Life on Speed

CrackheadSay No to Drugs.  That’s been my mantra for the past five years.  After trying every psychotropic pharmacology had to offer, which either had no effect or made my bipolar symptoms worse, I chose to manage my illness drug-free.  I take a sleep-aide when insomnia pops up, because that can mess me up fast and hard, but that’s it.  I had to get over my dream of a Magic Pill.

A year or so ago, I also gave up the dream of losing weight.  I’d used every kind of diet and non-diet (learned genius things at birthorderplus.com), mindfulness training and behavior modification, but compulsive eating always won in the end.  I felt it was time to shake hands with that old nemesis and accept it in the pantheon of players.  Better to accept all of me, I thought, than keep bullying the parts that didn’t behave well.

I’d never talked about my compulsive eating with the nurse practitioner at my psych clinic, but this spring I did.  It was part of my bi-annual check-in, a commentary on my relationship with myself.  But she had a different take on it.  Sarah said I was a poster child for Binge Eating Disorder, and that there was a drug that might help.

Was I leery?  Yes.  Skeptical? Of course.  One of the things I love about Sarah, though, is how conservative she is about medication.  She’s my loudest cheerleader, and our brief sessions usually consist of her grilling me on what new tools I’m using to manage drug-free.  I know to keep an open mind when Sarah makes a suggestion.  So, we talked about Vyvanse being a “clean” drug—it’s in your system or it’s not, no lingering effects, no weaning on or off it like the psychotropics.  Any side effects should present themselves right away (source: http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/current-xarelto-lawsuits/).  We would start with the lowest dose and work our way up to find a level that would (ideally) curb the compulsion without throwing me into mania or insomnia.  I said, yes, let’s give it a try.

I tried not to have any expectations.  I turned down the volume on The Song of the Magic Pill.  I didn’t want to set myself up for another round of disappointment and failure.  Sarah encouraged me to focus on changes in the compulsive thinking and my feelings, not weight.  I created a chart for the back of my journal to keep track of those parameters.  I was ready.

Three weeks in and I’m cautiously, furtively whispering, It’s a miracle.

The first thing I noticed was the sensation of fullness.  I never felt full when I ate, not even after bingeing for hours at a time.  What allowed me to stop was a weird click in my head, like a timer that said I was done.  Feeling full was a totally alien concept, and I was astonished at the minuscule amount of food that produced the effect.

I also noticed when the Vyvanse wore off and the compulsion returned.  It was like fire ants scuttling over my brain, a swarm of nattering food-thought—What do I want? What do I need? Where? When? How much? What else?—that hadn’t been there a moment before.  It was fascinating.  And it helped me identify the compulsion more clearly.  I could see the difference between the frenzied drive and habit.

Habits are the things normal people deal with—popcorn at the movies, a snack with TV, a trip to Dairy Queen to celebrate.  I found that without the engine of compulsion pushing my habits, I could brush them aside.  I spent a couple of hours reading without eating.  I watched a movie without a snack.  Habit carries its own power, so I have to be intentional and mindful, but now mindfulness actually works.  I still overeat and make crappy choices otherwise.

With time and attention, habits can be changed.  This is my hope.  I went to Starbucks the other day and stopped before I ordered.  I thought my regular Venti latte might make my stomach uncomfortably full.  I was perfectly satisfied with the Grande I ordered instead.  I can’t adequately express how weird and wonderful that little triumph felt.  With nary a fire ant in sight.

I’m on an Adventure.

Goals for the Next 30 Days: Maintain New Behaviors

BBs on the LooseChange is a bitch.  Pardon my French.

We all have default settings, the status quo our minds and bodies roll into when we look the other way.  We’re like bee-bees, really, rattling around until we find that dent in the floor where we can rest.  Most of the time our dent consists of what’s easiest, cheapest and safest.  We’re all about comfort here in the pothole.

Confess.  We can all think of a change we’d like to make that would make us healthier, happier, more efficient… the list goes on and on.  We may even work at those changes, but damn, it’s hard.  We’re fighting against gravity and inertia.  We’re trying to jump out of the pothole.  But, if we persist, we may nudge ourselves in a new direction.  If our bee-bee jumps up and down in a new spot long enough, it will make a new dent.

That’s what I’m trying to do with my Post-Hospital behavior.  When I get brain-sick, I slide into the oldest dent on my floor.  My default settings may feel safe and easy, but they really hurt me.  I’m just trying to jump up and down in this new place every day until I can carve out a new resting place.  Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. Limit Screen Time to 2 hours a day
  2. Plan more Activities Outside
  3. Practice Mindfulness Meditation daily
  4. Create a Cleaning Schedule

I’ve come to understand that Distraction is not necessarily the best way to manage my illness.  It is a standard method, widely accepted, and valuable when symptoms are so severe a person cannot tolerate living.  Getting busy doing something else gives the mind another focus.  It may not change the feelings, but offers a little break.  Sometimes that’s all we need.

But, when distractioYesn becomes the default setting, nothing else gets done.  That’s the story between me and my computer.  I can spend hours here (I’m sure I’m not alone in this).  I watch movies on it.  I listen to music through it. I blog and graze Pinterest.  I play neuro games on Lumosity.  Oh, I could live here.

And that’s the problem.  When I’m brain-sick, I do live here.  So, I’m weaning myself.  More writing off-line.  More interaction with real-time people.  More living on this side of the screen.

I’m also trying to get outside more now that the weather is fine.  It seems that winter sets me up for a tumble, or has the last couple of years, so I need to learn how to get more sunlight.  I’ll soak up what I can now and buy a full-spectrum light for the coming winter.  Maybe that will help keep me out of the hospital next spring.  For now, I’ve found a great trail that passes through some trees.  I haven’t gone there yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.

Tara Brach's CDMeditation has always been a cornerstone of my wellness.  I know it works.  But, even after all this time, it’s still not my default setting.  I still find it hard to meditate alone and put it off.  So, I got myself some lovely CDs and use them as I meditate.  That makes it so much easier—less effort required to jump out of that bee-bee dent.  I’m still not meditating every day, but I’m doing better.  That’s the important part.

My Pal SwifferCleaning is another practice that disappears when I’m ill.  It’s one of those things I absolutely cannot make myself do.  When I first started the hospital program, we broke that task down into the tiniest possible fragments.  One day, I was only required to dust one shelf on one bookcase.  I came home from the hospital that day and told myself I couldn’t have supper until I dusted that shelf.  It took herculean effort to get out the duster, but once I broke through the inertia, I was able to dust the whole bookcase.  But the next day (dust the night stand), the resistance was just as strong.  My little bee-bee had rolled back into its divot.

I’d like to make cleaning a habit (as per advice of the oriental rug cleaning in Syracuse, NY), so I include it as part of my daily tasks.  Today I will mop my kitchen floor.  That’s all.  That’s enough.  But, it still will take effort to get done.  That’s okay.  I figure I’m building mental muscle with these practices—cleaning, meditation, getting outside, and turning off the computer.  If I’m buff enough, maybe I can jump out of my safety dent for longer periods of time and start carving out a new place to rest.

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