Secured Snacks

Here it is in all its glory

Here it is in all its glory

– TRIGGER WARNING –

I’ve been putting off writing about this hack for awhile. This one is difficult to admit. Food, weight, and control are some of my biggest triggers, and here they are in one embarrassing life hack.

Let me start at the beginning: I’m on a number of medications, including antipsychotics. I take them at night, but there’s this twilight hour (sometimes longer) between the time the meds kick in and the time I fall asleep that is hell. All I think about is food, and my self-control disappears. If that twilight zone lasts too long, it goes into a cycle of binging and purging. I eat tons of stuff that I don’t even really like, and then Ctrl + z my stomach by puking. Again, and again, and again until I fall asleep.

To make matters worse, I eat in my sleep. There have been times when I wake up with half-eaten food in my bed and I have no idea how it got there. Chips, crackers, tortillas… even frozen (!) lobster ravioli. When the sun comes up, it shines on crumbs, shame, guilt, and one hell of a stomach ache.

I’ve tried everything to stop. Brushing my teeth, chewing gum, chewing wax, whitening my teeth, drinking water, drinking Diet Coke, taking my pills later, taking my pills earlier, mints, low-calorie snacks, trying to just say no, self-injury, eating more during the day, eating less during the day, “thinspiration,” positive thinking, negative thinking, eating acidic foods so it hurts to purge, journaling, art… this is only a portion of the list. And you know what it did?

Jack shit.

When I lived at college, I just didn’t keep any food in the room, but when I moved back in with my parents, I couldn’t control the pantry. However, when I moved into a new space with my boyfriend, I decided to accept the side effect and admit that I needed a stronger barrier than what my tired mind could provide.

And that’s where the bicycle lock comes in. I’ve designated one cabinet as a secure snack space. I put all of the foods I’m most likely to binge on or sleep-eat. It’s mostly dark chocolate (I have a small piece every night before I go to bed), high-carb food, desserts, and salty snacks. If it doesn’t fit in the cabinet, I only buy small portions. During the day, I leave the cabinet open. I only binge after I’ve taken my meds. Before I go to bed, I lock the cabinet and hand the key to my boyfriend P, who hides it somewhere around the house. Sleep-me can’t find the key, and awake-me often settles for a low-cal snack or just gives up. There’s something about removing temptation that sets me free and relieves stress. I don’t have to put so much effort into self-control if binging isn’t even an option. When P wakes up, he unlocks the cabinet or tells me where the key is.

The process started out as humiliating:

“I’m so pathetic that I have to lock my food up?”

“What does P think? I’m so embarrassed.”

“I’m a failure.”

But somewhere along the way, I realized that it’s not really me who’s binging. That’s Seroquel-me, not regular me. It’s not something I could really control even if I tried. There have been so many studies about gaining weight on antipsychotics and other psychiatric medications. If this is something I have to do to counteract Seroquel-me, I shouldn’t be embarrassed.

There are a few problems with this system. You can’t live alone (who would hide the key?). If you live with a lot of other people, they might not be happy about locking food up. It’s harder to lock fridges and freezers. Your roommate could forget where they hid the key. If you have guests, it could be embarrassing for them to see locks on the cabinets (I use a bicycle lock to prevent this- I take it off and no one is any the wiser). But who knows? It might work for you.

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

Replacements

One of these has got to fit mine, right?

When you buy an item that requires a replacement part, take a picture of what the replacement part looks like. That way, when you get to the store, you’ll always know the part you need.

Sample items this works for:
Razors
Air/Water filters
Light bulbs
Electric toothbrush heads
Wiper blades
Batteries (for watches, scales, etc)
Vacuum bags
Printer ink
Cords, wires, chargers
Air freshened cartridges
Items in a matching set (flatware, dishes, etc)
Hardware (screws, nails, etc)

Making Your Bed

I’ve had my share of bed-bound days, the days where I just can’t bring myself to leave my mattress. On those days, I like to make my bed after I wake up. If I spend the day in bed, I relax on top of the blankets rather than under them, and if I need the comfort of a blanket, I used a throw instead. This way, I still have a separation of sleeping/awake time, but it doesn’t require as much energy.

When You Don’t Make the Cut

A can of 20 picks from Whipping Post

 

-TRIGGER WARNING-

I don’t talk about self-injury (SI) much, but since it was a significant portion of my life for awhile, and I know others might struggle with this, I want to tell you about my coping mechanisms.

By now, I’ve mostly overcome cutting. I’m not going to lie- there are some times where I miss it. To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I found it soothing. If I had to guess, it might be because I liked taking care of something I could see. You can’t see mental illness, but would a healthy person destroy their forearms and thighs with a pocket knife? It was like I had to prove to myself that I was sick. And then, when I was done with my routine, I’d clean myself up, like I had fixed something. I haven’t found anything healthy that will truly replace that feeling (here’s to hoping that you do!); instead, I’ve come up with a few things that are physical and can distract me until the feeling passes.

One strategy I use is to carry around fidget toys. The best ones are the ones that hurt, but don’t pierce the skin. Guitar picks are small and feel almost like a knife. They’re very small and you can put them in your pocket. They’re also pretty cheap and rather normal to carry around. You can get a can of 20 here or go to any music store.

There are also spiky dryer balls that you can carry around. If you squeeze them hard enough, you can definitely feel pain. There are also weird hair detanglers you can get.

In addition, coating your skin with eucalyptus oil or rubbing alcohol wipes creates a tingling sensation.

Again, it might not always help, but each step is better than no step at all.

Traveling with Baggage

Don’t forget Mr. Carrots!

At the moment, I’m preparing for a long weekend trip. Like many people who suffer from mental illness, I’m not a great traveller. There’s so much instability inside of me that I try to control and stabilize the world around me. However, I’m determined to not be limited, so I do travel quite a bit.

The way I prepare is to treat my trip like I’m traveling with a nervous toddler. Prepare well, keep yourself distracted, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

 

Before the Trip

1. Plan an itinerary. 

Think about it: What does a toddler do during a trip? “Where are we going? How are we going to get there? When are we gonna get there? How long now? What are we doing?”

First, realistically evaluate your destination and transportation options. If you’re still suffering from major symptoms, it’s probably best not to hop on a fifteen hour international flight. Plane trips can be nerve-wracking for anyone, and people have very little tolerance for people acting strangely on airplanes (it’s sad and unfair, but it’s the truth). In addition, international medical emergencies can be confusing, stressful, and expensive.

However, if your symptoms are manageable and you feel you can handle international travel, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a try. If stress is an issue, look for low-key destinations. For example, if you’re not good around crowds, avoid Beijing and look into Bergen. Investigate places where English is a native language or a very common second language. If you’re worried about emergency medical costs, you can investigate buying travel health insurance. Or, you can avoid this in favor of domestic travel. There are so many places to go and so many ways to travel that there’s bound to be something that works for you.

The itinerary doesn’t need to be a blow-by-blow checklist, but planning roughly what you’ll do and where you’ll sleep is a big help. If you know what to expect, you can prepare yourself for the difficult parts of travel, like crowds, bed times, and meals. You can also use the itinerary as a countdown during the difficult parts of your trip. If you know that the plane ride takes three hours, you can reassure yourself that the turbulence won’t last forever. In addition, this makes medication timing a lot easier, especially if you need to coordinate meal times.

 

2. Pack by priority.

Think about it: What would you do if your toddler needed a stuffed animal to sleep, but you left Mr. Carrots at home? You can’t just buy her a new rabbit!

When you pack, there are a lot of things to think about and remember. Clothes, electronic devices, chargers, toiletries… there is just so much stuff! I inevitably forget something. So what do I do? I plan for my forgetfulness. I make a list of everything I need, but I really concentrate on what I can’t replace or do without when I arrive at my destination. For example, I can always buy new socks if I forget those, but forgetting my medication would be a nightmare to fix. I can go without my favorite hand lotion, but I can’t go without my phone.

