We have a New Resident

I think middle school and high school teachers are saints. They work very very hard to come up with engaging, thoughtful lesson plans and are often met with eye rolls and inattention. When they try to talk to the parents about it, they’re often met with “Well, maybe you’re just not teaching it well.” Still, there will always be that one kid that gets something out of a lesson; that one kid who participates and loves that class. Every teacher has one kid who inspires them to keep going.

It’s no secret that I’ve never had any plan to have my own children. Something that many don’t know, though, is that I have always taken care of children that were birthed to others. I babysat from the time I was 11 years old. I taught Sunday School and I visited my mother’s kindergarten class regularly. As an adult, I even had a job doing personal care work for 14 years, in which I often ended up having children as clients. I knew I would probably raise kids, but I knew I wouldn’t have biological ones. I don’t even know if I could; I just never felt a leading to be a biological mother. I assumed that I’d probably adopt or be a foster parent. I never dreamed that I would be a stepmom.

I don’t know if ANYONE ever dreams of being a stepmom. Disney movies have made it very impossible for young girls to think of stepmoms in a good light. Between Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, and Snow White, why would anyone want to be the villianess? Disney stepmonsters not-withstanding, this woman would have to take on the job of mom in a household without any of the recognition because the biological mother is given that recognition very naturally. Who really wants to clean, cook, and nurture the household of someone else?

Now that I’ve been in this household for 11 years, I’ve learned that it’s not someone else’s household. I have helped raise 2 young men. I met these guys when they were 5 & 10; we married a year later. Now, at 21 and 16 I have moments where I see the lessons I have tried to teach them come through and feel a small amount of parental pride. As they get holder, I have more moments like that and less at the same time because they are not around as much. The 21 year old rarely sees us anymore; he’s a man who’s too busy for his parents. The 16 year old is finding friends and moving toward driving and has a job. Plus, they both have been living elsewhere; the man where he wants, the teen with his biological mother.

That changed this last week. Jason, who’s the 16 year old, has moved into The Girl Next Door with us. Jason, Jeremy and his ex have decided it is in everyone’s best interest for him to be in our household.

You see, Jason’s had a hard year. I mean, all teenage years are rough. Teens brains are growing and changing. My sister says that it’s like road construction: While one part of the brain is developing, it may be closed down and take some detours for different thoughts to get through. This is where the moodiness, “laziness”, inattention, and indecision of teendom come in. “It’s a little like a traumatic brain injury, only the hormones make it happen,” is what my mother said. Her Masters degree is in early childhood development, but she definitely has a unique perspective on the development of teenage brains because of her 35 years in teaching.

Jason’s hard year came after a pretty hard childhood too. Development is something that really gets stung hard in children of divorce and Jason’s parents split when he was only 2. Along with the divorce, his father has a mental illness that greatly effects the ability for relationships and healthy coparenting.

To put some icing on the cake, Jason was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was 9. Tourette’s is an anxiety related disorder that creates tics through shorts in the brain’s wiring. Much like OCD or ADHD, it is led by compulsions, so it can be hidden for a time. Jason hid his all day at school, then had to let it go at home or he would have exploded. At 9, he was diagnosed and began medical treatment. The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

For now, I’ve run out of time to type. I’ll pick up again sometime this week, but just know that 2 have become 3 and we’re loving having the boy we love sleeping so close. Have a great day and we’ll see you on the road.

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A Head Full of Pain

On the Wednesday after Labor Day, I got up and got ready for work. Jeremy had already left to workout, so I had a fairly silent preparation. I thought my foggy head was just from it being 5am and the remnants of a bad headache I had had the day before. As I walked out the door to get to the car, I was reminded that sometimes headaches don’t just go away; they erupt.

I sat down in a lawn chair we have just outside the doors and the world spun. My headache had morphed into a migraine. Now, I don’t get migraines extremely often, but when I do, they are not usually put at bay by a mere Excedrin Migraine, which I did take immediately hoping that it would put me back on my feet. I ended up having my hopes dashed an hour later and informing my employer that I would not be going to work that day. I then crawled back into bed and slept for most of the rest of the day.

Knowing what a migraine feels like often gives me a small bit of insight into how Jeremy and others with bipolar and borderline personality disorders must feel sometimes. I’m lucky; migraines and severe headaches are accepted illnesses and I can at least get some sympathy from people.

There’s always someone that doesn’t get it, though. Where they get “We all feel sad sometimes” or “I have a hard time relating to people sometimes too”, people with migraines hear “Yeah, I get headaches all the time.” Note: Bipolar Depression  and Borderline Personality Disorder are not the same as sadness, just as headaches are not the same as migraines.

Let me show you a physical example: You have been reading my blog. I assume that most of you are reading with a fair amount of ease, maybe with glasses, but for the most part, it’s comprehensible. Now, look at this: 785a97667c645119a46dc4911af7088f--migraines-quotes-chronic-migraine-quotes

Do you see the difference now? And this examples is if the migraine is a minor one. When mine are severe, the center of my vision is entirely fogged out.

Years ago, I found a video that helped me understand a little bit of what Jeremy goes through. When I showed him the video, he told me that it was the closest he’d seen to capturing how he feels and it’s still a tad off the mark. Check it out here: What it Feels like to Have Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t really get it until I watched this. Then, I went on a YouTube binge to try to understand, to try to find treatments that might help, and to reach out to those that I finally felt that I might understand a little better. I got it now that his outbursts, mood swings, and self-deprecation were just an outward expression of his head full of pain. My outward expression was sleeping, dimming the lights, and putting on my fuzzy sweatshirt. On days when his illness was taking hold, he became sullen, lost control of his voice inflection, and was unable to sit for more than 5 minutes. When mine is bad, I can’t get out of bed, cry a lot, and ask him to put on headphones instead of sharing his videos.

Either way, invisible illnesses are harder than they look. Those of  us that have them often fill ourselves with pills to be able to make it through a day at work (as I am doing today, since the remnants of my reasons for staying home are sticking around today). We may take longer breaks than others. We may need more praise and motivation speeches. We don’t want pity and we might just want you to listen for a little bit when we’re tired of explaining that our bodies and brains are rebelling against our intentions. Thank you to those that try. Thank you for reading this post, whether you’re struggling with it or it comes easy to you. I know better than many how hard reading can be some days. Health and happiness to you all; we’ll see you on the road.

You can’t be Cancer

No one ever tells you that you are pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. You are not rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease. You have diabetes, eczema, PCOS, or a row of stitches.

And for some reason, you are bipolar. You are borderline. You are Schizophrenic, depressed, OCD, or “mentally ill”. Once diagnosed with mental illness, it becomes part of your identity in most circles.

That’s one thing that bothers me in the public eye and I think it’s part of the stigma. When I was first trained as a personal care worker, I was trained that my clients are people first. That means that “He’s a person with autism” was a perfectly acceptable statement in that company; “He’s autistic” wasn’t. It was a model that brought dignity to the people that I was there to help. It allowed this person to decide if they were going to identify themselves as their illness or as something else. With this model, the person with mental illness can be anything they want to be still. If they want to be depressed, they can. Or they can choose to be a ballerina, an artist, or a lump in bed. If they want to be crazy, they can. Or they can choose to identify themselves as a person with mental illness and explain that they’d rather not talk about their diagnoses.

I like this model. I like seeing people be able to identify themselves how they would like to. I especially like it when people choose to identify as other than their illness. It gives us more purpose than to focus on our pain.

Focusing on our pain is happening this week. There’s a lot of reasons that may be throwing our lives into a tailspin. I kind of lied to some of you because of it. I cancelled appointments and shut down friend time because of a “family emergency”. That family emergency was an emotional dysregulation that has turned dangerous.

