Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to everyone who celebrates a holiday at this time of year!  The countdown is on for me.  We open our presents on Christmas Eve, tomorrow night, and I have nothing wrapped and work still to do on two gifts.  I threw my back out five days ago, which has really made things challenging.  It is healing very slowly, probably because I am using it too much.  But you know, back injuries are really a catch-22, they need some activity but not too much, it is hard to get the right mix.  Last year I wrapped my presents about 3 hours before we opened them, and I think it will be much the same this year.

I have eliminated the tiredness I mentioned in the last post.  In the early fall I cut back to a maintenance dose of 8 Empowerplus capsules per day.  Any more was feeling like too much.  When I realized in November that my thyroid was probably getting slow, I tried raising my dose to 10.  It worked like a charm!  I felt good again.  Before my period I still had the sluggishness return, and raising my dose to 12 for a few days helped with that.  I will stay at 10 to 12 over the winter, it may be that my thyroid or some other system needs more then.

My activity level is so improved, even compared to last spring, that I have to remind myself to take stock every once in a while.  Things like laundry, which used to be an exhausting two day enterprise, are now just background activity while I am busy with something else.  Things that used to seem overwhelming I now do without a second thought.  When I wrote my one year anniversary post, I wasn't sure if the improvements would continue.  They are, and I can't wait to see where I will be in five years!  It is a complete change from the slow road to nowhere that I was on with meds.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Routing Depression

Readers of my last post may have noticed a grumpy tone in my writing.  I would say that for 2 or 3 days around then I would have qualified as clinically depressed.  I kept catching myself in typical depressed thoughts, which I haven't had since my last few days of depression in March.  I would give you an example, but fortunately I've forgotton them now!  My Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) practice soon fixed that, however.  As soon as I became aware of what was going on, I was able to stop it without any real effort at all.  That is the great thing about CBT, once you have practiced it and seen how inaccurate those depressed thoughts are, then it is easy to clear them up when they come back.

Why was I depressed at all?  Well, I don't think it is reasonable to expect to never be depressed again.  The main thing is to recognize it and turn it around early.  Physically, I am still getting protracted withdrawal before and during my period.  I think something is going on with the hormones at that time that increases the detox.  Plus, I still get a pre-menstrual migraine, which was pretty bad this month.  The low tyramine diet has eliminated all my other migraines, but that one remains.  Although I only take Advil for my migraines now, I think even that causes a bit of protracted withdrawal as well. 

The depression is gone, but for several days now I have been dead tired by 5:00 pm.  This is reminding me of how I felt before my thyroid was diagnosed, so I am thinking I should get it checked again. 

Also, I have been very busy.  I embarked on this homemade Christmas gift foolishness, so that is taking a lot of effort.  But you know, I am pulling it off.  My family is used to me flaking out of projects, so I am thinking they will be surprised. 

And, I have come up with an idea that I like for my own business.  I mentioned last spring that this is what I wanted to do, and I think I finally have an idea that has legs.  I will get more serious about it after the holidays, and I am thinking it will probably be a year before I can launch, but it is great to be planning and working on something again!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It Takes As Long As It Takes

I have been reading a lot of frustrated posts on the Truehope message boards lately about how long this process is.  Today I am frustrated too.  I set myself an ambitious plan to make a few Christmas gifts, and I realized this morning it is just not going to happen.  I will probably only get one of the three done.  I am still too tired and weak to spend the long hours at the sewing machine that would have been necessary.  So, that is disappointing.

When I started Empowerplus in May 2009 my only real goal was to stop the decline I was in, and to be stable without drugs.  That goal has been met.  What I didn't expect was the huge physical toll withdrawal would take.  It is frustrating to always have to curb my activity because I am still having protracted withdrawal symptoms after all this time.

But at the same time, I'm aware that I've set the bar a lot higher these days than it used to be.  I may not be at the sewing machine, but I am busy with other crafts most of the day.  I was sore when I started hand stitching; now I can stitch for hours without pain.  I was sore when I started knitting again; ditto.  So I guess I know that perseverance will pay off in the long run.

Even my attention span is improving.  The other day I worked all day on the SAME PROJECT.  That is really saying something.

And, let's be clear.  My protracted withdrawal symptoms only come after some new type of exertion now.  It is only when I raise the bar.  Sometimes it feels like I am fighting for every millimetre, but I can't deny the trend is there.  Plus, I have planned to make Christmas presents before, and I have never done it.  So one is an infinite improvement over none.  My old therapist in California used to say, when I felt like was going nowhere fast, that recovery takes as long as it takes, and she was right.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How Did I Get Here?

Bipolar is a physical illness.  I believe moderate to major depression is too.  I do not believe you can cure them just by changing your thoughts any easier than you can cure cancer by changing your thoughts, although you do hear about rare cases where that happens.  But that's rare, and usually a physical intervention is needed.  For bipolar and depression, I believe the best physical intervention is a micronutrient approach like Empowerplus.

