Hell Hath Frozen Over – I Meditated with My Psychiatrist!

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Over the past couple years the subject of meditation has become somewhat of a running joke with me and my psychiatrist Dr. D. 

The backstory: Dr. D. has meditated regularly for decades. Whenever we’ve discussed meditation, he has sung its praises with such sincerity that if you were in his office, I bet you’d contemplate trying meditation.

I’ve read anecdotes about how meditation can help bipolar disorder. I bought the book The Tao of Bipolar: Using Meditation and Mindfulness to Find Balance and Peace by Dr. C. Alexander Simpkins. (I got up to Chapter Two.)

I resisted meditating no matter what – even for a minute.

Why?

I just didn’t want to do it!

Waaaaah!

I’m in my head enough as it is!

Tell me to eat better. I’ll do it.

Tell me to work out? Okay.

Tell me to clean the nasty toilet? Um, alright.

Last Thursday was my regular session with Dr. D. A last-minute childcare snafu required me to bring along my youngest daughter. Knowing that Dr. D. taught his sons to meditate when they were young, I threw caution to the wind. I asked him if he could tell my girl a bit about meditation, and he happily complied. Rilla listened attentively, making me very proud. (Fortunately she didn’t say anything like, “My mom says that she would rather vomit or clean up dog poop than meditate!”)

He suggested we do a brief meditation together.

Gulp.

Using a free app called Insight Timer on his phone, Dr. D. set our meditation time for two minutes. I dimmed the office light, and he started the program. After we heard a gong sound, the three of us sat quietly, letting our thoughts go where they may – mine raced back and forth as usual. Two minutes later, his phone gonged again. 

We survived, 100% unscathed!

As much as I knew that doing meditation was good for me, I knew I wasn’t about to commit to a daily practice. Yet. (Never say never, right?)

Later Rilla told me her experience was “boring”, a totally understandable reaction from an eight-year-old. (Or a forty-six-year-old.) I praised her for giving it a go.

For a hilarious intro. to meditation, watch JP Sears’ video – if you like this one, check out his “How to Be Ultra Spiritual” video which is even funnier. 

The Groovy Ketogenic Diet Update

Yesterday I got a BP Magazine email containing the article “Bipolar, Food & Mood: My Battle of the Binge: One Woman’s Story of Taming Cravings to Keep Her Diet And Moods In Balance”

I’ve been taking a break from reading bipolar-themed emails, but for some reason instead of deleting it, I took a peek at the piece. Lo and behold, I noticed the first comment was about a reader’s experience with ketogenic diets! In all my years of reading BP I’ve never noticed anything with the word “ketogenics”. Was it a sign? 😉

Jeffrey wrote,

“In July 2015, I switched to a Ketogenic diet, at first to help me improve my athletic ability. A side benefit was a direct improvement of my mood, a clear stabilization. At that time I was unaware that I was dealing with Cyclothymia. Then in August 2015, I had a bad hypomanic episode but I was able to work with it and stay on track. 

I got on anticonvulsants, and I have Zyprexa as a breakthrough when I have a hypomanic moment. I am now extremely stable. The dietary change has helped me stay even more on course than anything else.

The science behind a Ketogenic diet has helped me understand why it balances out my mood. Going on it and staying with it has been a challenge, but now I prefer it. I have more energy, I sleep better, my athletic performance is good (I don’t “bonk” when I run!”) and it keeps me creative in the kitchen. 

A ketogenic diet isn’t for everyone, but there is some scientific evidence that it effective as an adjunct treatment for mood disorders…”

Thank you Jeffrey!

I’m still reading my Keto Clarity book. (I’m a slow reader when it comes to nutrition books!) I remain daunted by trying ketogenics, because if you want to do it correctly, it’s a lot more than simply switching to a low-carb, high-fat diet, but I’m tempted to give it a try.

I have a new friend in this area who has eaten the ketogenic way for several years. She has done a lot of research about the keto diet, and she has offered to answer any questions I have. Nice!

Lose It! Update

I’ve reached my goal of losing 30 pounds! The app that helped me achieve this weight loss is called Lose It!, a food tracking/logging device. It’s easy to use, and it woke me up as far as how I was treating myself like a human garbage can.

Want to join my Lose It! Group Wondrous Writers? I’ll send you an invite if you include your email in a comment. You can also sign up for free at www.loseit.com

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog. There’s more, there’s always more, but I’m tryingt to keep it down to a low roar.

In the meantime, sending you lots of love, & see you next week!

Dyane

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

Bears, Shrinks & Mindfulness


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Yesterday I blogged that I’m following a new “negativity diet” and I declared:

“I’m going to be more circumspect with what I surround myself with such as social media, my inner-dialogues, and my environment.  Less Facebook, more time with my girls.  Less worry about what others think of me, more nature excursions.  Less obsession with the future, more present-moment focus.”

Well, when I began following my new credo, it didn’t go so well.

