Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Things That May Be Difficult to Discuss

5340545-Tangled-wires-as-connection-and-network-concept-Stock-Photo-tangled-wire(please remember that this is my own personal experience, and I do not have an MD in either neurology or psychiatry.  Do not take my opinion as fact.  Take my opinion as an opinion.)

It’s not often I’m scrolling through my news feed and up pops an article written by someone who receives ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, previously known as “shock therapy” or “shock treatment.”

I appreciate how the author points out that she’s not the “typical ECT patient.”  Just because movies and books may feature some middle-aged patient with long, stringy grey hair in a straight jacket in the corner of an empty room, does not mean this is normal.  Also keep in mind that today is 2018; it is not 1923.  When ECT was first used as treatment, it was also used as a punishment for symptomic behaviors, not an effective form of treatment.  It would physically subdue the patient without curing the underlying problem.  That is not how this treatment is used today.

I am not the stereotypical madwoman talking to herself in the corner.  (Although I do talk to myself.  And my cats.)  I am a just-about-40-year-old college professor who receives ECT as a maintenance form of therapy for the Bipolar Disorder I.

When ECT is used in an appropriate and careful manner by knowledgeable doctors with an appropriate candidate, ECT can be the best form of treatment for that individual.  With any form of treatment, you have to consider how the treatment was administered and whether or not the patient is a viable candidate–and, of course, do not  forget that each patient is unique (emotionally and physically), and may or may not have a positive response.  But–I wouldn’t trust my psychiatrist to diagnose and treat my cardiac illness.  I trust my cardiologist who specializes in electrical conditions of the heart and who has done a fair amount of research concerning my particular, rare, illness.  (In other words–ask questions, do research, and talk to an appropriate doctor whom you trust.)

So let’s address a couple of common myths and urban legends.  One: I am anesthetized while receiving said treatment and, therefore do not feel a thing and my body does not go into convulsions.  The ECT itself is extremely brief–a matter of seconds.  Two: I don’t wake up not knowing who I am or where I am.  I am aware before the short-acting anesthetic, and I am aware after I wake up.  While some confusion is normal when first awakening–that’s from the anesthesia and not the treatment–and it disappears quickly.  Three: While I am not allowed to drive that day, I can go about my daily activities and work with only some minor fatigue.  I can still teach and can still officiate, as long as I have transportation to get there–again, typical of restrictions after any course of anesthesia.  The day following the treatment is when I experience a headache or muscle fatigue, but I rest and take what usually is just a single dose of ibuprofen, and the headache is gone.  Four: There is not just a single one-size-fits-all approach to ECT.  There are different forms of ECT, depending on where the doctor chooses to place the nodes and if he uses one or two nodes and the duration of each session.

Memory can be a tricky mistress, however.  When I was in college (for my first bachelor’s), I had a course of ECT over three weeks.  I don’t remember anything from that time period or anything right before and right after those weeks.  This makes me rather uncomfortable, knowing that there is a period of time when the words in my journal entries from that time are unfamiliar.  So when, fifteen years later, a psychiatrist suggested ECT, I balked.  But that psychiatrist also had been treating me for longer than my first bachelor’s degree took, whereas the doctor from my college days only treated me when I happened to be inpatient.  Being the research freak I am, and since I was inpatient and couldn’t get to a library, I asked him to show me some legitimate articles or papers, and then we had an open, honest discussion about predicted results and side effects–both in terms of the immediate future and long term future.

I chose ECT.  After my cardiac diagnosis, I went through a very severe and lengthy depressive episode, and because of my heart, I cannot take a large number of medications.  I was exhausted and my mind was strung out, and I knew I couldn’t be discharged in the state I was in.

By the time I left that particular psychiatrist to move back to the eastern parts of the country, we had figured out that most of my medication was not helping.  My psychiatrist in MO found me a psychiatrist in NY, and the two of them consulted and discussed my treatment–and allowed me in on the discussion.

Over the previous three years, we’ve taped off old medications that proved to be ineffective, figured out which medications are effective, and I now am receiving ECT once every four weeks.  If I start to slip at all in those weeks, I call my psychiatrist and we talk about whether or not I should have an earlier, extra, treatment or if I am coping quite well and should see how things go.

During this time, I have been a college professor, a NYS Track and Field Official, an NCAA Volleyball Judge, a writer, and a friend and family member.  My memory has some glitches–but that could also be from the depression itself or, well, the fact that I’ll be forty in a week.  It’s not enough of a problem to hamper my lifestyle or consider terminating treatment.

I continue to reevaluate everything as new knowledge is produced in the scientific world of research, and I continue to reevaluate my pattern of symptoms, and discuss these with my treatment team.  Given everything–my past, my present, my physical limitations regarding medications, and my response to ECT–the most effective treatment for me is ECT.

 

May 28, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, ECT, health, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, treatment | 3 Comments

13 Reasons Why

ThirteenReasonsWhy

Okay, so I will join the great online debate over the book Thirteen Reasons Why, which has led to a television show.  I have read the book, but I have not seen any television episodes.  Most of the online discussions have centered on why people shouldn’t watch the show, how horrible a person Hannah is, how it will only encourage teens to commit suicide, and how it’s just “another mental illness book” that doesn’t actually confront anything.

I read the book when it first came out.  Although the writing wasn’t the best and the plot was contrived, I was glad it was written.  A teenager voicing her feelings and thoughts regarding what led to her suicide.  No, I do not agree with leaving thirteen tapes behind that nit pick and blame other individuals.  Her suicide was her decision.  She had full agency.  No one made her kill herself.

But . . . what the book shows is that suicide is anything but a simple decision resulting from a single bad day.  No, her friends didn’t make her commit suicide, but their behaviors contributed to how she felt.  Imagine if she had been able to voice what she was feeling in an open and honest manner while she was alive.  That’s what we should be focusing on.  This book exposes the truth that people suffer in silence.

You may say that with all the options out there now, there was no reason she had to suffer in silence.  Have you ever been a teenager and known something wasn’t “right” but you had no idea where to go or who to ask or even how to put the idea that something isn’t right into actual words?

Yes, there are options.  More than before.  But they still aren’t easily accessible for youth.  There is still so much judgment concerning mental health and mental health treatment.  So maybe Hannah was cruel in leaving those tapes behind, but she was still suffering and she still felt completely alone.

As a suicide survivor, to pass judgment on Hannah’s character and actions would be hypocritical.  I’ve been her.  I didn’t leave people tapes and letters, even though I had something I wanted to say.  My attempt was my decision; no one else is to blame.

I am grateful I’m here to write this.  Most days.  The chilling nature of Bipolar Disorder is that I know it doesn’t leave.   We have found a treatment that has proven most beneficial, and I have learned a zillion more ways to cope, but I still go through dark spells and I still make mistakes.

As for this book making suicide look trendy–we’re blind if we say that society hasn’t experienced this before.  The Bell Jar;  Girl, Interrupted; and Prozac Nation are the first three books that pop into my mind.  The harsh truth is that teenage suicide existed before, it exists now, and it will continue–even if no one watches this show or reads this book.  Maybe instead of discussing Hannah’s character flaws and how it was unfair of her to do what she did, we should discuss what it is in our  society that creates real-life-Hannahs every single day.  And then maybe we should discuss how we could create a new environment, one with less judgments and less isolation and more forgiveness.

April 20, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

Whatever You Want

JUST TRY HARDER!!

If you wanted it bad enough, you’d have it by now. All you have to do is try. It’s easy once you decide to really go after it.  Give yourself some credit and just do it already! 

Anyone else hear these, or similar, sayings while struggling with an eating disorder or addiction or trauma or depression?  Or life in general?  I *think* they’re supposed to be motivational. How many people actually find words like this motivating?  How many people feel guilty after hearing words such as these?  I’ll raise my hand to the latter.

I’ll admit, those early hospitalizations for the eating disorder and self-harm—I didn’t want it.  I had no intention of wanting it.  I had every intention of following the program’s rules in order to be discharged so I could go home and get back to the weight I was before admission.  I was there because my treatment team told me to go.  I played nice so I could avoid involuntary commitment.

