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.


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


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


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.


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.