Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘moods’

Bipolar Disorder: Mood and Food

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FDA looks to ban trans fats. Exceptions made if consumed while depressed, anxious, or without anything better to do.

The Daily Show

If that were true, I could eat all the trans fats I wanted, because my bipolar 2 often leaves me depressed and/or anxious.

In fact, my friend Leslie, who is my partner in depression, invented the perfect snack for depressive times: a ruffled potato chip dipped in cream cheese with an M&M on top. My husband starts to worry about me when I ask him to get those ingredients at the store.

But there’s a reason for our peculiar snack. Leslie and I are simply self-medicating.

“Blood sugar and carbohydrate intake are very important to the brain,” according to Everyday Health. “Your brain runs on glucose and depends on carbohydrates to supply the energy it needs. Carbohydrate intake also prompts the production and release of important neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which creates a feeling of calm and well-being and reduces depression. So people with bipolar disorder may be indulging in a form of self-medication when they eat sugary snacks during depressive lows or manic highs.”

Not that self-medication is good for us. Bipolar people are more likely to have type 2 diabetes than the rest of the population. Three times more likely. One of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes is excessive weight and we all know and bitch about the weight gain from our assorted meds. Prescribing ourselves the Ben & Jerry’s treatment is not going to help, even though it may feel like it at the time.

So what are we supposed to be eating to help stabilize our moods? Of course, people will recommend turmeric, cider vinegar, or the latest “superfood.”  But every serious list I saw looked like this:

  • complex carbohydrates, especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • protein in the form of lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy
  • omega-fatty acids from fatty fish (such as salmon), walnuts, and flaxseeds

In other words, exactly the kind of diet that is recommended to everyone for general good health! I think this comes under the heading of self-care, which is not always easy to do. Especially when I’m so depressed I can’t even manage a microwave cup of mac-n-cheese, or when my husband brings home a rack of ribs that he bought on sale.

But if I am stable enough to shop and cook and eat properly, those recommended foods may be good for my mood disorder as well as my body. According to, eating protein “promotes serotonin and improved moods.” They also note that researchers in Italy say “increased consumption of omega fatty acids helps reduce depressive episodes and decreases the risk for suicide in patients with bipolar.” So apparently fish is brain food after all.

The other common suggestion in this realm of self-care is to keep a food journal, or I guess in this case a food and mood journal, to keep track of what you’re eating and how it affects your moods. If you’re the journalling sort, by all means, give this a try. As for me, I blog rather than journal and I know you don’t want to see a lot of “ate salmon, felt energized; ate chips with cream cheese and M&Ms, felt sad.”

The fact that food and mood are related is just one more example of how the brain and the body are intertwined, interdependent. It gives us a clue about the kinds of self-care that may do the most to help us stabilize our moods. And it gives us a chance to take more control, if we can, of our mental as well as physical health.

Tracking Your Moods: Low-Tech, High-Tech, and In Between

Many therapists and people with bipolar disorder recommend journaling as a practice that allows you to track your moods and figure out what your triggers are. And many individuals do well with journaling.

I didn’t, however. I tried starting a journal of what I was doing and what I accomplished daily. It rapidly turned boring and whiny. My entries looked like this:


  1. Paid cell phone.
  2. Forced myself to finish work assignment.
  3. Finally got off that stupid level of that horrible Candy Crush.

Writing is what I do, but journaling, especially when depressed, was an unrelenting series of pitiful nothing. Instead, I started this blog (on 1/7/14). In my blog, I could write about anything. Still, it wasn’t much good as a way to track my daily moods.

Technology is starting to address that problem. Recently some inventions have come on the market that promise to help you track your moods not just daily, but hourly (or even more often). Most of these devices resemble what would happen if a Fitbit and a mood ring had a child.

Most of them claim to monitor your moods by tracking your heart rate and/or your breathing. (One notes that it tracks your steps too, so you don’t need an extra device to do that. Another promises to monitor galvanic skin response, pulse, and skin temperature, which sounds more like a lie detector than mood tracking.) Then you take that data and compare them with what you were doing at the time and voilà – a mood journal.

Of course, these devices make certain assumptions – for example, that when your heart rate is elevated, you are anxious or tense. Needless to say, there are plenty of other things that can raise your heart rate and breathing. Sex, for one. Or running. Neither one of which is necessarily a source of anxiety for everyone. There is, as far as I can see, no way for the device to tell when you are depressed. They appear to assume that everything except anxiety is normal.

