kept the flowers

A lil’ pick me up: being proud of myself

How often do those of us with bipolar pat ourselves on the back or give ourselves praise? For me, this can be especially difficult when staring depression in the face.i am so proud of me

But I recently stumbled upon a nice thought pattern that gave me a little pick me up. I started listing things in my head that I was proud of myself for that day. I was proud of myself for sticking to my high protein diet when all I wanted to do was make some damn pasta. I was proud of myself for asking a potential employer for more money. I was proud that I went to the gym even though I wasn’t really feeling it.

As I started my mental list I found that more and more things came to me. It felt quite nice and gave me an instant boost of self worth and confidence. Rock it out, me.

I think I’ll try and do this every day. Depression or not, I think we all deserve to tell ourselves how awesome we are for doing even the simplest of things.

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Picking the weeds

The quote that inspired my blog title is from Kelly Clarkson’s song Sober:

“Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers.”

I’ve come to find that in coping with bipolar disorder it’s not only important to add positive and helpful things to your life, but to also get rid of the things that only exacerbate your symptoms.Dandelion

Stress is definitely something that is a trigger for me, and I think this is pretty common. Being hypomanic, I would sometimes dive into more activities than I could handle. Several years ago I was feeling particularly motivated and was really aching to get back into singing. I decided to join a choir at a Unitarian church. I went to several rehearsals and sang in a Sunday service or two. But I quickly came to realize that I bit off more than I could chew. It’s sad to think that committing to one rehearsal a week and a service on Sunday is too much, but I’m sure ya’ll can identify with even that kind of commitment becoming overwhelming.

I also used to do Shotokan karate. I started in college because of my boyfriend at the time and then continued on to get my black belt after we broke up. I really enjoyed it. However, this brought certain pressures into my life. Practicing karate is something that requires deep dedication, which means training at least 2-3 times a week. People would often make you feel guilty if you started missing classes regularly. (Which is something that happens when you’re depressed). Also, being one of few women black belts, there was always pressure to compete in tournaments. While these are fun, I didn’t always have the time or feel like attending. So eventually I decided I needed to take a break. I was burnt out and it was becoming a stressor I didn’t need in my life.

And sadly, sometimes picking the weeds can involve cutting a person out of your life. I had to do this last year and it definitely sucked. But my friend has a host of her own mental health problems that she wasn’t at all seeking treatment for. I know that the topic of leaving someone with a mental illness is a whole other – and very important – issue. But after years of feeling like her therapist and the one who literally had to scrape her off her closet floor, I finally realized it was more than I could handle. How could I serve as someone else’s crutch when I could barely keep my own mental health under control?

I’ve also left jobs when they (unfortunately) became a toxic environment that brought a crazy amount of stress. I’ve found that work-life balance is super important for me to literally keep myself balanced.

So there you have it. Cutting things out of your life can be hard, but I’ve found it to be very worth it. Cutting out daily stressors can almost be more difficult, but I do that as best I can.

Have you ever had to cut anything/anyone out of your life to reduce the stress/anxiety in your life?

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Distractions and coping mechanisms for depression

Depression is a parasite. It will settle in and suck you dry. I’m not sure if anyone has come up with a way to fight it off once it’s started. If they have, I’d love to know how.facewall

But just because we can’t totally get rid of it doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to at least help us along the way. Here are some things that I try and do to cope with depression:

  • Talk to people. Whether it’s getting up and talking to coworkers during the day, gchatting with a friend, or calling someone up, it can definitely help to lift my mood. Of course this is difficult because it’s the last thing I want to do when I’m depressed. But it definitely helps me to feel better if only for a little bit.
  • Exercise. I already frequent the gym, but of course when depression hits it’s just not what I feel like doing. Going home and crawling into bed or vegging out seems like a much more favorable activity. But I swear that I feel better after that zumba class.
  • Read a book. Silly as it might be, this can also seem like a difficult task since it feels like it takes more motivation to do than just sitting and watching TV. But I find that you can escape into a book in a way you can’t do with TV
    . True it’s just a distraction from how I’m feeling, but I’ll take it.
  • Laugh. I get onto my favorite websites/blogs and give myself a good laughing session or healthy dose of adorable animals. I personally love WhatShouldWeCallMe, HowDoIPutThisGently, icanhascheezburger, Maru, and damnyouautocorrect.
  • Do a worksheet to combat negative thought patterns. In his book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” David Burns lays out a way to record your negative thoughts and then write down why they’re exaggerated or incorrect. And I’ll be damned if that doesn’t help bring me back to reality and halt the negative cycle a bit. I would highly recommend giving this a try! Click here to check out my pretty little worksheet that I made to go along with this exercise.