However, I do believe it was poor thought choices that made me sick in the first place.  It would be easy to blame it all on my thyroid, because bipolar is a symptom of Hashimoto's.  I probably had my first hypomania when I was 10, that I remember, and my first depression when I was 11.  Long before puberty.  I don't know if the Hashimoto's would have already been active then.  You do read about infants and toddlers with hypothyroidism, so it may be possible.

I do recall that at an early age, 8 or 9, I became attracted to the idea of being "jaded."  I liked that "been there, done that, bored with it all" aura that some people had.  It struck me as a way to be interesting, and I wanted to be like that.  Gradually I stopped taking pleasure in things.

A movie score would have a dramatic minor chord there.  I really think now that was the beginning of it all.  Probably the hallmark of my long adult depression was a complete inability to appreciate anything.  I was living in the beautiful San Francisco Bay area, with the sunshine and the sea air and flowers all year long.  I knew someone else who had recovered from depression, who told me that he loved just going for walks and seeing all the flowers.  I went for walks and looked at the flowers and I felt nothing.  I looked at them and knew intellectually that they were beautiful, but they did not make me happy.

Daily exercise, by the way, in the sunshine and sea air, also did nothing to improve my mood.

So, I had periodic depressions in high school and university, and very productive periods that made me successful in school and work.  The two years leading up to my breakdown at 35 were progressively more and more stressful.  I had a fairly heavy travel schedule that kept me physically off balance, and an increasingly more adversarial work environment.  Looking back, I see that a lot of that was my own fault.  I saw slights where none was intended, and I consistently looked at the negative side of the situation.  You may not be able to control the situation, but you can control your reaction to it.  I always saw things in the worst possible light.

When you are feeling bad it is your spirit sending you clues that things are not right.  If you ignore the clues they get bigger.  It took many years of seeing things in a negative light, and ignoring my feelings and physical symptoms, for things to collapse totally.  I do believe that my brain has always worked a little differently, which is why I was hit with bipolar depression instead of heart disease or cancer, but it was my own thoughts that created my physical illness.

That is why I think Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and meditation are such an important part of recovery.  Physical help such as Empowerplus will only get you so far if you have a negative thought pattern, which I believe is the root cause of illness.  Learning to feel our feelings, and accept the guidance that they are giving us, is crucial to long term success.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Low Tyramine Diet

I'm just checking in today to let you know that things have significantly improved since I figured out that the MAOI Parnate was still active in my system.  I've gone on a low tyramine diet.  This was quite a change for me, because once I did the research I realized that practically everything I was eating was high in tyramine.  So no wonder it was a problem.  I've eliminated cheese, cold cuts, aged meats (yes, the good stuff), bananas, soy sauce and chocolate.  It was hard for the first few days, but once I saw that a lapse was immediately making me ill, it became easier.  And, I keep telling myself that it's not forever.

Coffee is off the table again too, for now.  I'm getting used to drinking chai.  It doesn't have the same buzz, but I guess that's the point.

Anyway, it is quite a relief not to be getting sick all the time with no idea why.  It's nice to be able to get out and about again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parnate is the Problem

For about a month now I have been having funky allergic-type reactions to a whole new set of foods that never bothered me before.  It has been very frustrating because I never knew what would set it off.  Well, I have figured it out!  It's the Parnate.

Parnate is an older type of anti-depressant, an MAOI.  I was on a high dose, 60 to 80 mg, for over a year.  Parnate has a lot of drug and food interactions.  Everything I have been reacting to this past month is on the list of things to avoid with Parnate.  Aged meats, bananas, chocolate, soy sauce -- all have given me reactions.

It is quite a relief to have an explanation for what is happening.  And it is good to know that it is not really allergies.  So now I have a list of foods and drugs to avoid, and hopefully things will calm down around here.

I have been on Empowerplus for 17 months, and it is pretty wild to consider that old drugs are STILL releasing in sufficient quantities to be giving me reactions like this.  And really, this is a new situation, it seems like the Parnate is just now starting to release.  It's kind of strange to have all these time bombs ticking away inside me.  But, now that the problem is identified, it will be easy to deal with.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thyroid Update

Excellent news at the doctor this morning!  My thyroid is running normally without the help of medication of any kind.  Back in June I stopped taking my Synthroid all together, and after 5 months my thyroid is doing well, with my TSH at 1.8.

I have Hashimoto's Disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks your thyroid and makes it irregular but generally very slow.  I was on Synthroid for many years, and Cytomel for a while, but I never felt any better.  Even before my blood test this month I could tell that my thyroid was doing fine just by the way I feel.  The chronic exhaustion is gone.