While I felt optimistic in the morning (and a bit happily wired on my coffee), the day turned out to be difficult.  I faced a few situations that tested my new-and-improved attitude, most of which I failed.  I won’t give up after one disappointing day, but I was daunted by the time evening came.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, our daughters were still on the tail-ends of their colds.  In retrospect, I’m sure their colds were partly responsible for their peevishness and disobedience.  They, like me, had been cooped up for days and we were all out of sorts.

One day while watching the Disney channel with my girls, a preview for Disney’s new Bears movie was shown.  Since our entire family likes bears (from a distance)  I suggested that we go to the Bears matinee on Easter.  We seldom go to the movies, so the girls definitely wanted to go and my husband did too.  I  liked the idea of a nature-oriented film rather than a blaring, violent, “kids’ film” ,and the Bears movie featured real-life bears in their natural Alaskan habitat over a course of a year in a mom and her cubs’ life.

Off we went!

We arrived at the theater on the early side and we found some good seats.  A woman and her male companion arrived close to the start time, and she sat next to me.  When the previews started running, the lady gave a running commentary about everything she saw that made me want to yell, “Shut the *&%$ up!”

So much for lightness!  So much for compassion and positivity!

Thankfully she stopped talking when Bears began.  It’s good that she silenced herself, because  I have “talking during the movie rage”.  I shouldn’t joke about that, really, as I recently read about a man who had honest-to-God movie rage and he shot a fellow movie goer because the guy was texting someone.

The movie was spectacular, entertaining, and heartwarming without being too saccharine.  It wasn’t too long either (78 minutes) although come to think of it, when the previews were added in, the overall time we spent there was close to two hours. That was a long time for me to sit still and focus while alongside my two children, one of whom was being a super-squirmy worm.

I found myself becoming impatient while watching Bears, as much as I liked it.  I felt the uncomfortable sensation of wanting it to end so we could go do the next task.  In a weird way I felt like I was meditating as I had to keep bringing my mind back to noticing all the details of the film.  My mind wandered off again and again and I kept bringing it back.  (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)

I realized it was a nice change to watch a movie that had absolutely nothing to do with human behavior, namely bipolar disorder.  At one point my mind wandered off (pretty far, and pretty wackily, I’ll admit) and I thought, “How nice that bears don’t, as far as we can tell, have shrinks!”  How refreshing!

Despite the fact that bears didn’t take meds or go to hospitals, they certainly did not have it easy, as the film made that fact crystal-clear.  I wasn’t wistfully wishing that I was a bear instead of a human as the end credits rolled.  But it was cool to view life from an entirely different perspective.  (The preview we saw for the upcoming Disney Imax documentary Island of Lemurs Madagascar looks like it will be incredible as well.)

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As we exited the cool theater into the blinding sun, Craig and I reminisced about our two personal bear memories, which were very vivid, with our girls.  Years ago Craig, an avid backpacker, camped in Yosemite.   He made the foolish mistake of keeping some peanuts in his tent in bear country, and a bear paid a little visit.  This bear wasn’t there to sell Avon products.  He/she stepped on Craig’s foot, through the tent, resulting in unbelievable pain.  Things could have been much worse, obviously – the bear could have come inside the tent, and I shudder to think what the end of that story could have been.

Our family had a bear experience in Tahoe that I will never forget.   We found a beautiful Alpine Meadows rental on Craigslist, and the owner gave us an affordable rate.  The house was stunning, set on a steep hillside in bear territory.  The first time we visited the “Munchkin House” we noticed some prominent bear claw scratches on the wooden dinner table and on the windowsills inside the kitchen.  The rental owner made sure we were well aware of all the bear safety rules to follow.

One afternoon while hanging out at the Munchkin, Craig napped upstairs while I showered.  The girls were in the downstairs living room watching a video.  Earlier in the day Craig stopped at the market and he brought a bunch of groceries into the kitchen, accidentally leaving the front door cracked open. He never left that door open before; out of all four of us, he was the most careful in following the bear rules.  I came out of the shower and walked downstairs in a robe, drying my hair with towel, relaxed.  At the base of the stairs I looked straight across the room out the picture window facing a hillside, and there was a big bear looking right back at me.

I freaked and started yelling, and the bear ambled up the hill behind the house and disappeared.

I went to the front door and I saw garbage scattered all over doorway area,a spot that couldn’t be seen from the living room.  At first we thought a dog had made the mess, but then after my sighting it was clear that the bear, quiet as a mouse, came into the house with the girls in the other room, dug through the garbage, and then took off.  The bear easily could have come into the main part of the house where the girls were hanging out.  Once again, some Harwoods were spared bear agony.

Ah, da bears.

Yesterday, the day after Easter, went much more smoothly.  I practiced each section of my negativity diet better than I did on Sunday.  I stayed away from my computer for most of the day ,and I spent time with my daughters as they had the day off from school.  I tried my best to stay in the moment as much as I could.  We spent several hours outside together in the redwoods surrounding our house.  I sat on our entry steps leisurely painting my toenails electric blue while Avi and Rilla played with our three chickens.

Watching my girls laugh together in the warm air, I felt so thankful to see them get along after their spats over the previous week.  Even though I sat less than ten feet away from where a truck bashed through our fence (see my “Almost” post), I felt safe.  We weren’t in danger of bears popping up at our front door and I had my own little “cubs” close to me under my protection.  During moments like this, I don’t pine for riches or accolades of any sort.  I am more content than I ever thought would be possible.

After being hospitalized numerous times for bipolar disorder, and my not having been taken outside by staff even once during those dark times (something I’ll never understand) I have an unusually strong appreciation for being in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Alongside my happy girls and our slightly freaked-out chickens in the warm spring air, I was in the moment, and I found myself in the best place, literally and figuratively, that I could imagine.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Hawaii an awful lot.

Last November, our family scrimped and saved for months to take a sentimental trip to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.  My mother-in-law died last spring, and we brought her ashes with us, for she loved living in Hawaii for many years.  My husband Craig knew she would have approved of his scattering her ashes in such a meaningful location.  We also thought our two little girls would benefit from an informal family ceremony in their grandmother’s honor.

So yes, this trip was a big deal for us to take –  we definitely knew how lucky we were to visit such an exotic place.  We stayed at Al’s Kona Coffee  Farm, a rental unit with a kitchen so we could make the majority of our meals and save money.  My husband knew the Kona area well from visiting his Mom when she lived there, and he planned our activities to be mostly free or low-cost.

We had scheduled the trip twice before, but Craig had to reschedule due to my hospitalizations for bipolar depression relapses.  Al was very understanding of my medical situation, and not only was he flexible in our rescheduling; he gave us a good deal.

Look at how spectacular Al’s Kona Coffee Farm is!

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A month before our trip, my bipolar depression had finally lifted due to my trying an “old-school” medication.  I started taking the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) named  tranylcypromine or Parnate.  My pdoc added it to the lithium I was already taking, and within two days – kaboom.  My evil, hated, soul-sucking depression was gone.

I located two studies online conducted in the 1970’s that found MAOI’s combined with lithium had a greater effect together to lift bipolar depression than when used separately.  I also read a document that described MAOI’s as the “last-resort” medication for bipolar depression.  When I spotted that, I said “WTF?”   Why no psychiatrist had ever suggested the MAOI class to me before, since I was super-medication-resistant, remains a mystery to me.  There are food and beverage restrictions with MAOI’s, but they aren’t the end of the world, and the restrictions are totally worth it if the depression goes away.

Anyway, three days before we took off on our flight, my depression returned.  Words cannot express the level of disappointment and fear that descended upon me.  I’ll cut to the chase right now and let you know that three weeks later, after we returned from Hawaii, my doctor added Seroquel to the lithium and Parnate.  The depression went away and it has stayed away ever since.

But the entire time I was in Hawaii, my depression was unrelenting.  I contacted my psychiatrist and we upped my Parnate dosage, but it made me feel too wired and didn’t alleviate the depression, so I returned to the prior dosage.  While I was able to appreciate my little girls’ joy as they boogie boarded, and I took in the natural beauty of the Big Island as much as I could, I still felt like a zombie.

I’m attempting to fake being happy in the picture posted above.  Underneath the smile is utter hopelessness.  Despite the beaches with warm aquamarine water, the incredibly tasty Kona coffee, the fresh poke fish, the chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, the dolphins, and the sunsets, I felt beyond horrible.

The lesson I learned was that it didn’t matter if I was in Paradise if I didn’t have the right meds.  Some of you know that’s way easier said than done!

We could have cancelled our trip yet a third time, but  since we were so close to our departure date I didn’t have the heart to cancel.  Plus I was praying for a miracle to happen.  At least Craig and the girls had a great time.  He didn’t hold it against me that I was a less-than-ideal travel companion, and I am very grateful for that.

Someday I hope we get a “do-over”.

When Craig took his mother’s ashes out to a stunning reef on the bay by the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, I was unable to join him.  I sat in the sand, motionless for the most part, unable to even read a book.  I am hoping that some day we’ll have the good fortune to return to that area and I can pay my respects properly.

While there I’d pick a few plumeria flowers, which are flowers that my mother-in-law adored.  I’d walk out on the reef and toss the blossoms in the water in honor of the woman who gave me the best husband I could ask for.   Then I’d walk down to the beach and swim a little, because when we went to Hawaii last year I was so down, I couldn’t even swim in the ocean.

I know that many people in our world could never afford a trip like the one I describe.  Recently I watched the documentary “Happy” that profiles different cultures with authentically happy people.  None of the “stars” of this film were wealthy, most of them lived on small incomes and some were what our society would consider extremely poor.  All of these people truly appreciated their day-to-day lives.  We could all learn from these individuals.  I may never get a chance to return to Hawaii, so I want to appreciate my “here & now” better.  (I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to do this in the spring when it’s warm instead of freezing!)

I wish each of you the trip of a lifetime, wherever your dream place may be.  And I wish even more that your love and appreciation for your here and now grows significantly over time.  It would be awesome if each of us, especially those of us suffering with mood disorders, could not only appreciate the present, but experience some simple happiness every day.

I am sooo not there yet, but I’ll let you know when I’m making some headway.

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