Blood sugar and bipolar disorder

I’ve started to use a mood tracker called Optimism to track my mood vs. standard parameters such as how much sleep I get, how well I sleep, and how much exercise I get. I have noticed an interesting trend: a few days after I get relatively more exercise, my mood gets worse, and a few days after I am sedentary, my mood gets better. I need to track myself for longer to see if this is a real trend, but I have noticed that I tend to feel best when sitting on my butt all day sipping coffee or eating sugary snacks.

I’m trying to lose weight and improve fitness, so this latter option is not really one for me. In searching around for information on bipolar disorder and blood sugar levels, I came across this interesting post from Everyday Health. Apparently my love for sweets is common among bipolar people, and the cravings I get for sugar are my body’s way of self-medicating, trying to spur my metabolism to produce more serotonin. I take a supplement that helps boost serotonin levels, but I’ve been a sugar addict for far longer. Anyway, this craving produces spikes and crashes in blood sugar (if one satisfies the craving with simple carbohydrates only) which can worsen mood as well as lead to weight issues and insulin resistance. So my plan to counter this is to not cut out carbs completely, as well-meaning friends have foolishly suggested, but to substitute complex carbohydrates for the simple ones. Complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly, producing a more gradual change in blood sugar levels and a more even blood sugar level overall. Given the effects of blood sugar levels on serotonin and dopamine levels (see Everyday Health post for a summary), I figure it’s not wise to make radical changes to my carbohydrate intake- any changes I make have to be slow and gradual ones, much as if I’m changing my medication.

While I wasn’t able to find any blog posts or online articles describing the effects of strenuous exercise on bipolar people, I think there exists a consensus that more clinical information on this topic is needed. I myself know that I can’t exercise very strenuously for several days in a row without negative consequences, so I suspect there is some link between more exercise than usual, blood sugar levels, and mood- and just as I need to make changes to blood sugar gradually, I need to make changes to the level of exercise I routinely get gradually as well. Right now I do 10,000 steps a day when I can (often wearing ankle weights, which help get a good workout) and today I’ve added a little yoga to the mix. I’m going to add things slowly and level them off when they seem to be getting too strenuous, and hope that this approach helps me get fit without jarring my system too much.

It’s frustrating, being this susceptible to so many influences: sleep, sunlight, stress, diet, and exercise level all seem to greatly impact my mood and ability to function like a normal person. It’s like being some kind of exotic and extremely fragile potted plant.

Have a great day!

Camaraderie

So, readers, I was thinking about a persistent idea I’ve been having- it’s easy to ignore, as my weird ideas have been for about six months or so now- and wishing I had a bipolar friend to talk to. I’d ask, “Do you think about time travel? Do you think about psychic powers? Do you wonder if these things are real, too, despite knowing they contradict all known laws of physics?”

So I decided to see if these ideas are common among bipolar folks. In my rummaging around on the internet, I came across Natasha Tracy and her interesting blog and website on bipolar disorder and living with it.

Now, we aren’t friends- I don’t know this person- but there is camaraderie in reading someone else describing something you, too, have experienced. I haven’t delved into it much yet, but I plan on buying her book and I’ve written a couple of emails (mostly about the supplements I’ve been taking- which, I must stress, work in concert with prescription medications! I really need all of them, it seems, to have a reasonably calm and normal life, along with regular sleep and proper meals, and sunshine). I’m hoping the emails provide useful information. What works for me may not work for everybody, but if I can keep one person from sliding repeatedly into hell, it will have been worthwhile.

Have a great day, everybody.

Exhaustion

Hello readers!

So I have been really tired and lethargic for a couple of weeks. It’s not debilitating- I manage 10,000 steps two to three times a week and manage to work full-time as well as do most of my household chores. But it’s draining to do all this and by 9 pm I’m on the couch, unable to move, completely exhausted.

Tonight’s no different. I have to take a nap to get the energy to do the dishes after cooking myself a tasty meal (and it was really tasty! Roasted pork leftovers combined with a tomato-based pasta sauce, sundried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and liquid smoke for a sauce over some gluten-free pasta).

I wonder if other bipolar people get this lethargy. Luckily for me, it doesn’t come hand-in-hand with crushing depression, and I’ve been making an effort to get extra serotonin by walking outside in the sunshine with my sunglasses off. My supplements really seem to be holding up, even though I don’t remember to take them every single day.

