place.  It's a 95 out of 100 day, and that's as good as I could ever want it to be. 

Best to all of you.  Hil

God, to have these guys in a room together again....