What are you Living for? Answer to Mental illness in this Revolution.

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“Latest Banksy Graffiti”

Why do you get out of bed every morning? To go to work? You think, “Life is about working and then someday I’ll die.” Are you living to go to school? Perhaps a student for life, the best is to gather and gather. A klepto of information.  Maybe you live, instead, to stay home and not leave. That can be worth it. Leaving home feels like going to one’s death for many, in fact, with anxiety.

Is what you are living for, worth “living for?” Why didn’t you kill yourself last night? I’m not asking for “13 Reasons” or glamorizing suicide in any way, like it is, unfortunately, being done in the media these days. I’m just asking. (Straight face. Eye contact.) Why?

Suicide is increasing, this year up by ~30%. It’s sad but I’ve heard the ignorant say, “When our world is being overrun by humans, this is just one more way to improve population management.” Why anyone would say that, let alone to a psychiatrist, speaks toward the unfortunate person saying it more than anything. Even so, these are the people that contribute to our cultural stigma and sentiment, like the wrong colloid for growth. This stigma is best diminished by peer-to-peer influence. Your voice; you speaking up is the painting over the foul-language graffiti. You speaking of your own journey with suicidality or any related diseases changes the ignorance into empathic knowledge. 

We are in the mental health equivalent to the industrial revolution. Fortune. We are wealthy in mental health treatment options. Bling! Bling! It wasn’t too long ago when we were trusting depression medical therapies to crude agents bulky, and bluntly stunning our neuroreceptors. These were a big stick coming down on a flower.

Think of the cart and horse transforming into the automobile; course into sleek and refined; slowly moving and grossly impacting changes, contemporarily working rather as specific rapid responses. Now remember your parent, or mine, who never had the opportunity to receive a treatment that would work in a matter of weeks, and without turning her/him into a zombie-blimp.

A child stands there going through his own vasovagal experience, scared and confused while watching his favorite person in the whole world performing like a broken toy. The child tries to make sense and restabilize their once clarified existence. The parent goes through this at first for about six months and then somehow “gets better.” Was it the prayer that worked? Was Momma finally able to “pull through it?” Was it because the child’s behavior finally became “good enough” to please God who then condescended to make his momma better? Momma does well for another 2 years. She’s connected. She’s filled with purpose. The memory turns into something like, “Boston’s worst winter in fourteen years;” briefly print-worthy and then thankfully, not much more.

Then momma is again dark, hopeless and staying in bed whenever she can. The child, Teddy, is now a preteen of ten. This comes back, like finding another letter from his cheating dad’s girlfriend under a magazine in the back of the closet where his golf clubs are. And instead of six months, Momma’s change lasts about two years. (Can we even call it a “change” when it lasts two years?)

The amorphic improvement comes again though, like a miracle, but who can trust it. Miracles aren’t gotten in vending machines after all. We can’t buy them with a paycheck.

Sadly, as Teddy feared, another some many months later, Momma drops again. This time she plummets rather than drops, into a drunken, more terrible condition. For longer, and the boy is now a teen. He at first appears more calloused. Yet, if questioned, he will show his grief and bewildered young self, just there behind a gentle touch, or a cluster of inquiring kind words. He loves her well. Why can’t she love him? Moms who love their kids will get up in the morning. They’ll shower and they’ll talk. They don’t write suicide notes or leave their son’s to find them half conscious when they get home from school. Not mom’s who love their kids.

Our moms, yours and mine in the seventies, didn’t have the privilege of taking treatments that worked or worked well, and rapidly. We are so blessed. How to grasp the immense difference in our Age; this Age of mental health revolution.

Now a little boy sees this change in his favorite person in the world. She is fortunate enough to receive medical treatment, and within weeks is “back to myself again.” This little family escaped years of decomposition by the ravaging damages from brain illness. 

My grandma, Elsie Louise, (isn’t that a great name!), was washing her laundry in a new machine that decreased her labor by many hours. One day, when she was daydreaming about her young handsome husband, or maybe it was the chicken she lost to the fox, when she screamed, jerking out from a terrible pain in her hand. Her fourth finger was gone. She lost it, pulled off by the twisting force of the machine’s internal grips.

Now we place our laundry in a closed lidded box we just walk away from. We don’t even think about the appendages we are allowed to retain. We don’t imagine the privilege. 