Before I started Empowerplus I was taking 0.125 mg of Synthroid daily.  When I had the weird allergy attack/thyroid storm in December 2009, after 7 months on Empowerplus, I cut it back to 0.075 mg.  In April 2010 my TSH was 1.9.  6 weeks later it seemed like I was still taking too much.  I switched to half a pill, 0.0375 mg, and got another blood test.  Before I could get those results I had another weird allergy attack/thyroid storm and ended up in the emergency room.  There I learned that my latest test result was a TSH of 1.0, a dramatic drop despite reducing my Synthroid dose.  That was when I decided to stop the Synthroid completely.

Now that decision has proven to be correct.  Obviously the Empowerplus is supporting my thyroid so much on it's own that extra medication is not necessary.  Considering that I feel so much better now than the Synthroid was ever able to achieve, I'm feeling pretty good about that!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


A year ago I wrote about my loss of interest in music in a post called Chrysalis.  I think this is proving to be an interesting choice of words.  If you think of a chrysalis as a time when everything shuts down before the new creature emerges, then I definitely think the first year on Empowerplus was like that.  But, if you look at the chrysalis stage as the intermediary between the earth-bound caterpillar and the high flying butterfly, then this is not my experience, because more and more it seems like I am going back to a more youthful state.

My taste in music is one example of this.  For most of my illness I have hardly listened to music at all.  It was irritating.  But, over the past couple of months I have been rediscovering all my old favourites.  I finally got my new stereo set up (it had been in the box for 9 months), and I've been listening to CDs I probably haven't played in 10 years.  And I'm enjoying finding a lot of my old vinyl on iTunes.  What's really interesting is that I'm feeling the feelings I used to have when I listened to those songs.  The chills up my spine and appreciation of raw talent are all back.  Also back is my complete intolerance of bad music.  It seems my sensitivity has returned.

I was a reasonably good classical pianist when I was young, but I have only played a handful of times in the past 20 years.  We still have the piano, but it has been out of tune so long I am not sure if it can be saved.  I am not really inspired to play yet, but who knows where this may lead?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

L Tryptophan

Earlier this summer when Total Amino Solution (TAS) started disagreeing with me I wrote about the return of my protracted withdrawal symptoms, and the things that weren't really working for me, but I never came back to say what did work for me.  The answer is pure L tryptophan.

Tryptophan is one of the ingredients in TAS, but on it's own it doesn't bother me the way TAS does.  I also find that I need much less tryptophan.  One 500 mg capsule of Tryptopure tryptophan (I get mine from Life Extension) is enough to significantly reduce my protracted withdrawal symptoms.  It is an amino acid, so I think it does have the same blood cleaning property that TAS or protein powder have.  I also notice that if the protracted withdrawal symptoms are lowering my mood, the tryptophan quickly makes me feel better.

Tryptophan is prescribed as an antidepressant in Europe, and that is how I first used it as well, before I found Empowerplus.  I am not sure how well it was working for that purpose, but I was able to replace the Celexa I was taking with tryptophan.  I was still taking other meds though, Risperdal and Wellbutrin, and the tryptophan was not enough to get me off those as well. 

If I take tryptophan during the day I am sleepier that night, and still groggy the next morning, but it is worth it to be rid of the protracted withdrawal symptoms.  I also find that if I take more than 2 in 48 hours I tend to get a migraine, so I am only using it if really necessary.

In any case it is much more helpful than the bentonite clay or the charcoal, so that is good to know.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


A problem that I've had ever since my Bipolar II diagnosis is figuring out whether I am hypomanic or just happy.  Most of the times (and they were few and far between) that I thought I was happy in retrospect I realized that I was actually hypomanic.  I am glad to report that has changed.  I have an amazing sense of overall well-being and happiness now that I have not felt for a long, long time.

I used to think that the most I could hope for was peace.  Not too happy, not too sad, just quietly in the middle.  I think a lot of bipolar people think that is the ideal frame of mind.  I don't think it is.  I believe we were born happy, we intended to be happy, and we all can find our way back there.

The happiness I am feeling now is different than hypomania.  My hypomanias had a compulsive nature to them.  I would be obsessed with a project and steamroll anything in my way.  It was a very "doing" state of mind.  My happiness now has more of a "being" quality.  I feel good, but I am not compelled to do things, I can relax and enjoy my surroundings and the things I am doing.  I have a tremendous sense of connection and well-being.  I see things in a positive light and I expect good things.  It is awesome.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Significant Improvement

This is just a short post to let you know that I am doing significantly better.  It really seems to me now that the evening primrose oil (EPO) was a big factor in my poorer health last month.  It feels like the haze I was in has lifted.  Yes, we have had a week of cooler weather also, but it has not been any cooler in the house, so I blame the EPO.

