Food Matters: In Which I Share Ultra-Personal Information To Convince You

pumpkin-faces

I have rebelled, for over a decade, against the idea that food *greatly* affects personality and mood. I first heard this preposterous idea around the time I was diagnosed with “Bipolar NOS”. Bipolar NOS is “bipolar not-otherwise-specified”. It basically meant, “You don’t fit any of the classifications of bipolar but you ARE really moody so…….”

Yeah.

Thus began a very long journey treating my so-called bipolar. I read books about mood management, took supplements, and even turned to medication. Everything helped a little bit, but not enough.

It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that the beginning of major breakthrough occurred: my psychiatrist and I determined that I likely was not, in fact, “bipolar NOS”. Thanks to some diligent charting, we discovered that I was actually suffering from severe PMDD. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s related to your period and it means you’re a monster for two weeks out of every month. Yes. You heard me correctly. I was a monster FIFTY PERCENT OF THE TIME. And it was getting worse. I would feel uncontrollably angry and have no real good reason for it. I raised my voice far too often, for two weeks out of the month. Every single thing that people closest to me did IRRITATED THE HECK OUT OF ME and I felt like a lousy human being because I couldn’t be anything but mean, even though I desperately WANTED to be anything but mean. I would snip and snap and frown and growl and I literally couldn’t control it. It was awful. I was a prisoner of my own self.

My psychiatrist told me the only real remedy for PMDD was a birth control called Yaz, but I didn’t like the idea of messing around with hormones. “You have a boyfriend!” she exclaimed, as if that was reason enough for getting on birth control. “Yes,” I replied, “but we’re not sleeping together.” She gave me a funny look and I was pretty sure she thought there was more wrong with me than just PMDD.  But she graciously left that bit alone and proceeded to explain that there really aren’t any medications that can treat PMDD and she REALLY thought I should try the birth control. I told her I would think about it and I left. I wasn’t currently PMSing, so I was half-convinced that it wasn’t as big of a deal as all that because I REALLY didn’t want to be on birth control. Really, really.

I shared the entire saga with my ladies’ Bible study, asking them all to pray wisdom for me. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to do the birth control, but I wanted to make sure I was being wise.

And then I hit PMS. And it really was all that big of a deal after all, and I really got desperate enough to go back to my doctor and try the birth control. I actually didn’t care if it WASN’T wise. I was so miserable.

Aaaaaand…it worked!!! For approximately one month! Before horrid, horrid Woe set into my intestines. Guess what? Intestinal Bowel Disease is a “rare” side effect of Yaz. Being a redhead is ALSO rare and I apparently have a knack for experiencing The Rare, whatever it might be. Don’t even get me started on medication side effects and trying to adopt a dog. >_< I am not being facetious.

So, yay, I got the privilege of experiencing The Rare yet again, and I immediately stopped taking the birth control and instead, took to the internet. Because I had had a GOOD month – AN ENTIRE MONTH!!! – for the first time in over a decade and I was not about to let it go that easily. I also didn’t want to experience all of my good months on a porcelain seat. Something had to give and the internet would tell me what it was.

All humor aside, I prayed a lot. I asked God to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me what I needed to do. I knew there was a solution. Something inside me was certain. Certain enough that I was motivated and determined to FIND. IT.

Lo, and behold, I found a bunch of what scientists would condescendingly call “anecdotal evidence”, that women who suffered from PMDD and went off of dairy and grains experienced significantly weaker symptoms OR were completely CURED of their PMDD. They still had PMS, of course, but PMS is like a tiny toad when compared with the hairy beast that is PMDD, and people were rejoicing!

I really didn’t want to believe it. I was already gluten-free and I loved my rice flour. It allowed me to eat bread and pasta and all the delicious carby things. I also adore dairy. Butter, cheese, and cream ESPECIALLY. I was at a crossroads.

I continued asking God for help and, over a period (Ha ha! No pun intended…>_>) of a few days, I grew increasingly convicted about the food approach. Not “convicted” the way Christians like to use that word – I didn’t feel guilty or judged or like I was doing something WRONG. I felt instructed, compelled, reassured. I felt like I *could* be doing something BETTER…and I started *wanting* to.

So I decided to TRY a whole food/ingredient diet to see what would happen. Part of me hoped it didn’t work so I could go back to eating all the junky stuff that I loved. But most of me knew that if it DIDN’T work, I was in serious trouble. I would be looking at quite a long time of being miserable. Like…the rest of my life.

