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Q. I've recently recovered from agoraphobia, and managed to go home for the holidays (by myself) after many years! I was thrilled with this, but noticed some anxiety symptoms cropping up while I was there, and after my return. I thought I was done with this issue--but feel like I'm losing ground, which is confusing and discouraging! Why is this happening?

A. You've not mentioned the methods by which you achieved your recovery, but anxiety, panic and agoraphobia (an intense panic condition that keeps you homebound) are feeling-related issues. You didn't develop this problem in a vacuum; you were influenced by a number of environmental factors growing up, that made you discard certain traits/emotions. Returning to that environment (even for a brief time) can reactivate toxic relational dynamics, and put you at risk for a regression. Learning to manage the symptoms of Panic Disorder is not the same as healing it.

Q. I have a 2nd grade student that has ADD. My concern is sometimes she won't try; I understand, because I was like her when I was young (I have ADD), but sometimes she'll deliberately not try, give up, or fake not knowing how to do something. I know she often truly doesn't remember due to the disability, other times she's just in the mood to manipulate. In other words, it is all mixed up. I feel like sometimes I have to put pressure on her to know which it really is--her ADD or her manipulating. I feel that insisting she try something, and not feeding her the answers is necessary for her growth, however I do not wish to emotionally scar her, if she truly is having an ADD episode. Can you give me some advice? Her parents refuse to give her any type of medication or recognize her disability. Thanks

A. Your 2nd grader gets more attention from you when she under-performs, right?? In a sense, you could be rewarding poor behavior. With a child this young, it's important you try to keep a balanced perspective. If she has to repeat a grade, it might help her gain a sense of competency, and benefit her later on. I think it's possible that you're projecting your own unresolved frustration and shame onto this student; it appears you're wanting to rescue her from certain obstacles you've had to grapple with (which is seldom possible), and this has ignited your hyperfocus. All this is understandable, but it doesn't serve either of you. Direct your attention to the students who are capable of learning and achieving. Assist this child whenever/wherever you can, but stop needing her to be like the others.

Q. I'm wanting to get full custody of my 10 year old son, but am worried that my Bipolar diagnosis could inhibit this. His mother's very neglectful and leaves him alone a lot. Seems she's too busy dating and running around with friends, to care about his needs. Do you think I have a chance?

A. Sounds like you need some legal expertise, which isn't my forte. You may want to consult with a family law attorney, to see what's involved in starting this process. If you're taking medication(s) to control your bipolar symptoms, and you've felt stable for what may need to be a requisite period of time, I see no reason why this should be at issue. Try to speak with your Ex about your desire to have your son with you full time, and steer clear of any urges to turn this into a "shame game" (this is not the time to point out her inadequate parenting skills)! Your verbal assurances that she can visit with him when it suits her convenience, may help her see this as a win/win for all concerned. Propose this idea as an option, and give her some time to think about it. A custody battle is one of your options, but it's best to avoid this (if possible).

Q. Shari, I can't thank you enough, for helping me figure out that this terrible itching problem I've had for years, is related to a soy allergy! I've given away or discarded every product in my kitchen that contains anything made with soy, and the tormenting hives have finally disappeared. I'm now checking labels on everything I buy (which is a pain in the ass), and I miss my fish marinades and lunchtime sushi, but it's a small price to pay for being free of this discomfort. In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that you could help me with this issue, as well. Many, many thanks, and God bless.

A. You're welcome; when you mentioned this nightly pattern of discomfort, I sensed it was related to a food allergy. Your body's normal protection reflex will alert you to any substance you've acquired a sensitivity to, even if it takes years to reach toxic levels in your system. Your willingness to keep records of when symptoms were most pronounced and try a process of elimination, helped us get to this solution. Be sure and thank yourself, too!

Q. Is the need for constant change a symptom of bipolar disorder?

A. No. The need for constant change is usually prompted by cravings for more stimulation or sense of aliveness, which is associated with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). It's fairly common for this neurological issue to co-exist with Bipolar Disorder, or be part of a dual diagnosis.

