This sign is located less than seven miles from where I reside.
Ever since I was a little girl, I had a great fear of tsunamis. I grew up less than half a mile from the Pacific Ocean. I frequently discussed my tsunami terrors with my father who shared my fascination with the killer waves. He always assured me that if a tsunami struck nearby, it would fill up the large Las Pulgas Canyon (The Fleas Canyon!) that our home overlooked long before the water could possibly reach us. Dad’s confident explanation soothed me, although I continued to have nightmares about giant waves over the next few decades.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have the same obsession with another force of nature that occurred where I lived: earthquakes. The Los Angeles earthquakes I felt as a child didn’t frighten me. Those jolts were nothing compared to what I experienced while living in Santa Cruz during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The quake, which lasted only fifteen seconds, was 6.1 on the Richter scale, and it caused massive destruction and death around the Bay Area. I started fearing earthquakes after that day.
Last night while browsing on the IMDB website to see what was new, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I spotted a preview of an upcoming summer blockbuster containing both tsunamis and earthquakes made to the tune of 100 million dollars! (That’s a disgusting amount, I know.)
The film’s title said it all in big, bold scary-looking font:
As a film buff, I squealed in both fear and excitement! I called out to my husband Craig, a certified engineering geologist, and asked him to define what the San Andreas was, exactly. He explained that the “San Andreas Fault is a major break in the earth’s surface running hundreds of miles along the California coast. It’s a boundary between two tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.” Craig laughed when he saw the following preview, as he said the most shocking scenes are virtually impossible.
After 26 years, I’ve forgotten how truly terrifying the Loma Prieta quake really felt; I know I was frightened enough to sleep in my Jetta that night. I worried that my old apartment building would fall upon me. Ninety minutes north of where I lived, the quake caused an entire upper section of the Nimitz Freeway to collapse upon drivers on its lower section, crushing them to death. Newspaper images of the scene haunted me for months.
However, I was fortunate to have no losses – none of my loved ones perished, and I didn’t have a loss of property.
I was able to get over my immobilizing fear relatively quickly, unlike an earthquake of the soul.
My inner earthquake, if you will, was my 2007 postpartum bipolar diagnosis and my unremitting, severe depression over the past eight years.
When you haven’t been able to trust your brain for a long time, there’s a residual trauma – at least there has been for me. Now, I’m not saying I’m a hopeless case, and if you’re suffering right now with bipolar disorder, you’re not a hopeless case either.
Our lives won’t turn into sweetness and light, but there can be real improvement. I’m starting to see that I can keep bipolar disorder from destroying me like a giant wave or a megaquake. There are steps I’m now able to take so I can keep my bipolar depression at arm’s length.
I was able to feel glimmers of hope only once I found medications that worked for me. I tried well over 25 medications and I had two different rounds of ECT, both unilateral and bilateral, before I was fortunate enough to find effective medications.
“That’s all well and good, but how can I improve my life?” you might ask.
Here’s my list of suggestions – they might seem familiar to some of you as I’ve written about some of them before.
1) Medication – keep working with your psychiatrist to find something that helps you. Believe me when I say I know how hard it is to be on the med train. It’s hell. But please persevere. (To those who are anti-meds, go away! Just kidding. I’d like you to know I’ve been in your shoes. The truth of the matter is that a very small percentage of the bipolar population can live well without meds. I’ve read it’s 10-15%. I thought I could beat those odds, but I almost died. I’ll take meds until there’s a cure for bipolar.)
2) Consistent check-in appointments with preferably a psychiatrist, or your medication prescriber. (I know how tough it is to find a doctor who’s skilled *and* kind, but don’t shortchange yourself. Try to find someone who treats you with respect.)
3) 6-7 days a week of vigorous exercise for thirty minutes; whatever you choose, you must break a sweat and not be able to carry on a conversation! I now regard exercise as important as taking medication – in fact, I look at exercise at my 4th “medication”. (I take lithium, Parnate & Seroquel.) The brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan has studied the efficacy of this routine. He attests that his patients are profoundly helped by working out this way, and he has told me it’s the “missing link” for those with bipolar depression. I’ll be interviewing him later this spring about this topic for the latest, but this is plenty to go on for now. In the meantime, please read his brief post for more details about why you need to work it:
4) Therapy if at all possible
5) Social support – either in person through a support group, a friend, or online. I consider our blogging community to be a key part of my social support. I love you guys!
6) Relatively healthy diet and no or minimum alcohol. I can’t drink alcohol due to my MAOI Parnate and my liver and brain are the better off for it.
7) A pet. I don’t care if it’s “just” a hermit crab or hamster. A pet to give you unconditional love and for you to care about, who will keep you company.
8) Bibliotherapy – reading takes me to my happy place and I bet it does for you too; it’s also supposed to be healing and superhealthy for our brains!
9) Being out in nature, even for just a few minutes on your doorstep looking at plants, each day.
10) Light. I use an old Sunbox (sunbox.com) for 1/2 an hour in the morning and it really does help. Sometimes you can get your insurance to reimburse for one if you have a doctor’s note. You can also use sunscreen and sit out in the sun like a lizard! My puppy Lucy loves to sit out in the sun despite her thick, honey-colored coat – she’s so cute.
I’m sorry this became another novella. I keep telling myself to write posts under 500 words. I know that I usually prefer to read posts around that length, and I know most of you probably do as well. Oh well. Give me another chance. Next Friday I’ll shoot for 500 words or less! Miracles can happen!
In the meantime, have a good weekend, everyone. I hope you can all do something that brings you a real smile. Want to make me smile, for real? Go do an “Alsuwaidan-style workout” and tell me about it in the comments. Sweat is the best makeup!