A Testimony of “Being A Friend To Yourself,” From Bipo Blogger

You might recognize these five questions from yesterday’s blog-post.  Thank you for your testimonies.  Is there anything more powerful than hearing someone’s personal story?  I think not!  Here is what Bipoblogger has to say.

Q1:  What does being a friend to yourself mean to you in real-time life practice?

A1:  That’s easy, but not so easy, LOL!  Being “a friend to yourself” means that I acknowledge I need to respect myself, just like I do other people.  It means not sabotaging my self, plans, job, relationships, etc.  I love myself enough to not kick myself when I am down. 

Being bipolar can be so detrimental to my being, but just like normal people, I still have the need to …allow for room and time to grieve about whatever horrible circumstances (were) caused (by) the bipolar disorder.  

…Stop every once in a while to acknowledge my accomplishments and own that.

Q2:  What helps you do this one time vs. another?

A2:  Yes, I have found that BPD is in part an anger disorder and knowing the true source of the anger can help me go forward.

I have chosen to no longer hurt myself cause when I do, and anyone else, I build up layers of hurt and it hurts to start to take the layers off when I’m ready, so why even do it? …

Also it helped me so much to learn that God doesn’t deal with me the way I deal with myself or another.  I’m not a fanatic, but I just believe in what makes sense.

Q3:  What still hinders your efforts?

A3:  Wanting to be better than I already am.  Not accepting that the balance I have is better than having less or no balance at all, …(which means various kinds of) risky behavior.

Q4:  What has pushed you past those barriers?

A4:  Really just forgiving myself for how I was affected by BPD and remembering that I am breakable and valid as a human, just like all of us.  If I keep practicing a constructive way of life, I will be okay, and that has been true for the last 3 years.

Last push.

Q5:  How do you understand the interplay between biology and choice in being “a friend to yourself?”

A5:  I was created with the choice to choose how I live my life and I do, BPD or none.  Natural inclination is to do the wrong thing because I am imperfect.  I seek power, fame, notoriety and in someway someone, including myself is gonna get hurt in the process.  …People without mental deficiencies don’t experience or don’t carry out to this degree.  So in short, biologically the deficient brain makes more extreme choices, overly withdrawn or overly outward and destructive.

Whoa, I smell smoke.  I never think that hard.  LOL.

Questions for you:  

  1. Anything you’d like to share with Bipo Blogger? 
  2. If you had a blank page for this, what would your own questions be?  What would you answer?  

Never Let Go of Hope, Even When Depressed and Anxious

Linda, Lake of the Woods Run, 15 K

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Self-Care Tip #214 – Never let go of hope, even when depressed and anxious.

Some blog-posts ago, Be Aware of Your Feelings was written and “M” asked,

What is the difference between depression and anxiety?

Anxiety and depression are like brother and sister.  They often go together.  When we think of “paradigms,” we think of an arch that might intersect with another arch.  However, when I think of the affective (or mood) spectrum intersecting with the anxiety spectrum, I see them weaving, interlaced or chasing each other.  Not a line and nothing tidy.  So understanding the difference also includes understanding their relationship.

In training, I remember presenting a patient with anxiety and depression to my psychiatry attending physician.  I hadn’t clarified the timeline of onset of symptoms.

When presenting, every resident physician knows the moment when they are found out.  The other residents on the rounding team instinctively lean back, try to take a step away even, so the lightening doesn’t singe them when it strikes.  I’m sure I smelled like fear too.

The reason the time of onset of symptoms is important, is that it tells us the primary disease process.  Knowing that, influences the speculations on patient recovery, duration of illness and our choices for treatment.  Some medications for depression can really activate anxiety and the patient might not enjoy the free-fall into hell after starting the antidepressants.  Also, there are some treatments that work better for different disease processes and such.

It’s common for someone who has suffered from depression on and off for years, but never from anxiety, to have their first panic-attack out of the blue, without trigger.  Bummer!  Then they start to roll.  Bam!  Bamm!  BAm! BAAM! BBBAm!  The panic attacks may come in spurts and then go away for a time.  The opposite is also true, starting off with anxiety, and followed by depression.

I don’t think anyone, including “M,” is asking me to talk about the differences between anxiety and depression in that depression is a state of sadness, and anxiety is a state of autonomic nervous system activation.  Rather there is the wonder of why they follow each other in course, why the are so often in each other’s company, why so many medications that treat one will treat the other, why they run in family histories and/or why they are both “so common.”  We have some ideas we use to answer but we don’t have enough objective information to explain.