Recently, there’s been a lot of stress. 2 months ago, we moved into our RV and parked it at a couple of friends’ place. They helped us immensely to improve The Girl Next Door to at least a running status. A few weeks ago, they asked us to leave so that they could better serve their customers, who come to their business at the house. We were in the way, where we never had wanted to be. So, Jeremy fixed the fuel pump and we were on the road within hours of it being fixed. It was 2 days after they asked and way before the date that they had told us we had to be gone. Jeremy’s emotions started to get out of control then: when he took one sentence said as him being “unwanted”.

You see, when Jeremy starts to go away and the monster of his illness comes up, it usually starts to happen the most prevalently when he’s rummenating on something that can easily be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. You didn’t say anything wrong, or even mean. His dysregulated brain latches on to anything it can to torture him. Then, it plays that thing over and over again for over-analysis. He probably won’t say anything about it right away. He knows, logically, that his brain is being a jerk.

Next stress: Jeremy found out that his oldest son was in a hit and run accident 4 MONTHS AGO!! We didn’t know anything about it. He’s an adult and totally free to keep his secrets. What hurt Jeremy the most was that his parents knew about it and kept it from us. While his son wasn’t hurt, it reminds Jeremy of his ignorance of his son because his son chooses to cut us out and use Jeremy’s parents as a shield of sorts from life’s consequences. That hurts Jeremy; it reminds him that his adult child doesn’t trust his reactions. It also reminds Jeremy that his parents are coddling this adult child; that hurts too. Pain like this is a big stressor for any parent.

Jeremy’s younger son came to stay with us from Friday to Monday of the Memorial Day weekend. This may not seem like something out of the ordinary for most of you. However, this child has been dealing with mental health issues of his own. This is the first time in almost a year that he’s been in our house for more than a few hours, much less an overnight. There was anxiety on everyone’s part, Jeremy and his son the most probably. We all want a successful relationship. The trust that was lost last year is slowly rebuilding. I don’t know about them, but I want it to be back, darnit! I’m tired of learning how to forgive and how to renew the relationship. I can only imagine how the two of them feel about it. So, for 4 days, there was the constant stress of being a good parent and learning how to trust and how to earn trust again.

On top of all of this, Jeremy’s doctor changed his meds last week. That means that this week is when we’ll start to see some of the changes that this new dosage should bring about. In the past, on this medicine, there is an initial spike of mental illness activity when there’s a change. Eventually, it evens out and Jeremy is back to himself again. And while we’re in this week and maybe next week, there will be some loss of stability with the change. This will be happening for Jeremy for a long time. He and his doctor started him back on this med back in December. He’s been very slowly and steadily increasing the dosage since then. It’s a hard place to be, the middle of a med change.

Some medicine changes happen very quickly. When Jeremy went off of Lamictal before, it was an instant thing. His doctor told him to discontinue immediately and come in for a consultation. They changed him to Lithium and that was that. Some happen more slowly. Sometimes, finding the right medicine for anything takes forever. Jeremy was on Lithium for 4 months last year. It didn’t help; in fact, it may have made things worse when he was on it. Imagine that happening 2, 3, maybe even 4 times with different medicines. This can be a multi-year process for some.

This week has erupted beyond our normal feeling of “off-balance”. Every day there is usually some uncomfortable feeling of anxiety or neuroses from one or both of us. Usually, we’re able to pull the thought train back to forward and make life work. On a normal week, it’s hard to get day-to-day life finished, but not impossible. The laundry may pile up for a few days, the bills may get paid only after a reminder letter, the dishes look icky for a whole 2 days instead of getting washed daily. It isn’t usually so off that we can’t live.

Over the last month, that hasn’t been the case. We’ve been living on bought meals and restaurants because we don’t have the foresight to make dinner. We’ve been allowing the dishes to overflow the sink. Our laundry took 5 loads the other day and I still have a basket full of dirty. We could really use the help of someone willing to help us organize, get things done, and lift our spirits. Let’s face it, isolation is another side effect of mental illness breaking down. It’s not as simple as just having the people we need in place to help. There’s arranging that needs to be done if those things are going to happen. Neither of us is up to that task. So, this week, it has all come to a head and we’ve had to try to hold the pieces together.

