The Health Disrupter Journal from The Allergista!

The Allergista is one of my favorite bloggers, and I’ve talked about her many times on here. She was kind enough to reach out to me to give me a chance to try out her health disrupter journal and share it with you guys!

Now, I have a confession to make: she asked me to do this a looooong time ago. Like, months ago. And I have not adjusted well to keeping up with blogging and parenting a 1 year old. Add journaling on top of that and I majorly failed. But I wanted to complete the journal before writing this post, so… here we are, months too late but honest!

So this isn’t my first health-journaling rodeo. I’ve kept a diary of what I eat and my digestive reactions before, and I’ve also tried out a few apps to track symptoms along with diet, sleep, and other things. I have a love-hate relationship with journaling this way. It’s great because it’s shown me patterns in my health, and helped me to discern what foods/habits cause my pain to flare up, or cause my IBS to get bad. But it’s really hard, at least for me. The first few days go well. I’m excited and write down everything in detail. But after that… life happens. I try to jot down some notes at the end of the day, usually while half-asleep, and soon I miss entire days.

And of course, when I do get sick, journaling is hardest of all, and also most crucial. So this is a huge challenge for me. The great thing about journaling is that even small bursts can be helpful in solving health mysteries. So with the Allergista’s health disruptor journal, that’s exactly what I did. I journaled for a week or two at a time, then took a hiatus. Not by design, but because that’s kinda just how it happened. But I still solved some of my own health mysteries.

The journal has four basic parts: a daily log, a weekly notes section, a weekly summary of symptoms, and a monthly calendar. To be honest, I didn’t use the monthly calendar much, but only because I have another one that I keep all my appointments and life notes on. I know in this day and age, most people don’t have a monthly paper calendar posted up anymore, so this would probably be more useful to someone who didn’t have another system in place.

The daily log is set up for allergies, but is easily adapted to chronicle chronic pain or gastrointestinal problems. The only section I didn’t use much was logging skin problems, since that’s pretty exclusive to tracking allergies. But I liked the tally system of giving each symptom a number and totaling it. The higher the number, the “worse” a day is symptom-wise. This is great because when you’re in a flare, you can feel like “oh I’ve felt horrible all week” but looking at the numbers you can see that there are days where even though you have symptoms, you’re feeling a little better. That can be really encouraging, especially in a long flare.

I like the body location symptom tracker. I’m a very visual person, and I like to doodle, so it was fun and also informative. I could see pain “make its rounds” so to speak. I like that a lot.

Finally, the notes section. At first, this was the biggest chore, mostly because I was unsure what to put there. But I ended up using it as my place to pose questions and come up with hypothesis. I could look back at previous weeks and see if I’d proven my ideas or answered any questions.

The biggest health mystery this journal helped me solve actually had to do with anxiety. When I have a panic attack, it almost exclusively happens at night. My anxiety keeps me awake, and eventually builds until I’m sweating, pacing, and generally loosing my mind. I found out through journaling that there are two things that I thought were helping me that were actually contributing to my panic attacks.

One was drinking. I had gotten into a bad habit of always having a glass of wine at dinner or bedtime most nights, thinking it helped me relax. It kind of did, but on nights when I didn’t drink I was much more likely to sleep well. Stopping this habit didn’t completely eliminate my anxiety attacks, but it helped a LOT.

Second was reading. Yeah, the thing EVERYONE tells you to do when you can’t sleep! I adore reading, and I read paper books with no irritating backlights to disrupt my sleep cycle. But I think I must love it a little too much. I noticed I tended to have trouble sleeping after reading, and noticed that I get a little too into books to relax. I stay awake thinking about the book (especially suspenseful ones) and end up in the anxiety zone. Now, I’m careful to only read either books I’ve read before or calm, non-suspense/mystery/adventure books before bed if I read at all.

So what’s my final verdict? Health journals are great, and the Allergista’s is one of the best I’ve tried! If you’re like me and can only journal in spurts, remember that it’s better than nothing and you can still benefit from what you learn from it. I highly recommend this one for it’s organization, it’s tracking tools like tallying and body diagramming, and it’s coverage of all areas you need to track in an easy format. You can download it by clicking

HERE!

