Friday, June 22, 2012

Three Years and Going Strong

An anonymous person left a question on another post today, asking if I've gone back on the drugs.  LMAO.  No indeed!!!!

I am over three years on the program now, and feeling better than ever, thank you.  Plus, I am completely convinced that nobody should ever be on those drugs, except in a temporary, emergency situation.  I don't think mental illness is a problem of the brain at all.  The brain is the innocent bystander that is affected by a problem in the body.  It is a chemical imbalance of the body, and the problems with neurotransmitters that everyone worries about are side effects.  Treating the neurotransmitters without treating the root cause of the problem is just plain dumb.

I strongly believe that a diagnosis of mental illness should immediately be followed by a battery of blood tests to find the real root of the problem.  It's not in your brain!

But as for me, I am still taking 10 Empowerplus per day, reliably every day.  I also take:

  • 3 g of Omega3
  • Kelp (iodine), 600-1000 mg as needed for my thyroid
  • Life Extension's Arthromax (which is a great product for joint pain)
  • Life Extension's gamma tocopherol (a more complete vitamin E)
  • New Chapter's Holy Basil ( just one in the morning)
  • Udo's digestive enzymes with large meals
  • A good probiotic
  • 1000 mg of pure tryptophan (also from Life Extension) to manage the occasional protracted withdrawal symptoms that I still have

And that's all!  Since I eliminated all the extra antioxidants I've felt much better.  My IBS is long gone.  I still have reflux, which I manage with Zantac and Tums, and I take Reactine (Zyrtec in the US) for my allergies.

I don't have any prescription meds at all!

Plus, I have good mental habits now.  I meditate every day, and I am careful about situations that may destabilize me.  I don't listen to depressing music or watch pessimistic movies or tv.  I still don't read fiction.    I don't have a regular job, I have just been out of the workplace too long (over 10 years) to go back.  I have given full reign to my creative side, and I do some form of creative activity every day, designing and making things.  

I sleep regular hours.  Every morning I get out of bed looking forward to my day, and almost every night I go to bed satisfied with my accomplishments.  Distractions happen, but they don't pull me off track for long.

Life is really good, and I am so glad I took the chance with the Truehope program.  Depression and anxiety are just things I never think about any more.  You can do it too!  If Empowerplus doesn't help you, some other nutritional regimen will.  I think copper imbalances are more common than most doctors think, for one thing.  But drugs are never the right answer!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Antioxidants and Autoimmune Disease

Although I said last year that I was not going to post here anymore, I recently uncovered another piece of the puzzle that is so important that I need to share it.

It seems clear now that a significant contributor to my bipolar symptoms has been Hashimoto's Disease, which is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid.  In the past year, although my mood has been almost uniformly excellent, my allergies have been getting worse and worse and worse.  Last summer I couldn't go outside, because I had developed all kinds of new reactions to various plants that never bothered me before.  Recently I began to think that my autoimmune disease and my allergies were all related.

It seemed like my immune system was working way too hard, and overreacting to the slightest thing.  So I went on the internet to see what I could find on the subject.  What I found is new research that suggests that free radicals (ROS) can actually reduce the autoimmune response, and that excessive use of antioxidants can overstimulate the immune system.  I can't find the exact article I read, but this one is on the same track.

For over a year now I've been adding the powerful antioxidant supplements resveratrol and green tea extract to my daily routine.  I don't always eat the healthiest diet, so it seemed like a good idea.  Apparently not!  After I read the article about antioxidants online, I discontinued them both.  I actually went through withdrawal!  But now, I am feeling way better, and best of all, my allergies are greatly reduced (although not completely eliminated).

For me, the final proof happened a few days ago, when I made myself a berry smoothie for the first time this spring.  My recipe is just one cup of frozen mixed berries, half a cup of plain yogurt, a dash of honey and some filtered water, well pureed.  Tastes amazing!  But the next day I felt completely wrecked, which is a feeling I now recognize as a super slow thyroid.  Given that I had made no other changes in the past couple days, I realized that the antioxidants in the smoothie had "juiced up" my immune system, which slowed down my thyroid.  Fortunately, it was just temporary!  Lesson learned.