Incredibly, this crazy diet has been working, and I’m not even doing 100% WHOLE FOODS. (There are neurotic people out there who will tell you that milk and sugar are not “whole foods” – and of course, by their definition, those foods aren’t! But my definition of “whole food” is “God made it and/or it’s been around for a looooong time and moderation makes it doable”. I know, that’s a long and wonky definition but I don’t care because IT’S WORKING.

For two months now, I have been happy and reasonable. I still get PMS symptoms, but they are PMS symptoms and not PMDD symptoms. They’re manageable. I feel like one normal woman, instead of feeling (and acting) like two totally different women.

All I did was stop eating food that had preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, colorings, or chemicals in them. I did not go entirely dairy-free, but I cut back significantly. For example, I used to eat cheese every day and now I eat it about once every few weeks. I cook with coconut oil instead of butter. I still put cream in my tea and coffee but I’ve honestly not noticed any real consequence from that.

I still eat bread and pasta (made from rice or potato flour) once a day at most, and I will eat sugar that is IN things, like salad dressing, chocolate, peanut butter, etc.  It has to be sugar and not artificial sweetener or – worse – high fructose corn syrup. I don’t eat candy anymore, except for chocolate, and even that only happens about once a day or less.

I feel GREAT. I feel so great. I feel very wonderful and I know part of that is just magnification brought on by how MISERABLE I was before. But seriously people. I’m falling asleep at night. I’m waking up BEFORE 8:30AM! (Those of you who know me, know how very profound that is… :P) And this is the killer: I’m raising a puppy. Yeah, if you don’t know me personally, it’s going to be difficult for you to understand that one, I think. Basically, I used to be an incredibly low-energy person and just the IDEA of house training a puppy made me feel tired. And now I’m training one and somehow still getting enough sleep and not going crazy with agitation and frustration.

I AM ALIVE. The way I’m supposed to be. Man. I can’t articulate to my own personal satisfaction just how much of a difference stupid FOOD has made in my life. Nevertheless, I’m sharing my experience here because anecdotal evidence or not, it’s REAL. I have personally experienced what hundreds of other people have personally experienced: food matters. It affects your body chemistry.

If you feel like God is tugging on your heart-strings regarding this issue, let me encourage you to pay attention. Cos here’s the thing. God is good. He’s “gooder” than food. And I know how it feels to give up the feel-good that certain foods offer, but TRUST ME WHEN I SAY you will feel gooder! (I know that’s not a word; I’m just trying to make a point.) You really will. You won’t miss the cruddy stuff and the good stuff will get better.

Guys. I sat on my couch yesterday and ate three cups of baby carrots. Okay? That’s technically a little outside of moderation but IT WAS CARROTS!!! I couldn’t stop eating CARROTS. CARROTS were YUMMY.

*stares*

I have nothing else to say. If you don’t want to do it, you definitely don’t have to. I didn’t have to either, for over ten years, and I was miserable. ;)

The End.

Being Bipolar

 Most people who know me know that I suffer from bipolar disorder. Since it’s a difficult thing to accurately diagnose, it’s not clear if I’m cyclothymic (a mild form of bipolar) or rapid cycling bipolar II. Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter because the same medications treat them all and the dosage depends on each body. Additionally, I have a pretty good grasp on my symptoms and that’s what really matters. Labels aren’t helpful if you don’t know their definitions. And if you know the definitions, the label is really only useful for condensing all those definitions into one word for the purpose of communicating them to others. ;)

As you are about to see, the condensing doesn’t do me any favors because I lay out the definitions in their entirety anyway. :P

For me, hypomanic (aka “happy”) episodes last around 4 days and sometimes less. Rarely do they last longer. There can be a very brief respite of “normal mood” before I start cycling into a depressive (aka “low”) episode. Unfortunately, those usually last 4 days or *more*. So my “bipolar self” is primarily depressed.

When I’m on medication, I experience “normal” or “even” the majority of the time and it’s lovely. I engage with my kids, I keep my house clean, I play and create occasionally, and I smile and laugh A LOT. Recently, I started experiencing “bleed through” while on medication. This is when symptoms start to overwhelm the medication. This phenomenon varies in degree for each individual. Thankfully, for me, it’s not a high degree. I would call it “moderate and uncomfortable.” **

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pretty dark place. When I’m in those places for long enough, I start to question almost everything I believe in, and especially God. I read my Bible and I’m convinced that anything good I think I see in there is just me making things up. It’s like, somehow my brain just can’t accept any kind of happy reality as actually true.

