Monday, September 22, 2014

Cutting carbs like my life depends on it

I recently had some blood work done. On September 11th, my doctor told me my blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides were high. I do NOT want diabetes, heart disease or any of the other health problems associated with high blood sugar, so this is my call to action. I've done a lot of reading on the causes of high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, so I'm putting a certain theory to the test. The theory is that the cause of these problems is excess consumption of carbohydrates, not fat.

On September 12th, I drastically cut down on starchy and sugary foods and sweetened drinks. I still allow myself crackers, juice, oatmeal and both fresh and dried fruit, but mostly I eat meat, seafood, vegetables, avocados, eggs, poultry and cottage cheese. Eating as much of these foods as I want, I never go hungry, but this isn't easy for me. I've been addicted to sugar since childhood. Fortunately, after cutting sugar out of my diet cold turkey a few times in my life, I've gotten better at it. This time I'm very relieved that cutting sweets and starches is going the most smoothly yet, with the fewest cravings ever. I'm relieved because I think I've pushed my body as far as it can safely go with all the sugary and starchy food I've eaten my whole life. At the age of 48, it's time to make a permanent change.

So I committed to this cleaner way of eating and experienced a big energy dip for a few days, but that's one of the side effects of a drastic reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Within a week I felt better. Today, on the 22nd, I'm doing very well. I'm eating better and improving my health with no hunger at all. Well, if this theory about starches and sugars is correct, then I'm good. If not, I guess I'll find out because I'm going to keep this up. My doctor said she'll run blood work again in December and we'll see how this experiment ends...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez

This is what I've been waiting and planning for. A woman named Gina Rodriguez is poised to become a household name. She's an actress from Chicago, born to Puerto Rican parents, who plays the character Jane Villanueva in the new series Jane the Virgin. I don't know how likely success is for a series in which a young Miami Latina becomes accidentally artificially inseminated during a pelvic exam (plus this series will air on the CW network), but I have faith that even if Jane the Virgin isn't a hit, this Gina Rodriguez will make her way into the mainstream.

"Gina Rodriguez" actually used to be my name when I was little. After I started blogging in the aughts, I realized "Regina Rodriguez' is a very common name, so when I married a Martin, I eagerly hyphenated. I've been waiting for a famous Regina Rodriguez to emerge (actor, politician, sportswoman, she could be anything). When she did, my hyphenated name would keep me from being confused with her when I became a published author (any year now).

"Gina Rodriguez" and "Regina Rodriguez" are very popular names in the U.S, so it's about time one of us finally emerged into the national spotlight. Go, Gina! Maybe I'll even watch your show.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pants*

*In the United States, pants refers to the garment others call trousers.

(A post in which I do nothing but whine.)

I haven't allowed myself to buy pants in quite a while. In 2012 I went from a size 10 to size 14 and in 2013 I went from size 14 to size 16/18. Why did I pile 40 extra pounds onto my 5'2" (57 cm) frame in just eight months? It was an attempt to free myself from my food obsessions and in large part, it worked. After giving myself months to eat whatever I wanted, guilt-free, I felt considerably less pull towards donuts, processed lunch meat and cookies. Certainly, allowing myself to eat them all day long cured me of the desire to eat them all day long. I came out of the experiment free of my worst food habits, but 40 (or was it 50?) pounds bigger.

Since 2013, I've wondered what I'm supposed to do with my new bigger body. I'm not about to trigger my food issues with a diet, but after being roughly size 8 for most of my adult life, I can't shake the desire to lose this weight. I suspect this is similar to a woman who puts on 40 pounds with a pregnancy and then feels dismay/disappointment/disgust when the weight is still all there a year after having the baby.

