traceylukkarila.com

mindfulness, depression, yoga, mental health, finding a way

When I wrote my last blog, Tracey’s Anti-Anxiety Recipe, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I eschew pharmaceuticals. There is such a bias against medication that I don’t want contribute to that. Pharmaceuticals have been a godsend for me. I simply could not have wrestled my depression into submission without them. But it hasn’t been a simple “take a pill” — far from it. It’s been a bit of a journey to find the right drugs for my depression.

Upon release from the hospital, my drug regimen was Paxil 60mg, Remeron 7.5mg, Lo’Ogestrel (birth control), and Vistaril 50mg. Over the next few years, my psychiatrist adjusted my regimen to add Lithium 450mg and dropped the Vistaril. While I was light years better than I had been in the hospital, I was still plagued with periodic hopelessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. They weren’t constantly present as they had been, but still too often to call my life fulfilling.

In 2017, I started having overwhelming fatigue. I was falling asleep during the day – at the wheel, during meetings –  and sleeping my weekends away. It was terrible. I felt my life was becoming meaningless as I had no energy to do anything. My doctor tested my thyroid and decided it wasn’t functionally optimally, so she added Synthroid to my drug regimen. But the fatigue remained. Then I had a sleep study that showed no sleep apnea or narcolepsy. I was diagnosed with “idiopathic sleep disorder” which basically meant no one knew.

I had the sneaking suspicion it was the Paxil. I researched all the side effects of my meds, and only two had sleepiness: Paxil and Remeron. I have been taking low-dose Remeron to help me sleep for two decades, so that wasn’t the culprit. I asked my psychiatrist to switch the Paxil. She was very concerned about making me worse, so she ordered a DNA test to help us choose the right drug.

The DNA test was so fascinating. Here’s what it revealed:

  • I am a poor metabolizer of Paxil, Prozac, Effexor, Trintellix, and all of the tricyclic antidepressants. This meant I had a lot of Paxil built up in my system and I wasn’t processing it properly. It also meant I could expect to have a lot of side effects from the others.
  • I am an intermediate metabolizer of Fetzima, which means I metabolize it okay, but not optimally. Fetzima is SNRI, so it’s different from an SSRI in that it also increases norepinephrine, which can be dicey for someone like me who has agitated depression. (When I get depressed, I get antsy, can’t sleep, restless rather than lethargic and not able to get out of the bed.) So Fetzima was our last option.
  • There is no antidepressant that I metabolize normally, so we were left with the ones I metabolize fast: Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro. We chose Zoloft. To deal with the ultra-rapid metabolizing, I take half of the dose in the AM and the other half at lunch. I sometimes take a 25mg extra in the late afternoon if I feel my mood drop. Within 15 minutes my mood lifts. It’s crazy amazing.
  • Another interesting finding is that I have the MTHFR mutation. This means no matter how much Folate I get, my body can’t convert it and use it. The converted form l-methylfolate shuttles tryptophan into the brain, which is how the brain makes serotonin. There’s no way to measure serotonin in the brain, but it’s likely I have a shortage. Antidepressants do not make serotonin, but block the uptake of the serotonin so the brain can use it longer. But if there’s a shortage of serotonin, antidepressants don’t have the ingredients to do their job. So I now take 15mg of l-methylfolate daily.

This new drug regimen is the ticket. I started this back in November 2017, but I wanted to wait several months before declaring to the world that this is working. I’m happy to report it is. I’ve not had suicide thoughts at all so far this year.

If your meds aren’t the best, I highly recommend the DNA test. It wasn’t covered by insurance which sucks. It cost  $250, but saved me the pain and anguish of the trial and error approach that’s standard in psychiatry.

The DNA also tested anti-psychotics, analgesics, opiods,  muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, nsaids, and platelet inhibitors. I found out that I am a poor metabolizer of codeine, oxycontin, tramadol, and vicodin. This means I can overdose on these meds at normal doses. Pretty good information to know. The codeine was interesting because I’ve also hated the way it makes me feel, and list it as an allergy even though it’s not really an allergic reaction. Now I know!

The company we used is Millenium Health – the test is the PGT. Your doctor has to order it.