Some of the good news is that these diseases are treatable.  The sooner they are treated and when treated to full recovery, the better the hope for long-term brain health is.  I have seen people feel defined by these diseases and trapped.  My job isn’t to minimize that, but rather to highlight what might bring hope.  Selling hope turns out to be one of my biggest jobs.  The same attending physician I mentioned above told me that.  He never stopped talking about hope.  Even for me.

Questions:  How do you answer “M’s” question?  How have you seen depression and anxiety move together and how have you responded to it?  What has given you hope when they did?  Or, when you saw this in someone else.  Please tell me your story.

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Be Aware of Your Feelings and Your Body Function When Getting Friendly With Yourself

Self-Care Tip #202 – Be aware of your feelings and your body.

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Wordsmith SuziCate commented to our post three days ago on finding depression in those of us who appear “fine.”

It can be more apparent in what is not said…. When I was depressed it was the absolute last thing I wanted to talk about. I evaded the subject, and if forced to talk it was about anything but what “I” was feeling.

Yet again, the comment completing the post.  It was on my mind and in my face somehow over these sum of days.  When I would start thinking about something else, a patient would nearly quote SuziCate and I wondered if you all have met behind my back on some other blog site with intent to trip me out.  (Grandiose delusions….)

Margo said yesterday in clinic, with hands moving, eyes wide and leaning in,

When I was really down, I just quieted down, stayed low, did my thing.  The last thing I wanted to talk about were my feelings.  I felt afraid of the Nothing that waited there.

She was talking more quietly now and her whole body receded a little.

You aren’t interested or interesting to anyone.  You don’t have anything to say.

We were both quiet for a bit.

These flattening-of-the-spirit symptoms used to be called “Pseudodementia” because they resembled dementia so much.  A muting of the mental and physical function.  A disease progression slowing the nerves and body.  We now refer to them as “Neurovegetative Symptoms.” **

When thinking about getting friendly with ourselves, we can’t forget about what we don’t say or feel emotionally.  We remember also, that the brain is connected to the rest of our body.  Brain is sick, the rest of us is sick too.  This can be a good check point once we start realizing that something is wrong either by insight or by comments from others.

It can be more apparent in what is not said….

Hear more than words.

Not all depressions are these muting processes.  Some of them are activating and agitating types leading to anger and irritability.  Those are hurtful too.

All types of depression are dangerous when left untreated.  The reason isn’t only the risk of suicide or the distance it creates from others.  The reason also includes the less familiar brain changes that it causes on the brain function.  The sooner we are able to pull out of a depression, heal and return to ourselves, the better health our brains will have the long term.  The longer a depression is left untreated, the more damage is caused to the brain’s health.

Questions:  How did you figure out you were depressed now or then? Or that someone else was depressed?  Please tell me your story.

**Neurovegetative Symptoms are the things about affective disorders that most of us don’t know about.  We think about emotions – depressed, sad, happy, angry and calm when we think about mood or anxiety.  We don’t think about the body.  We don’t think about cognition, concentration, memory and what SuziCate or Margo described so well.

It can be more apparent in what is not said….

Neurovegetative symptoms are called “neurovegetative” because they are caused by the changes in the nervous system and they limit our ability to function.

Choose Self-Care At Your Most Elemental Level

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Self-Care Tip #167 – Choose self-care at your most elemental level.

Carl, who writes blog-site, StillFugue, said after yesterday’s post on self-care being for everyone,

Sometimes depression blocks this type of self-care regardless of how good our cognitive strategies are.

Carl reminded me of Dr. Lang.  He was a physician, a father, a man of high character who never had depression in his life.  Then after a series of life stressors depression expressed itself and he, who once was the warm-fuzzy in the hospital, the man who never lost his optimism, the man who turned anyone’s bad mood around – this man came to me under a black cloud, heavy with melancholy, and raining tears.  He cried all the time.  This giant of a man cried and cried on his wife’s shoulder, and she was bewildered by him.  She told me he had done this for a month now, although the depression started about four years ago.  He kept wanting her to read to him the book of Job and cried more barely hearing the words.  He had already been through a series of well-chosen medications, but still he sank deeper.  No form of treatment kept up with the leak in his ship.  What was self-care for Dr. Lang?

Did Dr. Lang have good coping skills?  Well he wasn’t coping well now even though he knew the strategies.  He didn’t understand why he couldn’t use the coping skills.  Did he have intelligence?  Yes.  Did he have resources?  Yes.  However, none of that is what this was about.  Asking Dr. Lang to cope with his feelings is the same as asking someone blind to see.  Physically, biologically he could not.  His brain could not.  Much of his ability to choose behaviors and emotions were drowned by illness.

So again, the implied question comes to us, – “Is self-care for everyone?”

Mr. Rick C. threw this life-saver out in response to our question,

During times when chaos ensues, either internally or externally, self-care seems to become the basis on which all other positive actions are built.

Sarah McGaugh also referred to self-care as “action,”

A call to action may also be a higher calling than one’s own self….

What action did Dr. Lang do?  He cried on his wife’s shoulder and read the Bible, i.e., he leaned on the support he had built up before the hard times came.  After failing medications, he sought another opinion and other treatments.  Sure, he couldn’t get out of bed otherwise even to bathe himself, but he had made it to my office.  What did Dr. Lang do?  He got electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and in two months, along with his medication (only one antidepressant was needed at this point), Dr. Lang was no longer crying.  In four months, he was laughing again.  In six months, he stopped ECT altogether and maintained his emotional health with his monotherapy medication.  It’s been seven years since Dr. Lang went through all that and he has not relapsed yet.

I pick out so many points that I consider self-care choices Dr. Lang made.  They changed over time for him according to his needs and abilities, but he didn’t want to die.  Even at his worst, when he could barely remember why life was so important, that wisp of hope was enough to live for.  It was a higher calling to him, higher than his own dark wants.

That was Dr. Lang’s choice.  He chose self-care at his most elemental level.  It was his response to the call of hope.

Questions:  But what about you?  What do you think?  Is self-care for everyone?  Please tell me your story.

Taking Care of Yourself is The Best Part of Your Treatment Cocktail.

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Self-Care Tip #163 – Taking care of yourself is the best part of your treatment cocktail.

We often talk about partial or failed treatment in medicine, in each other, in relationships.  But those are only about 40-60% of the time.  There are many people who get full treatment response to medication and self-care.  Mindy is one of them.

Mindy has seen me for about four years in clinic for her depression.  She’s never been very anxious, which is less usual as anxiety and depression tag-team so often.  Mindy’s depression had lurked in her, stepping out in the light and slipping into the shadows, for years even before she started working with me.  We seemed to hit by chance or skill the right medication cocktail that had evaded her, and she was not depressed anymore.  However, she never told me she was great.  She was “pretty good.”  She was, “doing alright.”  She was, “you know, good.”  Mindy wasn’t great.  She was good.  We spent three and a half years like that.

Then about six months ago, Mindy came in looking hot!  (I can say that because I’m a girl.)  She had lost the mom bumps around the midline, dropped padding in the hips, her hair wore a fresh coat of glossy brown, and I could tell her outfit hadn’t been worn more than twice.  Mindy was smiling and sincere when she said,

I’ve never felt better!  I had no idea what taking care of myself would do for me!

Her eyes were telling me their own conversation.  They were so expressive saying,

I can’t believe this is me!

Mindy told me in testimonial fashion, about the strangers who now noticed her.  Being noticed was an elixir and she was drinking it as often as it was served, but not in an arrogant way.  Mindy was still very human.  She wasn’t manic or grandiose.  She was doing what Gary Vaynerchuk describes in his book, Crush It!

“Do what makes you happy.  Keep it simple.  Do the research.  Work hard.  Look ahead” (p 12).

Mindy said,

I used to think that what I got from life was good enough; from my husband and from the people out there.  I didn’t know I could get this by just doing what I wanted to do for myself all along.

Mindy was still taking her medication cocktail and had no plans of tapering any of them.  She thought the combination of these medications that took her out of depression, along with exercise and other self-care measures were just right.  Mindy had not forgotten her years of melancholy and sadness even though it was now four years since.

Questions:  1) What is your reaction to Mindy and the 40-60% of people who get full treatment response?  2) Do you have any questions you wish you could ask the “Mindy’s” out there?  3) Or something to say for the other 40-60% of people who don’t get full treatment response?  Please tell me your story.

Know What You Are Fighting For – Your Right To Journey.

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Self-Care Tip #162 – Know what you are fighting for.  Be a friend to yourself.

Bridget told me,

I felt free to do something creative without having to feel guilty about it.

She had read the blog post, “Self-Care is Freedom, is Democracy, is Because We Are Accountable.”  I was just starting to think about other good places to go with that but before I got too far she hit me with,

I just hate myself!

Hearing those words is like watching squishy and partly moldy tomatoes hit the wall.  It’s messy.  It’s dirty.  No one’s excited about dealing with it.  And, there is something negative that brought it on.  Readers, you’ll remember this countertransference when you’re the counsellor in some other situation and think, “Darn that Quijada!”

My thoughts bumped and piled up.  Stopped, until they started pulling themselves off of each other.  I tried to put these disparate bits of Bridget’s narrative together.  And I wasn’t alone.

I don’t get it!  Why do I feel this way?

Who doesn’t have conflicting feelings about themselves?  Bridget perceived and celebrated her freedom to self-care, yet was betrayed by her own, just when she was reaching for it.  Is that ok?

What strikes me about Bridget is her journey.  She has struggled with anxiety and depression for many years.  I know with me, she’s been in treatment for five of them.  During that time, she has been lovely although not perfect.  She does her hair, glossy blond in large waves, trim body frame and polite like no one I’ve met.  Many medications have failed her and she has taken those failures and claimed her future over again.  The intense forward movement of her inner self has never been muted, even when she has had thoughts of wanting to die.

I have learned what she values, what she’s willing to let go of and what she isn’t.  Her appearances matter.  She is artsy and gets energy from being alone.  She loves people.  Her marriage is rocky.  She struggles with parenting.  She loves her husband and her children.  Bridget’s journey is a journey of imperfection, beauty and courage.

And here she is again.  Conflicted self, ill, hopeful and claiming her future.  Bridget is right on her course.  I wish I could help more.  I wish she wasn’t still ill.  But I can at least be as courageous as she is.  I can hope with her.  I can stand with her or walk.  I know that put to the question, Bridget prefers this journey than losing the right, the privilege, to journey at all.  Bridget is free.  Many of us are not as free as she is, who knows what she is fighting for.

Question:  What are you fighting for?  If nothing were to ever change for the better in your life, what makes your journey worth it?  Please tell me your story.

Celebrate Your Imperfections

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Self-Care Tip #153 – Celebrate your imperfections and adequacy.  Be a friend to yourself.

Chrystal came in.  Years with degrees of depression pulling her up and down leave her hoping to reach euthymia (steady level mood).  Chrystal and I frequently find ourselves talking about the grief that comes with this.  But not so much today.  She was hopeful after a new medication trial gave her a week with less melancholy.

In depression, even a few hours of relief from the dark inability to feel pleasure or interest, even a few hours when hope slips in can be enough to remind us what it is about life that is worth living for.  Chrystal has stood in and out of that shard of hope many times.  Each time it returns, she turns her face into it.  Hungry.  Wanting.  Alive still.  Responding to what any of us do, as any of us would, when hope is on us.

Celebrating a little together this lovely hope, she was nevertheless aware that it might sneak off again.  She said, “We’ll see.”  I said, “We’ll see.”

And then I remembered.  “Why can’t we celebrate your flaws?  Who says we can’t?”  They have beauty.  They have depth and shape and the loveliness that comes only from pain.

Chrystal looked at me doubtfully.  “Really?  I’m not so sure about that.”

I remember Someone perfect.  Last I heard, He had some pain and scars too and it didn’t change His status, value, or essence.

If we can’t celebrate our imperfections, we can’t celebrate anything because that is who we are.  Imperfect, all of us, except for One.  All of us adequate.

Adequate.  I celebrate that I am adequate today.  Adequate to live, to love, to do what I do.  “Adequate” implies a personal balance between perfection and flaws.  It implies a presence with both poles.  It does not quantify.  It does not mean that we don’t continue to grow or hope.

I’m not sure about everyone’s opinion about my self-perception, my attitude, or my effort at life.  However, I am growing surer of my own and am getting glad about that.  I’m wondering if Chrystal can celebrate her flawed self as much as she celebrates the hope of escaping her suffering.  What about you?

If each of us in turn were as pleased with ourselves as that, still hoping, still growing, still hurting, still suffering, what then?  Let’s celebrate together, alone, healthy, ill or wherever we find ourselves.  Let’s celebrate our imperfections and adequacy.

Question:  How do you live with your adequacy?  Please tell me your story.