Teenage Turmoil

Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote something. I went back to read the blog I wrote last week about Jason. I got a little teary and wanted to click “Like” on it, then realized that it’s kind of bad etiquette to like your own post.

Last time, I told you, “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.”

Jason has always had a little bit of a hard time making friends. Kids are harsh and tics are not the norm. It’s hard for children to look past a constant motion like that. On top of that, Jason’s always been extremely sweet. This didn’t work in his favor with young children. He was easily hurt and often went running back to the adults crying “Bully”. There were a few good apples that were very sweet as well. We had them over as much as possible.

This outcast persona in his life, Jason tried very very hard to make friends. He was pretty impressionable and fell to peer pressure regularly. As parents, none of us knew what to do. You’d think with 4 of us, we’d be able to come up with something. Alas, we kept playing defense on the latest scheme he and his friends came up with.

When a child is this easily swayed, they tend to fall in with friends that may not be the best choices. As children get older, these choices of friends start to create situations that may lead to bad choices in behavior. These bad choices in behavior can lead to addictions, whether it be drugs, sex, stealing, or fighting.

Jason fell into some rough crowds. As parents, we were happy he had friends, and unhappy with which ones they were. We tried to keep him safe by allowing less overnights and asking him to have them over to our house instead. We met the parents and discussed what the rules at our houses were. We pried into his life in ways that make all teens irritated and all parents more anxious.

No matter what we did, Jason out smarted us. You see, this sweet young man is also fairly smart. The IQ tests say he’s high average, but I know better. He’s good at playing dumb. It’s gotten him a lot of what he needed in his life. His mom felt needed because he couldn’t remember things. His dad felt like a protector because he “couldn’t take care of himself”. And he got out of doing wrong things by “forgetting” or “I didn’t mean to.” I’m not saying that every one of these times was a play; I just know that many of them were put on to keep us complacent.

Complacency is something all parents crave. We don’t want to nag, be anxious about your behavior, or check into the person’s alibi. We want you to be trustworthy in all you do so that we can just ride through parenthood without a hitch. And we all know that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, especially when learning about life.

Learning about life is something Jason’s done his share of in the last 2 years. We’ve run into mental health issues, drug issues, stealing, and some questionable choices in how he handles school and other responsibilities. I don’t think these are uncommon. We’ve done the best we can to field the challenges as they come. Jason’s mom took most of the paperwork and agonizing because he’s lived with her most of the time for the last 3 years. We tried to help when we could, but there’s only so much we can do without undermining the other parent, which still happened from time to time because we’re not perfect either.

I want to go back to the sentence I brought forward from the last entry: 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.

When a child starts extreme medical intervention at a young age, they generally start using different pharmaceutical drugs very young as well. Prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines are some of the most abused substances among teens. The availability of these drugs makes it that much easier to abuse. Plus, once you’ve realized that some substances affect you much stronger than other substances, you might start to try to find the “one” that “fixes” you.

Experimenting like this happens very commonly with children that have medical issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published an article in 2010 about Prescription Drug Abuse. Here’s what presenter, Nora D. Volkow M.D. had to say about teen drug abuse: “Nonmedical use among children and adolescents is particularly troublesome given that adolescence is the period of greatest risk not only for drug experimentation but also for developing addiction. At this stage the brain is still developing, and exposure to drugs could interfere with these carefully orchestrated changes. Research also shows adolescents abusing prescription drugs are twice as likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior and nearly three times as likely to have experienced an episode of major depression as teens who did not abuse prescription medications over the past year. Finally, several studies link the illicit use of prescription drugs with increased rates of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, and marijuana and other illicit drug use in adolescents and young adults in the United States. Thus, prescription drug abuse may be part of a pattern of harmful behaviors engaged in by those at risk for substance use and other mental disorders.”

After some scrapes with the law over domestic violence, stealing, running away, and e-cig usage, Jason went into a residential treatment program last October. He was there until June. During that time, he was watched pretty much 24/7. It was grueling and transformative. I think all 4 of us parents started to feel like we had our caring, sweet Jason back.

Jason went from treatment back to his mom’s house. It went well for a time. He was part of an intensive day program for the summer, he got a job, he even had a girlfriend for a while. His mom dealt with all of this in stride for the most part. Once the day program was over, the county still hadn’t set up some of the services they had been going to get before the move home. Jason and his mom both struggled to keep it together. They did well for the most part.

Then, a few weeks ago, Jason started school. The added stress of school, work, and pleasing his parents seem to have become too much. Just over a week ago, Jason was found unresponsive by a friends’ parents. He had taken some prescription drugs from his friend’s prescription pills. Thankfully, he did not take enough to kill himself, but he was in the hospital for a night and his parents were terrified that he might not make it.

