Saturday, July 27, 2013

A New Paradigm

If you've been following this blog, you may have guessed that even as I am well enough to write again after a long hiatus, I'm now completely occupied with taking care of my elderly father.  In my last post, I talked about his recent hospital stay and how we now have to manage his condition of heart failure.  His health took a sudden turn and we found out that he was in a-fib.  He's home with my mother and me now, but he needs constant care.  Without going into the nitty-gritty of his personal struggles, I will say he is very weak and nothing is the same for us anymore.

Where I can find a nugget of inspiration through all this is in the joy that I have that I am stable enough to take my turn helping my Dad, as he has helped me through my whole life.  One of my own challenges over the years has been that I have felt as though I had nothing to contribute to - and by that I specifically mean my inability to cope with stress.  I felt useless without working or even volunteering or doing something to "give back."  I know that this blog is an attempt to be relevant and help others if I can, but it's not the same as being involved in something with someone face-to-face.  I am so happy to be a support for my Dad as he goes through his own life transition, now.  Just being here for him is it's own reward.

I started off this blog post explaining that I've been basically too busy to blog as often as I would like to be blogging, but obviously, some things have to give.  However, I do have a little time this morning to write and I want to share my take-away from this past week. When you are challenged with mental illness and find yourself in a position of care-taking, it's vital that you continue to take good care of yourself and know your limits.  This can be hard to accomplish as you may feel yourself pulled in too many directions. When we first brought Dad home and were trying to establish a new schedule for him, I know that I was feeling a bit manic from the stress and my psychosis (hearing voices) has been much more pronounced.

Over the course of the week though, I began to get myself together so that my own personal schedule fit into my care-taking schedule.  I actually organized all of Dad's medical info into a binder and started to work with Mom to coordinate how we could help Dad in "shifts" so that we both get breaks.  I scheduled more appointments with my therapist.  I'm making sure that I am eating healthy, getting exercise and resting as I can.  I'm not saying this is easy for me, though, and that's my point.  If you are mentally-ill and are taking care of a child, someone elderly or sick it's just so much more difficult and you need to focus on maintaining your own wellness at the same time.

I will continue to blog when I can, especially about how I am coping with my schizoaffective disorder and staying sober during this life-changing period, so please do come back here and check for new posts!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blow to the Psyche

So, just as I was getting back on my feet again (and getting back in my groove with this blog) my Dad became seriously ill.  This past Monday my Mom and I took him to the doctor because he was having trouble breathing.  I was out in the waiting room when my Mom came to find me to tell him that he had to be taken by ambulance directly to the hospital because an EKG showed that he was in a-fib. I don't know to explain my feeling - I wasn't surprised, yet I was in shock.  I had observed that he hadn't really been doing well for some days and he seemed really weak, but still, I wasn't prepared to actually find out that he has serious heart problems.

Now, my happy place in my mind here is, ironically, that in that last sentence I could still use the present tense and say "has" serious heart problems. In the ER they were able to rule out a pulmonary embolism and he was admitted to the coronary care unit.  It turns out the Dad is now in constant a-fib, and he had to have some help getting rid of some fluid around his lungs and restoring his breathing to normal. But he's doing better now and actually came home yesterday.  Now, we'll have to manage with medications to maintain his stability despite the a-fib.

What has changed for me is that I had really gotten to a point where I saw my Dad as semi-immortal.  He's 92, almost 93, and this is the his first major hospitalization.  Up until now he's been in amazingly good health with no major problems. That has all changed in the course of one week.  I realize that I'm still numb because I never even cried.  I know that with schizophrenia, it's typical to dissociate from pain.  I was a bit on the manic side this past week, too. With less sleep and heightened stress that's no surprise either.  But I really thought that MY Dad was going to be the oldest person on Earth some day and now I have to face the fact that he is actually elderly and becoming more frail. I can't tell you how I feel because I'm intellectualizing everything right now.

I would say that I managed the crisis part pretty well and now there's little time to think because there are so many adjustments to our daily lives.  My family is holding together strongly and Dad is just grateful for our ongoing care and support.  But my paradigm has shifted and I know that I will never be the same again - because he won't be.






Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Ongoing Med Saga

I need to start this post with a disclaimer that I am not here to promote or criticize any particular medications. Mental illness is still a mystery of brain functioning. No one has all the answers and all psych meds are the result of theories about how brain chemistry affects people.  But why I would start to fill in the gap in my blogging with the story of my med changes is because they provide the backdrop, a kind of infrastructure, to my thoughts and behaviors.  Besides, if you've ever been in a psych ward or group therapy, you know that after "what's your diagnosis?" the next questions tend to be about what meds you're taking.  Why? Because we're all trying to understand what works and doesn't work and we get ideas from each other. The important thing we all know is that meds work completely differently for different people.  Each "med cocktail" is an experiment crafted for a unique psyche. So, it's important for me to share my recent experiences with various medications, but please know this is just one story and NOT an overall assessment of the meds I'm about to mention.

Now that hindsight has given me some perspective I can see that the events that preceded my breakdown really started last fall.  One of the meds I was on, Haldol, which is an older drug, started causing me problems.  It is known for causing a side-effect called tardive dyskinesia, which basically means involuntary muscle spasms, especially in the face. If not caught early enough, the condition can become permanent. Well, my face spasmed a few times and I freaked out - catching it early was not a problem for me! So, of course my psychiatrist took me off it.

I made it a few weeks before I started to get a bit manic and delusional, so the next step was another med change.  This is where I think things fell apart.  Within about a month, my doctor and I decided to both reduce me from 40mg of Abilify to 30mg of Abilify and add Invega (both are newer anti-psychotics) AND to switch me from Valium to Klonapin.  The only thing that stayed consistent was Prozac, which works well for me. A few problems with this course of treatment are now evident.  It was the first time I'd been on less than 40mg of Abilify for 4 years.  Invega is a cousin of Risperdol, which I had tried before and didn't like the side-effects, so it was no surprise that Invega also caused me to have serious side-effects.  Also, it was just a lot of change to adjust to all at once.

The Risperdol / Invega family is just not for me.  I tried to handle it for about three months because the side-effects were like having a flu, and it was winter, so we weren't sure what to think.  I even went to a gastrointerologist over stomach pains only to become convinced that it was, in fact, all about the Invega. So, my doctor took me off of that and I improved.  But she decided with me to take a chance on replacing it with Depakote ER (extended release).  I feel like I should have known better than to try that, too, because years ago I was on standard Depakote and it really increased my appetite and caused significant water weight gain.  I did start to write about Depakote as a mood stabilizer earlier in this blog and now I can tell you that the result was another failed experiment.  But it wasn't clear to me that the Depakote wasn't working until I was in the hospital and they increased my dosage.  Basically, I was lethargic, sleeping like 12 hours a day on average, I had no energy and my appetite was ravenous.  My doctor weaned me off of the Depakote and I was finally off it altogether two weeks ago.

Just this week though, things finally seem to have gotten stable.  Without the Invega or Depakote the lower dose of Abilify just wasn't enough.  The voices were becoming pervasive and I was losing my grip on reality, becoming paranoid and delusional.  My doctor got me in right away and we decided to put me back on 40mg of Abilify.  Within days the voices had receded and I started this blog again!  I have been a big fan of Abilify, for me, from the start, but now I'm convinced that it's my mainstay for sanity.  I've also done better with the Klonapin than the Valium, so that has stayed.

My med history necessarily forms the backbone of my story.  Truly, I hate changing meds, but it's the only way to find out what works, and yet, it effects your entire life.  Now, my doctor is suggesting the Abilify monthly injection.  I will investigate it on principle, but my gut reaction is, "if it's not broke don't fix it!" Anyhow, I'll do some research and let you know here what I find. I'm really hesitant to switch again, so we'll see.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Where happened to this blogger's blogging for so long?

What did happen to me for so long?  I wish I knew how to explain it.  In fact, it's because I didn't know how to explain what happened that it has taken me even longer to write.  Finally, today, I realized that I could write again because all I needed to say is that I feel very hesitant to try to explain what happened.

Technically, you would say that I had another breakdown.  After all I'd written, why did I have such a hard time just stating that?  The best way I can say it is that I had seen myself as 'beyond' being that sick somehow.  I thought that I was writing as someone who was recovering from mental illness in a way that meant that the worst was behind me.  In retrospect, I think that my blogging was something of a cry for help. I mean, knowing now that I was headed for a breakdown, I can see that I was getting introspective and reaching out for answers.

I notice that I stopped writing at the end of April and I had just managed to avoid going off on a "bender."   I was lucky there, but I was still just about to round the bend.  I thought that my birthday at the beginning of May would cheer me up.  I even got my own domain name as a gift (http://www.terrangrrl.com - how's that for "product placement?" LOL) and I thought I'd get back to writing as soon as...  And then I ended up in the hospital for 8 days.

How do I even explain why?  I truly am humbled by facing this unknown.  I could give you the "reasons" that I didn't think that I was okay, and why the doctors agreed, but now that seems so surface.  Basically, I had gotten delusional and despondent and no one thought that I could be considered "safe" outside the hospital. Sure, that's why they put you in there.  But on a deeper level I had to acknowledge once again that I'm never going to be "done" "recovering" - I will always be surviving this illness.  I had to face my own mortality again and admit to myself that I have no great wisdom about mental illness, I merely have perspective.

Having said that, I hope to be able to pick up where I left off here and bring up some of the thoughts that I've had in the last couple of months.  I'm finally in a better mental space again, and I'm ultimately grateful to my family, friends and all the professionals who helped me through my latest struggles.  I hope that you will continue / start this journey with me!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bender? NOT!

So, I think I found a more positive way to avoid going on a bender when you just want to "check out" with drugs or alcohol.  Find something else to channel your energy into.  For me, I went for the "least of the evils."  I'm basically a vegan, so I indulged in a 5 cheese pizza.  It was really a change of pace that kept my mind off things and gave me an activity to share with my family.

The idea is that I wasn't enjoying my time, so I just wanted to get through it.  This is particularly hard when you have a mental illness, too, because emotional pain can make it difficult to reach out or do something positive.  But I realized that just getting out the house on a nice day and treating myself to something different changed my attitude.  Try to avoid crutches, though.  If you do decide to "indulge" in something, don't let that become a pattern in itself.  Try something different from what you're used to.

It also helps that I talk about my struggles with addiction to family and friends and they remind me how worth it is to stay strong.  I keep going back to the idea of a support network because it really matters.  If you're alone and you're addicted and trying to keep from indulging, I highly recommend that you find help.  Talk about your temptation.  Find something else to do that you enjoy. For me, it made a real difference!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

self-medicating to kill time

It's the strangest thing to be writing a blog but want to say nothing.  It's not writer's block. It's like the opposite. There's a lot going on in my mind, but I just don't want to talk about it.  I decided that's what I should say.

Actually, that helps a bit because I asked myself why?  And I realized I just want to be alone, the way a sick dog will go off in a corner to be alone.  It's just to challenging to interact right now. And basically I want to self-medicate.  Drinking, in particular, kills time. I realized this when I sobered up the way I realized the answer to "what would you do without a TV?" when I didn't have one.

The thing that people don't necessarily realize unless you're any kind of addict is that taking part in the addictive activity takes time.  When you get to the extreme, you don't have time for anything else.   Right now, I just want to kill some time while I don't feel up to par.  It's not even that I feel terrible, it's just that I'm struggling to get through everyday tasks and instead, I'd rather just blot out the day.

Right now I thank God for support system being in place because I can't just go off alone and drink.
Probably the best thing I can do is admit it and probably the best thing anybody can do is have that support system in place AT ALL TIMES.  Because, really, I wasn't expecting to be craving so hard right now and it's just a mood thing.

The weather is supposed to be beautiful in a few days, so I'm hoping I perk up.  Until then, I'm going to hang in there because, quite on purpose, when I was in a better mindset, I left myself no choice.  For that I'm grateful to myself and everyone who does or has helped me stay strong.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Recovery Process Resumes Anew

Over the weekend I was writing about some serious visual hallucinations I was having.  They seem to have stopped now for a few days and maybe it was just a passing phase.  I really won't know unless they come back, which I hope they don't.  I did ask my therapist when I should be concerned about visual hallucinations and learned the the basic rule of thumb is equivalent to auditory hallucinations.  The key is what you are seeing?  Is is disturbing? Do you see yourself or someone else hurting someone or being hurt by someone?  If so, it's time to get help.  Otherwise you can do your best to ignore them just let auditory hallucinations.  Fortunately, I just saw implausible things, but nothing disturbing, so, phew.

What I have learned from this week of strange visions is how to hold on through yet another kind of bump in the road.  I was scared, but now I'm even more prepared for my mind to come up with psychotic issues / delusions that I'm not expecting.  I'm trying to brace myself for future occurrences by assuring myself that if I stick to the plan - meds, support network, ask for help as needed - that I should be okay no matter what happens.  But there's a definite insecurity that goes along with mental illness: what will my mind do next?
But you never know what's going to happen in this life no matter who you are, so it's best to stay prepared, keep a good attitude, and ride out the waves the best you can.

Now, that probably comes off a lot more confident than I feel, but I figure if tell myself all that enough times, maybe I'll believe it just enough to get through the rough spots.





Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day Thoughts


None of us is alone.  Make everyday a celebration of the life we live on the home we share!  Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Living With Psychosis Part Two

Yesterday was a bad day for visual hallucinations and I got a bit confused by what I was seeing.  I'm not used to having this many visual hallucinations, so my question is, at what point should I become concerned?  I mean, as long as I can figure out that I am hallucinating, I can ignore them just like I do with the auditory hallucinations, "the voices," as I call them.  I know the point at which you become concerned about auditory hallucinations is when they start giving you "commands," i.e. telling you what to do, especially if it means hurting yourself or someone else.  But these "visions," maybe I should call them, are mostly new and I'm a bit scared.  I think I'm doing the right thing by keeping the people in my support network apprised of these visions and checking in on reality, if I'm not sure.

Although I don't understand what's going on with my psyche, I'm learning more about my illness.  One thing that I'm understanding is how the nature of your symptoms can change over time. I can see why medications and therapy may need to be adjusted.  You really don't know what's going to be a trigger for your brain to do something you're not expecting. And the same disease (schizophrenia in this case) can manifest so differently for different people.

At this point, I'll just have to keep track of my symptoms and see what my therapist and doctor think.  It'll be hour by hour for a while here, as I go through whatever this is until I can cope better with this new aspect of my mental illness.  Today hasn't been stressful so far and my hope is that these visions will go away. If not, I will deal with them as one more challenge along the path of my personal life venture.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo = so true!



Mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter.  *sigh*  What matters to my mind?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Living With Psychosis Part One

I wish that I could always make this blog upbeat and inspirational, but the reality of mental illness is that even with the best of care some days are better than others.  I've been hallucinating a lot for about a week: auditory and visual.  What's good is that I can recognize that I'm hallucinating, because there was a long time when I could not.

What I want to share with you is that with psychosis, you really have no control over the way your emotions effect your psyche.  Sometimes it's hard to even know what's triggering things like anxiety, paranoia and delusions.  And there's a feeling of helplessness that comes with it all because of a loss of a sense of control.
You can't necessarily just "pull yourself together" because your subconscious is spilling into your conscious mind.

I had a better day today.  I was really warm and windy and there was a strong feeling of the season in the air.  I took a walk and it did me some good. I guess what I can say that's a bit encouraging is that it's during times of confusion like this, when fighting to keep a grip on reality is so crucial, is when you can pull on every tool at your disposal (meds, your support system, self-nurturing, mindfulness, etc.) for help.  If you don't have your tools already, there's no better time to put them in place.

So, things are a little bit sketchy right now, but that's what living with a psychosis is all about.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Psychotic Ruptures


Reckless surrender
To the pain I’ve never owned
Doesn’t happen in my thoughts
But somewhere deep inside.