I hope you all check it out and give journaling a try if you haven’t already. You’ll be surprised what you can learn! Plus, if you have an attentive doctor, they may like to look over it and help you find patterns and give you advice.

Also, don’t forget to enter the #SPOONIERAGECOMICCONTEST! There are free prizes to win and I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s not much competition right now. So enter today! Google “rage comic maker,” choose your favorite, then create a comic that has something to do with health, chronic illness, allergies, doctors, medicine, or anything in between! Then upload it to twitter or instagram with the hashtag #spoonieragecomiccontest.

Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Anxiety? OCD? Or is Everyone This Weird?

It’s time I told you I’m crazy.

When my gastroenterologist diagnosed me with IBS, he said it was anxiety-based and I was put on zoloft. That’s the closest I’ve come to a diagnosis on my mental health. A long time ago I was screened by a psychologist and diagnosed with some temporary teenage form of depression. We stopped going and I never heard much about it in the first place. And here I am, on zoloft (because one does not simply ‘quit’ zoloft) with no real diagnosis or idea if I have a mental illness or if I’m just a little uptight.

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Sometimes I read things online about depression, anxiety, OCD, or even autism, and think “hey that sounds like me, weird.”  There are some bizarre things I do all day every day. Why write about them? Well for one thing, I like doing them and people seem to find it interesting. Some people even seem interested in implementing my “systems” or rituals into their life in a much less obsessive/extreme way. Plus I’d like to know– do you do this too?

There are two major “systems” in my life. I’ll start with the smaller one: my clothes system. I started doing this as a child and refined it over time. It began as me organizing my clothes in a particular way. It’s hard to explain, but it has to do with randomization and color. I’d choose something like a book or poster with colors on it and order my clothes according to it… let’s say I was using an image of a rainbow (which I never did because randomization is a big part of this, but for the sake of example):

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I’d hang up (or stack folded clothes) like this: A red shirt, then one with orange on it, then yellow, green, blue, dark blue, purple, and then white for the clouds. Then I’d choose another image and keep going (I do this to organize other things too, like movies or our toy displays…). But I had trouble keeping them in order because my mom would put away laundry for me sometimes or I’d forget where I was in the “line” or I’d need to wear something specific one day. Over time I refined my system. I’d put a penny inside the folded shirt I wanted to wear next, stacking newly washed clothes on top to await integration into the “system” until I reached the end of the stack. I also alternated between stacks in the drawers and the hanging clothes. I marked my spot in the closet by simply keeping my extra hangers between the new clothes and the “ordered” clothes. My pants are a separate, more flexible system not organized by anything really, just hung up in whatever order they’re washed and separated by not yet worn and worn once or twice before it’s time to wash them. I even have a very rudimentary organizational system for my underwear?

WHY? I’m sure you’re asking. I don’t actually know. It’s not like there was a day I decided to do this, it happened over time. My mom was bewildered to find pennies sprinkled throughout my drawers and she can’t believe I still do it as an adult in my own house. I remember that my mom encouraged me to lay out my clothes for the next day before I went to bed, and I remember that I hated doing that. It really stressed me out. I guess this is my elaborate response to that stress – now I just get up and put on whatever is next. If it’s inappropriate for the occasion or I need to wear something specific, I don’t mind breaking the system. For just one day I mean.

It has a lot of pros. For one thing, it has a similar effect to this cleaning tip:

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When a shirt/dress comes up in the system that I don’t want to wear, I question why that is and usually decide it’s time to let that item go.

Cons? Well…mostly just that it’s a crazy thing that no one does.

But that was the tamer of my two systems.

Get ready folks.

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We’re going down the rabbit hole.

Everything I ever do is governed by a system. I have a list that takes up about one page of a word document. On it are items like this:

  • Work on Writing Script A
  • Work on Writing Script B
  • Blog Post
  • Clean House
  • Laundry
  • Manage Billing/Freelance Work

and items like this:

  • Watch a Movie
  • Netflix
  • Read
  • Video Games

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ect. ect. basically everything I ever want to do, work or hobby or laziness or practicality. Things like “eating” and “sleeping” are not on the list.

This is my time management tool. There are “fun” things and “lazy” things and “project” type things and “chore” things all mixed up. Using a random number method (I used to draw from a deck of playing cards – now I use a 12-sided dice) I count down from the last thing I spent time doing and do whatever is next, giving each day a (hopefully) fair mix of “fun” and “work.” I roll the dice for things like eating and sleeping too – whatever comes up on the list at bedtime I trade for “sleep,” same for mealtimes. I roll the dice and count down the list to what’s next – say, reading – and instead of reading I eat dinner. Yes, this does mean sometimes I miss meals in favor of doing something on the list, and sometimes I stay up late to do something on the list. Those are cons.

But the pros far outweigh them. For one thing, I’m always steadily making progress on my goals – writing stories, working on my blog, watching through TV shows on Netflix, and reading good books. I don’t feel bad when I take “me time” because it’s all structured. And I never feel “bored” or like I have nothing to do.

The biggest downside really is when I have to break the system for something like the holidays. Around Christmas, for instance, there’s too much to do to stay on the list system. So I have to go commando for a few days before I re-randomize the order of the list and start again. It’s usually fine. But having this ritual of looking at the list and counting throughout the day helps keep me calm and focused. Sometimes to my detriment – it can really annoy my husband when I get bent on doing something because “it’s on the list” when he wants me doing something else. I try to be flexible and “trade” tasks for whatever he wants to do or if I need to go in to work or something like that. But it can be annoying. I understand. BECAUSE IT’S FREAKING BIZARRE. But this is my life.

This one also started when I was a kid. Initially, I had four different colored balls. Yellow for “chore,” pink for “projects,” blue for “relaxing,” and green for “fun.” I mixed them up in different orders and made sure to do one thing for each category each day. But this spiraled into listmaking: I made a list of all the movies we owned so I could watch all of them before repeating viewings. Stuff like that. Then when I was a teenager I inexplicably became a morning person: I woke up at around 4 each day and I had a little box of tiny ripped up pieces of paper with my “morning routine” on them: this included writing my daily xanga blog post, enjoying a cup of tea, and even taking naps in between getting dressed, eating breakfast, and packing my things for school.

I DON’T KNOW WHY.

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I definitely didn’t STAY a morning person.

Then, around the time I got a computer, I was taking an interest in filmmaking and screenwriting. I wanted to film stuff and write stuff, but when I wasn’t at school or at marching band practice, I felt overwhelmed. I needed to do homework and practice colorguard, but I wanted to study film and write scripts too. And having so much to do usually made me freeze up and not do anything.

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And so, The List in it’s current form was born.

So I guess now that I’ve written it all out, it does seem like there was some level of problem-solving going on here. But why am I such a spaz that I solve problems in the most random, round-about way possible? I don’t think I’ve properly explained either of my “systems” but even if I could, it’d probably still sound like mad ravings of a seriously anxious person.

Which I guess they are.

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I don’t need to flip the lights on and off to keep my family from dying or anything, but at least that sounds crazy enough that you’d feel sympathetic – clearly that person can’t help but be that way. But me? I can get off my systems, bend them, and change them. I seem perfectly capable of living like a normal human, but for some reason I chose this.

My sister is terrible at making choices. She’ll ask us all what she should do or wear or say, take votes, then ask if we’re really really sure. I think I have the same issue, but instead of finding someone to make my choices for me, I chose… randomizing.

Like a crazy person.

Anyway, I don’t feel bad staying on zoloft without a “real” diagnosis. I’m pretty sure I need it.

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Born This Way Vs. Consequence: How Some Illnesses Are “Deserved”

If you follow my blog, you probably know I have endometriosis. Endo is a chronic pain condition that one is born with. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it, and there’s virtually no way to prevent it. There’s no cure, either, so if you’ve got it, you’ve got it and that’s your life.

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Living with this illness sparked my desire to write this blog. Endometriosis was the hand I was dealt, and it seemed extremely unfair that I would face discrimination or humiliation for something I couldn’t control. I wanted the word “endometriosis” to enter the conciousness of the general public, and become part of household vocabulary. So many women suffer from it, but go untreated while being told that they’re “too sensitive” to “period pain,” when the issue is much deeper and more complex than that.

But it’s easy to be a social justice warrior for a cause like that, isn’t it? Chronic conditions like endometriosis are basically genetic roulette – from birth, your fate is randomly decided. No amount of exercise, healthy dieting, or good decision-making is going to make you well. In short – it’s not fair.

But what about illnesses that are a consequence of a choice?

It’s a lot harder to advocate for those.

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One thing I mention sometimes, but not often, is that I also have IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. No, I don’t avoid talking about it because it’s poop-related. No, I don’t shy away because the name is condescending and misleading (irritable? Really?). I almost never talk about it because I gave it to myself. It’s my own fault that I have IBS.

How?

Well, I guess I can’t definitively say I know for sure that IBS was a consequence of my actions. But I feel 99% certain it is. When I was in college, I got a very bad tooth infection. As in my face swelled up, my throat swelled shut, and I could have died. In the throes of all that, I was taking a lot of antibiotics – strong ones, the strongest there is. And I took all types. For those of you who don’t know, antibiotics are great at stopping infection but not so great for your stomach. Probiotics (the opposite of antibiotics) cause healthy bacteria to grow in your gut, antibiotics kill them. Beyond healthy digestion, the goings on of your bowels contributes to every aspect of your health- even down to creating hormones that keep your mood stable. In other words, an out of balance digestive system can make a person depressed, anxious, or even bipolar (with other contributing factors of course).

So I basically massacred all my good bacteria. And it kept my throat from closing and my tooth from murdering me. But it also made me severely underweight, and caused a lasting anxiety issue. And I was also diagnosed with IBS – a disease that flares and subsides but never really goes away.

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Was it wrong to take antibiotics? Of course not. Do I feel guilty about it? No. At the time, if my doctor had said “alright, there’s a chance this medicine will cause you to loose your appetite, loose weight too fast, and give you lifelong anxiety,” would I have taken the medicine anyway? Yes. It sounds dumb to say a tooth infection was a medical emergency, but it seriously was. Nothing would have changed my choice to take that medicine.

So I don’t talk about IBS so much. I don’t feel ashamed but I do feel… I don’t know, like I picked it? So complaining about it seems… unearned?

It’s similar to the way I feel about my PCOS – but my feelings towards that illness are even more complex. I wonder if I caused it, from being on birth control for so long. But it also mostly affects “voluntary” aspects of my life – mainly having children. The emotional anguish and financial burden of having PCOS was huge and affected every facet of my being – but again, complaining about it felt undeserved, and more like a first world problem than a real one.

And I’m aware of how detrimental this line of thinking is. I mean, it obviously isn’t healthy for me to blame myself for illness. I ought to love myself a bit better than that. But what’s worse is society at large’s tendency to think this way. Look at lung cancer – unlike breast cancer or lymphoma, lung cancer is rarely viewed as tragic or treated to fund-raising marathons. Rather, lung cancer is a punishment for smoking, right?

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What about AIDS? What comes to mind when you think of AIDS? It’s definitely sad… and definitely still associated with sex, drugs, and homosexuality.

What about suicide? Again, tragic. Tragic and so very preventable, right? A choice, rather than a death at the end of a long battle with mental illness. Not at all like death at the end of a long battle with any cancer that’s not lung cancer.

I don’t mean this as a guilt trip, either. These statements reflect my own mixed reactions to these stigmatized diseases.

What can be done to combat this unhealthy line of thought? What changes have you made in your own mind about these things? If you have an illness, do you blame yourself for it? Have you in the past? What changed that?

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I want to hear what your thoughts are. Tell me about it in the comments and let’s work through these stigmas. Changing one mind at a time is the first step to a healthy view of illness.

Pregnancy Update: 28 Weeks / Childbirth Classes

As I enter the third trimester, I have a lot more bump pics for you guys.

I’ve been a very busy bee. We attended a friend’s wedding…

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I went to the Texas State Fair

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And I ate a lot of fried desserts.

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My sister bought me my very first actual maternity clothes.

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And the household animals are wising up to the fact that there’s a little someone in my belly.

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Right now the baby is about the size of a head of cauliflower (and weighs about 2.5 lbs) and we’re just starting the third trimester. If the baby was born today, they’d have about a 90% survival rate – how crazy is that?! No rush little baby – I need these last three months. Your nursery is still empty! But your first baby shower is coming up soon.

So far I’ve done one childbirth class – a basic, cover-all class called “Introduction to Childbirth” that talked broadly about natural birth, medicated birth, and c-sections. It also talked about the early days of parenthood, including infant CPR, how to swaddle, and how to put on a diaper. I’ve changed a fair number of diapers so far as a babysitter, but getting actual instruction with tips and tricks was kind of mind-blowing. Winging it, I made things much harder for myself – which is pretty typical of me in life in general. But what’s this? There’s an actual way to tell which way is front? And there’s a magic line that changes color when the diaper’s wet?! ARE YOU KIDDING? Diapers: apparently much more advanced technology than I thought.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of trouble learning about labor. I’ve had three panic attacks – for lack of a better word. Once while watching a labor video, once while reading about labor, and once during the labor class. There’s no aspect of labor that scares me particularly – pain’s not really new to me, I don’t love needles but I can deal, and it’s not like this would be my first hospital stay. But there’s some aspect of it that really scares me. I think it’s the “miracle” part. The idea that childbirth isn’t like normal pain and that something magical and amazing is supposed to happen. Like, I’m going to be thrilled as all get out to meet this baby, but I feel like there’s some other expectation – like some kind of Sailor Moon-esque transformation that’s supposed to happen, or a Dragon Ball Z Super Sayayin moment that I’m supposed to have.

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And it seems mystical and unattainable. And it also feels like if I don’t transform and I don’t feel the magic, then I’ve failed. And I’m not a real mom or a good mom or something.

The good news is that I have moved past these panic attacks – but how and why is it’s own post for later. Just know that if you’re pregnant and worried about the labor-magic, you’re not the only one.

Anywho. I’ve also gone and toured the hospital, that was really nice because now I can picture the place I’ll give birth really easily, and that makes mental preparation so much easier. I’m big on visualization. I like knowing just where I’ll park, just what the room will be like, and just where my family will be waiting for me. I’m also lucky that I have one of the best hospitals to give birth in – Medical City Dallas. They not only have the highest level NICU in case (God forbid) something goes wrong, but they’re also pretty forward-thinking in terms of mother-infant bonding and health. They promote as much skin-to-skin time as possible and they make sure that the baby’s in your room with you at all times unless something goes very wrong. They won’t take your baby overnight – they believe strongly that you need to room in with your baby and learn their cues and behaviors so that you don’t get home with no idea what to do. You get your own nurse and at most the nurse will have one other patient, so you have someone who is available to you all the time to help with every little question and concern.

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They also do this cute little dinner thing on your last night before you go home – they serve you a meal at a candle lit table for two with sparkling cider and fancy dishes as a “celebration meal.” I think that’s just the cutest thing in the world.

I’m really pleased with the hospital and as nervous as I am about this whole miracle of life thing, I do feel that I at least got the location and birth team right.

Now all I’ve got to do is not give birth in a car on the side of the road and we’ll be good!

(btw this is the video that gave me a random panic attack. I can watch it fine now. Although if I think to hard about roadside birth being a real thing that might actually happen I feel a little woozy….let’s just move on.)

Husband took another class on his own called Daddy 411 which is for boys only. I thought it sounded great but apparently it was dumb. I don’t think husband is as in to this stuff as I am.

Next on the agenda is the breast feeding class, then I’m thinking I’ll take the c-section class just in case. If I was having an emergency c-section, there wouldn’t be time to explain everything to me, so better to learn it and never need it than be put in a situation where I wish I knew more.

I also really want to take a Lamaze class, but the hospital just lost their Lamaze teacher, so I need to find somewhere else that offers a class. Not really sure where to look yet – community centers? Churches?