Of course trying to distract yourself or cope with depression isn’t easy, and sometimes even the easiest activities that you know will help seem impossible. But at least having an arsenal of things to turn to can help.

If you have them, what are your ways of coping with/distracting yourself from depression?

Here is Maru – he is fantastic.

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Expecting a little too much from the wounded

Have you ever had a friend that disappointed you? Maybe they just didn’t try to keep in touch or always flaked out on you. Or maybe your family member has bad habits like smoking/drinking/eating poorly. These things can be frustrating and easy to get upset about.baggage

But have you ever stepped back and asked yourself where this behavior might be coming from? Maybe your friend is just really busy or flaky or has other priorities they rank above you. And maybe they just like to eat. But what’s beneath that? Are there deeper reasons for this behavior? I’ve come to realize that things are rarely as simple as we might make them out to be.

We all know our own baggage and issues that are always churning inside of us. Of course in our heads, we know the explanation for all of our behavior on some level. But maybe other people don’t. Say you freak out at someone for lying to you about something little. You know your reaction is stemming from the fact that your ex lied to you for years. But is that something they even know or would realize? Maybe not.

As the years go by, I’ve come to look at people’s shortcomings in a different light. Maybe coming to terms with my own inner demons and mental health has caused my eyes to open. I’m realizing, hey – if I have baggage and anxiety and depression, maybe other people do too. And that probably drives some of the behavior that I’m upset about.

Maybe my friend has trouble keeping in touch with friends because she herself is depressed because she lost her father. And I think my family member who overeats does it to self-soothe because he’s still dealing with the baggage of his life—Vietnam, being fired, family feuds—as well as his own anxiety and depression.

So I’ve realized that there have been times I’ve expected too much from these people. Just like me, they’re fighting their own battles and should be forgiven for their reactions and coping mechanisms. I’m going to try and apply this idea to more people in my life and lay down some straight up understanding.

PS: The post title is a quote from a song I enjoy: 3 Libras by A Perfect Circle.

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Don’t know what you got till it’s gone

You would think that at this very moment we all know how we’re feeling. You know if you’re sad, pissed, anxious, etc. But there’s one emotional state that can sneak up on us: depression. It’s like a ninja.

sneaky catIt seems that sometimes I don’t even know I was depressed until it has lifted. (This is really just for the more mild bouts of depression—I certainly know when I’m super depressed). Sometimes it’s only when I think back to past months that I realize, oh shit…I was actually depressed that whole time.

It seems such a strange thing to me. Depression can be so crippling—how could I possibly not know when I’m depressed? I guess it’s because when you spend most of your life experiencing this state (even at low levels) that you get used to it. I just think this is how I’m supposed to feel. That not wanting to go out with friends or talk to people is normal—I’m just tired.

I keep a daily health journal where I document my moods, sleep meds, etc. Sometimes when I’m reading back through, I’ll realize that I reported my mood higher than it actually was. Having the 20/20 hindsight, I can remember more clearly how I actually felt and realize that I was just thinking my lower mood was normal.

So the question, I guess, is whether or not this matters. There’s little you can do to lift depression when you have it, so what does it matter if you don’t even know you have it? I suppose knowledge is power and at least if you can recognize you’re a bit depressed you can try to fight it—maybe exercise or force yourself to get out and socialize or do a hobby.

Either way, I hope we all get to a point where feeling even mildly depressed isn’t a ‘normal’ feeling. It should be something we do recognize because it’s actually different than the way we normally feel.

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Can’t figure out what’ll be left of me

My whole life I’ve been known as hyper, dramatic, loud, excitable, dynamic. who am IAnd that’s how I knew myself, too. But when I was slapped with the diagnosis of Bipolar II and slid into a cave of depression, that all slipped away. Or rather, got put into a box that I hoped to open someday.

And then the desperate search for my “real” self began…and a billion questions hit me all at once. Was hypomania causing me to act that way all those years? What would I be like without it? Who the heck am I?

If I ever find the right meds to stabilize me—when the hypomania has been stripped away—what’ll be left of me?

And I still don’t think I know the answer. To me, Lauren is the same melodramatic, happy, and confident woman she’s always been. Because that’s all I know.

But while a lot of those qualities are positive, I can see the negative. Looking back, I can see hypomania causing me to get too worked up and excited; to stay up all hours, unable to sleep; have a lead foot behind the wheel and develop road rage easily.

But after months and years of depression, I’m ready to have it back. Bring it on. I’ve had some peeks at it, and it feels good…it feels like me. The girl who cracks jokes in the meeting and is motivated to do things.

Sure, opening that box and having it back full-fledged would really just be hypomania all over again. And maybe the real Lauren is just a slightly more controlled version of that. The melodrama minus the anxiety. I can only hope I find that girl someday. A girl who isn’t constantly in a battle with hypomania or depression. A girl that can truly be just who she is.