After outgrowing my entire wardrobe in 2013, I allowed myself enough pieces to get me through the work week at my office job, but I've been really stingy about it. I can't accept that this is the size my body will be from now on, so my closet has been the emptiest that it's been since I was in college. For over a year I've gotten by with two pairs of pants (elastic waists), three skirts (elastic waists), some sleeveless tops and that's about it. After outgrowing my winter coat, I took over my then-husband's raincoat that he never wore and layered sweaters underneath it. Since my ex-husband is 5'10", that means when the weather is cold, I sweep along like Cousin It. I look like I have no pride and can't afford a new coat.

It's a very common story: woman gains weight and punishes herself with an inadequate wardrobe in anticipation of getting back into the slim clothes any month now. But this fall I've decided enough is enough. I'm tired of wearing the same few clothes every week, so yesterday I went out to buy pants that aren't elastic-waist and that have pockets. I have so missed having pants with pockets. My shopping started at Macy's where I found a bargain on three pairs of slacks (with pockets) and ended at Lane Bryant.

To look at me, you might not guess that I wear a size 16. I'm a short person with small hands and a narrow frame, but here's why my 170 pounds have to go into a size 16 pair of pants: I have an apple shape. While the rest of the garment drapes over my hips and legs, my belly fills every millimeter of a size 16 pant waist. If this same mass were distributed in an hourglass or even a pear shape, I could comfortably fit it into a size 14 or maybe 12. But we can't change our shape, only how big it is. My biology packs on the weight right through the gut, so it's the gut I have to accommodate. The largest circumference of my body is about 3 cm. below my belly button and that means size 16 pants.

It makes me feel unfeminine. I've learned that women are (supposed to be) hourglass- or pear-shaped while men are apple-shaped. But how can that be true when I'm related to so many apple-women and I see so many of us on the street, especially with Chicago's large Mexican population? Apple-women seem to be everywhere, yet women's clothing is often tailored for a form that becomes narrower in exactly the place where I spread out the most. Am I a man-woman? Is my X-chromosome defective because it didn't give me a pear-shape?

And, of course as we all know, carrying extra weight in the abdomen is the most dangerous. Women with sizable hips, butts and thighs might bemoan their shapes, but at least they're carrying their fat in the right places, the healthy places. They have real waists. They have real hips. They're real women.

All of this contributes to my hatred of my body. In Macy's on Chicago's State Street, the largest size in the petite section was 16 and that's what fit comfortably. In those slacks, my butt disappeared and my legs were lost in the fabric, but the pregnant-looking mass of fat in my abdomen FILLED THE WAIST FULLY, like a scrawny, no-ass guy with a beer gut. It didn't help that two of the pairs were on sale. That should have been a score (fifty percent off!), but instead it struck me as proof that no one else wanted these pants. These were no treasure.

Dejected, I walked across the street to Lane Bryant on Wabash. Lane Bryant made me feel better because in their sizing, 14/16 is the smallest. Hey, how 'bout it! Maybe it's all relative, I thought. Maybe I shouldn't shop anywhere ever again besides Lane Bryant. But since their pants were considerably more expensive than the bargains I'd found, I didn't get any more. I constantly hope my bigger-than-the-rest-of-my-body gut will start to reduce, so I'm willing to dress my belly in pants that fit, but I'm not spending real money on it.

Lane Bryant didn't have a lot of tops to choose from, but the jackets caught my eye. I thought about how the only outerwear of mine that fit was a men's hoodie and that huge men's raincoat. I had fully expected to be at least one size smaller by this winter, but I decided it was time to stop the denial. Part of me grumbled with resignation while another part went slack with relief as I bought myself a fall jacket that should get me through a couple of months.

I brought my purchases home without my usual joy of new clothes because everything felt like a sign of capitulation to my fattened state. But if I'm honest with myself, I remember that I also didn't like my body when I was thin. The problem isn't that I'm fat. The problem is that I don't like myself. I was dissatisfied with my body at size 8, too. The truth is that I've never liked my body, never felt like it was the right size or shape, never felt comfortable in it. It's not really about what I look like or how much I've gained, it's just my old habit of hating myself. The self-loathing always comes back. So, this is a post of whining and self-hatred. So it goes. I'm trying to be open to a new way of thinking about myself, but it's slow going.