Q. In the past decade or so, my wife has had one health crisis after another, and I've been feeling the strain of it. We've been together nearly fourteen years and I love her very much, but each time she gets sick my stress levels skyrocket. I have to take significant time off work in order to get her to medical appointments, and I exert a huge amount of energy taking care of her needs (and household chores) during these times. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've begun to resent being held prisoner by her illnesses. HELP! BP

A. Dear BP, it's pretty tough living with someone who's incapacitated or ailing, but when I notice a long-standing, repetitive pattern in a couple's dynamic (as you've described) I start to wonder why and how this evolved in the first place. In other words, what underlying reasons or issues might be driving this pattern or keeping it alive? We adopt patterns of relating when there's a subconscious 'payoff' for us in them. A payoff can be positive OR negative, but the pattern is maintained until the payoff is removed--or is no longer needed. Does your wife receive considerably more attention from you when she's ill? Are you more involved, caring, concerned or affectionate during these times? Many people lacked nurturant care and/or attention in childhood, unless they were severely hurt or bleeding. Serious illness or injury (finally) got their parent's attention, but they often felt invisible the rest of the time, except for harsh attention when they were "bad." Attention's referred to as "strokes" in the psychological community, and any kind of stroke can feel better than no strokes at all. Some kids act-out or misbehave to get strokes, and some get very, very sick or badly hurt. Try paying more 'special' attention to your wife next time she's feeling well, and you may find yourself running to fewer doctors.

Q. I'm really scared that I might be getting Alzheimer's Disease. Within these past couple of years (I'm 55), I've been forgetting names of movies, actors, etc., and also, when I leave one room of my house for another, I can't for the life of me remember why! I know there are drugs and supplements on the market these days that are supposed to help with this, and was wondering if you had any recommendations.

A. First of all, you may be experiencing a natural response to aging, but I've spoken with people in their 20's - 30's who've complained about exactly what you're describing. I think this is an attention span issue more than anything else; you have an urge to get or do something in another room, and that impulse gets detoured by other stimuli along the way. When you return to the original room, the reason you left pops into your brain in an instant, so this is not an aging issue. Think of your mind as a personal computer. It holds all kinds of information like sense memory (touch, smell, taste, visual, etc.), as well as enormous amounts of varied data (personal, academic, business, etc.) that's been 'downloaded' since you were born! Have you ever owned a PC for more than several years? Would you expect it to function perfectly, if you did? When you search your desk's computer for old files or documents relating to a specific topic, doesn't it usually take a few minutes? Well, the 'puter' between your ears isn't very different! After 50+ years of storing data, it's probably got plenty to sort through (wouldn't it be great, if we could 'defrag' our brains?). Aricept is a drug that seems effective for targeting Alzheimer's symptoms, but (for now) why not experiment with supplements that claim to address your needs? Beyond this, do whatever's necessary to stop focusing on this issue; your fear and preoccupation with it is undermining you!

Q. After years of compulsive overeating I've been diagnosed with reflux disease. My doctor has me on medication that's supposed to help--but it's been weeks now, I'm still pretty uncomfortable and the dietary limitations are really a drag. Any suggestions? BK

A. Dear BK, acid reflux is a multi-layered issue and should be approached as such. Attention to proper food combining will help tremendously with your problem, and you'll probably lose weight as a bonus! Buy (the original) Fit 4 Life, by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond and READ chapter 6. Compulsive over-eating involves swallowing or "stuffing" difficult feelings, in order to self-soothe! Be gentle with yourself, and the next time you're reaching for food when you aren't truly hungry--or you feel compelled to eat past the point of feeling satisfied, try checking in with your feelings, thoughts or memories, to figure out what's eating You.

Q. Your site makes a lot of sense in explaining the hypomania of bipolar. I have never experienced the mania or "glee" I thought was implied. If one is dysthymic, on a mood stabilizer (Topamax) and under psych care, but still feels low energy and listless, would an ADD med like Adderall help?

A. First, various medical issues (i.e. anemia) can cause fatigue, and should be ruled out by a physician. An amphetamine like Adderall, or a stimulating antidepressant (WellbutrinXL) can help override your symptoms, especially if you have attention deficit issues (ADD/ADHD), but with a bipolar diagnosis, your doctor has to exercise caution when prescribing drugs that may prompt a manic response. Undermedicated depression can contribute to your feeling "low energy," and a mood stabilizer (Topamax) alone, may be insufficient for treating Bipolar II issues. It's possible that another type of drug might be better tolerated, but the time of day you take your meds can also leave you feeling tired/listless! The following should (at least) be considered as well: Allergic reaction to certain foods can easily cause fatigue; pay close attention to how you feel after a meal, as this helps you determine what items to avoid. We lose vital digestive enzymes as we age, which means that the foods we eat cannot be utilized (for energy) by our bodies. If you're unable to process/extract the nutrients your body needs to function, this alone could cause tiredness! If you're always especially tired after eating, you're either not digesting your foods because of insufficient levels of stomach acids/enzymes (these can be purchased at a health food store), you're combining your foods improperly (which blocks digestion), or you may have food allergies. Extremely common allergens are wheat and corn.

Q. Shari, I'm pretty healthy and strong, but have pain in my limbs at night (mostly legs and feet), that often keeps me awake. I eat healthy, exercise regularly and take a variety of supplements. Seems I've tried everything to eliminate this problem, but nothing's worked. My job requires I be alert during the daytime, and this lack of sleep is really getting me down! I'm exasperated and (even) a little depressed. Help? "Sleepless in DC"

A. Dear Sleepless, lack of restful sleep inhibits your brain's ability to produce a chemical called serotonin, which certainly puts you at risk for depression. There could be a number of reasons for your symptoms, and it's advisable to have your doctor rule out any medical issues. Acupuncture may be worth exploring! Personally, I've found magnet therapy to be phenomenal for body pain, and it's helped numerous friends and clients. I can't offer you guarantees, but I'd reached a point of; what have I got to lose? I honestly don't understand how they work, but wearing magnetic anklets/bracelets has provided amazing relief and benefit, beyond anything I could have imagined. Click the link (above) for info on where to find them.

Q. My sister has questions. She says, "I have been in pain for approx. 8 years for nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don't sleep, even with sleep aids. I'm 51 years of age and have had stress related ulcers since I was 16. I have high blood pressure and heart difficulties. What about fibro-myalgia?

A. I'm not qualified to advise you on these serious medical conditions, but I firmly believe that the mind, body and spirit are inseparable, and that psychic/emotional trauma is stored in the physical body. Unresolved pain of this type has to go somewhere, and can prompt addictions, sleep disorders, anxiety/panic disorders and somatic disturbances, such as ulcers. It appears your "sister's" difficulties began very early, and I can't help but wonder what kinds of stressors this 16 year old had to endure! Psychosomatic illness is very real, but often starts when painful memories and feelings are denied or buried. A terrific little book; Heal Your Body, by Louise Hay reveals the mental causes for physical ailments, and may be helpful in discovering the root of your troubles, and how to begin healing.

Q. Dear Shari, I'm making plans to fly home for the holidays, but have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I'm looking forward to seeing my friends, but it's always tough being around my family. I've had a stomach ache these last few days (while trying to book my flights) that doesn't seem to be letting up. My folks are expecting me and I don't want to disappoint them, but there's a part of me that's really not looking forward to being there, which I feel guilty about! I always come back with some kind of cold or flu virus, so this is another thing that concerns me. I seem to go through this struggle every year and I bite the bullet and go, but does this stuff ever get any easier??? JT

A. Dear JT, it may be comforting to know you're not alone (this issue plagues hundreds of thousands of individuals every year). Returning home even for a short time can expose us to toxic interactions that made us want to move away in the first place (97% of my clients have put at least 3,000 miles between themselves and their parents). Your physical symptoms tell me you just can't stomach going--and it appears your immune system collapses under the stress of being there. Many people get depressed around the holidays, not because they aren't with family--but because (as children) this was never a joyous time for them. This is the subtext that's running in the background, while our immediate environment is telling us we're 'supposed' to be happy and gleeful this time of year! I've coached many people on how to manage negative/destructive elements they may encounter when returning home (for any reason). Here are just a few of my Back at Home Survival Tips:

1. Logistics: Ask everyone to meet you at one place; you shouldn't have to drive more than 20 minutes at most to see Grandma, a sibling or anyone else who lives in the area! 2. Escape hatch: Know where the "emergency exits" are in any room and USE 'em! The moment you start to feel cornered or picked on, excuse yourself, and go out for a walk, to the bathroom, outside for a smoke, to the store to pick something up, etc. 3. Shine up your armor and take it with you: Go prepared for skirmishes and attacks (you could be re-entering a war zone). 4. Deflect those slings and arrows: When underhanded comments or 'barbs' come your way, say; "I'm not sure what you meant by that--would you be clearer?" or "what are you trying to say?" You'll usually hear back; "you're being too sensitive," or "oh, I'm just kidding!" (by the way, 'kidding' is when both people see the humor in a situation!). You've finally confronted their hurtful behavior; be consistent with this! 5. Manage your mood with food: Proteins will center and empower you. Starches increase brain serotonin, which calms you, eases depression and helps you sleep better (try eating these at night). You can have all the veggies you want with either, but it's best not to mix the two during the same mealtime. If you're on antidepressant therapy, it can be useful to slightly increase your dosage while away (be sure and check with your doctor on this).

 

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