Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Bipolar Survival Toolbox

When I made the decision not to take mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or antipsychotics, I realized that I was going to have to pay much better attention to what I was doing to my body and what I was putting in it, so I developed a regimen that I try to stick to (try being the operative word, here). I do pretty well with this except for the constant battle with my thyroid. I have hypothyroidism, and as soon as my thyroid levels start to crap out again, all bets are off.

My Bipolar Survival Toolbox includes the following:

1. Sleep hygiene. Very important. I need to get my eight hours; I sometimes feel myself revving after only a couple of bad nights, so even though I'm trying to get off of trazodone as a regular thing, I can see keeping it around to take least until I figure out some other things that work.

2. Excellent nutrition. Lots of whole grains, fruits, and veggies (I'm a vegetarian, so there isn't any meat in the equation), no pop or candy or junk food, very little processed food. Limit alcohol (I very rarely have even one drink these days, but I do have rather a weakness for Bailey's Irish Cream!). Limit caffeine...right now I have two cups of tea in the morning, and that's about it. (Us Brits just have to have our tea!)

3. Hydration. Drink a minimum of 64 oz water a day (not including tea!).

4. Stress management (yoga/meditation). I do yoga at least four times a aspire to do yoga at least four times a week. Doesn't always work out that way. I do biofeedback/meditation with the help of the Healing Rhythms software by the folks at Wild Divine. I also have a prescription for Ativan which I take (very rarely--that's a slippery slope, that is) when stress starts getting to me. I do my best not to put myself in situations which I know are triggering for me, and that means avoiding certain in-laws and out-laws completely.

5. Supplements. I take flax oil (omega 3 goodies), a multi-vitamin (no iron...iron make me ill), B-complex, and calcium (last ditch pre-menopausal attempt to avoid osteoporosis).

6. Journaling. I journal every morning, just to get a feel for where I'm at. I find this more effective than mood-charting, which I tried for a while, but found that I was getting too focused on every little fluctuation and blowing things way out of proportion.

7. Medical support if necessary. I have a psychiatrist I see every few months, just to check in. He prescribes trazodone to help me sleep, and Ativan to help me deal with stress. He thinks I'm an episode waiting to happen, but after three years of this regimen, I'm more stable than I have ever been. I figure as long as I'm on his patient list, if I get in trouble and decide I do need chemical intervention, I won't have to wait months to see someone.

8. People who watch out for me. Between my husband, my mom, and my best friend, I've got three people who know what symptoms to watch for and who are committed to telling me if they think I'm starting to go off the rails. (Whether or not I listen remains to be seen!)

9. Exercise. If I'm getting depressed, it's the last thing I want to do, but it really does help. Even if it's just going along with the Chief when he walks the dogs at night.

A lot of this stuff was a major lifestyle adjustment for me, and I still consider myself a work in progress. I don't stick to it perfectly by any stretch. I have days when I don't feel like hitting the yoga mat, PMS days when I am compelled by hormonal forces beyond my control to chow down half a bag of chips or a bag of Ghiardelli chocolate (you know, the stuff with the soft caramel inside...*drools on keyboard*...), days when I feel like eating healthy is just too damn much work, and days when I feel resentful because other people don't have to watch themselves so carefully.

It has been a long, slow battle back to clarity, creativity, and health, and I still don't think I'm working at the level I did before medication. But this regimen has done a lot for me in the three years I've been working with it. I've lost 40 pounds (20 more to go!), I've started doing my quilt art again, and more recently, I've started writing again.

Unfortunately (some would say) I've also regained my off-beat sense of humor...which my nearly-teen-aged son is finding quite disconcerting. And occasionally embarrassing. But we won't go into that here...


Gianna said...

my husband is a brit too!

you live in the I have that right?

we do too.

Jazz said...

Yes, I'm in about-to-be-snowed-on-again Minnesota. My folks moved here when I was nearly four, so I've been here nearly forty years...but all my parents friends were British, and I grew up strongly influenced by that culture. You wouldn't think there'd be that much of a culture gap, but let me tell ya, growing up here with British parents was tough! It's something I'll probably post about some time in the, with high school some twenty five years behind me, I can appreciate the humor in a lot of it.


bipolarblast said...

I'm completely aware of the culture gap...after 9 years of living with my husband we still run into cultural clashes from time to time...and I still fail to understand him occasionally too---meaning his English---random new words or idiomatic expressions.

And boy when it comes to merging our two families...his parents are polite with me, but I can tell they are horrified by my American ways...they are somewhat my husbands report...not mine.

Also I'm a first generation Italian/American which makes for even more intense differences...

Jazz said...

Oh, that is too hubby is second generation Italian American...and my parents have been known to be a bit snobbish. When we got engaged, I was told by my father that I was "marrying beneath my station."

Hubby is always giving me a hard time when I come out with some odd British expression that he's never heard before.

BPD in OKC said...

Wow. Thanks for this post. I'm going to use it in my own life. Do you mind if I post this on my blog with a plug to your site?

Jazz said...

Glad you found it helpful.

Go ahead and post it...if it can be of help to someone else, that's awesome!


Stephany said...

This is a good list, and i've found it's the key to success is to pay attention [well i did this by becoming accutely aware of]to what triggers moods, etc.

Jazz said...

Yes, it's so important to get to know yourself well enough to know what can set you off. Since my diagnosis, I've really started paying attention to that sort of thing in the journals. Unfortunately, most of my insight has come in retrospect!