Jacket might look black, but it's navy blue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

National Suicide Prevention Day



Have you ever thought it would better if your life just ended now? If so, you know what I'm talking about. Does it absolutely baffle you that anyone would rather be dead than alive? If so, then please read one of the best things I've read about why people kill themselves. This is National Suicide Prevention Week and today is National Suicide Prevention Day. National Suicide Prevention Day is one of those things that seems like a good idea, but what are you supposed to do about it? Do this: read this post.

When I read Therese Borchard's "What Suicidal Depression Feels Like," I felt relieved to find that she thinks similarly to how I do about death. Borchard, like me, envies dead people for being finished with life and all its pain. My favorite part of her piece is her quotation of American novelist David Foster Wallace on suicidal depression:

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e., the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

When life becomes endless pain, no matter how unknown and intimidating death is, death starts to seem like the better option. And life becomes endless pain to people whose brains just don't function the way the majority do, no matter how hard we try. I maintain that people should be allowed the right to decide when our lives end, but if we can be given a little longer to receive the help we need and think about if we really want to die, that's probably worth a suicide prevention or two. If this whole suicide thing perplexes and/or irritates you, please read Borchard's post.

Blogging, not perfection

I went through the titles of all my blog posts (yes, every one) to tag the ones that are about my music, and realized that I've been taking my blog way too seriously. I used to post a few times a day, not a few times a month. And lately I've been posting mostly when I have some big opinion about a national issue. So my Jewish New Year's resolution is to post more often about whatever is in my head, whether it feels important or not. Here I go.

I never heard from the literary agent about my book manuscript, which I take as a good sign. It means that I'm doing this, plus even the best authors started out getting rejected a lot. It also gives me another chance to make it better. From talking to a friend in the publishing world, I've realized that a manuscript of 49,000 words is short for a real book, so I'm going to put some more work into it before I submit it again. But how do I add another 10 or 20 thousand words to a manuscript that feels complete to me?

This is probably a good time to get a professional writing coach/editor's help, so that's my next step. A fresh set of eyes with years of experience helping people polish book manuscripts should get me where I want to go. Where to I want to go? I've decided to really try to get this thing published by an actual publisher. If I do that instead of self-publish, they'll do the work of cover graphics and marketing, etc. I'll see if I can get there. If not, then self-publishing is still an option.

And that's where I am on the dog ebook, for anyone who was wondering.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

What do they do if you're in a coma?


No one who's in perfectly good health ever thinks they need to worry about ending up in the hospital tomorrow, but things happen. I'm sure you can think of people who were fine one day and then, in a moment, it all changed. They didn't think they needed to make known their desires about what do if they were seriously ill and incapable of communicating, but suddenly their family had to make those decisions when those family members were in the worst condition to do that. Terrible accidents happen. Give your loved ones a break and make as many of those tough decisions ahead of time as possible.

Aging With Dignity offers a document you can easily fill out and make copies of so that the critical people know what you'd like to have done if you're ever incapacitated. Give it to the people you want making those decisions, your doctor(s), your close family. You can order a copy of their publication Five Wishes, which allows you to make the following things clear:
  • The person I want to make care decisions for me when I can't
  • The kind of medical treatment I want or don't want
  • How comfortable I want to be
  • How I want people to treat me
  • What I want my loved ones to know
I filled one of these out when I was 40. I asked three friends to help make my wishes clear if I'm ever in a coma or otherwise unable to make decisions for myself. I gave one friend the power to make those decisions. The other two will support him against anyone who wants their will done instead of mine, and they'll help my family with final arrangements if I should die. I like to call the three of them my death panel. I then gave copies of this document to my primary care doctor, my family and my therapist.