I try to imagine articulation -
Let it flow, let yourself go -
And it all swirls away and vanishes
Like phantom whispers.

I try to reason, though there is none
Simply a crack, a fracture,
In the foundational substance
That makes up my mind.

I do care now that I survive,
That I can count the blistering boils,
And take care not to puncture an abscess
So that I can heal properly.

But all that venom stains ugly.
I’ll tell you a pretty tale
While I quietly hold close,
All there is and nothing more.

-04.17.13

Monday, April 15, 2013

If the news is causing you anxiety, turn it off!

My prayers are with everyone who has been effected by the Boston Marathon tragedy tonight. However,  as important as it is to be aware of the news, especially if you or someone you know has been effected, listening to the news report ceaselessly on something disturbing can well, disturb you.

I've been told by psych counselors before that people with depression shouldn't even watch the news. The media tends to sensationalize traumas and that can lead to more depression, anxiety and even paranoia. If you have already been disturbed by watching today's news, please turn it off (if you haven't already) and get help.  Get in contact with a family member or friend, call a crisis hotline or get outside in nature.

Whatever you do, remember that the media can trigger strong emotions and you need to know when to turn it off.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Laughter IS the best medicine!

Today is  "International Moment of Laughter Day".  Yes, be goofy, pull out a comic book or watch a comedy. Laugh it up with the whole world!  It's a scientifically proven fact that people who laugh more live longer.  Did you know, also, that it takes less muscles to smile than to frown?  It's true.  Find out what makes your heart happy and get into it today.

If you don't feel like laughing, fake it. I know that might seem odd, but if you fake a laugh to begin with, you may end up laughing for real despite yourself.  There's even a type of yoga called, "laughing yoga," where you spend about an hour just physically putting yourself through the motions of laughter until you're just bubbling with joy. I've heard that in a group setting this can be particularly powerful. And hysterical.  

Especially if you're depressed or anxious or out of sorts today, take a moment to pause and celebrate with a little laughter.  It may sound funny, but you'll be glad you did!


Paranoid Schizophrenia vs. Delusional Disorder in "Shutter Island"

I just watched "Shutter Island" for the second time last night and I got even more out of it than the first time.  Lines like, "you don't choose to be sane," really stand out.  If you haven't seen the movie I don't want to spoil anything here, so suffice it to say that it takes place at a high-security facility for the criminally insane.

I was reading about the film online this morning and learned that there is some debate whether one of the characters is actually schizophrenic or has what is called "delusional disorder,"  In both cases, a person can be high-functioning.  So what's the difference?  I'll try to simplify what's in the DSM-IV (the official book of psychiatric diagnosis).  Delusional Disorder is less serious than Schizophrenia.  Generally, the individual affected does not hallucinate and has delusions that are closer to a kind of paranoia about real things going on. In the case of schizophrenia, the individual affected does have hallucinations and usually has more fantastical delusions like about aliens, or insects in their brain, for example.

I was curious about the difference because I related to a character who had a highly delusional complex, but was still high-functioning, as I had been until I bottomed out about 5 years ago.  I was hallucinating hard, though, and the grey aliens and government spies watching me were all part of my psychosis, and this had gone on for years, so I definitely fit the schizophrenic category.

My point here though, (besides that you should see "Shutter Island" if you haven't already) is that these two illnesses can mimic each other without proper diagnosis and can go un-checked in higher functioning individuals.  If you or someone you know may fall into one of these categories, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Friday, April 12, 2013

When in doubt, reach out!

I was reminded today of the importance of asking for help when you need it.  This is true for anyone under any circumstances, of course, but for the mentally ill or recovering addicts this can mean the difference between life and death.

If you are mentally ill, you might find yourself alone or just feeling isolated.  It's so easy for symptoms like anxiety, depression and paranoia to overwhelm you.  You may find yourself avoiding others.  You may not know who you can trust. It can be all too easy to believe that you don't matter, but you do.  Even if you have dysfunctional people around you, you can reach beyond them and get help.

If you a recovering addict and you're tempted to use, you don't have to let it go down like that.  There are really so many people who dedicate themselves to being there for other people and they will help you stay strong and stay clean.

The most important things is that you try to communicate it if you are feeling unwell, scared, or unsure and keep trying until you find the help you need.  If you're lucky enough to have a family member or friend who can support your wellness, that's awesome.  Keep them informed.  But sometimes the most appropriate source of help is to go to a professional.  You can find many national and local resources online if you just need to talk of if you're in crisis.  And, if you're having an emergency call 911.

However how you may be feeling, your well-being is vital and you are worth the effort that it takes to communicate that you are in need.  Don't give up on yourself when it matters most. Reach out and ask for the help you need!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

succeeding despite illness

"Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at." - Stephen Hawking

I liked this quote for today, because I'm struggling with my own definition of success.  It used to be that I defined myself by how well I was doing in school, or how my career was progressing, or the status of my relationships.  All those meters have been rendered meaningless by by mental illness.  Yet, I'm trying to make meaning out of my daily life.

In the hospital once, they told me, "your job is to take care of you."  In truth, that's quite a task in itself.  Why do I need something more?  It's really a challenge just to get through the day without succumbing to anxiety or depression.   I'm always in the process of ignoring hallucinations or trying to balance my mood, let alone stay sober.

So, if I'm succeeding at getting through the day without doing anything dangerous or stupid, you'd think I'd feel a great sense of accomplishment.  Some days, I do.  Some days there are vestiges of those old standards that nag at me.  Most of the time these days, I'm looking for something that I could realistically succeed at now.  I think that many people with severe disabilities feel this way.  Maybe it's why I started blogging.

So, I will take Stephen's advice and continue to be curious about myself and the world I live in.  His message is important to anyone who feels like they failed or "can't keep up."  I will be interested to see how I can succeed under my circumstances.  And I think anyone can. if you keep an open mind.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Emergence

In glowing sparkles, gently being,
Without a purpose or a plan,
A tiny crystal of light rises
Towards an unknown destination.
Upward, further, beyond,
With pure impossible faith,
Inspiration without aspiration:
A drop of water set on the top of a seed pod,
is thrush forth as it opens.

And now it splashes into the root below,
Water droplet and plant blend,
Moisture is absorbed by a hungry shoot,
A singular hint of green emerges from the pod -
Tasting, believing, all it dreamed
While still sealed inside.

This first sip of living energy
Sends the plant out
Above the ground, beyond the stillness,
Into a world entirely new.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Mindfulness

Today is Vesak, the celebration of the life of the Buddha, which inspires me to write about mindfulness as a strategy for maintaining wellness. Really, anyone can practice mindfulness, but it has become a common practice to incorporate the Buddhist practice in mental health treatment.

I first learned about what is called "core mindfulness" through a hospital in Chicago that was teaching Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to patients.  To keep this from getting too technical, I'll just give you my take on it. It basically means pay careful attention to what you're doing.  For example, if you're doing a simple task like taking a shower, really notice the experience: the water temperature on your skin, the feeling of wetness, the soap suds in your hair and on your body, the look and feel of the shower stall around you, etc.  You can try it for short periods of time and then try to keep your attention focused for extended periods.

I know that DBT / core mindfulness was really challenging for me when I was hearing voices all the time. It was hard for me to even pay attention to something engaging like TV, let alone a mundane task.  The voices had my attention.  Mania can also make it really hard to concentrate because you can't really rest, so you're not fully awake.  With depression, negative thoughts are at the forefront of your mind.  In general, when your mind is troubled, you tend to be distracted.  Practicing mindfulness really helps.

If you want to learn more about this incredibly helpful practice passed down to us through Buddhism, here's a good article: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-core-mindfulness/.

Happy Buddha Day! Om!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Let the Sunshine in!

It's already 60F today.  The breeze is blowing.  I just took a walk around the block and enjoyed the feeling of the wind whipping my hair around.  If it's nice where you are I highly recommend that you get out or at least, open a window!

