Friday, April 20, 2018

Audio Books, Reading, and Running

As this blog continues to become less about running and more eclectic, I wanted to share some audio books I've enjoyed while running, cycling, and doing other forms of exercising. That way there's at least a bit of a connection to running while the content of my blog continues to diversify.

Though I often run earbud-free, especially on trail runs and hard runs, I do enjoy listening to podcasts and audio books -- especially when I'm doing a lot longer runs by myself.

I generally listen to fiction when I'm running. I enjoy a variety of genres of literature and nonfiction, but I usually choose mystery, crime fiction, and fantasy when I run. Those genres usually suck me in, and while I enjoy literary fiction, realistic fiction, horror, dystopian, history, and biography, it's easiest to lose myself in crime, mystery and fantasy. Books that are part of a series also tend to make runs fly by, especially well-written series with compelling characters.

When a book is really absorbing, sometimes the run itself becomes a blur. Autopilot takes over and scenery, weather, effort, and pace become barely noticeable background noise while my mind busies itself creating the world of the book.

Interestingly enough, while individual runs seem to fade into the background while I'm absorbed in a book, when I recall certain books, I can picture runs when I was listening to that book. I can think about the plot of certain novels and remember running before the sun came up or on a trail during a rainy day. Other times, I'll be on a run and it jogs a memory from a book I've listened to on that same route.

With all the excellent (or simply compelling) novels I've listened to on my runs, I thought it'd be nice to share some of these with my readers. Even if only a few readers are interested, writing about literature (even if some of it is "pulp fiction") is something that, as an English major, is enjoyable.

So, in the next few posts I'll be sharing some of my favorite books, authors, and series. I miss talking literature with classmates in college, so writing about literature will serve as a nice substitute for awhile -- maybe I'll even make it a regular feature.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Supporting a Loved One: Sharing Your Story

This will be my last post for a while in this series. You can read the other "Supporting a Loved One" posts as well as other posts about mental health with the following link:
In the past few posts, I wrote about things not to say to loved ones dealing with mental health problems. Avoiding, “I know how you feel,” and suggesting or critiquing a loved one’s medication is not appreciated by most people with mental illness (and most people in general).

I’m going to cover a little ground I’ve already covered in previous posts, but I added some personal experiences I thought might be helpful.

While, “I know what you’re going through,” may not be helpful, I really like hearing, “That reminds me of a time when...” Several times, people have told me about a situation that was similar to mine. In one instance, a coworker told me about her husband who deals with anxiety. At the time, I had missed some work due to anxiety along with a depressive episode. She told me that her husband had also missed some work.

During the same week, my supervisor shared that her son dealt with mental illness. She was very understanding about me taking some time off and reducing my work hours.

In another instance, I missed some work due to a hypomanic episode with anxiety, and a coworker shared a story with me. He had incredible anxiety working at a phone company call center. Eventually his anxiety got so bad he had to quit. He told me his story when I was feeling like a failure as a teacher. Some days I would park my car outside the school and sit in it for several minutes while working up the nerve to go inside. “The same thing happened to me,” he said. 

A friend from one of my hospital stays shared a “do not” situation at work. She had a panic attack, and her supervisor told her a variety of things that weren’t helpful like, “I understand. I had anxiety when I was a kid,” and, “leave it at the door.”

Yikes. Luckily, she realized that he was trying to be supportive, so his faux pas didn't add to her anxiety. If someone told me to, “leave it at the door,” if I had a panic attack at work, I would feel pretty rotten and have a hard time going to work for a few weeks.

Medication is another touchy subject, but I do enjoy commiserating about side effects (not everyone enjoys this). Dry mouth, lucid dreams, increased anxiety and depression have all been unfortunate side effects I’ve experienced, and I’m not alone.

Psychiatric medications are not the only medications with side effects. Plenty of other medications (diabetes, cholesterol, etc.) can also cause frustrating side effects. When there's a give and take while talking about medications, it’s nice to be able to vent with another person. Then, it doesn't feel like complaining.

Do you have an experience with mental health that would be helpful to share? I’d love to hear about it. Comment, message me, or email me at

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hospital Stays - One Year Anniversary

Last year at this time, I was leaving the hospital after a cycle of severe depression. The symptoms of my bipolar became too difficult to manage, and I needed a team of mental health professionals to help me get back to functioning in society.

I strongly dislike hospital stays. For years, one of my main goals in managing my mental illness was staying out of the hospital. There are so many things about being hospitalized for a mental health issue that feels wrong—almost dehumanizing.

Of the wards I’ve been in, there are definitely some that are better than others.  I’ve been to a child and adolescent ward in Omaha, an acute psychiatric ward in Lincoln, a depression ward at the Mayo Clinic and a few different wards at the University of Minnesota (there are several wards, and they don't focus as much on one specific area. Instead they put you wherever they can find a bed). I’ve now been to University of Minnesota psych wards three times on two different floors, so the rest of my description will be based on those stays.

Getting checked into a mental health ward is not like a regular hospital. If you’re been transported in an ambulance, hospital policy requires that you be constrained—no matter if you’re compliant or not. For one of my trips in the ambulance, I was strapped down across my chest and both legs. For the other, I was restrained by a handcuff-like device around my leg.

When entering most mental health wards, you first go into a room with two employees—psych techs—where you go into a closet-sized room and take off all your clothes, then pass them to the psych tech on the other side of the door. All your possessions are surrendered and put into a locker, and all your clothing is checked for anything that could be dangerous. Your phone is locked away, and in most mental health wards, you are not allowed to use your phone for the duration of your stay.

The floors in the U. of M. pych wards are a faux hard wood and heavy, firm furniture sits in a semi-circle around a TV. Behind the TV are several tables surrounded by plastic chairs where meals are served and visitors are met.

The rooms are double occupancy with single beds and thin pillows. On one of my visits, one of the other patients had a softer pillow and gave it to me the day she checked out. I’ve been in some regular hospital beds in the ER for medical reasons, and those beds were definitely more comfortable.

The rooms have a small bathroom with a soft door—a sort of stuffed vinyl. There’s no shower in the room, and when you want to bathe you have to ask a psych tech to open one of the shower rooms.

Privileges on the floor are much different than a regular hospital. While you’re allowed to make phone calls, you have to make them on a phone in the hallway. Visitors are only allowed at certain times, and though exceptions are made, they’re generally only allowed during visiting hours—7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. during the week and an extra hour during the weekend from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Children are also not allowed, though they will sometimes arrange for a private area to see your children, especially if you’ve been in the hospital a long time.

The rhythm of the days are tedious. There’s a lot of waiting. Generally, the doctors make rounds in the mornings to check on how you’re doing and adjust medications. There’s usually a community meeting where staff talks about the rules—keeping things clean, keep conversations appropriate, respecting personal space, etc. There’s usually a question like, “what’s your favorite Flintstone?” and people go around and introduce themselves and say, “Bam Bam,” or whatever, and then say a goal they have for the day.

The rest of the day consists of a lot of killing time between group “therapy.” Sometimes the therapy is helpful—goals and plans for when the hospital stay is over, improving relationships, etc.—but sometimes there things like arts and crafts (which I’ll admit is better than nothing). Killing time generally consists of watching the TV, playing cards, reading, writing, and talking to other patients. The last few times I was in the hospital I met some patients that were helpful to talk to. One nice thing about being in the hospital is finding people to commiserate with.

The hospital is no fun, but at times it’s necessary. At my last stay, my doctor was excellent. He added a medication (lithium) to what I’d already been taking, and things have gone much better for me since then. In the past, I’d been hesitant to take lithium due to its potential side effects and blood draws to check lithium levels, but thankfully everything has gone OK. If I hadn’t been to the hospital, there’s a good chance I never would have been prescribed lithium, and that I wouldn’t have as good of a year as I’ve had.

This year hasn’t been perfect—I’ve had a couple of bipolar episodes that I’ll discuss in another post, but by and large things have been pretty smooth.

Though my last hospital visit brought about a necessary change in my medications, I’d still like to see some changes made to how some hospitals do things. For one thing, I don’t feel like it’s necessary to keep phones out of the hands from patients for their entire stay. Same goes for other electronics like laptops. These things are fine to use in other areas of the hospital. If the staff of the hospital believe they might be dangerous, they could only allow them at certain times in a supervised area.

It would also be nice if visiting hours were more flexible (though they do make exceptions) or extended, so patients could have visitors at more convenient times.. When patients are in other parts of the hospital, visiting hours are long and often visitors can come and go almost all day with close family even being able to spend the night.

I’m thankful to have been out of the hospital for one year. For anyone with a mental illness, I hope that her or his treatment is effective and keeps her or him out of the hospital. My longest stretch since been diagnosed with a mental illness had been seven years, and with the support of family and friends, medications and the excellent caregivers I see on a regular basis, I hope to stay out of the hospital as long as possible.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Supporting a Loved One: A succinct resource

My blog posts tend to be a little wordy. Long sentences, etc. While some may have found my posts about supporting loved ones helpful, I realize they're not as accessible as some other resources.

Here is a link to an article from the University of Michigan:

The article is geared to college students, but the advice is useful for anyone:

A chart from the end of the above article gives some helpful advice:

I know you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
It’s all in your head.
I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
We all go through times like this.
You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
You have so much to live for-- why do you want to die?
Tell me what I can do now to help you.
What do you want me to do?
I can’t do anything about your situation.
You might not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
Just snap out of it.
Look on the bright side.
You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
Talk to me. I’m listening.
Here’s my advice…
I am here for you. We will get through this together.
What’s wrong with you?
Shouldn’t you be better by now?

If you have a loved one who you believe may commit suicide, you need to act immediately. Take them to the hospital, or if it's even more urgent, call 911. Also, have her or him put the phone number for a county crisis line (a quick Google search will find it) and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 in his or her phone.

My next post will be the last in this series. I'd love to include stories from others who have dealt with mental health issues. If you have a story you think would be helpful for others, message me or send me an email at

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Favorite Running Movies: Documentaries

A while back, I started what I thought would be a series of running movie posts. Unfortunately, my ambition was greater than my follow-through, so I never finished the series. I spent hours watching movies, but spending a little more time writing the actual posts about movies escaped me.

I set up three categories: drama/comedy, biopic, and documentaries, but I never got around to posting documentaries. There are so many good ones out there, so I'll send you to other places to find one to enjoy.

My favorites include, "The Spirit of the Marathon," and, "Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story."

On to the links:

Ten of the Best Running Movies, from the Guardian.

Get Motivated! Six Running Documentaries Guaranteed to Inspire from Runner's World.

All my movie posts can be found at this link: Movies

Do you have any favorite running movies?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Supporting Loved Ones: What about medications?

Most people are understanding and caring when they hear I have a mental illness, but there is definitely a level of discomfort as they consider their words. The goal of these posts is helping friends and family members become more comfortable in what they say and how they act around a loved one with mental illness. These post aren't perfect. Some of the "don't" items may actually be helpful for certain people, and some of the "do" items may be faux pas for others.

In doing research for these posts through talking with people with mental illness and reading articles and blog posts about responding to those with mental illness, I found some common things people don't like hearing, words to say instead, and other things you can say and do to support someone with their mental health.

Again, I'll start this post with a "what not to say." Unless you're a licensed medical health provider specializing in psychiatric medications, don't say to your friend or family member: "Have you tried X medication?" or, "You're probably on the wrong medication."

Amazingly, I've actually heard something like this when I was hospitalized. A nurse heard what medication I was taking, and she said, "Oh, that's not really a good one. You should try X." Now, a nurse may have more of an idea than some people about psychiatric medications, but she had literally just met me.

She went on for a solid minute about why a different medication would be better for me. Past medications, side effects from those medications, and how long I'd been on current medications were all unknown to her. For all she knew I had been on the medication she was suggesting, and it hadn't worked or had caused terrible side effects.

Considering the nurse example, remember what you do and do not know about psychiatric medications. You, a friend, or a family member may have quickly recovered from a mental illness when they were put on a new medication, but medication works differently on different people. Just because a medication worked for one person doesn't mean it will work for another.

If you have a family member or friend who tells you about her or his mental illness, resist the urge to question what medication he or she is taking. If she or he wants to talk about medications, fine, but I suggest avoiding the subject completely unless she or he brings it up. If your friend or family member does bring it up, allow her or him to direct the conversation. If you're curious, it's probably OK to ask about how the medication is working or if there are any side effects, but try not to do it in a way that may come off as judgmental.

I hope this is helpful. If there's something else you have a question about or would like covered in this series, feel free to comment, send me a message, or email me at

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Supporting Loved Ones: I Know How You Feel

As I've tossed around the idea of regular posts, I thought maybe I'd choose a couple of regular features and blog post series. There are some things I can keep going for a long time, but there are others I'd like to share that will have a finite amount of material.

I'm not sure how long this series will last, but I've had a handful of people ask about what they should do to offer help and support to those with mental illness. It's not easy, and honestly I could share more things that would be unhelpful than helpful, but I'll try to share a mix of both, usually starting with what not to say/do and then provide an alternative.

I've touched on some of these themes in previous posts, but I wanted to get more in depth for those who are struggling with offering help and support to a loved one facing mental health challenges.

One thing I hear often from people with mental illness is that they don't want to be told: "I understand what you're going through." If you take a minute to think about that phrase, you'll quickly realize the problem with saying you understand: you don't.

You may have gone through something similar, you might know someone who's gone through something similar, you may have read about something similar, but you don't know what exactly that person is going through.

Hearing, "I know what you're going through," is usually not helpful to someone with a mental illness. It doesn't bother me for the most part, mainly because I realize people have good intentions when they say it. Hearing stories from others with mental illness, many also say they are not overly bothered, again because they understand the person saying it is trying to be helpful.

Still, remember, on its face saying, "I know what you're going through," is not true. You are not that person. Regardless of how well you may know her or him, you have not experienced the events, thoughts, or emotions that she or he has experienced.

You may now be asking yourself, "what can I say?" Throughout this series I'll offer some advice on other things to say to someone who is struggling with mental health, but if you're feeling like saying, "I understand what you're going through," there are other more helpful, but similar things you can say.

First, I'd start with focusing on the person and her or his feelings. A simple, "Tell me more about that," will lead you to better understand what the person is going through rather than assuming you understand.

Also, it may be helpful to bring up an experience you or a friend went through that was similar, but don't make it seem like you're doing it to "fix" the person. You could certainly explain that situation and end with, "is that similar to what you're going through?"

If you have more questions and would like to see something answered in this series feel free to comment, message me, or email me at