In the end, the month of May was extremely stressful on both of us. Jeremy hasn’t been able to regulate his emotions like he wants to. He doesn’t want to have outbursts and breakdowns. In turn, I respond by pulling inward, letting my self-care go, and riding the depression train. Neither of us wants this; we want to be happy and healthy. We are working together to find a way to make that happen. Hopefully, once we’re through this hard time, we’ll be able to go out and see you on the road again.

Full-Time Times

This will be quick. I’m still reeling!!

Ok, first off, I’m sorry to our loyal followers for not writing more in the last month. IT’S BEEN CRAZY AROUND HERE!!

Let’s start with The Girl Next Door. She’s full and being worked on as much as possible. Jeremy has been spending days with Jason, our new neighbor, working on the engine, the electrical, and the fuel issues. She’s moving better than she was when Jeremy crawled at 20 miles an hour into Jason’s driveway; she’s also still not in what we would call “mobile” shape. She moves, but not too quickly. I think Jeremy said he got her up to 35 miles an hour. They’ve changed spark plugs, checked for fuel vacuums, and emptied the old gas. They’ve also re-wired quite a bit of our internal work, including the male end of our 50 Amp electrical hookup, which promptly created some sparks. Now our microwave doesn’t work anymore, but there was no further fire. Thank God.

We’re still not “moved in” either. We haven’t quite had time to work on going through all of our stuff stored at Jeremy’s parents’ place. So there is quite a bit of stuff that is stored there that we want to fit into the RV. That being said, it might never happen. She’s not quite organized inside yet. We have stacks of clothing and stuff on the kitchen table, the couch, the doghouse, and in the passenger seat. Any advice would be helpful. Even more helpful would be a life coach or something to come and go through this stuff with us!!

Jeremy is still working on the rollercoaster of Lamictal reintroduction. This medication works well once it’s up to therapeutic level. The problem is that he has to go very very slowly toward that level because of his rash last July. We’re hoping he’ll be all the way up to it by June. Right now, he’s on the down turn from the most recent increase. By next week or the week after, he should be stabilizing again and we’ll see where he’s at with is moods. In the meantime, he’s riding a wave of cycles, anxiety, and coping skills.

My job change went smoothly for the most part, but I’m now waking at 4am, driving Ruby over an hour one way, and not getting home until 6pm. Most days, I’m tired.  Even though I’ve done this job before, those are old brain cells that haven’t been used in 10 years. Even though it’s a change, I still feel like going back to the QA job is like moving home. There’s a familiarity of the lab; over half of the people in the lab are the same people that were there before. Every single shift has someone who was there when I was there 10 years ago. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying being back on someone else’s payroll.

It’s also a huge change in routine for getting dressed in the morning. I can’t stand in the bedroom anymore, so have to dress in the living room in the mornings. Eating is a change; I’m very close to the bedroom, so I don’t want to use the blender for fear of waking him.  Showering and bathing is different too; we do not have water in her yet for fear of freezing, so we need to go to the gym or the neighbors’ place to shower. Just getting out my clothes has changed because I need to do it the night before so that I don’t have to crawl all over Jeremy every morning.

I’ve been missing meds right and left. With the change in routines, I forget almost daily. Because of this, my depression symptoms have been going a bit haywire. And I’m drinking coffee again too. I need the boost in the morning to be able to drive. Luckily, I found a great recipe for Unicorn Fuel, so I don’t need to add sugar to my diet to enjoy my boost. Food is a hard thing to keep up when there’s this much spinning around, but we try when we can.

We are both in deep athletic training right now too. Jeremy is getting ready to do the Eau Claire Half Marathon in May. My next race is June 10th in Chicago for the Spartan Sprint Obstacle Course Race. Running has become a regular event around the house. Being parked in a new town makes it interesting to find trails, roads, and routes that work for us. I have an extra bonus of strength training for my race too, so I’ve added some of that at my new job; they have a gym available to me.

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Jeremy took The Girl Next Door once to dump and checked out how she’ll look when she’s finally parked in one of our summer spots. This round barn is one of the coolest back drops we didn’t ever imagine would be a parking spot.

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All in all, this new life is working for us, even if we are a little frazzled. Once we’ve gotten in a groove, things will be easier. We are still in the stage where you don’t know where anything is because you just started keeping it there. We’re learning how to prepare for moving her, we’re learning how to take care of the business without me there, and we’re learning how to interact with each other when we’re exhausted from our busy training schedules. We’re both still very happy we made this switch.

Now, as Jeremy plays with the neighbors’ dogs (Dying of cuteness!!), enjoy your life, live healthy, and we’ll see you on the road.

Jack is not the answer

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The reason you feel so good when you drink alcohol is that your heightened state of anxiety or inhibitions is reduced. This helps the brain and body to feel calm. Go too far and the average person deals with majorly reduced function in your body; slurred speech, tripping, blurry vision, and reduced mental capacity are very common. There can even be a reduction in respiratory and circulatory function, leading to a slowed heart rate, dizziness, and possibly death.

There’s another side effect for those of us with recurring depression: the depression can recur because of the alcohol consumption. It’s usually pretty short lived if you continue taking your antidepressants, but for some it can lead to a cycle of feeling good while drinking and drinking again once the depression comes back.

If you couldn’t guess by now, I had some drinks this weekend. A few were Friday night and another Saturday afternoon. By Sunday around noon, I was sad sad sad and hurting. The upside was that I knew what caused it. Bad food and added alcohol were a bad combination for me, I found. I only really knew because I’ve been eating so well for the last 2 months.

Back in January, Jeremy and I started a new lifestyle with our food. We decided to begin eating a mostly paleo diet. This isn’t a diet in the sense that we’re going to do it for a while and once we’ve lost some weight go back to the way it was before. It’s our diet in the sense that it’s what we eat and what we plan to eat in perpetuity. This means no sugar, no grains, no alcohol, and no mass produced dairy.

It’s funny how easily this transition went for us. Yes, there was 5-6 days of “withdrawal” symptoms, but all-in-all it was easier than any other “diet” plan we’ve been on. Part of the reason is that we are both meat eaters and love vegetables. The hardest part for me was chocolate; for Jeremy, it was eating fast food. And now neither one of us craves either of those.

I’ve been craving salty and spicy things. Jeremy NEEDS his unsweetened cranberry juice and bulletproof coffee. So, when the opportunity for bad food came up, we both took it. We are paying for it this week. Thankfully, we’ve been able to get back on track and feel a little better. Jeremy went for a few runs to sweat out the nasties. I have been drinking a lot of water and eating as clean as possible. It’s funny how fast things turn around when your body knows how to clean out, too.

The way the “cheating” on a more strict diet effects you can be beyond the physical responses your body has. Depression can recur because of the feeling of failure. I know that Jeremy and I both had a downward turn in our self-esteem when we weren’t perfect. We needed to be reminded by each other that this isn’t a one time thing; that this is a lifestyle change. We needed to be reminded that it was ok to make mistakes and that it was ok to have our favorite “cheats” from time to time. That 80/20 balance of being able to still have a higher quality of life was more important than the bite of chocolate we just had or the piece of bread or the drink of alcohol. When you’re battling with a mental illness, falling from self-esteem can be a hard spiral to get out of. We need to be careful how we speak to ourselves and to each other. As the years have gone on, both Jeremy and I have gotten better and better at discussing these types of things in encouraging ways.  I’m grateful to have him to help me up when I’m down and to work together on life.

Just dealing with my depression, our self-esteem issues, and our athletic pursuits has been enough to motivate us to keep our food under control. What do you do to keep yourself feeling well and performing at your peak? We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts. We’ll see you on the road.

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.

The end of Writer’s Block

I wrote the rest of this post yesterday here. Thank you again to Bill for giving me a topic I could bite into.

Back to my thoughts on the subject of drug use and mental illness sufferers.

Speaking of sufferers, I am one. I have dealt with a cyclical recurrence of minor depression through out my adult life. Judging from the statistics above, that set me up to be very likely to become someone who used and even abused recreational drugs. Bill wanted to know how I’m not someone who’s done much use. For a background, I am a social drinker with 1-2 drinks a week average. I spent about 6 months smoking an average of one-two cigarettes a day which I quit cold turkey and never went back; it isn’t a lot, but it was enough to be addicted and smell like smoke for weeks. I have tried marijuana once and did not like it in the slightest. I have had only minor pain pills given to me for pain relief after the few surgeries I have had.

So, my use never has even really bordered on abuse and one could say that I avoided a significant use even to be called more than average. How did that happen? I can say that when my symptoms of mental illness came on is a big part of it. My most harrowing bout with depression was when I was 16. I feel I became a different kid at that time. And, by that time, my frontal lobe of my brain was already developing at a nice pace.

You see, I was pretty lucky in my upbringing. My parents kept me busy with mind-occupying challenges, body-wearying activity, and spiritual direction to something higher than myself. They also loved me without condition; no matter how bad I screwed up, I always knew that they loved me. Those aspects of my life prevented me from even being exposed to drugs much until I was in my mid-late teens. I couldn’t steal cigarettes from my mom because she didn’t have any. I was so busy with school clubs that I didn’t even know where I could have gotten any drugs, much less how to use them. The only thing I was exposed to was alcohol, as 95% of kids in Wisconsin are. With a farmer who was a Marine for a father and a teacher for a mother, I couldn’t bring  myself to even steal a swig of alcohol until was almost 16. By that time, I had acquaintances who were already going to drinking parties and getting high in the back woods. I was definitely not up for that. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. This strict yet loving atmosphere is what I credit with staying out of drugs.

Also, the late onset of my depression symptoms made it so that I was able to develop some coping skills during my preteen years before I got to the point where my brain was attacking me. On top of that, I didn’t have the typical stresses that a teenage girl has. I didn’t start dating until I was 16, again because of my parents’ strict training. I was pretty much a nerd, so school and extra curriculars offered by the school were what I spent my time on. I did not care about fashion, being raised on a farm. Makeup wasn’t even an option for me because it was so expensive and I didn’t want to give up the time necessary to wear it; the same idea went for my hair. Basic and simple was my approach to all things “girly”. Having less stress about these sorts of things kept depression something far away until I was 16.

Being able to develop my brain normally for most of my early and mid teenage years was important for my impulse control. Although I still had slips of impulse control, I was able to reason easier than someone who has mental illness symptoms and substance use from a young age. I also knew that I didn’t want to deal with the consequences of use. I was too lazy to pay for fines and too easily bored to sit in a holding cell. Being sheltered in a small town kept me out of the rings of dealers and having lots of people watching out for me kept me accountable. I also hate feeling out of control of my own body.

It all adds up to me being able to be part of the non-users that experience psychiatric disorders. I’m grateful that I don’t have to wonder if my mental illness is a side effect of my drug use. About 6 months ago, I did notice that drinking lead me to feel more depressed for a few days afterward. You’d think I would have predicted that, considering I have my degree in Chemistry and had extensive classes on recreational drugs in my classes for a Criminalistics emphasis. I guess I hadn’t put 2-and-2 together until I was feeling like staying in bed for 17 hours after having a few beers the night before. Giving up drinking helped me for a time, but the depression symptoms held on. Psychiatric Disorders are not always created by recreational drugs, but are almost always exacerbated by them. I’m glad I noticed before it became danger level depression.

Mental illness and substance abuse are something that obviously go hand-in-hand. We have seen the repercussions of them both in our family. It’s helpful to both of us that we try to keep our noses pointed in the right direction and we have some great support systems to keep us out of a bad lifestyle. We’re hoping that will come soon for our boys too and they’ll be able to be more stable as they grow into the great young men they both are destined to be.

We’ll keep you informed on how our adventures in mental wellness are going. It’s not an easy road and it’s not immediate, but we will continue on this path. Stay safe, all, and we’ll see you on the road.

Writer’s Block

I have always thought of writer’s block as not being able to come up with anything to talk about. BOY was I wrong!! I have so many things I could write about, yet today I had a bout of writer’s block.

