Tag Archives: mental health education

So many possible (good) changes

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There really are so many possible good changes coming up for me: the possibility of finishing my B.A. via independent study (waiting on my acceptance letter), the possibility of getting out of this rut I’ve been in since my awful Risperdall/Fanapt med change by upping the Fanapt. I’m on a really low dose of Fanapt, so it’s a good possibility for change. I was so nervous from the shock of the med change itself (the six weeks after) the last time I saw my psychiatrist that I wasn’t ready emotionally to try anything else.

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I may not be getting my Utah geography correctly, but I think this photo is of the light coming down in a slot canyon (?) in Utah. In any case, I know the places even if I don’t know the terminology, and the simple terminology for it is beauty: with God’s creations and his light shining down. Some days I may be (theoretically) down in one of these slot canyons and even though it’s beautiful, I feel so stuck and alone, until I find a way out; often with help. I feel like I’m getting there. I feel like, even though it’s been hard the past couple months feeling like I have no “good days” physically and I’m only feeling “okay” on some evenings, at least I know there’s more to try and I do feel deep down in my bones and my gut or however you might say it that things are looking up.

I do need to get through some difficult things with my family first, but by a month from now that should all be taken care of. Now I just need to say a prayer that I find a way down to CA and have the money to see my kids during the time when it’s convenient for their summer schedule.

I am feeling  positive. This will work out. And I still need a lot of patience!

Disability Hearing: I don’t even know where to begin. Yikes.

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judgeLet’s just say that I am extremely grateful to have made it as far as I have. I would be a much bigger mess if it wasn’t for the state and county programs in Utah and California that help out people with mental health issues.

I’m also grateful for the help my parents have given me. However stressful it has been to have to rely on them (especially my step mother, who does seem to try sometimes), it would have been a lot more stressful to have had to figure out what to do on my own. I have a friend who recently moved into (then quickly out of, thanks to friends) housing recommended by the state that turned out to be a crack house. There was crack and meth galore, and he had to sleep with his phone under his pillow and his wallet in his pocket. Life is not easy for those with mental health issues who can’t work and don’t have family support.

So, I made it the almost three year wait to my disability hearing. And aunt, a cousin, and a friend/roommate were all there for me: and of course my lawyer, who I felt was capable and understanding. Such a blessing. I found my lawyer through another friend who works for the firm.

The judge seemed very judge-like: on her toes, intellectually astute, and thankfully for me, a wise listener. I just hope I chose to share the right things when they asked me questions. I keep going over it and wishing I’d clarified things more. The Vocational Expert also seemed kind and astute, but quite a bit at the mercy of the Medical Expert, who frankly scared the heck out of me.

So, my lawyer thinks that things ended up well (I hope!!!) but the middle of the hearing I was absolutely sure we’d end up having to appeal. So, why is it that so many people who truly qualify for disability and can’t work end up getting denied? I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I can relate this small experience that could possibly show some of the reasons why.

The Medical Expert (not sure if that’s the exact term, but it will work for me for now) seemed “nice” enough and has probably had a good enough career helping people out. However, when it came to reading and understanding the 20 years of medical notes from my doctors, he seemed to take soooooooooooooo much out of context. And I was supposed to be quiet, of course (probably best that way, protocol for good reasons etc.) but then by the time it was my turn there was no way I could correct every bit of misinterpretation of my records from him. I felt “ready” for the hearing, but even I don’t remember everything from the last year of my life that I told my doctors that could be misinterpreted. So, here I’ll try to clarify a few things he said:

  1. First of all, I’m not sure why he decided to rank my ability to do certain tasks and work so much higher than the doctor did that I’m seeing right now. Really, who knows me better? My own doctor, or this expert who sees me for one hour during the hearing?
  2. He kept noting my excellent social skills, from evidence in his notes. So what if I can lead music and lead a congregation in hymns at church? Did he read the months worth of notes about all the church I had to miss and how they had to have several people ready in case I couldn’t make it? So, the efforts of my bishop and the ward music coordinator to help keep me feeling like I had some use in the world somehow prove that I’m capable even 80% of the time?
  3. “She was even in a choir.” Yes. So, the choir I’ve done on and off here and in CA (several seasons) but have had to drop out of counts as the ability to work, especially since it was only once a week for three hours, and I couldn’t make it often enough anyway due to health issues?
  4. “She talks about taking a 6 week class through NAMI.” Yes, the 6 week class, once a week, for the National Alliance on Mental Illness that I haven’t been well enough to take? There isn’t anything that I can guarantee that I can make it to.
  5. He was very big on my having adequate social skills and “two blogs.” The two blogs are my “something to do” that I can do at any time of day or night that help me feel needed and….give me something to do. But I can’t consistently commit to anything due to my health. So, when I’m not feeling disoriented and I’m at home, just what am I allowed to do that doesn’t show that I can work? And my social skills: they don’t help me when I have tremors and can’t speak. At the many jobs I’ve tried to do because I was determined to be able to work I kept getting concerned coworkers and bosses and customers (when that applied) wondering why on earth I was trying to work. I swear that it is those who try the hardest who end up getting the most shafted because we show a “willingness to work.” Even if I had to stop working every time I tried. And I kept trying again because I thought…maybe with this new med or this new doctor now that I’ve moved I’ll be okay.
  6. I showed a “willingness to travel” because I go to see my kids in California. This one is just unacceptable. Do I have to be comatose before I “can’t work?” When I’m in CA I have the same symptoms that I do here. Also, I have to be careful who I get a ride with because they need to be understanding about my sensitivity to sounds (keeping the radio down) etc. Sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy to find a ride just when I need one and when I’m feeling okay.
  7. This one I understand: he wondered why I hadn’t spent time in the hospital or ER. Thankfully I knew how to respond. About 7-8 years ago I did have to go to the ER, about 4 different times. It was either over issues with medication or uncontrollable shaking and an inability to take care of myself. I’ve learned a lot of shortcuts to help prevent it now, but I’ve felt probably half a dozen times in the past 2-3 years like I needed to go, but I knew what the bills would be like. I’ve struggled for periods of at least a week or two. But I have a really, really good support network. I call friends or (LDS things: visiting teachers, home teachers….ways we have in our church of taking care of each other) and they bring food and sit and talk with me until the stuttering stops. I sleep for several days until I’m better. I’ve heard a lot of stories as to what mental hospitals are like, and I talk with my doctor and bishop, “will that really help?” because some are better than others.  I don’t have voices that talk to me, so I don’t really need people hovering over me, but there’s no use sleeping a bunch somewhere else with strangers when I can sleep at home. And I know they’ll just give me an Ativan at the E.R., which helps in the short run but not in the long.
  8. There are so many treatments I could get if they give me disability (ones I could pay for with my back disability pay) that I can’t right now. I’ve been researching some of these for years, and other more recently, but I feel like if I get this help I can actually do something about my PTSD. This is a mental illness that doesn’t have to last forever: my doctors agree on that. But if I’m constantly in this state of waiting to possibly be dropped by the side of the road, I don’t see how that can happen.

Venting over. Who knows how I’d do if I had to evaluate anyone from a big stack of notes. I think it’s more the process that I’m not understanding at the moment. Should I have subpoenaed my doctor? Would that have helped? In any case, the judge didn’t seem to agree with the Expert so she kept questioning until he had put my ratings more towards “can’t work.” And I suppose this sort of thing would be scary no matter what. I’m rather grateful for the judge and my lawyer. My lawyer knew just what questions to ask me so I could share my story/symptoms better than what the Expert was representing. Hopefully it will go okay and I won’t have to appeal. Thank goodness for lawyers.

On a scale of 1 to 10…

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number-10I’ve discovered that there’s sometimes still a large disconnect between what some of the people who “know” me think I’m going through, and what I’m actually going through.

Have you ever been asked by a doctor how severe the pain is that you’re going through, on a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 100? I finally got the courage to ask one time, “So, what is 10? Is 10 going through labor? Because it’s bad, but it’s not that bad.”  I’m still not sure how to do that with friends, or when it’s even worth it. I have just a few friends that I will try to further explain it, because they’re the friends who have felt comfortable in the past asking for more details, and who seems to mostly “get it” even if they haven’t been through it. I learned the hard way, at a more needy time of my life, that even if I think someone who absolutely doesn’t get it and doesn’t seem to want to, even if they ask me questions, I probably won’t be able to ever talk or explain enough. They’re probably not emotionally ready, and I’ll just end up getting hurt, and maybe they will, too.

