Let’s Get Physical

No one escapes life without some sort of injury. If you’re like me, you don’t escape a day without some sort of injury. I’ve written a post on dealing with medical situations and doctors, but I haven’t written anything about dealing with physical illness when you have a mental one. It’s like a one two punch to the groin and totally not fair.

This month, I’ve both sprained my shoulder and torn my meniscus. (I’ve been pretty unlucky!) However, the process has reminded me to take care of my physical self as well as my mental self. There is a very strong connection between physical health and mental health. For example, people with chronic illness are more prone to depression and mental illness has been linked to diabetes and heart disease. When the two systems are so bonded, you can’t manage one part without managing the other.

So, how do you treat your physical injuries while at the same time maintain mental wellness?

Ask for and accept help when you need it.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time asking for help. I feel like I should be able to handle everything on my own, but sometimes that’s just not within my ability. Ask your partner to cook or order take out. Have your friend hand you your crutches or carry your backpack. The benefit of having a physical illness is that there’s no stigma and people know how to help you. While someone might not know what it’s like to be psychotic, most people can relate to the flu. Use that to your advantage!

Keep your supplies handy.

Most people have a medicine cabinet. Keep yours stocked and ready to rock. For example, the Red Cross has a good list for a first aid kit. If you keep all of your supplies together, you won’t have to search for the Tylenol when you’re under the weather.

I like to keep two groups: one is my as-needed medicine drawer. That’s where I keep the decongestants, bandages, and stuff I don’t need too often. When I see a sale for any of those items, I stock up and make sure something’s always there. If I’m psychotic and have a sinus infection, I don’t have the wherewithal to hunt down the stray NyQuil under my bed.

My second stash is a basket filled with the things I need on a daily basis. I store it next to my favorite chair, and that way I can grab what I need without having to roll out of my chair with a knee brace to fetch it. This is where I keep my daily medication, blood pressure cuff, blood sugar monitor, and other things. You could even throw in some stress balls, DBT diary, snacks, iPod, and whatever you need to get through a tough moment.

Give yourself time to amend your routine

Like mental illness, chronic physical illnesses need time to be properly treated. For example, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with IBS. One of the treatments for it is the FODMAP diet, which I talked about here. It’s a huge lifestyle change to which it takes time to adapt. Start slow and take the time to learn what you have to do to make it better. Your doctor should provide you with treatment options, and you can do some research online to learn more about your condition(s). The small changes are the best ones, and if you have to change your lifestyle in a big way, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

One way to manage this is a week-by-week approach. Start with making a list of the lifestyle changes you need to make. For example, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and have a list of modifications you need to make. You can start out with one change a week, giving you time to get used to it before you move onto the next one. For example, the first one might be to replace the soda in your diet with water. It’s a small change that can lead you toward a lifestyle alteration without the overwhelming and defeating thoughts of a total makeover. It may take time, and at some points can be challenging, but it’s never hopeless.

Treat yo’ self!

Keep in mind – you’re sick! Do what you need to do to get better. Have a cold? Slurp some chicken soup! Fever? Grab a blanket and Motrin! Tired and mad at the world? Curl up in your bed, tell the world to f-ck itself, and watch Parks and Recreation! Even if you fight mental illness each day of your life, it doesn’t mean you should fight through every illness. Sometimes, you have to relax and give your cold/broken toe/strep throat/whatever the time it needs to heal. For some ideas, you can check out this PopSugar article.

Is some of these suggestion obvious? Of course! But I hope you find them helpful. Stay strong!

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Medical Diets

When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be very difficult to navigate the equally tough world of physical health. Sometimes, you get saddled with complicated medical conditions that require therapeutic diets. Conditions like IBS, diabetes, Chron’s disease, Celiac disease, epilepsy, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and more. These aren’t the diets you hear about in the media, like Atkins, blood type diet, detoxing, juice fasting, etc. I’m not going to go into those. These are diets that are supported by the medical community and are used to treat specific medical conditions.