Truehope Support suggests adding a quercetin supplement, another strong antioxidant, to help with your allergies.  I now think that if your situation involves an autoimmune response, this is bad advice.  The best advice is still to listen to your own body, and find for yourself what feels best to you.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Learning to Sleep Naturally

This is a topic I've learned a lot about during my recovery.  Learning to fall asleep without prescriptions or herbal remedies is one of the best things you can do to help yourself.  You can wean yourself off them, and the result will be much better feeling mornings! 

Bipolar specifically is a disorder of speed.  I think of it as like a computer that is either going too fast or too slow for it's design.  When you can't sleep it's because things are going too fast.  So the entire goal is to slow down.  My sleep process has 4 steps and takes about an hour:
  1. Make notes
  2. Slow down physically
  3. Slow down mentally
  4. Set intentions for sleep
But before you even get to the 4 steps, you should start planning for sleep at least an hour before.  Turn off the tv and the computer well before bedtime.  If you're listening to music choose something relaxing.  Make your bed environment as nice as possible.  These things seem obvious, but they all help signal yourself that you are serious about sleeping well.  Now, here are the details on the steps:

1.  Make Notes

So often I used to lie down for sleep, and then find myself thinking about all the things I have to do tomorrow.  Now I write them all down before I turn off the light.  Keep a notepad by your bed for this purpose.  If you think of more things after you lie down, it is best to turn the light back on and write them down right away.  Trust me, this will get you to sleep sooner.  If you try to "just remember" them, you spend so much effort "remembering" that it delays your sleep.  When you write it all down, it helps clear your mind.

2. Slow Down Physically

Get in bed and turn the lights very low.  State your intention:  "I intend to slow down my body and prepare for sleep."  This keeps you focused.  Relax.  There a lot of different relaxation routines out there.  Sex, by the way, is NOT recommended for insomniacs at bedtime, although earlier in the day or evening I think it IS helpful.  I have my Level 1 Reiki certification, and I will often do 20 minutes of Reiki on myself at this point.  Or, here is a really good relaxation routine I learned from tv many years ago:
  • Imagine that your left arm is very heavy.  Say to yourself 3 times "my left arm is heavy."  Feel your arm sinking into the bed.
  • Imagine that your right arm is very heavy.  Say to yourself 3 times "my right arm is heavy."  Feel your arm sinking into the bed.
  • Now apply the same routine to both arms at the same time.
  • Do both legs.
  • Arms and legs all together.
  • Now, imagine that your arms and legs are warm.  Say to yourself 3 times "my arms and legs are warm."  Feel how warm and heavy they are.
  • Imagine that your whole torso is warm, repeating the words 3 times.
  • Feel your heart beating.  Say to yourself "my heart is slow," 3 times.  Feel your heart slowing down.
  • Focus on your forehead and feel that it is light and cool.  "My forehead is cool," 3 times.
  • Finally, feel how much more relaxed you are.  Say "I am at peace," 3 times.
Sometimes I skip ahead to Step 4 at this point, I am so ready to sleep.  But, I am more likely to stay asleep and sleep better if I can do Step 3.

3. Slow Down Mentally

For me, this is the most important step.  If I feel off the next morning, it is usually because I skipped this step.  If you have trouble staying asleep, this is the most important step for you too.  Basically, it is a form of meditation, where the entire focus is on interrupting the cycle of internal chatter.

Many people feel they are bad meditators because they cannot stop their thoughts.  The benefit of meditation is from the effort, not the result.  As long as you keep trying, you are benefiting.

A meditation timer is a very, very helpful thing.  You don't want to be constantly wondering what time it is.  I have the Enso meditation timer, which I LOVE.  The best thing about it is that it has a choice of chimes, and you can set the volume pretty low, so you are not jolted out of your meditation by a shrill chime.  It is a little expensive, though, and most smart phones can download a timer app.  A digital kitchen timer or yoga timer will also work.  Don't use anything that ticks!