Some might expect me to have chosen my spouse (when I had one) or a close family member to be the one who decides, but that would probably be too hard for them. The people I've chosen love me enough to hate the idea of me dying while at the same time prioritizing what I want, even if that means me dying. It's a tough request to make of anyone and I'm very grateful to the friends who have agreed to it. (I actually plan on outliving them, but this is all about "just in case.")

A few weeks ago life felt way too hard for me and I found myself gazing into Lake Michigan, wondering what drowning feels like. After a few minutes, I tried to steer my mind away from that question and managed to get as far as "But what would happen after I drowned?" That got me thinking about another document I created several years ago about how I'd like my remains handled and how I'd like to be remembered. I went home, got on my laptop and began updating my "In Case of My Death" instructions. Then I pulled out my seven-year-old copy of Five Wishes and decided to revise that, too. In this way, I took my death-focus and made it productive, and by the time I was done, my fantasies about dying were gone. (For me that's called a good day.)

It's a horrible thing to have someone close to you end up on life support or die, but it's made worse when people who are emotionally devastated have to make decisions about feeding tubes and treatment options and Do Not Resuscitate orders. It's a godsend when the person herself has spelled out what she wants ahead of time. That way the family has to spend a lot less energy agonizing over, "What would she have wanted?" as they consider organ donation and other end-of-life questions.

American hate death and we hate considering our own mortality, but this is really a favor to those who care about you. When you make clear what you want ahead of time, you give people the peace of mind of knowing they're making the right decisions. Clearing the way for your friends and family to focus on what's really important in the event of your death is a true gift. No matter how healthy and strong you are right now, please do it.



Saturday, September 06, 2014

My music

You might notice that on the right side of this webpage is a link to my digital album. Click here to sample my 14 songs (only available digitally). I wrote them between 1997 and 2007, although I didn't put this album together until 2013 (with the mastering help of New York jazz pianist Robert Cowie). Each year that I get farther away from those songs, the better they sound (I get less judgmental about my creativity), so I'd like to write about them now. Consider these "liner notes."

On this album I sing and play electric bass. Wonderful Chicago jazz musician Neal Alger is on guitar. A guy named Jean Leroy did the percussion, but he's only on a few tracks. 

"Going of Age" - This is one of my favorites because it's so relevant to my life. It's about facing the reality that you're not a young woman any more and you're only going to get older from here, but that's okay because there's a power and grace to being older. I loved this song when I wrote it at age 37 and still do at age 48. The same link gets you to all the songs (99 cents American each or US$9.99 for the whole album).

"Moving Through Madness" - One of my songs about depression, although it's so upbeat, the music sounds pretty cheerful. It means a lot to me that a friend who also lives with chronic depression says she's played this song over and over again at certain times in her life. In real liner notes, I'd dedicate this song to her. It's been a powerful song for me too and contains one of my favorite lyrics: "I am everything you could ever want in a woman, plus the nightmare." I'm sure my ex-husband would agree (I wrote it years before I met him).

"Not So Bad" - another song about depression that sounds happy and upbeat (I don't know why that happens). But this song has a little story in it with a good ending and it actually happened to me in 2003.

"An Atheist's Prayer" - This song expresses how I feel about my atheism and if it gives the Christians ammunition against atheism, so be it.

"The Baker's Prayer" - you optimistic, religious/spiritual people might like this one. Twenty years ago, I read the story of a baker who prays in a unique way to God, but I failed to make note of the name or title of the book. It was a collection of stories for children and this tale stayed with me. Years after reading it (when I still believed in a mechanistic universe), I turned it into a song in the hope that someone would recognize it and tell me how to find that book. Now I don't care so much.

"Solterona" - this is my only song with a chorus that's half in English and half in Spanish (the Spanish is a translation of the English) and I got help with it from my mother. My mother had strong language skills and I never could have written a chorus like this without the help of a bilingual with some poetry in her. She received my gratitude when she first heard the recording back in 2004. "Solterona" means "spinster" (as in Spinster Power!).

"The Penguin Song" - This was a favorite of people who came to see me back when I used to perform in Chicago (my audiences were probably mostly friends and ex-lovers, ha!). I used to introduce it by saying, "And now a song about the lesser sung animals." Other verses are about a hedgehog and a cicada.

"Song for Valentine's Day" - This was one of the first songs I ever wrote, but I changed the lyrics a few times before I recorded it. Now it's pretty much about sex.

"Before a Dream Is Realized" - I was totally into the woo-woo when I wrote this one. After I pitched my spiritual beliefs out the window, I couldn't stand this song. The lyrics actually refer to "the Universe." Euw!

"Stay" - another one of my favorites. These are the only lyrics I wrote with my ex-husband in mind (near the beginning of our relationship).

So check them out if you need an uplifting or introspective tune. I'm happy to provide lyrics if anyone wants to know exactly what I'm singing. One day when I get my reginarodriguezmartin website up (I've bought the domain, but there's nothing there now), maybe I'll publish the words. And if you're interested in the story of why I started singing and songwriting, and why I stopped, that's here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

I wasn't wired right

Why don't I fear what most others fear? Things like losing my job, being divorced or having others think badly of me?

Because the boogie man is inside my head and I don't have enough fear for the stuff that's outside of me, too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson, racism, etc.

Maybe the U.S. is reaching a crisis point at which things will have to change. Maybe not. You'd think police forces would learn that using military grade weapons and technology contributes to escalation of emotion and racial tensions, but they don't seem to be. It makes me furious that to be black in the U.S. is to always be in a state of vigilance, carefully altering one's behavior so as not to make anyone feel threatened. That is: altering one's behavior so as not to make anyone at all feel threatened in the least. To be a black person outside of one's home in the U.S. is to constantly navigate the impressions that others might have of you, impressions you must be aware of because if anyone misinterprets your behavior you will pay the price.

I see an Ayurvedic practitioner whose office is on Oak Street in the most expensive shopping district of Chicago, Illinois USA. Oak Street is near "The Magnificent Mile" which is where you go to drop hundreds of dollars on a single scarf. I arrived early for my most recent appointment and stood outside the building, not wanting to be too early. The doorman for my practitioner's building stood on the sidewalk not far from me. I had nowhere to go, being surrounded by stores that I'd never patronize. For a couple of minutes, I pretended to be window shopping, but then I just stood there.

No, this isn't an it-happened-to-me-too story. The doorman took little notice of me and I knew it was because of my white privilege. "White privilege" means I have enough physical markers of money, education and higher-than-working-class-social-standing that I'm accepted as an honorary white person. This is true even though all my grandparents came from Mexico. My white privilege meant I could loiter on that expensive sidewalk without anyone calling the police or asking me to move on. I believe my markers were my coffee-with-cream skin color, fashionable haircut and eyeglasses, nice purse and shoes, and that I carry myself as if I belong anywhere I happen to be standing. One of the reasons I've developed my yes-I-belong-here attitude is that I was raised in a white neighborhood and went to the best schools. I'm a Mexican American with an unusual amount of white privilege.

As I finally approached the building, I saw a slender, blond woman sitting on the ledge of a store window talking on her cell phone. I tried to imagine a black man of her age being able to do the same thing. At that moment I realized that she and I fit into the same category of non-threatening white people. I felt grateful and disgusted.

I'm aware of my white privilege. I could say that I wear it like a sticky rain slicker: I appreciate its protection, but it doesn't quite sit right and I wish I didn't need it at all. But it's much more dangerous than that. To have white privilege is to inhabit the dichotomy of white-versus-black that this country was practically founded on. We who aren't being targeted by the Ferguson police, who are watching things unfold on the Internet or on TV, might feel like we're sitting on the sidelines of this one, wishing we could be there to support those fighting for justice.

