July 16, 2011

‘Men’s Health’ guide to less stress

There’s an interesting list in Men’s Health titled “52 Ways to Control and Conquer Stress.” Some of the tips are actually practical. I copied and pasted a few of them below….

Drink More OJ
Researchers at the University of Alabama fed rats 200 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day and found that it nearly stopped the secretion of stress hormones. If it relaxes a rat, why not you? Two 8-ounce glasses of orange juice daily gives you the vitamin C you need.

Put a Green Dot on Your Phone
This is your secret reminder to take one deep breath before you answer a call, says Susan Siegel, of the Program on Integrative Medicine at the University of North Carolina school of medicine. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll sound more confident.

Spend Quality Time with a Canine
Yours or someone else’s. According to research at the State University of New York at Buffalo, being around a pet provides more stress relief than being around a two-legged companion. As if we needed a study to determine that.

Go to Starbucks—with Your Coworkers
Researchers at the University of Bristol in England discovered that when stressed-out men consumed caffeine by themselves, they remained nervous and jittery. But when anxious men caffeine-loaded as part of a group, their feelings of stress subsided.

Shake It Out
When you’re facing that big-money putt, shake out your fingers, relieving the tension in your forearms, hands, and wrists and shifting your focus to the only thing you can control: your preshot routine. You won’t think about making—or missing—the shot, says Alan Goldberg, Ed.D., a sports-psychology consultant in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Listen to Music at Work
And make it the blandest playlist you can create. According to a study at Pennsylvania’s Wilkes University, Muzak lowers your stress levels at work, while also reducing the risk of the common cold. We knew Celine Dion had a purpose.

Shut Up and Smile
Freaking out about a speech? Smile, look at the audience, and keep quiet for 2 seconds, says T.J. Walker, president of Media Training Worldwide. It’ll slow you down and create the impression that you’re relaxed and in control. The audience will then feel more comfortable, leading you to actually be relaxed and in control. Now start talking. Unless you’re a mime. In that case, as you were.

Talk with Your Hands
To keep calm in a job interview, rest your arms on your lap, with your elbows bent slightly, and have your fingers almost touching, says Walker. This will keep your body relaxed, which will keep your tone conversational.

Run Fast
Bike hard. Punch the heavy bag. And we don’t mean your mother-in-law. A University of Missouri at Columbia study found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise helps lower stress levels more than working out at a moderate pace. What’s more, the benefits last as long as 90 minutes afterward.

Hit the Sauna After Your Workout
In an Oklahoma State University study, those who combined sauna use with group counseling had greater stress relief, feelings of relaxation, and sense of accomplishment compared with those who only had their heads shrunk.

Remember the Lyrics to Your Favorite Song . . .
. . . name at least 30 states, or assemble the All-Time Band of Guys Named James (the James Gang doesn’t count). In other words, give your mind any all-consuming challenge, as long as it has a definite finish—unending problems cause more stress, says Toby Haslam-Hopwood, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.

Lay The Journey to Wild Divine
It’s a CD-ROM game that works like this: Three biofeedback sensors worn on your fingers sense your stress level and translate it into your ability to perform tasks such as levitating virtual balls or controlling birds in flight. The more you play, the more mastery you gain over your emotions. Go to wilddivine.com for more information. It sells for about $300.

Find a Breathtaking View
Now take a breath—and a good long look. You’ll walk away from the brink with a sense of context and a bigger perspective, which will make the 5,000 things on your to-do list seem less daunting, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management & Counseling Center in New York City.

See the rest here.

July 13, 2011

Free bipolar disorder report

Surely we’ve all bought “How to” guides for our respective illnesses from Amazon or other booksellers, but The British Psychological Society is offering a guide about bipolar disorder for free! “Understanding Bipolar Disorder” provides an overview of the current state of knowledge about why some people tend to experience periods of extreme mood and what can help. Much has been written about the biological aspects of bipolar disorders: this report aims to redress the balance by concentrating on the psychological aspects, both in terms of how we understand the problems and also approaches to help and treatment. They hope this report will influence the way in which services are delivered, so that more people have access to psychological treatments and that services will no longer insist that users accept one particular view of their problem.

“Understanding Bipolar Disorder” is available on their web site to anyone.

July 11, 2011


I finally went to the diagnostics place this morning to get my blood drawn in order to have some tests done. On the form that my psychiatrist gave me to take to the testing place, there was a code: “v58.69” scribbled in the billable codes section.  I got curious so I looked up what it might mean. Apparently, v58.69 means “long-term (current) use of other medications.” As much as I knew that my overall health is now incumbent upon how my body reacts to all the medication that I take, seeing that code on that sheet of paper was a cruel reminder that I cannot separate myself from those drugs.

It’s too early to say if anything is wrong, but it is obvious that my doctor thought that if anything was off, it’s probable that it’s because of the stuff I’ve been taking. While I’m not one to speculate on what could possibly be wrong with me, let’s say my use of some of the meds has led to something like diabetes. I hesitate to say that my feeling less depressed would be worth getting diabetes. I ask myself, what is the opportunity cost of taking medication? Thinking about “side” effects of the meds that we take made me recall a time several years ago when I experienced tremors and then lost most sensation below the waist. I ended up seeing several neurologists who tested me for all sorts of disorders from spinal cord syndrome to Parkinson’s, with one neurologist concluding that all of this is probably because of the lithium I was taking at the time. The symptoms eventually dissipated, and I got off the lithium sometime later.  But if my body indeed reacted to the lithium in such manner, I have to say any sort of mental wellness it gave me wasn’t worth having to go through months of utter fear and uncertainty about whether I could even have control of my own body.

Wouldn’t getting diabetes make me just as unhappy as I had been before I was medicated?  Just because I would have ‘the tools’ to deal with such diagnosis thanks to taking those medications, that doesn’t mean that getting diabetes or any other illnesses is ‘just the way it goes’ with these drugs. In fact, I’d say that these mental-health medications have more of an obligation to not have to affect people more negatively—-because negativity is what they’re trying to escape, and it doesn’t make sense if the medication itself led to further depression.

I don’t need another illness on top of the one I already deal with. And to find out that the treatment for my first illness caused the new one would be one bitter pill to swallow.

July 10, 2011

ECT Lessons-I’ve-Learned #11: post-ECT aches

One can probably guess that headaches could be a problem after waking up from ECT. And while I don’t always get them each and every time, I did have them for a while this time around. Headaches can be taken care of by taking your usual pain meds—or something else, should your doctor choose to prescribe you something like Lortab.

The ache that bothered me more this time wasn’t the one in my head, but the one in my throat. I thought that my jaw would hurt more because of the bite block and all, but I really had an issue with my throat hurting for about a day or so afterward. I’m not quite sure how it is that my throat hurt so much (probably because of the oxygen being pumped in at some force), but other than the headache, this is another type of ache that shouldn’t be a surprise if you do end up having a sore throat. I didn’t try to treat it with anything in particular, such as lozenges or hot tea, though it did bother me some. But it eventually went away.


See other “Lessons-I’ve-Learned”

July 8, 2011

day after the shock

It’s a day after my 34th electroconvulsive therapy treatment, and I’m awake. I got up around 8am, which had been a really hard thing to do for the last week or so, but today, it really wasn’t bad. I drank some coffee and ate a biscuit, took my cocktail of bupropion SR, concerta and deplin (at night, instead of concerta, I take abilify), and then went on my errands. I ended up purchasing myself a Roomba (yes, the robot vacuum thing…), and signed up for a year-long Koko Fit Club gym membership. Now, I’m back home and sitting around thinking about what to get done next.

I must admit I feel much better today than I have this past week. My mind isn’t stuffed with guilt, disappointment, etc. Rather, I feel much calmer and tolerant of even the things that are frustrating in life, like the weight I can’t seem to lose or choosing a path in this life. Even my boyfriend thought I seemed a little happier, which is definitely a good sign. But what is ECT worth? Like practically any medical treatment, there are side effects to having it done. Though I’m not sure if the following is as a result of the ECT or I’ve always been this way, but I can remember having read something—-but not what they were about. Yesterday before ECT, I was talking with someone who had brought his mother to ECT. When I was about to leave, a man said something to me.  I had to be reminded by him that he talked to me before the treatment. I don’t think the memory loss that I’ve experienced has been that bad, but it’s certainly not a good sign, worse, if it has a cumulative effect. I agree that this most recent procedure has allowed me to feel much better than the last few previous days, but could I have reached this point without having this treatment? Would I rather have medication dictate the direction of my mental (and physical) health, even though they, too, have plenty of side effects to mention? Which is better, or should they both be a part of my treatment plan for now? Because I had some depressive and hypomanic episodes over the last few weeks, what was supposed to be close to the end of my ECT cycle now seems far away. But the fact remains that I get to decide which path to take, and right now, I don’t know.

Either way, I’m going to have a healthy dinner, and later in the evening, go workout at the gym. As much as I should  be frustrated over making this decision, it’s nice to be back to feeling better again……..thanks to ECT.

July 8, 2011

the proverbial tea leaves

I decided to have some tea, decaf, of course,  before going to bed the other day. I opened a box of “Good Earth Decaf Green Tea,” and noticed something kind of cool. Each tea tag at the end of each tea bag has a little quote!  According to the web site, they recently had a tea tag quote contest.  I liked the following winning quote:

“You can go amazing places when you quit stepping on the brakes.” – Dr. Larry Iverson

Just had to share this little finding. Will be back to talking about mental health very soon…..

July 7, 2011

ECT #39 (24th maintenance treatment)

Today was another day for electroconvulsive therapy treatment. I haven’t felt very good lately, so I really did not feel like telling my ECT psychiatrist what’s been going on—but I knew I kind of had to. When Dr. F came to my stretcher/bed in the treatment room, I told him about how I experienced a sort of hypomania last two weeks and then reached a low this week. I guess he took my comments to mean that I can’t quite stop having ECT just yet (though I don’t think it was going to end today by any means). We’ve been spreading the treatments out to every eight weeks, but we compromised for the next ECT to be seven weeks from now. Until this week, Dr. F had been talking about how I’m coming close to the end of all this ECT, but I guess I ruined that chance now.

I usually have more to write on my treatment days, but I don’t really have much to say today. I came home and mostly slept for hours. I don’t usually feel that much better til tomorrow, so I guess I have to wait until then.


See the other ECT days here.

July 5, 2011

track your mood online!

I found a web site called HealthCentral. They have a set-up a little less chaotic than many online forums for both depression (mydepressionconnection.com) and bipolar disorder (bipolarconnect.com). During my visit to the site, I happened to come across something called Mood 24/7 that caught my eye.

Mood 24/7, a free mood tracker, was developed by a HealthCentral-based on technology licensed exclusively from JohnsHopkins University to help one track his/her daily mood electronically. Using text messages and a secure website, individuals may signup securely and select a time to receive daily text messages asking for mood ratings on a scale of one to ten. Text message responses with optional notes are added to a personal mood chart (see pic above) that can be shared with doctors and loved ones, allowing everyone to see the effects of treatment in real-time.

You can read more about Mood 24/7 here.

I haven’t personally tried this product, but I think it’s a really good idea to have something track your mood and then develop the data into something visual, like a graph, that you could easily hand to someone else that should know how you’ve been feeling.

July 4, 2011

American Love

Today my boyfriend and I went to a Hot Chicken Festival in town for the Fourth of July. There were hot chicken vendors, and lots of people (forming long, long lines), but alas, no chicken. They all ran out of chicken before we could get any. So, we left empty-stomach’ed and a little disappointed that we didn’t even get to taste what we came out to get. But I did get to spend hours in line people-watching, and it was pretty entertaining. Since it is the holiday, many people opted for those festive outfits, from simple flag prints on t-shirts to red-white-and-blue cardigans and matching pants. I admit that I’ve been making fun of all those flag t-shirts that Old Navy sells for this holiday, but on second thought, there is something striking about why so many people are motivated to dress up to commemorate the Fourth of July—-and not because they’re rooting for their country for a sports game.

I believe there is a sort of love for the country that many in the United States have that one may not experience living anywhere else in the world. While it may be exhibited on the verge of arrogance, much of it, I believe,  is just a matter of wholesome pride for the nation of their birth. Sure, the Fourth of July may have become commercialized just like all the other holidays. And perhaps I’m naive. But I don’t think these countrymen are getting out the star-spangled shirts just because it’s the season to wear it. People really love this country, and I love this country for it, too. And that’s almost an odd-sounding thing for me to say, because I am not one of these countrymen; I wasn’t born in the United States. I’m not even an American citizen, and haven’t gotten the paperwork to get that process in order. But I do love the United States of America.

It’s a sort of love that people may not understand if they’ve never been ‘a part’ of another country, and it’s kind of hard for me to explain what I mean in a few words. The love seems almost ingrained in the American people that I’m not sure was ever ingrained in me about my own homeland. In this country, you are almost taught to view the nation like it’s their second mother. The people don’t just cheer for it when there’s a soccer game (or in the Olympics); they are rooting for it constantly—I guess somewhat like unconditional love. The star-spangled banner therefore represents all that one loves about it. It’s more than just the symbol of a country; it’s an embodiment of all that is loved by someone. I’ve just never seen anything like it. So, when I see someone wearing a flag pin on their lapel, as much as I’d like to make fun of it, I also know I can’t just flatly dismiss it as a decoration; the person simply might just want to show the love.

As the sun sets on another Fourth of July, I’m happy to know that I live in this country. There are clearly problems, but honestly I love it. After all, “love is knowing all about someone, and still wanting to be with them.”

July 3, 2011

the down side of things

I’ve heard this song before, but heard it again this afternoon at the end of a “Sex and the City” episode (“Domino Effect”). I keep thinking about the song and its lyrics since. Below are the lyrics:

Wait in line
‘Till your time
Ticking clock
Everyone stop

Everyone’s saying different things to me
Different things to me
Everyone’s saying different things to me
Different things to me

Do you believe
In what you see
There doesn’t seem to be anybody else who agrees with me

Do you believe
In what you see
Motionless wheel
Nothing is real
Wasting my time
In the waiting line
Do you believe in
What you see

Nine to five
Living lies
Stealing time
Everyone’s taking everything they can
Everything they can
Everyone’s taking everything they can
Everything they can

Do you believe
In what you feel
It doesn’t seem to be anybody else who agrees with me

Do you believe
In what you see
Motionless wheel
Nothing is real
Wasting my time
In the waiting line
Do you believe
In what you see

Ah and I’ll shout and I’ll scream
But I’d rather not have seen
And i’ll hide away for another day

Do you believe
In what you see
Motionless wheel
Nothing is real
Wasting my time
In the waiting line
Do you believe
In what you see

Everyone’s saying different things to me
Different things to me
Different things to me
Different things to me
Different things to me
Everyone’s taking everything they can
Everything they can

This song,  “In the Waiting Line,” by Zero-7, kind of captures how I feel right now. There’s a saying that what goes up must come down. Well, maybe this is the ‘down’ side of things. I am feeling depressed.