So, before you start packing, determine what your Mr. Carrots objects are. Mine are:

    • Medication
    • Phone
    • Glasses
    • Credit cards
    • Important documents (driver’s license, passport, tickets, etc)

While it would be nice to remember my Bose earphones, I can always pick up cheap headphones at a Walmart. I also need my Fitbit, but I can even buy a new one if I forgot it. I cannot, however, find a new passport at Walmart (maybe you have better connections that I do). Keep the list as small as possible and know that as long as you remembered that stuff, you’ll be ok.

 

3. Figure out what needs to happen for you to stick to your routine.

Think about it: Have you ever encountered a toddler who missed his nap time? It’s not pretty, and it’s not quiet.

His reaction would be pretty similar to mine if I didn’t take my pills at the right time or didn’t get the right amount of sleep. Before you leave, notice what you do during the day. What time do you wake up? When do you go to bed? At what times do you eat? How much downtime do you need between activities?

Once you’ve noticed your routine, think about ways you might stick to it. For example, if you take a break between work and dinner every day, set aside an hour or two between your museum tour and that restaurant reservation. If you’re hitting up Vegas for a bachelor party, let everyone know you might not be joining them after midnight. These are the small things that make a huge difference once you’re there.

While You’re Traveling

1. Keep yourself distracted.

Think about it: Would you rather sit next to a bored toddler or one who’s busy with a puzzle?

What I’ve found is that the more time you have to think, the worse the traveling process can be. I try listen to music or audiobooks. Sometimes, I grab a magazine or easy book. If you’re traveling with others, you can always play games like Going on a Picnic or the license plate game. Essentially, I try to jam-pack my mind during travel so I can’t think about anything else.

 

While You’re There

1. Treat jet lag as a real trigger.

Think about it: It’s 3am and your toddler is jumping on her bed, wide awake and ready to go. Not a fun time.

If you cross timezones during your trip, jet lag can be a huge concern. You can use these tips from IAMAT to help avoid jet lag. In addition, medication scheduling is important. You can start by using a website like this one. Once you have a basic schedule, run it by your doctor for his/her advice. 

 

2. Do things you enjoy.

Think about it: If Ethan wants to go to Legoland, how much would he really enjoy going with his sister Eloise to the American Girl Doll store

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easily you can overlook that. Things happen, concessions are made, and suddenly Ethan is busy throwing combs at the wall in the American Girl Hair Salon. If you’re not a fan of walking, I’m willing to bet that you won’t be very happy at the end of an eight hour hike. If you get sea sick, a whale watch might not be the best idea. If your days are filled with hikes you don’t want to take and whale watches you don’t want to go on, travel won’t be a very good experience.

If you and your fellow travelers enjoy doing the same things, that’s great! If you don’t, try finding an activity with which you’re both comfortable. If Eloise hates Legos and Ethan hates dolls, try visiting Disney instead. I aim for activities that are slow-paced, interesting, and have opportunities to leave if I get nervous.

 

3. Know your limits.

Think about it: Your best friend Elliot really wants to go to a midnight parade. It might be fun, but you know it’s loud, intense, and way past your daughter Eve’s bed time. How would that night be for Eve? How would the next day go?

These are critical moments. That parade might sound incredible, but if loud noises, late nights, and crowds are big triggers for you, you might want to sit that one out and settle for the pictures. It might not seem like a big deal at the time, but stretching way beyond your comfort zone could ruin your trip and even have lasting effects.

These are just a few tips to get you started. If you’re curious to know more or actively planning a vacation, check out the resources below. Bon voyage!

WHO Recommendations

Making a Medical Portfolio

IAMAT Resources

 

Let It Go: Sometimes you have to settle for Frozen

Let’s face it- sometimes, cooking isn’t an option and you settle on frozen meals. My favorite musing on frozen dinners comes from Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding:

So think of smart shopping in the freezer section as the equivalent of hiring a squad of nutritional bodyguards. Would you rather be eating a home-cooked meal of tortiglioni alla norma with a nice frisée salad and a glass of merlot on the side? Sure, and you’d probably rather be eating it in the sprawling dining room of your Greek Revival mansion overlooking Malibu Beach. But guess what: Sometimes you gotta settle for the best of two mediocre choices. And that’s where frozen foods come in.

I looked up a recipe for Pasta alla Norma, and I think I had a heart attack. And a frisée salad? There is WAY too much French in that recipe for it to be remotely doable on a bad night.

Obviously, a frozen dinner isn’t the ideal situation. As expected, they tend to include a lot of preservatives, including salt. In fact, some dinners contain half a day’s worth of sodium in one meal. In addition, many frozen foods have additives like glyphosphate and castoreum (safe and FDA approved, but still pretty gross).

But there have to be some good ones, right?

Yep! One of my favorites is Evol foods frozen meals. As they become more well-known, you can find wider varieties of their foods at many common stores. I grab mine at Target. Evol products are made out of GMO-free, antibiotic-free, all-natural foods. They taste good, and I haven’t gotten sick eating them (a huge plus, since I get sick from everything). They are a little more on the expensive side (as you’d expect), but worth it (in my opinion). Plus, if you save up enough points, you can get a free t-shirt, which I care about more than I really should.

Amy’s Kitchen is another brand that I trust (whatever that unofficial opinion is worth to you). They make a wide variety of foods and cater to various dietary needs, such as gluten free, vegan, low sodium, etc. They make some great burritos and breakfast meals. The one item I absolutely cannot recommend is their dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free rice macaroni and cheeze (yes, the “z” is supposed to be there). I was on a very specific, very restrictive diet for awhile, and I gave that meal a try. I swear to God, I can still taste the disgusting orange goop. But apart from that, I like Amy’s.

I also recommend Kashi products. They make pretty reliable frozen entrées. Their Chicken Pasta Pomodoro is a decent pasta choice.

So, what are the foods you should absolutely avoid? Hot Pockets are up there.

Anything Hungry-Man should be off your table, especially since there are way better-tasting options (according to my brother, who used to live on frozen food). Chicken pot pies (while delicious), are also recipes for disaster (I’m rocking the puns today!).

So, when you’re evaluating frozen dinners, check out the calorie counts, fat content, and salt. As I’ve said before, Eat This, Not That! has helped me. I also tend to stick with the same foods once I know I like them.

Easy Eats

Time to prep a midnight snack.

Time to prep a midnight snack.

Let’s face it- a big part of what we choose to eat is what we see in front of us. Think about it. It’s late at night and a hour after you took your Seroquel. You get that nagging need to eat, so you raid your fridge and pantry looking for something to nom on.

What do you eat? Well, what’s there? Ice cream? Chips?

In general, it’s easier to find unhealthy snacks. They’re shelf stable, easy to package, and all the cooking is done for you. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are hard. You have to wash them and cut them. Avocados go bad, like, five minutes after you buy them. If you’re not feeling that great or if it’s late at night, your train of thought won’t be, “Oh wow! So happy I grabbed that zucchini! Let’s wash, peel, and slice that sucker. Maybe I’ll pan-fry that bitch in some Himalayan sea salt and olive oil.” Or, if that is your train of thought, I envy you, because mine is: “Are those chips? Are they more than crumbs? How stale are they?” Although, I’d still eat them even if they tasted like cardboard and I had to use a spoon.

So what do you do? Make it easier to eat the healthy option. If you buy fresh vegetables, wash and cut them all at once and toss them in the fridge. I love fresh berries. When I get some, I dump them in my Sistema colander/storage container, wash them with a veggie wash, and stick them in the fridge. You can also find pre-cut and washed apples, carrots, etc in the produce department of your grocery store. Yogurt is a great choice, especially those nifty Siggi’s tubes. And there’s also my old stand-by of hard boiled eggs.

If you need something shelf-stable, try almonds or applesauce. Besides the salt, turkey jerky can be a good choice for protein. Bananas and peanut butter are a good choice.

Once you have a selection of good snacks, make the unhealthy snacks harder to get. You can avoid buying them, have a friend hide them from you, put them in the basement, or keep them in your car. Worst case? Get one of these kitchen timed safes. Make yourself work a little for it.