In order to manage my depression, I know I have to be vigilant about managing my stress and anxiety as well. When anxiety is building, I know it’s just a short trip to crazy town. When anxiety starts knocking on my door, I get right on it, and focus on to supporting my body’s ability to heal and calming my nervous system.

Here’s my recipe for anxiety.

Daily Vitamins:

15 mg of l-methylfolate (bioavailable form of Folate)
  • Building block of serotonin (well-being neurotransmitter); many people don’t process regular Folate we get from our food very well and really need the bioavailable form which is only available in a supplement. I get mine from Amazon.
5000 mg of methyl cobalamin (bioavailable form of B-12)
  • We need high levels of B12; even normal levels have been shown to increase depression. Many people have low intrinsic factor, the enzyme that breaks down B-12. I use the bioavailable version to give myself a leg up. It’s found in stores, just have to read the label to get the right one.
High quality, bioavailable multi-vitamin
  • Hardly anyone gets all the vitamins they need from food; low quality vitamins don’t absorb well. I love Pure Essentials brand that I get from Amazon.

Daily Nutrition:

No caffeine
  • Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, we want to calm it down.
Restrict sugar, but don’t restrict carbs
  • Sugar also stimulates the nervous system and works against us.
  • However, I never restrict carbs. Carbs are essential for serotonin production. Whole grains don’t spike the nervous system the way sugar does.
Don’t get too hungry
  • Drops in blood sugar make our bodies create cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline (fight or flight hormone), both jack up the nervous system.
Stay hydrated
  • Lack of water sends our bodies into survival mode, which creates cortisol and adrenaline.

Daily Habits:

Take medications as prescribed
  • This is an area where I’m usually pretty diligent, but because I have a morning, noon, and evening medication regimen, I sometimes miss the noon dose. Usually it’s okay, but if anxiety is entering the picture, failing to stay on my schedule only compounds my anxiety. 
  • So I get serious about taking that noon dose.
  • If you want to learn about my medication regimen, visit my blog DNA Testing Game was a Changer for My Depression.
Hug and touch people
  • Physical touch makes our bodies create oxytocin, a feel good hormone.
  • I try to hug at least one person every day – preferably more. I make myself aware of my unwillingness to touch, and do it anyway. 
Get quiet time for 10-15 minutes
  • Getting quiet is very helpful for calming the nervous system.
  • I sit in a quiet room, drive with the radio off, meditate, take a walk without phone or music.
30 minutes sunshine or light box, no sunglasses or hat
  • The body needs light to create serotonin; no sunglasses or hat; the light needs to enter through the eyes.
  • To avoid skin damage, I use a 10,000 lux light box for 30 minutes each day. My light box is SunTouchPlus, which I got from Amazon. I also will take short, 10-minute walks in the sun. 
Exercise 30 minutes with elevated heart rate
  • The body creates serotonin when the heart rate goes up, so I know it’s important to exercise. But I used to go too hard and have learned this actually works against me by cranking up stress hormones. The sweet spot is a little hard to talk, but not out of breath.
  • Exercise also creates endorphins, a hormone that blocks pain and improves mood.

Chris Cornell, Born 1964, Died 2017

This past Wednesday, May 17, 2017, Chris Cornell hung himself. These deaths rip me to the bone. The first suicide that touched me was Kurt Cobain. I was 27 and he was 27. I couldn’t believe someone like me could be driven to that final desperation. I didn’t realize at the time just how lucky I was that no one close to me had committed suicide, and even luckier that I’d not struggled with suicide thoughts myself. But unfortunately, they would come.

In this age of Facebook, opinions about suicide run amok. I mostly encounter expressions of sadness and shock, but unfortunately there are also expressions of anger and hate. It’s understandable to feel hopelessness when someone leaves this world — they’re leaving a lot of loved ones behind. But allowing hopelessness to morph into anger and hate is an unloving choice. It hardly honors the person we’ve lost, and it fails to honor ourselves as the ones left behind.

So hear me…

PEOPLE WHO COMMIT SUICIDE ARE NOT SELFISH. THEY WERE IN UNBELIEVABLE PAIN.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE DEPRESSION ARE NOT WEAK.
THEY ARE INCREDIBLY STRONG FOR HANGING IN THERE ANOTHER DAY.

