Saturday, June 18, 2016

A final post, and thanks

All good things come to an end, and I've realized it's time to close the doors on my blog.

I want to thank everyone, particularly Fairy at Organised Castle, Megyn S., EcoCatLady, Cindy at Growing Her Worth and Nicola B. for your support and readership over the years.

The motivation to write disappeared with the magic bipolar drug cocktail. My ability to write fiction as well has disappeared, but I'll take that in exchange for losing the horrible emotional swings. My readers also deserved responses to their comments, and yet I couldn't get the motivation to do that either, so I made the decision to stop writing.

But it's also something for me to celebrate. The blog was my therapy. It was about getting the house organized and decluttered (done!) and about reducing my impulse-shopping habit (much improved).

My eating disorder is largely under control. Binges only happen about once a month. I'll never be fixed, but I can live with one binge a month. That doesn't destroy my life. Neither does restriction. I can't remember the last time I counted calories. A few weeks back I was at the supermarket behind a woman who had piles of exactly four food items in her cart: rice cakes, lettuce boxes, tuna cans, and plain greek yogurt containers. Not only wasn't I triggered, but by the time I'd paid for my own groceries I'd forgotten about it completely.

That's recovery.

I've let family back into my life. A lot of cognitive behavioral therapy has helped me to forgive both of my parents, understand that they are never going to get help, and realize that I can still have them in my life for very short, controlled periods of time.

I still have a lot of hard work with the bipolar. My emotions still swing. I still have a lot to improve on and I'll always have to keep working on myself and working on not over-reacting. But for now I want to work on having fun, on learning to ice skate, on having the ED-free life that I was denied in my twenties.

Thanks to everyone for your support.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A week on a locked psych ward

This post has been a long time coming. I realized that I haven't posted in ages but I want to get back to writing. This seemed a good place to start, because a few folks were curious. 

Back in the summer of 2014 (a long time ago, now!), I voluntarily committed myself to a psychiatric hospital for five days for treatment of my Bipolar Type II disorder. After years of treatment for my eating disorder, I no longer had it as a coping mechanism for the highs and lows of the bipolar. I was also on a bad cocktail of drugs that had made my mood swings worse. I was suicidal, yet I didn't want to die. I just wanted the emotional pain to end. 

I went to the emergency room. They took me to a room with a gurney, furniture that was made entirely of foam, and nothing else. I stayed there until two in the morning, when I was taken by ambulance to a psychiatric hospital. I was checked in, my belongings taken from me, and I was given a blue, one-time-use jumpsuit. I felt like a prisoner. I was already horribly depressed. The nurse handed me a pillowcase filled with a few items: shampoo, soap, a pencil, a few sheets of paper, a comb, hand lotion, tissues. 

Kit in hand, I got led down the hallway, pretending that I was Piper from Orange is the New Black getting led off to prison. An amusing fantasy, it kept me from crying because it felt like prison, though it didn't look like one. 

Yeah, it felt like this. 
From, screencapture of Orange Is the New Black

Funny thing is, psych hospitals don't look like hospitals. They look more like dorms that have hallways like hospital hallways. I got a room like this, with a roommate, a 16 year-old-girl who was on her second bout of drug detox treatment.  When we woke up the next day and I got to meet her, I found that she was pretty nice and I liked her. 

Note: this is an example, and not the hospital where I stayed.

A lot of people have asked me if I was chained to my bed. 
I enjoy the Hunger Games, but no, I wasn't Peeta. 

While in many ways modern psychiatry hasn't changed much since the days of the Yellow Wallpaper, I was not restrained. I never was. No one on my ward was. I never saw any of the other wards though. Yes, there was a padded cell. Room. Room, cell, call it what it was. One patient got aggressive, but not violent, and had to be sedated, and was placed in the room for a few hours to calm down. I actually slept in there one night when the a/c unit in my room had a mold problem and it was the only open room. No big deal. 