But Ferguson is no epicenter of racism. Racism is everywhere and by racism I mean people making assumptions based on skin color. People like to say, "I'm not a racist" as if racism were always physically violent and hostile. But racism is also nice, polite, quiet and clean. Racism is expecting someone who looks Chinese to speak English with a Chinese accent. Racism is assuming that someone who looks Indian and wears white collar clothes knows a lot about computers and software. Racism is asking a non-Caucasion-looking person "Where are you from? But I mean where are you from?" Racism is assuming that someone with my education, speech and habit of dress isn't one of those Mexicans. And white privilege is racist because white privilege assumes that physical characteristics and mannerisms can tell you what a person is like inside.

All Americans make such assumptions. It's simply part of our culture. I'm racist. You're racist. If someone was raised in the United States, he or she is racist. It doesn't mean we're bad people. It just means we've learned this short-hand for making sense of a society that contains countless cultures and sub-cultures. But it's a short-hand that's so outdated that resistance to it has become too loud to ignore. All we Americans are racist and it's past time to change so that black men in their 50's and older don't have triple-check to make sure they're entering the right building through the right door at the right time of day so no one thinks they look suspicious. Because that is a bullshit way for anyone to live.

Let's take the sting out of the word "racist." Let us all examine our white privilege. Let's start dismantling the assumption of race wherever we happen to be, even though we're not in Ferguson, Missouri USA, facing M-16A2 rifles and armored vehicles.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bipolar disorder, depression unhinge you from reality

When you find out someone died of cancer, do you wonder how they could have hurt their loved ones by doing that? Do you suspect they took the coward's way out? Do you think, "But he had it all: money, marriage, great kids, a successful career. Why would someone like that develop cancer and die?"

No, I doubt you'd respond like that to a death by cancer, but those are the reactions that many people had to Robin Williams' suicide, which was a result of his bipolar disorder. In the United States some form of mental illness affects about one in five people, but Americans remain in heavy denial about it. We'd rather believe Robin Williams was an incomprehensible jerk than accept that he had bipolar disorder. We prefer that view because we feel great prejudice against the mentally ill, assuming that they're violent and dangerous. This reflects our ignorance. People who live with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, chronic depression and other mood/personality disorders are no more violent than anyone else. If we're dangerous to anyone, it's to ourselves.

I've struggled with depression for decades. I suspect my first depressive episodes were in high school, but I didn't receive a clinical diagnosis until my mid-30's. I actually felt relieved to learn what my problem was. So that was why I felt so hopeless and angry all the time: I was depressed. I willingly began the process of working with a psychiatrist to find out what prescription drugs worked for me. As the months went by and we figured out what helped, the gloom gradually lifted until I stopped thinking I'd be better off dead. Eventually, I even regained cheerfulness and enjoyment of life.

Since then I've gone up and down, even while on medication. For some people, depression is caused by prolonged stress, grief, loneliness or other life circumstances. But for those of us with chronic depression or depression as part of bipolar disorder, it doesn't need a trigger at all. Like other chronic conditions such as migraines, back trouble and insomnia, sometimes we can point to a reason that the problem has come back and sometimes we can't. It just is.

If someone tells you, "I've got a bad cold," you don't ask, "Why?" But that's what those of us with depression often hear. If I say, "I'm depressed today," friends often want to pinpoint a problem that can be fixed. They don't understand that my depression isn't a feeling; it's a mood disorder. It means my chronic condition has flared up and all I can do is manage the symptoms.

One thing (of many) that's difficult about living with depression is that everyone thinks they know what it is. Because everyone's had a bad day or felt gloomy about something, they think they've been depressed. We misuse the term. If someone notices a scratch on their car, they might say, "Well, that's depressing," when what they mean is that it's sad or discouraging or angering. But those are emotions. Depression isn't an emotion. Depression is a host of symptoms that are bigger than an emotional reaction to a single thing.