In psychiatry, it is like this. The treatments we had generations past were better than none. But, enter now into 2018, and we don’t realize how good we have it. We forgot most of the print-worthy stories back then. Not to use the treatments from this revolution, is going back to the darker ages of medicine. The treatments save lives. They bless. They make us rich in life. Bling! Bling! Look at your wealthy character. Healthy.

Why are you still alive? Whatever you answer, fight for that. Take advantage of the mental health revolution and live well.

Questions: What are some stories of those you have loved who missed out on mental health treatment? What are some stories of those who did not? Where is the difference?

Self-care tip: Speak! We need to hear you. You are painting over the foul-language graffiti of ignorance!

Keep on!

False Thoughts about Getting Healthy

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Think of walking in a rainstorm. Your clothes and hair hang heavily. They provide no protection. They offer no remedy. You take a hand towel out of your bag and try to mop up your icy wet face. Wring it out and continue to wipe. 

This is like choosing to do all the psychosocial efforts in your life, but missing the biological. Until you treat the underlying illness, much of our efforts to heal are like using a hand towel to dry off in the rain storm. We think that we can get better without medication. Or, we may reject other treatment options, like ECT or TMS. We think false thoughts. 

It’s not healthy to take pills. 

I’m better than that. 

All I need is God. 

My parents would be upset, so I shouldn’t. 

If my work found out, I’d lose my job. So I shouldn’t. 

THC is better. 

Exercise is better. 

Some of these are entirely false. But some are just partly false, encased in a disconnected truth. This “rain and the hand towel” idea is not an analogy meant to minimize or bring shame to those who choose not to engage in treatment. It is not meant to talk down. Please forgive me for the crudeness and limitations. It is just meant to crack open this idea.

Yesterday, Louise commented that her physician told her taking sertraline, or Zoloft, was like taking “a vitamin for my brain”. That clicked for her! Vitamins were ok.

Question: How has your physician helped you get past not wanting to take treatment? How could your provider do better with this?

Self-care Tip: Allow healing with medical treatment for medical disease.

Get You Some of That – Medical Treatment for Medical Illness

…Continued from yesterday.

Cole_liveCole Swindell – Get Me Some Of That

Why do I feel so horrible when I start a treatment that is supposed to help?

Medication treatments for depression and anxiety, and some other brain illnesses, often worsen how you feel before you feel better. I can’t tell you how many patients have told me that if they had known this before, they never would have stopped their mediation(s).


Yesterday, our post discussed a Dr. Jones and Presley.

Presley fired Dr. Jones when after following her directive, he subsequently experienced an extreme panic attack. Dr. Jones may not have done anything wrong in her treatment recommendations. Presley was just an individual, as compared to a “number on the curve” of treatment responders. Escitalopram, the medication discussed as an example yesterday, (one medication option out of many), may have been dosed at an initial amount that Presley’s body couldn’t handle “straight out of the gait”, so to speak. But likely, if he had started at a lower dose, maybe ½ or even ¼ of the tablet, and then waited for his body to accommodate to the medication. Then Presley would have tolerated it. Presley would have tolerated slowly increasing the medication if approached, rather, piece-by-piece of a pill. I’ll even joke with patients,

I don’t care if you lick the pill. Just get on it.

When slowly titrating a medication, it allows the individual’s neurotransmitter receptors to down-regulate whilst the agent floods the receptors. If there is a neuron targeting another neuron, there’s a baseline balance in time. There is a baseline understanding between these neurons. An agreement, of sorts. “I’ll sit here and receive your messages,” (neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine). “I’ll then carry those messages on your behalf to their intended recipients,” (such as the amygdala or hippocampus). But then this person artificially takes a higher quantity of these messengers, for example, by way of medications, and floods the system. The receivers, (or neuroreceptors), have to adjust to this to establish a new healthy baseline. 

In this initial time of treatment, when 1st introduced to the increased neurotransmitter-load, (ex: as released by a tablet of Escitalopram), there can be a negative response, such as panic and/or depression emotions. We call this, “initiation side effect’s.” Once the neuroreceptors get used to the new load, then the response improves. 

After accommodating to the new pharmacology, the brain is allowed to experience the blessing that comes from treatments, and heal.

