Trying NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo_2015

Why not right? So many of you are doing NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling like I am missing out. I can’t handle a novel at this point in time. I’ve got a grant deadline in early December, so that is where all my writing should be going. I don’t think I could write a novel anyway. Blog posts are more my speed and what better way to get back into the habit of writing, right?

Actually, I should have been a little less impulsive in signing up yesterday. Considering this is the 4th post since I went MIA 7 months ago, this may be too big a commitment. I want to be writing again, but I am still having trouble managing depression. I was really looking forward to doing A-Z last April. I even prepared ahead of time! It didn’t matter though. Depression took over and it was a spectacular flop. At least it was spectacular right?! Glass half full. 🙂

Since this whole thing started yesterday, Halloween (I must have been possessed), I have no idea what I am doing. I did sign up at BlogHer, so I will probably be using the prompts over there most of the time. Outside of that, I’ll babble about depression, grad school and life in general. Sometimes the scientist in me just has to share something cool I learned. That has been rare in the last while since I am mad at my Ph.D. and everything related to it. Maybe I’ll try to doodle again, no promises though!

NaBloPoMo is really hard to write without typos. Does anybody say that out loud? I keep messing it up when I try to say it.

I will leave you with Ewok’s discovery of the Lego Express.

Happy NaBloPoMo everybody!

H is for Hopelessness

Ahhhhh, I dropped the ball on this challenge! It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write a post. I have. I just haven’t felt up to it. I guess I am sinking into another depressive episode.

Most people think “sad” when they hear someone is depressed. For me, being depressed has nothing to do with sad. It is hopelessness. Nothing is important, nothing is interesting, you hate yourself and everything is difficult. The worst part is, life is going to stay like this. Everyday, you push yourself to do the things that are required of you. Sometimes you succeed, which gives you no satisfaction and sometimes you fail which makes you hate yourself some more. Everyday is like this regardless of how hard you push yourself. It just goes on and on like this until you start to wonder, what’s the point?

NopeII

I started to do some reading about hopelessness. I guess I was looking for ways to overcome it. Anyway, I found out there are nine different types of hopelessness. Wow. There are nine different ways I can feel like this. Great. They all stem from one or more basic needs being disrupted. I was going to summarize the nine types for you, but this article is so short, you can read it. The article is heavy on CBT which, if you read my “C” post, you know I am not a fan of personally. CBT does make sense though, there is no arguing that.

In the end, I think learning about the nine different types of hopelessness will be helpful for me. Feelings are abstract and hard to understand, but they are always tied to a thought or set of circumstances. They don’t just occur in a vacuum on their own. Instead of trying to combat the hopeless feeling itself, I can determine what is causing it or which basic needs are being disrupted. At least this way I have something more concrete to work with.

Give the article a read. Tell me what you think.

H.O.P.E. Hold on, pain ends

H.O.P.E. Hold on, pain ends

G is for Glucose

I have a sweet tooth….a mouth full of them in fact! I eat pretty healthy….protein, complex carbs, lots of vegetables…but it’s the dessert. I can’t say no. Especially when it is cake. I’m not kidding when I call myself a cake addict in my tagline. Cake is my reward for completing a goal and it is my comfort when I am not feeling well (physically or mentally). Everyone teases me. My Dad even threatens to stick a bumper sticker on my car, “I brake for cake!”.

I love cake

There have been a lot of articles recently about the food-mood connection, how blood sugar and brain chemistry are related. To my dismay, sugar is bad for you. I’m not talking about all sugar. Your body does, after all, need some sugar (glucose, specifically) to function properly. Think back to high school biology, cell respiration…remember that? It all starts with glucose. Like any good thing however, too much is bad. Dessert has a lot of sugar and your body breaks it down into glucose quickly. Sugar rush!! It’s not just dessert though. Everyday foods like rice, bread, soda or fruit juice can put you over the top too.

People with low levels of serotonin (like those with depression) crave sugar. Too much sugar exacerbates mental health problems. Yes, another another endless cycle that those with mental illness have to fight. It’s not fair is it? At least now I know why I’ve always been a sugar addict.