Depression is not an emotion. Yesterday people responded to Robin Williams' death with sadness, grief, and feeling devastated. Those are emotional responses. In contrast, hearing about Robin didn't evoke any emotions for me, but made me think about times when I wished my life would end. Late in the day I began to think that if an incredible person like Robin Williams could pack it in, then what am I doing here? By evening my eyes glazed over and my mindset shifted into that familiar I'm-here-but-I'm-not. Instead of going home for dinner, I lay on a park bench and tried not to be me. I wanted out of my skin, out of my brain, out of my existence. Getting up and walking felt too hard. Being felt too hard.

For me, those are symptoms of depression. Fortunately, they didn't last and by morning I felt better. Like many other people, I used to think depression just meant feeling bad. I thought depression meant I needed some happy pills so I could stop crying and wanting to die. It wasn't until I got married that I realized that depression is also delusional. Only in close relationship with someone else did I get some perspective on what my mind was doing when depression took over.

Depression actually changes the way I perceive reality. People can say nice things to me all day long, but I won't hear them. Any external encouragement gets drowned out by the opinions that live in my head. So what if I'm pretty? I'm clearly a loser who can't get a man to love me. So what if I'm smart and funny? I can't even cheer myself up. So what if people enjoy my company and love to be around me? If I were really worth anything I'd have a better job/be thinner/be married/be capable of getting through a damn day without falling apart. When I'm depressed, I envy dead people who have been excused from the table and no longer have to worry about anything. When I'm depressed, I want to curl up and sleep until I become someone else. I hate myself. Looking in the mirror shows me a fat, ugly person no one could ever want. When I'm depressed, I resent ever having been born.

The delusion gets worse when death starts to look like a great idea. It's been over a decade since the last time I felt that way, but let me tell you: wanting to die was NO indication that I'd stopped caring about my friends and family. Wanting to die didn't mean putting my needs before theirs. In the delusion of suicidal depression, death looks like it meets the needs of all concerned. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? It sounds completely nutjob to think your family or kids will be happier without you, right? Sure it does because you're not in the grip of depression. But death really does look like the perfect solution when your perception of reality has become completely twisted by your mood disorder.

Depression doesn't mean having a bad day and suicide doesn't mean you've decided you're more important than the people who might be affected by your death. Suicidal depression includes believing that everyone will be better off without you, that you just don't matter much, that your death will actually make the world a better place. That level of depression means your existence has become nothing but your pain and the pain you believe you're causing others. Major depression means becoming someone who doesn't believe their life is worth much.

Unless you know what bipolar disorder or depression are like from experience, don't judge anyone's actions while they're in it. Americans must learn more about mental illness, especially as it affects more and more people with every generation. It can cause an unhinging from reality that leads to devastating decisions because the person isn't in his right mind. The millions of people who suffer from mood disorders need understanding and much more support than we usually get. It's just as inappropriate to hold a mentally ill person responsible for their suicide as it is to hold someone responsible for their death from Alzheimer's disease. Both suffer from conditions beyond their control.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression is much deadlier than "the blues"

There are many people who suspect death might be better than life. Not all of us run the (one-way) experiment of suicide, but doubting that life is worthwhile is a much more common outlook than the media would have us believe. Most of us simply never talk about how much we long to take the place of people who die of illness, in combat, or on the streets, especially when those people have children to raise and we do not. 


I wish Americans would accept how much pain there is for many of us, just in daily life. We hear about suicides such as Robin Williams' and are shocked every time. Robin had biplolar disorder. When will we face the reality that mental illness is extremely widespread? When your world has narrowed to the pain of simply being alive and your only goal is to end your agony, then yes, suicide is a solution. It's a solution to the problem of being alive.

People who hold Williams’ responsible for the pain he has caused his wife and family show a fundamental lack of understanding of bipolar disorder, part of which is major depression. Depression isn't just having a bad day. The distortions of depression unhinge you from reason. No suicidal person ends it because she/he no longer cares about loved ones. “Selfishness” doesn’t apply to depression the way many Americans seem to think it does.

But Americans are too squeamish to accept that a large number of people live with bipolar disorder. We naively offer platitudes and logic to convince the despairing that life is worthwhile. We hope that calling out "Don't give up!" will fulfill our responsibility to those who need so much more. We think depression means feeling blue, only more so. We fail to grasp that depression can become dangerously delusional so that the person can’t help himself and truly can’t see any other way out of the pain.

No matter what your experience is, try to step outside of it and consider that life is too hard for a lot of people, and those people need much more support and care than they get. We’re your friends. We're in your family. Stop denying the prevalence of mental illness, the evidence of which is plainly before you every time another one of us drops.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Welome Back, Period!

I recently stopped taking birth control after six years. I had started it only to control cramps because the pain of menstruation had gotten so bad, I was calling in sick. On birth control, I still got periods every month, but they became pain-free and asymptomatic. I stopped thinking about them.

A couple of years later another symptom showed up that became increasingly difficult to live with: feeling overheated and perspiring excessively. This daily feeling of being uncomfortably warm persisted in summer and winter, no matter how cold. Seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner this past June finally got me the results I'd been dreaming of: I no longer feel so warm all the time! It's a gradual process of getting back to normal and I'm not there yet, but I'm SO much more comfortable this summer than last summer! (I'll do a post on Ayurveda, but in short it's a 5,000 year old system of preventive medicine and health care. It's from India.)

What made the difference? Adjusting what I eat and drink, adding just one herbal blend to my daily routine, using coconut oil as my daily moisturizer and stopping the birth control pills. The combination of all of these things has turned my life around. I have hope that I will be able to comfortably wear shirts with sleeves this winter!

This month, for the first time since 2008, I'm enjoying a natural period. Yes, I said enjoying because I'd forgotten what it was really like. It's nice to have a reason to take it easy, not get exasperated when my concentration dips, take extra naps and lay off the yoga poses for a few days (recommended by Ayurveda). But when the cramps came back yesterday, I started swallowing ibuprofen and hoped they wouldn't get as bad as they used to. Then I had to go to the store for more.

I considered my options as I stood in the painkiller aisle (why painkiller? Why not a word that actually evokes relief like comfort pills?). I remembered hearing that Tylenol is actually quite dangerous if you don't take it exactly as instructed. I remembered a recent conversation during which a friend had said that aspirin still works perfectly well for most pain, but the drug industry that pushes ibuprofen has tried hard to make us forget that. I also know that ibuprofen use has risks that I don't like.

Rows of ibuprofen and Tylenol products filled my view. Where was the aspirin? I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen it. What would it look like? Then I saw it: Bayer. Aha -- it lived!

Next to it was the generic store brand, so I got that. Aspirin sure has changed since the last time I noticed it. No more clear plastic bottle with powdery pills. Now aspirin has the same easy-to-swallow coating as everything else and I don't have to worry about it crumbling. I tossed some back when I got home and was happy to find that they really took the edge off my cramps. The discomfort didn't disappear entirely, but then this morning I realized I wasn't taking the full dose. I'm sure that with the full dose, I'll have no problems at all.

So I'm happy to report that I have my period back without the out-of-control pain of years ago! I've got my trusty aspirin for the cramping and that nice fuzzy-headed, tired feeling that means it's time to slow down and take extra good care of myself. The Ayurveda book I'm reading suggests spending one's period not doing yoga poses, but to "rest, read and relax as much as possible." Perfect! I love that. I'm so glad I started seeing Karen, my Ayurvedic practitioner. With her guidance I've cooled my body down and become reaquainted with that lovely part of the month when I can give myself a break on -- well, just about everything. At the age of 48 I don't have a lot of menstrual cycles left, so I'm going to cherish them while I can.