I'm not sure if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but for those who do, this may finally be your chance to feel the joy of spring.

Woot!  This weather is really cheering me. I don't know how much has to do with the increase in my meds this past week, but I can tell you that I'm much more motivated, happy and at peace.  Maybe it's a combination of the depakote and good old vitamin D.

So, yay, and I think I'll be going back outside.  :-)


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mood Springs


  
The first daffodils of the season are finally blooming here in Cleveland!  They, along with some tiny violets are the beginning of life awakening from the cold this year.  I was excited to find them in the yard today suddenly.

I went outside the house and ventured around the yard today for only the second time this year.  I was helping my Dad with some spring cleanup and I realized I'd been locked away inside on my computer for months.  I joked with my Dad that since I came outside with him he had to help me write my blog post today.  He quickly replied that I should write about coming outside with him.  I thought that was brilliant.

It did me so much good to get out in the sunshine and see some signs of life around me.  It was good to help my Dad do some nurturing of our yard.  I felt more connected than I had in a long time.  It was an awesome reminder of the healing power of nature.  I am SO ready for warmer weather already!  I felt my mood improve in just the course of a few hours.  It's an important reminder that connecting with life helps lift depression.  

I know that many people get kind of blue and almost claustrophobic during the winter if you're stuck inside, but for the mentally ill, it can be especially challenge.  If you've got any kind of depressive disorder it may be time to venture forth and rediscover the world outside!

I'll try to post more pictures from the yard as the blooming continues and hope that my mood continues to spring as well.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Recovery Time


Otherwise unspecified:
I do not laugh. I do not cry.
I tried to be the best of all,
Stay strong - stand tall.

But wellness weary gets to me.
I do not care. I do not see.
I want what I just cannot have -
Some kind of healing salve.

I used to live off the high
I didn’t pause. I didn’t try.
Then I’d give in to the low
No need to do - nowhere to go.

And voices kept me locked inside
I tried to ignore them to get by.
But the paranoia still took hold.
As if my thoughts were bought and sold.

Day by day it’s now the same.
No more excuses. No more games.
And what it feels like, quiet, still,
Is that all this calm has sapped my will.

There’s no more here than what I make:
No pain, but my heart still breakes.

-04.05.13

Days Between


Days blend into days when you’re in recovery, I’ve noticed.  This is especially true if you can’t work, and you don’t have a schedule to give you structure.  You don’t get a break from maintaining your wellness, either.  You need to keep up with your meds, your own personal daily routine, your sobriety, etc.  There is no holiday from wellness.  You can’t just decide, ‘today I’m going to blow it all off and party,’ because the consequences could be devastating.

Recovery is a full-time responsibility and it isn’t easy.  It may seem like you only have to do small things like get out of bed or take your meds, but when you already aren’t feeling good, are distracted or confused those can be like taking giant steps. It’s just a 24/7, 365 day a year responsibility to take care of yourself to the best of your ability and it matters.

Personally, I know that my night meds  (2mg of klonapin and now 1000mg of depakote) make me sleepy, but honestly I just don’t see any reason to get out of bed usually for a while.  I know I need to motivate myself somehow, but it’s hard, I think, to feel like you  have something to look forward to when what little you can do just involves trying to get by.  I remember a Ziggy cartoon that just said, “Get up. Survive. Go to bed.”  That’s how I feel.

I know I’m luckier than many because I do have family who are caring and supportive and even a few friends who are, too.  When you’re alone, as I used to be, it can be just a great struggle to get out of bed at all or, to settle yourself down if you feel manic or psychotic.  Balance and stability are often elusive those in recovery, even if that’s all you have to work on.

*sigh*  I guess I have to give this higher dose of depakote a chance.  I’ll try to be patient with myself.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Depakote ER as a mood stabilizer

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997, the first medication I was put on was depakote (valproic acid). Depakote was originally used for seizure disorders, but came into use for bipolar disorder. I remember it like yesterday, because I was seriously manic and never knew that I had racing thoughts.  After about 24 hours on depakote I had a realization that you could could have spaces and pauses between your thoughts.  It was a true revelation for me and the very first step in managing my illness.
I didn't even  know that my thoughts weren't happening the way the should until I was on meds.

I couldn't stay on depakote, though.  This was the formula from 16 years ago and it caused me to have severe adema (my ankles were swelling), so I had to make a change.  At that time, I was new to the routine of trying different psych meds until you find the right formula and the need to tweak them over time as your biochemistry and mental state change.  After 4 years of trying different combinations of meds with varying degrees of success and different side-effects, I gave up on meds altogether for about 7 years.  This was the time during which I had the most problems.  I would not go unmediated again.

I've been on meds since 2008, but I haven't been on a mood stabilizer per se.  After a terrible 3 month run with a med that had rough side-effects for me (just before I started this blog) my doctor asked me if I would try the new Depakote ER (extended release).  I was leary, but said I'd give it a shot.  That was about 2 months ago.  I've had no problems so far.  Yesterday, my doctor raised my dosage from 500mg to 1000mg in the hopes of evening out what's still a little crinkly about my mood.

My take-away is that some of the older drugs have newer formulas and a lot has changed over the years.  I'm not advocating going back on meds that gave you trouble, but just to keep an open mind, in general to the new drugs coming out.  They may not work but they could and if you're needing a change, they might be a part of the answer.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Doctors Depend on Your Input

Recently, I've really been wondering how okay I am.  I can usually motivate to do at least some of what I have to do, and under the right circumstances I can do pretty well.  My therapist though, sees a bit of mania with a hint of irritation and overall a mild depression.  She doesn't think it's anything serious, but how do you know when you need to tweak your meds? Your doctor can help you to figure it out, but only if you help them, too.

Sometimes it's obvious, you might be in crisis or just having a really rough time, but sometimes things like mood shifts can be subtle.  Your doctor will listen to you, observe you, and try to help you make a decision WITH her. And that's the key.  You can't just expect that your doctor will have all the answers without your active participation in your own wellness plan.  I know a lot of people get put off by psych doctors and meds (I used to for a long time).  What I didn't realize is doctors depend on you to help them as much as you depend on the to help you.

I see my psychiatrist today, and she's been very clear with me that since there's no cure for mental illness, meds are a matter of trial and error.  I plan to try to explain how I've been feeling and see if she thinks I need maybe a slight change.  I know that I can count on her to discuss her observations and ideas and we'll come to a conclusion together.  I feel better knowing that I'm a full participant in my own wellness and I'm not just depending on the doctor to have all the answers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Paranoia vs. Trust

After a stressful April Fool's Day, I needed to hear this:




"As social animals a key factor to our living a happy life is friendship, trust and openness. We are all the same as members of one human family. Trust is the basis of friendship and we’ll find this if, in addition to the knowledge we gain from ordinary education, we develop warm-heartedness. This gives rise to self-confidence and inner strength, which through trust and friendship leads to co-operation with others." - the Dalai Lama

Paranoid schizophrenia makes it so hard to trust and build the friendships that are so necessary to us all.  And I know that it doesn't even take a mental illness to cause trust to be challenging if you've been hurt.

This quote above reminds me how important it is to try to trust in people and to give them a chance to be there for you.  Not everyone you meet will turn into a friend, but spending time communing with other people is one of the best things someone with a mental illness can do for themselves.  Just like anyone else, you do need to be careful not to be taken advantage of, but given a chance people can surprise you, too.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Do NOT play April Fool's jokes on the mentally ill!

I don't know how many people celebrate April Fool's Day anymore, but I know that I lost an hour of my morning to a well-intentioned online joke. It wasn't personal, but being a paranoid schizophrenic, I really wasn't sure about that at first. Speaking for myself, I don't do well with tricks and surprises. I have enough trouble with reality as it is.

