Hello again, Internet! I hope the last few days have gone well for you all. I’ve spent the time catching up on my school work (yes, I’m a college student – more on that later) and doing some additional reading. I think we established that reading is something I love to do!
I was thinking a bit about tools we have as the mentally ill, and also about how I personally think those tools can be best used. Not to sound arrogant about that, but I wanted to explore what I could do to be a better human, bi-polar or not. I’ve touched on my personal medications in general terms, and how some of those work together to make me feel more comfortable. I wanted to report that about 2 weeks ago, I had a moment where I could actually TELL my medication was working. I was happy, and content, just kind of randomly. I’d actually forgotten what that felt like. It’s a pretty sweet feeling, and a funny realization, all at once.
So my medications are working, but what else could I be doing to get back to my personal normal? I began taking college courses on-line 2+ years ago, and I found that fun, and interesting. Since I am not working at the moment, I thought it was a great time to get back on that. First I checked with my team of doctors and insurance people to be sure I was allowed to do this. If anyone reading this in my situation is thinking about enrolling, please be sure to check with your team as well! In my case. everyone (including my employer) was good with 1-2 classes online, as long as I wasn’t going to be on campus (too much pressure, too many people, etc). Since I take classes through an online program affiliated with a state university, I was good. I scheduled 2 freshman level science courses, and got to work. I find debate and learning to be stimulating mentally, and I find that they help me to have something to do during the day. So far, I’m back at school, and the experience is going OK. Not too overwhelming, and it provides some structure to my week.
The other tool I was thinking about is food. In my house, we are struggling to eat well. It’s actually been easier since I’ve been getting better. Towards the beginning of this “in house” period, it was rough. I didn’t want to go anywhere, see anyone, or anything. My wife would come home and I’d have gotten carry out or delivery. That’s OK every once in a while, but 2-3 times per week? Not so much. Now think about it for a week straight…..yikes!
So as I’ve progressed in my treatment, I’ve begun to take a good amount of pride in pulling together a home made, reasonably nutritious dinner for my wife and I. Some days it’s all I really “accomplish”, but at the least we are eating! Progress, right? I was watching a segment on HSN the other day (I know, I know….) and they were hawking supplements. I was thinking about the link between nutrients and mental health, so (as I mentioned) I did some reading
(You really shouldn’t let me digress like that……..)
I wanted to share a passage I found during my “research” that shook me. It’s here:
“Chronic hunger and energy deprivation profoundly affects mood and responsiveness. The body responds to energy deprivation by shutting or slowing down nonessential functions, altering activity levels, hormonal levels, oxygen and nutrient transport, the body’s ability to fight infection, and many other bodily functions that directly or indirectly affect brain function. People with a consistently low energy intake often feel apathetic, sad, or hopeless.”
Sounds oddly familiar, at least to me. I often forget to eat, and then have low energy levels. The same article points out that simply skipping a meal can lead to lower mental functioning, and that nutrient deficiencies can lead to a host of issues. I think we all know that nutrient loss can make you unwell. Osteoporosis comes to mind, as does anemia (both common in ladies, but also in a growing number of men). What I’d never really considered was what nutrient loss could be doing to my mental health. According to Dr. Annemarie Colbin, of Food&Healing.com, this can be a big problem. I read through 2 of her articles, and came up with some interesting points that I wanted to share:
- Lack of B Vitamins (Niacin, B12, Thiamine, B6) can all cause depression, apathy, and memory loss. B6 is tricky though – too much is also bad for you!
- Lack of Vitamin C and Vitamin D have been linked for years to Seasonal Affective Disorder (known as SAD). Particularly Vitamin D.
- Neurotransmitters are generated when we consume amino acids, which are found in protein heavy foods. Everyone should be sure to consume proteins. This is tough for vegetarians, but beans and nuts contain high levels of proteins as well.
- Omega 3’s are very successful in combating depression, and have been recommended for years. As we know, oily fish contain these essential ingredients. So do supplements, if you don’t like fish.
Another point she made was this: too many sweets can cause despondency and sadness, due in part to the carbohydrates they contain. People frequently substitute a meal for a sweet drink, or water for something like a sports drink or a coffee, which can make this even worse. These habits become habit forming, and can lead to all sorts of nutrient issues.
OK! So, as you can tell, I’m passionate about this topic, too. I don’t do as well following the guidelines that these pages all suggest, but I condensed it down to my Four Mental Health Food Guidelines. I figured anyone should be able to do these four things. What are they?
- Avoid excess sweets, especially soda and sports drinks. They don’t bring anything nutritionally to the table, and lead to issues of their own.
- Avoid cane sugar and artificial sweeteners where you can. Granola bars and “breakfast bars” are frequent culprits, so are kids cereals. (It’s really a crime what we feed out kids……different blog though).
- Eat a well balanced plate with every meal. Don’t skip meals. Every meal should have proteins (especially important for us – remember the neurotransmitters!), fruits and veggies (tough at breakfast, I admit), and lastly some whole grains.
- Take a multi-vitamin. Every day. In our case, be sure that Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and the B Vitamins are included. This is life changing.
The most important thing I could add on nutrition and mental health is this: take the multivitamins. Every day. I’ve been doing it for months, and I’ve been getting better. Of course, I have medications, too. But the vitamins are simply doing what the med’s do. They are replenishing my bodies supply of things they NEED to function properly. My wife and I use a gummy vitamin, since I have so many other pills to swallow in the morning.
Thanks for reading. I know this one diverged a bit towards the middle, but I appreciate you meandering along with me. To summarize: Exercise your brain – and FEED IT correctly.
If you wanted to read the articles I referenced,
1. Nutrition and Mental Health by Dr. Annemarie Colbin
2. Food and Your Mood by the NCHPAD
3. Nutrition and Mental Health in Children by the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders