Earthquakes & Tsunamis of the Soul & How to Move On

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 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:

SAN ANDREAS

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.)  

So yes….meds.

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:

http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/  

imgres-1Dr. Alsuwaidan – he practices what he preaches, and works out 6-7 days/week too, even after he’s exhausted from seeing bipolar patients all day long!

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.

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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!

XOXO

Dyane 

  

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The Peer Support Group ROCKED!

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Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan

The peer support group was a wonderful experience for everyone!!!

I just had to let you guys know how it went right away! Knowing that some of you in various corners of the world have been rooting & even lighting candles for me/the group has been nothing short of precious! (I will never be able to think of that word again without thinking of LOTR! – the awesome blogger McKarlie would most likely agree with me on that point!) I could not have done this without the encouragement and help of a local, dark chocolate-loving friend who I shall call “Anonymous”.

I’m going to keep this post short…well, I can’t just post that teeny bit. I must also let you know that even though I’m wiped out from hosting, I get a mysterious slight second wind at this time of day (5:30 p.m.) – it’s Exercise Time! I know in my gut that there’s no way I could pull the support group off without my daily dose of exercise per Dr. Alsuwaidan’s guidelines! (I’ll be sharing his information with the support group, of course.)

Dr. Alsuwaidan’s guidance, which is from his blog at http://www.kuwaitmood.com, has become my credo. If you haven’t read this yet, please read it. Ask me any questions in the comments, as I’m a former American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and while I’m not a pdoc, I know a thing or two about exercise for mood stability/improvement! Okay, that’s more than enough for this week. Off I go to sweat to INXS on Pandora!

:))) Dyane

EXERCISE & MOOD – From Science to Action by the psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan

http://kuwaitmood.com/exercise-mood-part-iii-from-science-to-action/

There is probably no one word that can sum up what people want in terms of emotional or mental health. Whether it be clients I meet in the clinic with a mood or anxiety disorder or a friend or acquaintance asking for an opinion in a social setting, the theme of the question is common but each one is different. However I think there is one common thread that joins the questions and ONE word that captures 99% of what is ideally sought STABILITY.
Those with recurring depressive episodes or mood swings want mood stability. Others with anxiety, nervousness or worry want calm stability. The frazzled, stressed, workaholics want relaxed stability. For many achieving stability would make them happier, more productive, more sociable and have a better quality of life. I don’t claim that exercise is the only way to achieve stability. There is no panacea. The correct treatment of all of the above situations is an individually tailored combination that could include medications, talk-therapy, lifestyle changes and other components but should ALWAYS include exercise.
Now let’s make the leap from the science we reviewed in the previous blog posts to action. How do we “dose” exercise? What kind of exercise? What time should I exercise? For how long? How do I start and how do keep going?
For an easy reference I will summarize the answer in one sentence then explain the details and the fine tuning will come later. Remember here we are talking about the ‘dosing’ of exercise that changes the biology of the brain and not the number of packs in your Abs! Although that might be a welcome side effect – if you are trying to achieve that talk to a personal trainer. Here we are treating the brain and going after STABILITY. ! ! ! Exercise for 30 minutes 6 days a week at a high-impact level. ! ! That’s it simple, right? Ok ok I know it is not that easy. So let me explain further by breaking it down into 3 rules.
Rule #1
– Exercise: For brain health exercise can be any type that suits you. It does NOT have to be weight-lifting or running on a treadmill. You do NOT have to go to a gym or use a workout DVD. Do any exercise that you enjoy. Swim, run, hike, climb, lift weights, tennis, basketball, soccer, yoga, cycling and on and on. Adapt the exercise to your body if your capacity is limited by physical needs or injuries, but anyone can do some sort of exercise unless you are fully paralyzed.
Rule #2
– 30 minutes 6 days a week: The bottom-line is that the research shows this is the average of the dose needed for the brain to adapt. Now let’s break this rule down. First reactions are usually – 6 days?! That’s a lot! Yes it is, but we are only asking for 30 minutes. Think about it, how many hours a day do you sit at the internet or TV? 30 minutes is very short. In fact, DON’T do more than 30 minutes (unless you have a routine and have been doing this for years). Doing more will lead to inconsistency and skipping workout days. The science shows it is far better (at least for the brain) to be consistent in exercising most days of the week rather than spending an hour exercising 2 or 3 days a week. In fact, for you gym-goers if you think about it (and research also supports this) if you are spending more than 30 minutes at the gym then your are chatting and resting too much. Thirty minutes makes it harder to come up with excuses such as: There is no time! or I’m too busy! If you work a lot or travel find 30 minutes to do some stretches, pushups, air-squats, jumping jacks etc. 30 focused minutes is all you need, Done! Six days too much? Fine five days is the absolute minimum, but better to aim for 6 so that if you fall short then you have a day to save for later.
Rule # 3
– High Impact: For the scientists reading this that is 16 kcal/kg/week. What?? English please! Ok so here is how I explain high-impact to people: For most of the 30 minutes you are exercising you should be sweating and it should be difficult to speak in complete sentences without needing to catch your breath. This means you work hard for 30 minutes then you are done. Walking doesn’t count unless it meets the criteria above. Commuting does not count! That is your normal energy expenditure. Remember we are trying to change the brain and you can’t do that without effort.
Last few tips:
• You can exercise anytime in the day that fits your schedule. I find first thing in the morning works best because it is the time of day with the least demands on your schedule. Plus there is evidence this timing may have a more efficient effect than other timings. If it means you have to wake up 30 minutes earlier then do it and just sleep 30 minutes earlier at night. No big deal. But if it doesn’t work just exercise at any time that’s the most important thing. Get it done.
• You can either start slow and build up to 6 days a week over a number of weeks or just pick a week and start. If you have started and stopped exercise routines in the past you will find this one is easier to maintain because it is more flexible. You can do anything as long as you break a sweat. Jumping rope is great if you don’t have a lot of equipment and can’t go to a gym. Keep telling yourself it’s only 30 minutes and just get up and do it.
• If you skip days and don’t exercise at least 5 days in a week don’t be discouraged and go back down to zero. Just start again. It is normal to stumble. I do all the time.
The important thing is to keep the 30 minutes 6 days a week in your head and keep as close to that as you can. But the closer you are to that ‘dose’ the better the result will be.

– Dr. Mohammad Alsuwaidan

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