Saturday, June 21, 2014

Observation Improves Behavior, But Charting Can Be Depressing

Even though it’s far from perfect, I’m finding my Jawbone UP electronic wristband quite helpful in gathering information about activity and sleep without the stress of journaling symptoms. Although they can be very helpful, I’ve found that personally charting my moods, sleep, activity, etc. is something I shouldn’t do unless there’s a particular goal and then only for as short a time as will be effective.

One of the secrets to the great life I live is reducing stress and implementing strategies to avoid triggering symptoms. For example, if I have successful strategies for not forgetting to lock my car and not forgetting that I didn’t forget to lock my car, my OCD symptom that requires that I check the car’s lock status repeatedly gets triggered only every so often instead of nearly every time I park the car.

When I am confronted by evidence of my disabilities many times in a single day it causes anger, it lowers my self-esteem, it increases my stress level, it makes me anxious (I have GAD too) about whether I’m going to make a mistake that will hurt me (like a car accident or losing my purse), etc. Since I have ultra-rapid cycling bipolar disorder the stress of all these negative emotions getting riled up can easily trigger an episode.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another Non-Human Assistant -- an Electronic Bracelet

I have a very supportive family. Even my ex-husband dealt well with my disorder once it was diagnosed and explained to him. I could ask my loved ones for help managing my bipolar disorder, but I rarely do.  Why?

Mostly because they are human. Human beings, even the good ones, treat you differently when they are too focused on bipolar symptoms. The observation gets in the way of normal relationships. Also, if they are asked to help too much they end up with compassion fatigue. They simply get worn out by the stress. Getting support from peers is great, but they too can only handle so much -- plus they may be too sick to help when you need it.

What's a girl to do then?  Find non-human assistants.  I've done just that.  I've been using a psychiatric service dog since 2010 (dogs don't judge and don't suffer compassion fatigue), I use apps on my smartphone to help organize me, and now I've added an electronic bracelet called a Jawbone UP.  Most people use this device in their physical fitness program. One of its primary functions is not too different from a pedometer. So what's this got to do with bipolar disorder?

Friday, July 12, 2013

My DBSA Life Unlimited Essay

In 2002, I was on the way to marriage with the love of my life. I was a workaholic technologist with a comfortable income. Anxiety disorders and a misdiagnosed mood disorder had troubled me since childhood. Ten years later, I'm divorced; my mood disorder is more severe (ultra-rapid cycling, drug-resistant bipolar); my anxiety is worse; I'm going through menopause; I've been unable to work for years; my only income is a social security check 85% less than my last paycheck; and—my life is so good my friends and family are jealous. 
Since December 2011, I've worked, lived, and traveled the U.S. in a 100 sq. ft. eco-campervan converted to my specifications with solar electricity and a dry composting toilet. The van conversion is designed to be economical, have low environmental impact, and to be a safe, healthy environment for me. It reduces my chemical exposure, provides an environment with no incandescent or florescent lighting, and is a secure, cozy refuge for me, my cat, and my psychiatric service dog. Unlike traditional RVs, it has no propane tank, no open flames, no blackwater tank, and no leveling system. This makes it easier and safer for me to handle when I'm not at my best.
I camp on federal lands, including stunning national parks, much of the year for $10 a night. I have no utility bills, no rent, no mortgage, and no storage fees. My income is spent on high quality, healthy groceries, insurance, and fuel. I love outdoors activities and am proud to be living a greener life with extremely low water use and energy conservation. I have solid relationships with my parents, children, and grandchildren. My mental health is improved; my weight and physical health are excellent.
This low-cost eco-recovery allows me to pay for my mission, the Service Poodle Outdoors/Outreach Tour. I became inspired to do this during my training by Advocacy Unlimited in 2010. My psychiatric service dog, Maeve, and I get the word out about federal civil rights laws that give people with psychiatric disabilities in all 50 states the right to have trained service dogs accompany them wherever the public is allowed, as well as the right to have untrained pets (emotional support animals) in no-pets housing without deposits or fees. I talk to groups and individuals. I have a websiteblogFacebook page; Google+ page; and am active on Quora and in a number of Linked In's groups on the topics of disability, Americans with Disabilities Act, and psychology. Maeve and I recently traveled from Connecticut to Portland, Oregon to present our workshop, Mental Health is Going to the Dogs (and Cats), at Alternatives 2012 and I'm beginning a project to write and speak about my recovery and lifestyle. Call me or send a message.
Originally published Fall 2012 on the DBSA website, currently archived with other Life Unlimited essays at If you're interested in writing one of these essays for DBSA, you can contact them at:

Joanne Shortell phone: (860) 356-4637 Joanne and Maeve (her psychiatric service poodle) help people with psychiatric disabilities discover their rights to emotional support animals in no-pets housing without pet deposits or pet fees and their rights to service dogs Joanne travels across the U.S. twice a year and would love to speak to your group. See

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Bad News IS the Good News

There’s been a lot of bad news regarding the treatment of mental health problems. The drug companies are declining to do research to find new drugs, the new DSM (the diagnostic dictionary that defines diagnoses like bipolar disorder, panic disorder, OCD, etc.) is under barrage for its lack of scientific basis, we’re losing more soldiers to suicide than to battle, and the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has declared that our treatments are “not effective enough” and “in many cases patients receiving the best of current care are not recovering.”*

How is any of this good news? We’ve finally hit the tipping point where things can actually start to change.

Reality is Peeping Through the Propaganda . . .

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Grass-Fed Cheese Please!

I was in a Safeway store in a rural area yesterday and found a terrific bargain. Kerrygold Dubliner cheese is aged 12 months (meaning little or no lactose to give us gas and other gastric complaints) and is grass fed (which means it has a healthier fat profile than do cheeses from grain-fed cows). To top it off their regular price was only $7.57/lb or 47 cents a serving -- a bargain for grass fed cheese -- and this stuff is really good. It tastes something like an aged U.S. cheddar crossed with swiss cheese. Grass-fed cheese is hard to find in a regular supermarket and is usually quite expensive. Finding this at a good price in a rural area was a big win! I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for this in other supermarkets.

The fat profile stuff is important for those of us who have mood disorders. When it comes to Omega 3 fatty acids (something that just about every modern psychiatrist recommends his patients take fish oil supplements to get), it's not how much you take in,

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

8 Things I Consider When Choosing Food

  1. Do I like it?
  2. Is it nutrient dense (i.e., how much nutrition am I getting for the amount of calories in this food)?
  3. Does it have things I particularly need: (fiber, vitamin A, folate or other B-vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, protein, selenium, iodine, magnesium, potassium)
  4. Is it free of chemicals or other things I want to stay away from? (e.g., pesticide residue, hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, excessively high amount of sugar, excessively high amount of fat, etc.)
  5. Do I like it raw or in simple dishes that work well in my small kitchen area and small energy budget?
  6. Can I store it at room temperature or does it require a freezer (which I do not have) or refrigeration (I have a very small refrigerator)?
  7. Am I likely to eat all of it before it goes bad?
  8. Taking into account all the above, is it worth the price I’m paying?
How does this work in real life? Let’s take a look at some very different foods:

Jelly Belly Jelly Beans

  1. Yes! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them!

The Case for Being Ordinary

It's "normal" for people to be bigoted
I am trying to boycott the word “normal” in my writing because the “normal” mind is not what we think it is. When people think of a normal mind, they are likely to think of a mind that thinks rationally and logically under most circumstances. This is not what normal thinking looks like. Thinking rationally and logically takes great effort and doing it well requires training. Even the most analytical and intelligent of us do not do it except in a small percentage of our thinking tasks. Our brain uses shortcuts to make our thinking more efficient, even though this has significant costs in terms of accuracy.

Psychologists and economists have a great deal of fun (and sell a lot of books) showing how innately irrational humans are. We’ll more easily buy something at $999.99 than at $1,000.00 (a difference of 1/10 of one percent), but we’ll buy coffee at Starbucks rather than turn the coffee pot on in the morning (at least a thousand percent difference). We’ll drink twice as much soda with a meal than we would at home because McDonalds is offering any size for a dollar. It doesn’t matter that the 2-liter bottle at home is cheaper per ounce; it doesn’t matter that we know soda is bad for us and that drinking a huge amount is a stupid thing to do. Speaking of food, think about dieting. Even if we have a huge motivation not to gain weight (ex: an extravagant wedding gown and

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Diet is a Four-Letter Word . . .

Diets don’t work for ordinary people in the long run, so only a fool would bet on a diet working for someone with bipolar disorder. Appetites of all sorts get amped up by mania and hypomania. The pain of depression is soothed by treats high in fat and sugar, and they are perhaps the least harmful substances with which we might choose to self-medicate. Add to that the psych meds that increase appetite, decrease metabolism, make us thirst for sweet soft drinks, and sedate us to the point where we can’t even be couch potatoes because we don’t have the energy to get out of bed and walk to the couch.

