Category Archives: Brain

Extra! Extra! FF Jensen on Bipolar Out Loud

Hi there,

I’m proud to announce that Bipolar Out Loud, one of the top ten bipolar blogs in the world, has published an article by yours truly: “From Pole to Pole. An Author’s Story of Healing Through Writing“.

Wonderful news at  the end of a horrible day…

I can only hope that tomorrow will be better. Take care, FFJ

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Managing depression II: a friend’s words of wisdom

I met Kev way back in 2005, at a bipolar therapy group run by Melissa Subiaco, a young doctoral candidate from the University of Sydney. Kev and I had an immediate connection and developed a rock solid friendship. He’s been supportive in more ways than one. Besides, he isn’t judgmental in the least and we can laugh our heads off at the drop of a hat. For Kev, friendship is a lot more than rhetoric or empty words.

Here are his words of wisdom on how to manage depression. They’re especially valuable because he’s been dealing with the bipolar roller coaster for over 25 years. I appreciate his peer-to-peer insight because I know he lives by it. Over to you, Kev!

'Up early! Sun up, get up!' Wherever you are, do harness the beneficial effects of the sun.
‘Up early! Sun up, get up!’ Wherever you are, do harness the beneficial effects of the sun.

Things that help:

  • Acknowledge the fact that you’re feeling depressed, rather than labelling yourself as depressed. There’s a huge difference in feeling, as compared to being labelled, whether by yourself, or by others. It will make a huge difference, to the length of the healing period.
  • Good, healthy food. Lots of fruit & vegetables!
  • Lots of water formula: .033x body weight, for example, .033 x 75kgs = 2.5lts/day.
  • Exercise, but not excessive. The body needs some time out too. Swimming & walking, high on the agenda.
  • Up early! Sun up, get up! It’s the most energising part of the day! SUNRISE!! Take in the energy of the sun. Walks in nature, if possible. Oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, parks etc.
  • Good, meaningful sleep. Sleeping pills, only if absolutely necessary. A lot of people don’t sleep well, because they don’t prepare well. That’s the key. Do the research, it takes practise!
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Yoga, using true top to bottom, breathing technique. It’ll slow the mind, with practise!! This is the key!
  • Take yourself out of all possible areas of possible conflict!
  • Supportive friends, not “arm chair specialists”.
  • Seek help from a counsellor, if you haven’t already! Never go beyond 3 weeks without seeking help from a professional! Personally, for me, a physchotherapist.
  • As the head starts to clear, address what changes have recently happened in your life, in most cases, you don’t start feeling depressed for no reason. Depression, is often set off by things that we haven’t really addressed, or dealt with properly, and will just keep coming back. Unless we do so, we will be continually surrounded by triggers.
  • It’s not about what happened, ie, the events, it’s about how we deal with them. People spend so much time going over things from the past. You certainly need to acknowledge that certain things did happen, but going over & over things can’t change whatever happened!! Poor investment of your time that you can’t buy back.
  • Rebuild resilience, your foundation. People with good foundation don’t fall.
  • Picture yourself as the root system of a tree. Only the week foundation trees fall. How is your foundation? It should be like a Canadian redwood!
  • Find what has worked in the  past. Learn from each experience. Have a preset management plan. Use your daily diary! Preset your days. 24 hrs unplanned, is a huge day to fill in when feeling depressed!!
  • Have faith, but be proactive!
  • Be accountable for yourself! No blame games!!
  • Uplifting music. Lots of music!! You can judge your mood, by the music & volume that you play!!
  • Be patient & kind to yourself!!

Thanks for your words of wisdom, Kev! My blog is so much richer for your contribution 🙂 FFJ

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Managing depression: How I did it. An integral approach.

Disclaimer: I’m no mental health professional and I’m not advocating any system, cure, treatment or healing method for mood disorders. I just want to share my recent journey. Your questions are very welcome 🙂

In the first place, I’d like to tell you what I found doesn’t work in order to fight depressions of any kind: doing nothing. It’s a health risk not only for the patient, but also for their loved ones.  Another thing that doesn’t work and can backfire badly is self-medication with alcohol or illegal drugs.

Truly back on my feet and fighting the good fight.
Truly back on my feet and fighting the good fight.

BeyondBlue has published an excellent resource on what works (and what doesn’t work) for depression, called (surprise, surprise) A Guide to What Works for Depression, by Anthony Jorm, Nick Allen, Amy Morgan and Rosemary Purcell. Luck had it that I read it nine months ago, to keep myself updated on the latest treatment options. I’m very aware that bipolar disorder isn’t like other depressive disorders and there’s a risk that if I have Prozac, I may go to the other extreme. It’s happened before, so that’s why I will always refer to my own personal experience in the event of having to seek treatment.

My ‘maintenance plan’ includes the following:

  • Good, wholesome eating (including all food groups).
  • Physical exercise (CXWORKS, Rip60, Aqua Aerobics, RPM, among others).
  • Meditation using meditation apps such as Simply Being, Mindfulness and others.
  • I used to do psychotherapy as well, but not now. When I was living in Argentina, I was psychoanalysed for yonks. It did jack shit for bipolar disorder, but it did bring in self-knowledge. ‘Spoiler alert’: it can be costly, but you can find psychoanalysts in my old country who have a bit of a social conscience, and will not break your bank.

Towards the end of July this year, I noticed that my moods were spiralling down, in spite of my healthy life plan. Early morning mental fog was followed by a flat mood which on some days turned into generalised pessimism and a wish to be wiped out of the planet by some external destructive force. Let me explain: I wasn’t conventionally suicidal, but I felt like a phenomenal failure, helpless and depleted. Disrespected at work. My creative flair had gone out of the window. Deep down I felt so hollow that my only hope was to be on the receiving end of a deadly blow.

For days on end I went on with my life, working, doing some household chores, even going to the gym and meditating. I forced myself to smile whenever the occasion so required. But there would be no lasting, meaningful change. My brain worked slowly, slowly, slowly, but catching no monkeys … I know, it’s a bloody bad joke, but indulge me. I even thought of checking in at the Sydney Clinic, where I spent a few weeks in 2010, recovering from another episode of burnout and depression.

In the middle of September I called my psychiatrist, who’s now working in country NSW. I explained my situation on the phone and via email, and I expressed to him that I was prepared to take antidepressants. I’ve been on Tegretol (carbamazepine) for yonks, in order to even out my moods and enhance my attention span—a drug that worked real wonders from day one. On the other hand, antidepressants never worked well, but knowing that there isn’t just one kind of antidepressant medication, I told my psychiatrist that I was prepared to give them ‘a go’ again. This time we agreed that I’d start taking Zoloft (sertraline).

The problem with those bloody things, excuse me, SSRI’s such as Zoloft, is that they tend to make you gain weight …. So it was time to become a bit more mindful with food and to ramp up my fitness routine. Work ended three weeks ago, and ‘hitting the gym and the pool’ was far easier. About two weeks ago I woke up smiling for the first time. My mind is less foggy these days and I’ve recovered some of my energy. I haven’t gone hypomanic either—another one of my fears—and two weeks ago I even sent a job application that took me eight hours to put together.

I don’t think I’m fully out of the woods yet, and a minimal upset may hit me hard and send me back spiralling down. I take life one day at a time, pick my battles as wisely as I can, and make plans for the future. I have also given up smoking—not that I was the biggest ‘chimney’ in town anyway, but I will have foot surgery in late January and the surgeon wants a smoke-free FF Jensen.

Very important: The words ‘integral’ and ‘holistic’ could be interchanged in the heading, but unfortunately the ‘alternative treatment’ quacks have hijacked the word ‘holistic’ and put it in the ‘no-no words list’ for a long time to come. It isn’t my mission in life to ‘rescue’ words from snake oil salesmen, but if you want to call my kind of treatment ‘holistic’ because you like it better, be my guest 🙂 I won’t judge you.

Unsung heroes here: my friends and gym-mates. And my cats 🙂 Thanking each and every one of them would take another blog post and I don’t want to behave unfairly forgetting to mention some people who truly matter, even if they’re not physically close, or simply because I’m having one of those days when names slip off my mind. Again, gratitude fills my heart with joy and my eyes with tears. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people!

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People who put down other people’s work (or CXWORX) suck!

How wonderful that Les Mills has ‘packaged’ a few good old training principles and created a popular world-wide brand!

Tube and plate used in CXWORX classes. by Merri, available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/shockinglytasty/. Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0
Tube and plate used in CXWORX classes. by Merri, available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/shockinglytasty/. Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

How very usual (and terrible) that some envious humans absolutely have to pooh-pooh such brands. Case in point: I’ve started exchanging emails with a PE teacher who has done research on the benefits of physical exercise and bipolar disorder. This gentleman’s work seems pretty interesting, but I’m no expert in the field of physical exercise. I just bust myself doing what I like, which has enormous physical and mental benefits. One of my favourite classes is CXWORX, a half-hour core muscle blaster that leaves me exhausted but happy—not to mention that my core has improved heaps over time.

While exchanging emails today, we discussed the benefits of physical exercise for people who suffer from bipolar disorder, like Lena Foch, the main female character in my novel ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.  For some odd reason, we started discussing my fitness routine (poor Lena, we forgot all about her!) and I sent this gentleman a link to a CXWORX video. I normally do that: give people as much information as I possibly can, including links.

This guy’s response astonished me: he said something about there being nothing new in that form of training (he could’ve knocked me down with a feather, really …), that it’s called ‘circuit’ (ohmyGod! FF, you’re such an ignoramus!) and that it was used by Sylvester Stallone (oh! how very, very interesting!—yawn!). Then Mr PE Teacher finished off by saying, ‘Oh, if it’s good for you, go ahead, hahahaha!’

Hahahaha??

It suddenly dawned on me: lots of so-called ‘experts’ in a field will put down whatever others contribute. It’s highly likely this gentleman considers that Les Mills’ commercial success flies in the face of ‘good’ training. I don’t know if I’ll bother replying to that email, but what I do know is that a) CXWORX is good training; b) it’s given by certified instructors who know what they do; c) it’s the sort of training that’s available to me where I live. There are other classes at KSAC (Katoomba Sports and Aquatic Centre) that I also like, which would have probably received the same ‘hahahaha’ treatment had I mentioned them in that email.

Cutting to the chase, the content of this gentleman’s email (‘hahahaha’ included) exudes what I call the Antonio Sallieri complex: oh, someone’s done something better than I have, if the world considers that they’re surely more talented and experienced than I am, it’ll be the end of me! So I’ve got to put them down and expect that the public considers me the really good one, the ‘real deal’. Gah!

I just came back from my CXWORX training, feeling great, but I thought I’d share my insights into what I believe is a sad, sad, sad human reality:  belittling someone else (or their work), so that our own appears to be better in our eyes. Weird … Hahahahaha!  FFJ 🙂

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Those so-called “lightbulb moments”…

shutterstock_115864711They can happen anywhere, anytime and for me—lately at least—on the cross-trainer, while walking or in the RIP60 class. The only problem is how to ‘bookmark’ the idea and bring it back to memory later.

Norman Doidge, in his excellent book The Brain That Changes Itself, gives us the scientific background in words that the lay public can understand:

Physical activity is helpful not only because it creates new neurons but because the mind is based in the brain, and the brain needs oxygen. Walking, cycling or cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and the blood vessels that supply the brain and helps people who engage in these activities feel mentally sharper—as pointed out by the Roman philosopher Seneca two thousand years ago.

As it turns out, Seneca nailed it. So did Norman Doidge. The gist of his research is a bit impenetrable to me, but I’m not a neuroscientist. Got to leave you now. Must go for a walk. Catchya later.

FFJ

Artwork by Brian A. Jackson. Source: Shutterstock

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