What was a big deal was the night checks. Each hour, through the entire night, someone would shine a light in the room and check that we were both there and still breathing and alive. A necessity, when everyone's there because they've either tried to kill themselves or wanted to. It unfortunately made sleep hard. The Chief Engineer brought me an eye mask two days in. 

I spent about four hours each day in group therapy. This was discussion about struggles in our daily lives, about how to handle our emotions. I saw a psychiatrist or social worker each day for individual therapy. My psychiatrist was charged with getting my medication adjusted so that I wasn't suicidal anymore, the social worker with evaluating whether or not it was working well enough to send me back out into the real world. 

The rest of the time, I made friends. We played games. We improvised yoga, or ballet. We braided each others' hair. We did art projects. We watched TV. I read Fifty Shades Darker and the nursing staff amusingly referred to me as "Ms. Fifty Shades." We all thought it was funny, but it was really my escape, my fantasy, my solace. Until the new medication kicked in I was terrified of myself and this brand new place. I was in a place where I knew no one. I needed somewhere to hide, and that was inside the book I'd brought. 

Again, not the hospital where I stayed, but a comparable depiction. 

This is also not the hospital where I stayed, but gives you a good idea of what group therapy looked like.

We got lunch in a cafeteria after the first two days. At the beginning I wasn't allowed off the ward so food was brought to me. Eating in the cafeteria was a privilege I had to earn from good behavior (eg. taking my medication, not fighting with the staff, not trying to escape, and not making any suicide attempts.) I'm naturally compliant when threatened so this was all easy.

Again. Not where I stayed. But it's a cafeteria. 
However, where I stayed, we had The. Worst. Food. Ever. Enough said. 
After day 1, my blue jumpsuit was traded in for yoga pants and a t-shirt. But because all belongings had to be reviewed by the staff and removed of any potential self-harming devices (sharp objects, strings, etc) my favorite pair of yoga pants had their drawstring cut out of them. I couldn't put makeup on because the 'mirror' in the bathroom wasn't made of glass, it was polished metal. I didn't get enough sunlight because the blinds were embedded in between the panes of glass in the windows and you couldn't open them all the way. When I was released after five days, the Chief Engineer said I stood outside for ten minutes just soaking up the sun. I made us go out to dinner at an outdoor cafe because I refused to go back inside. In five days, I'd only been allowed outside for 1/2 hour. 

There were a few good things. 

I played piano for the first time in years. This was important later, because when the Chief Engineer left last Spring piano became my solace. I lost him, but the piano let me start to find myself. And finding myself became everything.

I made a friend who I still talk to and visit. She's helped me make some very important decisions in my life that again, have helped me figure out who I am and what I want out of life.

The suicidality was put back in the bag. Unfortunately I traded one bad cocktail of meds for another in the hospital, but ultimately we picked the right one in October of 2015 and it's worked well for me since then.

I wish I hadn't needed a stay on a locked psychiatric ward. But unfortunately I've never met a person who was diagnosed with bipolar, type I or II, who hasn't done it. It is the safest place to be while the meds are getting straightened out. It's pretty hard to hurt yourself there.

And every time I see the sunshine now, I appreciate it that much more.

An important note about the hospital photos: I found these online over a year ago but have since been unable to locate their source; it appears to have been taken down. I'll gladly provide attribution as soon as I can find where they came from! 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Safe, and with a new lease on life

It’s been a wild ride in the last few months. But the good news is:
I’m well. Finally.

After discovering that the last med, Saphris, was making me terribly hungry and causing me to gain weight rapidly, my pdoc took me off it. At this point I had a two-and-a-half year history of medications either not working, making me more bipolar, or severely aggravating my eating disorder. It seemed like I was going to have to pick being very bipolar or being very eating disordered. I was running out of medication options, or so it felt. Things were bad. Very, very bad.  

But life had other plans for me.

The first week in September I got an email about “News on Bipolar Disorder” from a reputable health website. The link inside led me to another reputable health information website, where I found a list of mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder. But on that list I saw a drug I’d never seen before. It’s a migraine medication that in rare cases of bipolar disorder can act as a mood stabilizer.

Lithium and lamictal made my bipolar disorder worse. I don’t experience extreme elation. I cycle mildly multiple times within a day. I’m clearly a rare case of bipolar disorder.  

So I did more research. With how quickly I cycle I’m considered to be “Ultradian cycling bipolar.” With how mild my elation is, I’m considered to be type-II bipolar. The more digging I did, the more I found that this particular med does nothing for people with type I bipolar but can help some people with type II bipolar, particularly if they are rapid-cycling. Ultradian cycling bipolar is the medical term for “rapid-rapid-cycling” bipolar (multiple mood swings in a day).

Also, this particular med seemed to have no incidence of weight gain. If anything, it caused weight loss.

So I marched into my pdoc’s office and said, “What are your thoughts on this med?” and he said, “At this point, can’t hurt to try.” So he sent me home with a script.

Three days later, my disabling, hopeless crying jags were gone. My giggling fits had dissipated. Five days later, my mood swings had stopped.

I was a normal person.

It was nothing short of a miracle.
It’s taken a few tweaks since, including adding another med to address some of the cardiac problems that have come up from this particular med. And we’ve also got me on an anti-depressant to make sure that everything’s completely covered and I’m stable.  But I learned one thing.

Personalized medicine matters. And I don’t just mean personalized attention.

It took me three days of research to find the med that matched up with my symptoms. Picking a med was three years of throwing darts at a dart board while blindfolded. Before we picked the last med I ran my list of meds against a database of gene targets for drugs. The drug I found that stopped my cycling targeted a particular gene. Nothing else I’ve been on targeted that gene. So when we picked the second med, we looked at meds that targeted that gene. And voila, the med worked!  We got it right the first time! 

Likely, I’ve got a problem with this one gene. In the future if we need to tweak my meds, now we can start with meds that target that gene. And we don’t even need to do a genetic test. We’re not shooting blindly anymore. 

My morning and evening psych meds:

A migraine med as a mood stabilizer
A mild anti depressant
Three allergy pills because I'm allergic to the anti depressant (no other AD worked) 
A med to lower the high heart rate that I got from the mood stabilizer (but which has off label use as a mood stabilizer--this is the one we picked based on the genetic information.)
An anti-anxiety med.

That's it. 

Three years ago they thought I needed this:

Is it any wonder I was sicker then? 

I can't say I'm cured. I still have down days and up days, and they're more down nd up than the normal people I know. But it's not crippling anymore. 

Amen for personalized medicine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Being drug free and bipolar

Today marks 14 days off my medication. I've noticed several changes:

First, I've dropped a shocking eight pounds in two weeks. Most of that was probably due to water retention from the excessive amounts of food I was eating because of the med's effect on my appetite. However, my eating disorder says hello and wants to let you know that this piece of information is very important to him. My urges to binge are almost completely gone. My appetite is back to normal, I have not restricted, ED is pouting. I did have one binge, but it was not from medication-induced excessive appetite. Unfortunately someone I'm close to was in a motorboating accident this weekend. Though he escaped with minor injuries, the accident was very bad and could have been tragic. I completely freaked. But I know the med was not why I binged. He's well, and I'm calm again.

I've tried supplements to keep my mood lifted and stable. That's all good except that when my mood drops, it's bad. Really, really bad. Thoughts of wanting to end it all flitted in and out of my brain. I've been able to beat them down instantly, but this was still too scary. 

It's a lifeblood-sucking low that reminds me of the dementors in Harry Potter. I sank to this low during four days of the last 12. My therapist was right: it is very hard to be bipolar and not be medicated. But that's what you get when you get rid of an eating disorder. I'm finally feeling my emotions because I don't numb them out with food anymore. The depressive spell was scary. It made me admit that I do need the medication.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to the psychiatrist we go...

