Five Years Plus

{January 31, 2010}   Good Night Sweet Princess

Every January I start the New Year with a clean-up of my diet as I attempt to shed the pounds I’ve invariably gained over the holidays and reset my out of control eating patterns to in control.

This radical change in eating combined with many new activities that January brings creates both heightened energy and increased anxiety, leading to disturbed sleep. This sleep deprivation infiltrates every aspect of my day, making it difficult to complete ordinary tasks and almost impossible to make progress in the many projects which led me to feel overwhelmed in the first place.

Sleep deprivation holds a certain risk for me, as it is often associated with hypomania (mild mania). Given the right conditions this overexcitement can lead to a full-blown manic episode. My third (and final I hope) manic episode was five years ago and coincided with my breast cancer diagnosis. I do not label myself as having bipolar disorder. I have never experienced the deep depression that lies at the other pole and more fundamentally, I have created a life that is flexible enough to contain my mood swings without resulting in disorder.

I have never been interested in taking a long term medication to level out my moods and the possible side-effect of increased mood swings was one of the reasons I chose not to take tamoxifen. I rely on self-awareness and my husband’s observations (what’s fifteen minus nine?) to recognize a hypomanic state and take measures to settle my energy down while I still have the mental capacity to realize that this is best for me. I have learned that the seductive aspects of hypomania – such as increased self-confidence, feelings of connectedness (with me at the center!) and grandiose ideas – are empty. The ideas cannot be realized as I am unable to focus and the high burning energy that feels enjoyable leads to emotional vulnerability and physical exhaustion.

So it’s been a tough week. I hit a high point on Wednesday. As I waited for my massage therapist I felt my body buzzing so intensely it was uncomfortable to be in my own skin. My mind was racing from one topic to another, a technique that helps me avoid the physical discomfort but ultimately accelerates the overexcitement. The massage brought me back into my body and by Thursday I was able to calm the racing energy that kept rising up.

Four self-created rules help me contain my energy: 1) Stay in bed all night even if I am not sleeping, 2) Eat small frequent meals avoiding all stimulants, 3) Drink plenty of water, and 4) Limit social interaction, including Email. I also take herbal supplements to take the edge off. In the past I used Valerian root capsules. Currently I like a Stress Reduction formula that contains lemon balm and L-theanine (from Life Extension). I also keep some Adavan and Ambien on hand. Although I generally avoid taking these stronger pharmaceuticals they are a safety net that I know works for me.

Ultimately what is most effective is a good night’s sleep, whatever it takes. As my Mom used to say: “Good night sweet princess. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”


Jennifer Schutz says:

What a true pleasure & gift it is to know you. Your writing is beautiful – intimate yet approachable & illuminating. Really looking forward to following you & knowing you more through your blog journey.

jim says:

i think it’s amazing that even in your sleep-deprived, hypomanic state you can continue to write with such clarity and beauty….keep up the good work. do you ever use your mom’s goodnight prayer as a mantra during meditation?…i know if i could recall something soothing that my mother said to me, i would hold it close.

Lisa says:

A blessing that you have shared this information. I too have suffered with the very same hypomanic to manic states, which for me, are set off by a drastic change in my daily routine, and drinking too much caffeine during that time. My mind races and I feel hyper-confident and get these grandiose ideas. As a result, my heart races and I feel as if I am in a constant fight or flight state, which is ultimately exhausting. When I was in school having a periodic manic phase was useful, as I accomplished my curricular and extracurricular tasks and then some. But as I age, it is difficult to focus while I am racing and the body doesn’t keep up as readily.

Thankfully, I too have a regime that helps minimize or prevent my “spells”. This includes morning meditations before work, where I allow myself to feel grounded like the roots of a tree. I drink plenty of hot water during the day, and get some good high quality protein from a fish or legume source. Sleeping is a big problem for me too, and I still haven’t found any homeopathic or herbal supplements that work for me. I do take 1/2 tab of Ambien for a max of 3 consecutive nights. Another helpful aid is an ipod with some of my favorite soothing meditations playing gently in my ears. The voices are so soft that I am immediately brought back to my breathing.

Gyata, thank you for your eloquent cander. I have never told anyone about this before, and I am soooo blessed to have you as a Dharma sister and a loving friend.

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