Friday, January 29, 2016

Why do we fight against taking meds for mental illness?

 This has been on my mind a lot lately.  When I most recently started a new medication to treat my depression, I asked the doctor, "How will I know when I am ready to stop taking this medicine."  His answer was so clear and made perfect sense to me.  It really was a life-altering moment for me.  He said,"You never stop taking it.  You have a disease that requires you to take medicine for the rest of your life.  Even if you have times without symptoms, you need to face he truth. And the truth is you have been hospitalized six times in your life and every time it was because your symptoms returned and you were not taking medicine to manage the illness.  All you have to do is take a pill every day. So never question it again."

So, why, then is it so difficult for people to accept they need medication for their mental disorders?  When a person has a headache, they don't hesitate to take a pill (whether it be Tylenol or Excedrin Migraine) to reduce or eliminate that pain.

Imagine for a minute that you are rushed to the hospital for a severe break to your lower leg.  The doctor needs to perform surgery to fix the break, and you leave the hospital in a cast and with a prescription for strong pain pills.  When that pain starts to creep up, what do you do? Do you question whether the pain pills are necessary?  I wouldn't.  I would follow their instructions and take the pills until my injury was healed.

Why is mental illness so different?  There is only one instance I can think of where pain medication is refused by a patient in a medical situation (other than menta illness), and that is during childbirth.  Many women fight very hard against any type of pain medication administration during the labor and birth of their children.  So, I think there must be a strong correlation here.  It seems easier to explain why a woman in so much pain would deny something proven to reduce that pain.  While you may say, they are concerned for the wellbeing of their child and don't want to expose the child to this medication, you may be right.  However, these practices have been safely administered for decades.  I honestly think the reason is clearly stated in this type of birth -- "natural" birth.  This is a natural thing, meaning a woman should be able to withstand this pain.  She is not injured or ill.  Pain is a part of childbirth, naturally.  And taking meds for the pain is seen by society or the mother or her family, as a sign of weakness.  As a sign of selfishness, taking the easy way out when the definition of a mother is to sacrifice for the good of her children.

Isn't this so true about menta illness too?  Pain and suffering are just a part of life, right?  Sadness and anxiety and fear are just emotions, and we should all be strong enough to handle it on our own.  If we give in and take meds, are we admitting defeat, failure, and ultimately weakness?  After all, our ancestors centuries ago made it through life without meds (just like women gave birth without them), so why can't we just deal with the pain inside ourselves and figure it out?

Don't you believe if science was advanced enough to safely reduce the pain of childbirth 200 years ago, women would take advantage of this technology instead of putting themselves through unnecessary pain?  Wouldn't your great great great grandparents have taken Prozac for their depression if it was available? Just because they survived without it, doesn't mean you have to.  And just because they did it without meds, doesn't mean they wanted to.  

But I am getting away from the point... My point is physical pain should not be any different in the minds of people than mental pain.  Sure, you may be worried if it is the right medication, or if you will have a negative reaction to it, or if the side effects will be unbearable, or if you'll become dependent on it.  But consider this..  If your had a physical ailment that was only treatable by a certain medication you had never taken, but it would save your life, how would you approach it?  The only way to know if you will have a reaction and the only way you will know what side effects you will have, and the absolute ONLY way to know if it will cure you, is to TAKE the medicine.  It is going to save your life!!!  What choice do you have?  You can not take it because of the risks, but you will most likely die from your disease. 

Psychotropic medications save lives every day.  They don't signify weakness.  They signify strength.  Taking them shows the world that you are strong enough to choose life over pain, suffering, and sometimes even your own death.  Stop questioning whether you really need them or what others would think if they knew.  You are saving your life and that is the most important thing to remember.  

So, please comment and let me know what struggles you've had accepting this idea of taking medication for a mental illness.  What did I leave out?  Do you agree or disagree?  I would love your thoughts.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Lessons from two weeks with a walker

So, tomorrow marks two full weeks using a walker to get around following my successful back surgery.  And I have learned a lot.  Of course, the first thought on lessons learned is how much I have taken for granted having a fully able body.  This is so apparent from the first time I put all of my weight onto the handles to hold myself up and make it ten feet to the hospital room bathroom.  In fact, even before that, I realized how good I have had it when I had to use a bedpan twice waiting for my walker to be delivered.  It is amazing how a simple task of making it to the bathroom independently suddenly becomes a privilege I no longer had available to me.

But day after day, the biggest lesson imparted grew into quite the revelation.  It wasn't the constant dependence on my husband and children to be my hands, bringing me every meal, helping me to the shower, and helping out of the shower, making sure I've taken my pain medication in time so that I am not suffering an hour later.  But, what actually happened is my decision-making process radically changed.  You see, if I had to go to the restroom, I had to ask myself several questions.  Is this something that can wait?  If I go now, will I just have to make the difficult trip in another 30 minutes?  Was I in too much pain at the moment for it to be worth the trip?

And when I answered all those questions in the negative, I then had to get the energy to sit up on my bed, push myself up to standing on one foot with my walker, slowly hopping with the assistance of the walker, turn my walker sideways at the door because the doorway was one inch too small..  And even then, it was physically trying to derobe myself, sit down, do my business, pull myself back up, and repeating the trip back to my bed.  It all took so much time, so much effort -- and this was just so I wouldn't pee my pants.  I had to plan so I would not be rushed, because there is no rushing when you have a walker.  And God forbid a towel was left crumpled on the bathroom floor.  Another obstacle making me question if I should even bother getting up.

I still had to eventually choose to move, or I could just sit where I was, make a mess, and refuse to do anything about it.  Because it was too hard.  But by making myself move, I helped my recovery.  After a few days, I was a pro at getting up from my bed, I moved faster, and the decision to get up was easier.  If I just decided not to move,  my recovery would be delayed and life would remain very difficult, messy, and depressing.

So, life slowed down for me.. A LOT.  What used to be a simple decision now became a process of pro's and con's.  A week into my recovery, a friend needed my help.  She was very depressed and needed critical help and she needed it then.  It didn't take me near as long to decide to go with her to the ER to get help as the going to the bathroom did.  Why?  Why was it different?  I would have to work so much harder to ride in a car for an hour, get myself back to her room, sit with her, focusing not on my pain but hers, and get her the help she needed.  And then five days later, when I knew she was having a hard time and needed a visitor two hours away, I knew I had to find a way to go visit her.  It didn't matter what my pain level was, or how long it took me to hobble up to the front desk and check in.  So many people had seen me struggle with getting around my hospital room after surgery or around my house, and suggested I shouldn't go, that I should take care of myself.

So here is the lesson...  We all need to learn to slow down and see if a certain decision is the right one.  Will it have a positive impact on your life and the direction and goals you are working towards? Will it help you grow, get better, heal, and be productive?  If you can find the answers to these questions, you will know whether to even take the first step in that direction.  But don't discount your instincts, your gut reaction.  Sometimes, life throws a curve ball, and you depend on your deepest values and beliefs in those moments.  Don't make excuses in those moments, don't let them pass you by.  These moments may make the biggest impacts of your entire life.

Imagine if it took you ten times as much time and effort to do what you are trying to do.  Would you still do it?  If not, is it worth your time in the first place?  Don't shortchange yourself, because sometimes you need to be able to drop it all for the really important stuff.

I sure hope I can continue to think in this new way in a week when I can finally rid myself of dependence on this metal walker, and re-enter my life outside my bedroom.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

From the Beginning

So, I recently have realized something.  A week ago, maybe even less than that, if given this title, I would have started my post with, "When I was 12 years old, my brother died..." but slowly I am realizing, this is not the beginning at all.  More than a decade of life occurred before this moment, but I have somehow made my brother's death the beginning of my story.  My therapist explained it like this to me, "When you lost your brother, you essentially killed off yourself at that moment, and replaced your whole identity in his untimely and undeserved death."  So where do I go from there?  What is the focus for my treatment?  We both agree that I can't try and regain the childhood I lost, and threw into a great abyss.  Because even if I didn't grieve the way I did, if I didn't die inside and abandon every part of me that once knew my brother, 20 years have passed, and a healthy adult would have changed so much from that 12 year old girl.  That should not be my goal.

But maybe I can share a little of my beginnings and regain the memory of who she was, both for those reading and for myself.

I was born into a family of six, my mom and dad, my sister, the oldest, and my two brothers.  My first four years were spent in Ozark, Arkansas, in a small white house with a pump faucet in the front used for many muddy adventures, and an auto shop down the alley behind it with a glitchy pop machine that would spit out six orange soda drinks at once if you hit the button just right.  I found myself playing alone quite a bit since my sister was six years older than me, and the boys were old enough to run around the neighborhood on their own.  But I am pretty sure I had a good imagination that kept me occupied.  I was a sensitive girl, easily brought to tears, and lived to please everyone around me.

At the age of four, we moved to Pensacola, Florida, for my dad to continue school at the Bible College there.  We lived in a small brick rent house for about a year, then had an opportunity to move 30 minutes outside of Pensacola to a small Christian campground to live as caretakers onsite.  It was a young kid's dream place to grow up.  We had paths through thick woods, a swinging rope bridge over a creek/swimming hole, a large canyon with every color sand you can imagine, and so much to explore.  We lived very meagerly, rent-free, growing our own vegetables, and rotating two sets of uniforms for the private Christian school we were able to attend tuition-free as part of our role as camp caretakers.  My dad continued school while working two and three jobs at a time.  I grew closer to my brothers during this time of my life, but still spent a lot of time in my own world.

When I was six years old, my family made our final move to Oklahoma to live closer to my mom's side of the family.  We found an amazing two-story rent house that used to be a parsonage for the next-door Presbyterian church.  My mom put us into public school my second grade year, and we established ourselves in the small community of Chandler and the Baptist church.  The people from this town are cherished to me because they are the part of my life that best knows who my brother, Josh, was.  They grew up with him and our whole family, and were impacted the most when he died at the age of 16 in 1995.

So there is a little "from the beginning"...  there isn't a whole lot more to add.  I have the facts, some anecdotal things told over the years to me.  And I don't know that I will ever regain all those years.  If there is anything certain about my dissociate disorder, my life prior to age 12 is a time I have almost completely dissociated from.  Maybe it was out of necessity, maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was involuntary.  But now, I just need to regain who I am today.  And that is what I am working on every day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Help Your Friend Suffering from [fill in the blank]

Want to know a big secret?  I don't know how you can help your friends with anything they are suffering from.  Why not?  Because I don't know who your friends are, what they are suffering with, and most importantly, I don't know what it feels like to suffer for them.

This is the most difficult thing about mental health and illness awareness.  Just because I have a dissociative disorder does not mean I completely understand every other person with the same disorder.  Mental disorders are always experienced on a spectrum, often with secondary diagnosis that changes the symptoms of the primary tremendously.

So what can any one person do, to break down the walls of misunderstanding, when every person they try to help has a new story and a new way of coping with life?  What is beneficial for one friend may be totally detrimental to the next.  While I believe the viral posts that we often see that describe depression or anxiety in a very raw and vulnerable way are powerful, inspirational, and even world-changing, I sometimes shy away from sharing the post when I see some aspect of depression that doesn't at all describe how I feel when I am depressed.  How else do people with mental disorders communicate to their friends and family what to do when they are in their deepest, darkest moments?  But that post isn't about is about the author, and we all have to be authors, and you all have to be readers.

You must read and come to know your friends first-hand.  Know that if they share a post about mental illness, it doesn't mean that is exactly how they feel.  It just means something to them.  Maybe ask them what they identify with.  Ask for honest feedback in how you approach them during hard times.  But basically, be there for them in all times, and you will already know how to help your friend when they struggle.

So...  I guess this is where I need to take my own the author, tell my story, and allow people to know how to help ME!  Next post, I'll be sure to give my raw and vulnerable account of what it is to be me.  Til' then...

Monday, October 26, 2015

When I say too much

It's a very thin line, almost invisible, between saying the words that need to be said, the ones that express exactly how you feel and believe, and saying too much.  But the difference I witness in the face of the listener is crystal clear.  When I share too much of myself, I see the slightest retraction of their eyes, they back away just a little bit, and immediately try and cover it up with a smile.  That awkward smile...  screaming to me that I just lost another potential friend to the misunderstanding and stigma of my mental illness.

What I have never understood is what changed in that moment.  I know it wasn't me, and guessing that this is not a new reaction for them, they didn't change either.  Really nothing changed, other than the realization that I struggle with something that cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Perhaps they believe I am asking them to do something, to help me, to save me.  But I am not.  I am only trying to be 100% who I am, and all I want is acceptance, and the occasional "Me too!"

But here is the best part of this conversation I am having today.  There are so very few people out there that I can never say too much to.  Instead of furrowing their brow, backing away, and fleeing the awkwardness, they lean in, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, wanting me to be 100% who I am and nothing more.  And honestly,  I think it is a good thing for now.  I don't think I could handle everyone always open to what I have to say.  But one or two...  I couldn't live without those few, who see me and not my mental illness. 