I still haven’t figured out the pain scale. Doctors seem to be able to figure out what they need to without me trying to gain clarity for myself.

As for my anxiety, thus far the “10” (and worst) for me was the time I had to go to the E.R. My doctor and therapist know what that means. I don’t think that many people have seen a panic attack that’s that bad, though.cure-297557_640

So, a couple of people asked me what it was that keeps me from church sometimes. (I feel a little vulnerable on this one, for some reason, despite the irony of writing it on a blog where I’ve already revealed quite a bit.) Usually, it’s that my anxiety is so bad that my nightmares have kept me from sleeping very well and I can’t wake up. If I can wake up, it’s more tricky. I’m more likely to go to church, but nervous about how I’ll be able to handle it. Last week I managed, but I had to miss a lot because I had to sit outside of Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society because the noise and crowds were too much. This week, I managed to sit outside Sacrament Meeting okay, but by Relief Society, I just needed to lie down. Some people may think, “oh, just do some breathing techniques” or one of the many other things I’ve learned. Those things help me on a regular Sunday, or in the long run, but when my anxiety is hitting a 7 or 8 (nothing most people ever have to deal with, I don’t think) that’s not going to do it. As I said to a friend, “If you had the flu, and weren’t retaining anything you heard, and all you could think about was lying down so you could calm down and get some sleep, would you stay?” Also, I DON’T LIKE missing things. Yes, I do get embarrassed if I start to twitch or I feel stuck somewhere and my mind is about to turn off because I keep trying and trying to do calming techniques and it’s not working, because I’m “running faster than I have strength.” No one was ever promised that none of us would have to deal with a difficult mental illness in this life. I don’t want to make people have to see it. It makes people uncomfortable. On top of that (and probably more important) is that it will keep getting worse until I find a way to calm down, and sometimes the only way to do that is to be able to lie down in a quiet room, by myself, where I know no one will bother me. dice-10

I had to ask a friend to take me home early on Sunday. It was quite a bit out of her way to drive several miles to drop me off, go back to church, then come home again this way. It was extremely kind of her. When I got home, I said, “I don’t want to be here, but I need the rest. But this means I’m missing church again.”

What did I learn from this that I need to work on? I took a long nap on Saturday afternoon, that ended up being full of nightmares and thus not restful at all. I ended up afraid to go to bed on Saturday. I need to try to go to bed earlier on Saturday nights, and learn not to be afraid. Plenty of techniques I can use with that.

I understand those who mean well who think one or two simple things, applied daily, will fix all this. It’s just not that simple. It’s more like a very long list of things that will possibly work, as I go through it and pray about it and talk with my doctor and my therapist etc., will fix this. Please don’t insult the intelligence or the integrity (even if we’re not perfect….I know I’m not) of those of us dealing with serious mental health issues. And obviously I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people: no hallucinating, no long stays (or even short ones) in the mental hospital. But getting over my PTSD is like having a full-time job: but one with odd hours and no sure answers. The answers are looking a lot better than they were 5,10,20 years ago, but one of the biggest battles is yet around the still elusive corner: (will I get approved for disability?)

Medication

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vitamins-521365_640So, a friend who deals with depression and anxiety was wanting to compare our medication history and how different meds have had such different affects on the two of us (as you can imagine, this is a common conversation between experienced mental health patients and family members of mental health patients). I figured that since I took the time to type it out in one place, I may as well share it here. I’m leaving out plenty of stories, but this hits the basics. And humor hits the spot and is the spoonful of sugar for psyche outpatients. (I still haven’t been an inpatient….I really hope that I never have to.)  And to those reading this who may need some of these meds someday, remember that our bodies are all *very* different. I was in the very small minority with some of my reactions to these medications. You can’t give up from having one or two bad experiences. Fortunately, I started out with good experiences. But the right meds will be helpful. And don’t *even* think that I would have been okay without medication. I know it’s not the same for everyone, though. But that’s a tale for another day. And I appreciate the concern of friends and family members who freaked out as I was (and still am) going through this. Not that I want them to continue to freak out…I just appreciate those who studied the meds I was on and were concerned.

***PLEASE NOTE: I am not trained or qualified to diagnose or give medical advice on any type of psychological or psychiatric condition.*** The purpose of this blog is simply for me to share my experiences.

To my friend “Gabby”:

Effexor has been amazing for me. I’ve been on it for about 10 years now, I think? It replaced a few years on Paxil. I noticed an immediate difference. It’s still helping me, even though it’s been that long, but the doctor’s had to add the Prazosin and Klonopin and Ambien. He wanted to add more anti-anxiety drugs, but the other two we tried gave me horrible side-effects, and I think we’re down to a place where I can’t do several categories of drugs for various reasons: one category gives me Parkinson’s Disease symptoms (which would become permanent), one category lowers blood pressure and I already have low blood pressure. I think Klonopin is one of those, but the “safest,” and it hasn’t lowered it in the few months I’ve been on it.

Yes, Neurontin helped me get to sleep. Prozac actually made me sleepy (I think I was one of 5% on that one) so I took both at night. If my anxiety/insomnia gets bad enough, though, not much will put me to sleep. I think that’s why they gave me the Ativan at the hospital. It did the trick. The “retrograde amnesia” was rather amusing. They were going to have me stay the night, but my “home teachers” from church (one was my bishop) came to pick me up and the hospital felt comfortable letting me go with them. Most of my shaking had stopped and I’d managed several hours of sleep. They took me to the In N Out drive thru on the way home because I was starving. The last thing I remembered was entering the drive thru. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the morning. My roommate thought it was pretty funny (we need a sense of humor about these things.) I mean….what a tragedy. I got to eat In N Out and I didn’t get to remember it? I still don’t remember any of it. So I called my home teacher and he said that the hospital had warned them that I would end up forgetting things. Maybe it was a higher than normal dose? And I called the hospital to ask if I’d ever remember it….they laughed and said that it was normal and that most likely I wouldn’t ever remember. Such a tragedy.
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Worst medication experiences for me: Zyprexa (made me gain 60 pounds in six weeks. Yup. I went from 127 to almost 190. They took me off it and I lost most of it in 6 months. 127 was too low for me.) It was too bad because I felt the least anxiety on that med that I have since I was a child. But I was *starving* ALL the time. I was very, very strange. Abilify made me gain weight, too.
Other bad medication experience (the worst) was Geodon. It helped my energy level and made my sleep schedule almost normal. After about 7 months on it, though, the Parkinson’s Disease symptoms started. I could do hardly anything with my hands. Signing my name was stressful. Somehow my psychiatrist didn’t pick up on it, and I’m not one to always know that something is a problem. I thought they were side effects I’d have to live with. It affected my eyesight and I needed glasses to read. One of my legs bent and turned inward as I walked. I had developed a facial twitch (which I hadn’t noticed) and TMJ. My arms twisted in and out, too. My father in law and ex-husband (my former father in law has Parkinson’s) were the first to think something was really wrong. I saw my parents for the first time in several monthsand my step mom flipped out at the changes she saw and called my doctor and insisted they see me right then. Getting things done fearlessly is definitely one of her strengths. I had to see a neurologist for a year, and I couldn’t drive for a year. The shaking went away and my eyesight back to normal, but the neurologist was disgusted and said that it would have become permanent. I really appreciated him and his help.

My doctor here tried two other meds recently, both which gave me problems. Seroquel gave me bad flashbacks as I was falling asleep, and I was starting to have problems with my eyesight again. I can’t remember the name of the other one, but I was depressed. That’s when I asked if I could try a sleep medication. (See two entries ago for more on that).

I cannot wait to try some holistic remedies when (hopefully not if) I get my disability back pay, if I get approved for disability. It’s supposed to happen any time now.

 

I’m still kicking

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I may have mentioned that for some reason I have had pretty bad depression and anxiety the past couple of weeks. At first I attributed it to

  1. Not getting to be with my kids for Christmas because I had the flu (would have been a two week trip)
  2. Getting to finally see them for one day during a quick three day trip (one day traveling there, one day with them, one day back) and then the subsequent let down
  3. Realizing that I’ve been here (a couple states away) almost four years when I thought it would be 6 months to 1 year
  4. Waiting on my disability hearing, which is supposed to happen this month….but I’m thinking it may not. It’s been a two year wait. I just want it over. I have a lot of emotional work to do on this one, I’m realizing, and I need patience badly.

My stomach has been hurting for days, I got my days and nights all mixed up last week (but not in any kind of “regular “order) and yesterday I just couldn’t eat anything. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and I was hoping that would get my sleep schedule back in order (something people who know me really well have probably heard 100 times, especially before I got put on sleep meds). I fell very happily asleep early last night, after a fun singles home evening at our place. I woke up at some point to use the restroom in the morning, then slept fitfully with lots of nightmares until….5pm. Yup. I will do another post sometime about my fatigue and sleep issues over the past 23 years. It could be a long one.

So, between not having eaten much yesterday and then sleeping for a really long time, I woke up with really low blood sugar and unable to speak much. A good friend brought me McDonald’s (I eat the hamburgers without the buns….gluten free) and it helped a lot. I had no desire to try to go anywhere, but my roommate came home and said that she was going to volleyball/game night at the church and was only going to stay to play a few games. With as little as I saw anyone last week, I figured that maybe I should go. It was perfect. No one had turned on any music during the amount of time we were there, so it was quiet, and I was able to just sit and watch and realize that the world is still moving along and that I’ll be okay. I joke with people that my brain isn’t functioning enough to do certain things sometimes, which of course people laugh at because they relate, but I need to say it less often, I think, because it’s so very true for me so often. I didn’t try to play board games because I knew that I couldn’t. There was no way I was up to volleyball. I can just imagine the ball coming towards me and me ducking and saying, “Help!” which is kind of funny but possibly a little disturbing.

One of the PTSD support groups I’m in was rather helpful today. There can be so many posts in that group that it seems like most of them go unanswered, but in reply to someone asking a question, someone replied with this great post on a website that is a lot more informative than most that I’ve been on. It seems like most web pages about PTSD (or other mental illnesses) are really general and don’t give any hint of how complicated each illness/category is and how everyone experiences it in so many different ways. I’m going to use it for another post that explains more how my PTSD is the same and different from some of the things they mention. It really made me happy. I feel like it was the direct result to a prayer, as well.

I have so many blessings, and it can be easy to forget them when I’m experiencing things that just seem way too much. My home teacher mentioned a few days ago that that’s when he needs to look at the past for all the ways the Lord helped him then, so that he remembers that things will get better again, and that he’ll get through. Such a good reminder.

Suicide From Stigma

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Very well put, on the subject of stigma. ” Stigma is a mark of social exclusion, causing further harm to some of the most vulnerable members of society.”

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“Nothing in my life has ever made me want to commit suicide more than people’s reaction to my trying to commit suicide.” ― Emilie Autumn

The stigma surrounding mental illness contributes to the risk of suicide. As Goffman states, the stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply that their burden is not heavy; stigma makes every person their own jailer. This causes separation from society and the feeling of loneliness. As Mother Theresa said, “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Jules Verne said, “Solitude, isolation, are painful things and beyond human endurance.” Lastly, as Jean Vanier stated, “to be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unlovable. Loneliness is a taste of death.”

In Why People Die By Suicide, Thomas Joiner argues that a sense of thwarted belonging, perceived burdensomeness, and a loss of hope causes suicidal ideation. Stigma…

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Fixing the Thinking

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***PLEASE NOTE: I am not trained or qualified to diagnose or give medical advice on any type of psychological or psychiatric condition.*** The purpose of this blog is simply for me to share my experiences.
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I always experience a downer when I come back from visiting my kids. I live in Utah because I came here to try to finish my degree, which didn’t work out due to my health: then I ended up staying because my parents are helping me out until I get disability (hopefully) and Utah is cheaper than California. It is quieter here than the L.A./Orange County area, and the pace of life is blessedly slower, but….my kids aren’t here.

Not getting to spend Christmas with them thanks to the flu has given me the opportunity to work harder on my thinking patterns. Now, as a warning, I’ve heard several different terms applied to what I’m going to talk about: and not being a professional, I don’t think I can adequately distinguish between them. Years ago I was taught “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” then about 8 years ago “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,” or “DBT,” and I have a friend who is a therapist who refers to it as cognitive distortions, or thinking distortions. I’ll have to ask him again.

So, how to make this short…

22 years ago I was loaned a copy of the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. I highly recommend it if you have issues with anxiety or depression, or really just for anyone. He talks about distorted thoughts and shows a method to work on getting rid of them by writing them down and then identifying what types of “distortion” they are according to a list he made (which was very handy) and then writing next to each thought what the reality really is, which is almost always better. It helped a great deal, once I stopped beating myself every time I caught a “distorted thought.” I was pretty much the queen of hard on myself at the time. I’m a lot better at it now, but I still struggle.

Just after my divorce, I became a patient at an anxiety clinic at a university that I love, but won’t name here, due to a bad experience I’m mentioning.  I would see a resident there (who was great) and then one of several supervising psychiatrists. One of the doctors didn’t seem happy that I was seeing my own therapist (who had specialized in anxiety for her dissertation), and seemed a bit upset when I mentioned my religion, and that my therapist was also that same religion, and that someone close to me had been addicted to pornography. He didn’t seem to think that certain addiction was possible. It had been the source of a great deal of trauma to me and my kids, mostly because of how this family member had acted because of it: increased temper and less of an ability to be aware of the feelings of those around him.

Anyway, they insisted that I do “DBT” (which is good) but in a way that was just like the lists I’d done from the book years before. They had the resident sit next to me and go through it slowly, and make me think of things to write down. They were already feelings I was aware of and had been working on a long time. I don’t know how to explain why, but it was extremely traumatizing. They weren’t things I needed to work on, and it felt like they were twisting a screw in my back psychologically. I ended up leaving in tears one day. The one doctor that I’d had a bad vibe from, I found out later (when I wasn’t supposed to, but certain people had a feeling it would be helpful to me emotionally/mentally) was dropped from my case. Years later, when I heard that “DBT” was found to be helpful to those with PTSD, I felt discouraged, as if it was yet another things to check off my list of things that I’d “already done.”
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Then last year I was blessed to be assigned to a therapist who had specialized in trauma, and to be able to attend a trauma support group. The therapist explained to me that there is now more to DBT than “just” those lists. In the group we learned quite a few techniques that were different from the lists, and quite a bit more helpful to me at this point. Also, up until about two years ago, when my anxiety would be at its worst and I was struggling (like I still do) to talk and function and think clearly, I could name, perhaps, the trigger that got me there, and the overall larger problems I was dealing with, but I couldn’t tell you what was bothering me. Sometimes I could sit and write down what was going on, but more frequently I felt extremely confused and like I just needed some sleep so I could function again.

As the time is getting closer that (hopefully) my disability hearing will come, and has winter has set in, I’ve been having a lot more problems with deep depression than I usually do. I ran into my friend who is a therapist (but not my therapist) and he asked me if I was doing my positive thinking exercises, and I realized that that weekend I hadn’t been. I took it as an important reminder. At first, I realized, the thought came into my head that “but I don’t know what’s bothering me….” but unlike in the more distant past, when I got home and sat down to write, I kept going and going. It just came out. I’m taking this as a good sign that, just maybe, some of this depression is the old emotions, stuffed in down deep, finally coming out and being dealt with. It’s not that I haven’t had to deal with things before, but these are things that came in too much at a time, that I wasn’t ready to deal with, due to trauma, and perhaps this is another step in filing those thoughts and emotions in their proper places in my mind, and healing more.

A few weeks ago, someone also randomly posted on Facebook a link to a BYU devotional by Elaine Marshall, of the school of nursing, several years ago. I really needed this quote and saw it as a blessing that I noticed the link and happened to click on it:

I have learned that healing is a process of restoring and becoming whole. This morning I would like to share six lessons I have learned about the healer’s art.

First, healing hurts. When I was a young nurse in the hospital, hardly a day went by that a patient did not ask, “Will it hurt?” If I had been truthful, the whispered answer would nearly always have been, “Yes, it will hurt.” I have learned that healing hurts. Life hurts. Healing really only begins when we face the hurt in its full force and then grow through it with all the strength of our soul. For every reward of learning and growing, some degree of pain is always the price. Author M. Scott Peck reminds us that if you do not want love or pain, you “must do without many things” (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978]: 133). I think you would do without dating, graduating, getting married, or having children.

Sometime in your life you will know a crashing crisis or heavy heartache that will threaten all sense of logic or hope or certainty—from which, no matter how you emerge, nothing will ever be the same. Hurts come as unique losses, unwelcome surprises, fading hope, or grief.