July 2, 2011

weighty matter

I’ve been going to the gym almost everyday for the last three weeks (Koko Fit Club, to be exact).   There’s a testimonials page on the Koko website, and I happened to read over the comments one lazy afternoon. And according to them, the results are nearly instant, of people talking about massive weight losses and size changes in a matter of several weeks. Inevitably, I’ve come to desire those same results, in the amount of time that some people claim to have had them. With a combo of both weights and cardio each time, I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the workouts. But it is becoming a little disappointing  that I’ve yet to lose a pound and it’s still a struggle to button my pants. Why can’t I lose weight, I think to myself, as I pick up this month’s copy of “SELF” magazine with the headline “Burn 100 Calories in 10 Minutes.”

Then I thought a little more about why I might not have lost a single pound. Rather, I’ve gained a few more, to a point where I can’t fit into my pants. I thought more about what I’ve been eating, but the thing is, I’m probably doing a better job with food intake than in the last two months.  If so (on top of exercising regularly), why would I be gaining weight?

I’m afraid that there’s something wrong with me, physically speaking. Perhaps it might be because of the up in Abilify dosage, but I’ve been taking the drug itself for a while now and haven’t had this issue. I told my psychiatrist about the rapid weight gain (I’ve gained about 40 pounds over the last year, with twenty of them coming up within the last few months), and she gave me the forms to go get some blood tests, which I still need to schedule very, very soon. I am so scared. This is not a good time to hear that something other than my mental health could be what’s causing the weight gain. My next ECT is in a few days, and I just don’t feel like having to make other appointments to deal with this issue. But I know I have to, because soon the weight itself of having to look at myself at this weight is really going to put some pressure on me emotionally. And if there is something medically serious going on, I need to know as soon as possible.

I think I need to see a doctor that doesn’t deal with what’s going on in the head.

June 30, 2011

sticking to save mental health

I came across these nifty ‘Save Mental Health’ and ‘Save Mental Health Care’ sticker templates on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mentally Illness) site’s “Identity Guide.”  I just thought it was kind of cool that they had all this on their website. And it’s not just round sticker templates that are available. There are notebook covers and bumper sticker designs all available here.

June 28, 2011

surf’s up—-and down and up and down

It’s been over a week since the tides changed, the ones that could’ve certainly driven me to a full hypomania followed by crippling depression. The initial episodes lasted for days at a time, of feeling agitated, nervous and anxious, with my mind spinning around and around like it was put in a washing machine. With help from some pharmaceuticals, following strict schedules and support from my BF, those bouts of rumination became progressively shorter, and though it wasn’t easy to get there, I did not succumb to a full-blown episode.  Once again, the tides have begun to change its course, and it is now considerably smoother than what it had been for the past week or so. I’m beginning to take less and less alprazolam, stuff that would almost instantly attempt to smother the mind jitters, and I find myself making less futile attempts to be able to catch my breath.  I’m awake, and not curled up in a ball, clinging onto my mental surfboard just waiting out the vicious tides to stop.

Right now, I am starting to feel relieved. Last night, I thought I had a moment of clarity—which of course, went away quickly as it came, but at least I had one. What I have to remember, though, is that this isn’t time for me to feel relief. Rather, this moment requires self-vigilance above all else. One thing we know is that tides change. And I have to keep riding the waves as they start to recede. If I get off my surfboard now, I could easily be swallowed up by the water. I have to tell myself that I will be able to go back to the shore for a break once I finish riding out this current ride.

I am starting to be able to see the shore, and realize that I’m not too far away from finding both my feet on the ground. When I get back to solid landing, I will be looking forward to maybe getting a new surfboard to ride out these adventures. After all, a girl’s gotta shop for something cute to go with her ups and downs :)

June 26, 2011

st-abilify-ing with Abilify: is it really safe?

Contrary to popular belief that Abilify is simply an ‘add-on’ to antidepressants, it is really an antipsychotic, initially used to treat schizophrenia and acute instances of mania. Now, in addition to what that cute, illustrated commercial tells you about this Rx, it is also often prescribed as a maintenance drug for bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist recently upped the dosage of my Abilify because of this reemergence of hypomania/mixed state.  Knowing that it’s a drug created in Japan (which obviously makes it totally safe….), I agreed and have been taking double my previous dose since last week. I didn’t even bother to think that much about the potential additional side effects, but then, I came across an article on CNN.com/Health.com titled “Long-Term Use of Bipolar Drug Questioned,” written by Lynne Peeples.