Then there came the stage when I began considering recovery.  I began wanting it.  I knew people in varying stages of recovery, and I was starting to see just how miserable the eating disorder was making my life.  But at the same time, I began to notice how difficult recovery was.  How many daily choices I would have to make to stay on that path.  How exhausting those choices could be.  How exhausted I would be.  And how terrifying everything in front of me was.

I wanted recovery.  But I was already exhausted and frightened and overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to take on even more exhaustion, terror, and change?  I really had no faith that I could do so.  I mean, I had an eating disorder.  How strong could I possibly be?  How could I be strong enough to overhaul my life?  I knew how easy relapsing after treatment was.  Fighting that felt like too much for me.  So when I heard someone say “You just have to want it”, I felt like a total failure.  I thought that I obviously didn’t want it enough, or else I would be choosing recovery.

Yes.  I think you do have to want it.  People can’t make you recover.  They can force you to eat and gain weight and they can monitor your diet and when you use the bathroom and how much you exercise, but that can only last so long.  Eventually, it will come back to you again.  And if you don’t want to change, you won’t change.

But desire is not enough.  If you are so exhausted and physically compromised that you can’t think through the decision of what movie to go see, how can you be expected to make a serious life decision?  If you really do want recovery but have absolutely no idea how to even begin walking that path or whom to talk to or where to go, how can you be expected to “just” get better.  And if you know you want a better life but don’t honestly believe you have an eating disorder, how can you choose not to have one?

Sometimes, someone else will have to step up and make decisions for you.  They may have to force you to go into treatment.  A doctor may have to initiate involuntary feedings.  And you may hate those people and be angry and bitter and swear you’ll never talk to them again.  But because of these people, you will have a chance to regain enough strength and mental clarity to make the decision for yourself.  And even then, you may well need those same people to help keep you on that path of recovery.

After I choose to recovery, I didn’t immediately begin eating 100% of my meals and calmly sit in the hallway afterward without yearning to get up and pace for hours to burn all of that food off.  I struggled against my treatment team.  I tried to “make deals” with them to get out of certain parts of health.  I was confused as to why they were demanding so freaking much out of me.  I wanted to get better, but I just didn’t want to put forth the required effort.  For a while.  Then I began *gasp* working with my treatment team and making choices for myself that supported a healthy lifestyle.  And after I regained enough strength, I found that it was easier to make those daily choices to recover than to make the choices to relapse.

If you are at that stage of wanting it but are completely exhausted and don’t know what the hell to do, tell someone else and tell them you need their help because you can’t do it by yourself.  And then resent that person with all your heart as they help you get to the point where you can thank them with your life.

January 26, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, health, identity, progress, publicity, recovery, relationships, self harm, shame, therapy, trauma, treatment | Leave a comment

I’m Sorry and I Thank You

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These are things I remind myself of almost every day.  It’s difficult to examine my life and realize that I’m not where I was supposed to be.  According to my own expectations, of course.  I do look at my life and am content–I never really planned to end up where I am, but it turns out, I like it here!  But I also like finishing what I’ve started, and there are a whole lot of things I started and never finished.

I often take stock of my life in this manner–and around this time of year, I get even more introspective.  Thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the previous year, but also since I left Missouri, since I left Washington, D.C., since I left Pennsylvania.  Since I used to work for Certain Company and taught at Certain University and climbed rocks as a hobby.

Since I knew various people that once were a significant part of my life and no longer are.  I wonder how these people are doing.  I wonder if they are still angry with me.  The ugly truth is that I lied to people, manipulated them, and screamed horrible things I don’t even remember.  I hurt people.  I wish I could contact each and every single person to apologize, to say that regardless of my pain, I should not have said or done those things.  I’m aware of that now.

I also wish I could thank these people.  The ones who walked away out of exhaustion and frustration and confusion.  I may have hurt them, but I am here because of them, and I wish I could let them know where I’ve been and where I am now and what I’m doing.  I’d want them to know that some of my dreams have come true and that I’ve been dreaming new dreams.  I’d like them to see me as I am now, because I hope they’d agree that I’m a better person–and that I’m a better person in part because of their influence.

I’d like to know I’ve made them proud, even if it’s just a little bit.

I think one of the most difficult things that people struggling with recovery face is the knowledge that we’ve let people down along the way.  It’s not easy to own up to this, to honestly admit to the dark parts of our pasts.  I think hearing “I’m proud of you” is the greatest phrase because of this.  Each time I hear this, in sincerity, I chip away at the dark parts of myself that I fear so much.  Each time these words are spoken, I heal just a little bit more.

Remember to thank those you love.  Remember to let people know when you are proud of them.  You never know what they might be carrying inside.

January 10, 2017 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy, trauma, treatment, well earned pride | 1 Comment

The Inevitable Holiday Post

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To state the obvious: the holiday season can be difficult for a lot of people, regardless of any diagnosis or history of diagnoses.  It’s just plain stressful.

I love going to visit my brother and sister-in-law—I get to see my precious nephew and niece, after all.  And I love catching up with all of my in-laws, whom I simply refer to as family.  I like waking up to kids squealing when they see the presents under the Christmas tree and relaxing with family the rest of the day.

However much I love my friends and family and love spending time with them, I remain an introvert.  This does not mean I don’t like spending time with people or socializing—it just means that doing so tires me out as much as running ten miles used to.  This is when the anxiety heightens, simply because of the exhaustion, and then I start feeling trapped—the old “the walls are closing in on me” feeling—and wishing I could disappear.  The stress mounts until I force myself to emotionally numb out and present a much-practiced Smile Face for people.  In the past, this would inevitably lead to dangerous coping behaviors, and that would lead to guilt and shame, even if no one else knew about it.

I still feel all those feelings, but now I have a choice as to how I respond.  I could still give in to those old urges, but I know that’s not really want I want for myself.  Instead, I’ve learned that when I first start feeling that panic creep up on me, I give myself an break.  I find space and silence and retreat for a few minutes.  Sometimes for more than a few minutes.  I simply rest in the silence.  I inhale slowly, feeling my ribcage expand.  As I exhale, I picture all the tension in my body flowing out, and I let my shoulders relax.  I notice the solidness of the chair I am sitting on, or the floor beneath my feet.  I ground myself, thus healing the anxiety before it has a chance to overcome me.

Usually, I return to any festivities going on, but there are times I don’t.  Times when I am simply too overwhelmed and I know that immersing myself in a room of people and noise will be too much.  My family and friends know that this is not a comment on my feelings for them and that I’m not tired of them.  I am simply tired, and for my own health, I need some me time.  They’re a supportive bunch and don’t judge me.  They are glad I am learning to take care of myself and finding ways to stay healthy.

This list has some good ways to take care of yourself on stressful days.  I love writing To Do lists, because when I cross something off that list, it feels wonderful.  There are days when crossing off “check work email” is an accomplishment.  I make my bed every day—not to accomplish anything, but because I love the feeling of crawling between two smooth sheets when I go to bed.  I prefer baths over showers, and making myself put “real” clothes on does feel good.  If you choose exercise, please do so keeping your health in mind.  And remember that everyone has days when they stay in the pajamas all day, but if these days start melding together, please reach out and talk to someone.

And some days, you just need to wear a crown.

 

 

December 21, 2016 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, shame | 1 Comment

The light and dark sides of social media

keepcalm

Here are a couple characteristics I claim that I believe many of you will be able to relate to:

1. I feel guilt very easily, even if there’s no reason for it.

2. I have a difficult time saying no.

3. I would much rather take care of someone else than take care of myself.  In fact, I often feel like I have to take care of other people and that my own needs/desires are minimal in comparison.

These may seem like admirable traits.  Putting others first is usually seen as a good characteristic.  But some of us have a tendency to take things to an extreme level.  Generally, if you put someone’s needs before your own, you still get around to taking care of your own needs.  Problems start happening when all you do is take care of others and ignore/pretend you don’t have your own needs.

One of the biggest things I have learned in recovery is that I have needs and that I have to take care of them, even if that means I don’t take care of someone else.