One interesting change has been in my appetite.  While I was feeling sick last month I was eating more, and now that I am feeling better my appetite has dropped away again.  It seems counterintuitive, but I guess that given that I am overweight, for me healthy is eating less.  It does seem like my metabolism is working better now, and I have a lot more energy.  Maybe I was eating because I felt tired.  Anyway, it's improvement!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tweaking the Program

Well, I've been meaning to update you long before this, but frankly, I haven't been doing that great and I'm not sure why.  I can say that while Empowerplus has been great for my mood, it hasn't been a universal fix for all my issues.  I suppose that was unrealistic to hope for.

It's been a tough summer.  It's been unrelentingly hot and humid here, and I've been indoors 99% of the time.  We did go up north for a few days, where it was cool, and that was great, so it's likely that the heat is a large part of my trouble.  Earlier in the summer it did feel like protracted withdrawal, but it doesn't any more.  This seems to be a bumper year for hayfever, which has been surprisingly bad, I've had a cold, a weird stomach bug, and I probably have to get my thyroid tested soon, so things are just off.

I've been doing a trial of Evening Primrose Oil to help with my migraines.  It definitely hasn't helped with them, and I'm not sure if it's been making things worse in general.  With so much going on though, it's hard to say for certain.  I'm giving it up for now, though.

I'm also down to 9 to 11 Empowerplus capsules per day, from the 15 that I took through the first year.  The lower dose just seems to be working better for me now.

I'm not as bad off as last summer.  I've been doing some crafts pretty much every day.  My sociability continues to be much improved.  My mood is a little flat, it's hard to be positive when you're feeling sick all the time, but I'm far from depressed.  I was thinking this morning, I'm 90% of what I want to be, so hopefully that last 10% is just tweaking the program from here.

I can't wait for fall!  9 months of cool weather!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms Return

As I mentioned in my last post, I stopped taking the Total Amino Solution (TAS) a few weeks ago due to allergy problems.  This week my protracted withdrawal symptoms have returned.  Like the first time, it started with a runny nose, and graduated to neck pain, nausea and dizziness.  A couple of days ago my musical hallucinations came back temporarily, which is when I realized that things really weren't right.  I was exercising, and it's also been hot and humid here, so those are probably factors as well.

Since I can't take protein powder or TAS, it's been a little difficult to find a way to manage the symptoms.  I'm still trying to eat a fair bit of animal protein, which does give me some temporary relief.  I've also been using activated charcoal capsules and bentonite clay.  The charcoal seemed to help, but I haven't noticed much difference from the clay yet.  I think the problem with those is that they don't really get into the bloodstream to clean out the toxins there.

I've laid off the exercise, and the coffee, and I'm trying to stay cool.  It's not as bad as the first time, but I'm not up to the productivity levels I had a few weeks ago.  I'm not depressed, but I am grumpy.  It's not just that I'm frustrated by being sidelined again, there is definitely a negative cast to my mood.

I will stick with the remedies I can do and wait it out, I guess.  Usually by mid-August the weather turns around here, the days may stay hot but the nights cool off, which is a big relief.  I know other long time Empowerplus users still experience protracted withdrawal occasionally, so this is not totally unexpected.  Still, it is a pain.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Bump in the Road

Well, a lot has been going on but it was hard to figure out causes and effects so I've waited until now to post an update.  I've been to the doctor twice and the emergency room once, and no one could really figure out what was happening.

It started with having difficulty swallowing.  I thought it was the return of the hyper-allergic state I was in last December, which led me to the emergency room thinking I was having a severe allergic reaction two weeks ago.  It wasn't though, and everybody's best guess was that it was probably a combination of my thyroid on overdrive and a bad reaction to the freezing at the dentist.

As a result I went off all my supplements again as well as my Synthroid.  After about 10 days I am now up to full doses again of my supplements, including Empowerplus.  I have stopped the Synthroid completely however.  I don't think I need it any more, but my doctor and I will monitor my blood levels for a while to see how it shakes out.

I also have stopped taking Total Amino Solution.  That seems to be the main thing that was giving me the allergic-type reaction.  I think this is similar to the problems I was having with the protein powder in the late fall.  They are similar products, after all.

What is amazing is that even though I have stopped the Total Amino Solution, I have not had any return of protracted withdrawal symptoms!  I think I am well and truly clear of it now, which feels great.

In any case, things seems to be back to normal.  And normal these days is pretty darn good, but I will put that in a separate post.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Motivation Returns!

I have to say, my life is pretty awesome right now.  Things are falling into place.  Even when I consider where I was in the last post 3 weeks ago, the change is pretty remarkable.

I have started doing my crafts again!  You may recall that last year at this time I didn't know if I would ever want to make something again.  I started a couple of weeks ago with some hand sewing, and I've slowly been building that up and adding in other crafts so I am busy for several hours each day.