If you find yourself in one of those borderline conversations, next time, try to lean in, try to relax your expressions, and try to see that nothing has changed from one moment to the next.  Be grateful that person is letting you into the other side of their world.  You may learn more than you expect!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cloudy days bother me

Today was hell to wake up. It's so weird how clouds outside my house can make it so difficult to get out of bed inside my house. What's the difference? Some may say it is the light issue, not enough sunshine coming through the windows...but I have very heavy curtains that don't let light in regardless. Oh well...I finally got up and went to work...ten minutes late. This bothers me too. My boss usually gets in about five minutes late everyday. So I can usually be the first to the office even if I'm running a little late. But today was different and it looks bad on me. But in all reality, I probably got there only five minutes after she did.

Enough of the whining and complaining...well almost. I was thinking about how a lot of people with Bpd are so creative...artistic or musically. I am not creative. I am not inclined to paint or draw or sing when I'm manic. Instead....I organize. I organize everything. I clean my house, my office, my car. I even reorganize filing systems I've already organized. When I come down from the manic high...I'm not quite sure how the system's like someone else was in my office.

Even in my childhood, I did this. I would put numbers on all my clothes hangers...and have an inventory of all my clothes and which hanger they are supposed to be on. I would schedule a month's worth of outfits that I planned to wear that month. Then I would put alternate choices if the weather was different than planned. The system only lasted a week. All the time and energy in creating a system that I never used.

I like numbers. I plan to be an accountant...just another way for me to organize things. This is not exciting, like becoming a broadway performer or famous artist. But that's all I do that I can enjoy. I guess that it isn't so are paid well.

I feel like I'm just rambling with no cause...I hope that someone somewhere could read this and understand. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who knows what it is like to be me. But that is what my counselor tells me...noone can really know how it feels to me. That sucks...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day 1

I guess I couldn't think of anything better to put in the title for today. But it might be confusing to readers. This is definitely not "Day 1" of my life as a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder. It's more like Day 4015 (no really...I added it up!).

I could share my entire 11-year history with BpD, but I don't really feel like dragging it all out and I'm sure it will come up sooner or later in this saga. What I plan to do is just start now...make this day one...and see how I do from now on. So...I guess a little introduction wouldn't be too horrible.

My name is Sarah. I am 23 years old, married, and living in Oklahoma. I am currently working full-time for the Residential Life Department at Oklahoma State University while my husband is finishing his degree in Secondary History Education. He is going to be student teaching this spring, then graduating in May. Once we get settled again, I will return to school to get my Masters in Accounting and sit for the CPA exam. We don't have any children and don't plan to have them until we're all settled financially. Until recently, I had a lot of problems with that decision. I've always wanted kids as soon as possible, but I'm slowly realizing that I am definitely not ready for that responsibility yet and I'd like to enjoy my freedom for a few more years. But..that's enough for now...except that I have struggled with BpD since age 12, diagnosed at 15, and been treated with meds and therapy since.

So, this last summer, I slowly slid into the longest depression I've had since before my first manic episode. I guess it just kept getting gradually worse and I wasn't paying attention. When my husband and boss finally convinced me that I was not myself, I went to my pdoc (psychiatrist) for help. Come to find out I had not worked one full week for three months. So, she added Wellbutrin to my regiment of medications. I guess I should let you know what meds I'm on. Here goes:

Lamictal (300mg/day)- mood stabilizer
Clonazepam (1-2mg/day)- anti-anxiety and sleep aid
Lexapro (20mg/day)- antidepressant
Wellbutrin (300mg/day)- antidepressant

Initially, she put me on only 150mg/day of Wellbutrin, but I just wasn't responding to it. I guess I've been feeling better since she upped it five days ago. It's hard to know though. That's where the meaning of the title of this entire blog comes from. I've recently had a lot of time to think, and the only way I can describe how I feel is that my body is fighting itself. It's like the logical, rational part of me (which btw is quite weak right now) is trying as hard as it can to defeat the depressed part of me. The fact that all of this is biological and has to do with chemicals firing off in my brain is difficult, because it is my brain that also gives me reason and basically every other thing I need to survive.

So, how do I feel? I'm not sure. I don't know if I feel better, happier...or if my brain is just playing a trick on me. I don't know if I'm naturally cycling to a happier mood or if it is just the medication boost. I don't know if my actions and behaviors are acceptable and rational yet.

So...basically...I would say that I am still being controlled by BpD, rather than the other way around. I have had times in my life when I was in control, and they were glorious times (I'm not talking about mania...I'm talking about balance). I know it is possible...but for how long...I don't know. It may just come down to my determination to continue maintainance treatment.

All I can do is just take it one day at a my counselor, Cindy, says "Just stay in the moment." Very difficult thing to do...but very applicable to my life.

Another day down, ??? days to go...