Early in my recovery, I was lucky.  I found a 100% pro-recovery website–one of the early bulletin boards type of site.  I felt safe there, and I felt supported.  Even though some of us were still struggling, there was still a focus on recovery.  We encouraged each other to push forward after a slip or relapse.  We supported those seeking treatment.  And there were people on the site who had recovered and gave others hope.

An acquaintance on facebook recently posted that she had received some negative comments about her journey towards recovery, hinting that she really should have just “done it” by now and that it’s her own fault she’s still struggling.  My advice to her was to unfriend anyone who wasn’t fully supportive of her efforts, to block them if need be.  I even suggested that she go through her friend list and delete people who may not be working towards recovery–those who glorify their illness or size or post pictures meant to “show off” their illness.  Even people who may do these things without any ill intentions or awareness of their actions.  I suggested she surround herself with people who support her and encourage her.

This can be a difficult road to follow.  Several months ago, I realized that although I was beginning to shed most of the recent depressive episode, I’d find myself feeling worse by interacting with some others–both online and offline.  I took a look at my own updates and noticed I wasn’t helping myself either.  It’s a good thing to be honest about your feelings when things are crappy, and to let others know you need support.  But I was ignoring everything else in my life, focusing on the negative.  I noticed that a great deal of posts in my newsfeed were also negative.  So I made some difficult decisions.  I unfriended the people who–unintentionally–were dragging me down.  I had to stop seeing some people in my day-to-day life as well.  I tried to let them know that I needed all my energy to focus on myself in order to heal.

Of course, I felt guilty as hell for doing so.  I still do at times.  It’s not like I don’t understand their actions.  I mean, there was a long period in my life when I was the person holding people down, and I didn’t know it, and I was hurt when they “left” me.  So shouldn’t I stick by the people I “get?”  No.  I needed to get stronger first–or else I wouldn’t be helping them or myself.

I am still recovering from this depressive episode, but I have made immense progress in the previous few months.  I’ve had to really focus on my needs.  I am “coming out of the shell,” I suppose, and I’m starting to insert myself into more social activities, but I still need to respect my limits.

I have found great support online and in real life.  I have also encountered a lot of obstacles in each world.  I encourage each of you to pay attention to all your relationships and consider what you need to do to keep yourself healthy.

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June 23, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow Progress is still Progress

Om Namah Shivayah

Om Namah Shivayah

I’ve posted this picture before.  Om Namah Shivayah.  I respect the divinity within me.  I got this tattoo when I knew I would never ever go back to the eating disorder.

The previous 16 months have been 16 of the most difficult months I’ve lived.   Sorry for any repeated info:  the depressive cycle I was in was the most severe and the longest I have ever had, and I had actually scheduled out all the details of my suicide attempt in my weekly planner.  I moved from Missouri to New York to live with my parents–at 37 years of age.  Although the depression began improving, my physical body was being hit from wrecking balls on all sides, and no one could figure out what the hell was going on.  I am not able to work a “real” job with regular hours.  I certainly could not handle a full teaching load right now.

I had thought things would be different.  I’d move to NY, get better, apply for jobs, and be looking forward to a new teaching position for the fall semester.

I get frustrated with “where I am at” quite often.  I’m almost 38; I hadn’t planned on needing to live with my parents at this age.  I am not working, aka contributing to society.  I am a track and field official, which is a “real job” but it’s so far from where I wanted to be at this stage of life.

But I was reminded by a friend yesterday that, compared to ten years ago, none of this would have been possible.  I was sick with the eating disorder and the bipolar disorder was not controlled.  I wasn’t ready to start the PhD program I had dreamed about attending, but I went anyway–and then had to withdraw two years after I started.  One year ago, I pulled out of teaching–and I only had one class.  In May of 2014, I lived in a psych hospital.  Last summer, I slept more than I was awake.  This past fall found me fatigued and sore and in pain and going through medical tests almost every week.  In January, I wouldn’t have been able to officiate, but now I can do four meets in four days (with a lot of sleeping in the following mornings–but I can still officiate).  I am looking to see if any area colleges need a professor to teach one section of Freshmen Comp.