It's been hard to digest all of the side effects I had on the meds so I made this table for my psychiatrist.

click to make it big enough to read

The meds highlighted in yellow I discontinued because of the weight gain. In light of this we decided to try me back on wellbutrin at the dose where I was stable for over a year. It was only when I started on the double dose that I got a rash. The rash was just dose-sensitive and I am only slightly itchy. It's nothing Claritin can't handle. It hasn't ever turned to anaphylaxis (trouble breathing, hives all over, you know, the kind of allergy people get from peanuts) so my doc thinks this is the best choice for me right now. Unfortunately it's still not enough, my mood is still depressed -- but I don't have fleeting thoughts about wanting to die anymore.

As for my weight, ED and I may be making peace soon. I trust my body on Wellbutrin. My weight was extremely stable while I was on it -- I only wavered 1/2 pound up and down during a three-month monitoring period. I think I can sit back and just eat my damn food and I know that my body will find its place. While I didn't know it the first time I was on this med, I can see now that I looked pretty dang hot at my stable wellbutrin weight.

There's another word for hotness in my book: recovery. I'm finally able to appreciate my body. All of the weight I've gained has made me re-evaluate and appreciate what I had. It may not be the weight ED wants me to be, but I was stable and I wasn't letting food rule my life.

I'm feeling hopeful. Then again, I'm bipolar, so we'll see how long that lasts!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I found the source of my hunger!

It's the med. I have no doubts.

Yesterday I was even hungrier than I was over the weekend. By 11 am I'd consumed a bagel with cream cheese, two lattes, two mini pieces of chocolate, a handful of dates and an Italian wrap sandwich and I felt like I hadn't eaten enough. It was absurd. I called my psychiatrist and he told me to stop taking the medication.

In some ways I'm crushed. This was the ninth medication we've tried me on for depression / bipolar disorder. It actually worked and was one of the few that did. But at the same time, it has been wonderful to wake up today, eat a single slice of cold pizza for breakfast, and discover that two hours have passed and I am not the least bit hungry.

What now?

My pdoc wants me to wait a few more days to get the medication completely out of my system. From there, do I wait until my weight drops back down before starting the new med? I hopped on the scale this morning and discovered that five additional pounds went on in the last week because of all of the overeating, officially putting me at my highest weight ever. Do I risk going even higher on a new med? Do I tough it out?

I'm leaning towards toughing it out. Giving myself a couple months to get re-acquainted with my hunger-fullness signals will help me better spot any weight and hunger-related problems with the last med. I also plan to only give a medication a 3-4 week trial period. In the past, I've gone as long as nine months before I put my foot down about medication side effects, hoping I could tolerate them.

In the meantime, I will be supplementing my diet with 1200 mg of omega 3 acids in the form of krill oil, and 15 billion colony units of probiotics daily. I will add in acupuncture if necessary. I have found acupuncture to be helpful for the treatment of depression in the past, and looking like a pincushion is pretty funny to me!
There is some evidence in the literature that the high levels of omega 3 acids and probiotics help with depression as well. At the very least none of it will do any harm. I will continue to keep the sugar substitutes out of my diet as they are not helping me understand my fullness signals.

On the plus side, I love my acupuncturist and will be happy to see her again!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hungry, thrill-seeking girl with a death grip

At least, according to the Wall Street Journal, that's what I am.

I spent the weekend sailing but this wasn't your average sailboat race. These 100+ year-old sailboats called log canoes hang people ten feet above the water on planks to keep from tipping over. Why? Because there's a ton of sail and hardly anything under the boat to counterbalance it. The end result? Two hours of exhilaration (read: sheer terror) that you're about to capsize or get whacked by a huge piece of wood while flying through the water at fantastic speeds. This video from the Wall Street Journal gives you a pretty good idea of what my experience on the log canoe Noddy was like.

Log Canoe Racing Thrills on Chesapeake Bay by WSJ_Live

I sailed one two-hour race. It was incredible exercise sliding in and out of the boards. But alas, my 'death grip' wasn't deathly enough and I fell off my board while we were tearing through the water at a good 10mph. The boat didn't stop; I got thrown a line and pulled in while it kept going at those ten miles per hour. But we finished -- upright! -- and this was apparently the first time The Noddy had finished a race all year. They called me their 'lucky charm.' They also called me their newest heavyweight.