So, you are already lying relaxed in bed with the lights low.  Set your timer.  I generally do 20 minutes, but if you are a beginner meditator I would start with 5 or 10 minutes.  State your intention:  "I intend to slow down my mind and prepare for sleep." 

Choose a point of focus.  The most common one is your breath, which is a good one for many people.  I often have sinus issues, though, which makes focusing on my breath a little stressful, which is undesireable.  So I will focus on the sound of the furnace or fan.  Find something neutral and stick with it.  I will use the breath for the rest of this discussion, but you use what works best for you.

Feel your breath going in and out of your nose.  Focus on the sensations, cool air in, warm air out.  Think only about how the air feels going in and out.  As soon as you find yourself thinking about something else, stop, and refocus on your breath.  Don't beat yourself up, don't wonder why you started thinking about that, just stop, and refocus.  Keep doing that for the entire time.  Seems simple, right?

What this does, is that it breaks the cycle of all your worries and internal chatter that you are carrying from your day.  Tell yourself that during the meditation time there is nothing as important to think about as your breath.  You have already written down everything you need to do tomorrow, so you don't have to think about that.  You are just going to think about your breath.  That is the only important thing right now.

Sometimes I fall asleep before the timer goes off.  That's ok.  If you are still going when the timer chimes, you will notice that your thoughts are coming much slower now, and any sense of urgency is gone.

4. Set Intentions for Sleep

Turn off any lights, and get into your most comfortable sleep position.  If you are really sleepy now, jump ahead to stating your intentions.  If you are just feeling mellow, take a minute to appreciate how relaxed you are, and how comfy your bed is.  The sheets are nice, the pillow is nice, etc.  Keep your attention close, don't go off on a tangent about washing your curtains or organizing your closet.  Stay focused.

State your intentions.  I always cover all the bases:  "I intend to fall asleep quickly and easily, to sleep deeply and well, to have pleasant dreams, and to awaken refreshed and ready to go!"  I am almost always asleep within 5, sometimes 10 minutes of stating my intention to sleep. 

On the rare occasions when I am really wired, I find it is best to get up, turn the light on, and do something constructive.  Usually I will plan something, a project or an activity that has lots of steps, and write it all down.  If something is bugging me I will try to write down what it is and get to the core of the problem.  If I am awake late at night it is usually because I am a little hypomanic, and I know that I need less sleep at those times, so I don't worry about it.  It is very important not to worry.  If you are finding yourself worrying about anything, be clear with yourself that it is not important right now and you can think about it during the day if necessary.  Sometimes I repeat the meditation step, or restate my sleep intentions, and then I will sleep.

The longer you stick with this routine, the easier it gets, and you and your body learn what it takes to fall asleep and sleep well.  Don't expect miracles!  If you normally fall asleep around 3 am, don't expect to be asleep by 11.  Time your routine to end at about 2:45 am, and each night make it earlier by 15-30 minutes, depending on how it goes.  You want to build a habit of success.  A little bit of variation is natural, depending on your activity during the day.  But stick with it, and pay attention to how much better you are feeling in the morning.  That is the reinforcement that keeps you motivated.  Sweet dreams!

Monday, May 9, 2011

To Your Good Health

It may not have been clear in a few vague allusions I've made here and there throughout this blog, but I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction.  I believe that what we predominantly think about and talk about becomes our experience.  It has become clear that as long as I am writing about my health I am going to have things to write about.  And that is not really what I want.

My two-year anniversary on Empowerplus will be on May 19.  At first I was going to set this post to publish then, but I realized I am ready to let it go now.  Empowerplus has been a huge success for me.  Probably a lifesaver.  I will continue to take it as maintenance, but I have to say that the process of recovery is complete.  It's time to focus on something other than my health.

So, I'd like to end with a toast, of pure water if you like, "to your good health, and may the road you are on, take you to where you want to be."  Cheers!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting Back to Normal

Today I am cautiously optimistic.  Even though my back was slow to heal, April was a pretty good month.  I managed a two day sewing class, I did some major spring cleaning, things are looking good.  I am even managing one cup of coffee a day!