My close friend, Emma, over at Trans-Advent told me “write about anything except the things you’re having a block about”… ok… “What do I write about, then?” I thought….And thought… all I could come up with were the topics I wanted to tell you all about. It became a bad cycle of “I’ll write about this….” and getting flummoxed by the swirling of all the information I wanted to impart.

Finally, my friend Bill Strait at Bill Knows What’s Up (who was having the same issues of literary constipation) suggested we pick a topic for each other. He asked me to do a commentary on recreational drug usage, specifically this article about using psilocybin for treatment of depression, and a comment or two about how I have stayed away from recreational drug usage. Challenge accepted, my friend.

First, I need to get some statistics straight in my head so I can really address this article with an informed mind. In 2001, a study of 10,000 citizens of Great Britain revealed that about 12% of their population at large had some form of psychiatric disorder. They also tested the comorbidity (two disorders at once) of psychiatric disorders and substance use and dependence. The percentage of people that had substance use or abuse that also had some form of psychiatric disorder is staggering at up to 45% of those who partake in recreational (not prescribed) drug use. An article in Psychiatric Times in 2007 offered an even more in-depth review of other studies that lead to the discussion of onset of symptoms, approaches to treatment, and prevention of relapses. Through these articles, among others, we can pretty readily confirm that people with psychiatric disorders (what I would call mental illness) have a higher instance of substance use and abuse, and thus are generally more accepting of new drugs being accessed for the purpose of treatment.

That takes me back to the article about psilocybin for depression. This article discusses a very small study placed in the scientific journal Lancet Psychiatry. As a scientist, I have a lot of problems with this article even being spread around. Let’s go over them.

This “study”, if it can even be called that, was with 12 people involved. 12 people can hardly be called even a scratch of the beginning of testing a hypothesis about mental illness. According to The Kim Foundation, it’s estimated that 26.2% of the US are diagnosed with some form of mental illness; that equates to 57 million people!! 12 people in a study only represents less than one millionth of a percent of our population. That is not a reliable study for proving or disproving anything.

Also, there was no control population for this study. This means that the people in the study could have been experiencing more of a mind-over-matter effect called a placebo effect. It is when your brain tells you something is working because you believe the treatment will work. Placebo effects can be a very good option for noninvasive treatment for some things. They are also an important thing to note in pharmaceutical research because they tell you whether the treatment is actually doing the work or the person’s belief in the treatment is what’s helping.

Again, note that this was not a randomized study AT ALL. All of the participants were volunteers and self-referred after only 2 other failed treatments. This means that no one thought “this person would be a great candidate for that study” except the participant themselves. They needed to be more open to the use of psychedelic drugs for treatment because they came into the study knowing what they’d be taking. Just the belief that hallucinogenic drugs could help them COULD have been why they felt better.

Another reason they could have felt better is just the environment that they were in during their “treatment”. All of the participants were in a dark room with a therapist to lead them through the hallucinations. Talk Therapy has been used for decades to treat depression. The power of suggestion could be called into task here as well. With a therapist present, it could be very likely that the therapist had put the idea of recovery in the participant’s head. These two possibilities are just as viable for curing depression and far more tested over the course of time.

Even with the issues that this article brings to the table about the use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to treat depression, it is something that our scientists may want to look into. Although anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be used to make a decision whether one should partake in a certain treatment, it’s something that could use some more organized research, discussion, and inquiry. The questions that shape a viable study of mental illness treatments come from anecdotal evidence offered by those who suffer and their families.

So, I wouldn’t recommend going out and breaking the law by taking some Magic mushrooms to treat your depression. There are lots of current treatments that are effective. That’s what can be so daunting about treating mental illness; so much of it is mired in mounds and mounds of studies that confirm or deny a treatment; no one treatment works for everyone or even a majority of sufferers.

This became a very long post, so I’m going to finish more of it tomorrow. Check back in to see more about the subject of recreational drug use and how my life has avoided becoming a statistic of abuse.

 

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.