Today was the most surprising day so far, however.  I was looking for a specific top I want online, and I couldn't find anything.  I realized that some tops I already have could be altered to meet my requirements, so I actually cleared off my table, got out the (dusty) sewing machine, planned and executed the alterations (which looked great by the way), and started work on another outfit I've been planning to fix for at least 3 years.

I am NOT hypomanic.  However, I have had some coffee today.  Yes, coffee!  I have been drinking a bit of coffee for the past few days now without any problems.  It definitely gets me moving.

So there are further changes in what is and isn't giving me protracted withdrawal symptoms now.  Coffee finally seems ok in small amounts.  Moderate exercise is ok.  The heat is not bothering me much at all this year.  Direct sun, however, is a problem.  I got stuck in traffic on the way to the dentist last week, about a half hour with the sun beating through the windshield.  I have good air conditioning, but my arms actually got a little burned, and by the time I got to the dentist I had some protracted withdrawal dizziness and nausea.  That was NOT a fun visit.  Usually I don't mind the dentist but that one was tough.

Another awesome thing is that everyone keeps remarking on how much brighter I look now.  Even people who don't know I got off the drugs notice a difference.

But today's accomplishment with the sewing was a real milestone.  I don't think I've successfully sewed anything in over ten years since I first got sick.  I didn't hem and haw and waffle, I just had the idea and did it.  When I was younger I made some of my own clothes.  Who knows what I may be able to do now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One Year Anniversary!

Today is my one year anniversary on Empowerplus.  The general wisdom at Truehope is that from this point on I will be out of the woods of protracted withdrawal, and looking forward to increasing health and recovery.  I have to say, it feels like that is pretty accurate.  Things are looking good.

Here is a summary of how various issues that arose during the first year progressed and where they stand now.


My mood has been pretty solid right from the start.  It stayed pretty even until the fall when I added iodine to my supplements.  The iodine did seem to throw me into a hypomania, but when I stopped it in December my mood went back to being even without dropping into depression.  My previous pattern had been to have a seasonal depression in the late fall, and that did not happen at all this year.  There was a week or two in March where I felt grumpier than normal, but it didn't degenerate into what I would call clearly depressed thoughts.  Since then things have been trending to the plus side of even, but in no way hypomanic.


As I mentioned early on, motivation was one of my biggest issues before Empowerplus.  It has been slow to come back.  This is probably where I still have a fair bit of healing to go.  I have had various spurts of activity and a lot of ideas for projects, but nothing has really taken off yet.  It is hard to put consistent effort into something.

Protracted Withdrawal

As I've been saying for the past month or so, the protracted withdrawal symptoms that I've had are pretty much gone.  And they've changed, so that now, instead of neck and shoulder pain, headaches, sinus troubles, nausea and dizziness, a day of exertion just makes me really tired.  Even the colourful dreams are gone, so really, being tired after a busy day may well be entirely normal!  LOL.


The changes in my sleep cycle have been dramatic over the past year.  Insomnia was a issue for me my entire life, so one of the perceived advantages of Risperdal was that it knocked me out cold for about 12 hours a night.  Before Empowerplus I generally went to bed around 1 am and woke just after noon.  Once I was off my meds last summer I was generally awake until about 4 am and still sleeping until noon, so I was sleeping less.  When I started to get hypomanic in the fall I was generally awake until 6 am, and a few times after 8 am, and still generally up again by noon.  But when you are hypomanic you are not tired.  During the winter I was still usually falling asleep around 6 am, but sleeping longer, until about 1 pm.  I don't mind being up late, in fact I tend to like it, but I don't like sleeping so long past noon, because too much of the daylight is wasted, especially in the winter.  In April I started waking earlier and falling asleep earlier.  Now that I am more active I am falling asleep by 1 am and up before 10 am.  I feel like I could be falling asleep even earlier in the future, so we'll see how that goes.


My fitness level was poor before I started Empowerplus.  I would say it is even worse now, after a year of forced inactivity.  As I discovered last August when protracted withdrawal started, any exercise at all made the protracted withdrawal symptoms unbearable.  But fortunately, that seems to be in the past.  After a very active day yesterday I had a bit of a runny nose and I fell asleep early.  Not a problem at all!  Of course, I remembered to take a lot of Total Amino Solution in the evening to mop up any loose medications in my blood.


I gained a lot of weight when I was on medications, I was hungry all the time.  When I finished tapering off my meds and primary withdrawal hit I was very nauseous and I had a hard time eating anything at all.  I could only eat small amounts of plain bread or pasta.  After a couple of weeks my appetite improved slightly, but the nausea persisted for the first several months of protracted withdrawal as well.  It cleared up around Christmas.  I lost about 20 pounds during that period, and my weight has been steady now since the new year.  My appetite is still much smaller than it used to be, and I can only eat a small amount at each sitting.