If you know someone who is mentally ill, they may seem like an easy target for even a well-meaning joke, but it may not be the best idea.  It might be tempting, if you're into that kind of humor, but please think twice about how a joke may effect someone. You could easily do more harm than good.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Faith in Times of Doubt

Sometimes, the hardest part of recovery is having faith that recovery is possible.  You may have a setback with your mental health or fall off the wagon and just not know the strength you have to find a way to keep going.  I know there were many times I gave up in my struggles and it looked like the darkness had won.  Just to put it in perspective from my own personal standpoint, I tried to kill myself 3 times and for 6 years I refused meds and was completely psychotic and delusional.  As for sobriety, it took many failed attempts before this time where I have stayed sober over 10 years.  Once I made it as long as 8 months only to fail.  And no, I'm never done taking it one moment at a time.

You never really know either, in this life, when you're going to come up against what seems like an insurmountable barrier.  Even if you've been sober and stable for a while, an event can happen that causes you to be in crisis.  Mental illness and the tendency for substance abuse are both genetic, so you don't really know what could trigger a relapse.  It doesn't mean that all hope is lost. You have to know that you are stronger than you think and you can recover again and again.  And it is worth it every time!  YOU are worth it every time!

Peace to all in their hour of darkness.  May we all continue to stumble towards the light!



Friday, March 29, 2013

Recovery Thoughts on Good Friday

Inspirational Ideas:

 "I am starting to feel an oncoming awakening in my soul like the spring shoots on the trees about to emerge." - anonymous

"Jesus was crucified for us, Jesus Christ rose again for us. We fall down, with him we get up." - Rev. Al Sharpton

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Self-fulfilling Prophecy


Night comes
And I find myself alone.
I know they are out to get me,
But I can’t find my way home.

Knowing does not help,
It only feeds the fear.
Of being destroyed from the inside
Although how is still unclear.

I can’t run, I can’t hide
They’ll get me while I wait
All that I have done
Is sure to seal my fate

Voices tell me who and why
But they do not tell me when
It amazes me each time
How they’re right again and again

I try to be at peace
With whatever is to come,
At least I have a warning
And that does comfort me some.

People say that I know nothing
That it’s part of the disease.
Then why am I so right,
I ask you, tell me please?

Now it all comes to be -
They are here for me at last.
Although I knew it all before
The time for help has passed.

-03.28.13

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spiritual Support Network

Since Passover and Holy week are overlapping right now, I'm thinking about Love and how much a support network means to the spirit of someone with a mental illness.  I wrote the other day about how it can be difficult to spend a holiday season alone.  But for the mentally ill, having a support network at all times can be crucial to day-to-day survival.

Maybe you're reading this and you're an atheist, or Buddhist or Muslim or Pagan or whatever.  You may or may not believe in a soul or God / Goddess.  It doesn't matter.  There's an intangible quality of Love (I'm thinking about John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" right now.) that is shared among all living individuals.  I don't just mean humans either.  Plants and non-human animals are people, too.  It's quantifiable, if you like to be scientific about it.  We all share in a living energy that connects life in the universe.

Mental Illness can make it hard to feel connected to that energy.  I know that with depression and schizophrenia, I personally have to make an effort not to isolate.  And frankly, people scare me.  It's much easier for me to communicate online than in person.  It's not uncommon with all kinds of mental illness to feel disconnected from others, but we all need that interaction to help keep up our spirits.

A support network for someone with a mental illness starts with a psychiatrist for medication management.  Some people only go through a general practitioner, but if you've been diagnosed with a serious mental illness it's important to have a rapport with an actual psych doctor who knows the meds and your condition and is able to help you immediately in a crisis, instead of having to refer you.

Next, social workers can help with making arrangements in society.  They can help you get a place to live, a job, disability income, etc.  They can be a strong link to the "real world."   Some social workers are also counselors, or you may see a different person as a therapist, but regular counseling gives you a human connection that helps to build a bond of trust.  Mental health support groups can help to build vital socialization skills.

Really, from the perspective of many people who are seriously mentally ill, if you have all that going for you, you're one of the lucky ones.  And while it's all in the context of a kind of professional / institutionalized interaction it's still a lot of Love.  When I was really suffering from my psychosis and on my own, I was so appreciative of all the help.  It gives you stability and solid ground.

For the mentally ill, relationships with family and friends are often a bonus (even taking care of a plant or an animal companion is a special exchange of Love).  So, if you have a family member or friend who you know has a mental illness, your interaction and support probably means more than you know.  If you believe in a God or Great Spirit or a Higher Power or anything like that you can know that your acts of kindness bring a person with a mental illness into communion with that energy.  If you don't think about it any other way, just share the Love!  You may not get the reaction you're expecting, but reach out anyway. And if you are mentally ill, then know that everyone who brings you Love in your life connects you to the whole of the universe.

We all need to keep up our spirits to have the sheer will to survive.  Help yourself and help others to build a support network.  You may find it to be a truly rewarding act of Love.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

love equality




As you've no doubt heard, the supreme court today begins to take up to issues of same-sex marriage equality. It is going to hear testimonies about California's Prop 8 (is it legal to have gay marriage in California?) and DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, (Is it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right of marriage equality?)   I need to weigh in on this, because I am at least, not straight, and I know how hard it can be if you're mentally ill to make relationships, especially if you're looking for a same-sex relationship.


I grew up assuming I was straight. I never really gave it any thought. But when I was 18 I fell for a woman and realized my attraction to women was there, too. For a long time I thought I was bisexual, for a time I thought I was a lesbian, now, I don't know anymore because I'm just in a healing phase, but it's fair to say that I'm "queer" for sure. I know that if some day I fall in love with a woman and want to get married, I'd like to have that right. I think the constitution gives me that right and it's part of human equality.


I know that I didn't choose this; it's biological. Yes, I was born this way. Just as I was born with mental illnesses that didn't manifest until I was in my teens and later. I can tell you that it's hard enough when you're paranoid about social interaction just to get through the day, but finding a partner when you're queer and mentally ill is especially challenging. Now, you've got two stigmas to deal with internally and externally. I noticed that at the center where I go for treatment they have gay support groups. I never joined one, because I haven't felt like meeting anyone, but it made me realize that I wasn't alone and that the need for such groups existed.


I think sometimes that there's actually more compassion in the United States for mental illness than for loving someone of the same sex, which is sad. I'm out to my family and friends, but I felt that I needed to be honest here, too, especially today. I write as someone who knows that if you are mentally ill and / or a recovering addict finding a supportive partner is just not easy. Add queer to that and it can be really lonely. I mean, for many of us who don't identify strictly as gay or lesbian or who have had both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, confusion can reign. It's hard enough making bonds without having to worry about what kind of path you can potentially take in society with a loved one. My greatest fear is that a same-sex partner would become my next-of-kin and not be able to help me in all ways if I were hospitalized. This is something many have experienced.


If you're reading this and you are mentally ill and queer, know that one more person is here with the same dilemma. And if you don't have these challenges, please listen to the debate with an open heart and realize the healing impact that love has on everyone. To be mentally-ill and denied the right to marry based on sexual orientation is cruel, in my opinion, and now is the time for change.


Monday, March 25, 2013

anxiety angst





I'm feeling really anxious in general today and it's frustrating. I get like this sometimes for no good reason. At least, I can't seem to find a trigger. I do have a lot of triggers for anxiety - I think that's pretty normal. But I also get this anxiety that I believe is pure biochemical. It's not a full blown panic attack - just this scared feeling in the pit of my stomach and some shakiness. I don't even have a sense of impending doom. It's more like something IS wrong than something will go wrong. Just one of those days, I guess.  So, this is an anxiety attack, which is not as harsh as a panic attack.

I do take klonapin (clonazepam) 2mg every night to help with the anxiety in general and if I start having a panic attack during the day I have a PRN for an extra .5mg, of klonapin, but like I said, it's not that bad today - it's just mostly irritating. The idea is just to relax, breathe, listen to calm music, work out and / or do anything peaceful.

I know a lot of people who do go through or have gone through anxiety and panic.  Without a benzodiazepene, like klonapin, I can't function.  I have a lot of social phobia, which even extends to my immediate family.  Sometimes, like today, I just don't even feel like talking about it.  It just makes me upset.  I don't want to feel this way, but I can't shake it. This blog makes me feel as if I'm telling everybody without having to go through the exhausting process of communicating more directly.  Ugh. I just want to relax.