Then there’s the fact that you still have to journal. The devices work on the theory that you can look for patterns in your breathing and respiration, then figure out what you were doing when that happened. Upgraded devices and apps are planned that will add calendar and location functions to make this easier. But if you’re in your house the whole time the moods are happening, it won’t tell you much.

(One brand of these devices is available only from an employer, health plan, or EAP, which, if you ask me, is pretty creepy. If there’s anyone I don’t want to have information about my moods, it’s my employer.)

My friend Mike came up with an in-between solution that uses both higher-tech and lower-tech approaches to monitoring his moods. Over a period of several months, Mike had been on four different drug regimens for depression. Not all of them worked, and he was unsure which did the most good.

His idea was to go to his social media and chat apps and take a look at when he was the most active, engaged, and responsive. Then he looked at what medication he was on at the time. He noticed, for example, that in the first few weeks of April, he was posting more about accomplishments and responding to others’ posts and chat messages. A quick check of his pharmacy records and he had a pretty good idea of which medications were working best. No journaling involved – the evidence of his increased energy was right there in front of him, already recorded. And no $150 expense for an emotional tracking device.

Maybe journaling is right for you. Maybe a wearable mood tracker is the thing that will help. But don’t overlook the tools you already have. Think about them in new ways and you may already have a handle on understanding your moods and meds.


The Teen in my Head

There is someone else living inside my brain.

I don’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly called Multiple Personalities). I just have another me who pipes up from time to time. And, man, can she be annoying!

She’s 14 years old, and she doesn’t have a name. I don’t know when I acquired her, but I do know when she acts up.

She’s the one who frets when a friend doesn’t answer my IM. When he does, she squees, “He noticed me! He noticed me!” She’s the one who wants to buy ridiculous, useless – but amusing – things. She makes me eat that extra chocolate cookie, then frets about getting fat and pimply. She’s the one who is hooked on all the stupid clicky Internet games.

I’ve heard the theory that everyone has a mental age that they get stuck at. No matter how old they get, they always picture themselves at that age. Mine is somewhere between 28 and 34. So how did I end up with a 14-year-old?

My theory about her existence is that she is there to try to do what I never did when I was 14 – all the regular teen-age angst and frivolous stuff: mad crushes and pouting, self-obsession and discovering her sexuality, in-jokes with BFFs and trying out fingernail polish.

When I was actually 14, I did none of that. I was in a prolonged downward mood swing, made worse by puberty and the horrors of junior high school. I wrote depressing poetry and read French existentialists. If they had had hipsters back then, I suppose I would have been one.

When I feel her popping up in the back of my skull, most of the time I have to put her in a box and sit on the lid. It’s scary to let her take over. She’s rapid-cycling, impulsive, and worst of all, unmedicated. (I don’t know why my meds don’t affect her, but there you are, they don’t.)

Once in a while I let her out of the box. I let her enjoy some mad crushes (as long as she doesn’t do anything about them). I let her buy things that cost $20 or less. I let her talk me into fake fingernails (once!). I let her have some of the fun that I never had at that age.

The thing is, I don’t know if this is just a me thing, a female thing, or a bipolar thing.

I know I’m not completely alone in having a teen ride-along. I do know a man with DID who has an alter that is a teen girl. I could tell when she was out because she giggles a lot and buys junk food. A friend of mine who has suffered from depression also has a 14-year-old in her head. She has given her teen a name – Innie Me. Hers behaves a lot like mine.

I also don’t know whether having a teen living in my head is a good thing or a bad thing. It could be good, because it does give me access to the feelings and experiences I never had as an actual teen. My teen is better than I am at having fun.

On the other hand, I know it would be a bad thing if I let her have her way all the time. She needs that box and I need to sit on the lid. The trick is knowing when and how and for how long to let her out.

On an episode of Scrubs, one character remarks that no matter how old a woman gets, she always has an insecure 14-year-old inside her. I suppose that men have similar phenomena. Most people are said to have an inner child (although I think they are usually younger than 14). I think my husband’s inner child is usually about seven.

Certainly my teen is insecure. There’s no question about that. But she’s also enthusiastic, engaged, and energetic, as well as moody, dramatic, and confused. I think she may be related to the hypomanic part of myself, although I’m also sure some of my fits of apparently reasonless weeping have been her acting up.

My therapist knows about my 14-year-old. We have discussed her and her behavior and her moods several times. Dr. B. has never expressed surprise or shock or puzzlement at the idea. She does think it’s good that I’m learning to sit on the box lid when I need to. We’ve talked less about when it’s a good time to let her out. That’s something I still need to work on.

I guess I’ll have to learn to live with my 14-year-old, because I don’t think she’s going away anytime soon. And I don’t think I really want her to.






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