Weighted Blankets

I’d like to give a shout-out for weighted blankets. If you’ve never felt one, it feels like the lead covering they put on you when you’re getting an x-ray. It’s just what it sounds like- a ridiculously heavy blanket that you can throw on top of yourself for comfort. I thought it sounded dumb until I tried one when I was in inpatient therapy. They actually feel quite calming. These are especially helpful for people with a lot of anxiety or autism. Something about the weight calms you down.

Weighted blankets can be a little pricey, but it can be worth the steep price tag if you find it helps. Or, if you’re crafty, you can sew one.

Drug Scheduling

Note: This information is only valid in the United States. In addition, I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or have any sort of important credentials. Always check with an authority in your area if you have any questions.

Today, I want to talk about controlled substances and drug scheduling. Like many with mental illness, I take a few controlled substances. I take both a stimulant for ADHD (Schedule II) and a sedative (Schedule IV) for anxiety. Both drugs are highly regulated, which makes it hard to obtain them (even legally!). In addition, there are a lot of special rules surrounding scheduled drugs.

So, what are these classifications? This is from the DEA’s website:

 

Schedule I

Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.

Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:

    • Heroin
    • LSD
    • Marijuana (cannabis)
    • MDMA
    • Peyote

 

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.

Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:

    • Cocaine
    • Methamphetamine
    • Methadone
    • Demerol
    • OxyContin
    • Fentanyl
    • Adderall & Ritalin

 

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV.

Some examples of Schedule III drugs are:

    • Vicodin
    • Tylenol with codeine
    • Ketamine
    • Anabolic Steroids
    • Testosterone

 

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.

Some examples of Schedule IV drugs are:

    • Xanax
    • Soma
    • Darvon
    • Darvocet
    • Valium
    • Ativan
    • Ambien

Schedule V

Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes.

Some examples of Schedule V drugs are:

    • Robitussin AC
    • Lomotil
    • Motofen
    • Lyrica
    • Parepectolin

 

Travel

States have their own laws about handling controlled substances, including filling the prescriptions, driving with them on your person, and traveling. For example, if you’re in New York, you must have your medication in its original container. In Texas, there have even been accounts of people being questioned and arrested for having unmarked medication. In other states, all you need is proof of a prescription.

So what should you do? Well, the safest thing would be to always keep it in its original container. I would also recommend that process if you’re traveling by airplane, especially internationally. While the TSA doesn’t mandate this, other countries might. In addition, you should obtain proof of your prescription and a valid ID (driver’s license, passport, military ID, etc).

But is this practical? For me, no. I take many pills a day, and I’d have to constantly carry a backpack if I needed them all in their original containers (granted, this is really only important for narcotics, but I like to exaggerate). When I travel, I keep my controlled substances in their original containers. I only have three, so it’s not a big deal. For the others, I keep them in a day-by-day pill box. I’ve never had any problems, and I’ve flown both domestically and internationally.

 

At Home

Generally, I just keep everything I need during the day in a pillbox in my purse. If I don’t need it during the day or in an emergency, I leave it at home. Every Sunday, I sort all of my pills into my pill boxes. If I empty a pill bottle, I disguise the name and Rx on the bottle using a security stamp like this one. Then, I recycle the bottles. When it comes to controlled substances, you definitely want to protect your identity. One, people can steal your identity, and two, they know that you have narcotics in your house and might try to rob you.

 

Around Friends

I try not to make it a point to discuss what meds I take. For one, it tends to alienate others, and for two, I’d rather not put people in the position that they know what medication I take. For example, my friend has bipolar disorder, and she takes a mild sedative. She had previously told people that she was prescribed that particular medication. Later, she found that someone had gone through her purse and stolen most of the pills from her pill bottle. You never know what people are going to do, so it’s probably best not to tempt them.

So, what can you do? Well, try to keep your pills as close to your as possible when you go out. You could also lock them in a small bag. Or, disguise them in a container that doesn’t look like a pill bottle (I use a contact lens case). Note: You probably shouldn’t do this if you live in NY. If you live in a group setting, such as a dorm room, hide them somewhere or invest in a small safe or lockable toolbox.