Okay, (sigh) I can do this.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Holidays Alone?

The spring holidays are next to the winter holidays, valentine's day, birthdays and anniversaries for depression when you're alone.  If you're Christian and celebrating Holy Week and Easter next Sunday or Jewish and celebrating Passover this week and you're alone, well, you're not alone.  Lots of people with mental illnesses have no one to celebrate with.  Sometimes the spiritual community felt this time of year can help - joining festivities at a church or temple.  But what if you're just not that religious, or you have no transportation, or people just freak you out?  Like the official holiday season at the end of the year, it might feel like the world is celebrating around you.

For 6 years, my illness (specifically, the schizophrenia) kept me apart from family and friends and community so I tired to make it through all the holidays alone.  Easter is a lot like Christmas in that it is celebrated by a lot of people who aren't even religious about it.  I was raised Catholic and grew into something of a new age christian so this time of the year was hard for me when I didn't know how to reach out to people. Both Easter and Passover tend to be a time of people gathering together and it's all over the media, so the feeling of being left out can be hard to escape.

What can you do to make it through?  Definitely, if you're in crisis and don't trust yourself call 911 or any crisis hotline and get help right away.  If you're just depressed and you have nowhere to go and no one to be with, you can try what I used to do and just celebrate anyway.  No, an Easter basket from yourself or a seder dinner alone is NOT the same, but why not?  If you don't have a lot of money, just do what you can, but treat yourself - mark the occasion in some positive way.  Now, it's easy to go off the deep end with the Easter candy about now (I know!) but try not to - although if it gets you through and keeps you sober, it's probably the least of the evils.

Depending on your situation and level of functionality you might want to go to some extra support meetings, or go to church or temple.  It's easy to feel alone in a crowd, but finding community is a healthy way of reaching out.  There's always the internet, too, of course, but be careful not to hook up with the first person you meet online.

In other words, do whatever you can to love yourself through the loneliness. Give yourself hugs.  Prepare yourself a nice meal. Treat yourself.  Go for a walk.  Enjoy nature.  And reach for healthy influences wherever you can.  If you can afford it, take yourself on "spring break," but watch out for the urge to over-indulge.

Have a safe and healthy week and do what you can to enjoy the spring festivities!


Palm Sunday

Some thoughts from the Bible that inspire me today:


On addiction:


2 Timothy 1:7 

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.


1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.


On mental Illness:

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Romans 12:2 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.



Saturday, March 23, 2013

digital divide

Yesterday. I started a thread on a bipolar forum about feeling disconnected from the world.  It goes a long with my theme for "sprin-ter," feeling a bit like I'm not quite back in touch with the world yet.  Someone wrote back to me and said, "at least you have the internet."  I thought about how true that was.  My laptop is a saving tool and the internet a lifeline to help and community.

So many people who are mentally ill or severely addicted are in institutions, on the street, in shelters or just can't afford even a TV, let alone a computer and internet access and the education it takes to use a computer.  I was lucky enough to be in on the development of the internet in it's DOS stage because I was in school and could use the computers and get email.  It made all the difference in my education.  But when I was homeless in a shelter in South Downtown Miami, there was no internet.  I had to go all the way downtown to the public library to get on a computer - and only for an hour at a time.  I knew that I was lucky to know how to use one.

After the shelter helped me get into my own apartment I was living paycheck to paycheck, working at a hotel in Miami Beach.  I had no computer, no TV, and not even a phone.  It took some months, but I eventually saved up enough money for a little time at a cybercafe once in a while and that's how I reached out and got myself into a better situation.

It was through internet searches after that, that I found better employment and places to stay.  I don't know how I would have survived as I did without access to and knowledge of internet technologies.  If you're reading this, you're probably lucky enough to have some kind of access and some level of skill.  If you do, realize that you're one of the lucky ones.

The internet keeps me connected to friends at a distance, gives me a chance to participate in discussions with others like myself who are recovering from a dual diagnosis, and even enables me to have my own website and blog these days.  Without access to the internet (and yes, I spend a lot of time online) I really would be cut off from all but my family (and it should be noted that when you live alone, internet time is even more precious).  My therapist always wants me to go out and have more social interaction, but it's not easy to just meet people.  Besides, I don't drive and it's expensive to go out and do anything.  And for many of us with mental illnesses, it's challenging to deal more directly with people. So, she recognized that for me, the internet is a really big deal.

It's sad to me how many people are left behind as the digital divide gets wider.  I'm hoping that this blog will help people, but how many people could be helped who could never even see it?  I hope that someday, I can find a way to reach people on the other side of the divide and help them to cross it.  For now, I'm going to be counting my cyber blessings.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

sprin-ter

Winter lingers at the beginning of spring, so they're calling it "sprin-ter" today.  It's actually snowing pretty hard, which isn't unusual for the beginning of spring, depending on where you live, but it reminds me of how I feel a lot these days.

In some ways, I've come so far, with both by mental illness and addiction recovery.  Even a diagnosis is a huge start (that's more like the winter solstice).  And I've been mostly stable on meds since 2010 (the last time I was in the hospital).  And I know that 10 years+ sobriety is significant. I even got myself into writing a blog and maintaining a website lately.

Maybe the reason I relate to the day is because for all my "successes" with recovery I feel like I should be farther along than this.  What do I mean by "further along?"  I don't exactly know.  I've seen it expressed as a question on a schizophrenia forum as, "is this all there is?"  I get that.  It's all about maintenance. When you're seriously mentally ill it takes most of your time and energy just to maintain wellness, and that's if you're lucky.

Most of the few people I'm close to (and yes, I'm grateful that I can count those few people) are very busy with their "lives."  They work, they go out, they have relationships, etc.  I can't handle too much stress or stimulation and I don't spend my time self-medicating anymore.  That makes it hard to "do" anything or find people with whom you can interact.  Plus, I'm on a fixed income and I don't drive, so I don't have many opportunities to get and "do" things anyway.

It's not quite boredom and it's not quite depression - this feeling. It's more like a grey sky or a bleak landscape.  Sometimes I miss being manic as much as I miss partying.  I miss the feeling of life being eventful, purposeful, even if those events and purposes made absolutely no sense.

Basically, when I was younger, before my illness hit in my mid-twenties, I had what a lot of people would call a "bright future."  I had a good job, I was married, I had a lot of "friends."  But all that came crashing down around me when I couldn't function anymore.  These days, it's awesome to be sober and stable, but there's very little "going on."  I'm not quite lonely, not quite lost.  It's kind of quiet.  I do meditate and practice yoga and some would say "what's there to be done?"  I wish I could understand that as much as I understand the drive to "stay interesting."

Even though it's snowing, spring is here.  I know that.  Eventually it'll get warm and nature will begin it's active time of year.  In the same way, I just have to keep at wellness, knowing that I will truly have more of a life again, in my own time.  It's that knowledge and belief that keeps me going on days like these.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Soul Equinox


A day of balance
Once a year -
Time equals out
And spring is here.

And so my heart,
Hungry for sun,
Drinks it in
Until I’m done.

Not manic;
Not depressed.
This transition
Helps me best.

In chilly air
Buds start to show,
And like their blooms,
I know I’ll grow.

Because I see
Both day and night.
With dark behind,
I turn towards light.

- 03.20.13

Spring Blessings!

Happy Spring!

The vernal equinox is especially special to me these days, because it falls on March 20th, which is my halfway point around a year of sobriety.  My sobriety benchmark is September 20th, 2002.  (Yes, knowing the beginning of spring marks half a year clean and sober does help me get through St. Patrick's Day.)

Last fall, my family made a special point of celebrating my 10 year anniversary.  I keep saying that I'm looking forward to 12 years sober, because then I'll be sober as long as I was using.  But truly, every moment counts.

In case your wondering, I did not succeed in my first attempt to get sober - it took many tries.  Once I lasted for eight months before I caved to impulse.  In fact, it took 30 days of a hospital setting for me to finally detox.  I really had a lot of support.

