Singing the Blues

It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

I watched a documentary about Janis Joplin last evening, called Little Girl Blue.  It ripped my heart out in many ways. Hers is a story of that combination of spirit, guts, insecurity, and an insatiable quest to be loved by everyone that can be so difficult to manage in the face of mental illness. Her voice is recognizable by anyone who ever lived during the 60s and 70s, and the years that followed that era. Who hasn’t heard Take Another Piece of My Heart?

Love or hate Joplin’s music, one can’t help but be saddened by the story of her life. It seems she was picked on a great deal during her school years growing up in Texas, mostly for her appearance, but also because she was different from the other kids. The angst of not fitting in and searching for a place to belong is what ultimately drove her to head to California and propelled her into what would become a brilliant but short-lived career.  She found her voice singing the blues, letting out all of her emotions. Indeed, she was bursting at the seams with a multitude of pent-up emotions. Her music tells the story well.

I could relate to Joplin’s quote about emotions, “It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

Dealing with intense feelings is a hallmark struggle that many people with mental illness face on a daily basis, and we often fall into the trap of seeking any way possible to express or suppress emotions that can be quite overwhelming. Even when we find a way to channel our feelings through art, music, sports, writing, career, or religion, if we are not careful, positive things in our lives can quickly shift to obsessions that rob us of our ability to feel or notice anything. Drugs, food, alcohol, compulsive behaviors are other ways to cope with what we don’t understand about ourselves, and they can quickly lead our vulnerable psyches down the path of self-destruction.

Janis, like my daughter, left home at an early age and discovered she had wonderful talent. She, like my daughter, lacked the maturity and tools to adequately deal with the stress that came with a life so quickly propelled into success. By 27 Janis had died of a heroin overdose after months of being sober. I can understand how this happened, having struggled with an eating disorder until I was about that age. I watched my daughter struggle with the same thing while she was away from home excelling and failing at the same time.

Both my daughter and I were fortunate to be able to slow down enough to get the help we needed and jump onto the path of recovery sooner rather than too late. I managed to make it through those tough years by pouring all of myself wholeheartedly into activities that would support my recovery. My motivation was becoming a mother and knowing the devastation that untreated mental illness can cause. I witnessed it first-hand as my mother spent decades refusing help for her paranoid schizophrenia. My daughter who is 30 now, also accepted the help she needed and worked at it. She is 30 now, living away from home doing what she loves, and while she has good days and bad days, I know she has the tools and resources to get through the tough times.

How sad that Janis ran out of time before she was able to find the tools and support that could have helped her stay afloat and deal with all those strong emotions that she so desperately tried to embrace and understand. How sad that treatment options were so limited at that time.

Now we have many  more resources at our fingertips, and yet our mental healthcare system cannot adequately deal with the needs of so many who need it. Millions of people have trouble gaining access to mental healthcare because of financial or accessibility barriers. Many others are being placed on long waiting lists and/or going weeks and months before being able to receive treatment and medications that could help. Many others refuse to admit their struggles for fear of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. Much more research needs to be conducted to find answers that will lead to better treatment options.

Let no life lost to mental illness be in vain. Let’s keep pushing for better and more treatment options!

 

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Coping with College Stress

I am enjoying my classes this semester and managing pretty well despite the increased workload on top of working full-time. I am excited that there is an end in sight, and I should be able to finish my master’s program by mid-August.

As hard as it has been, in some ways being an adult learner has its advantages, because I have a different perspective from this vantage point. I have made it through enough of life’s challenges such as balancing family and work, as well as some significant losses, to be able to fully appreciate this opportunity to continue to learn and grow.

Unlike my younger counterparts in college, I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of pressures they face.  Being away from home for the first time, navigating relationships, trying to live up to academic and athletic expectations, and making decisions about alcohol, drugs, and sexual activities can be quite daunting for these young adults at times.

Being a  young student can be an exciting and wonderful experience, and it can also be the source of a lot of additional stress, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. It is so important for young people to know they have a place to turn when they experience emotional difficulties.

Finding the path – Where can college students go for help?

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Active Minds is a wonderful organization that is making its presence known on college campuses in order to provide support to students who are struggling with a mental health issue. They are working hard to diminish the stigma associated with mental health issues by hosting campus-wide mental health awareness events and helping students to navigate where to find help when they need it.

I applaude their efforts and wish there would have been something like that when I was an 18-year-old attempting to go to college for the first time. I could have used someone to help me find resources to deal with my anxiety and eating disorder during their early phases.

I don’t have any regrets now but I am a firm believer that the earlier one receives help for any type of mental illness, the better the outcome and less negative impact it will have on that person’s life.

Active Minds supports the goal to make it as easy to access mental health care as it is to access care for physical illnesses, by eliminating the obstacles like stigma and lack of resources that prevent people from seeking help.