Empowerplus Dosage

I ramped up my dose a little slower than Truehope recommended, starting with 3 capsules per day, then 6, 9, 12 and 15.  I am very sensitive so it seemed wise not to shock my body too quickly.  I have stayed at 15 per day pretty much the whole time, and I have no intention of changing the dose.  When the withdrawal was really bad Truehope suggested that I cut back to 12, but after a few days of that I noticed I was getting hyper and anxious, so I went back to 15.  During my allergy scare in December I stopped Empowerplus completely for 3 days, until I developed a pretty big feeling of anxiety and went right back to it.  Empowerplus does not give me any trouble now, I can even take it at night, so I intend to stick with it.

So in summary, things are going pretty well.  Motivation and fitness are my biggest challenges now, and I am sure they will continue to improve.  Long time Empowerplus users report continued gains over the first couple of years, so I am looking forward to that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

One thing that has become clear to me after a year of reading the Truehope message boards is that recovery often has two factors - the nutritional support that Empowerplus provides, and a dedicated approach to challenging your negative thoughts through something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

I think anyone who wrestles with depression, be it bipolar or unipolar, would benefit a great deal from the knowledge and practice of CBT.  I was introduced to CBT through the book Feeling Good by David Burns, and really, it is the only book I ever needed.  CBT teaches you to recognize your depressed thoughts and challenge them.  CBT is something you have to practice.  I did not read the book and instantly become cured.  But I did start to see how one depressed thought feeds another, until you are spiralling down into a very dark place, and over time I got better and better at stopping the spiral before the depression really got hold.

Even once I got good at CBT I wasn't cured of my depression, though.  For me there was a strong physical component as well, and it took Empowerplus to take care of that.  But, I strongly feel that having CBT in my toolbelt is what enabled my mood to improve so much early in the Truehope process.

Another tool that really helped my application of CBT and my recovery overall has been mindfulness meditation.  I have been practicing meditation on and off for many years, and I think that mindfulness meditation, which trains you to observe your thoughts, is extremely helpful for CBT.  There is even an offshoot of CBT called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MBCT) which melds both techniques.  I have read several books on meditation, and I still think the best one is by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English.

I highly recommend both these practices to anyone struggling with depression.  Results are not fast, but they do come, and the change is lasting.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Change in Symptoms

This past week I have noticed an interesting change in my protracted withdrawal symptoms.  Up until now my primary symptom has been pain, headaches and neck and shoulder pain.  The pain started to let up in March, and through April became more and more sporadic.

Now, instead of the pain, I find that exertion is making me feel like I just took a dose of Risperdal.  I sleep much deeper and longer, like I used to on the drug, and I have very colourful dreams, which for me was a hallmark of Risperdal.  Many people going through protracted withdrawal on Empowerplus have noted that they can tell which drug is currently releasing by their symptoms.  For me, though, it has always been just typical detox symptoms, the pain, nausea and dizziness being the main ones.  Maybe because I had so many different drugs in my system all releasing at once.  So this is an interesting and not unwelcome change.  Colourful dreams are far preferable to constant headaches!

Another change has been in what is triggering protracted withdrawal.  Up until now I have been able to eat sweets without any problems.  Yesterday, however, I made myself an ice cream sundae in honour of the beautiful day we were having, and within a few hours of eating it I felt again that clearly Risperdal-induced feeling of being very fuzzy-headed.  It was even stronger than when I exercised.  Many people on Empowerplus avoid sugar, now I see that I may be headed that way as well.

I was on Risperdal the longest, over 5 years, so it makes sense that it would be the last to go.  This definitely feels like progress!

Friday, April 30, 2010

What is Bipolar?

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few months.  There is a wide range of experiences reported by people who are diagnosed bipolar.  It is not true to say that bipolar is swinging from happy to sad and back again.  Lots of people who are manic or hypomanic are not happy.  I think the emotions are so compelling that they distract people from what is really going on.

It seems to me, and certainly based on my experience, that bipolar is really about fluctuations in energy.  Physical and mental energy.  Low energy may correspond to sadness, hopelessness, or often in my case, apathy.  High energy corresponds to happiness, exuberance, or many times to irritation, anger, confusion and delusion.  I think we are entirely mislead by looking for psychological or psychiatric causes for bipolar.  The psychiatric irregularities are a symptom, not the cause.

Now that that's solved, I can update you on my doctor's appointment yesterday.  My blood test results were all good.  Blood sugar is down, not as much as I hoped, but down.  I expect that as the last dregs of Risperdal leave my system my blood sugar will continue to improve.  So, success!  It looks like I am out of the woods as far as developing diabetes is concerned.

My thyroid levels were also good.  You may recall that in December I drastically reduced my Synthroid dose, and it looks like that was the right move.  I mentioned to Truehope Support that I was doing this, and they said that others have also found that they need less while on Empowerplus.