It was a joke. You see, as a boardman on these boats it's best to be on the heavy side. While I hate the fact that I weigh 155 pounds and I feel enormous, they wanted someone heavier than me to help keep the boat upright. But no one else volunteered so I was it and apparently I was enough. But they still made fun of the fact that they wished I had weighed more, because it would've made the job of keeping the boat upright easier.

They. Wished. I. Weighed. More. 

It's very strange to think that these people had no problem with my weight; I was told for years by my family that I was overweight and therefore unhealthy, fat, ugly, and unloveable. Often in more words, though. This weekend gave me a rare moment of self-acceptance and validation. My 155 pounds helped us to our first finished race all season.

It also gave me one hell of an appetite. I had trouble getting full after both Saturday's race and after sailing my usual small boats on today. I keep telling myself that it's just the insane amounts exercise I got sailing. I didn't binge and I let myself eat. I let myself have a 200-empty-calorie hard cider after the race instead of a diet soda. It was hard for me but ultimately okay because those 155 pounds of an awful lot of muscle needed fuel.

I still worry about my hunger, hoping it's the exercise and not the med. I'm taking a day off tomorrow to rest. Hopefully my appetite will calm down. But in all it was a great, exhilarating weekend.  Oh, and I got to see a river dolphin just as we crossed the start line :o) 

p.s. For those of you who were wondering how I got into this, in the video you'll see the red-shirted "Silver Heel" crew capsizing. What you can't see is my aunt getting dunked in the water as she crewed that boat.

Friday, August 7, 2015

No sugar substiutes challenge days 2 and 3

Life always throws curveballs at just the wrong time.

I've  got an eating disorder, which means my emotions rule my eating. If I want to find out whether my med is causing my binges, ideally I need to have a period of very calm, emotionally-stable days.

No such luck!

Yesterday my eating went pretty well. I was shocked how long a normal-sized breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese kept me satisfied. I half ran/half walked the 3k loop around campus at lunch. And then I found out that my project leader is leaving work.

I'm super-sensitive to changes in leadership at work. I've had an abusive boss before and I'm terrified of having to work for another one. Immediately I turned into

And I had visions of getting kicked off of the project, living with an abusive replacement for the next year until she returns (she'll be on temporary assignment), being terrified that we'll be losing her permanently...oh, yeah. Truly ridiculous.

But I took care of myself. I went out to dinner, let myself have a stiff drink, a healthy salad, and a protein-rich entree. I then went and put an hour in on the ice rink. I came home feeling calm and like I handled the situation well. No binge, right?

And then came home and baked my stress away. And of course, woke up at 2 am with a case of the munchies, and proceeded to eat the treats I made. In a reasonable quantity, but still. 2 am. Me. Food. Not good.

Today I've been ravenously hungry. Maybe this is because I put in a double workout yesterday. I didn't do it to punish myself. I love skating, I like running. I needed the stress relief. But today I've been fighting off bingeing since the morning. I had to run a major meeting that lasted six hours today; and in the middle of all of this I realized that I lost my cell phone. I can't find it. Anywhere.

Needless to say, I'm stressed about stuff that I'm blowing way out of proportion. I had a protein-heavy dinner  but I still wanted to eat way beyond being full. I've been eating every two hours. Is it the med? Is it the stress? I vow not to binge, but damn, why can't I stop thinking about food? I haven't had any stevia, and I kept my caffeine intake minimal. I don't know. I need to keep going. I will keep going. And perhaps take another anxiety pill.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Day 1: No artificial sweeteners/no stevia challenge

Trigger warning: weights and food consumption

Yesterday's no aspartame/no splenda/no stevia challenge went very well. I also happened to fall asleep before taking my medication. I paid the price for it; I was suicidal during the morning before I cycling back up to being normal. However, with the medication out of my system it did give me my hunger and fullness cues back completely. It was incredibly refreshing. I didn't realize how out-of-touch I had been with my body, either from the sweeteners or the med. I ate four times yesterday, mostly at a normal speed for me, and I ate normal quantities. I found that using a food and mood log very helpful. 