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I’ve also read about another thing called the Bradley method which sounded really interesting. I’d also like to find a general class for meditation/relaxation techniques. I’m on the fence about medicated vs. all natural, but even if I go for a medicated birth I think relaxation techniques could come in handy when I start hyperventilating while reading childbirth books and things like that. Not to mention for the first time my future angel baby breaks one of my super rare collectible figurines or dumps juice on my laptop. I need all the zen I can get.

Well, that’s enough random thoughts for now. If you know of any other classes I should look for, or good places to look for classes, tell me about it in the comments!

Book Review AND Giveaway / Two Bipolar Chicks!

I recently won a copy of Two Bipolar Chicks from one of WEGO Health’s many awesome giveaways. I was really excited to read it as I have a close bipolar friend. The book touts itself as being an essential guide and a valuable asset for more than just bipolar chicks – but for caregivers, family, and friends as well. Falling in to the “friend” category, I was excited to learn more and see how I could help.

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Unfortunately, the book may be a little ahead of itself in claiming to be perfect for friends and family. If this is your introduction to Bipolar disorder, you’ll be lost. They do eventually have a chapter talking about “What is Bipolar?” but it’s confusingly towards the end. For this reason, much of the book was boring to me. I could see how, if I myself were bipolar and had gone through diagnosis and treatment, it would have made a lot more sense. But from my current vantage point, I was definitely missing a lot.

The writing was, put simply, not my cup of tea. But I’m guessing that when I write out the things I didn’t like about it, it’s going to actually sound like a bunch of positives to most people. This book was written much more like a magazine than a book. There are lots of lists and asides, and the chapters are short and full of twitter-sized tidbits.

I am an English major. I really like reading novels. I like nice long chapters. And when I see the incorrect use of the word “your” I cringe and need to close the book for a while. The writers of this book talk so much about being writers that, as a writer, it’s kind of painful to read. Again, mostly because self-proclaimed writers usually know the difference between there, their, and they’re. But I can admit I’m a stick in the mud about that kind of thing. A lot of people aren’t.

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That’s really the biggest negative about the book. Back to the things I didn’t like but I think a lot of people would like –

When I say that it reads like a magazine, that goes beyond short chapters, lists, and asides. It’s kind of like a Bipolar issue of Cosmo – it talks about sex and trendy parties and cool drugs (of course, explaining the downsides) but it’s all describing a life I’ve never led. I’ve never been offered drugs at a sexy party and if I was, I’d probably leave. I’m blessed that I grew up with genuine friends and was never the kind of girl who was worried about popularity or impressing fake people. This book seems very geared to that kind of mindset – how to be popular and cool if you’re Bipolar. It’s very…..odd…to me.

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Still, there are chapters that don’t seem to be set in Sex in the City. There’s some great thoughts on organizing medication and handling office life. There’s also good tips on getting a good nights sleep and at what point you should seek medical attention in manic or depressive states. There are some tips generic enough to apply to anyone with a mental disorder – I have an anxiety disorder myself and a lot of the advice the book had about dealing with mania applied to anxiety as well. While I didn’t feel like this book really equipped me with any skills to help a Bipolar friend – again, because I haven’t been through the doctor visits and all that – it did have a couple of gems I can use to deal with anxiety. So that’s good.

I think this book would be great for a very specific kind of person. If you’re a Bipolar girl (sorry guys, there’s very little help here for you) who likes reading magazines and buzzfeed lists and the Thought Catalog blog, then you’ll probably LOVE this book. If you’re a very informed caregiver who knows a lot already about Bipolar disorder and you’re caring for a Cosmo girl, this book will probably be very helpful. But if you’re a friend or family member simply seeking more knowledge on Bipolar disorder, I’d suggest starting with a more introductory type book.

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Being that this book has little to offer me, but I think it could offer a LOT to the right person, I’m going to give it away! I want it to find the hands of a girl who could really use it. Know someone like that? Or know a caretaker or doctor who could use it? Enter the giveaway by clicking HERE!

The giveaway will CLOSE Feb. 1st. You can enter daily until then!