medications

Psychiatric Medications and Weight Gain: Can They Be Controlled?

A reconstructed Hotel and Canada Place. Both have meaning to me, the one in the background (Canada Place) is where I worked myself half to death helping my Dad paint stairwell doors for untold hours each day when I was in High School. The hotel, according to legend, is one that Leonard Cohen stayed at after being kicked out of the Hotel MacDonald, just up the street.

 

So here is how it went: I was a skinny kid when I went into the hospital 17 years ago. I think after making an effort to fatten myself up, I was about 170 pounds/77 kg. I got out of the hospital and life seemed pretty bland, but I enjoyed my freedom. I enjoyed it so much I nearly lost it just a few months after getting it back. I would eat three meals a day, then late at night go buy a large bag of chips and a submarine sandwich. If I had the money I would get a pizza. What I remember is that I was so ravenously hungry that if I didn’t have any food I wouldn’t sleep that night. So I ate and ate and ate. The more food I took in, the more food I was able to take in. I was exercising, but mostly just light walks through the river valley with my dad. Time passed and before I knew it I was 260 pounds/118 kg. By some miracle, if I got much higher than that I was able to fast my way back down. If something happened, I would drop a few pounds but they always seemed to come back.

The first thing I wanted to mention is actually really sad. My mom had a mental illness. She was such a sweet, kind, and caring person and she tried so hard to lose the weight that three kids and a bunch of pills made her get to. After years of trying various diets, she decided to try walking. She ended up walking about five miles each day and the pounds just came off. But maybe she did too much. Maybe she had the early signs of osteoporosis. We don’t really know. What we do know is that she ended up with a crushed vertebrae in her neck. The stress of surgery for it messed up her diet and exercise and not only did she gain weight rapidly, her mental health became very poor and she had a few admissions to hospitals. She spent the rest of her life overweight.

What happened to me was that I moved into my own apartment and was able to cook any type of food I wanted. Thinking that if the Irish people could do it, I could do it, I ended up eating way more potatoes than was healthy. I would bake two of them in the microwave, slather them with butter and salt and gobble them up. I started in on easy, deep fried or fast food. I stocked up on chips, pretzels, cheese puffs and all that. And I ate out a lot. It didn’t seem all that bad. I wasn’t having that much sugar–or so I thought. I was exercising a lot, though just hovering around the same weight. I was also eating a lot of TV dinners. A good friend was appalled because he used to be a prison guard and that was what inmates got.

So one day I ended up having a pretty bad stomach ache. I went to a walk-in Doctor and he prescribed some pills and sent me for some blood tests. When I came back expecting to be complimented for my fitness, he told me that I had diabetes, I didn’t believe him. Even with all the eating and the rolls of flab on my midsection I really thought diabetes was impossible. So I asked for another test. For this one I had to fast for 12 hours. I should have known the night before what the results were going to be. I nearly went mad with hunger. I drank all kinds of water (the only thing allowed before the test) and my whole body screamed out for something fatty or salty or crunchy. Despite staying up all night I made it through and the test was that I had to drink a large glass of sugar water with some orange flavouring in it and then wait for two hours for them to re-check my blood sugar level. I failed. It all seemed so surreal.

I had heard and read that type two diabetes can be reversed, but a doctor assured me that if I reverse it I would still have to stay on a special diet for the rest of my life. Of all the people in the world, the one person I needed most to be able to talk to was my Dad, but he told me in no uncertain terms that diabetes was something that Doctors make up to sell pills. He practically made fun of me. I didn’t hold it against him but I kept it clear in my head the old men I saw in a hospital I worked in who had limbs missing from the same illness. Or the teacher from my junior high who taught us about diabetes and how it greatly shortens a person’s possible life span.

So I had to dig in and form a plan. All sugar was now out. All white food, and fast food was out. Snack food–gone. I did decide that I could eat popcorn but my teeth aren’t in all that good of shape either so it had to be in moderation. On top of all this, I had to start reading every ingredient and every nutritional label on any product I planned to eat. For the first while this was really hard. So many things have high levels of fat. So many of the foods I loved from tomato soup to submarine sandwiches were off the scale for things like salt in the soup and fat in the submarine sandwiches. It seemed there was nothing I could eat. And as an added bonus, I had to start taking a pill for cholesterol and another pill called metformin to regulate my blood sugar level. I also got a kit for testing my blood at home and actually I kind of found it a bit fun–until I had to prick the same finger a dozen times and it got sensitive. The metformin caused me dizziness and tiredness. Fortunately, like many of my psychiatric medications, after time it started to work and the bad side effects mostly went away. I did notice that the metformin seemed to make me extremely jumpy and my nerves were on edge.

And as time went by, I started learning about what my body needed when my blood sugar level was low or when I couldn’t sleep. My Psychiatrist had approved certain pills for use when I needed to sleep and I hate to admit I took more of them than I absolutely needed.

What really seemed to save me though was walking. I have always done a lot of walking, but now I started to take it to almost extremes. My moms record of five miles a day didn’t seem like much at all. I would walk four miles, go for a swim, then walk four miles back. I always felt so anxious about getting to a scale at a pharmacy or a doctor’s office just to see if I had lost another pound. A few times I worked way out in the West end of Edmonton and walked for around three hours to get home. Now I don’t know what to do.

I did something significant. I lost 30 pounds. I found I slept better, I could bend over and pick things off the floor when it used to be a very hard thing for me. I also saved a bit of money because I wasn’t spending cash on fancy restaurants or garbage food. I have to admit I don’t get all of my vegetables. When I cook up a supper though, I often add in frozen peas, broccoli, green beans. I actually like the taste of them now. I have been doing so much learning about food and nutrition it has been a lot of fun. Who would have thought an illness that threatened life and limb could be described ‘fun’?

So here’s the sad part: a lot of people I know who have mental illnesses and take medication have diabetes. One of these people has it because of overeating and inactivity. His culture, the way he was raised, was that one ate until you were full. I will never forget going for breakfast with him one day and watching him clear his plate, then order another special. Another friend who is on even more medication than I am had some incredible success with a system I am trying to do myself. One plate, four sections. One quarter is your meat, one quarter is a vegetable and the last two are some kind of greens.

Gaining weight, having diabetes, and many other issues from heart disease to colon cancer are serious issues for people with mental illnesses. What I have found though is that if you can just somehow tough things out for a couple of weeks you will start to change how you taste things and you will almost miraculously be tuned into eating healthy food instead of junk or fatty and salty food. I would so much rather go to my fridge and get a navel orange or some grapes than pretzels that are doused in salt. I will admit though, as I mentioned, I do love popcorn. It is incredibly cheap, has great aspects to it like its high fibre, low-fat content, and there are things one can add to it like nutritional yeast that make it taste divine. I do still add melted margarine and a little salt, but I make sure it is non-hydrogenated, low calorie margarine, and I go as easy as I can on the salt. Remember that your body does need some salt and some fat. The trick is to exercise it off.

So are there any alternatives if you feel your situation is so far gone even a diet won’t help you and you don’t seem to be able to exercise? In most countries my blog is read in, there is an option called bariatric surgery. There are actually a few surgeries, but bariatric is the only one I know anything about. There is a waiting list to have the surgery done, which is time you spend acclimatizing yourself to having a much smaller stomach and learning how to keep up a healthy diet and other factors. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I have seen it work. If this situation sounds like you, talk to your MD.

Well Dear Readers, this session of blog writing seemed to go a little long. I hope some of it helped some of you in some tiny way. I encourage you to make comments when you read this, it really would help me keep coming back to write these knowing there are people out there who are being helped by it.

Best,

LG

 

Medications/Pills: The Tough Questions

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Hello Dear Readers!  Well, I thought I would tackle kind of a large problem for those of us who suffer from disorders that require Psychiatric meds and there is so much I can talk about.  I think that the first question that one should address is,when do you stop taking your pills?  When are side effects so bad that you really should go off of them.  I have so much to say about this I will dive right in.  I think the most simple answer to this question is, you can go off your pills when your Doctor says you can.  Back in 2001, before 9/11 happened and changed the world, I was on about 1000mg of Depekane a day and I was living on my own.  Most people will see the recipe for disaster right there: I was living alone.  You see, I had heard about an apartment that was very small and also very cheap and in a not too bad building.  About this time, I had somehow decided that going to the Psychiatrist was a waste of my time.  This was another serious mistake.  Now, things didn’t happen overnight, I was taking my medications every day but in the process of living in this very tiny, very dirty place with no human contact, I came to decide that I could lower (not stop, but just lower) the dose of my Depekane because it was making me drowsy among other things.  I cut the medication in half, but that was enough to cause the worst mishap of my life which nearly killed me.  I slowly began to get ideas in my head that I owned the buildings in the complex I lived in, I stopped eating almost completely, and went into serious serious depressions where I would cry out loud at things on the TV.  Life had gone from being comfortable with lots of friends to being almost completely unbearable in a short period of time and unluckily enough I had a good credit rating at the time and kept getting more.  I spent mounds of money and eventually ended up in the hospital with no means to pay them off.  But I will stop there, I have likely told this story before and it can also be found in greater and better detail in my book, “Inching Back To Sane”.  The  fact was that I had made some serious mistakes that led to worse and worse things.

I think one of the key aspects of my recovery over the past few years is that I have not lived alone.  By the grace of God, I was let into a very positive group home where I am fed regularly, my health and mental well-being is monitored, I get my medications every day and they throw a kniption fit if I miss a Psychiatrist or Pharmacist appointment.  Living there now for just about 14 years I have seen a lot of guys fail, and it seems just about every time it has to do with properly taking medications and dealing with the side effects of this.  There was this one guy, who was an addict and alcoholic who saw it as a badge of honor to get his Doctor to lower his anti-psychotic.  Then not long after as a result of his alcohol abuse he had to go back in the hospital for a long time.  I went to visit him a couple of times and it seemed so awful that he had to go through all that because when I saw him after his hospital visit, he had gotten no further along than he had been.  Hopefully he was wiser about taking his meds.

I want to mention something about medications.  There is a funny rule that applies a lot of the time, and that is that the longer you stay on medications, the more likely it is that they will work properly for you and that you will adjust to the side effects.  I want to use an extreme example.  I tried Lithium, and it made my hands shake so bad I went off of it.  I got sick.  I tried Tegratol and it made me exceedingly restless and I petitioned my Doctor to put me on something else, the drug I take now for a mood stabilizer, Depekene.  This drug works, but it causes extreme diarrhea.  This is something very hard to deal with, but the fact that now my hands don’t shake and that I can have my concentration back is extremely important to me, so what I do is manage the side effect as best as I can.  If I have to work, I take pills.  If I am going out I make sure I go to the bathroom beforehand and I make sure that I go before I leave a place that has a bathroom for a place that doesn’t.  Having the runs is now a fact of my life, but I haven’t let it ruin me, but I do have to accept that I need my pills, and I need to take precautions so I can live a normal life.  One has to accept that things may get difficult, but stopping medication you need is no option.  I hope this blog is helpful to those who read it, I think a lot of it applies to people who don’t even have a mental illness, because sooner or later if you reach a certain age, you have to get used to facts that aren’t the most convenient.  Some of them can be just as difficult as the problem I was just talking about.  There may be men who can’t get erections, some as a result of meds, some just as a result of getting older and even some because of poor diet or exercise.  The fact is that you need to own your diagnosis, be prepared to live with it and do what needs to be done.  I know from personal experience that it is very hard to go to a Doctor and talk about erections, but sex is something just about essential to a healthy life.  If you can’t be honest with your Doctor though, he can’t help you and you need to find new strategies or a new Doctor.  I found the best advice I have gotten about seeing a Doctor is, if you aren’t up to talking and have things you need to say, write a note and give it directly to your Doctor when you visit.  You can even mail a letter if you find yourself to be a better writer than you are a talker.  With that I will leave you Dear Readers with best wishes for a wonderful day.

 

As Hard As Things May Seem

Sometimes I find it hard to face each new day
But I have to work, I need my pay
And my best shot at happiness will not knock on my door
That’s what pounding the street and making your own way is for

My bed is soft and warm; the world outside is hard and cruel
On days like this I wish I could have stayed in school
But above all my whining I have to say
If I get up I may see her today

Have I not told you of the perfect love I met
She has such a lovely face no one could forget
She has a smile that radiates a glow
Each day my love for her continues to grow

My job makes sense to me when I think of her eyes
And her golden flowing curls all perfect like the sunrise
She gives me so much joy when I can see
The myriad of things she could do and be

She’s lovely, wonderful and she cares so much
So full of love she could heal the blind with just a touch
She fills my whole heart with love and peace
My sister’s daughter, my love, my niece

No matter how much life may beat me down
For her I can get up and take on another round
She is a new creation, but still my own flesh and bone
And because she came to Earth I can face the cruel and the unknown

I suppose I would like one day to have my own child
But there is no way to compare my niece’s smile
To anyone else on Earth or heaven above
She’s my favorite girl, my first experience with perfect love

Leif Gregersen
August 11, 2015

Exercise and Chronic Tiredness in the Psychiatric Patient

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Well, today was simply a great day.  I had a few things to do, one of them being driving a friend for groceries, another was to take some photographs of a Ukranian Easter presentation.  Then I got to do one of my favorite things (no matter how much it may seem to aggravate me) which was spend time with my dad.

The old guy (Leif the first) can be a lot of fun to be around.  Some of my warmest memories of childhood have to do with things he taught me to do in his business like silk screening and engraving.  All that aside though, I wanted to say a few things on the topic of chronic tiredness in the psychiatric patient.  I will start with a bit of a horror story.

Going on 15 years ago now I was living in a small apartment and following my own schedule.  It was very hard to deal with the loneliness though it was back in the heyday of chat rooms which I participated in quite a bit.  I also had a movie rental place nearby which had a deal on two movies for 99c for a week and I ended up watching tons of them, it was really kind of fun.  The problem came in when I slowly started to drift away from any type of treatment for my illness.  I stopped seeing my Psychiatrist after missing a number of appointments, and I made the very poor decision that a high dose of depakene, the mood stabilizer I was taking, was the source of my low energy levels and so I felt it would be okay if I just dropped the dose down.  Nothing could have been worse of a mistake.

Slowly, without my awareness, I started to slip back into psychosis.  I started once again to believe that I was secretly some kind of rich person, that this woman I once knew who was very wealthy was trying to rescue me from the life I had made for myself.  In short I slowly became insane all over again.  And not even from stopping medication, just from lowering it.  The suffering that mistake brought on was unbelievable.  I spent the next six months locked in a Psychiatric facility after being arrested and taken to the mental hospital.  I was treated as a non-compliant patient because they thought I was no longer taking any medications and not only did the Doctor experiment on me, he had told my parents I would be in the hospital for two years.  All because I felt tired and wanted to try and improve my situation by lowering a medication.

All that aside though, being tired or out of energy all the time is a serious thing, and perhaps if I had been continuing to see my Doctor I may have found a solution.  New medications come out all the time.  I recently learned that there is a medication called Topomax that can do the job of Depekane and not leave a person feeling run down or make them crave food.  I tried going on it a few weeks ago and I really didn’t like the effects it had on me and so I stopped it, but it remains an option for me along with other newer drugs that are, as my pharmacist says, are more ‘clean’ drugs. Meaning they have less side effects

Just a few words now since the title promised about exercise.  I may have talked about this before, but when I got out of that long hospital stay my dad used to drive over to my group home and take me to the beautiful Edmonton river valley where we would walk for a couple of miles each day.  He was very kind and accommodating, he would let me rest when I needed it and didn’t mind that I might have to stop to have a cigarette (thank goodness I quit smoking 11 years ago!).  Just a little light exercise and fresh air now and then really made the difference.  Later on after I went back to security work I started going to the gym and the pool.  I was lucky that my swim and gym pass was subsidized, but I would recommend to anyone that they go to these types of facilities even if they have to pay.  Often a YMCA will give greatly subsidized passes to low income people and this is a great opportunity.

One of the big things about going to the pool after getting in reasonable shape with my Dad was that I started to make some very good friends at the pool who were outside of the mental health system but were understanding of my illness.  Another good thing about it was that I was able to get myself into great shape and was able to take on jobs that were increasingly better paying.  Then, by sheer luck, I stumbled into my present job as a stage hand which is possibly the best job a person in my situation could ask for.  And it wouldn’t have done me any good if I wasn’t in good shape from regular swimming and weights.

Another physical thing I have tried is Yoga.  I have never been to a studio or worked directly with an instructor, I simply put on a video I have in my living room and work through it on a mat I bought.  It is very renewing and relaxing, very refreshing through and through.  Physical health, a psychologist friend once told me, is so much a part of who we are, it is so very important.  What I can remember vividly was working out with weights on a regular basis and simply living in a ‘zone’ of feeling really good from head to toe.

So, basically gentle readers, I just wanted to try and talk a bit about tiredness and exercise.  I didn’t offer any real solutions to tiredness I don’t think but I warned of the dangers of lowering medications.  I guess I would also like to warn against allowing yourself to be addicted to caffeine.  I myself drink a little too much coffee and have been warned that it may contribute to my difficulty in sleeping, but I met a guy at work who was addicted to energy drinks and actually had so many of them that he became allergic to caffeine.  I think one of the best things a person on medications with low energy can do is something in the second part of this blog entry, just try and get out for a walk.  Eating healthy is a big element as well, but as per usual, anyone who reads this blog can feel free to email me at: viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will try to help all I can if I can.  Take care!

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