So, it's all good.  And now, when people ask me what bipolar is like, I finally have an answer that makes sense to me!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Sun Also Rises

I have been thinking of a new slogan:  "Empowerplus.  Putting the fun back in bipolar."  Somehow, I don't think that is the image Truehope is looking for.  But seriously, bipolar is a lot more fun these days.  These days I've been grateful for my bipolar mind.

Spring is usually a good time for me anyways.  Physically, things are still challenging, even though the protracted withdrawal is pretty minimal now.  I was in poor shape before I started Empowerplus, and 10 months of sitting on the sofa has not helped.  Mentally, though, there has been steady improvement.

Well, I have been saying that my mind has been clear since the fall, which is true, I do not think I am any sharper now than I was in November.  The difference has been in my level of engagement.  I am out taking pictures again, this forsythia is just one example of all the hopeful spring photos I've been taking.  I've signed up for a couple of art classes and I actually went, which is a major breakthrough.  I have a superabundance of project ideas, although I have been a little scattered about which one to actually focus on first.

And two days ago I was positively bathing in happy brain chemicals, without any of the usual drawbacks of hypomania like sleeplessness or irritation.  So we'll see how it goes.

I've been taking care of business, too.  I finally went to the doctor and had my blood test done.  I get the results next week.  It will be very interesting to see where my thyroid and blood sugar levels are.  My weight is exactly the same since Christmas, so no more weight loss, but no gain either. 

My biggest problem has been overdoing it.  I feel good, do a bunch of stuff, and then I am wiped out for a couple of days.  But I think that is just the process of getting my strength back.  Things are certainly looking up!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Looking Ahead

Michiel, thanks for your comment.  I thought I'd address your questions in a post rather than another comment.

I was actually looking at some job postings last week, and I came across one that would have been perfect for me before I got sick.  Product development, up and coming new company in a trendy part of town, right in the middle of my skill set.  But it didn't take me long to realize that the long hours this job would certainly entail were completely beyond me at this point.

Even beyond that, though, was the realization that I am tired of having other people profit from my ideas.  I have been thinking for a while that I need to go into business for myself, and this idea has really jelled for me this week.  I have an idea I've been tossing around, and I need to educate myself now on how to implement it.

Right now I'm setting aside an hour a day for study and research.  Frankly, even that is still hard to do.  I was in a bad mood today, and I didn't even try.  But, tomorrow is another day.  I am lucky that I have the luxury of ramping up slowly.  I'll get there.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Feeling Good

Just a quick post today, to say that I finally think I have left the majority of the protracted withdrawal behind.  I certainly didn't think it would take 10 months!  I had a bad stomach virus last week, and that gave me a couple of days of protracted withdrawal symptoms, but since then things have been pretty good.  Even the headaches are almost gone. 

The challenge now is going to be getting my strength back.  The snow and ice are all gone now, though, so I can start walking regularly again.  This weekend I went to a mall I haven't been to since before I started Empowerplus last May.  Hasn't changed at all, LOL!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mental Landscape

I have been meaning to write for a couple of months about the amazing mental clarity I've been noticing since about November.  It was around that time that I started solving problems that had been on the back burner for years in some cases.  It seems like my insight and ability to make connections has really taken off.  I think I am thinking as well as I did when I was a teenager, before various substances entered my brain.

I have been thinking of ways to quantify that, with mixed results.  In January I did a couple of those free online IQ tests to compare with a test I did when I was really depressed several years ago.  My score was almost exactly the same.  I do remember that I was surprised that I did as well as I did when I was depressed, because they say depression can lower your score, but I don't think it did for me.

I am noticing a difference in my level of attention from before I got sick still.  When I was young I could spend all day reading a book, and I still today cannot read the same thing for more than an hour.  Things just don't hold my interest any longer.  A few years ago I did another online test to look for ADD.  I scored really high on that one, but I have since read that Bipolar and ADD have a lot of similarities.  I asked a Bipolar friend of mine to take the test too, and she scored quite high also, even though neither of us had any trouble with attention at school or work.

The key for me is really interest.  Maybe it is just a factor of getting older and not being willing to waste my time on things that don't interest me.  I have always been better at starting projects than ending them, and a hater of routine tasks, and I think that tendency is becoming more pronounced.

But, thinking about it today, I realized that I am never bored any more.  Before Empowerplus the boredom in my life was stultifying.  Now I have plenty of interesting things to think about and to do, in short increments.  I am much more engaged with life, which I guess is a sign that the depression has lifted.

My meditation practice is also going very well.  My mind settles quickly and I am finding it very refreshing. 

So, I am interested to see where things go from here.  Long time Empowerplus users report gains even one and two years into the program.  I am around 9 months now, so I am looking forward to what may be possible down the road!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Steps Forward...

