Making Time for Exercise

Making Time for Exercise Bipolar Mom Life{photo by my kids}

This is the fourth post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

Growing up, I was never much of an athlete. Sure, I took dance classes since age eight, and swam on the swim team in the summers. But I could never stretch as far or jump as high as my dancer friends, nor swim fast enough to win first or second place in swim meets. Still, my love of being part of a team led me to meet some of my closest and dearest friends during college when I joined the club water polo team. I may have only scored one or two goals during my entire four years of playing, but I scored big time with the friendships I made through the sport.

Active, but not committed

Despite an active lifestyle for much of my childhood and early adulthood, I never pushed my body to truly discover what it was capable of. The closest I came to this was my junior year of college when I added a weightlifting routine to my water polo practice schedule following the advice of our coach. That year I was in the best shape of my life, but I got bored easily and gave up on the weight training during the spring semester.

Before my bipolar illness emerged, I was putting in long hours at the office, but I’d still make time for the gym. My husband and I belonged to a Gold’s Gym right across the street from our townhouse, and we’d go together five to six times a week. The time I’d log on the elliptical machine kept me in decent shape, but I always felt like dragging myself to the gym was such a chore. I didn’t look forward to it, I felt self-conscious, and when we moved we didn’t rush to join another gym. In fact, we bought an elliptical machine to put in our basement so we’d have the convenience of working out at home.

I attended my first yoga class at that Gold’s Gym, the week after I was released from my first psychiatric hospitalization. Yoga was exactly what I needed at that moment. Yoga calmed me, taught me how to breathe, and how to appreciate the struggles of my life.

Fitness took a back-burner when babies arrived

When I got pregnant in 2008, I used pregnancy as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. I gained 43 pounds during my first pregnancy and on my small frame it was a lot for me to carry. The elliptical machine definitely was worth the investment, although it took me an entire year to lose the baby weight. I was more conscious of my eating during my second pregnancy in 2010, and took a prenatal pilates class. I made healthier choices, gained only 23 pounds, and had a much easier time recovering from my repeat C-section.

In 2012, I became a vegetarian for about six months. I changed my eating habits and committed to an intense workout program, which jumpstarted my journey to a healthier lifestyle. Beachbody’s P90x program was exactly what I needed to understand what my body was capable of.

Realizing my potential

Since then, I’ve purchased several Beachbody home workout programs and have to say that I am a huge fan. They allow me to work out at home, whenever I can fit it into my schedule (which, with two kids on opposite school schedules, is a major benefit). Beachbody as a whole has moved almost all their programs to 30-minute workouts (or less! Shaun T has a 25-min workout), which makes their programs so attractive. For beginners, they always have a modification on the exercises in the videos, so if you are just starting out you follow the modifier until you’re strong enough to do the full exercise.

Exercise is now an important part of my treatment plan because it allows me to de-stress, unwind, and feel a sense of accomplishment for taking care of my body. Here are some tips for making exercise a priority in your daily life:

  • Write it down – schedule it on your calendar each day so that you don’t reach 9pm and realize you forgot to exercise
  • Set a goal – sign up for a 5k (or an 8k on the same day Annie runs her first half-marathon!) to give yourself something to work towards
  • Workout with a friend – set a date to walk with a friend or try out a new yoga or cycling class

I think it’s important to find a type of exercise that you enjoy, so that you don’t dread doing it. There are so many ways to get active: at-home workout DVD’s, walking, yoga, cycling classes, pilates, swimming, and more. Find what you love and then go for it!

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Brain

Healthy Eating Healthy Brain Bipolar Mom Life

This is the second post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

My eating habits are not perfect, nor do I believe in the “perfect” diet. But the way I eat today is drastically different than the way I used to eat when I first got sick with bipolar illness and I think a lot of it has to do with diet. What we feed our bodies fuels our existence and if we’re sustaining ourselves on frozen Lean Cuisine meals (my typical lunch when I was working as a recruiter in DC before I got sick) and snacks that come in 100-calorie packs plus a diet soda every day, it’s no wonder our health takes a nosedive.

Finding a Balance

I think moderation is the key. Two years ago I jumped on the juicing bandwagon and then went to a strict vegetarian diet. I felt good, but I wasn’t monitoring my Vitamin D and protein intake and started developing hair loss and fatigue. So I switched to a flexitarian diet and that works for me. I eat vegetarian mainly, but occasionally eat fish or meat. Snacks for me include nuts and fruits like apples, grapes or tangerines. I also love KIND bars when we travel.

I stopped drinking milk because of food documentaries like Food Inc., Forks over Knives, Fresh, and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead which reveal the sad truths about America’s dairy industry. (If you haven’t watched them yet, I highly recommend them all, and most are available on Netflix.) Instead I drink Almond milk, although I do eat cheese. When we eat meat, I try to make sure it’s organic, grass fed and local if possible.

Since this summer, we’ve been transitioning to a mainly gluten-free diet. It started out as a way to help our son with his digestion issues, but I’ve begun to feel the benefits of it and believe it does contribute to a more healthful approach to eating.

I’m not saying a diet like mine is the only answer to staying mentally healthy, but I do believe that diet plays a big part in the overall puzzle of how we manage our mental health.

Curbing my Sugar Addiction

Like most Americans, I have a feisty sweet tooth. I used to crave candy and cookies, but have found that since eliminating as much processed foods and wheat as I can from my diet, the cravings have died down. When I grocery shop, I use the “shop the perimeter” tip of avoiding the aisles in the center of the store since that’s where most of the processed foods are located. Instead of packaged cookies like Oreos or Chips Ahoy, I bake Paleo chocolate chip cookies occasionally with my kids who don’t even notice the difference. We also mix up a batch of energy balls once a week – Pinterest has a gazillion recipes and is my favorite place to find a recipe based on the ingredients I have in my pantry.

I’ve also found that books like Brain Grain by David Perlmutter, MD, open my eyes to what food does to our brains and how easy it is to make adjustments to the food choices we make in order to regain wellness. It’s time we educate ourselves on the power of whole foods instead of processed foods and water instead of soft drinks or juice.

Cutting Back on Caffeine

I am a 2-cup-in-the-morning gal when it comes to coffee. I occasionally enjoy an afternoon cuppa but not after 2pm, so it doesn’t interfere with sleep. If I have more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day it tends to make me feel jittery and I end up regretting it.

Instead, I switch to caffeine-free tea, which I’ve been loving in these winter months. And ever since I started using essential oils, my water is no longer boring. I add a drop of Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit or Tangerine and I have a refreshing, natural hydrating beverage which I feel good about drinking.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a soda or a beer or a glass of wine occasionally, because I do. It’s knowing that I feel better when I pay attention to the hydration my body needs which makes the difference.

 

Do you feel like changes in your diet have an impact on your mental health? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Using essential oils for a healthy lifestyle

 

essential oils for healthy lifestyle

essential oils for healthy lifestyle

This is the first of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

 

I became obsessed with essential oils during the fall of 2013. Today I’m not sure how I ever lived without them.

(This is not a post encouraging you to buy essential oils from me, but if you are so inclined, I do sell them and you can email me for more info: jennifer(at)bipolarmomlife.com.)

I want to share with you the difference essential oils have made in my life. After ordering the intro kit (Lemon, Lavender and Peppermint) from an old high school friend of mine who was a Wellness Advocate under (surprise!) another high school friend of ours, I became hooked.

Peppermint boosts mood, so whenever I feel sluggish during the day, a deep inhale of Peppermint energizes me. It’s also a great breath freshener. A drop of peppermint does wonders for a fuzzy, post-lunch mouth.

The Lemon oil is my favorite way to flavor my drinking water during the day. Water can be so boring, but we all know how important it is for us to drink. A drop of lemon oil makes water tasty. I also love cooking with Lemon oil. And for cleaning, in a spray bottle with water, it was great to cut grease on countertops and mildew on shower walls.

These two oils are wonderful, and they have plenty of other uses. The versatility of essential oils is what makes them amazing. But Lavender was an absolute game-changer.

When I want to enjoy a restful night’s sleep, essential oil is KEY!

Lavender has an incredibly relaxing scent, and when I apply it to the bottom of my feet before bed and a drop to my chest so my body heat diffuses it for me, it helps me to enjoy a restful sleep.