According to the article, the medical research does not appear to justify the widespread use of Abilify for maintenance therapy, says psychiatrist Alexander C. Tsai, M.D., one of the lead authors of the review published in the “PLoS Medicine” journal and a visiting researcher at Harvard University. “We failed to find sufficient data to support its use.” Apparently, the safety of Abilify is based on a single study that may be flawed—-especially for a medication that is advertised to work in the long-run. That trial had several important limitations, according to Tsai and his coauthors. For one, they say, it may have been too short to judge the drug’s true effectiveness in preventing mood swings over the long term. The first phase of the trial lasted for 26 weeks, and less than one-fifth of the participants went on to complete the 48-week follow-up phase.

Great. So, no one in the scientific community really knows what could happen to us if we keep taking Abilify?  Isn’t that a little disturbing? I’m not honestly a bit scared to keep taking this drug.  In the back of my mind, I do think about the fact that I might want to have a baby someday, and whether taking Abilify could harm the fetus. The article did say that the FDA is going to look into this finding, but in the mean time, I get to play the guinea pig.

June 24, 2011

Mental Health News Update: 6/24

Forget to check for mental-health-related news stories this week?  There were certainly plenty of them out this week, but I thought I’d highlight a few of them for your convenience.

Depressive Symptoms: Like Father, Like Child
by Bruce Jancin/Internal Medicine News

His study also demonstrated that the adverse impact on children’s behavioral and emotional functioning is compounded when both the mother and father have mental health problems. For example, in homes where both parents experienced depressive symptoms, fully 25% of children had emotional or behavioral problems, a rate more than fourfold greater than when neither parent was affected.

Criteria Changes for Bipolar Disorder proposed for DSM-V

by Deborah Brauser/Medscape News

June 17, 2011 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) — The upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), may include revisions for diagnosing mixed episodes while keeping the current duration criteria for hypomanic episodes in bipolar disorders, according to 2 presentations by members of the DSM-5 Mood Disorders Work Group at the 9th International Conference on Bipolar Disorder (ICBD)

Op-Ed: The Future of Psychiatry
by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD/Huffington Post

What do I mean when I say that health and mental health care are not doing enough of what we know works? For example, only half of people with depression who come to their primary care doctor have that condition detected, and of those, less than half receive treatment that follows recognized “care paths,” or guidelines about how to best treat a condition. For example, in New York State, most people who turn to a mental health clinic for a serious mental condition do not stay for more than four visits, far too few visits to effectively improve their condition. For example, only a small fraction of people with an illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia receive comprehensive care, in an ongoing manner, where they are on medications, engaged in therapy, have family counseling and receive support to stay in or return to school or work.


Blog: Perserverence can pay off in finding the right antidepressant
by David Mrazek, MD/Mayo Clinic

Today there’s a more efficient method that can minimize problems that occur after increasing the dose. It’s now possible to collect DNA by just rubbing a “cheek swab” on the inner surface of the cheek. The swab is then sent to a laboratory to determine your genetic metabolic capacity.


The Surprising Silver Lining of Sadness
by Ginny Graves/Prevention

“In studies on depressive rumination—which usually find that it’s an unhealthy habit—most people say they see it as useful in some ways,” says Dr. Andrews. “It helps them gain insight into their problems.” The ruminations could be self-incriminating (If I had been a better listener, maybe he wouldn’t have left me) or anxiety provoking (What if I have the same bad luck at my next job?), but the insights they provide can be useful. “You are thinking about ways to improve your situation—about what you can learn from it and do better next time—rather than worrying about the potential negative outcomes,” explains Natalie Ciarocco, PhD, a professor of psychology at Monmouth University who has also studied rumination.



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