So no.  This is not my dream.  In fact, I am no longer sure if I will be able to ever meet that dream.  But right now, in this moment, I have much to be thankful for in terms of how far I have come compared to 16 months ago.  I am healing.  Maybe not as fast as I would have wanted, but I am healing.  And as another friend told me, “Slow progress is still progress.”

April 27, 2015 Posted by | 1, addictions, bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, guilt, health, mindfulness, progress, recovery, relationships, self harm, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

One Person

(Trigger warning:  documentary includes numbers and photos of individual at low weight.)

A couple of months ago, I had the honor of working with a talented group of high schoolers on a documentary they were filming for a contest.  There were all sorts of rules about content and how things had to be filmed and what could and couldn’t be done.  They made sure they followed the rules of the contest; I just answered their questions.  They chose the general topic of eating disorders, narrowing in on the concept of balance.

I do not agree with their decision to include certain pictures or numbers, but I more than agree with their decision to tackle a difficult, and often ignored, subject with honesty.  I imagine there must have been easier subjects to consider, less emotional or controversial subjects.  But this group of high school students stepped away from the easy and stepped up to the challenge by speaking out.

I did not have the opportunity to meet the other individual interviewed, but she deserves major kudos for speaking out so openly so early into her recovery.  I was relieved to hear she had the support of the student body rather than their scorn, as I know still happens entirely too often.  Adolescence can be difficult when everything goes smoothly.  Throw in some struggle in the tense environment of a high school (or junior high, or college, or work environment) and sometimes (often) individuals find that it is easier to be sick than to seek help.

We need to learn some lessons from these students.

Admitting an illness is not a weakness.  Seeking treatment is not something to hide.  Admitting an illness take a great deal of courage and strength, and the willingness to seek treatment and work toward recovery is something to be proud of.  Not many are able to step up to this terrifying challenge.

In order to step up to this terrifying challenge, support is essential.  Family and friends and coworkers: we should look up to individuals who are willing to take a step toward recovery, not laugh at them or see them as weak.  They are facing their demons.  Are you doing the same in your daily lives?

Those of us who have begun recovery or recovered or want to recover: we need to speak up when we are ready, and in our own individual ways, always aiming to take care of our own needs.  Not every individual needs to or should step in front of a camera and tell his or her story.  Stories contain memories that may be difficult to share.  Not everyone needs to or should write a blog about their recovery.  Speaking up does not necessarily mean publicity.  It may mean an anonymous post on a blog or board that encourages or affirms someone else.  It may mean choosing to post of picture featuring a genuine smile that couldn’t be seen while you were sick.  It may mean donating to a scholarship fund.  It may mean letting one other person know that recovery is possible and that he or she is worth it.  It may mean sharing links about eating disorder education or treatment.  It may mean refusing to laugh at fat jokes and fat shaming.  It may mean leaving a social group that does not allow you to seek out health.  It may mean quietly loving yourself and silently doing what you need to do for you. It may mean confronting someone who is also struggling, planting the seed of hope and change.

We are not all called to change the world and win Nobel Prizes.

We are all called to change our own world for the better, however we can.

One person telling another person.  Who will then tell someone else.

Just imagine what one word of support could do. How much could change. How many possibilities become more than just possibilities.

April 25, 2015 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Body Image, Communication, depression, Eating Disorders, Mental Health Parity, recovery, relationships, shame | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

grief and . . . anger

Warning: another controversial post ahead!

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors, and his comedic roles always manage to make me laugh, something that recently only The Big Bang Theory has been able to do.  It saddens me that he had to endure such pain on a daily basis and fight so many demons.  I feel sorry that he had reached a point where the demons won and he no longer saw a strong enough reason to continue fighting that pain.  I do not judge him, for I have been there.  I wish no one ever has to experience such pain.

 

But I am also feeling angry right now.  Not towards him.  But towards the media.  Robin Williams will be The Thing on news channels and talk shows for a bit.  A psychologist will say how someone in his position was still vulnerable to depression and addiction and they will praise Williams for openly speaking about these things. 