Lavender oil helps me to relax and enjoy a heavy, deep sleep. There are nights when my son will come into our room, crawl into our bed, and I won’t even know until I wake up to his sweet face sharing my pillow. I don’t wake up at 2am to empty my bladder anymore. My nights are filled with restful, perfect sleep and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Since I’ve been using essential oils for over a year now, I’ve had a chance to try many of the fabulous products. But the oils I love the most are the ones that enhance sleep. My favorites are kept on my nightstand. I now alternate between Lavender, Marjoram, Bergamot, Serenity and Cedarwood for sleep. They all work equally well.

Essential oil Quality

I have only ever used one brand of essential oils, but I did do a little research last time I was at the grocery store. There is a large display of essential oils at my local Wegman’s in the Wellness aisle. I was curious, so I spent a few minutes opening the sample bottles and sniffing the various oils and blends.

What a dramatic difference. The oils in the store smelled like a chemical version of my normal brand’s, barely even close to the aroma of the oils I had come to love. I don’t know why I was surprised. The oils I buy are Pure Therapeutic Grade, meaning they are 100% pure, free of fillers or artificial contaminants such as pesticides or other chemical residues. Plain and simple, I trust the oils I buy because I research how they are made.

An investment in my health

Essential oils aren’t cheap, but for the many ways I benefit from using them, they are completely worth the money. I’ve made an investment in my health, and I am so glad I was introduced to the many benefits of using essential oils.

Have you tried essential oils? If not, what are you waiting for? Email me at: jennifer@bipolarmomlife.com if you have any questions.

Confession of a Lithium-taker

confession of a lithium-taker

I have a confession to make. I haven’t had a blood Lithium level done in over a year. My psychiatrist has the patience of a saint, but at my last appointment she got a teeny bit irritated with me.

Time is what we want the most, but what we use the worst. – William Penn

 

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s the first thing I remember I haven’t done when I notice my quarterly psychiatrist appointment on my calendar. And by then it’s too late to squeeze in a blood draw, so instead I make excuses of how busy I’ve been and how challenging it is to get to the lab within the 8-12 hour window after my nightly dose with two kids in tow, not to mention their school schedules.

Plus, blood tests just suck in general. Who likes to get pricked with a needle first thing in the morning. I’d rather run three miles in the freezing rain.

I take my medication religiously, I tell her. And I do. Every night it’s the last thing I do before crawling under the covers. It’s been one of the keys to keeping me stable these last four plus years. Staying faithful to this medication which has given me my life back is a promise I made to my husband and father the morning I was released from the my last hospitalization. I won’t break that promise. My family and my health are too important not to swallow a little pill which keeps me “in the middle” each night. Unfortunately, regular blood tests come with the territory.

Making my health a priority

 

I’m sure other moms can relate to how I tend to put everyone else’s needs and issues before my own. Us moms are just used to being last in line. Running a household isn’t easy, the to-do list is constantly over-flowing with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, picking up toys/messes/clutter, morning send-off, bedtime routine, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I do have time to myself the last thing I want to do is get a blood test. I’d much rather be making out with my husband, writing, reading, soaking in a bubble bath, or catching up with friends.

So I subconsciously put it off. Apparently for over a year, as per my doctor’s chart. Not good, as she needs to check my THS (thyroid stimulating hormone) since long-term Lithium use can affect the function of the thyroid.

Keeping that promise – an early New Year’s resolution

 

We all have things we put off in regards to our health. Maybe it’s a colonoscopy. Or a dentist appointment. Or a simple blood test. We need to stop making excuses and start giving our health the priority it deserves. Especially our mental health.

Why not get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions by scheduling those appointments you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have something going on in your life and you’ve been meaning to find a therapist to help you work through it. Or you’ve been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks. Maybe you have a hard time coping with the holidays in general.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make your mental health a priority, on all fronts. Calling a friend and sharing the hard stuff may seem intimidating, but those conversations end up to be the richest, most gut-twisting talks that at the same time are filled with relief and encouragement. Friends who know you best and who can relate allow us to see that we’re not alone.

As for me, the first call I made (well, actually it was a click using the online appointment-scheduler) was to the lab to make that appointment to get my arm pricked and the results sent to my doc. I’m heading in tomorrow after I drop my daughter off at preschool and I know it’ll feel good to check it off my list.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow. Just do it. – Nike