How does genetics fit in?

Genetics is the study of inheritance; it’s finding out what traits are handed down from lineage and what is environmental. Everyone is affected by genetics because we all have parents, who we got our genetic traits from.

Many factions of scientists track genetics through the generations. Most use a “genogram”for a reference for their research in one line or for one person. A genogram is like a family tree in that you put all of your ancestors, siblings, and relatives into the chart. Then, you track who had the trait in question and who may have had the trait but was unconfirmed. The creator may use interviews with family, birth & death records, as well as criminal records and past diaries to fill in the blanks. This is usually a good way to find out if a trait is environmentally induced or if it is genetic.

Talking about and noticing these types of traits gets me jazzed. I have my Bachelors of Science in Chemistry with an emphasis in DNA analysis & Criminalistics. Genetics was my favorite college course because the connections are so interesting. When you know a lot about a subject, it becomes more interesting. Plus, genetics is kind of a puzzle with clues as far as I’m concerned; it’s like a mystery novel.

It got even more interesting for me when Jeremy and I started talking about mental illness. He and I are both strong believers that mental illness can be both genetic and environmental. How this is described in the scientific world is usually comparison of expressivity and penetrance. In layman’s terms, expressivity is how much an individual displays a given gene trait and penetrance is how many individuals in a genetic pool are likely to have the gene for that trait.

This is where most average people hit a wall right now. There hasn’t been a phenomenal wealth of research done on the genetics of most mental illnesses. There are also a lot of barriers to proper diagnosis of mental illnesses because of the lack of research.

The National Institute of Mental Health, a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) is trying to remedy that. They have greatly increased their research basis in the fields of mental health in the last 10 years. As a result, new medicines, treatments, and diagnosis protocols are being created every day.

Now, we are hoping to be a part of some of the research. The NIMH is currently running a research study called “Investigating the Genetics of Bipolar Disorder in those affected and their family members”. Finding this study has really opened our eyes to how our family members, primarily Jeremy’s family of origin, may be affected by Bipolar disorder. We’re hoping they will also partner with us to help with this study.

To really understand why we’re interested in it so highly, we need to talk some about Jeremy’s illness. He was diagnosed at 28 years old after years of struggle. He was divorced, had two children, worked the same job for 8 years, and had recently lost another relationship. When first treated, he was treated only for depression. He was given Effexor. As was common with this medication, when Jeremy still didn’t feel “well”, they increased his dosage. The more they increased it, the more his symptoms grew. He started having days and weeks of mania, very high anxiety and agitation, and delusional thoughts. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and he was taken to the hospital.

He ended up in an inpatient psychiatric treatment program. This is what you’d do for anyone with a severe illness; for severe pneumonia, they’d go to the PICU; for an infection they’d stay in the ICU. Think of inpatient treatment as the Intensive care unit for psychiatric cases. While there, he participated in many tests and many group sessions, as well as individual counseling. The psychiatrist determined that his response to Effexor was because he wasn’t depressed; he has bipolar disorder or cycling manic-depression.

Finding the right diagnosis makes it a lot easier to get the right treatment, but it is still not easy. Many of you have read my entry here about the mental illness in our life and the treatments we are currently seeking for it. There are hundreds more treatment options that we haven’t had to seek out yet. There are also a lot that we have tried that have not helped a lick. While in the hospital, the doctors tried many different medicines with Jeremy. Since going back on medication in 2012, there have been a few more added to the list. For some, they never find the “right” medicine for them. We are grateful that Jeremy’s found one that helped him.

Now, bring in the fact that his children struggle with illness too. The youngest is currently in residential treatment. Over the last month, the doctors there have reached out to see parallels between Jeremy’s evolution with mental illness and his son’s. In turn, they tried the medicine that’s been helping Jeremy. Lo and behold, his son has started to see some progress with impulse control and mood stabilization. That got me thinking of genetics.