I have had a few days of protracted withdrawal symptoms, with all this physical work, and also still with PMS.  My biggest protracted withdrawal symptom has been fatigue, where I have been dragging all day, and sleeping a couple of extra hours at night, with those good old colourful Risperdal dreams.  The drug-induced dreams really have an entirely different character than my usual dreams.  They are much clearer and really interesting, almost compelling.  But I hate sleeping in now, and being groggy in the morning.  I also notice that when the drug is active in my bloodstream my decision-making ability goes out the window.  People will ask me a simple question and I just dither, which fortunately is NOT the norm for me any more.  But you know, it's just a few days a month now.

I have big plans for May, starting with cooking a family dinner for Mother's Day this weekend.  This will be the first time in a very long time that I have made the whole kit and kaboodle entirely by myself!  I used to enjoy cooking and entertaining, so this is another milestone in my recovery.

Plus, I am planning some redecorating this month.  I've had new fabric for curtains stored away in the basement for at least 3 years now.  This is the month they get done!  Check with me in June to see if I managed it!  I also want to move around some furniture and rethink some of my storage.

I want to get the heavy lifting done this month, because I know that once the hot weather sets in I won't have the energy.  It will be nice to just sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yay, April!

Well, I have to say that I am very happy to see April roll around again.  Traditionally, April and May are very good months for me.  Traditionally, November and March are my bad months.  I suppose the best thing would be to just feel good all the time and not rely on seasonal changes.  But you know, the seasons change in the outside world, so maybe it doesn't make sense to resist the internal changes.

My personal story these days is all about releasing resistance.  I'm trying to accept and accomodate things more.  This is a hard-won place of peace, because I have been sick pretty much continually since the beginning of February, with one thing after another, culminating in a major back injury three weeks ago.  A self-inflicted back injury.  An injury that resulted from not accepting my body the way it is.  So, lesson learned!

It is interesting that even though my mood didn't suffer this March, I still ended up being sick.  Over a year ago already I started to wonder if, with my mental health under control, I would still find some other way to be sick.  I know it smacks of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that has pretty much turned out to be true.  I have been sick so long that it is hard to even imagine myself being completely healthy.

But, I know that's what I have to do.  Imagine it, feel it, believe it.  It certainly is a relief to know that my mood is stable now, even with an agonizing back injury and loads of painkillers.  I can build from there.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Negative Thoughts

Many people have heard philosopher Rene Descartes' famous line, "I think, therefore I am."  Experienced meditators know there is more to the story.  We are, even when we stop thinking.  We are not our thoughts.

Thoughts are only as important as we allow them to be.  We choose which thoughts to make important by our attention to them.  Some thoughts feel better than others.  If a thought feels bad to you, then it is not your personal truth.  Negative thoughts feel bad because they are discordant from your higher truth.

Cognitive Behavourial Therapy (CBT) is an excellent way to learn to catch negative thoughts that don't serve you, and replace them with better-feeling thoughts.  The first (and maybe the biggest) step is to notice your negative thought.  When I first read David Burns' book Feeling Good, I had a tendency to fall all the way down to suicidal thoughts before I realized that my thinking was negative and unhelpful.  I did that a few times before I started being able to catch the negative spiral as it began.  It is all about practice.  Practice, practice, practice. 

You are not your thoughts, but your thoughts do affect you and your health.  The key is to remember that you are not at the mercy of your thoughts.  You can start by not taking them so seriously, and progress to challenging them and then changing them.  There is always more than one way to look at something, and usually our negative thoughts are not in fact true.

For me, I found that a useful attitude towards my negative thoughts was scorn.  I was scornful of my negative thoughts, because I knew that they were unhelpful and not really who I am.  Nowadays I do not have to be so heavy handed with them, and I generally chuckle when one comes up.

There are many ways to approach changing your thoughts.  David Burns' book Feeling Good is the classic book on CBT, and takes a very rational and formalized approach.  A similar but pared down approach is taken by Byron Katie with her process The Work.  Abraham-Hicks also offer a variety of ways to change your thoughts that are more based on your feelings.  I still think Ask and It Is Given is a good book to start with on their materials.

You are not at the mercy of your thoughts.  You can start to change them right now.

Related Post:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy