Saturday, March 31, 2007

10 Top Gripes


1. I believe in mind-body healing and thus do not consider bipolar disorder II without psychotic symptoms to be a mental illness.

2. I believe that there will not be a bold new approach for treating manic depression until the pharmaceutical companies lose their lock on this illness, which is quite unlikely given the money they have invested in every facet of research.

3. Since the majority of bipolars do not get better, one would think that the psychiatric establishment would rethink their treatment options.

4. I believe that I shouldn't have to pretend to be a cancer survivor to go to a Wellness Center.

5. While I think it's swell that Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the foremost experts on manic-depression (and a bipolar person herself) has been stabilized for years on lithium, I'm getting tired of all the discussion on lithium's efficacy. Before they started the Systematic Treatment Program for Bipolar (STEP-BD), lithium hadn't been studied in more than 40 years.

6. Since there is no scientific data to support why any of the drugs that psychiatrists prescribe for manic depression work, then isn't it possible to assume that no one really knows whether combining so many different drugs in different dosages and different combinations is actually hurting people rather than helping them?

7. I am appalled that psychiatrists and psychologists believe that the best treatment option is therapy combined with medication but that few insurance companies will pay for this treatment.

8. I find it curious and disturbing that there are so few real success stories on the Web.

9. I believe that a lot of distressing behavior exhibited by manic-depressives who suffer from depression is caused by their medication.

10. I would like to suggest that the information posted by members on RemedyFind is more helpful than all of the data posted by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Laughter

I've always known about the importance of laughter in healing. But Ronald Jenkins has some nice explanations and quotes in his book, Subversive Laughter, The Liberating Power of Comedy. Perhaps he explains his theory best in the introduction where he writes:

"Laughter is a biological imperative, a complex cognitive and physiological response to the human condition that is as necessary for survival as water, air, and freedom. While I have no evidence that comedy is encoded in our chromosomes, it is plausible that a genetic impulse for adaptation and survival might explain the persistence of laughter in life’s most urgent moments."

I also enjoyed the following quotes:

"In a world fraught with danger and despair, comedy is a survival tactic, and laughter is an act of faith."

"Our sense of humor is a mirror of our aspirations, reflecting our desires to escape the limitations that circumscribe our lives."

"The global persistence of laughter as an adaptive response to human hardship makes one suspect that at its most visceral level, comedy is linked to our species’ instinct to survive."

Whenever I'm sad about this illness and the impact it has had on my life, I go back to Jenkins' book. While I don't always feel like laughing, I always like reading about its importance.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Hope

"The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope. That is why the patient's hopes are the physician's secret weapon." --Norman Cousins, writer, editor, citizen diplomat, promoter of holistic healing, and unflagging optimist.

Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them.-- William James.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.-- Maori Proverb.

Don't lose hope. When it gets darkest the stars come out.-- Unknown.

P.S. The photograph is of Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review, and author of Human Options and The Healing Heart. I picked him because after a lifetime of achievement, he spent the final years of his life at the UCLA Medical Center teaching ethics and medical history and continued his research into the relationship of attitude and health.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Volunteering

Although it's not easy to do when you're feeling depressed, volunteering for others can sure make you feel better. When my mother moved into an assisted living facility, I wanted to be able to visit and somehow entertain her and the people who lived in her facility. So, after seeing the film, Walk the Line, I rented my first Autoharp. I felt sure I could play as well as Reese Witherspoon. Well...maybe over time that is and with lots of practice.

My experience with the Autoharp has been nothing short of amazing. I've not only entertained my mother and her new friends, but I'm accompanied on the harmonica by a 90-year-old resident. How much fun is this?

An Ideal Wellness Center

A few months ago, when I could feel a depression coming on, I knew that all I needed to feel better was to be able to go to a Wellness Center. I didn't feel like being alone but I couldn't go out and have to engage other people.

Why is it that there are an abundance of Cancer Centers throughout the country and nothing for us? The place I envisioned was a Richard Neutra- type house with different healers in different rooms and all of the rooms overlooking a swimming pool and hot tub. If I wanted to, I could just lie on a chaise lounge and listen to relaxing music, participate in a mindfulness meditation taught by someone connected to Jon Kabat-Zinn, take a Yoga class, get a massage, or take a woodworking class if I felt better.

Recently I've been researching cancer centers to see what resources they have. You wouldn't relieve how great the classes are. There's painting, writing to heal, tai chi, qui gong, and knitting (it's evidently relaxing). There are places where the support groups take hikes together or go swimming. There's a place in Santa Barbara, CA where they provide free 10-week exercise classes at a local YMCA.

Obviously, when you feel lousy, you don't want talk to anyone and you certainly don't feel like participating in energetic exercise classes. But it might not be so bad to be with other people if you didn't have to talk. When my son was little and I took him to the park, he did what they called "parallel play." It just meant that he sat and played by himself while the kid next to him also played by himself. That's not a bad idea for people who feel depressed. How great it would be if you could go and do an activity you like--and have people around--but you could remain silent because everyone realizes you don't feel like talking.

P.S. The graphic is the Hoffman House.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Horticultural Therapy

According to Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the renowned Menninger Foundation, "[Horticultural therapy] is a kind of adjunctive therapy which brings the individual close to the soil, close to Mother Nature, close to beauty, close to the mystery of growth and development. It is one of the simple ways to make a cooperative deal with nature for a prompt reward."

With support from the Menninger Foundation, Kansas State University started a Horticultural Therapy Program in 1971. "Research on the people-plant connection has yielded only positive results -- no matter if the plant life is a single flower on a desk or a group of trees in a botanic garden," said Dr. Richard Mattson, program coordinator.

"Just walking through a garden can reduce blood pressure," Mattson said. "If you pick up and use a shovel or hoe, you gain strength benefits. If you use those tools with some enthusiasm or determination, you also get aerobic benefits similar to those in jogging or working out with exercise equipment."

I'm not surprised. Personally I find that working outside with plants is extraordinarily satisfying. However, my real skill seems to be landscape reduction rather than planting. When I'm feeling the slightest bit low, I get out my clippers and work on some major project like trimming the Eugenia trees or cutting back the bougainvilla.

While my husband excels at planting, innately knows which flowers look best together, and has grown some delicious beefsteak, heirloom, and cherry tomatoes, I am best at pruning, cutting, paring, snipping, shearing, reducing, thinning, and eliminating. For some people, this type of "horticultural therapy" may not be be considered a wellness activity but it is for me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Visualizing A Vacation

I first learned about visualization as a healing technique when my dad had cancer. I read Getting Well Again by Dr. Carl O Simonton, a pioneer in guided visualization. I later learned more about the subject in one of my favorite books on healing, Love, Medicine & Miracles by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D. While I often use visualization as a technique to think of happy times or to relax, I just want to introduce it here. In another post, I'll explain how to do it and where you can find more information.

This morning when I awakened in a low-energy mood, I looked at my Wellness Activity Book, a binder in which I've got more than 50 activities I utilize on a regular basis. I only had a few hours before I had to drive my son to school. So what would I do this morning to feel better? I decided to "Visualize a Vacation."

Because the weather is sort of downcast today, I wanted a sunny location and picked Maui. I was there with a friend more than 25 years ago. I wasn't interested in recreating the trip. I just wanted to remember how much fun we had.

The way I start recreating my virtual vacations is to "google" images. Today, I began by picking a fancy hotel where I might like staying. Because I am tired, I decided that a resort with all the amenities would make me smile. I picked the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui. I have no idea whether it's truly a wonderful resort hotel and sometimes I'll actually go to Trip Advisor.com and look up the info from other travelers to make this more real.

Then I picked a photo of a waterfall because I remember a great hike that my friend and I took. As I looked through photographs, I visualized how I felt when we hiked. I was in good physical shape. We started early in the morning and easily walked for a few miles when the sun appeared. We were in a good stride and I remembered feeling strong and proud that I could hike mile after mile without losing my breath.

I visualized the feeling of the sun against my face and how it warmed my entire body. I remembered thinking that the sun in Hawaii feels differently than sun anywhere else on earth. It not only warms your body but your soul. When we finally reached the waterfall, I remembered how refreshing the mist was as it sprayed our faces and bodies.

That night, after an afternoon nap and a shower, we dressed up and ate dinner at a terrific restaurant. In celebration of our accomplishment, we shared an expensive bottle of wine. We ordered fresh fish and steamed vegetables. And for desert, we ate an amazing chocolate concoction. When I went to bed that night, I felt happy and satisfied.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Writing To Heal (Part 1)

I've always known that my ability to write about all the horrific experiences I've encountered since my diagnosis literally saved my life. At every stage in the process, I wrote about what was going on. I wrote to try and make sense of the experience.

Almost nothing my succession of psychiatrists did made sense to me. It didn't make sense when they told me bipolar depression was a "mental illness." It didn't make sense when they gave me medication that made me sicker rather than better. It didn't make sense when they said it would take weeks or a month for the medication to "kick in" although they weren't sure if it would "kick in."

It didn't make sense that none of the medication worked and I was labeled "medication resistant." It didn't make sense that the medication not only pushed me into my first manic episode but it also made the depressive episodes last longer and become more severe. It didn't make sense that the medication caused erratic behavior that I'd never experienced before. Finally, it didn't made sense that the medication caused rapid cycling and so I became a bipolar II medication resistant rapid cycler.

Well...you get my drift. So, I wrote about everything that was happening. At first, I wrote sad stuff because I felt my doctors were destroying my life, I needed help, and I didn't know where to turn. But the sad stuff made me feel more sad. Then I wrote with humor because I figured that poking fun at my doctors and my illness was the only sport in which I could participate.

Then I wrote song lyrics (to old songs that I love), dialogues, monologues, a book, letters, prayers, a few different blogs, journal entries, and so much more. What I didn't realize was that this was all part of a method of healing called Emergent Emotion Therapy that was pioneered by Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas.

Stay tuned for Part II. In the meantime, visit Dr. Pennebaker's website at the University of Texas. It's great. Go to the Online Research section. He provides a bunch of easy tests you can take to learn more about yourself. I thought they were great fun and quite illuminating.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wellness Warrior

When I feel particularly angry about this illness, I dream I'm a Wellness Warrior. Last night, I looked like Keira Knightly in the film King Arthur although I was astride a horse like Clive Owen. I was leading 10,000 warriors on a Crusade (without the religious connotation) against the National Institutes of Mental Health. I carried a scroll stating our demands, which I presented to Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison (yes, I realize that she works at Johns Hopkins but this was just a dream).

We were asking for the following: 1. Insurance Parity. 2. Reclassification of the illness as a behavioral or neurological one to destigmatize it. 3. A Jobs Assistance Program, in which applicants could either get funding for retraining or for education. There would be tax credits for organizations that provided part-time, flextime, or freelance jobs for bipolars. There would be easily accessible funding from the Small Business Administration. 4. State-of-the-art Bipolar Wellness Centers throughout the country. 5. Bipolar Wellness Programs, which offer similar services to Cancer Wellness Programs, including an array of free classes in the following areas: exercise, art therapy, music therapy, nutrition, guided visualization, mindfulness meditation, massage, and so much more.

Walking Away The Blues

I've just ordered Walk Your Blues Away: How to Heal Your Mind and Create Well-Being by Thom Hartmann. In the book's description, they write "Case studies have shown dramatic results. Walking consciously, while holding a distress or desire in mind, can rapidly dissolve the rigidity of a traumatic memory or negative mind state, dispersing its unpleasant associations in as little as a half hour’s time. While walking has always been a natural part of life, its importance in promoting and maintaining mental health is only recently being rediscovered. Hartman’s simple yet potent exercises allow us to create our own walking journeys to restore our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being as well as rejuvenate our body’s health."

I truly think he's on to something. Can't wait to read more!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dragon Boating

I learned about Dragon Boating when I talked with one of the founders and a few board members from Team Survivor Los Angeles, a local affiliate of a national organization, which provides free exercise, health education, and support for women cancer survivors. (The photograph is from the View Sonic Long Beach Dragon Festival and was taken by Chuck Bradford.)

