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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Before and After

Well, emotionally I am back on an even keel, even though physically I am still lagging.  I have a rotten cold, but my mood is actually pretty good despite it all.  Once again, it was cleaning up my diet and increasing my Empowerplus that did the trick.  I just have no appetite these days, and it is challenging to remember to take the full dose of Empowerplus one at a time throughout the day.

But, I can remember.  Since my last post I've noticed a few things that are different between now and when I was on meds.  Remembering is one thing that is massively improved.  I never really lost any memory of the significant things, but I had a heck of a time remembering what I had done that day - what I'd eaten, whether I'd taken my prescriptions, etc.  I used to keep notepads to write everything down, and even that was hit and miss, because sometimes I forgot to write it down, or I'd see a big gap and wonder if I'd really missed a dose or just forgotten to record it.  But now the notepads are gone, and I easily remember every detail!  So that is one huge improvement over meds.

The second big thing is the expression on my face.  On the message boards we've discussed how the meds relax certain muscles in your face, so that you look stoned as well as actually being drugged out of your mind.  My driver's licence photo was black and white proof of that - I looked absolutely dreadful.  I recently received my renewal in the mail, and it was time for a new photo.  I went to get it taken that day.  I was a little worried about the new photo while waiting for it to come in the mail, but it was worth the wait.  Although these photos are designed to be unflattering, it really looked like a completely different person in the new one!  It was like my whole face was lifted, my eyes were open, I looked alive instead of mostly dead.  Which let's face it, I pretty much was back then.

The third thing to change for the better is my handwriting.  I had a bit of a tremor when I was on meds, and it was hard to write.  Now I enjoy writing and I think my handwriting is quite elegant.  A recent Reader's Digest had an article on handwriting analysis, and one of the things they said really struck me.  They said that people whose handwriting changes frequently are moody.  I remember when I was in college my notes would look completely different from one week to the next.  That would have been 15 years before I was diagnosed bipolar, but obviously the signs were there to see!  I am relieved now to see that my handwriting has been consistent through the past year, it is like independent proof that I am healed!

Now, if only my cold would go away I'd be golden!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feeling Ratty

Certainly I hoped that it would be all good news from here on in, but for over two weeks now I've been in a funk that I just can't seem to shake. 

What's going on?  Well, it started with regular PMS, and somehow things have gotten out of balance.  It may be that I haven't been eating properly.  It felt like I was fighting a cold at one point too.  For a few days my appetite was way down, so I wasn't able to take all my Empowerplus each day.

Now it seems really hard to get back on track.  The biggest issue is my motivation, which seems to have evaporated.  The past day or so it's been a little better, but for over a week now all I've been doing is watching tv.  Not a good sign.  When I do manage to start a little sewing or something, it's not holding my interest.  Also not a good sign.

For a couple of days there I even was having some vague unspecified anxiety, but thankfully that seems to have cleared up now.  I did have the feeling that I turned the corner yesterday, but today has not gone as well as I hoped.

The problem with my low appetite is that if I don't take my Empowerplus with a full meal I get quite nauseous, even after all this time on it.  But, fortunately, I have discovered that if I take just one at a time, at one to two hour intervals, I can avoid the nausea even with very little food.  So I have been doing that and I think it is helping.

I also have been experimenting with some higher tyramine foods.  You may recall that I started a low tyramine diet back in the fall.  A few weeks ago I was getting really bored with the same food all the time, and I guess I was feeling cocky.  I don't know what drives us to always test our limits.  The result has been that now I don't know what foods are ok and what foods are bad, because it doesn't seem as clear cut as it did last fall.  So that is stressful too, when you are afraid to eat and afraid not to eat.

The solution will be to pare it right down again.  To embrace boring.  I'm hoping in a week or so I'll be back to report that things have normalized again.  But right now it's pretty annoying.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Life is Awesome

Well, I guess I'm not ready to give up on blogging just yet, lol.  Looking over the Truehope message board, it occured to me that people write about their problems, problems, problems, and then they get better and you never hear from them again.  I thought it might be helpful to keep track of the successes too.  I know sometimes it is irritating to see people doing well when you are feeling poorly, but maybe it will give some readers hope as well.  And maybe a realistic idea of what normal looks like.

I am feeling really good today.  Since last spring when I started being more active I have had muscle pain in some body part pretty much every day.  It has been irritating me, because it seemed like evidence of what poor condition my body is in.  Today, with yet another new sore muscle, I realized that really it is evidence that my body is waking up.  This thought feels so much better!  Now suddenly I am welcoming each new ache as a new body part comes back online.  Excellent!

I am also feeling good because I really seem to be hitting my stride with productivity in my crafts.  At the new year I made a small plan/goal to do hand sewing in the morning, machine sewing in the afternoon, and knitting in the evening.  I was finding that if I spend more than an hour or so on the internet, and more than 2 hours watching tv, I feel off when I go to bed.  I feel frustrated, like my day was wasted.  Most days I feel pretty good if I manage 2 out of the 3, but the past couple of days I have been 3 for 3, and it makes a big difference.  I also find that the later in the day that I turn on the computer, the better my day goes, lol.

Ok, time to switch off, now.  Things to do!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I was thinking last night that it is time to draw a line in the sand and say that I am pretty much done here. Everything is looking good, and I think it is more accurate to say now that I am recovered, rather than in recovery. Here's a quick rundown of where I stand on the various issues.


These days I am happy and satisfied for most of the day, every day. My various craft projects give me a great deal of enjoyment, and I will probably be starting a craft-based business down the road. There is definitely a positive feedback loop that goes on with my crafts. If I'm feeling good then I want to make something, and if I make something then I feel good. I definitely remember though, how it was when I was depressed, when nothing gave me any enjoyment. So I am not suggesting that knitting is the ticket to happiness, or anything. But I do think that if you can find something to appreciate, however rare or small, and then keep looking for more, it is the ticket to start spiralling up instead of down.


This is probably where I've made the most progress since my one year anniversary post. These days I enjoy being busy and working on various projects throughout the day. Things that used to seem challenging are now easy to take on. It is not the same as the frenetic drive to keep going that I had with hypomania, everything is easy and balanced. Really, the improvement in this category has been massive. But it came late, well after the one year mark.

Protracted Withdrawal

These days, there are only 3 or 4 days a month when protracted withdrawal is at all an issue. I take one 500 mg capsule of tryptophan every morning to start off the day right, and if I am very active I will take 1 or 2 more during the day. This keeps my symptoms at zero, except for the two to three days before my period, which is when I still may get some breakthrough symptoms. The symptoms I get are usually headache or neck and shoulder pain, and sometimes fatigue. Sometimes also I get very hungry, which is a sure sign that the drugs are back in my bloodstream. An extra tryptophan takes care of that.


I can say now that my sleep pattern is completely normal. My alarm is set for 8:30 am, and most days I am awake before it, even in the winter. I have a long relaxation/meditation routine in the evening, so I spend 60-90 minutes unwinding and preparing for sleep, but when I decide to go to sleep I am asleep within 5 minutes. I sleep well and I am never tired in the morning.


I have not yet started to exercise just for the sake of fitness, but I am gradually being capable of more and more activity during the day. If there is one area with the most room for improvement, this is probably it. But, it doesn't worry me, I am able to do everything I want to do now, and if I want to do more in the future, I'm sure I'll be able to build up to it.


Except for a day or two a month when the protracted withdrawal makes me hungry, I would say that my appetite is back to normal as well. I'm not plagued by cravings any more, and I enjoy a pretty balanced and light diet. What I am noticing is that I am not thinking about food all the time, I think I have a much healthier relationship with it. I can eat an apple without wishing I was eating chocolate cake instead. I enjoy my food.

This fall I promised myself that I would stop weighing myself, so I don't know exactly what I weigh any more. My clothes still fit though, so I don't think there has been much variation. People tell me I look slimmer, but I think what they are really seeing is that I am much happier, so I look better.

Empowerplus Dosage

As I mentioned recently, I am taking 10 capsules a day now. Because the Empowerplus somehow gives me thyroid support as well as mood support, that seems to be the right level for me. It may be that in the spring, which is traditionally a more "up" period for me, I may need less.

I think I will be taking a break from posting here for a while. If anything really interesting happens I will be back, but for now, I'd much rather be writing about my crafts than my health. I will respond to comments, and I am still on the Truehope message boards most days. I wish everyone the best in their own journeys to recovery and health!


Where it all began
One year anniversary
Truehope's website