Now I’m coming out of four days of a happy time. Sad things happened during that happy time so I wasn’t actually *happy* the entire time, but I was still clear-minded and able to focus. I was also able to think in a healthy manner and express myself rationally. There is no way to explain well how refreshing it is to be in that kind of place, after a long depressive episode. It’s like being terribly hot and grungy and dirty and bathing yourself in a clean, cool waterfall surrounded by chirping birds, lush vegetation, and sunshine.

Today, I am beginning a descent into another low episode. Contrary to the opinions of people who don’t suffer from this disorder, you can’t “snap out of it”. You can’t make yourself feel happier. Even when I control my thoughts (and that goes a very long way toward staying healthy; it is definitely worth doing for as long as your energy holds out), my body feels very low overall. Just…heavy and tired and…like Eeyore. ;)

What I’m taking with me into this descent is the following:
1. The depressive episodes END. They do not go on forever.
2. I regain my hold on reality during happy episodes and I am able to see clearly, once again, how God shows up in my life. This means that even when I am depressed, everything about Him is still true. It is so very difficult to hold onto this truth as a depressive episode drags on, but if I hold onto it as long as I can, I do believe I will be able to hold onto it a little longer into each depressive episode.

Being bipolar is a constant drain on energy resources. When I’m hypomanic, I have to guard against poor judgement, impulsive decisions, and superstitious-type thinking. When I’m depressed, I have to work hard to do simple things like changing out of my pajamas, cleaning house, honoring obligations to other people, and controlling my thoughts. The only time my mental energy gets a break is when I’m in between episodes, which rarely lasts more than a day.

This is my introductory post to bipolar. I would like to write more about it, to help people who suffer from the illness and to help people who DON’T suffer from it understand those who do.

The hardest part about being bipolar is when people don’t believe you’re experiencing what you say you’re experiencing. Healthy people take it for granted how easy it is for them to stay rational, with a clear grip on reality. My favorite analogy about bipolar is one I just heard in the last two weeks. When you can’t see clearly, you put on glasses. Bipolar is “not seeing clearly” and even though people around me are seeing clearly, it doesn’t help ME to see clearly. Medication is equivalent to glasses that help clear up poor vision. And this leads me to another important part of being bipolar: I MUST surround myself with people I TRUST who also see clearly. This way, when my vision suddenly gets warped, if I don’t catch it myself, I can trust the people who love me when they say, “Hey Fæ…you’re a little off…”

I will be writing future posts about how you can help someone who’s bipolar as well as tips for people who suffer from bipolar themselves. If you are bipolar or have experience with it and you would be interested in writing a guest post for my blog, please contact me.

I will leave my readers with this: PLEASE believe someone when they tell you how they are feeling and what they are thinking. It is not enough to simply say, “Well that’s not true so stop doing/feeling/thinking XYZ.” A more helpful response is, “I believe you, that you are doing/feeling/thinking this way.” And then proceed to figure out what is the best way to help them. Some people just need to be validated and that is enough to move on. (I am often one of those people who simply needs to hear, “That is a very scary feeling and I’m so sorry you feel that way. Please trust me when I tell you that it’s not reflecting reality.”) Some people need consistent therapy to change negative pathways in the brain. Some people need medication. And some people (MOST people) need some combination of those things.

Feel free to comment with your own experiences or with suggestions for things you’d like to see in future posts about bipolar. I would also be happy to answer questions in the comment section. :)

To be continued…

** For those of you who may be concerned about the bleed-through of symptoms that I mentioned, I am in the care of a doctor who is going to help remedy this issue for me soon. :)

Ponderings: Love & Trust

If someone tells me they love me and I don’t believe them, I will be skeptical when they show their love to me. I will think I’m making things up or reading into things or “stretching things”, etc. 

If I believe they love me but I feel like I need to earn their love or repay them for it, then when they show their love, I’ll be reluctant to receive it or I’ll reject it, unless it just happens to be a day that I feel worthy of it. 

If I believe they love me freely, no matter what I do, I will be able to receive their love and relax in it all the time. It will feel like safety. It will cause me to feel joy and relief. 

How do you receive love from God? From family? Close friends? Your significant other?