Beyond Sadness – Writer’s Quote Wednesday

My quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday is a reflection from Zelda Williams, Robin William’s daughter. 1 fp quote 2It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and Robin William’s daughter posted a beautiful Instagram message about how she is coping with his death one year later.  In her message, she acknowledges her own struggles with depression. I cannot imagine how it feels to lose a loved one to suicide, although I know what it feels like to come close. I am extremely grateful that my daughter survived her attempt and is slowly learning how to balance life’s adversities with her own health and well-being.

https://i0.wp.com/www.promipool.de/var/promipool/storage/images/media/images/zelda-und-robin-williams/2149608-1-ger-DE/zelda-und-robin-williams_one_article.jpg

Photo from of http://www.hngn.com

There is much to be understood about the complex issues that may lead to suicide, and even more to learn about how to prevent the suffering that leads someone to this choice.

One thing we can do right now is to stop being so judgmental of people who live with mental illnesses like depression, mood disorders, addictions, and schizophrenia. Especially when they are desperately searching for some kind of relief from their isolation and pain.  A little dose of compassion and  empathy could go a long way in helping a person feel loved and accepted.

I was speaking with a gentleman yesterday who was telling me about the treatments his wife had undergone in the past year to deal with her stage 3 cancer. On several occasions she wanted to give up because it was so excruciating and debilitating, but she was able to continue on because of the love and support she received.

Why should someone with a mental illness receive any less support?

Bridging the Gap in Mental Health Care

Grand Canyon 2011 125I often wonder why more progress hasn’t been made in developing effective treatments and finding cures for illnesses that fall into the mental health category. For too many years these illnesses have been marginalized and treated more like character flaws than actual health conditions.

I did a web search today to learn about studies that are currently being conducted and found a rather large listing. ClinicalTrials.gov is “a web-based resource that provides patients, their family members, health care professionals, researchers, and the public with easy access to information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions”.

As a researcher and mental health advocate, I think it is so important to become involved whenever possible and to assert one’s voice in order to accelerate the progress of finding cures and treatments for these illnesses.

Click on this link to search for studies.

Suicide Prevention

From the NIMH Website:

Last year, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Research Prioritization Task Force released an action plan for suicide prevention, which outlines the research areas that show the most promise in helping to reduce the rates of suicide attempts and deaths in the next 5-10 years. A series of webinars organized around 6 key questions in the plan will run from January 29-June 24, 2015 to register go to:

http://1.usa.gov/15PdaHH

National Suicide Statistics at a Glance

Smoothed, Age-adjusted Suicide Rates* per 100,000 population, by County, United States, 2000–2006

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Getting Help for Depression

PICT0012President Abraham Lincoln said of being depressed:

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

Unfortunately, there were not many options for those who suffered from depression in the days of Abraham Lincoln. Today there are many types of treatment available, but the process of finding the right one can still be quite challenging.  It is hard to reach out when depression drains one’s energy, and the earlier you can begin the process, the better the outcome. Don’t give up!

The following tips were taken from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) Depression web page:

How can I help a loved one who is depressed?

If you know someone who is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.

To help your friend or relative

  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  • Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
  • Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
  • Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don’t push him or her to take on too much too soon.
  • Provide assistance in getting to the doctor’s appointments.
  • Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

How can I help myself if I am depressed?

If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.

To Help Yourself

  • Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. There is research showing the longer one waits, the greater the impairment can be down the road. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.
  • Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly “snap out of” your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

Everything didn’t get better overnight, but I find myself more able to enjoy life and my children.

Where can I go for help?

If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. Others who can help are listed below.

Mental Health Resources

  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • Mental health programs at universities or medical schools
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy
  • Peer support groups
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
  • You can also check the phone book under “mental health,” “health,” “social services,” “hotlines,” or “physicians” for phone numbers and addresses. An emergency room doctor also can provide temporary help and can tell you where and how to get further help.

What if I or someone I know is in crisis?

If you are thinking about harming yourself, or know someone who is, tell someone who can help immediately.

  • Do not leave your friend or relative alone, and do not isolate yourself.
  • Call your doctor.
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.

Suffering is not enough

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” 

Thích Nhất Hạnh

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During our holiday festivities yesterday we got started on the topic of the “resting bitch face” and how at some point in our lives, we’ve all had that moment of being told to smile when we didn’t feel like it.  The women at the table were especially sensitive to these encounters, believing them to be somewhat sexist in nature.  My son-in-law quickly pointed out that it happens to men as well, and  he was tired of people asking him “what’s wrong” because he usually has a serious look on his face.

So how do we “smile” during those tough moments.  Do we pretend to be happy when we are not?  I do not believe that is what he is suggesting in his quote above.  Rather, I believe he is reminding us that we are not defined by the circumstances that happen in our lives.  At the core of our beings, we are radiant and beautiful, and peace can always be found within us.

I chose to post this picture of myself because I was going through a really tough time when it was taken, having experienced the recent death of my brother, my daughter’s illness, and the deterioration of my marriage. I smiled not because I was happy about those circumstances, but because I was able to find a glimpse of peace in that particular moment.

 

 

Happy Birthday Dear Daughter

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”  Louisa May Alcott

em running into surfHappy Birthday Dear Daughter!

I am so glad that you made it from your darkness to sunshine, and that you asked for and accepted help in your time of need.  It is so wonderful to see you doing what you love now.  It has been a pleasure watching you learn to develop your many strengths and talents, and also to navigate the hard times.  I know it isn’t always easy and I am so proud of you for persevering.  I see the joy of a child in your spirit.

Love,

Mom

My plea to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness is to reach out and call for help:  Suicide Prevention Hotline