AND IF THEY GIVE UP AND CHECK OUT OF THIS WORLD, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SURVIVORS. IT WAS ABOUT A PAIN WE CAN’T IMAGINE.

BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING INSENSITIVE ABOUT SUICIDE, CONSIDER THAT 50% OF ALL AMERICANS HAVE STRUGGLED WITH SERIOUS SUICIDE THOUGHTS AT LEAST ONCE IN THEIR LIFE. SO IT’S VERY POSSIBLE SOMEONE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU IS STRUGGLING AND YOU DON’T KNOW IT.

YOUR INSENSITIVE WORDS MAKE IT LIKELY YOUR LOVED ONES WILL NEVER TELL YOU WHEN THEY’RE STRUGGLING. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?

The pain of depression is so horrible, it’s incredibly difficult to describe to someone who’s not been there. But let me try. When I’m not on my meds, my suicide thoughts attack me in two ways:

  1. Thoughts that I should kill myself. It almost sounds like a voice, but it’s my voice and my words. I see a knife laying on the table and the thought “Do it! Stab yourself!” pops into my head. “Jump!” “Swallow the pills!” – whatever is in my environment that could do harm becomes a suicide thought. And these are not the occasional thoughts. I’m talking about a suicide thought every 10-15 minutes for the entire time I’m awake. I can’t shut it off. It makes me fearful and anxious, which only feeds the thoughts more. It becomes a vicious cycle of depression, anxiety, and paranoia. IT GOES ON ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, DAY IN AND DAY OUT. There’s no escape.
  2. Visions accompany the thoughts. When the thought “stab yourself” appears, it’s not just words. It’s a full color visual of me plunging the knife into my gut and blood everywhere. I also have such visions of other people, so just going to the grocery store is a mental bloodbath. These visuals are not as frequent as the thoughts, but enough that I start to fear leaving the house.

What you may not know about depression is it takes a long time to recover, sometimes years. It took a lot of trial and error with medications before we found that Lithium reduced the frequency of my suicide thoughts. But it took a year of taking Lithium for my thoughts to go away. They now make their appearance every few months and only last for a 3-5 days, which is manageable.

IMAGINE DEALING WITH SUCH A DAILY HELL FOR MONTHS OR YEARS ON END. That is the reality for many depression sufferers. Can you understand how some people get to the end of their rope and let go?

So what should you say when someone has committed suicide? It’s very simple. Just say “that makes me so sad” and leave it at that. If it’s someone you know, ask what you can do to support the family.

But really, don’t judge. Have compassion. Show empathy. Be nice.

Wmindfulness_journal-cover11hen I was in 3rd grade, we did an exercise where we created a poster board with images depicting our future career. I picked writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In high school I narrowed this down to wanting to be a self-help writer. I dreamed of being a famous author interviewed on Oprah.

What I actually became was a technical writer. After 20 years of corporate information technology writing how did I come around to writing my long-awaited self-help book?

Life. Pure and simple. Continue reading

thisclosetohappy1I haven’t read Daphne Merkin’s book “This Close to Happy” yet, but she makes the point in her introductory article that men tend to write about depression as if it’s an external entity that moves in and out of their lives, but women experience their depression as an inner lack. Additionally, she says writings about depression describe episodes as these exotic events that are so abnormal to the authors’ “otherwise hyper-functioning existence.” Ms. Merkin doesn’t go into why these are problems, but I expect she explores them in her book. She ends with saying she likes to refer to her depression as a “dark season” that ends and returns with the cyclical nature of life. I look forward to reading her book and writing more about these topics.

Continue reading

Over the holidays I had lunch with a friend and somehow the subject that I take Lithium came up. She was shocked, and said “that’s heavy duty!” I replied, “not really.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this!

Lithium gets a bad rap. Maybe Lithium seems so scary because it’s the oldest psychiatric drug and associated with a time when mental health patients were locked away for months or years in eerie stone mansions and given shock therapy and lobotomies and cold water treatment. I know I was scared of it for a long time. I heard horror stories about how it made you like a zombie, took away your personality and turned you into someone else.