Some individuals are outside of the curve and cannot tolerate the standard initial treatment dosage, like Presley was. Some are inside, and can without much difficulty. The point in treatment, though, is that the person just needs to get on it.

Get on treatment. However you do it. You have to make the treatment work for you, an individual, in your own way. The prescriptions are there to serve you. You aren’t there to serve the medications. I like to analogize Jesus’ statement,

The Sabbath is there for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Make it yours as an individual and reap the benefits; the blessings inherent there. (See Mark 2:27). 

If you don’t get on the treatment, you won’t get better. Anything less than this will be inadequate. It’s like drying water off your face with a hand towel while still walking in a rainstorm.

What is your agenda in treatment? List it. Write it out. Then, go get you some!

Outside a medical approach is like flicking water off in the context of a rainstorm. If your agenda is getting to your healthy self. Get out of the storm and get dry. Then go get it. 

You have a medical condition. Treat it with the assistance of a medical professional. 

I don’t go to a plumber to help with my electrical home repair. I don’t go to an accountant or a church counselor to treat a medical one. 

The plumber, the accountant, the church counselor are what they are. This is not minimizing their efficiency in their own fields of excellence. But why do we seek care in psychiatry from those who haven’t studied this? From those who are not experts in this? Maybe stigma keeps us away from psychiatric care. Maybe misinformation directs our search for mental health treatment elsewhere. 

Self-Care Tip: Get you some medical therapy for medical illness.

Question: What are further concerns you may have about taking medications? How would you prefer your medical providers to work with you? Please tell us your story. 

But I’m Not Someone Who Likes Taking Meds

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Presley couldn’t breath. A truck just drove through his thorax. A monster-hand was closing around his heart. He couldn’t swallow well. Was something stuck in there? Dizziness nearly dropped him, but instead of moving to sit down, like any other normal person would do, he bolted. A fire chased him. He had to escape or he would die. In the bathroom where he found himself, the mirror reflected a sweaty face and crazy eyes. Was he dying? Presley’s phone looked blurry as he dialed, 911.

Please help! I’m having a heart attack!

That was the first time this had happened. After the third visit to the emergency room over the past month, Presley was able to avoid calling 911, although still convinced he was going to die when the next episode hit. He agreed to seek counseling, where he was taught different skills to connect his mind and body, to slow his breathing down, to process, even when he was convinced he was dying.  For a time, Presley improved. It was like it never happened. He was almost able to convince himself that it wouldn’t happen again.

This turned over and over, feeling like he was going to die while losing his mind, re-engaging in counseling, thinking he was better, stopping counseling, and then another violent emotional event, thinking for sure, he would die.

It was after his second trip to the ER when he received the recommendation to schedule an evaluation with a psychiatrist. But he preferred to work through this in therapy. Presley didn’t like pills. He wasn’t someone who medicated. An olive-skinned athlete, he lived clean and didn’t believe there was much that healthy living couldn’t cure. And Presley did live clean. He ran fifty miles a week. He ate raw foods. He read his Bible.

After several months of this, his therapist, Dr. Wu, recommended he get a psychiatric evaluation. However, Dr. Wu agreed that he would continue to work with him, whatever Presley chose. (Was this the right thing for Dr Wu to do?) Presley chose, no. No psychiatrist. What would a psychiatrist do to him anyway?! He wasn’t crazy. (Except when he thought he was.)

Presley visited his primary medical physician, Dr. Belinda Jones. It had to be better than seeing a shrink!

Dr. Jones, I don’t want to take meds.

Dr. Jones, cleared him for any medical condition that might be contributing to his events. Only then was she able to convince him to try a “safe antidepressant”, escitalopram. After one pill, Presley had the worst event of his life. He’d never had any experience that was more terrifying. Presley didn’t go back to Dr. Jones, “of course.”

When these emotional tornadoes hit more frequently, he became paralyzed with fear that he would have them in public and be humiliated by them. Presley stopped going to work.  If it wasn’t for his rent, he’d never go back. But he had to. So finally Presley agreed to see a psychiatrist. …

To be continued

  • Sincerely, Dr. Q

Questions: What would you tell Presley? 

How would you like your physician and/or therapist to handle this, if it were you?