How addictive would meth be if it came in these flavors?

Even if all you do is gradually improve your eating habits, the effects can be dramatic.

I have dramatically improved my eating habits VERY gradually. I started a little more than ten years ago, and I’m still working on it, but within months of my first steps, I had eliminated my IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and decreased my peri-menopausal symptoms.  As my eating habits have improved, the positive effect on my mood disorder have increased. My weight is right where I want it and my overall physical health is great – better than before my mental illness knocked me out of the workforce -- despite

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Does Anybody Actually Enjoy Life? I Do -- Now.

I just answered a question on Quora :

Joanne ShortellMental Health Advocate

Despite serious mental illness (bipolar disorder and a bunch of anxiety disorders), frequent migraines, violent childhood, being next door to the first tower hit on 9/11, being divorced from the love of my life, and other painful issues, I actually enjoy life. This wasn't true earlier in my life even though fewer of those issues had happened and my mental illness was less severe. I spent decades just trying to get through life until my children were independent of me so I could commit suicide with a clear conscience.

There is actually a branch of psychology that studies what makes people feel good about their lives: Positive Psychology (see Using the new Positive Psychology on the UPenn website). Positive psychologists do scientific research to establish what works and what doesn't.  Here are some of the basics that they've found consistently:

The keys to having a life you enjoy are not what you think they are. In the long term it's not

Friday, February 1, 2013

I have bipolar disorder; I am strong; I am happy. Join me.

I have bipolar disorder . . .

I suffer from bipolar II. This is not bipolar "lite" -- people with bipolar II have a suicide rate at least as high as those with bipolar I. My particular type of bipolar II, one that has been permanently accelerated and amplified by repeated inappropriate prescription of antidepressants, is the most disabling and dangerous. Although I had a long career and was a workaholic, I was knocked out of the workforce and determined to be 100% disabled. I don't have a "mild" case of bipolar disorder; I am strongly bipolar.

I am strong . . .

I've suffered from mental illness since before puberty, but I raised two children (including a stint as a single Mom), started my own business, had a 3-decade career that began with clerical work and ended with a six-figure technology management position (all without a single college credit).  I never was fired or collected unemployment, never was arrested, and never had even a moving violation, I survived childhood in a violent household, marriage to a 19-year-old cop before I was out of high school, teenage motherhood 10 months later, a nasty divorce and custody suit (which I won), bankruptcy (due to the custody suit), and 9/11.

I am happy . . .

In 2002 I was heading towards marriage with the love of my life. I was a workaholic technologist with a comfortable income. Anxiety disorders and a misdiagnosed mood disorder had troubled me since childhood. In 2012 I was divorced; my mood disorder was more severe (ultra-rapid cycling, drug-resistant bipolar); my anxiety was worse; I was going through menopause; I'd been unable to work for years; my only income was a social security check that was 85% less than my last paycheck; and . . . my life was so good my friends and family were jealous. 

Join me . . .

I learned how to be strong, and I learned how to be happy. I could have done it better and sooner, if I'd had

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Feed Your Head: Folic Acid / Folate

Folic Acid / Folate:  

Folic acid is critical for everyone who has a mood disorder.

NOTE! Studies indicate that it is better and safer to get your folic acid from your food rather than from supplements.* Studies using folic acid supplements have found increased rates of the same cancers that a diet rich in folic acid sources reduces.

Here's a excerpt from about folate:

What events can indicate a need for more high-folate foods?
  • Irritability
  • Mental fatigue, forgetfulness, or confusion
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • General or muscular fatigue
  • Gingivitis or periodontal disease
Excellent sources of folate include romaine lettucespinach,asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, calf's liverparsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and lentils.
I find it easiest to get in the habit of having large salads based on spinach or romaine to ensure I get enough folate.

*There is, however, a small percentage of us who have a genetic problem that makes it difficult for our body to process folic acid.  There is a test that can be ordered by a doctor to find out if this is true of someone and, if so, there is a prescription form of folic acid that can help them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Feed Your Head: Wild Alaskan Salmon Spinach Salad

Trident Wild Alaskan Salmon Burgers
Quick, simple, delicious, energy efficient, inexpensive, nutritious, and mood enhancing!

Per person:
1 or 2 wild alaskan salmon burgers
2 cups prewashed organic baby spinach
Trader Joe's fat free Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette
Toasted Sesame Oil (a little sesame oil makes spinach more nutritious and delicious!)
Freshly ground pepper