Dragon Boating really piques my interest. According to the Team Survivor LA website description of their Dragon Boat Training Program, "Dragon Boating is a team sport in which 20 paddlers manually power a 40 foot long boat. It builds strength, stamina, and coordination while promoting teamwork. Workouts begin with stretching and warm up. Participants then get in the boat and paddle for approximately one hour."

Personally, I think it's a great wellness activity although for me the time commitment is too much for my current lifestyle. However, if you're interested in pursuing this, I've listed some sites under Links.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Positive Thinking

At least three days a week, I spend fifteen minutes reading quotations from people I respect or I seek out new quotes. Some make me laugh. I find others, like these on hope, uplifting. Over time, I've developed a wonderful list, a few of which I'd like to share.

In his book Human Options, Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review who survived two life-threatening illnesses by behaving and thinking outside-the-box, writes, "The will to live is a window on the future. It opens the individual to such help as the outside world has to offer, and it connects that help to the body's own capability for fighting disease. It enables the body to make the most of itself. It is not a theoretical abstraction but a physiologic reality with therapeutic characteristics."

Bernard Lown, M.D., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine, writes, "Faith and optimism have life-giving qualities. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, 'For some patients, though conscious that their position is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the physician.' That comes from trust, which a doctor promotes by conveying optimism. Certainly promoting optimism is critical to good doctoring and is a significant aspect of the art of healing..."

And finally, I found this anonymous quote from Quoteland.com, "Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results."

P.S. The graphic is from The Library of Congress.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prayer

While prayer has been politicized these days, my post is not intended to appeal to those who voted for red or blue state candidates. I am Jewish but my story is about what I learned when I read a book on praying written by a family friend, who's a gay Episcopal minister. So I guess I will probably offend everyone, other than those of you who are open-minded and can celebrate each other differences. Here goes.

A number of years ago when I was very sick, I went to see the Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, who is the author of the best-selling book Are You Running With Me Jesus? At the time I wasn't finding answers to the "Why Me?" question within my own religion and I was so angry that I couldn't pray anymore. All these years later, I don't remember what Malcolm and I discussed but I do remember the impact of his book.

In the introduction, he writes: "The impulse to write the book sprang from my increasing inability to pray. I had always assumed that prayer was necessarily verbal. I forced myself to use the archaic language of liturgical prayer, battling my growing disillusionment and boredom. Wasn't God supposed to be up there? When this neat system collapsed for me, I virtually stopped praying, except for using the Lord's Prayer.

"In the spring of 1964 a group of Roman Catholic laity and clergy invited me to visit Israel and Rome with them. As one point in the trip we visited the island of Cyrus; afterward we proceeded by ship to Haifa... One afternoon everybody was taking a nap, despite the sounds of distant gunfire being exchanged by Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

"I lay on my cot, trying to pray. Then I picked up a ballpoint pen and a notebook, 'It's morning, Jesus,' I wrote, and 'here's that light and sound all over again.' The time of day was wrong, but I wasn't being literalistic. ... That was the first entry in Are You Running with Me Jesus? I had no idea of writing a book at all. I was grappling with prayer and medication, trying to get started in a new way."

Reverend Boyd's book has been a huge success, selling over a million copies. I highly recommend it for Christians and non-Christians alike. What particularly struck me were the following passages:

"... I came to learn that real prayer or meditation is not so much talking to God as just sharing God's presence, generally in the most ordinary of situations... Prayer is so much more than most people give it credit for. Beyond words, it can be voting, making love, just standing there, being angry, being quiet, cooking spaghetti sauce, marching in a peace demonstration, listening, lying on a sick bed, dancing, swimming, getting married, starting a new job, walking on a crowded street. Prayer can be filled with color and fun, vitality and pain, hopelessness and starting over again. I like to look out at life as I see it, and pray about it."

As I read Malcolm's book over and over, I began writing my own prayers to God. After awhile I stopped being angry with Him for "making me ill" and began a reconciliation. While it took a few more years for me to begin healing, now I feel like every day of wellness is a miracle and that prayer is an important part of the process.