Some of these diets are the low-FODMAP diet, the gluten-free diet, the Ketogenic diet, the DASH diet, among others. These diets should be closely monitored by a medical professional, as they are treatments for medical conditions. Once again, I am NOT a medical professional. I’m barely qualified to write a blog. Please see your doctor or dietician for advice.

Ok, so, how do you mange these diets when you already have a full plate (lame pun totally intended)? The key is to really rely on prep and proven foods.

For example, I have the unfortunate pleasure of being on the low-FODMAP diet. I have visceral hypersensitivity, which is a very painful condition in which it hurts when organs perform their normal functions. While I don’t have IBS, my doctor thought it would be helpful to go on this diet. I went on the diet once before, and I wound up giving it up because it got too depressing. This time, however, I’m determined to do it right.

So, what did I learn the first time?

1. It takes some planning.
One of the hardest parts about medical diets is that it’s hard to grab food on the fly. There’s no guarantee that a restaurant will have something you can eat, and even if there’s something suitable on the menu, there’s still a risk of cross-contamination (big problem for people with allergies and vegans). This is especially difficult on the low-FODMAP diet, where you can’t have any onions or garlic. Planning might include calling restaurants before you eat there, bringing your own food to a friend’s house, or carry a protein bar with you. Make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t eat. If it’s a long list, it might be helpful to carry it with you.

2. It takes some prep.
Even if you decide to cook at home, it doesn’t ensure you can buy the necessary ingredients. You might have to make your own salad dressings, condiments, baked goods, etc. For example, it’s almost impossible to find low-FODMAP BBQ sauce. So, I make my own, put it into little containers, and freeze it. That way, I don’t have to make BBQ sauce every time a recipe requires it. I also like to stock up on gluten-free pasta, gluten-free breadcrumbs, suitable vegetables, etc. since there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to find the ingredients on short notice.

3. Keep a tally of brand names of products on which you can rely.
This will save you an ENORMOUS amount of time when you shop, especially while you try to get into a routine. While you should continue checking the labels in case they change the formula, your shopping trip doesn’t have to revolve around it. You can make the process easier by guessing and checking, major allergen labeling, and using an app (such as UPC Sanner). Once you’ve built your list, you can send it to family members to make their lives easier as well.

4. Make it easy to differentiate “safe food” in your cabinets.
I like to store my designated products away from stuff I can’t have and then put a sticker on the packages. It might be overkill, but I like fun stickers.

5. Look for food in unexpected places.
In the days of the internet, we now have the ability to order lots of weird crap online! If it’s hard to find specialized food near you, check out Amazon. However, I would recommend only ordering from a trusted retailer. I’ve also had good luck at health food stores and ethnic food markets. If you do go to an ethnic food market (and can’t read the product’s original language), make sure you do some research online first. The labeling isn’t always phenomenal.

6. It’s okay to be pissed.
Seriously. It’s quite the loss, and it’s hard to do. Every time I visit the produce aisle, I still get sad about not being able to have mangoes. No more croissants, no more hummus, no more avocados. It’s difficult to hang out with friends and I hate quizzing the waiters about ingredients. But it does get easier and you’ll get in the groove of it.

Need ideas for easy recipes that accommodate your dietary restrictions? Visit the Clean Brains Pinterest board.

Doctor’s Orders

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If you’re in treatment, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve come into contact with a number of health professionals. With both physical and psychological problems, I’ve been to over a bajillion doctors, pharmacists, nurses, NPs, PAs, specialists, etc, and that’s a conservative number. Some of them have been incredible, amazing people who quite literally have saved my life. I’ve had my therapist since age eight, and I’ve had my psychiatrist for over six years. They are both amazing people, and I can’t imagine how I got along without them. I also have a couple favorite pharmacists, three stomach specialists, an endocrinologist, an OB/GYN, a PCP, and have been to a cardiologist and ENT.

And then there are others that I hope go through the same trauma they put me through. I’ve had an NP try to prescribe me a drug I’m allergic to, someone who never responded to a crisis situation when I had to be hospitalized (my mom had to wait outside his office to even talk to him), an over zealous NP who had me on every medication under the sun, among so many other “professionals” who made my life harder during a time where I was at my worst.

Ok, so what was the point of that story? It can be very difficult to navigate a world of doctors, acronyms, pain, appointments, waiting, medications, and frustration. This becomes even worse when you’re already sick. I have a few things that help me when it comes to the world of healthcare.

1. I take notes on the backs of their business cards. These can be little notes like “friendly,” “kind,” “efficient,” or “cold.” This works especially well with people who I don’t encounter all the time, like pharmacists or people in a practice. This helps me remember which professionals I like and why.

2. I don’t waste time on doctors I don’t like. I’ve spent so much time trying to work with doctors who weren’t willing to work with me. Now, I try to find people who take the time to explain my conditions and treatments. I also look for doctors who aren’t too “gung-ho” about strange tests and treatments.

3. I set aside a lot of “padding” time around appointments. This has saved my ass on a number of occasions. For example, at the last two doctor’s appointments I’ve had, the doctor has been over an hour late. That’s just how it goes. There’s no point in being angry or frustrated about it. However, if I’ve scheduled appointments back-to-back, I’m going to be stressing about being late, and I’ll rush through my appointment. I know that when meeting the doctor, I have to be fully present to take part in my treatment. I need to have the time to ask the right questions and remember the answers. It’s not always easy to find this amount of time, and I’ve had to make sacrifices at work to make sure I have this padding. However, I’ve found that the reduction of time-related stress has been invaluable in the treatment process.

4. Allow yourself to debrief and, if necessary, grieve. There’s a lot of information to take in at appointments. Sometimes you get good news, sometimes you get bad news, and sometimes you’re left with more questions than answers. Whatever the case, I find debriefing very helpful. Sometimes I text my family/friends after my appointment. Sometimes I don’t want to talk to anyone and instead get a coffee by myself. Sometimes I go to back to work. Sometimes I spend an hour wondering how I can have a “pseudo” syndrome.

Sometimes, treatment can be as much of a process as having the illness itself. However, with enough practice, discretion, and luck, it eventually becomes an inconvenient habit.

Hospital Bag

If you find yourself in and out of inpatient treatment, try packing a hospital emergency bag. Grab yourself a duffel bag (or even a paper shopping bag- it doesn’t have to be fancy) and throw in:

  • Nonviolent paperback books or some magazines
  • Warm socks and shoes without laces
  • Comfortable clothes without removable strings (leggings may not be allowed)
  • A good blanket or pillow (may or may not be allowed)
  • Change or a prepaid calling card (if there is a pay phone)
  • Plastic hairbrush, toothbrush, solid deodorant
  • Travel sizes of toiletries (nothing with alcohol)
  • Ear plugs
  • Plain paper with crayons or magic markers
  • A deck of cards
  • An unframed photo of your family and friends
  • A small tote bag with your name on it (in case you need to check-in sharps)
  • A list of the phone numbers of family and friends
  • A list of your medications and doctor information

 

Make sure the bag is easy for family and friends to find. You also might want to include notes on how to feed your pet (if you have one) or the names and numbers of people you want them to contact.

You can also check out my Amazon hospital bag wish list for ideas or to send to family or friends!

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Concierge Doctors

Smiling Doctor With StethoscopeIf you find that you’re having trouble managing medical services and doctor’s appointments, and unresponsive physicians, you can always try a concierge doctor service, such as MDVIP. It costs about $1,500 USD a year. With the service, you can choose a doctor and have around-the-clock access to him or her. Your doctor can write scripts, give you referrals… everything a doctor can do, but it gets to happen on your own schedule. If you travel, the service can connect you with another doctor wherever you are in case you need medical assistance. While I personally haven’t tried the service, I have heard good things about it.

D-Day

DoctorMissing doctor’s appointments can be really devastating, especially if you’re on your last few pills and need the script refilled quickly. To help avoid this, I try to schedule all of my appointments on the same day. I’ve scheduled appointments this way for years, and now I have a mental note that Wednesday is my “Doctor Day.” When Wednesday comes along, I pay special attention to my calendar to make sure I don’t miss anything. Plus, it makes it easier to take time off of work or school.