If you're reading this, and you're struggling to stay sober, just don't give up!  If you fall off the wagon you can get right back on.  Ask for help.  Join support groups.  Stay away from people and places that tempt you to indulge.  Remember it's never to late to get clean and it's worth it!  Your life is worth it!  Self-medicating only makes things worse and it doesn't solve any problems.  And remember, if you're on meds using at all is dangerous.

I want to give a shout out here to all the people (family, friends, social workers, peers) who have helped me get this far.  I couldn't have done it without you!  If you feel alone, know that you are not - there are a lot of people out there who want to help.  All you need to do is ask.




Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meds and Recovery


I've gotten to the point in my life where I'm really focused on recovery. To me, that's really what this blog is about, my own personal successes and challenges with recovery from the effects of both mental illness (bipolar and schizophrenia) and substance abuse. I've noticed that the idea of "recovery" means different things to different people.  With substance abuse, recovery is generally a little more clear cut: stay sober. There are caveats of course, like don't replace one substance addiction with another, etc. but there's not a big grey area anymore at the point you realize you're an addict.  It's completely black and white - not one drop, not one toke, not one bump and so on.


There's a ginormous debate among the mentally ill, though, about what recovery means in terms of medication.  I've noticed this especially in discussions with other schizophrenics.  Do meds mean recovery or failure?  Does recovery mean that you can go without meds?


When I was first diagnosed at 24, I took meds without question.  Over the course of the next five years though, I found out how hard it is to find the "right" combination of meds.  My psychiatrist made frequent changes, for example, when I couldn't tolerate the side effects of a medication or when it just wasn't working.  I started to feel like a lab rat (and I support PETA) so I became afraid of the changes.  Eventually, I consciously went back to self-medicating and gave up on meds.  I thought that I was doing fine because I wasn't having mood swings.

I remember a therapist in a hospital one time, clearly showed me how I was an addict and explained to me also that I needed medication, even if I felt fine, because you never know when you're going to have problems and if you're already on meds, you're less likely to destabilize. Also, the medication can make you feel so much better that you think you don't need it, but it's exactly what's making you feel better and that means keep taking it.  She helped me see that I needed to sober up, but she couldn't convince me about the meds.  I thought, if I'm going to be sober then I don't want any pharmaceuticals, either.  I'll just take good care of myself and stay off all chemicals. That, I thought, meant recovery..

This attitude, this course of action, led to my major psychotic break when I was 30.  But like so many of us with schizophrenia, I wanted my delusional world. I needed it.  I just didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them what I was thinking, so I stayed to myself and tried to act "normal."  I wasn't having mood swings, though, so, without understanding the nature of my schizophrenia, I thought I was fine.  It took until I was 36 and going through horrible, rapid cycling again with my bipolar disorder that I finally agreed to go back on meds.  I was so far gone and so in need of meds that I couldn't even articulate about my psychosis for about another 6 months.  I didn't even know until then that I had spent 6 years hallucinating.

Personally, I know that meds saved my life.  I was completely suicidal when I went back on meds and utterly delusional.  Without meds I am non-functional.  The meds give me the stability I need to maintain relationships with family and friends.  I'm of the belief that meds are an intrinsic part of recovery.  I'll grant you, it's not a perfect science and any good doctor will tell you that. There isn't enough understanding about brain chemistry to "cure" mental illness yet, but the drugs we do have help, and they give us hope.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Because I Could

"Because I could," is no excuse for doing evil, it's the only reason for doing good.  -terrangrrl 

Inside a Fairy Ring


He chanced upon a fairy ring,
Where elves dance and pixies sing.

Twas there he saw the little light,
That flew so high and shone so bright.

He knew it from the start:
Twas a fairy princess, bless her heart.

And noticing just then his glance,
She came round his ear, not just by chance.

Her tiny light was glowing blue,
He heard her laughter, proud and true.

With a glitter of pixie dust so warm
He saw her in her magic form.

She told him, “you can take with you, friend,
My magic is a gift, your fortune will not end.”

“But what“, he said, “of your life here?
Will you still sparkle if I hold you near?”

And because he dared not take,
What he knew would cause her heart to break,

All the elves came to dance, and all the pixies out to sing.
He was forever sacred, inside a fairy ring.

-03.18.13

Sunday, March 17, 2013

NOT drinking green beer...


Nope, no green beer for me.  Not gonna happen.  Just gotta make it through today while everyone is talking about celebrating and partying until tomorrow morning when people have to go to work hungover and it won't seem so appealing.  Not appealing at all.  I mean what kind of fun is it to just get stupid and then black out and not remember the party anyway?  Nope, wouldn't want to do that.  *sigh*

Now, you might think that's a bunch of malarkey, and you're right. St. Patrick's Day is one of the hardest days for me to want to stay sober. There are times of the year (like New Year's) when it's harder than others.  I mean, it's easier to avoid a situation than a holiday. I don't go into bars, I even try to avoid going down the wine aisle in the grocery store.  I don't hang out with people when they are drinking.  I have a lot of support for my sobriety and I live in a "dry" household.  But, I have alcoholism in the genes on my Dad's side of the family. And anyway, St. Patrick's Day is, let's face it, a drinking holiday like no other.

In college we joked that it wasn't "peer pressure" but "beer pressure."  I mean, St. Patrick's Day was the one day to see just how drunk you could get and hopefully, not die of alcohol poisoning.  Since I've been sober (10 shamrocks, so far) I've always felt left behind by the world on St. Patrick's Day. Now, my Dad, earlier on, had tried to warn me just to have a "wee drop" so that you could always drink a little, but he was too late.  It may have been too late when I was born.  I can honestly say that I do not understand drinking for taste, or some kind of light effervescent feeling.  I don't even get why people drink who don't want a buzz - and that means as big a buzz as you can get.  Yes, smashed, wasted, blotto, it's all the same.  There is but one goal.

I do other things to celebrate holidays that don't involve drinking (as I write I'm wearing my green and listening to traditional Irish music on Pandora) and we're planning cabbage and potatoes with dinner.  I even got myself a green-looking fruit drink so I could feel like I had a "green drink."  But maybe no day of the year is as hard to get through sober as this one.

If you're struggling to stay sober today, know that you're not alone in the world.  With a little bit of luck and whole lot of willpower you'll make it. If you feel you need some support check here for a local AA chapter meeting. You can take it moment by moment if you have to. And if you're on psych meds, remember that drinking is just out because self-medicating will mess with your brain chemistry.

So, here's me wishing you blessings for sobriety today if you need to be sober and otherwise, please be careful and safe!  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

blarney

I won't tell you if I'm Irish or not, but I have a piece of the original blarney stone!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How do you know when you're delusional?


That's the real question isn't it?  The answer is: you don't.  Otherwise, you wouldn't be deluded.  I'm not trying to be funny here, but it's like a paradox, wrapped inside of a conundrum kind of thing.  They say that if you can question your sanity, you know you're sane.  But that's like, a big overall kind of view of sanity.  Most delusions are like parts of a broken mirror. There's a chink here and there that has gone missing.  Maybe you can see enough of the picture that you don't notice the broken parts.  Maybe you just don't think to question them.  Or, as happens often with severe mental illness, someone (usually a doctor or therapist) points out the incongruity in your thinking and you react.  If you're deeply delusional, the reaction might be denial in some form and that can range from retreating into the delusion to a violent outburst.  My therapist told me once that with some people, you just have to work with their delusions, because their psyche's are too fragile to handle reality. See, delusions are defense mechanisms. 

Why I'm thinking about this today is that I'm wondering about how I survived so long with all the delusions that I had at my worst.  I was just explaining to someone today how I spent 6 years battling serious auditory hallucinations.  They were loud, they were omnipresent and they were my reality.  The main plot of my psychosis was a belief that I could read people's minds and that I was "connected with the universe" in a way that allowed me to "listen" to things that affected me - especially people talking about me.  The voices, as I call them, made it hard to concentrate on anything because they were the focus of my attention.  I remember I couldn't watch TV or listen to music without them filling in the cracks - and by that I mean I also thought that I could "hear" the residue of the thoughts that the various media personalities "left behind" when they were taped.  I thought I was getting subliminal messages.