But what about all the “normal” non-famous people who experience this same pain and fight these same demons on a daily basis?  What about the individuals who fight so long that they cannot endure anymore and commit suicide?  Why is there no media attention there?  Why doesn’t a talk show bring a psychologist on to discuss how depression affects children, teenagers, adults, and geriatric patients in all walks of life and in all careers?  Why does no one talk about how sad it is that someone feels that suicide is the only option every single day? 

Maybe I’m being too harsh, given as how it is just “the next day.”  But I’ve watched a lot of news channels and read the newspapers.  No one is mentioning that this is a world wide epidemic that is killing people every day.  No one is discussing how extremely difficult it is for us non-famous, non-rich people to find treatment.  Mental Health Parity hasn’t been discussed.  Neither has the fact that some of these deaths could be prevented if the individual had appropriate treatment?  (I realize there is no 100% cure rate for mental illnesses.)  When I moved to New York, it took over six weeks to find a therapist who was taking new patients and was willing to deal with my insurance.  And these six weeks in New York had followed two months in Missouri of searching online and getting referrals and making phonecalls and not ending up with a single lead.  I’d find therapists who would treat me if I paid $180 dollars per session, but that is just not an options for me.  “Funny”–I get a bad sore throat and I go to the doctor and my insurance covers most of the bill and most of the necessary prescriptions.  But when I start feeling suicidal, if I don’t already have a team in place, I can either go to the ER and be admitted for the mandatory 72 hour observation period or I can stay in bed and cry.  I can’t just “go to a doctor” unless I have around 300 dollars for a psychiatric consultation, and it’s rather iffy if my insurance will cover the psychiatric medication I’m prescribed. 

I hope that after this initial period of grief, someone is going to stand up and say, “Hey we can treat these illnesses and we can prevent suicide . . . but we need money to do so.”  I hope someone calls their congressional representative and pushes for Mental Health Parity.  I hope someone organizes a walk (there’s a heart walk every weekend) to raise awareness and raise money.  I hope that something good can come of this tragedy.  But I’m not all that hopeful, because we’ve all read about the stars going to rehab and needing to take psychiatric medication–and while it’s news for a week, nothing happens.  Nothing changes. 

Yes, his death was a tragedy, but now we need to talk about all the other people who are also in that same position and don’t have access to care. 

August 12, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, death, depression, feelings, health, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, relationships, Robin Williams, self harm, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

the pleasures of shame and guilt

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A–Let’s see if I remembered how to insert a picture into a post correctly!

B–Now that I am blogging again, I have like a zillion and one topics in my head to write about.  So please accept my need for a creative outlet.

Shame and guilt.  Let me tell you about my heart.  First, let me address a private message I received regarding the last post that told me I should not make fun of people with heart problems because their heart may actually be dying.  So for those who have just started reading this blog–my heart actually is dying.  Or, to be specific, the right ventricle is dying.  The rest of the heart works pretty well.  It’s a genetic form of progressive degeneration, AKA Arrhythmic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD), which means that the muscle cells of my right ventricle are slowly dying and are being replaced by fat cells, thus enlarging that portion of the heart and affecting the electrical functioning, causing dangerous arrhythmias such as Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib), or the always fun Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which I have experienced.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that fun.

BUT.  In the process of seeing doctor after doctor and getting test after test done and finally being diagnosed with the actual illness (it’s really kind of rare and not the first illness people look for, especially since it’s particularly difficult to see) I was never once asked any of the following questions:  “Why is it happening?”  “What did you do?”  “How could you have prevented it?” and further along:  “Why aren’t you better yet?” “Are you working yet?”  “Why aren’t you at least volunteering?”  What I did hear was, “OMG, I am so sorry!”  “Is there anything they can do?”  “is there anything you need?”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  and further along the road: “How are you feeling?” “Are you getting rest?”  and “Will your brother be okay?”  (he was tested and he does not have the gene)

People were supportive and as understanding as they could be and dropped off meals for me to eat and took me places when I couldn’t drive due to my arm being in a sling after the surgery.  The cause of the distress wasn’t wonderful, but my friends and family were.

