Hope Rises

Right now in my life and journey to healing, I’m doing very very well. I’ve gotten to a place where symptoms are manageable and I can see and look forward to the future. I’m figuring out what it means to love myself and who I am. Getting to this place was far from easy. It took a lot of patience, a lot of work, and a lot of therapy. But I’m here and I’m still moving forward.

Today’s blog is about hope. It’s about how you can find it even when it seems impossible. It’s about who/what you can turn to. It’s about being realistic. There is no “cure” for mental illness. There is no “getting over it” or “conquering/overcoming”. There is living with it. There is learning how to manage symptoms, how to accept who you are with the illness as a part of you–not defining you, not an enemy. It’s about learning resilience.

There’s hope for you.

I’m not just throwing that out there to make myself feel better by offering some platitude. I am the person who was convinced there was nothing beyond the darkness. I was the person convinced hope was a load of crap. That there was no way out of the pit I kept falling deeply into. That same person who didn’t believe the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel existed is telling you it does. As long as you don’t understand that the light isn’t a goal, or a final destination. I once explained to my therapist that I felt like I could see the finish line, but I just couldn’t get there. She responded to me that the finish line will just keep moving, I’ll never “get there”. She was very right. There is no “there”. There is only here. Hope in the future is allowing yourself to accept where you are right now, warts and all. It’s realizing that your emotions do not define you. It’s learning how to cope with the emptiness and keep moving. It’s about consciously working toward rewiring your brain.

Changing the way you think requires flipping around a lifetime of neuronal pathways. This takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Which leads me to resources that you can…and should…turn to.

The Dreaded Therapy

Therapy took me years to finally convince myself to do. It took both my physician and husband to tell me that it was more than necessary or I was going to keep stumbling back into that pit. I knew it was true, but the idea sickened me. The thought of opening up all of those old wounds with a stranger was terrifying.
“What could they possibly teach me that I don’t already know?”
Everything.
I was very fortunate that the first therapist I found was my therapist “soulmate”. This is not always the case. I tell people that it’s an awful lot like dating. Sometimes you have to date a few people before you find “the one”. But once you do, it’s completely worth it. Each therapist has a different style and you’ll respond best to certain personalities and therapy modalities. Keep trying. You’ll find the person who will be able to guide you into healing. I’ve been seeing mine for 3 years and she’s helped me completely change my life.

Types of Therapy

CBT
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is very commonly used and works well short term. It helps identify unhealthy thought processes and the behaviors they lead to and teaches you how to manage and intercept those thoughts. However, this doesn’t work to find the cause of the thoughts/behaviors in the first place so it’s very easy to fall back into old habits.

Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis gets a bad rap. Think Freud. Analysis focuses on consciousness and unconsciousness. Finding the root of the wounds and reworking those moments to find healing within them. This can be difficult to do as it requires remembering painful moments, but the work is worth it. It can bring about healing in places you never thought possible.

DBT
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is fairly new, but is quickly becoming the mainline treatment for many disorders, specifically Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT combines components of CBT with the idea of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT is most often done in groups, but can be used in individual therapy.

Most likely your therapist prefers a certain modality, but will often use a personal approach that best fits your relationship. Personally, I believe that the best approach is combining components of all of them. I have a special place in my heart for DBT because I know first hand how effective it is.

Support Groups
There are likely many support groups near you that you can connect with as most therapy clinics provide some sort of support groups. NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) also provides support groups such as Peer to Peer or Family to Family which allow you to connect to others facing mental health issues or other family members supporting someone with a mental health diagnoses. Support groups can be a great way to identify and connect with people who have experienced similar life events and responses as you have. You fell much less alone.

211 Helpline (South Dakota based)
The Helpline offers online and over the phone support 24/7. Just dial 211. What they offer:

  • Volunteer Services
  • Child Care Resources
  • Suicide and Crisis Support
  • Military and Family Support

Which leads me to Volunteering. Often volunteering for organizations like NAMI, support groups, or local crisis lines can be very healing. Helping others can allow you to reach places where you can help yourself.

Finally, your loved ones. This is probably the most difficult than reaching out any other place. People often tell you they are here for you, but it’s difficult to navigate if they really are and if you’re in a place to reach out. People often don’t know what to say/may say the wrong things, but most people are well intended and come from a place of love. If you can find at least two people you trust and know you can reach out to, please talk to them and let them know you may need to lean on them. I know it’s easy to feel like your bothering them or a burden, but remember how you would respond if the tables were turned. You know you would be there in a second if one of them turned to you for support. It is no different on the other side. I have found a couple friends I know I can talk to when I’m in a crisis or very low point. They love me and understand me through those moments. They don’t have expectations of me. They’re just there. They meet me where I am.

If you’re wanting to be one of those people for someone else, please remember this. You can’t fix it. You cannot change how the person is feeling no matter what you say or do. You cannot take the pain away and you won’t make them suddenly have a different perspective. It’s best to not give advice, they don’t need it. Don’t have expectations of them or try to take away their pain. Just love them. Just be there. I know it can be uncomfortable to sit with those difficult emotions, but being there for someone is not about your comfort. You may not understand where they are coming from, you may have no place of reference, but how they are feeling doesn’t require your understanding. Your ability to understand or relate has no impact on the validity of their feelings. Again, it’s not about you. Just meet them where they are. Just hold them in that place. Just love them. That’s all the need. That’s all we need.

There is hope. I promise. You can get through this, you are worth it. You are beautiful and there is nothing wrong with you. We are all the same kind of different. We all experience life uniquely. We all have different perspectives. Keep pushing. Hope does rise.

Anxiety: More than Nerves

Image result for anxiety

Everyone feels anxious sometimes. It’s completely normal and healthy to feel anxious before/during/after a life event. What’s not normal is when this feeling persists and begins to overtake your thoughts. Anxiety is more than someone overreacting, and generally the person experiencing it knows they are catastrophising, they just can’t control it. Sometimes feelings of panic come, seemingly, out of nowhere for reasons a person is not aware of.

I’m sure everyone has heard of “triggers”–especially due to the popular use of the term in the social justice warrior crowd. A trigger is something–anything–that brings back a memory or feeling of a traumatic event. This can be smell, touch, taste, words, sight…really anything. Often times the person is unaware that the trigger happened or what caused it. Sometimes there’s no trigger at all, stress in general can bring about the chaos of anxiety.

If anxiety is severe enough and unresolved it can result in a panic attack or anxiety attack. We’ve had numerous people come into the ER with symptoms of a panic attack thinking they are dying. Because it absolutely feels like it. A panic attack is a physical response to substantial anxiety that causes a person’s heart rate to increase, hyperventilate, lose concentration, disassociate, chest pain, dizziness, numbness…as a nurse I can tell you that a lot of those symptoms are secondary to the increase in heart rate and breathing. You can actually put yourself into what’s called “respiratory alkalosis” meaning the carbon dioxide ratio in your blood is skewed. This can result in serious physiological effects…and definitely makes a person feel like they are dying.

Please remember:
If you can’t relate to a person’s emotions or experience, this doesn’t make it any less valid. Your understanding of their experience is irrelevant to how they are feeling.

So what do you do?

-If you see someone looking panicked, catch their attention. While experiencing a panic attack the person feels completely out of control and letting someone know they are not alone can help ground them and bring them back to feeling safe.
-Get them to a quiet area. During a panic attack you feel completely overwhelmed and your environment can absolutely make this worse.
-Get them to breath. Slowing down breaths can get their attention on something other than their thoughts and physical feelings as well as keep them from hyperventilating.

Tips to preventing a panic attack or stopping it:

Believe me, I’m very well aware of the horrible sensation a panic attack creates. The feelings of being completely out of control and in immediate danger…yet not knowing why this is happening. However if you pay attention to your body you can start to recognize when an attack is brewing. You’ll notice feeling irritable, chest tightness, trouble concentrating, increased heart rate. Here’s what to do:

-Take time out. Find a quiet place where you can be alone.
-Breath. Take slow deep breaths. It helps to close your eyes and concentrate only on your breathing. I like to use the 5,6,7 rule. 5 seconds to inhale, hold for 6 seconds, 7 seconds to exhale. I cannot accentuate the importance of breathing enough! This is imperative to preventing and stopping a panic attack.
-It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to need to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Let it out, gather yourself, and get back to what you were doing.
-If you can distract yourself by doing something you enjoy–a walk, music, scents…anything that’s calming to you.

Anxiety is a horrible feeling and coupled with depression, this makes for an ugly two-headed monster. Often both conditions cause a person to exhaust their ability to cope and self-medicating through alcohol and drug abuse can add a third demon to the already debilitating conditions. Depression, anxiety, and addiction are difficult to talk about separately because of the marriage between the three. To be continued.

Don’t be afraid to seek out help. There’s nothing wrong with medication–sometimes it’s the leg up you need to gain control over your mind.

You got this.

 

If you are feeling like self-harming or suicidal please call 911 or head to your nearest Emergency Room.

The 211 Helpline is available for crisis support. They are open 24/7 and are judgement free.

I love you. Please reach out if you need help. Hope does exist.

Depression: More than Sadness

I came across the idea of the “Black Dog” to personify depression years ago. I loved the illustration as I feel it captured well how depression feels in a way others may somewhat understand. You can watch the video here:

Depression is much more than feeling sad. People will often say they feel depressed or have felt depressed over a situational sadness. Everyone feels sad. Everyone has experienced grief. Not everyone knows the dark pit of depression.

Depression Statistics Inforgraph

Depression is a dark hole that a person falls into and seems to never be able to crawl out of. Depression is an all consuming fire burning the person alive. Depression is a large wave drowning you as you fight for your life. Depression is NOT a choice. One cannot simply “snap out of it”. “Just think about all the good thing you have”. “How can you be depressed, your life is so good”. “You’d feel better if you strengthened your relationship with God”. “You’re letting the devil control your life”. “You just need to ______”. Words I’ve heard over and over, and words that are so very far from helpful.