Here’s the reality for me: Lithium has silenced my suicide thoughts to a manageable level when nothing else I tried helped. The thoughts haven’t gone away completely, and they still rear their head about once or twice a month, but the 28-29 days each month being free of them is truly miraculous.

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Everyone can use a little sanity during the holidays! Give them my book 100 Days of Mindfulness!

With your purchase, receive 100 Days of Shift, a weekly plan for making permanent changes in life.

See the free book sample.

I created this book from top to bottom, text, layout and design — even down to drawing the mandala on the front cover! It’s been a great adventure! I hope you’ll consider buying a copy for yourself. And if you like the book, please post a review on Amazon! With your purchase, receive “100 Days of Shift” – a weekly plan for positive changes in diet, fitness, and more mindfulness.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

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Our Superstar this Sunday is one of our very own teachers, Tracey Moore Lukkarila. Tracey has done something amazing this year. She wrote and had her book, 100 Days of Mindfulness, published!!! We could not be more proud or excited to highlight her today. Continue reading to find out what inspired Tracey to write her book and how she chooses to live mindfully each day.

– What inspired you to write 100 Days of Mindfulness?

Two years ago, I had an episode of depression that took 10 months of incredible hard work to get under control. During that time I voraciously read self-help books and attended intensive group therapy and support groups. Needless to say, I tried a lot of different things to get well. Of everything I tried, yoga and mindfulness are the techniques that stuck with me. A perfect complement to yoga, I use the mindfulness techniques in my journal every day, several times of day. They are easy, simplistic, but effective. That was key for me. Depression robs you of motivation and energy, so you need simple. Over those two years, I met so many people who felt defeated. I wanted to help, so I started making journals for fellow patients. This challenged me to grow my daily mindfulness practice and I realized I had a journal I could publish.

– What do you hope for your readers to walk away with?
The biggest awareness I’ve learned from this experience is that I overcomplicate things, make my life much harder than it has to be. These little touchpoints to life in the present moment have opened me up to experience things more fully. My relationships have improved and I find pleasure in simple things more often. I even look at problems differently, seeing them for what they are, not what I imagine they are, which has led to better solutions. Life is simply easier. I hope my readers find the journal helpful, and if not, that they find what works for them. I think we can all use a bit more ease in our lives.

 

-How do you create presence in your life?
With 100 Days of Mindfulness! But seriously, I really do use the techniques in my journal. I have made a huge shift in my life to be more connected with others and to live a values-based life with gratitude. It all starts with being here, right now, out of my head, in my body. From there, I can choose what to do next rather than not noticing life pass by while I stew on my thoughts. That’s really powerful.

You can purchase 100 Days of Mindfulness at Hot Spot Power Yoga or on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/100-Days-Mindfulness-Pr…/…/B01KG0KBQG

It’s time to live in the present! Simply stated, mindfulness is the practice of living in the present. It’s choosing to focus on the here and now but without getting swept…
AMAZON.COM

 

Book Cover

Announcing My New Book!!

I’m so excited to share that my book is finally in production! It’s been over a year in the making. See the free book sample.

The eBook version is available now for purchase, and the paperback version will be available September 15, 2016.

You can reserve your paperback copy on Amazon right now. By reserving your copy now, you help me build up my pre-orders and increase my standing on Amazon.

I created this book from top to bottom, text, layout and design — even down to drawing the mandala on the front cover! It’s been a great adventure! I hope you’ll consider buying a copy for yourself. And if you like the book, please post a review on Amazon! With your purchase, receive “100 Days of Shift” – a weekly plan for positive changes in diet, fitness, and more mindfulness.

Continue reading

Soft_Focus_Tulips

“Soft Focus Tulip” Oil, 2002, by the author

Since “coming out” as a person with depression, a lot of people have confided in me that they or someone they love is depressed. Often the question is, “what do I do?”  My answer is perhaps very different from what I’ve seen on the Internet. I don’t recommend starting with self-help, I tell them to start with professional help.

Before I hospitalized myself in 2014, I was on a slow path downward for many years. I wanted to shake my depression myself. I hated the thought of taking medication. Continue reading