In Need of Progress Reminders

I think that sometimes, God reminds us of how far we’ve come by sending us back to where we were for a short time.

This weekend was an awesome weekend for the most part. Friday was a day fully dedicated to working on The Girl Next Door. I’ll write a whole entry about this week’s work on her soon. Let’s just say it was a lot of work and very satisfying.

Saturday, we worked on her in the morning. After doing as much as we could, we left to attend the Minneapolis RV vacation & Camping show. We had a TON of fun there. Next year, we will probably take either one whole day or come back for more than one time. We really enjoyed looking at new models of Class A, B, C motorhomes and travel trailers. We’re not much for pop-ups or 5th wheels, so we stayed out of them. We dreamed about what we might buy in the future and got a few ideas for The Girl Next Door. Catch us in 10 years when we’ll buy the 2017 Thor Vegas RUV Class A or a 2016 Pleasureway  Plateau XLMB Class B. They were both glorious. Plus, we were super excited to get to meet The FitRV after months of watching their videos.

After the show, we had some yummy food at Good Earth. We have found very good paleo options at stores that celebrate local suppliers and organic food. I had a wonderful blood orange smoothie, a Go Green lemonade (kale, spinach, & honey added), and some yummy BBQ pork chops over greens. Jeremy had a chopped salad that looked delish. And when the delightful dinner was over, we went to see one of our favorite local bands play. Dancing the night away is just as fun at 34 as it was at 21. I just don’t drink anymore, so I enjoy the music that much more. Good for Gary plays so many great dance tunes that all 4 of our party got on the floor. There was even a return of the BackStreet Boys that Jeremy danced to. What a goofy guy on the dance floor; that’s why I love him.

At 2am, we rolled into our friend Sarah’s place to stay the remainder of the night. All 4 of us quickly passed out, not being used to this kind of late night. We all slept pretty soundly and woke by 9am. Erin and I went to a local church, Hosannah! Church in Shakopee. It was definitely a style of church that I enjoy and I think I might go back the next time we stay over at Sarah’s too. Church gave way to breakfast; Wampachs had a great special for both of us: cajun eggs benedict. Yum. After some more hanging out at Sarah’s house, Jeremy, Erin, and I headed to a late lunch at Merlin’s Pub where there was mussels, tater tots, and sausages galore.

That was the extent of the wonderful weekend we had. Once we got home, things got hairy. On the way home, Jeremy had some conversations with his son and ex-wife. This tends to get him on the defensive in the first place. The anxiety of co-parenting can often be overwhelming. On top of the anxiety of this talk, he got more than one instance yesterday of his decision making ability being undermined by other adults. When he got home, the stress had taken over his ability to cope. He lost control of his temper and went into a tailspin. There was some yelling and swearing. I was not devoid of responsibility when it comes to the ramped up state of things. Between both of us not sleeping as much as we should and both letting go of control of creating our own food, we did not take good care of our bodies. I was caught very off guard by this turn of events.

You see, I had begun to take Jeremy’s good state of mind for granted. For over a week, he’s seemed very stable. He brought me breakfast in bed three times last week. He laughed, danced, and joked around. He worked hard, played hard, and slept when he could. We had a phenomenal weekend of happy times, fun work, and building our future. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of security in that. It’s easy to miss the early signs of a trigger. It’s easy to take for granted the stable times when they last for a few days or more. That state of complacency makes the meltdown that much harder.

Boy, it was hard for me. I did not deal well the way I have in the past. As a result, Jeremy and I spent the night struggling alone. Trying to be around each other was way too hard. We did apologize to each other; our mental health and relationship were able to turn around after some cool down time. It was just too tense to spend the time together. We’re lucky to have quite a few options when it comes to nights like that. We have friends and family that understand our situation, we have an office that gives us some space to cool off, and we have a whole bunch of great places to stay in our town. Right now, we also have a second bedroom in our apartment. We’re lucky enough even that The Girl Next Door even has extra beds in the living area of the coach, so we could sleep separately if we need it. That was one of the selling points for me: extra space if we need to sleep in more than one bed, whether that is for guests, the boys, or a night break.

We are still both very blessed to have each other. We are good at apologizing; we are both good at making amends. Over the years, we’ve learned to forgive. That’s part of our faith, but even more, it’s necessary to keep our marriage afloat. When mental illness is rampant in a marriage, forgiveness becomes an every day event. There are times that the forgiveness is small; there are times it is very very significant as this one was. Sometimes it is as little as forgiving the dishes only getting half put away or dropping something on the floor. Other times, one of us is apologizing for a major monetary hit from damage done in a rage or in an anxious outburst. Sometimes we risk our relationship by saying hurtful things. Other times we are remorseful for our massive insecurities stemming from past abuses. No matter what is going on, we have both agreed to communicate and forgive. I am bone-of-his-bone and flesh-of-his-flesh; we are united by marriage and need to work through those inconsistencies until we are one.

No matter what kinds of things hurt you, be ready to forgive. That is something that will always help both your mental and spiritual health. Embrace letting the desire for revenge go. Open yourself to new opportunities by releasing cherished wounds. Let yourself chase your dreams and we’ll see you out on the road.

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.

New Year; New Life

I am the same person that I was yesterday; you are too. The only differences are that we’ve learned things that we didn’t know then. We may have learned good things: knowledge, love, efficiency, patience, kindness, wisdom, how to avoid cheesecake. We may also have learned bad things: pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and ignorance. In the end, we are still the same people; we have the same minds, the same bodies. We might have changed what we do on a daily basis or the way we wear our hair. All of these things aside, I am the same person today that I was a year ago with a lot of things I’ve learned.

I learned that my family was struggling so much more than they had let on. I learned that our kids were both struggling with drugs. I learned that my perception of what my husband and his children go through every day is not the whole story. I learned first hand what it is to have your brain attack you. It’s not a physical battle when someone is struggling inside their brain. Fighting with your own delusional thoughts is exhausting and hit my family this year. When you have cancer or diabetes, muscular dystrophy, or asthma, there are physical symptoms that show on your face, hands, and speech. You may slur, you may be unable to walk, you may throw up, you may have a hard time breathing. You may have to use a wheelchair or walker. Other people can see those symptoms.

When the war of mental illness is involved, it isn’t so visible. The vomit is an emotional vomit that often comes out sideways that has nothing to do with the person you’re spewing on. The slurring is in your inability to stay on one subject for long. The stumbling is in how you treat the people you love, even though you really want to show them love and respect. Your brain may tell you that it isn’t worth it to get out of bed today; that you are better off staying in the warm dark and letting your job fall away. Your illness tells you that your psychiatrist doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that the drugs do a better job than pharmaceuticals. There are no wheelchairs for someone who is so depressed that they are paralyzed. There are no walkers to help you find the thoughts that got lost somewhere in the racing conversation of your brain.

Thankfully, we have doctors that are beginning to know how to help my family. This year, we were able to find some stuff that is finally helping. I got some antidepressants that help me feel like a real person again; I can actually get out of bed daily, smile when something’s funny, and I am  not having random crying sessions for seemingly no reason at all. Jeremy’s doctor and he have decided to go back to the medicine that worked for so long even though he got a rash from it. Hopefully they can increase it slow enough that no rash happens this time. He also found a chiropractor and nutrition doctor that is helping him do better to fuel his athletic pursuits. The current doctor for our youngest took Jeremy’s past into account and found a medicine that seems to be helping him feel like himself for the first time in 2 years.

This year, Jeremy learned that he can do so much more than his brain tells him that he can. He ran his first marathon in June. He did multiple half marathons, tons of 5ks, and Ragnar Great River. Jeremy participated in 3 triathlons, one duathlon, and hundreds of group fitness classes. He ran his second marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. This year, Jeremy continued his weightloss from last year; at his lightest, he was 215. He’s learned that Lithium is not a med that will work for him. He learned by gaining 25 lbs on it and experiencing some pretty severe depression symptoms during his trial-and-error phase of his med change. He learned millions of hours worth of information about RVing, motorhomes, fulltiming, and heaters. His phone  has been stuck on YouTube videos for about 6 months. By the time we move in, he’ll be an expert at all things RV.

We learned to coexist in work and home life. We learned a little harmony in our life; we learned a little struggle. We learned that 1200 sq. ft. is just too much space for the two of us. We learned that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!! We learned a little bit of Spanish by using the Duolingo app. We learned to lighten up and to relax some. We learned that we want to have a life, not just be alive.

We are looking forward to 2017. Both of us have some physical goals, financial goals, and household goals. Resolutions aren’t our thing, but we do review our goals regularly and today is as good as any day to do that. We hope that everyone has a safe New Year’s Eve. Stay warm and we’ll see you on the road.

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.