Carbohydrate cravings have been linked to lower serotonin levels. Ingesting sugar releases insulin from the pancreas. Insulin alters the ratios of amino acids in the body causing there to be more tryptophan available and less of other amino acids. This means there is less competition for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain-barrier. In the brain, tryptophan can be converted into serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that is often low in those with depression. This explains why I reach for cake as soon as I start feeling down. The relief is only temporary though. Eventually things return to normal and less tryptophan is available to be converted to serotonin. This, of course, starts the whole sugar craving all over again. Keep in mind, this is just a fragment of a hugely complex picture.

Sugar has the potential to be addicting too. The more you eat it, the more you crave it. Sugar floods the brain with another feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Studies have show that sugar activates the same areas of the brain as cocaine and we all know how addictive cocaine is known to be.

There are 3 potential mechanisms through which too much sugar can be a burden on mental health.

  • Insulin and leptin resistance. Insulin resistance can impair signaling between brain cells. You know that foggy feeling you get when you are feeling low. You can’t really concentrate and you’re having trouble remembering things….insulin resistance contributes to that. Leptin is released to tell the brain you are full, building up a resistance can lead to constant overeating which leads to weight gain. And that always makes us feel great about ourselves right?
  • Chronic inflammation. Sugar overload triggers a set of reactions that lead to a low level of chronic inflammation. This doesn’t cause problems right away, but in the long term, chronic inflammation contributes to things like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Macular Degeneration. Inflammation in the brain is also thought to exacerbate depression.
  • Less Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is necessary for healthy neurons. Sugar suppresses the production of BDNF. Studies comparing those with depression to those without have found that generally, people with depression have significantly lower levels of BDNF. Meaning, sugar just lowers it even more. Ugh!

So I guess sugar is my best friend and my worst enemy.

Sources:
Neurology
Diabetes Care
Food for the Brain

F is for Friendship

F

The A to Z Challenge continues. Today is “F”. I am late posting today because I have been having trouble writing. My friend Lynne has gone in for surgery to get her cancer metastases removed from her liver. This surgery will determine whether she lives or not. Since Lynne wont be able to call me herself, I have been on Facebook all day waiting for an announcement from a family member. Nothing yet.

I did find something else though. I am not on my real Facebook very often, I usually use my alias for the blog. I decided to flip through some old friends I am not in touch with anymore to see what they were up to. I came across a guy I sort of went out with in middle school. Does it even count as going out at that age? Anyway, he died. Cancer. Apparently it happened really fast. For some reason I didn’t think cancer happened that quickly in your twenties. I’m kind of shocked and even more worried about Lynne now.

F is for friendship. F is for faith that Lynne will be ok. Lynne and I aren’t super close yet. She is my husband’s friend, they went to school together. Lynne has always been a bit of a workaholic too. It wasn’t until she started feeling unwell and had to take time off work that I got a chance to get to know her better. Although the circumstances suck, I am glad I got the opportunity to know her better.

zentangle owls friendship

Lynne and I actually bonded over mental health. She was having panic attacks at her hospital appointments and had to start seeing various mental health specialists. Since she was confiding all of this in me, I thought it was ok to tell her about my experience. We swapped stories and gave each other recommendations on who to see and what coping strategies to try for sleeping and reducing stress. This is the only time my mental health status was out before the friendship started.

If you have/had mental health problems, would you tell your friends? How do you think they would react? Do you have any friends that have confided in you about their mental health? How did you react?

It is always an internal debate, to bring it up or not? A mental health charity found that 40% of mental health service users were afraid to tell their friends of their condition. One third felt that friendships had already been strained or lost entirely due to their mental health. On the other side of things, 20-25% of people only found out a friend was having trouble after a hospitalization or a suicide attempt.

Friendship isn’t always easy to navigate when you have mental health problems. Friendships can get rocky if you over think them. They can also just fade away if you don’t have the energy to see people or call. Friendship is important though. Your friends are part of your support network. Friends reduce stress and give you more confidence. They are people you can confide in. They celebrate with you, they support you, they keep you grounded and can help you put things in perspective.