I consider myself lucky in that my symptoms are reasonably mild and I’ll take the occasional bout with exhaustion as just par for the course. I currently have another health issue that might be contributing to being tired, and I’ve also noticed that as the days grow shorter and colder, I get more and more tired. I guess as long as my mood stays good I can handle it!

On writing and writer’s block

I enjoy writing fiction. I’ve been doing it since I was eight years old, and I fancied myself a pretty good writer for a long time. I used to think I had nothing to learn, that I knew it all and was at the top of my game.

Maybe I was. But I’m not any more.

I’m having trouble starting and finishing written works because I just don’t believe that anyone wants to read them. I keep thinking I’m no good, people that compliment me are just being polite, and the criticisms I get are all very real and the only honest judgement of my writing. I just don’t think I’m very good any more- or even moderately good.

I realize this is a self-esteem problem and the only way to solve it is to start writing, writing, and writing- but for some reason this week I’ve been depressed all the time, and instead of walking (which I enjoy) or writing fiction, I navel-gaze or sleep.

I am writing this blog post mostly because I want to spend time writing things- even if no one reads them. I intentionally do not advertise this blog because for the most part I don’t really want it to be read. I know that’s a bit strange, but it soothes me to put something out there, just as it soothes me to know it’s not being read (and judged) by strangers.

I wonder, as I type this, if this fear of judgement is part of what my problem with writing is, and it occurs to me that I need to find healthy ways to overcome this fear. Reading up on this topic and contemplating it are going on my list of things to work on.

Seven months later

Seven months since I started taking both B12 and 5-HTP, and I am happy to report: no major depressive episodes, no major bouts with delusion (though I do have occasional weird ideas, it doesn’t grab me the way it used to), and while I’m often tired for no apparent reason, I have more energy and am happier in general than I’ve been in about eight years. I’ve managed to start an exercise program- I have a fitness tracker and I love using it, so I find myself making excuses to take long walks. It’s adding up into some fitness gains and weight loss, which is helpful.

Can’t stress enough that if you’re dealing with bizarre thoughts and episodes of depression, that you should ask your doctor to check you out for B12 deficiency and serotonin deficiency. Treating these may revolutionize your life, if you’re deficient (if not, no gains and possible adverse side effects, so get tested).

Two months later

So yes, two months ago (give and take) I was diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency. Lots has happened- including the death of my father- and I currently am fighting off a viral infection. But all through all this time I’ve taken my B12 supplement every day, putting it under my tongue and letting it dissolve.

It did not seem to have an immediate effect. When I started taking 5-HTP the effects were almost instantaneous- I noticed a difference within six hours. I’ve only gradually changed with B12, and while my energy levels have slowly been increasing (very slowly), one other change I’ve noticed is that the frequency of delusions is less, and the intensity of the delusions is also lower. So this is a good sign!

I am hoping if I continue taking B12 that it might have an effect on my energy levels- which are still low, though as I pointed out earlier, I’m a bit sick right now, and I’m also kind of depressed about my father. I think considering everything I’m not doing too badly.  B12 deficiency results in a kind of anemia which results in fatigue, so it may take me a while to build my blood back up to normal levels. If I’m right, I’ve been B12 deficient and anemic for a good decade or so now, because I’ve been really (inexplicably) tired the entire time, and before when I complained I was always told it was just age or poor exercise habits.

I wonder how many bipolar people, or schizophrenic people, who suffer from horrifying delusions are deficient in serotonin and/or B12? For me, the combination of a serotonin precursor (5-HTP) and B12 is reversing most of my psychological symptoms. I can’t say it will work for everyone, but it is a low-cost treatment that is certainly working for me. If you suffer from delusions and don’t know why, ask your doctor if you can get blood tests for serotonin and B12 levels. It’s easy to treat these if they are deficient, and it could change your life for the better.

Psychosis and vitamin B12

Well, I’ve learned something interesting today- B12 vitamin deficiency causes a lot of problems, including psychosis. My doctor diagnosed me with B12 deficiency and asked me to take a supplement, which I have been- and viola, my energy levels seem to be increasing, my kind of sick feeling has vanished, and I am no longer so incredibly cold all the time.

I am hoping, really hoping, that my frequent bouts with delusional thinking go away also. I am monitoring my thoughts (and as I reported in my previous post, I am feeling more normal lately than I have in a long time), eating lots of eggs and chicken (B12 sources), minimizing stress and hoping all these things allow me to avoid more nightmares. I mean, they are great for generating unique story ideas, but they come at a steep price.

Keep you posted.

“We have achieved normality… I repeat…”

The title of this post is a quote taken from The Hitchhhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of my all-time favourite books. My grasp of “normality” can be tenuous enough, but I’m lucky that medication and rest allow me to regain a sense of what’s real and what’s unlikely.

A few weeks ago I had about four or five days of really bad nightmares. I’ve managed to stabilize my moods with 5-HTP, so the nightmares did not come with crushing depression. Apparently whatever controls delusional thinking isn’t affected by serotonin (5-HTP affects serotonin levels), however, because after my episode right around Christmas (see last post), it was only a few more weeks until this subsequent problem. That’s fine- I can roll with these punches- and in fact, it even led to a book idea (post here).  But it takes a toll. I can’t sleep, I’m nervous, I’m distracted, I make mistakes and can’t focus on conversations very well. I managed to overcome this last bout of nightmares by adjusting my dose of medication, and taking a day off work to rest when it just was becoming too distracting. I continued the higher dose of medication for a while- a long while- though this can be dangerous as it can be habit-forming and set a new, higher baseline for my body.

I’m lucky in that I haven’t had any other negative things happen and with the rest and medication I’ve managed to achieve a sense of calm, stability, and normalcy. It’s not entirely rare but I’ve had a difficult winter this year and so I am rejoicing in feeling much better than I have been for a long time.  Here’s me hoping it continues.

A bit of a miracle

So, last week (it seems so long ago now!) I was plagued with a few days of distracted, anxious thinking culminating in 36 hours of straight-on nightmares that made me weep. It was awful.

However, there came a bit of a breaking point in my nightmares. I dreamt, with sadness, that I had a child and it had been stolen from me as a baby, and subjected to cruelty. Then, somehow, my thinking started to realign itself and I started to think, maybe my child had been cared for by strangers- maybe this child was well.

Now, it is impossible that I have a biological child. I’ve never given birth and I’ve never donated eggs. I know this is a fiction. But in my dreams, this fictional child had been raised by kind people in Turkey- a country which I had shunned because of my first husband, a Turkish-American man who had abused me. I even started thinking that my fictional child had been raised in part by my ex-husband!

This brought with it a lot of mixed emotions, as you can appreciate, but in the end, I found myself forgiving my ex-husband for a lot of things- and started to remember good things about him, and Turkey, and Turks. A glacier in my heart had melted, and I felt much lighter, much happier, as if a weight around my neck had been lifted off me.

I know it’s hard to suffer from delusions, but sometimes they can help- it is a bit of a mixed blessing, since they often cause pain, but it’s nice to know that sometimes they can also bring healing.

Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and if you do not I hope you have a nice day.

Writer’s block

So, readers, I have been dealing with an extended period of depression and insomnia (are the two linked? I have come across many papers which suggest that they are) and of course, it’s winter- and I always get lethargic and kind of mopey in winter.

All this means that, on my single days which I have to myself to write (those being Sundays), I find myself doing laundry, tidying the house, sitting on the couch typing diary entries or emails or blog posts, and basically doing anything and everything except writing fiction. Today has been no different- all I have accomplished is one load of laundry, a shopping trip to get groceries, and a long email to my collaborator at UCLA.

This is actually not great, since I’d like to get my novel finished by December 31 (a rough draft, at least), and I have a lot of chapters left. I am telling myself I can write a lot over the holiday break, but honestly- unless I am left alone, it’s just not going to be possible, and it’s the time of year where there is never a lot of time to oneself. I may have to revise my schedule for the novel and just chalk it up to my own frailty (curse you, seasonal affective and bipolar disorders!).

I have another couple of hours after I finish typing this post to work on creative writing- I may give it another shot. The self-talk running through my head isn’t helping me meet my goals: it’s a never-ending stream of “you’re too tired to write well, everything you write today will suck, just put it off until next year”, etc. etc.

It’s a vicious cycle, because each time I fail to meet my writing goals, I feel worse about myself. I need to have discipline and I need to try to muster what energy I had when I was writing two chapters a weekend. Here’s me signing off with a note that I’ve got about two hours left to write today, and even if all I do is stare at my computer screen, I am going to give it my best shot.