When I’m Cured

IMG_0426If you have ever had any type of mental health issue, you will know well the thought of what life will be like when you are “cured”.  Much like the person on a diet who imagines how much better things will be after losing 50 pounds, we can easily fall into the habit of deciding to start living life when certain conditions are met.  In fact, sometimes we get so caught up in this kind of magical thinking that we neglect to do the actual footwork needed in the moment.   Looking forward to a better day can be healthy and give us hope. It can also lead to denial and paralysis.   With the first hint of a set-back (like the dieter who eats the piece of chocolate cake) we may be tempted to mentally scrap the day, opting to start again tomorrow.

Recovery from any health issue requires patience and slowing down, as we experience first hand that there are certain things we cannot control.  Premature weight bearing on a broken leg can lead to further injury and delayed recovery.  When we are in tune with our bodies, they will let us know what is needed.  When a person is a struggling with a mental illness, the signals become distorted and it is difficult to trust one’s feelings.   This can result in a frenzy of activities that are subconsciously intended to numb us to the current moment such as excessive intake of alcohol, food, drugs, work, and other risky behaviors.  We become so proficient at running away from the pain that we create a vacuum in our souls.  This vacuum is rooted in the belief that we are not worthy of anything better.

Our most promising chance for recovery is in making the most of the present moment.  We will never reach perfection, and sometimes we will make a mess of things.  Regardless of how far away we feel we are from that “cure” and how much pain we may be in, being able to focus on the moment at hand without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can bring a tiny glimmer of peace and hope.  We may not be able to control our thoughts, but allowing ourselves to become present in the moment, even for a brief second, will lead us to a greater level of truth.

Slowing down when we are tempted to go faster can provide us with a glimpse into the answers we are seeking.  When driving along in a speeding car, how likely are you to notice the buds on a tree in the spring or the wing span of a hawk amidst the white puffy clouds of a summer day?  Even if it means facing feelings of despair, there is great value in slowing down enough to acknowledge what is happening in the moment.  Sometimes the voice of desperation deep within our soul needs to be heard.  Acknowledging that voice can be a scary experience but can also be the catalyst for real growth.

Physical and spiritual growth cannot be reduced to mechanics. I’m all for getting the mechanics right, but spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it’s a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude.”

– Mike Yaconelli

Finding My Soul

traditional-family-roomA few years ago, I had this recurring dream in which I discovered extra rooms in my house that I didn’t know existed.  Inside some of the rooms were closets filled with clothes, dressers filled with jewelry, and shelves filled with books.  Sometimes I dreamed I discovered an attic filled with furniture and household items.  I always wondered what these dreams were about, but recently I figured out that they represent the parts of my soul that were hidden from me when I was struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

When I became healthier as the result of taking medication, going to counseling, and instituting cognitive behavioral  techniques, I was able to think more clearly.  This enabled me to make better choices and begin to open the doors to the parts of my soul that had been closed off and hidden in the shadows of my struggles to keep my symptoms at bay.  I didn’t realize how much energy I had been putting into getting through each day until the symptoms began to dissipate.

jewel-boxIt is so nice to awaken to all of the little treasures of life that I was unable to see before I got treatment.   Now, even when external stressors lead to feelings of sadness or anxiety, I have the tools to address them .  I have been able to do so many things that would have been inconceivable a few years ago.  The beauty of recovery is that I am able to open the doors to all of the rooms in my soul and fully appreciate what each one reveals.

Don’t be Afraid to Seek Help

shining_hopeFor anyone who has struggled with anxiety or depression, here is an article from NAMI’s website that may be helpful in deciding to get treatment.  Many people are afraid to take medication because of the erroneous belief that they should be able to manage their symptoms without it.  I am glad we live in a time when mental illness is finally being recognized as a legitimate health issue rather than a sign of weakness.  Don’t be afraid to seek treatment if you think you need it.  Ignoring the symptoms will only make you feel worse in the long-run.

The Shift in Privacy

 In my last post, I said I would soon be sharing more about myself.  But first, I thought I’d talk about my perspective on the topic of using this type of venue.   I’ve wrestled with this for a while – mainly because the idea of secrecy has been so engrained into my personality.  I don’t know if I can call it secrecy or just being a private person.   It is most likely a combination.  I’m still becoming accustomed to all of the different mediums that people are using to reveal intimate details of their lives, and a year ago it would have been unfathomable to contemplate launching my own personal stories into cyberspace.  I have trouble even responding to a friend’s Facebook post.  

For the most part I believe the shift in public sharing has been a good thing, especially considering how much covering up and pretending people used to do.  It isn’t as if they were always able to hide a family member’s or their own problems with alcoholism or mental illness.  When it became impossible to hide, they were often ostracized and left feeling ashamed and disgraced.   

I remember how strange it was the first time I heard about a celebrity with an addiction problem.  As a young girl I was amazed to hear about Johnny Cash and didn’t understand what it meant.  Was he sick?  Was he a criminal?  Was he a bad person?  Now we’ve gotten used to and often expect to hear similar stories about many of our beloved idols. 

Unfortunately, the downside of all this public sharing is that the pendulum has swung so far the other way that hearing about people’s personal struggles has become a form of entertainment.  There are numerous reality shows that are making celebrities out of people who are willing to reveal their struggles with addictions and mental health issues, not in the form of documentaries but in the form of hit television shows such as Hoarders and Intervention, where treatment methods are often questionable.  

I am conflicted about whether this type of media is helpful or hinders our ability to take these issues seriously.  The answer may lie in the eyes of the beholder.  For some, it can offer hope and inspiration.  For others, it can be another way to ridicule and judge.   I am definitely opposed to the most frequent trend of putting children and adolescents on reality shows, as I don’t believe they can fully comprehend the unintended and possibly negative consequences that come with all that publicity.   It would be easy to pass judgment on people who agree to that format, but perhaps it gives them a sense of control in presenting their side of the story. I suspect that more often they are enticed by the offer of treatment and recovery when they are desperate, but can this promise really be kept when the primary purpose is entertainment? 

It is easy to lose sight of our basic right to privacy in the current climate.  Still, I wouldn’t go back to the kind of repression that was part of the not so distant past.  It would be great to find a balance between protecting those rights and being able to connect and share our experiences in a respectful manner.  Ultimately it comes down to one’s own personal comfort zone, and that is different for each of us.   

I feel passionately about changing public perception about mental health issues, and by sharing bits and pieces of my own life, I want to offer hope and support to anyone who has gone through similar experiences.

So, stay tuned for my next post….

There Are No Casseroles

A phenomenon that is familiar amongst those who have experienced the psychiatric hospitalization of a family member or themselves, is what we’ve come to joke about as “there are no casseroles”.  Unlike with other serious illnesses that require hospitalization or an extended absence from one’s normal routine, there is a noticeable void when it comes to support.  The usual flowers, casserole dishes delivered to the house, cards, visits, and phone calls that are commonly extended to those in crisis are replaced by a tentative awkwardness.

This isn’t because people are uncaring or unsympathetic.  Often the illness is kept such a secret that only the closest of friends/relatives even know about it.   When people do find out, they may want to avoid bringing it up because they don’t want to say the wrong thing or cause anyone to feel uncomfortable.   This is reinforced when we are too afraid or embarrassed to talk about it.  We may also feel protective of our loved ones and want to shelter them from being stigmatized.

I look forward to the day when mental health issues are considered to be no different from any other type of illness.  As hard as it may be, this can only happen when we are willing to open up to those around us, even if we start with just a few trusted people.  I’ve been surprised to find that once that conversation has been initiated, there are many others who have experienced a mental health problem either in themselves or a loved one.

There are times when it may be more prudent to maintain one’s privacy, especially when experience has shown that certain individuals’ reactions may cause additional stress or result in negative repercussions.  In fact, we are entitled to privacy when it comes to our health care.

Nonetheless, we don’t need to go through this alone.  In addition to opening up to a few trusted friends, there are many support groups available where you can speak freely and listen to others facing similar issues.   Your mental health professional will be able to refer you to an appropriate group, and there are many online resources such as NAMI as well.

As fellow human beings, it seems natural to seek comfort in each other during difficult times, and ultimately that is what gives us the hope to continue on this journey.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.

Emily Dickenson

Recent News

Last week, speculation about a story in the news made its way into conversations in the work place and amongst friends and acquaintances.  Everyone wanted to make sense out of what could have caused a man to begin beating his newborn niece when handed to him by the infant’s mother.  What kind of person could have done such a thing, and why?

Sadly, it was reported that the man had paranoid schizophrenia, had recently been released from the hospital after a 72-hour hold, and was not taking his medication.   Public reaction is understandable, given the heinous nature of what occurred.  It appears that in this case, his actions were most likely the result of a severe delusional state.  However, despite what is often portrayed in the media, this kind of violent behavior is rare in those with schizophrenia or severe mental illnesses.   In fact, the greatest challenge they often face is managing symptoms that can be debilitating, and obtaining proper medication and treatment in order to alleviate these symptoms.

My heart goes out to everyone in this family, as they struggle to deal with the loss of their precious baby and make sense of it all.   It is clear that the parents were actively seeking help for their son prior to this incident, and I can only imagine how they must feel now.   The pain of their loss must be multiplied by the fact that there is only so much they could do to help their adult son manage his illness.

Families assume many of the responsibilities of finding the appropriate help and treatment, and this can be a huge challenge.  There can be many obstacles along the way, including convincing someone to seek treatment when the person doesn’t believe that he/she is ill.    Balancing their loved one’s legal rights as an individual with the need for treatment can present a seemingly impossible dilemma.  It can be an exhausting and heart-wrenching process, and a strong support system for the family is essential.   Because of the stigmas associated with mental illness, many families choose to keep their struggles private, and this leads to a sense of isolation and helplessness.  The only way to ensure progress is to break the silence and open up to others so that they can have a better understanding.

A stronger voice is needed to advocate for these highly misunderstood illnesses.   I am optimistic that with current research and increased knowledge, the outlook for mental illness treatment and recovery will continue to improve.   It is easy to get disheartened when we hear about a treatment “failure”, but that is all the more reason to continue the search for answers.  I am hopeful that by examining the misconceptions about mental illness, people’s attitudes will continue to improve as well.

The Importance of Finding the Right Care/Treatment

All mental health care professionals are not equal.  Not only are there a variety of health care professions, there are also different levels of expertise, and the two don’t necessarily always correlate.

In other words, do not be afraid to do some research when seeking help.   It is worth the extra effort to find the right treatment if you are in a position to do so and are not in a crisis situation.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an excellent source of information. Their website contains descriptions of the different types of mental health care workers.

When you are doing your research, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Does this person have experience and/or specialize in your particular mental health issue?
  • What age group does this person typically work with?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • Do you want to work with a male or female?
  • Are there resources available for family members?

Once you have done your research and come up with a list of possibilities, the next step is finding someone with whom you are comfortable.   This can be the biggest challenge.  Remember to keep an open mind at your initial meeting.   Ask as many question as possible and listen carefully to their feedback.  It takes awhile to develop a good working relationship, and this can only happen if you are comfortable with that individual.  If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t be discouraged and give up.  Chances are if you continue your search, you will find the right match.

If you are in a life-threatening situation, feeling hopeless or suicidal, then Do Not Delay – seek help immediately!  Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK and they will be able to assist you.