Change the scenario just a bit and tell people you have Bipolar II, and while the doctors feel that it can be managed, they have realized that–in my case–there is a high chance for relapse and that our job is to catch those relapses sooner than before and treat them effectively sooner than before.

Questions I was asked:  “What did you do?”  “But you were fine last year.”  “Aren’t you taking your medication?”  “Why is it taking so long to get better?”  “What haven’t you done to help yourself?”

In other words:  This is obviously your fault and why aren’t you choosing to get better?

I realized while journaling the other day some things about my therapist in MO.  A) I made a shit ton of progress with him, more so than with any other therapist.  B) I thought he was the best therapist I had ever worked with and was sorry to have to terminate with him.  C) There were times I would walk out of his office and start crying because I was so ashamed and guilty, and also pissed off at him for bringing up these feelings.

One of my problems/addictions since I was in junior high has been self-harm.  I “discovered” DBT therapy in 1999 and it helped a great deal.  My therapist in MO used DBT therapy with me while I was in MO.  Part of doing DBT requires doing a Chain Analysis if you do engage in self-harm.  Basically, you write down every single little thing you did leading up to the event and then go back and write down what you could have done differently.  This can be helpful.  It can also make someone feel like, “Holy shit.  Why didn’t I do that?  What is wrong with me?  When am I ever going to get this right?  Why didn’t I think of that?”  Going through a chain analysis typically made me feel worse and worse as the session went on because I really did know the skills I should have used but didn’t.  And near the end of my time working with him, it made me feel even worse.  Once, I went eight months in between instances of self-harm, and his first question was, “Why didn’t you _______?”  He did not say, at any point, “Wow.  Eight months is a long time for you.  Good job for making it that far.  How can we do that again?”

Then I was hospitalized in May of this year.  Again.  And I was there for a full month.  I was ashamed to walk back on the unit because the staff all knew me, and what would they think of me being back yet again?  My favorite nurse saw me, said, “Hi stranger! It’s been an awful long time since I’ve seen you here!”  And then she gave me my night meds and said we’d talk in the morning.  She said she was proud of me for seeking help, and that she had seen an amazing amount of progress since the first time she met me nearly six years ago.  I was ashamed because I was even there at all.  She said it showed progress because I didn’t go jump off the bridge and realized I needed help and asked for it.  I would come to her on the unit and say, “I feel like cutting.”  And she’d say, “I’m glad you came to talk to me.  What can I do to help?”  There were no recriminations, or questions of why.  Just an acknowledgement of the fact that I asked for help before things got to the point of restraints and IMs, thus avoiding those situations entirely.  When I told my psychiatrist I had cut, I was scared about the lecture I was sure to get.  Instead, he said, “Huh.  Well, you haven’t done that in a long time.  How is this current medication regimen helping or not helping?”

What I learned is that it is much more helpful to hear someone tell me I’ve made progress than to hear someone ask me what the hell happened.  I don’t mean to say I want all that fake bubbly-all-positive-self-esteem bullshit, because at some point I do have to talk about what happened and all that.  But hearing someone say they’re proud of me?  That does a whole lot to push away the shame and guilt that come with many mental illnesses and addictions, and makes it much easier to discuss things openly.

People did not choose their illness or addiction, but recovery is, to some extent a choice.  one hell of a terrifying, difficult choice.  And there will be set backs.  We know when we take a step backwards.  We’re not stupid.  What we need to hear, without judgment, is encouragement to get back up again.  And along the way, we need to hear that we’re doing the right thing by taking our medications, going to the doctor, avoiding bars or anywhere that triggers an addiction.  Saying, “Thanks for taking your meds lately.  I really hope they’re helping” is actually a nice, comforting thing to hear, and a reminder that someone’s got our back.

 

update:  thank you to all my friends and family who have been supportive and encouraging and have stood by me through all of this without making me feel any guilt or shame.  Because of all of you, I wear short sleeves in public (and a bikini when I go swimming!) and am learning not to be ashamed just because I have Bipolar II.  Thank you to anyone who has helped me see that mental illness is a physical illness and needs to be addressed and talked about.

 

August 1, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | Leave a comment