... one step back.  I was just writing about how my IBS was totally cured, but now it is back.  I had an appointment downtown that I was not nervous about at all, but my gut went totally bananas and I was sick for a week.  I was SO frustrated!  What I said in that previous post is true, there is no doubt that it is entirely psychological.  But, I think I have figured it out, and it is mostly better now.  I am looking forward to testing it on my next appointment.

The good news is that on all other fronts there is a noticeable trend of improvement.  I now have long stretches of my day where my head doesn't hurt at all, which really is miraculous considering the addiction to OTC painkillers and rebound headaches that I probably have.  All the other symptoms - nausea, dizziness, neck and shoulder pain - are pretty much gone.  They may flare up for a day, but then they are gone again.  My energy level and motivation are improved also.  Each night I make a short "to do" list, and there is about a 75% chance that it will get done the next day now, which for me is amazing progress.

I am still sorting and cleaning out old stuff that has been untouched since I moved back here almost 7 years ago.  It is like I have been absent from my life all that time, unbelieveable that I have done so little, while during the 7 years in California I did so much!  Oh well, I know intellectually that no time is wasted and it is all grist for the mill, but there is a feeling of regret there also.  Truehope says that's one of the stages of healing.  The solution is to be forward-looking, I know, and appreciate the opportunities I have now.

Every couple of weeks I have a new exciting idea for a new business, but then I lose steam and the bloom fades off the rose.  It is still too soon, I think, for any big efforts.  Hopefully the right idea will come at the right time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How Am I Doing?

I can't believe it's been over 3 weeks since my last post.  I've been waiting to feel better so I have good news, I guess.  Well, I am starting to feel a little better.  When I'm not screwing things up for myself.

For the past few days the protracted withdrawal has let up significantly.  Much less pain.  I felt so good I thought I could handle a cup of coffee.  I had the first cup in the evening, and I felt pretty good.  The next day I had a cup in the morning, and I felt good for a couple of hours, and then I felt awful for a couple of hours.  Repeat the next day.  Today, though, I am not sure it is the coffee causing the problems, it could be a new vitamin I started.  So today I am taking neither coffee nor the vitamin, and tomorrow I will try just the vitamin.  We shall see.

Why do I keep beating myself up with coffee?  For me, there just seems to be a big feeling of well being that comes from coffee.  I don't think it is just the caffeine, because I don't get the same feeling from other caffeinated drinks.  But if it is making me sick it is obviously no good for me.

The other good news is on the exercise front.  Since the holidays I have been walking a little more regularly, and I haven't noticed any increase in protracted withdrawal due to that.  I've also been doing some mild yoga, and that is going smoothly too.  So that is going well.  I have a lot of recovery to do on the exercise front, but hopefully if I take it gradually it will continue to go well.  Also, I think the cooler weather is a big help.

Friday, January 1, 2010

4 Surprising Things I've Learned on Empowerplus

My dad got a pacemaker last month, and it has had a surprising effect.  For years he has had a terrible phlegmy cough.  It interrupts conversations, it keeps him up at night, it is disgusting and annoying.  Many treatments - inhalers, antihistamines, decongestants - have been thrown at it without any success.  Now, since the pacemaker went in, it is just gone!  It is the most amazing thing.

It put me in mind of some surprising things I've learned since starting Empowerplus.

  1. The core promise - mental illness really can be cured by vitamins!  Not just any vitamins, though.  I was taking lots of vitamins before, and I didn't get anywhere with my depression.  The magic of Empowerplus is in the proportions.
  2. My weight gain wasn't my fault.  I bought into all the psychological claptrap about why I put on all that weight - I was "eating" my emotions and comforting myself with food.  As I found out early in the withdrawal process, it was the drugs that were making me overwhelmingly hungry all the time.  Drugs gone, hunger gone.
  3. Anxiety really does have a chemical component.  I suppose this is related to #1, but it is surprising to me because I always thought anxiety was psychological.  I used to spend hours trying to analyze the psychological reasons for my persistent, unfocused evening anxiety episodes.  Every evening I would be anxious for no apparent reason.  Now it is gone, all my anxiety is gone.  I thought the holy basil supplements were the reason for this, but lately I have concluded that the Empowerplus is the main factor.
  4. My IBS was related to my mental illness.  This is the direction IBS research has been going anyway, given the fact that there are neurotransmitters and receptors in the gut.  That's the reason I was taking Zoloft before my breakdown, which for an undiagnosed bipolar is not a good thing.  It did lead to hypomania and probably contributed to, if not caused, my breakdown.  That aside, I have been taking FermPlus since May for my IBS, which is indeed cured.  But, my experiences with the allergies this month and stopping and starting Empowerplus have shown that the Empowerplus is actually the main factor in the improvement of my IBS also.  I will keep taking the FermPlus though, for insurance.
The conclusion?  Drugs = really bad, Empowerplus = amazing!