02 January 2012

2012: The Year of Good Health

Hi everyone! Today is the first day of 2012! Huzzah!

I've got big plans for 2012. These plans are so big that I'm spreading them out over several posts as I wax euphoric optimism for the new year!

My last post officially announced that  2012 is The Year of the Con. Yes, I'm attending four conventions this year, and a newbie to all of them. Should be exciting! But 2012 is not only the Year of the Con, it's

The Year of Good Health.

I know that when you're making goals, the more specific you are, the better chances you have of obtaining them. "The Year of Good Health" is waaaay too vague of a goal, but really, I don't care. How I accomplish good health is vast and varied, and if I just make one behavior change, no matter what it is,  I'll be on the path to my goal. This, in my opinion, is my most important and most difficult goal to achieve...Because I have years of damage to undo, and I know it'll take longer than a year to "fix" everything. So the goal isn't exactly to be 100% healthy by the end of the year, but to practice living healthfully.

WARNING: Diving into some personal stuff here which may encourage my tendency to overshare. Read on if thou art brave and without judgement.

I've always been a weak person health-wise, ever since I can remember. Even when I was top-notch physical form (from ten years of ballet, and from outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, caving, canoeing/kayaking) I was still weak because there was always something wrong with me underneath the surface. Even though I've done amazing things, they were also extremely difficult for me to do, and I barely made it through some of these activities because they'd wipe me out so badly.

On top of this initial physical weakness, in 2005 I got the bombshell diagnosis: I was one of the 2.6% Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one of the most disruptive mental illnesses out there. So not only was I physically ill, I was also mentally ill. And the two definitely are related--if you are weak physically, it can wear down on you mentally, and if you are dealing with mental illness, it can take a toll on you physically. 

So...life certainly sucked from 2005-2010. I had some bright spots and some successes, (my shows at OSU, for example) but for the most part, this was an unstable period in which I teetered and tottered between mania and depression ("rapid cycling"), with an occasional panic attack thrown in the mix. When my mind broke down, my body broke down, too (caught diseases easily due to poor immune system, and one year I got mononucleosis and shingles within a month of each other!). At the same time all this was going on, I destroyed relationships; ruined and ended friendships; was an incredible burden on my loved ones; obliterated my finances; missed a lot of work (almost fired many times); went on disability; impulsively quit jobs; was hospitalized three times; attempted suicide or hurt myself; and was completely an unreliable, and many times selfish, human being overall.

And I'm so grateful that people still love me and care for me after all of that.

During this time period, I was put on the following medications just for treating my mental illness: Abilify, Ativan, Depakote, Effexor, Geodon, Klonopin, Lamictal, Lithium, Lumnesta, Paxil, Tegretol, Topamax, Trihexphenidyl, Trileptal, Wellbutrin, and Xanax.

Whew! Why on earth would someone need to go through all of those meds?

1) Every human brain is different. Every medication works to regulate the release of chemicals in the brain, but you have to find the right combination that works the best way for your individual biology. So, in essence...it took a long time to find the right combination (for me, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, and Lamictal has been the magic cocktail and I've been on it since 2009 at varying doses. I will probably be on these for the rest of my life and they're the best thing that's worked for me.).

2) If you quit your medication for any reason or fail to take it EXACTLY as you've been told, essentially you fuck up your brain and can render your medications useless. So you have to start the entire process over again until you find the solution that stabilizes the chemical process in the brain. So yeah....I stopped taking my medications a couple times, and I definitely paid the price for it.

3) Side effects. They're different for every person and for every drug, but here are some of the worst I've been through: Tardive dyskenesia (uncontrolled facial movements), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain (um...like 100 lbs), insatiable appetite, vivid dreams, hallucinations/delusions. Yummy!

That was a huge crap list, and I'm sorry you had to slog through all that. I like to tell myself that I was establishing context, but really I was venting (and maybe unconsciously hoping for someone out there to be like, "Yeah, I went through all that, too! You're not alone!".) Anyhow, here's some optimism for you:

I AM FINALLY IN A GOOD ENOUGH PLACE MENTALLY THAT I CAN WORK ON MY PHYSICAL HEALTH!!!

The key to living with bipolar disorder is to know thyself. I've been stable with only a few hiccups (seasonally I go through a little mood swing fest, and it happens like clockwork) and I've weathered the tough times because I know myself well enough to understand the patterns and behaviors that lead to cycling. I also have a support system who can tell me when I'm acting funny if I am unable to tell on my own. And I also take my meds consistently as directed. This sounds easy to do but it isn't (trust me).

So...as long as I keep up the good work mentally (being in graduate school is a HUGE DEAL for someone who hasn't been mentally up to par for a while), I can devote more energy to bringing my body back to how it was pre-diagnosis. That's a tall order, and I know it won't be exactly how it used to be, ever (and going through all those meds definitely took its toll on my body!) but if it could anywhere near resemble its former self I will be happy.

And I've already had success! Which is why I know I CAN DO THIS!

From JUNE 2011 up til now, I brought my Cholesterol down from 242 to 191! My triglycerides went from 243 to 120! And I've lost twenty pounds.

By JUNE 2012....

My specific goals are to lose forty to sixty lbs in that time frame, and to have eliminated at least two major sources of sugar in my diet. This requires a major kick-up in effort, but I'm ready for it.

Wish me luck! I'm looking forward to sharing my progress and success with you!

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