When they were done at the hospital, Jeremy and his ex wife decided it might be better for Jason to live with us. That is how we acquired our new resident. He is enrolled in a high school that is 45 miles from where we are parked right now. Getting him to school at a reasonable time before we have to go to work has been the biggest struggle. Picking him up after school has been just as hard.

With all of that, we are doing pretty well, though. There has been disagreements about rules, screen usage, and space. Those are bound to happen, no matter how much space you have or what your teen’s been through. I think those are natural discussions at all households have. But we love each other and all 3 of us are working really hard to gain trust and put the past behind us. We’re hoping to move The Girl Next Door closer to Jason’s school without taking us out of range of the jobs that we currently hold. It should be an adventure. With that adventure coming, we’ll see you on the road.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

To the running part

It’s the time of year when the gyms are packed, diet plans sell like hot cakes, and Weight Watchers sees a membership increase of up to 5% according to the Wall Street Journal. We are not immune to the hype that happens this time of year.

Last year, I started getting rid of things. I had read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I took 8 garbage bags full of clothing to a clothing swap and got rid of it all. I still have a dresser and closet WAY TOO FULL of clothing. I believe I’ll go through again and get rid of half of my clothes again.

Last year, Jeremy made his goals for physical wellness. He planned the year of his 40th birthday to reflect the number 40. He participated in the 40th Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. He also did the Twin Cities Marathon in October. His year-long goal was to swim 40 miles, bike 400 miles, and run 400 miles. He annihilated all of his year-long goals! He ended up with a grand total of 67.8 miles swimming, 1419.5 miles running, and 1238.6 miles biking. He also lost 40 more lbs throughout the year to reach that lowest weight of 215. Physical fitness was really a big deal to him last year and will continue to be in the future.

One thing that we didn’t make goals for is our mental health. We both view this as a failure on our parts. We found throughout the year that our mental health is really what went awry. I fought with depression for 5 months before seeing my doctor for a medication. Our youngest had a lot of instability because of some other issues. Jeremy had some med changes that lead to some instability as well.

I won’t be neglecting my mental health this year. I’m realizing how extremely important it is with moving into our motorhome. I will need to be able to face myself in this space and we will need to be able to communicate and live together well.

Yet, not neglecting my mental health means also not neglecting my physical health. Jeremy has always said that he needs to run to get rid of the crazy. There’s something to be said for how endorphins effect the brain after physical exertion. Not only that, when you’re exhausted it is very hard to over think things or pick fights that don’t need to be picked. It helps reduce anxiety and gives you a quiet time to reflect on your strengths. It also pushes you to gain some accomplishments, which can help self-esteem. I’m hoping to force myself into all of these positives.

I have a mix of health goals for this year. I hope to do 2 mud races this year: the Spartan Sprint race in Chicago, IL June 10 and the Tough Mudder in Plymouth, WI on September 9th. To get ready, I need to get back to running regularly, lifting weights, doing the local par-course at least weekly, and fuel my body correctly. For my mental health, I have a few goals also. I want to participate in at least 1 yoga or BodyFlow class a week and I want to get a 90 min massage each month. Both of these goals will obviously help my physical health as well. I do believe that eating correctly will help my mental health as well. A final mental health goal that I haven’t partaken in for a while is that I’d like to start reading my Bible more regularly again. I find myself relying on video sermons and podcasts to feed me spiritually, but I really need to spend some alone time with God more often.

Now that it’s posted publicly, I’m less likely to miss these goals. No, these aren’t my only goals for the year. There are financial goals, relationship goals, and housing goals that I have. I’m sure they’ll all come up at some point. This entry is so that you know that you’re not alone in your quest for something different physically. Start where you’re at and find people to do it with you. Find someone to push you (they’re a little bit farther than you), someone who you can push (they’re right where you were or they’re just starting or they have longer to go than you), and someone right where you’re at now (you’re about the same speed, same weight, some stage of goals). With these three people, you won’t be able to sit on your butt all year the way I did in 2016.

Our Journey to Health and Wellness is a never-ending quest. It’s something you’ll hear about often from me. Health and Wellness isn’t about being perfect; it’s not about being skinny. This journey is about becoming the best people that we can be. There will always be something else we can work on; some other goal to reach. We are hoping to take you along on the ride. Stay safe and we will see you on the road.

P.S.- The latest news on the RV is that we got a Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater and tried it out in The Girl Next Door today. It worked great!! The whole place was comfortably heated in about 45 minutes. After wiping down the surfaces to remove condensation, we just hung out for a good hour to get used to our space. We haven’t really tried the furnace yet, but we will make sure of that next. Now we know we can live at least warm enough not to get hypothermia, even if our furnace doesn’t work. We wanted to make sure that we have a few alternatives no matter what. Heat; check. One anxiety down; 75 more to go. Adios!