Safety in Connections With Others

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Marcy came in looking like a question mark.  Despite her gorgeous face and swank, she still looked uncertain.

Marcy was born into chaos.  Get this.  Her father who spent her whole childhood using drugs, alcohol and strange women, who was emotionally and mentally absent most of her life, who is possibly still using, is the one person in the whole world Marcy calls her confidante.  “He gets me.  I can really talk to him.  Even my husband doesn’t understand me like he does, you know, emotions.”

Marcy, despite years of fear, panic attacks, the survivor of abuse and neglect was clinging to her dad.

Marcy was lost in the headlights of the oncoming life.  She thought after having spent her entire life afraid, it was time to heal so she though she’d give medication therapy “a try.”

After initiating medications for Marcy’s post-traumatic stress disorder and after her panic-attacks stopped, Marcy started attending NAMI.  What a believer in NAMI she became!

They just make it easy for me to talk about myself, say things I can’t even tell my husband, and they know what I’m going through.

Listening to her talk about them was letting fresh air into our room.  Hope floated in.  Now Marci doesn’t believe that her dad is the only one in the world she can connect with at this level.  Now Marci does not feel as alone.  Why?  Because she went and got connected.  She whacked through the briar hedge of misperceptions, biases and insecurities between her and others.

Marci still thinks largely of her father, but he’s not the only one.  He has some competition to the throne which means, Marci has a better chance of being influenced by someone healthier.  Rather than attack Marci’s attachment with her Father, NAMI is giving her more to fill her heart with.

Self-Care Tip #285 – Find safety in healthy connections with others.

Questions:  When have the connections in your life saved you from warped views?  How do you think we could do better with this?  Please tell me your story.

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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The Spider Sat Down Beside Her – Mental Illness

Self-Care Tip #178 – Find your courage and answer to stigma.

The Little Miss Muffet scenario explained by D...

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Something as simple as taking pills can sabotage us.  The act of putting it in our mouths signifies all sorts of things from religion, to freedom, to personal identity and beyond; even someone who is trustworthy versus not.  Pill – take away her children.  No pill – could be president.  Pill – discredit whatever he says.  No pill – worth listening to.

Martha is a mother of four lovely girls.  Her husband is divorcing her and she wonders what he will do in the process.  She’s been depressed in the past and anxious with a history of panic attacks.  She took two years to get over them using breathing exercises and other therapies. She didn’t use medication.  I don’t need to tell you what her husband thought of meds or of her during that time.  It was a miserable time for her.

Now, during this new stressful time, she has relapsed in mood and anxiety problems and is terrified that if her husband finds out, he’ll take the kids.  Martha sees mental illness as a bullying tool for anyone to dump her over.  Little Miss Muffet is a story she often has compared to her situation.  The spider is the mental illness she feels is dangled over her to her demise.  Martha is bullied and scared away.

Taking pills makes me feel like I’m crazy!

Note: it’s a type of crazy she interprets as being something different from the crazy of mental illness.  For Martha, the crazy that comes with medication therapy is more sinister and discrediting than the worst experience of terror any of us have ever gone through, i.e. panic attacks.

Every day, we who take medication for emotional illness have to answer to those accusations.  We contend with the fingers pointing our way, the jeering in our memory of loved ones and the boxed presumptions we find ourselves in.

This may sound a little dramatic to some out there, although familiar.  To others, it is an understatement of what they courageously confront to take care of themselves.  Each of us must come up with our own answers and find our own courage.

Martha finally decided on medication treatment and within two days she was amazed to find that she could eat without throwing up and no longer felt anxious.  She still insisted that taking medication was only temporary but getting a pill dispenser had helped her get past some of her daily battle with stigma.  She just opened the lid and poured the pills into her palm, threw them back and swallowed without looking.  Martha found it easier not to dispense each pill each day out of each bottle.  It was also easier for her to keep this information secure in the confines of our office.  For Martha, for now, this was how she answered.

Question:  How do you answer to stigma?  How do you maintain your sense of freedom when other forces tell you that you are not free?  Please tell me your story.

The Healing Process Can Be Confusing.

Self-Care Tip #127 – Because feelings can be confusing during self-care, keep connected to someone(s) objective.

A colleague told me the other day about his patient.  Of course he didn’t name him, but I’ll call him Brent.  Struggling with melancholic depression for many years, Brent started medication therapy.  He began feeling better emotionally.  But at the same time, he started to believe that he didn’t love his wife any more and started a dialogue with her about possible divorce.

It’s tempting to judge Brent.  Easy to say, “What the…!?”  Still, because we don’t know the full story, nor his thoughts, nor consider ourselves his Judge, we won’t.

Self-care can be a tricky road.  It’s not all ah-ha moments and nirvana.  Have you been there?  Confused by your feelings as you heal?

A common reaction to improving is associating the things in our “ill” life – when we were feeling terrible – with other elements that may not have had anything to do with our bad feelings.  Perhaps Brent’s wife was guilty by association and at some level he may have connected her to the dark emotions he so desperately never wants to feel again.  Bits of this idea are also in a previous post about panic disorder and grief.  For example, someone may change her profession because she believes her previous work is causally linked to the way she felt when ill.  Maybe Brent wanted a change in spouses for the same reason.

When we are going through the healing that self-care brings, we might not find our new emotional baseline for a while.  During that time, and because feelings are often not trustworthy, stay connected to the support network, confidants, the trusted few who can be our third-party advisors.

Although taking action on for our own health involves lifestyle changes, knowing when and how to get feedback is key.

Question:  What has confused you about your healing and self-care journey?  Please tell me your story.

Toughing It Out! …Is Not What You Think.

Mental Health of our Military

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Self-Care Tip #114 – Tough it out.  Be a friend to yourself.

Trying to tough it out is good it’s just not what most people think.

Many people think that toughing it out means staying med-free and getting through melancholy, anxiety, emotional chaos with gritted teeth.  They gather a degree of commendation from weathering out the behavioral and emotional problems until they either feel better or don’t.

This is not the kind of toughing it out that I’m calling worthy of our life efforts.  It is in fact the opposite.  Toughing it out is doing what may be socially and culturally counterintuitive.  Getting medical care sooner than later.  Not waiting to see what will happen before getting medical care if it is indicated.  Believing the medical data, the physician you trust, the knowledge that mental illness is medical, biological and often PROGRESSIVE over time.

Waiting means you are getting more ill on a cell level and at higher risk for your future and waiting is not being tough.

Toughing it out is digging into your courage bank every day to take that pill when you feel ashamed of it.  Toughing it out is fighting for your brain’s future.  Toughing it out is sacrificing what ever you need to, to give your loved ones and yourself the healthiest you possible.  Even if that means talking yourself into it, going up against your fears, ignoring prejudice, ignoring opposing recommendations from your favorite sources.

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This calls for thick skin.

Candace tells me she still intuitively can’t believe this, even though her mind tells her it is true.  She takes her medication but it still hurts a little every time.  Like she’s betraying herself.  Like she must grieve for herself.  Candace says the apparent calm, decrease in anxiety, improved relationship with her children, and the flowering hope eases her inner psychic pain.  Candace is drawing strength every day from the growing evidence of health.  Candace is tough.

Question:  What are you getting tough with in your life?  How do you do it?  Please tell me your story.

Grieve to Be Present With Yourself

 

Maria Yakunchikova "Fear" 1893-95

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We grieve when we get sick.  And we grieve again when after getting well, we get sick again.  Then the grieving can be even more terrible because you know what’s coming.  In Pearla’s case, she didn’t know she was grieving but she knew she was sad and terrified at the same time.

I asked her if she thought that staying in bed, loosing interest, isolating, crying jags out of the blue might be related her grief about getting sick again.  She said no at first and then said, “I’m disappointed.  I thought this was over for me.”  All over, she couldn’t trust herself.

Pearla was afraid. And that fear was always there.  Now she couldn’t put it out of her mind.  “What if I have another panic attack?  I can’t take it!”  “What if,” was always on her mind.

Readers, a panic attack is more terrifying than just about any immediate experience.  If you’ve never had one, it is almost impossible to imagine the depth of terror it causes.  It is so horrible, that people even change professions because of it.  I remember a surgeon who actually went back to residency and studied a new specialty because he linked his panic to his profession.  That’s another 4 years of grueling work, readers.  That’s the kind of fear panic produces.

Pearla was not only in the throes of this fear, she was also in the throes of grief.  This is a deep sadness any of us who have lost a beloved hope can relate to.  Pearla didn’t know that was why she didn’t want to get out of bed.  All she knew is over the last 2 weeks she was loosing herself and in exchange, getting something she desperately did not want.

Somehow though, after hearing about her sadness from her own mouth, Pearla agreed.  She saw the grief and after seeing grief, she could be more present with it.  It was almost like her face materially came out from hiding.  Grief lost some hold on her.  She was a little less sad and a little less afraid.

Self-Care Tip #111 – Let yourself grieve.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  How do you grieve?  Was it worth it to you?  Please tell me your story.

Recipe for Treating Panic Disorder, According to Me

 

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Recipe for Treating Panic Disorder, According to Me:

1.  If it’s taking you to the emergency room feeling like you’re going to die, or your spouse can’t peel you off with your phone calls and new needs – you have a medical illness.  Get medication.

2.  If you are afraid of being humiliated by an episode so much that you avoid public places, or if you are more fearful than not – you have a medical illness.  Get medical treatment.

3.  If you are panicking out of the blue, without something setting you off/triggers like finding your husband in bed with your dentist – this is biological.  Get a medical physician’s opinion.

4.  If you are awakening from sleep in a panic attack, when you feel like you have to get out of bed and escape and the episode lasts for about 10+ minutes before you recover yourself – this is not because you’re not trying hard enough.  Get on a serotonerigic therapy and a sleep aid(s).

5.  If you are drinking more alcohol to relax and out of fear of going to bed – get suspicious and get smart.  Medication therapy or alcohol?  It stumps me when someone says they don’t feel comfortable with taking medication that has beed studied in double-blind studies on thousands of people and reviewed and analyzed and more… but they do feel comfortable with alcohol.  That’s not friendly with yourself.

6.  If you think you are going crazy and realize your fears and suspicions don’t make sense; if you think you are possibly going psychotic over and over – you’re having a medical illness of the brain and body called panic disorder.  Get to your nearest treating physician and trust them.

 

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7.  If this is you, don’t go get insight or supportive psychotherapy at least until you have been on medication therapy for 6-8 weeks.  What you are going through is not because your mom yells at you too much.  It doesn’t have to have a reason.  It is medical.  Treat it medically.  If you go to therapy too soon, you will see that you can’t give what you don’t have.  (I may have offended some people saying this.  Sorry.)

8.  If you don’t get treatment, expect that depression may likely follow soon.  Anxiety and depression are bedfellows and can’t be apart for long.

    Self-Care Tip #92 – View Panic as a medical illness.  It is.  Be a friend to yourself.

    Question:  Have you or someone you known used a similar recipe or a different one?  Please tell me your story.