Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Anxiety, Depression, and Mania

I deal with both bipolar (including mania and depression) and generalized anxiety disorder. There are lots of good resources out there about how people experience mental illness, and I'll share some of these in a future post, but I wanted to share some stories of my experiences with these illnesses. In this post I'll give a general overview of my experiences, and in future posts I'll share some stories.

Having anxiety can be very difficult at times. Fearing what people think of me, worrying about the future, and being regretful, anxious, and guilty are common occurrences.

Anxiety can make it extremely hard to focus—my mind will race with worries instead of doing a task at hand. It can also lead to depression as the guilt from my past mistakes pile up. My sleeping can become difficult as I have trouble turning my mind off to stop worrying.

With my bipolar disorder, my experiences are different each time I have an episode. Bipolar used to be called manic depression. Honestly, I’m not sure why it’s changed. Manic depression describes what bipolar is like: manic highs and depressive lows.

Everyone who has bipolar experiences it differently. Several designations exist for bipolar including:
  • Bipolar I 
  • Mixed Features
  • Rapid Cycling
  • Bipolar II 
  • Cyclothymic disorder
I won’t describe them all here, but if you can read about them in the Web MD Article:
Types of bipolar disorders

My official diagnosis is bipolar one with rapid cycling and mixed features. With bipolar one, I experience euphoric highs and extreme lows.

Rapid cycling means having four or more bipolar episodes in a year. This doesn't happen to me every year, but when it does it makes for a tough year.

I have also had times where I have a manic episode and slip into a mixed state. In a mixed state, I am moody—I can go from high energy and irritable to low energy and ready to cry with little provocation on the same day.

This past December and February, I dealt with some bipolar symptoms. In December the mania was more prominent, which led to over-communicating, restlessness, and lack of focus. In February, the mania was less severe, but the depressive phase afterward was more pronounced. I was wearing my emotions on my sleeves. When my neighbor asked how I was doing, I got choked up and nearly started crying. 

While each episode has had it's challenges, I've also been blessed by an amazing support system of friends, family, and mental health practitioners who have helped me get through each episode.

So thank you to all who support and look out for me. I hope this post is helpful for those who live with or know people dealing with mental illness.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Afton 25K Prep Run

A little break from my mental health posts to write a goal-setting post for my next race.

I figured I write down some goals after my last 15 mile+ run a couple weeks back,, followed by my run at Afton State Park. The first gave me some confidence, and the second provided a reality check.

While I was down in Norfolk, Nebraska, I had a route in mind to see what I might be able to do at the Afton 25K. In high school, when I was on the track team, we ran this route to get in a lot of hills, so I thought I’d give it a shot for my long run.

The above photo doesn’t do it justice, but the hills on this route are big. I ran just shy of 16 miles, eight or so on the steep hills. This run was good news. I ran it at a decent clip, and the foot and ankle injuries that have been bothering me didn’t act up at all.

I don’t want to get too confident though. Earlier this week I did a run at Afton State Park and remembered that as tough as the hills on my Norfolk run were, Afton’s are definitely tougher. So, I’ve decided to set goals that aren’t overly ambitious. Here they are:

A: Finish under an 8:15 / mile pace
B: Finish under a 8:30 / mile pace
C: Finish in an upright position

There they are. Here’s hoping tomorrow goes decent.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Life Update: March, April, May

By popular request, here's another life update. If I get ambitious I might try to give an update every month, but likely it'll be more like every two months.

In March, I started staying home with the little one twice a week. We got to go to the Children's Museum quite a few times as well as the Minnesota Zoo. April was unseasonably cold in Minnesota, but we made the most of it until it warmed up in May.

This spring I also got to volunteer coach the distance runners for the Burnsville High School track team. I had a lot of fun getting to know the athletes while sharing some of my running knowledge and experience.

Enjoying some Florida sand in the cool March weather

Driving the firetruck at the Children's Museum

Trying out the rhino at the Minnesota zoo


Visiting Lincoln for our niece's confirmation

The little one came with me to run with the Burnsville distance
runners. After riding in the jogging stroller, he played at the
playground. Notice how cold it looks for April

Three generations of Mothers

Finished my 17th marathon

Warmer weather meant getting outside more--mammoth play area at the Minnesota Zoo

Grandparents visited from Nebraska
The little one got to do a series of races

That's all for March, April, and May. Stay tuned for June and July.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mental Health Stats

When I write posts about mental health, although they are very personal, my struggles are far from uncommon. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness occurs commonly in adults and children. Here are some statistics from the article, "Mental Health by the Numbers:"
  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.
  • 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experience an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.
In my next couple posts I'll write my diagnosed illnesses and how they affect me.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Donut Weight and Mental Health

In the past month, donuts have helped me lose weight. Let me explain.

Last fall I decided to finally spend some time letting my injuries heal. It meant running very little and taking several breaks from running altogether.  I tried to keep up my fitness through weight training, calisthenics, elliptical, and stationary biking, but unfortunately I still managed to put on about fifteen pounds between last October and the end of January.

Besides cutting down on running and eating more than I needed (especially snacks and sweets), one major factor in my weight gain was medication. People with mental illness are especially susceptible to weight gain, and medications are a major culprit. I'm on two medications that both have weight gain as a side effect, and another medication that causes increased appetite. It's no surprise that maintaining and/or losing weight is difficult.

 While doing research to find ideas for losing weight, I found out that over 80% of people with mental illness are overweight or obese. Reasons for this problem include lack of social support, poor motivation, embarrassment at being seen exercising in public, and medications. The good news is, while there are difficult challenges to overcome, people with mental illness can lose weight.

A study that gave people with mental illness three workout classes per week and one weight loss/nutrition class per week showed promising results. Many of the patients lost weight, with 38% losing 5% or more of their body weight. You can reading about the study on the PsychCentral Website: People with Serious Mental Illness Can Lose Weight Too.

Reading the study was encouraging to me, but after trying from the end January to the end of March to lose weight, I wasn't finding much success. In college when I ran cross country, I weighed about 150 lbs. While I don't necessarily need to be that light again, I'd at least like to get close.

So, I set a goal of getting to around 155 lbs. I planned to lose about a pound a week until I reached my goal, but by the end of March the scale hadn't budged. That's when donuts came in.

I've always done best with diet when I some sort of goal other than the weight loss itself. In the past it's been eliminating or reducing sweets. This time, I decided on eliminating or reducing snacks. But, I also wanted to give myself a reward.

Enter the donut. Since I had a ways to go to my weight loss goal, I decided to  reward myself with a donut when I weighed under 165 lbs. I weighed about 172 at the time, and after several weeks, I got to reward myself with a donut. I love donuts. I get my next one when I crack the 160 lbs mark.

Run well.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Mental Health: Early Summer

Spring and early summer sometimes bring with them bipolar episodes -- generally hypomanic episodes that make it difficult to sleep well, focus, and manage increased energy. While I'm feeling well right now, this time of year does bring me a certain anxiety and a fear that my bipolar symptoms will flare up, making it difficult to complete my daily activities.

While life can get difficult, there are things I do to manage or prevent an episode. Right now I'm trying to eat well, get good sleep, and exercise. While these things help, in the past it has been very frustrating when I feel like I'm doing all the right things, and the episodes still happen. While I've been told otherwise by my friends, family, and health care providers, it still feels like it's my fault for having an episode.

Still, I'm trying to stay optimistic. I'm on a combination of medications I haven't been on during the spring and early summer, and since I started this combination in February, I haven't had even a blip of an episode.

So, having made it this far through spring, I'm going to keep doing what I can to prevent an episode and try and do my best to not worry about the things that are out of my control.

In my next few posts, I’ll write about mania, anxiety, and depression, along with some strategies I use to prevent and mitigate the symptoms.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Being Mentally Ill is Not a Crime

Back when I was in college and having my first manic episode, I wound up in the emergency room. While there, I had to talk to a police officer. Having an encounter with law enforcement is far from unusual for those suffering from mental illness.

Had I not had the support system I did and ended up in the hospital rather than somewhere in public, I could have gone to jail -- for something totally out of my control. The two things that saved me were that I had that support and that I trusted friends and family enough to go to the hospital. Had I been acting as irrational and erratic somewhere else, instead of ending up in the hospital, there is a good chance I would have been arrested.

While I was not arrested, many people with mental illness are treated like criminals due to the symptoms of their mental illnesses. In a recent story on VOX, a mother recounts her experience of trying to get her son to the hospital and having her son shot dead by the police ("A worried mom wanted the police to take her son to the hospital. They shot him").

While one would hope this would be an isolated incident, it's not. According to the Washington Post, almost 500 people with mental illness were shot by the police in 2015 and 2016. While there are a variety of reasons for so many shootings -- decreased funding for public health, lack of training, and policies requiring police (rather than health care workers) to transport involuntary commitments to the hospital, this should still not be happening.

And, unfortunately, there seems to be little accountability for police who decide to resort to deadly force. Police are rarely prosecuted for shooting someone with mental illness, and when they are they are rarely found guilty.

Being shot is extreme, but even being arrested while exhibiting symptoms of mental illness is often unneeded and traumatic. An article on NAMI's website (Jailing People with Mental Illness) reports that two million people with mental illness are jailed each year. While jailed, people with mental illness are unlikely to get the treatment they need, and are likely to get worse.

Because of these problems, some recommend not calling the police on a friend or family member with mental illness unless they are violent and an immediate threat to her/his or another's safety. An interesting read on that topic is, "Mental Illness and Policing," from The Atlantic. The author shares many reasons, including police officers' unfamiliarity with the individual, their lack of training, and the likelihood that the individual may not comply with police instructions.

Having people with mental illness dealt with by the police is clearly a problem. While there is no silver bullet for ending this problem, I found the information below helpful: