Got Ants in My Pants and I Need to Dance!

Recently, my doctor and I decided to up the dosage of my antipsychotic. Unfortunately, this has caused a major problem for me: akathisia.

What is akathisia? According to Wikipedia:

Akathisia is a movement disorder characterized by a feeling of inner restlessness and a compelling need to be in constant motion, as well as by actions such as rocking while standing or sitting, lifting the feet as if marching on the spot, and crossing and uncrossing the legs while sitting. People with akathisia are unable to sit or keep still, complain of restlessness, fidget, rock from foot to foot, and pace.

One of the major causes of this is drug withdrawal, although antipsychotics have this as a common side effect. In terms of side effects, this one is miserable. You’re down, you’re up, you’re side to side. Your legs are moving, your arms jittery, unable to sit or lie down. Every muscle is on fire. Just go, just go. Your legs run on the floor, miles in minutes, without you going anywhere.

There are a few different ways to treat this, one being medication. Keep in mind that you should always talk to your doctor before making med changes though. Beta blockers and lorazepam are shown to help minimize the side effect. In addition, you can talk to your doctor about lowering the dosage of the medication that causes it or find a new medication. There has also been some data that show that Benedryl can be effective in treating akathisia as well.

But what to do in the meantime? Well, I’ve found that funneling movements helps. For example, I have a fidget toy with me to keep my hands busy, and I have bouncy hemispheres that keep my legs busy. If I have to concentrate on something, I usually pace in order to eliminate the amount of energy that goes into stopping the movements.

If I have time on my hands and the akathisia is particularly bad, I try to channel it into various workouts. You can find some basic fitness moves online or on an app. Use this miserable side effect for the better.

When I have akathisia, I try to drink more than I usually would, since my body is expending more energy. Try keeping a water bottle with you, especially if it’s warm out.

So, what do you guys do for akathisia?

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Reader Mode

Reader mode is the best idea web developers/designers have ever had. Ok, that’s definitely an exaggeration (this is the real “best idea”), but it’s up there.

I’m easily distracted, and I often have a hard time concentrating on text when there’s so much around me. I look at the spacing, the stock art, the ads, the related content… anything but what I’m supposed to read. While this is a valuable asset in my job (web design), it makes it very difficult to glean any of the important written information.

Enter reader mode. Reader mode is a setting on most web browsers that filters out unrelated pictures, ads, and extraneous information on web pages, leaving only the words on a white background. It cleans up the text so you can concentrate on what really matters.

To enter reader mode:

Firefox for Android

Safari on iOS

Chrome plugin

Safari on Mac

Using ASL

Clean Brains ASL ChartSometimes, I find myself unable to communicate or find words. For some reason, however, I can still use sign language. It might just be me, but in any event, I suggest it because you might find it useful as well. You can learn a few signs (such as the ones for medicine, emergency, hungry, thirsty, help, etc.) and teach them to people in your support network. That way, you can communicate without having to physically speak.

I’ve created a printable chart of the basic fingerspelling signs and the signs I feel are most helpful. You can print these papers and give them to friends and family as quick references. You can also buy the book The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth. It’s the one that I personally find most useful (and believe me- I’ve seen a lot of them!).

Download Clean Brains ASL Chart

Download Clean Brains ASL Fingerspelling

Tune It Out

If you work in an office building (or if you’re in school), invest in a good set of headphones or ear plugs. This is critical if you easily get distracted. You can also ask coworkers to email you rather than drop by your work space. This way, you can address issues on your own time rather than being interrupted and find yourself unable to return to your previous task. You also have a written record of the conversation in case you need to consult it later. If you’re at school, you might be able to ask for this accommodation.

Morning Forgetfulness

Even if you have a morning routine, sometimes it’s easy to forget things you need before you leave your house, especially if you don’t need them every day. If this happens to you, try hanging a reusable shopping bag (the plastic shopping bags tend to break) on the handle of your door. Anytime you’re at home and think of something you’ll need the next day, throw it in the bag. Then, every day, check the bag before you leave.

QR Codes

Create QR codes to function as reminders. I use the service scan.me. You can print the QR codes on address labels and stick them on related items. For example, you can link the QR code an object’s user manual and then stick the QR code on that item. When you scan the code, the usual manual will appear on your phone. You can also use these for chore lists. You can embed the directions on how to clean something in the code, and then scan it when you need the list. What’s the benefit of using QR codes as opposed to tape and paper? Once you scan the code, the information remains on your phone until you delete it. This means you can carry the phone with you while you complete tasks. And, since the codes are always with their related items, you always have the information on-hand. Plus, it’s more fun this way.

Siri Dictation

I use Siri dictation tools all the time. If I need to remember something, I just ask Siri to remind me of what I need to do. You can even tailor the reminder to locations and times. For example, I can say, “Remind me to empty the dishwasher when I get home.” When I arrived at the location I’ve defined as “home,” a notice will appear on my phone. I also like to use the dictation feature to compose texts and notes to myself.

Under-Eye Baggage

I organize all my bags’ contents in mix-and-match pouches. For example, all of my beauty products (such as hand sanitizer, concealer, moisturizer) go in one pouch. It helps me keep everything clean and then if I want anything I can just reach for that pouch rather than fishing through my entire bag. I use a soft leather pencil case by Co Lab, but anything will do. You can grab a bunch of pencil cases after the back-to-school sales.

Fitbit

I use a health monitoring app and wristband called Fitbit. While I use the device mainly for health concerns, one feature that I really like for mental health hygiene is the vibration alarm. You can set the alarm to go off at any time, and it’ll silently alert you using a quiet and peaceful vibration.

I used the alarm function to remind me to take pills, change activities, perform tasks, go to meetings, etc.