August 18, 2011

A Well Deserved Egg. ~ Chrissy Coleman

Photo: Lisa Williams

Today I wanted to eat a hard-boiled egg along with my healthy carb of half a cantaloupe. I eat the recommended five small meals a day, each containing a low fat protein and a healthy carb like whole grains, fruit or veggies. Would I rather live off of Diet Coke, chicken cheese steaks and Chipotle? You betcha! Alas, I have sworn off all processed foods and taken a full-time job of planning, shopping and preparing my five small meals each day. I also try to exercise most days of the week – combinations of vomit inducing circuit training and blissful hours of yoga and Pilates.

A comment I often hear is, “Chrissy, you’re like a peanut. So little. You don’t need to diet and exercise!” My usual response is, “I’m skinny fat, so yeah, I do,” but the truth is that this current lifestyle choice I made is more than a decision to display type-A personality traits. It’s all very necessary since I’m bipolar…dun, dun, dun!

Diagnosed as manic in 1997, I’ve spent the last 14 years going on and off different combinations of antidepressants and mood stabilizers to find the right miracle cocktail. This is a process that I don’t wish on anyone because the disappointment of finding out the medicine of the hour isn’t working is heartbreaking. Not just for me, but for the people in my life that this crazy disease affects.

Photo: Sally S.

In May of 2010, after months of self-medication with many, many dirty martinis, drug abuse from not being properly medicated and a moment of weakness where I thought that all the heartbreaking years of trial and error wasn’t worth it anymore, I found myself standing outside of the Columbia Presbyterian emergency room, smoking what I knew would be my last cigarette for an undetermined amount of time. I was placed in a locked down section of the hospital with some seriously crazy people. I lovingly refer to this period as, “my time in the clink.” After two weeks, I checked out of the clink feeling good enough. I left with a goal of being 90 days sober, a disdain for Jeopardy and a new appreciation for scissors that don’t have a rounded tip.

As soon as I left the clink I followed the advice of my therapist and did what most addicts do. I looked for my healthy addiction. I tried various styles of yoga, Buddhist meditation and extreme diet changes. From macro to raw food diets – I’ve tried them all. Did I mention that you lose friends when you don’t want to meet them for a drink after work? You do, so I was bored and willing to try anything that would fill the days.

What I learned is that medication alone isn’t enough when treating my bipolar. Working out makes my happy endorphins kick in and healthy eating keeps me from flipping my shit. Processed foods and sugar make me depressed. Dairy makes me bloated, constipated and cranky. Drinking booze, well, drinking booze makes me feel great, but the aftermath can be brutal.

Working for the man, planning five retardedly healthy meals and finding time to squeeze in a workout everyday is exhausting, but I look at it as takingmy daily medication. I need a pill everyday just as much as I need my morning green smoothie and my evening on the elliptical.

Photo: Melanie Tata

Do I ever slip? All the fucking time, I’m human. Do I feel like I’m constantly walking a fine line of feeling okay and completely falling apart? Everyday.

Since I can’t control my brain chemistry, I cling to what I can control. I can control how I treat my body. I can quit jobs with bosses who stay stupid shit like, “You called in sick two days in a row and I have a business to run, so this isn’t working out.” I can weed through the phony-balonies and surround myself with people who are loving, supportive and god bless them, try very hard to understand what’s going on in my brain.

Here’s the FDA warning symptoms for coming off of a particular cocktail of pills I was taking:

Agitation, anorexia, anxiety, confusion, coordination impairment, diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth, dysphoric mood, fasciculation, fatigue, headaches, hypomania, insomnia, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, sensory disturbances (including shock-like electrical sensations), somnolence, sweating, tremors, vertigo, and vomiting.

Photo: Sonja Pieper

They forgot to mention the following: inability to put an outfit together that doesn’t make you look like a bag lady, a feeling that your brain is separate from the rest of your body, loss of short term memory, loss of time (“What? It took me 45 minutes to walk the dogs around the block? I thought I was outside for 10 minutes. Iwonder what I was up to?”), and loss of another job.

When I was released from the clink I was nervous about hitting the 90 days sober (which I celebrated by drinking a bottle of wine) but what terrified me the most was the idea that I wouldn’t find things funny anymore. I thought that I needed a joint to enjoy the NBC Thursday night comedy line-up. Would anyone laugh at my jokes if they weren’t drunk? I tested my fear by watching nothing but stand-up comedy. I quickly fell in love with stand-up and stand-up comics. Talk about a bunch of fuck ups. Stand-up comedians are riddled with self-loathing, addiction and mental illness. I love them because they wear their pain on their sleeves and they’re not afraid to make fun of it because, if you think about it, what else can you do?

One of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., put it perfectly in a recent episode of his TV show “Louie.” He said, “Life isn’t something you posses. Life is something you take part in.” Amen, Louie! You can’t control what life tosses your way, but you can decide what you’ll do with it.

I know that I’ll probably slip at some point and tip over the edge a little. I do know that everyday includes challenges, choices and celebrations – however small they might be. Most importantly, I know that I can control how I react to what life throws at me. Not by “pulling myself up by my bootstraps,” but by lightening the fuck up.

I wanted salt with my hard-boiled egg, but it was in the other room, so I walked to the living room and came back to the kitchen with a single tissue instead of the salt. I knew that wasn’t right so I went back to the living room and headed straight for the used wee-wee pad on the floor and went back to the kitchen to throw it out. Shoot. That’s not what I wanted either. Back to the living room. I sat down on the couch and stared at the blank TV screen trying to remember why I was there (remember that short-term memory loss side effect?) and what it was that I needed. Finally it came to me. SALT! I grabbed the salt and headed to the kitchen, dowsed my healthy protein in it, and thoroughly enjoyed all three bites of my hard-boiled egg.

I’m proud to say that’s what I accomplished today.


Chrissy Coleman lives in Jersey City, NJ with her two dogs and her wonderful husband who makes her laugh everyday. She has a passion for green smoothies, Pilates and nail polish.

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