Friendship is a two-way street though. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Having a mental health problem doesn’t mean you are never able to support or laugh with someone else. I think it is important to put in the effort to maintain friendships, however difficult it may be.

E is for Ewok

E is for Ewok.

ewok_SW

No, not that kind of Ewok…..this kind!

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This is my Persian cat, Ewok. She’ll be 5 years old tomorrow. Plenty of studies have shown that pets are good for your mental health. They reduce tension and can improve your mood (except when they pee on something). Research has shown that spending just 20 minutes with your pet can lower cortisol, the stress hormone, levels and elevate serotonin. Interaction with animals is even a form of therapy in some cases. I am thankful every day that I have Ewok. She does so much for me. When I am at my worst and am sure everyone in my life would better off if I were gone, I think of Ewok. She is the only one I know wouldn’t be better off. I am her person. She needs me.

ewok belly up

Ewok keeps me company. Spending time with her makes me feel better. Petting her, playing with her or listening to her purr gives me something besides my inner monologue to focus on. Also, she needs me. As much as she’d like to think she was a ferocious little beast that could take care of herself, she can’t. She needs me, her little world revolves around me. It’s nice to be needed. Ewok is going to want me around and love me regardless of my mood, whether or not I got that grant for my research and despite my eating the whole chocolate cake. Pet love is unconditional, that’s a reason to keep going.

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Rooaarrrr from the ferocious beast! …or maybe just a sleepy kitty yawn.

Ewok helps me sleep. I love listening to her purring. Cats purr at a frequency of 25Hz, the same frequency that is used to help heal wounds faster in humans (reference). The rhythmic sound Ewok makes often helps me sleep. When I’m tossing and turning or my mind is racing, I put her beside my pillow and focus on the sound she is making. This usually helps me drift off. I’m assuming her purring means she is content which means I am doing something right. This gives me a peaceful feeling, allowing me to sleep. How do I get her to stay? I’m lucky she just likes to sleep with me every night. Unfortunately her favourite spot to sleep is on my face. So if I want her to stay, I have to wait until she is sleepy and then I can position her like putty.

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Ewok keeps me active. No, I don’t take her for walks. Ewok is a bit of a princess. She doesn’t like it when the wind ruffles her fur. Ewok and I do yoga together. Yes, you read that last sentence right. Yoga. Every time I do a workout video, I get out my yoga mat and I have to get Ewok’s mat out for her too. If I don’t workout often enough, she starts to remind me to get to it. Let me explain….. I do workout videos at home for which I use a yoga mat. I would start my workout and Ewok would be there……batting my ponytail as I did sit-ups, climbing under me as I did push-ups and weaving in and out of my legs as I did squats. Not to mention scratching my mat to pieces! She was driving me nuts and making it impossible to workout at home. One day I got fed up with her antics and her scratching, so I got out another mat, only half hoping she’d stay on the old one and leave me alone. To my surprise, she did! She loves that ridiculous hot pink mat! Without me in the way she was free to scratch and roll and contort herself all over it. So now we workout together. Me on my mat, Ewok on hers. If I haven’t worked out in a while she’ll head over to where I keep the mats and start scratching her pink one. Hey Mum, workout time!

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Ewok gives me purpose. She injects some humor in among the darkness. I’m not in a smiling mood at the moment, but here I am writing a post about Ewok and her ridiculous yoga mat and its already making me feel a little lighter. She sometimes inspires creativity too. I’ve made treats or toys for her in the past. I even make cartoon versions of her sometimes. I know it seems insignificant, but anything to distract me from the over-thinking and getting into that negative snowballing effect helps.

caticorn fwd and profile

Ewok as a unikitty!

steampunk superhero

Ewok and I as steampunk superheroes. She makes a great sidekick.

For one reason or another, not everyone can have a pet. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the interaction. I’m sure you have friends or relatives with pets that you can visit. If you are open to a little more commitment, you can also volunteer to walk neighbourhood dogs or work at the local animal shelter. For a less committed interaction try a bird feeder in the backyard or even going to the zoo could provide a nice distraction.

Do you have a pet, or wish you had one? What kind of animal do you wish you could interact with more often?

For more Ewok, visit “Meet Ewok” in my top menu.

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