Depression is beyond situations…granted situations can make depression feel worse and situation grief or sadness can evolve into depression, but often it persists despite what is going on in a person’s life. Research into the cause of depression has shown it is a very complicated disease created from genetic dispositions and the way a persons brain is wired. I could go on and on about the neuroscience behind depression, but rather I’ll provide a link if you’re interested:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression

Depression is defined in the DSM-V (psychology diagnostic manual):

Depressed mood or irritable– A person must feel depressed the majority of the time and can be subjective (reported by person) or objective (observed by another).

In my life I become very tearful and feel very empty. This is a consuming feeling and persists for days, to weeks, to months…to years.

Decreased interest or pleasure– A substantial loss of interest in what a person used to like to do.

One of my warning signs for heading into a depressive episode is that I start to lose interest in doing thing I normally love. I quit reading, I quit working out, I quit cooking, I start to just stay inside, I limit social contact, even my job seems difficult to enjoy.

Significant Weight/Appetite Change- Generally a change of 5% of body weight in 3-4 weeks.

For many eating is a coping mechanism. For me, I quit eating. I completely lose interest in food and things I normally love to eat taste bland and unappealing. In nursing school I lost 30lbs in three months because I couldn’t eat. I try to force myself when this happens, but with food not tasting well it’s hard to do.

Change in Sleep- Insomnia or hypersomnia. Can’t sleep or sleep way too much.

Mine shows up as insomnia. I cannot fall asleep and once I do I wake up constantly. However I’m always exhausted. Others sleep too much and struggle to stay awake.

Change in Activity- Psychomotor agitation or retardation. Think fidgeting too much or unable to move.

My depressive episodes are definitely mixed with anxiety so I will experience both. At times I cannot sit still. Other times I cannot move or move very slowly. I’ll walk slower and respond slower…sometimes it takes all day to take a shower.

Fatigue or loss of energy- I feel this ties in with the previous one. However the loss of energy is more than feeling “blah” or a normal “tired”.

At it’s worst I have to remind myself to breath. The loss of energy is so severe that breathing seems “too much”. Moving seems impossible…I’ll sit or lay in one position for hours…the entire time trying to convince myself to move. It’s as if your body is made of lead.

Guilt/Worthlessness- Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

Note: “Inappropriate”. Meaning irrational. Meaning the thought process and perception of the person is affected and you cannot reason a depressed person out of depression. Instead they often find themselves feeling very guilty for feeling the way they are. I will feel like I’m letting everyone down around me…I will feel useless, worthless. A burden.

Concentration- Indecisiveness, diminished ability to think.

Talking is difficult for me, I’ll struggle with expressive aphasia. Meaning I can’t get words out and I can’t get them out in the right order at times. When severe I can barely drive…I’ve almost wrecked my car many times because of this. It’s worse than driving drunk…you just cannot think right.

Suicidality- Thoughts of death or suicide. Has a plan.

If you’ve been following me at all it’s no secret this has been something I’ve definitely struggled with. And suicide deserves a post to itself. It’s a very complicated topic. For now I’ll explain that in these pits of darkness death seems to be the only way out. It’s not necessarily that the person wants to die, but rather escape.

To be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder one must possess 5 of the 9 symptoms listed above nearly every day for more than 2 weeks. The symptoms need to interfere with daily living-jobs, social life, relationships, etc.

Depression is often a co-morbid diagnoses most often with anxiety and addiction. Both of which I will touch on later.

Treatment for depression involves psychotropic medications such as SSRIs (Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, etc) and therapy. I often tell people treatment is much like dating–you have to go through a lot of bad apples before finding “the one”. Not every medication is for everyone and neither are therapists.

If you haven’t had luck with therapy I’d encourage you to try again. Being able to connect with the person is very important and often therapy is unsuccessful because the relationship between the therapist and patient doesn’t mesh well. Therapy can help identify precipitating factors that cause depressive symptoms and help you rework the mis-wiring of your brain. It’s not a short term process nor a quick fix. Medications aren’t either. They can help, but do not cure. Ultimately you learn to live with your symptoms, learn to lessen them, and cope with them.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse/Addiction are next. Then we’ll finish of Mental Health Awareness Month with the difficult subject of Suicide and an overall discussion of coping skills, therapies, and resources.

If you are feeling suicidal please call 911, go to the ER, or go to your nearest behavioral health facility for an assessment. Your life is worth it. I promise.

Helpline 211 is also available 24/7 to chat or talk on the phone, they are here to help.

Descent into Madness

With every passing hour as the sun comes closer to the earth

I am reminded of my imminent descent into madness

I try to distract myself with pretty little things

With knick-knacks…

I fill my time with those I enjoy all the while hearing the

“tap tap tap” of the finger reminding me the clock is ticking

I smile, I laugh, pretending the panic rising within doesn’t exist.

Just maybe this time I can will it away, maybe this time I can run

But, you see, you cannot run from your own mind

So as the leaves begin to turn, the night seeps into the daytime

So do does my mind decay into a writhing pain

Emotion swallows my reality; I’m shrouded in the darkness


I fade.

WHO AM I!?