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The Holidays and Anxiety/PTSD

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I know that this isn’t relegated just to those of us with anxiety and/or PTSD: the holidays tend to bring up my anxiety to the worst levels of the year. On the good side, it’s usually for good things. (See my post on good anxiety and bad anxiety here.)  This year I have added to it that it’s been harder than in the past few years to find a way to get down to CA to spend it with my kids, and to find a place to stay: and also looming, again, is the supposed-to-be soon Disability Hearing.

I also have a December birthday. When I lived at home with my kids, I don’t think it bothered me. Several years I even forgot about it until family reminded me that day. Away from my kids and with the “bad stress” of this year (Disability Hearing) or even without that, I have to admit that I haven’t looked forward to my birthday since moving to Utah almost 4 years ago.gift-2677_640

My friends have gone out of their way this year to make sure that I’ve had a good birthday. It’s actually not until a few days from today, but I’ve already been sung to twice, received a boatload of clothes from my parents, been taken out to lunch by my amazing little sister, and on my birthday I get to go to a choir concert with one of my oldest friends. I’m a huge choral music geek, and I sang with this choral organization for several years, and my daughter sang with them one semester, and their concerts are amazing, so I’m pretty excited.

I got to do a white elephant party last night with friends, in just the style I’ve needed lately: small, laid back, not crowded, and mellow: and lots of laughs. And singing. I was kind of a mess before the party (holiday PTSD, hello) much more unorganized than I’d like to be, wrapping white elephant gifts at the last minute even though they were planned ahead, forgetting to eat dinner, not getting to the pharmacy, forgetting what I was doing every other minute (squirrel…)   (squirrel…..). But I decided that although “good anxiety” is still anxiety, and still makes you tired, at least it improves your mood. I had insomnia after, and then slept for 16 hours (ugh) and had weird, complicated dreams that were thankfully only partly-nightmarish. I still had some “super hero” abilities in the dreams, which for me I think is a sign that I’m not feeling like things are completely out of my control. And this is why I haven’t been doing things on Saturday nights: ruins my Sundays.

As usual, I will miss my daughter’s band/orchestra concert, because it’s in CA and I’m in UT. I’m going to see if I can bribe someone to record at least a few seconds of it.holiday music

My step mother is yet again on another kick of asking me “why can’t you at least take a part time job? You know, at McDonald’s or something?”  I’m still so flabbergasted that she asks, even after having seen me at my worst so many times, that I just have to remind myself how worried she is about my Dad getting older (he’s in his mid 80’s, she’s younger) and ignore it. I think this is one of those things that worries me the most about my upcoming Disability Hearing: I’m kind of a disaster. I need to get out sometimes to help keep my sanity and my sense of hope alive. I can barely handle planning a trip to CA and inexpensive gifts for my family. There seems to be a huge contingent of people who think that if you can breather, you can work. When I work, both my employer and customers (if the job involves customers) catch it quite easily when my mind goes blank (which is frequent) and wonder why I’m trying to work. I had a group of holiday shoppers once completely freak out, and several of them insist on going to find managers to tell them I needed to go home and rest, when I was subconsciously channeling “I’m okay, I’m okay” in my head. When I try to work, (or do school, even, unfortunately), everything goes downhill. Even when I’m not working, I’m struggling. I have a really hard time not feeling anger for people who don’t understand.  I try to remember what another family member said, that “people just don’t know.” If they have someone in their lives who is dealing with mental illness, especially (but not just if) it is debilitating, I wish they would make more of an effort to read up on it, especially the latest research. Sticking one’s head in the sand and being determined to stay in the denial and anger stages of grief over a loved one having a mental illness can be so detrimental to the health of everyone involved.  I still am trying to be understanding, though. When I don’t just let it go, it consumes me. However, when I start to trust too much, it often ends up biting me again.

Trigger Tales: the Helicopter

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I had been told several times during my twenties that I probably had some form of PTSD, but since it didn’t hit me in the same way as it did war veterans, I took a strange comfort that it wasn’t the “same kind of ” PTSD that I’d heard about. In fact, it’s a common misconception when people hear about mental illnesses that everyone who has PTSD has it the same way, that everyone who is bipolar has it the same way, etc. It makes sense to order it in our minds that way when we’re fortunate enough to not be having to deal with it. Mental illnesses are like any other type of illness in that they manifest in as many ways as the people who have them.

Starting in about Jr. High, friends in one of my classes figured out that I had an exaggerated startle response. In other words, when they would do some sort of game like waving their hands in someone else’s peripheral vision, the person might move a little. I, however, jumped. I’m not sure why I remember this. In some strange way it was comforting to me, because they hadn’t teased me about it (I guess they thought it was some kind of superhuman reflex) and it was also some kind of proof to me that I wasn’t okay, even if my parents tried to pretend everything was normal at home. Jr. High was also a difficult time for me, probably the worst of my growing up years at home, which translated easier into difficulties feeling like I fit in at school. I went from “brainy” and mostly normal to “struggling socially.” Not too different from a lot of kids in that stage, unfortunately. I found out later that out of my siblings, only one enjoyed Jr. High.helicopter-390488_640

I have two kids, about 4 years apart. My daughter is the youngest and was born in Los Angeles not long after 9/11. My former husband and I had gone through a couple really hard years, followed by a small amount of peace (during which time my daughter came to be) and we moved to L.A. for him to finish graduate school. I was going through severe postpartum depression and constantly on myself, thinking I was doing everything wrong. As my ex once put it, “Do you think you’re responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world?”  At which time I realized that I did, and that it was odd, but I couldn’t seem to make the feeling go away.

We lived in student housing next to the 405 freeway, and not far from the intersection with the 10, and about 10 miles south of what they said was then (and still may be) the “busiest freeway intersection in the country.” It was a nice neighborhood. West L.A. is a nice area. It is still L.A., though, and we frequently heard traffic and news helicopters outside. Once I was walking back from a friend’s place in the student housing complex, and a helicopter passed overhead and on a loudspeaker someone said something similar to, “please stay indoors, suspect is in the area, on foot. Police are in pursuit.”  Not terribly comforting. Needless to say I quickened my pace and told my family.

The kicker for me in realizing that it wasn’t “just” Postpartum Depression (which is not a “just” for anyone, of course) and anxiety was when I was feeling overwhelmed, which was what I’d come to believe my life would just have to be like, and my kids were watching tv or playing in the family room and my ex husband was either walking by or sitting there. A helicopter passed nearby, and in a split second a felt a HUGE adrenaline rush, and I fell to the floor and covered my neck like we used to do in earthquake drills in CA in elementary school. It felt like there was a war right there, like the terrorists had come to Los Angeles and we were about to die. Then in another split second I realized what had happened: that I was “okay” and we were okay, and that it was just a helicopter (and I have never been in a “literal” war zone), but I was not okay. I just started to cry, wondering what was going to happen to me.

LDS links on Mental Illness: President Packer

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Jesus shows compassion and heals the man who has been waiting in vain at the pool of Bethesda.

Jesus shows compassion and heals the man who has been waiting in vain at the pool of Bethesda.

President Packer, of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (then Elder Packer) gave this classic talk in 1991 entitled “The Moving of the Water.” I quote only a portion, but you can read the rest here or I will place the video at the bottom of the post. (Video currently only available via this link)

 

There has always been in all of humanity a sprinkling of those who are described in the scriptures as the blind, the halt, the lame, the deaf, the withered, the dumb, the impotent folk. We refer to them as having learning or communication disorders, as the hearing or visually impaired, as those with motor or orthopedic limitations. We speak of intellectual or emotional impairment, of retardation, and mental illness. Some suffer from a combination of these, and all of them cannot function without some help.

I speak to the families of those who, at birth or as the result of accident or disease, must live with an impaired body or mind. I desire to bring comfort to those to whom the words handicapped or disability have very personal meaning.

I must first, and with emphasis, clarify this point: It is natural for parents with handicapped children to ask themselves, “What did we do wrong?” The idea that all suffering is somehow the direct result of sin has been taught since ancient times. It is false doctrine. That notion was even accepted by some of the early disciples until the Lord corrected them.

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

“And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:1–3.)

There is little room for feelings of guilt in connection with handicaps. Some handicaps may result from carelessness or abuse, and some through addiction of parents. But most of them do not. Afflictions come to the innocent.

Laws of Nature Sovereign
The very purpose for which the world was created, and man introduced to live upon it, requires that the laws of nature operate in cold disregard for human feelings. We must work out our salvation without expecting the laws of nature to be exempted for us. Natural law is, on rare occasions, suspended in a miracle. But mostly our handicapped, like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, wait endlessly for the moving of the water.

 

The Moving of the Waters