When I started searching information on genetics and bipolar disorder, I found the study on the NIH site. Jeremy and I have discussed a little how his illness may be genetic. We have looked at his kids dealing with what the do, but we’ve also taken information from his family about some of Jeremy’s relatives and possible mental health issues.

Mental health is just becoming something that is viewed as a health issue instead of a stigmatized character flaw or weakness. In generations past, people were billed as “crazy”, “unstable”, or “psycho”. They were pushed out of society because of their odd behaviors or ideas. People with mental illness were avoided instead of being understood. There may well have been quite a few people who had some high functioning form of mental illness that were just outcast because of their odd life. Even in more recent generations, such as our parents, people with mental illness often didn’t seek diagnosis and treatment because of the stigma attached to it.

That’s what a genogram looks at. Jeremy and I both believe that doing this kind of exercise could be very telling for our family. We are hoping that this NIH study will accept him as part of the study; we are also hoping that some of his family members will join him in participating if they can. It would be telling to find out if there are genetic markers for bipolar disorder. To have a definitive way to diagnose this horrible disease would be one step in the right direction for a viable treatment.

Until then, we’ll keep doing what we can find that helps; we’ll be working on running the race that God has put in front of us. Stay safe out there, my friends. We’ll see you on the road.

When you fall off the wagon

We’re talking a proverbial wagon. Don’t worry; we did not go farm this weekend or anything. Although that would have been a great workout, had we done it.

A year ago, Jeremy and I were both very very dedicated to our health. As a result, he was at the lightest he had been in 20 years and I was at my strongest. We planned our meals ahead of time; we planned our exercise and followed through; we took our medicines daily; we spent time regularly doing self-care. All aspects of our life were kept at our healthiest options.

In March 2016, our youngest had some mental health issues start to take over his life. For the next 6 months, our life was filled with massive stress, doctors, and cops. The stress was too overwhelming for both of us. We doubled our counseling sessions. Jeremy and his doctor agreed that he probably should increase his mood stabilizer medicine. As a result of increasing too quickly, Jeremy got a dangerous rash and had to go off of the medicine that had worked for 2 years. This medicine is mostly to treat his bipolar disorder by keeping his moods in a “normal” range and help him focus better.

The new medicine to replace it was Lithium. Jeremy was on Lithium while he trained for the Twin Cities Marathon and I was training for the Rails to Trails half-marathon. A med change when there is little stress is hard. Noticing side effects and getting through the mood swings can be overwhelming. It’s triple hard when you have something that is a goal or some kind of stress in your life.

He made it through the marathon. He even had a pretty good time, even though he hadn’t trained as hard as he had hoped. For those that don’t do long distance races, there’s important information that you probably don’t know: the after crash of a race. Think of it like another life event: a wedding. You plan for months, you spend hours every day thinking of this event and planning for it. You may work to lose weight, make decorations, and pick out the perfect dress/DJ/location/cake. The day comes and you have a major high. You love your event and it goes off without a hitch. Afterward, you’re faced with a slight depression. You spend hours thinking “what do I do now?” and “There’s no purpose to my time anymore.” You looked forward to this event for months and now it’s just over. The same  happens with athletes after a major race/game/event.

Jeremy had that happen. On top of the medicine changes, Jeremy went through a pretty extreme depression. We don’t know if it was a side effect from the Lithium, a outcome from the kid stress, a downswing from going off of Lamictal, or the after-race crash. All we know is that his thoughts started racing, his self-talk got dark, and he became despondent about life in general. There were days that I had to help him get out of bed for work.

Needless to say, he was not doing any kind of exercise at that time. I was also still untreated for my depression. Between the two of us, it was hard for us to do enough thinking just to make ourselves eat, shower, and work each day. Eating healthy was the last thing in our heads. We were lucky if we made frozen pizza or mac & cheese; we weren’t even going to attempt salads.

So, what happens when someone is unable to be physically healthy? In our experience, not only does their physical health deteriorate, but their mental, spiritual, and financial health all suffer as well. It stands to reason that it’s hard to get out of that spiral. We had to keep going to work and we knew it. Thankfully, we were able to push through in that area.

We’re both pretty grateful that we have found some treatment that helped. I was put on Fluoxetine (Prozac) in December. It made it lots easier for me to get out of bed, do the work I need to do, and help him with what he needs. He also went back on Lamictal in December. This needs to be a very gradual process. Even though he is still at a very low dosage of this mood stabilizer, getting off the Lithium seems to have brought him up out of the suicidal thoughts and deep depression. We are functioning again, that’s the important thing.

Something to realize though is that “functioning” is not the same as “thriving”. It was something we talked about when we walked out on the land we plan to park on this summer. Jeremy’s lamotrigine dosage is still low enough that he’s not 100% stable. Counseling helps and the low dosage does help; it’s just not ideal yet. We are both about 30 lbs heavier than we would like to be. Neither of us are exercising as much as we need to. We’re still not eating as well as we’d like. Now that we’re functioning, we can start to address these issues that keep us from thriving. We may soon get back on track to be healthy in all parts of our life.

We start a new eating plan today with Clean & Simple Nutrition. We are hoping that a change in nutrition will give us a bit of a boost toward motivation. Within the month, we will both start training for our next races. We hope that you take some motivation to keep going, to get started, and to get healthy from our story. Stay safe and we’ll see you on the road.

God’s Plan

I’m a very spiritual person. Whoa… whoa… don’t run away yet. I swear I’m not going to start badmouthing anybody. I love people, whether you’re spiritual or not; atheist, agnostic, dont-care-ist… I accept you where you are and would love to hear your side and thoughts of anything we talk about.

I’m a born-again Christian. (Again, please don’t leave…. hear me out) For those of you that the term “born-again” sounds weird to, it is. Those of us that say that don’t mean we entered back into our mother’s womb. The idea is that we had a second “birthing” or awakening to God’s plan in our lives and that Jesus of Nazareth is our Messiah that will build and maintain the relationship between us and God. We have accepted this awakening as truth to us and apply it to our life.

I used to be very religious. I went to multiple Bible studies, church every single week, volunteered as a greeter, taught Sunday school, and attended Women’s retreats. I studied my Bible every single day and got down on myself if I didn’t. It’s been a waxing and waning kind of style throughout  my life. But this style of “religion” was not fulfilling to me. I felt like I was looking outside myself, outside the Holy Spirit, for my beliefs. There are verses in Hebrews 5 & 6 that talk about being yet a child and needing to be reminded of the basics over and over again. The most powerful for me in these chapters are Hebrews 5:11-13, “11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” I was doing all of these things, spending hours and hours and hours being taught by others. What I really needed was to lead myself; I needed to mature past being fed by others and start feeding myself. Let God carry me some instead of my faith in the schooling and leading of other people. 

I’m not very religious anymore. I want to know why we do the traditions we do and I still do some of them if I like them. I don’t regularly go to church. I do often watch and listen to podcasts from good preachers that are teaching more than the basics. I weigh what they say against what my study of the Bible has shown me. I feel reading my Bible, praying, and living my life the way Jesus would have is what God plans for me right now. I try to live every day of my life in a way that makes people think “There’s something different about her. I need to know what it is.” I will talk about my faith if people show some openness to it. I also will not often share the other parts of my religious beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world from Hell and the grave unless they ask me.

Whatever you do with your spiritual life, do it because it’s right for you. Talk to your higher power (mine is the triune God of the Bible) or yourself if you don’t have one and really decide if this ambiguous “religion” that you’re practicing matches your values and beliefs.

For my own spiritual health, I need to be relying on God for my teaching and my growth. I felt I needed space from organized religion. I’m glad I’ve taken it. I have learned so much about myself in relation to God and His world through this process. I’ve learned to assess the reasons for a Bible book’s writing before I apply it to my life. I often ask myself “Was this written for all of humankind, including me? Or is this more of a history written for the people of that time?” That’s a big question. If you don’t know, maybe find that out before you read a book. There are so many things I’ve learned from asking that question. And ask yourself “Does the God/power that I’m modelling myself after show any of the traits I’m being told are part of my ‘religious duties’?” That’s an important one too. Celebrate with your spirit and you’ll find truth. Be kind, be patient, and show care. Stay safe, my friends, and we’ll see you on the road.

There are lots of those weeks

I’ve always been pretty high functioning and this addition of coping skills and recovery strategies hid my depression even more. From that point forward when depression hit, I could usually get it to start to go away in a few weeks. I’d give up drinking, plan some outings to “catch up” with friends (that were really just counseling sessions for me), change my eating habits and my exercise habits. I also forced myself to maintain my routine, even if I didn’t feel like  it. I studied at certain times; I went out with friends on certain days; I went to all work that I was scheduled for; I made a few dates with my boyfriend and eventually husband. Eventually I would always snap out of it somehow after 2-4 weeks.

3 years ago, I couldn’t handle how my environment was affecting my depression. It was happening more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time. Being part of a blended family contributed; having a family with multiple people with mental illness contributed; being in the beginning stages of starting a business contributed; being unable to care for my dogs contributed. I sat down with my husband and had a ultimatum. Something had to give and it had to be our mental health. We had to focus on treating ourselves with more respect and preventing others from treating us without respect.

First, we started with counseling. He and I did couples counseling at least monthly at the time. I did individual counseling once a month; he did individual counseling every other week. So, there was one week a month that we didn’t have counseling. He also saw a psychiatrist about his bipolar disorder and got some pharmaceutical help. After 6 months, they found a med that worked for him. I got my boyfriend back and the boys got a father who was really able to parent. My depression was under control and out of mind for a good 2 years.

With no apparent new/unique stimulus, a mild bout of depression started for me in the beginning of June 2016. I followed the same procedure that I had before: the routine, the scheduling, the eating habits, the exercise. A month came and went, then 6 weeks, then 2 months. At 2 months, I told our counselor that I thought I should see a doctor. The depression was deepening. I was having a hard time getting up, I wasn’t exercising the way I should, I was having a really hard time eating well, and I really wanted to drink but it made things worse.

Realize that finding a psychiatrist and getting antidepressants isn’t as easy for us as some. We do not currently have any health insurance. We are in the strange situation of making too much money for state Medicaid, but all of the plans are way out of our price range even with a subsidy. I can’t go to my insurance website to see “who’s covered”.

I started with the county Behavioral Health clinic. They have a sliding scale that currently has us at $0 for all services each month. What’s the problem? Well, the waiting list is 187 people long; I was informed that it would take at least a year to get through that long of a list. Plus, they had just lost one of their doctors, so it would be even longer until the end more than likely.

Next option, the free health clinic. St. Croix & Pierce counties join forces for a free clinic. It is specifically for people in our situation. For whatever reason, you can’t get Badgercare (Medicaid) but you don’t have insurance or can’t afford your deductible/co-pays. It’s held on Tuesday nights on a triage basis. Meaning, if what you have is not severe enough, you might not be seen. But, you fill out paperwork then you wait for your number to be called. The earlier you get there, the more likely you are to be seen.

I was pretty lucky. The only other people there when we went were a family full of sick kids and a few return customers just trying to get their prescriptions filled. (By the way, anything prescribed at the clinic can be picked up there for free as well.) I saw a doctor after waiting only 35 minutes. We talked about my history of depression, what I had been on before, and what side effects had happened before. He decided that a different SSRI might be the ticket. Prozac (fluoxetine) became my only pharmaceutical daily.

I can tell you that it helped within a week. I feel like myself, although I still do have one or two very mild side effects that are easily controlled with diet and exercise. I’ve been on it now for almost 2 months. I still have not had a call from the Behavioral Health psychiatrist, but I think I’ll be able to tell them that a GP doctor was more than capable of treating my simple mild depression.

I take my medicine and a bunch of supplements every day first thing in the morning. I try to continue my routines, but end up sleeping a little too much if I drink even small numbers of alcoholic drinks, as I did one day this week. We continue to do counseling regularly; right now, we see our counselor every other week for couples and the other weeks for individual.

I still have some pretty major hormonal swings thanks to my PCOS (my ovaries don’t quite work as effectively as my body needs them to). This week, I spent a day or so in a bit of a fog; I felt a bit like a zombie; Jeremy was genuinely concerned for my mental state; the counselor even noted a strangeness. As my hormones have moved to the next stage of the month, I have begun to feel better. This is the nature of mental illness and hormonal imbalance: everything affects it and you can never truly know just by the feeling if it’s caused by your surroundings/nutrition/habits or if it’s a flare that needs some pharmaceutical intervention until you’ve sat with it, dissected it, and tried changing some of those situations.

Now, I move back into my usual life and our wonderfully crazy life goes on. We make doctor appointments, work, and force ourselves to face every day. So, stay safe, readers. We will see you on the road.

It’s been one of those weeks

Today, I do not feel like writing in the blog. I did not feel like getting out of bed. I have felt like doing nothing all day long. This is not a unique day for me that I “just need to rest a little”. This is something that happens almost daily for me when my depression is in full swing. Thankfully, that’s not really what this was, but it was a small taste.

Depression has been a recurring part of my life for much of my life. It really got stuck in my brain during puberty. I was not a popular person; I was not unpopular either. I had friends, but they didn’t stick around a lot. I wasn’t invited to parties much. I did have one really dedicated friend until we found boys, then we stopped hanging out as much.

Boys were another beast altogether. Hormones raging, a teenage girl thinks that every by loves her if he looks her way. We hadn’t learned yet that boys are generally jerks until they are done with puberty. But, we blindly followed them into the abyss of teenage angst, first kisses, and riding in cars.

I would say that some of my depression taking hold harder was actually because of boys. My last high school boyfriend was fairly emotionally abusive. That put some wonderfully evil self-esteem breakers into my internal vocabulary. My first few dates in college were with a sex crazed jerk, which just reinforced the bad phrases cycling because of that bad boyfriend. Then, I had a few years of great guys that came and went. They weren’t ready to take on that emerging mental illness and what it entailed. I was engaged and it ended badly. I hit a downward slope. I dated some strange ones too. My depression got out of control.

At one point in college, I decided I needed some counseling and to see a psychiatrist. I had been cut from the ROTC, which was my only career plan. I was continually exploding at my then-boyfriend. I decided to quit rugby, which was my second love. I cried randomly; I hid in my room for days on end; I “forgot” to shower, brush my teeth, or eat. I recognized that this wasn’t normal activity, but I wasn’t sure what was wrong. So, I went to the school clinic and got on the list. The counselor was not great. I don’t even remember his name. I met with him twice. The doctor was just as subpar, I met with him twice as well 3 months apart. He prescribed Lexapro the first time, the second time he told me that I was probably past the worst of my disorder and that he didn’t recommend going off of the medication. I did anyway because I felt that I had a handle on my depression. I was mostly right.

You see, when someone is put onto an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), it is recommended that they stay on it for at least a year to prevent relapse. Doctors are adamant in their recommendation of staying on the medication. I had felt that this depression was more connected to my situation than something long term. I thought all I needed was a quick jolt of happy and my life would go back to good. I was mostly right.

I dealt really well for another year. I changed schools, picked a different major, lost some weight, joined a church, got engaged, found an apartment, made some friends. Then, stress came and I did well. I thought I really had outwitted that doctor until a big tidal wave hit.

My fiance split up with me in April of that following year. I was devastated and shocked. So shocked that my sister (who was visiting that weekend) said that I didn’t seem like I even cared when I told her. I went through the motions until a month later when school was out for the summer; I moved back to my parents’ place; I grieved my future plans again. I spent most of that summer in a near fog. I worked as much as I could at the local group home company. Once late in the summer, one of my high school friends tried to set me up with his roommate and it was a horrible disaster. I was not sad, but I was not happy either. I was numb.

When I went back to the town of my school, I spent the first month being sad and lonely. I didn’t hang out with my friends; I didn’t have classes yet to distract me. I wallowed in my apartment eating pizza, drinking beer, and reading. Once school started, I was lucky enough that my friends didn’t let me wallow and I started to turn that corner again. I also had a great Bible study group that helped me learn some coping skills for my depression. The depression started to subside and I got back to my life.

 

 

If you check back in tomorrow, you can hear the rest of this story. See you on the road!

A Mexican Nightmare… An education

I talked in Part 1 about all of the preparation I did getting ready for a working vacation on a client’s medical travel. This is a first time for me. I’ve done 14 years of personal care work, but never had a client pay for me to travel like this before.

So, we left Monday, Dec 12 with high hopes of a good trip. Our cab came just a tiny bit late, but still got us to the airport 2 hours early. Our check-in at MSP went without a hitch. Checking our bag in was 5 minutes. TSA spent a total of 8 minutes on testing the wheelchair. There were almost no lines and we were even able to get a snack on the way to the gate.

Here’s where we need to go over the difference between travelling with a wheelchair and without one. Here is my experience without a wheelchair: You get to the airport 1 hour before take-off. Check-in takes a maximum of 5 minutes, bag check another 5-10 minutes, TSA maybe 10-15. If you’re running over on those, you’re totally able to run down the stairs, up the escalator, and through crowds to get to the gate, where they will be loading by this time. You board just by handing your boarding pass to the gate attendant and you find your assigned seat. You have no need for anything extra beyond a seat and a spot for your carry-on. Total time from curb to boarded: 42 minutes.

Now, add a wheelchair: First off, the preparation is so much more. Before you buy your tickets, it is prudent to call ahead to the airline and see what size of aircraft is right for your needs. Wheelchairs, especially power wheelchairs, often take up more space and need extra support from staff to get the client on and off the plane. So, you spend an hour on the phone with the customer service of your chosen airline. If you “shop around”, you need to do this more than once. You also should find an assistant to come with you to help carry bags and direct the airport staff as to your needs. You’ll be tired, you don’t want to do this yourself. Then, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Here’s why- Check-in takes 5 minutes, as usual, with one extra click and double checking that there’s some special accomodations. Bag check takes 10 minutes easily because you have to explain to the check counter that you also have a power wheelchair and ask them to call ahead to make sure there’s an aisle wheelchair available. TSA usually takes between 20-40 minutes, depending on how your prep went. Sometimes, you can do TSA Pre check, so that helps cut down on time. If you have dry cell batteries (which many modern wheelchair companies are going to) or you have a manual chair, you cut down the time a little too. But, TSA needs to wipe every surface of the chair with a small tab that tells them if there’s explosive or drug residue on the chair. They also need to pat down the inhabitant because they’re unable to see any bulges that may exist. After TSA, let’s say you need the bathroom. You need to wait an extra 5 minutes for the special stall. Not only that, if there’s stairs, escalators, or crowds, you’re going to take double time to get to where you’re going. Elevators are notoriously slow; picking your way through a crowded terminal can be even worse when people’s eye level is above your head. By the time you get to the gate, you hope that it’s still before they start boarding. You have to pick your way right up to the gate attendant and warn them that you’ll need an aisle chair. Often, no one was informed of this, even though you’ve taken proper precautions. They call for customer service to send down an attendant and an aisle chair. You wait until the gate is opened and are the first person boarded. Hopefully, when you got your seats, you thought to put your assistant next to you. If not, you’ll have to discuss that with the gate agent also. First, you roll to the end of the gateway where the aisle chair and attendant are waiting. You are transferred into the aisle chair. Your assistant informs the baggage supervisor in attendance about how to move the chair. Your assistant also sets the chair up for travel, often having to lay the chair out flat, unhook controls, or remove pieces that may fall off or get damaged during transport. (Think doubling your carry-on) The baggage crew takes your chair while you pray that they were really listening and pass on the information. You are rolled into the plane by no less than 2 attendants, plus your assistant. The three of them coordinate moving you to a seat depending on where your seat is. We recommend an aisle seat; there’s less moving to get to that one. They take away the aisle chair. VERY OFTEN, your flight will be delayed because of maintenance. Do not be fooled; this is often because someone is trying to move your chair and have no idea what they’re doing. Ok, you finally leave and everyone’s boarded and ready to go. Time from curb to boarded: 156 minutes (2hours, 36 minutes).

Now, you guessed it, you’re only on the plane. Most people just debark and you’re done once you land; 5 minutes. Nope, not when travelling with a power wheelchair. You have to wait until every other person has gotten their stuff and gotten off of the plain. The flight crew has to call ahead and warn the destination that you need an aisle chair and an attendant for help. You wait for them. They get there and you reverse the process. If you have a connecting flight, it is my opinion that you should leave at least 4 hours between flights. Yes, you may be sitting for 3 hours if EVERYTHING goes correctly. But, you are much much less likely to miss that connection. Less than an hour for connecting with a wheelchair is just tempting fate. Hell, 2 hours even tempts it a little. Get ready to tempt fate over and over again if you’re travelling with a wheelchair.

This last week, we dealt with all of these and more issues with our travel. Next, I’ll tell you all about these great adventures in purgatory.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 1

I warned everyone that I was travelling last week. Considering the week I had, I think all of my previous travels have been too easy. I’ve traveled with wheelchairs before, young children, and very very old people. All had some SNAFU, but nothing prepared me for this trip.

I was offered a few months ago by a client that they needed a caregiver for a medical travel trip to Mexico. When I said “Yes!”, I didn’t know where we’d be going, what kind of treatment is was, or what kinds of support this client would need. All I knew is that they were planning to pay flight, hotel, and basic food, as well as paying me some kind of salary while we were there. I was expected to cover any extra snacks, souvenirs, and entertainment I might use. And that’s all I knew.

I ordered my first passport, started preparing Jeremy, and started researching dos & don’ts. Don’t drink the water, check; don’t go out in the country alone at night, check; check the travel advisory for your itinerary, um…. where are we going??  A few weeks before, I got some answers to the unspoken things in this agreement. None of the conditions sounded adverse to me. I found out we were going to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, MX (most commonly known as San Miguel). I learned it is a colonial town with a rich history, strong tourist business, and almost everyone knows some English. Win!! It sounded from the information I could gather that it was to Mexico City basically what the Hamptons to New York City; a quaint, well-cared-for town where wealthy people go to “weekend” or “summer”. I got excited.

I learned that my client needs full care for transfer and hygiene. No big deal, I’ve done this job for 14 years. For those that don’t know, I started my official life as a caregiver when I was 19. I inadvertently took a job with a personal care/group home company. All I  knew was that I wanted a job and they were hiring for better pay than most places. Since then, I have worked for 7 different companies, with over 100 different clients, and in 4 different states (I guess you can say 2 different countries now). I would consider myself an expert in the care and support of people with disabilities, especially those who deal daily with a power wheelchair or mental illness. So, the requests of transferring a large client, washing their body including genitals, & assisting with daily meds were all agreeable to me.

As I found out more about what my new client needed, I also learned about why we would be travelling. My client was going to Mexico to obtain a stem cell treatment. This was extremely interesting to me. My spirituality and academic degree allow me multiple perspectives on this subject. Having experience in DNA Analysis, chemistry, and a little biology, the concept of using basically “blank” cells to improve the health of a person is fascinating. The controversy over harvesting techniques and “acceptable” types of cells is also a motivating topic. The treatment would be administered by either intravenous infusion or intramuscular injection. I found that my client wanted the intramuscular treatment. The whole process was a geek heaven for me.

Another little tidbit of information I got before our trip was the weather: San Miguel is pretty much comfortable all year round. In May, they tend to have high temperatures that are just barely warm for some of us (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit). In “winter” (which is now), the temperatures are mid-70s F during the day and mid-40s F in the overnight. I think I may have fallen in love with this place. We went on our trip from December 12-18. This year, this week turned out to be -40 F with the windchill. Ummmm…. No. Very glad to be gone in Mexico during that time.
All in all, the trip turned out to look very very good from the front side. I loved the idea of doing some work, then some touristing. It gave me a purpose to travel. I liked that idea. Before we left, I felt significantly prepared for my trip.

Our crazy beautiful life- Part 2

I wasn’t kidding when I said that everyone in my family struggles with mental illness. My husband is the longest diagnosed and probably the most integral case in the family. He is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1, Borderline Personality, Generalized Anxiety, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. He is currently only on one medication for it, but he does take multiple supplements, as well as a blood pressure medication that may or may not affect the ability of his psych  meds to work. He also participates in almost weekly counseling and still tries to do some natural supports. For 5 years, he was unmedicated and trying to treat his illness with natural methods. In 2012, he agreed to go back on medication to help him be stable for our family. It has helped immensely. He’s gone from an angry, erratic man that we didn’t recognize to the husband and father the kids and I have always really needed. Thank God for medication and counseling.

I am diagnosed with minor depression and mild PTSD from some emotional abuse I’ve suffered. The PTSD was treated in my early to mid-20s through counseling, exposure therapy, and lucid dreaming. I have very few symptoms now, although I still deal with some of the anxieties brought on in my relationships because of it. My depression has been recurring since my mid-teens. I wasn’t treated at all for it until I sought treatment for my PTSD symptoms as well. For the depression, I was on an anti-depressant for 6 months then and I have recently started them again. I have spent the last 6 months just more sad than I should be; life is harder to function than it should be; I recognized that I needed a boost to my usual natural & lifestyle “treatments”. Usually, my depression would go away on its own with added vigilance in self-care along with nutrition and exercise changes. This time, it did not go away, so 3 months after it started, I started seeking medical care. I have been on Prozac (fluoxetine) for just over a month now. It is helping quite a lot.

Our oldest is not diagnosed with any mental illness. However, I have seen him struggle with anger and anxiety, as well as some impulse control issues. He’s 20 now, almost 21. He’s an adult, so we can’t really help him other than getting him the numbers for places he can get help. We can only help him as far as he’s willing to reach out himself. He has to make his own appointments; he has to get himself to the appointments. I hope at some point he is able to deal with the demons that haunt him.

Our youngest is in the midst of massive turmoil right now. He’ll be 16 in January. Just being at that age is hard enough for any of us. On top of that, he was diagnosed with many different illnesses; when he was 9, Tourette’s syndrome; generalized anxiety came a year or so later; ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation disorder came later in middle school; just in the last 6 months we have had to add Chemical dependency to the list. He is currently on multiple meds and placed in a residential treatment facility to try to stabilize his life and his medications. He’s a great young man and we’re all pulling for him to get through this time. We’re looking forward to what he can do once he has his treatment under control.

The whole family has dealt for years with Jeremy’s illnesses and the implications of what it brought to our lives. That is what we will primarily try to focus on in our blog when it comes to that part of our life. We have seen this illness from many different treatment perspectives and many different levels.

This tangle of diagnoses is not always bad. There are times that hypo-mania is a lot of fun and brings creativity and excitement to our lives. None of us can even begin to claim that there was any extended times of boredom. We have experienced a lot of things that other people never will experience because of those times. We are also a lot stronger than many other people because of dealing with mental illness. I have noticed that both of the boys are more empathetic toward others with disorders because they see what happens to people in these situations. Jeremy and I have grown extremely close as a couple because of how we need to lean on each other for support. We don’t just want to be around each other; we need each other to survive and we’re ok with that level of dependence. I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God could not have created a better life for us to share together.