Now, the only reason my reality was rarely challenged was that part of my psychosis was that I thought no one would believe me about my special abilities.  Twice I actually said something so out of touch that the listener questioned me and so I simply avoided those people.  See, I didn't know how to ask that question about my sanity.  I didn't want to.  Did some part of me know the answer and just not want to hear it?  All I know is that without meds, I hallucinate too much to function in society.

But what about now?  I seem to be able to share my thoughts with people and they seem to synch with reality.  I can usually pull myself away from buying into the delusions (like, I have this delusion of reference that the intercom chatter in stores is about me for some reason). Subtleties are all but lost on me though, and people still scare me.  I need to be very clear about what everybody means or I suspect the worst. It's still not easy.

So, what I want to know is: how would I know if I was deluding myself?  Could I face the answer? Could anyone tell me?  If so, how? Do people have to be careful with my psyche now?  What aren't they telling me?

There's no conclusion to be found here. I'm attempting to ask the question. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

signs of wellness


I was reading the forum on bipolar success stories today on PsychCentral.  The thread with the most replies currently is titled, "I Took A Shower Today."  That really struck me, because some days I just don't get up for a while and I don't take a shower and I don't do yoga (or much of anything) except that fortunately I'm really good about taking my meds.  Now, maybe this is true, too, for a good number of people who don't even have a mental illness. I mean, some days you probably just don't feel like getting out of bed, maybe especially on weekends or vacations, so you don't. But for me, it's a sign.  With bipolar disorder you have to watch yourself closely for signs of depression (not taking care of yourself, not keeping commitments, etc.) and mania (racing thoughts, pressured speech, lack of sleep, over-activity, etc.)  It's literally hard to stay balanced when your mood swings.

One of the best resources I ever found to help keep track of the signs of wellness for bipolar disorder is a workbook or journal where you schedule your activities in advance (as much as you can) and then check to see if you at least did what you planned to do and also, if you've like, stayed up all night painting the walls or something on a whim. If you keep at journaling on a daily basis, It can become a routine after a while and depending on how much you have going on, you may or may not be able to make a mental checklist.  Why this is so important though is that bipolar disorder can make it really difficult to accomplish simple activities or to control your impulses.

I liked to see the thread about taking a shower, because I didn't feel so alone.  I admit it, I just don't always shower regularly, or brush my teeth (let alone floss) or exercise regularly.  I'm doing much better than when I wasn't on meds, though.  Without meds, when depression hit I would stay in bed for a week and cry.  When mania hit I'd max out a credit card and just go somewhere random by myself.  I've been both obese and anorexic (sometimes a separate food journal is a good idea sometimes, too).  As a result, my health has suffered, I couldn't keep jobs and I ruined my credit rating, not too mention just doing a lot of "risk taking."

I wrote an article about how these days I "pass."  For the most part, I can keep up appearances.  That doesn't mean that I haven't been anxious all day, as usual, and that simple tasks, like hygiene, are sometimes a big challenge.  Now, it just so happens that I did take a shower today, so I was proud.  And it made me realize that I keep comparing myself to people who don't have this illness and feeling like I'm hiding the fact that I fall short of "emotionally balanced."  So, I think it's important to remember that if you have a mental illness, you give yourself credit for each little accomplishment and each impulse-control.   I'm happy for the person who took a shower today.  And I'm happy for all those of us, mentally-ill or not, who just keep trying to get through the day.  The important thing is not to give up. You may even surprise yourself.

Ides?

All I have to say about all the "warnings" of "Beware the idea of March" online today is that Julius Caesar was obviously NOT a paranoid schizophrenic, or he would have KNOWN that everyone was out to get him.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Full Circle


In case you haven't heard it on the geek grapevine, today is Pi day.  According to the Pi Day website (yes, there is a website), "Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159."  So, I'm thinking about circles.

More to the point, I'm thinking about circular patterns.  In my life, there's a big circle.  It has everything to do with values and self-esteem.  When I was a kid I went to catholic school and everything seemed fine with my peers until we started getting pre-pubescent (4th grade).  Suddenly, I was an outcast because I was the smartest kid in my class and I was well-behaved.  In fact, the year before that I had won the "Jesus Christ Award,"  supposedly for setting the most Christlike example.  I mean, I just thought that's what we were supposed to do, i.e. study hard and try to be good kids.  But my peers, starting at about that age, had different ideas.  I found myself getting bullied and ostracized for being a "goodie two-shoes". 

So, I was lonely and stopped really interacting with my classmates unless they sought me out to taunt me.  I was miserable.  And on top of that I was starting to clue in to new influences in the media, namely, Madonna, who seemed to take everything it meant to be christian and twist it around on itself.  I felt like, why be good?  It just leads to pain and torture and everyone wants you to be a "bad girl" anyway. I mean, that's how you got the boys to like you, wasn't it?

By the time I was 10 I decided that I wanted "in."  I wanted to be bad.  I wanted affirmation from my peers. I wanted to be, if not popular, not the butt of the jokes.  Well,  all through the rest of grade school (until 8th grade) I did a terrible job of being a "bad girl."  I really didn't get it and my parents kept a watchful eye on me anyway. So, I kept getting picked on.  In high school, I lucked out and found friends in honors classes and theatre who were intelligent and "eccentric" and who also, for the most part, tried to do the right thing.  My senior year I was elected to both the National Honor Society Board and Thesbian Board.  It should be noted however, that I was being pulled in for counseling on suspicion of manic depression. (I just thought I was being dramatic).  Also, I had an after-school job at a restaurant and I was starting to get myself into trouble with some older men.  Yes, I'll come out and say it: statutory rape.  So, overall I felt like I had moved up on the "coolness" ladder but I didn't even imagine what was happening to me.

18 happened and college.  Without the the thoughtful guidance of my parents, an illness creeping up on me, and too much time on my hands I suddenly found myself in way over my head.  I remember the first day I was walking around campus with a hangover and everything "made sense."  I felt like I had joined the human race.  There are a lot of stories to tell here, but for now, suffice it to say that I spent twelve years drunk and stoned among other things.  I had a series of abusive and dysfunctional relationships.  My first diagnosis (bipolar disorder) came at 24 and I kept using while I was on meds.  I got into self-destructive activities like being on the submissive end of violent bdsm. I gave up on meds. At thirty, I made my first two suicide attempts.  I went numb.

But that same year, I realized the first thing I had to do was get sober, or I was going to die, so I quit using.  And no, it still isn't easy feeling left out of all the "fun." Unfortunately, about that same time my paranoid schizophrenia really kicked in and so I went a little overboard giving up dysfunctional relationships, because I thought everyone was a threat. I spent 6 years moving around, trying to have a life, completely alone.  Finally, another suicide attempt when I was 36 and a subsequent hospitalization got me back on meds.  About a year later, I finally re-connected with my family.

Now, I don't think of it as good or bad, but survival.  It simply follows that if you want to live you have to take care of yourself.  You have to ask for respect and respect others.  For me, it means taking meds, working with my doctor and therapist, staying clean, and keeping up a healthy daily routine.  What has happened is that I've ended up rather lonely again.  If I didn't live with my parents, I don't know what I'd be doing.   I have a very small number of friends who are all awesome, but very busy with their own lives.  My relationships are functional though, and peaceful, and I can't ask for more than that.  And these days, I live with the stigma of "mentally ill" and "recovering addict," so no matter what you do, I find, it's futile to try and be a crowd-pleaser.

There you have it, back to square one: helping my parents, blooging hard, trying to take good care of myself and be a good person.  Only now, I understand why all that is so important, and yes, I'm proud if I can set a Christ-like example.  

So, I have circled all around it and given you my own personal Pi Day tribute!   Happy Pi Day!   :-)