It was hard to get through the afternoon without a diet soda, but I had tea with a teaspoon of sugar in it. It's amazing how my eating disorder leads me to eat enormous quantities of food sometimes, but freaks out about a teaspoon of sugar. The good news: I survived. Bad news: I realized just how dependent on the meds I am. 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fat and happy, or skinny and depressed?

It's a choice I'm worried I'm going to have to make. Trigger warning for eating disorder behavior and weight discussion.

I've been through 14 different medications since I started treatment back in 2011. Each one has had some major problem: two gave me violent tremors, one I was allergic to, two others made me sleep all the time, one made me drunk, two others put 20 pounds on me in four months....

Did I mention I have an eating disorder?

Six weeks ago I elected to go back on medication for my bipolar disorder. This was because I realized that although I was losing the weight I'd put on from the Seroquel, I was fighting a daily battle against the part of me that thought it was a good idea to jump out my 10th story window. This obviously was not an option. Back on the meds I went.

I was put on something called Saphris. I noticed that in two weeks I gained ten pounds and I was bingeing almost constantly. When I was off the med I was only bingeing once a month. The doctor dropped me down to the pediatric dose. I am down to bingeing once a week but I am eating myself out of house and home the rest of the time. Some of this may be that I skate three times a week and sail once a week. I am very athletic, more so than ever before. But I'm bingeing, still, far too often.

I am in a position now where I need to quickly figure out whether it is the med that is making me continue to binge once a week. The med works brilliantly and I desperately do not want to quit it. But I still don't know what's going on with the eating disorder. I have an idea though.
I think this stuff is to blame.

You see, I've never been able to shake the artificial / sugar replacers from my diet. It's part of the eating disorder that still lingers. Yet when I looked back at the last two weeks I've only binged twice. What happened the night before each of these binges? I had a beverage sweetened with stevia.

So I'm going to do a little challenge for myself. I want to see if it's really the stevia messing up my recovery, or whether it's just the med that's making me binge. So if you'll put up with ten days of posts on my progress, hopefully I'll have an answer about whether I have to choose between a med that makes me binge, or whether I can finally be happy and not have to worry about out-of-control eating. So that's it. No stevia, no diet sodas, no aspartame, no splenda. Nothing for ten days. Will I notice a change? Today is day 1. Here we go.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Net worth update: Month 1

This month was my first month of recording my finances. I've been separating myself financially since we split in April and it's taken me a while to get back on my feet. My goal for this month was to build up my emergency fund. This took priority over debt repayment. And it looks like I did pretty well.

Start: 7/8/20157/13/20157/20/20158/1/2015Month's ChangeYear's Change
Car loan (3.45%)(21,682.00)(21,691.21)(21,691.21)(21,325.73)356.27356.27
Paypal (0%)(200.00)(200.00)(180.00)(170.00)30.0030.00
Credit card (0%)(3,000.00)(2,975.00)(2,975.00)(2,975.00)25.0025.00
Student loan 1 (2.65%)(1,510.81)(1,510.81)(1,510.81)(1,510.81)0.000.00
Student loan 2 (2.65%)(4,845.64)(4,845.64)(4,845.64)(4,845.64)0.000.00
Car value14,232.0014,232.0014,232.0014,
Car insurance jar0.
Skis jar0.000.000.0027.6027.6027.60


My net worth went up by $1966.00 this month! That's an absurd sum, given that my entire budget after I pay the mortgage is $2500/month. Some of it was good saving. This past week I only spent $300. But mostly it came from cashing in my Health Savings Account refunds. I put all of that money towards my savings account. I don't expect to have this much of a bump again. I expect to be able to save $150 or so per week, or $600-$700 a month. There were also no disasters this month, and that's good.

Looking forward to another good month next month.