I think I would like that girl.

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Dying inside to live

Lately I feel like I’m screaming inside. Screaming to LIVE. To be adventurous, crazy, carefree…to live.Girl jumping on beach

To not sit in an office and feel my soul slowly wither away. I feel like I’m trapped in this life where we work in dark offices all day instead of actually enjoying life. I go outside into the sun at lunch and just crave the chance to stay out there all day or work in a garden or take a trip. To do anything but sit at a keyboard until I want to stab my eyes out.

There has to be another way…doesn’t there? Is this just the curse of working in America? I’ve heard that many construction workers are highly satisfied with their careers, as they get to be physical and in the open air all day. I find myself wondering if I could make the same salary being a professional landscaper (as I lack the skills for construction). I think if I could be a firefighter, I would. Or maybe open up a restaurant in Santa Fe.

I’m not sure if the depression just brings out these restless and unsatisfied thoughts…but I feel like they’ve always been there. I can’t be the only one thinking like this—there have to be others dying to live as well.

Maybe all I can do (until we win the lottery) is amp up what I do in my free time. That’s really hard when you work and have to take care of life, but I suppose it’s the only option I have right now.

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Bipolar update: Lithium hating

Oh Lithium, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.lithium

  1. You make me drink at least a gallon of water a day.
  2. With you I can only take tylenol—the most inferior pain med.
  3. You make me gain weight and prevent me from losing it.
  4. Your breakouts are super fun.
  5. Oh, and you didn’t cure my depression.

So, without my doctor’s supervision, I started to taper off of you. Only 300mg so far (I took 1,200mg), which I started on Saturday. Then on Monday, a headache started…and it still hasn’t stopped.

Could this be Lithium withdrawal? I thought maybe. So I called up my psychiatrist and broke the news that I went against her advice and perhaps had a resulting headache.

And what did she say? Am I drinking enough water? People get dehydrated in the summer, you know.

I drink at least a GALLON of water a day. If that’s enough, I simply don’t know what to do. She said she hasn’t heard of a headache being a side effect of tapering off Lithium.

Well, I think it is…so there. I managed to find only a couple people on the interwebs who mentioned a tapering headache.

That’s the only explanation I have for now, and if it doesn’t go away I’ll ask my general practitioner. But for now, hating on Lithium a bit more will have to do.

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Bipolar update: Thanks for effing up my thyroid

It occurred to me that I haven’t really written about my latest struggles with bipolar (except the ever-present depression, of course).

The biggest develithiumlopment is that lithium has not only made me gain weight, but now I’m hypothyroid. Joy. So, I get to take yet another pill and I can’t stop lithium—the thing causing the problem—until my thyroid is fixed.

This is a pretty common problem that lithium takers experience. The super fun part is that even after you go off lithium, your thyroid may be permanently changed. What I’m struggling with right now is the idea that I can’t start tapering off lithium immediately. This is coming from my psychiatrist. She thinks tapering now would mess too much with my thyroid levels (well, yeah) and that it needs to be fixed before we can do that. Myself, I tend to think that getting the thing screwing it up out of my body would help, but that’s just me.

I’ve started on a thyroid med with my general practitioner, but will see an endocrinologist in a few weeks. They may be able to dig a bit deeper into the issue (or just re-re-confirm that it’s caused by lithium). I’m hoping they will have a different opinion on going off lithium sooner than later.

I have questioned why bipolar people notoriously don’t take their meds. But I have to imagine that the majority of them are on meds that don’t work and/or give them obnoxious side effects. Dealing with both of these currently, I can now understand getting fed up, frustrated, and hopeless and tossing them aside.

I still hold out hope that something will work. The plan is to keep increasing lamictal and taper off lithium. But since I’ve been depressed even taking both, the fear that the three big guns for bipolar (depakote, lithium, lamictal) will fail is creeping in.

What meds would we try after this? Is my bipolar depression going to be nearly impossible to treat?

We shall see. Further bulletins as events warrant.

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The terrible 20s

I used to think that my 20s would be the best years of my life. Apparently, I was mistaken. And hopefully, they will actually be the worst—because that would mean that things get better.

It seems I’m not the only one to experience this. Both of my parents said that their 20s pretty much sucked. My mom’s 20s were fraught with change and turmoil and my dad went to Vietnam. And then, things got better.

I’m sure that many people thoroughly enjoy their 20s. But I sit here actually looking forward to turning 30, because that could mean that my bipolar is being better managed, my husband and I are both in jobs that we like, and we have some money to fix up the house and go on vacations.

Losing your youth is scary, but my desire to beat depression and feel better has overpowered that. I do tend to take after my mother, so maybe I’ll just have to survive my 20s before really starting to live, too.

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