Why is Presley so opposed to taking medical therapies?

Please speak! We need to hear you.

Self care tip: Keep on! 🙂

The Path of More Resistance, and Brain Health

 

The bar hummed with the energy of human emotion.  It was one of the few places Alfred could still smoke in public. He remembered the first time he was directed to a smoking area in the airport that looked like an enclosure for zoo animals, with glass walls, and positioned in the line of traffic. What in the world?! So Alfred felt unjudged at the bar, and also pumped up.

Alfred got energy from being with people – gravitated to them like a little brother follows his big sister around. If it was the bar, or the smoke break, Alfred got energy if he wasn’t alone. He absorbed every moment, marinated in it no matter how brief. The “moment” was his forever, for however long that moment would last. He was inside the color, flavor, aroma, texture, and song. He noticed. And, Alfred grazed. Amongst ideas, people, choices, and of most anything that came into his field of vision, he chewed it up in that space of time, and then moved on without guilt. Generally people didn’t hold grudges when he moved on. Alfred was just so nice!

When Alfred was in sync with his energy, senses, feelings, and perceptions, and his wife was in sync with her own, she looked at him like he was someone she was interested in. He could make her laugh and play, whereas she was never normally someone who was playful. This was nectar to Alfred’s pollinator.

Out of sync, however, Alfred’s wife called him names when they argued. He was “flakey,” or “narrow-minded.”  And Alfred, awkward with conflict, developed the habit of escaping during those times. He did not like conflict.

Alfred began to drink a lot more alcohol. After work instead of going straight home, he’d “catch a few beers with the guys”. When entertaining clients he started joining them when he offered alcoholic beverages to his clients, imbibing during work hours. His work performance started to smell sour like his alcohol.

You can see where this is going for Alfred. When he came into my office, he reported his inability to enjoy anything, increasing hopelessness, and now when he left the bar in the evening, his mood regularly plummets, a false weight in the scale of life.

Alfred looked at me with a degree of distrust, expecting judgment. But of course, he was also coming to me for judgment – an evaluation and diagnosis, and then to present a plan for treatment.

The treatment plan was short this day. Go to alcohol rehabilitation. Telling Alfred that there was nothing else we could do for him until he engaged in a rehab, was nerve-racking for me. (I never know how a patient will respond after similar directives like this. Sometimes they are not kind. Especially when talking about their substances or addictions, of any sort.)

Alfred stood up, a bit like a mechanical man, thanked me for his contact referrals, and left. I thought that was the last time I’d get to see him. It’s impossible not to hope for the best.

The deal with brain illness is that the treatments I am able to offer in an outpatient setting are ineffective in this context. Other stuff going into the body hits those brain receptors, turning genes on and off, like Wile E. Coyote in the back country. It would be enabling the mal-behavior if I diverted our focus onto anything else. Even so, like so many in the company of users, it is wilting not being able to offer more.

About two months later, I was completely surprised when Alfred came back sober! He told me he did just what we talked about, and rehabilitated. More surprising though, was his statement,

Thank you for refusing to treat me. You saved my life.

Alfred was still married, and yes, the marriage was still volatile. But he wasn’t plugging his ears and disconnecting from his wife with alcohol. It was a start. And Alfred still had restarts available to him.

We did end up starting psychotropic medication and psychotherapy, with which Alfred continued to heal.

I am humbled by Alfred’s courage to pursue rehab, the path of more resistance, and recognize that I should never underestimate the same courage in others when they present similarly.

Self-care tip:  Taking the path of more resistance may bring just what we are hoping for.

Question: What have you done courageously? Where has it taken you? Please tell your story!

Dead kids and Mother’s Day 


To all the surviving mothers who celebrated this recent Mother’s Day without their children, lost to mental illness, we dedicate this post.  To the mom’s who have outlived their babies. To the mothers who have watched their boys and girls deteriorate slowly with piece meal pincing bites that brain illness has taken from them until they were gone. To the mommy’s of those who left them fast, at the end of a rope, under a car, at the point of a needle, or in the many bits of brain that a gun blows apart. 

I’m dedicating this post to the mothers who continue to live. Who remember more than the moment of their child’s death. Who celebrated on Mother’s Day the individual of her child that was more than his or her behaviors and emotions. 

This post is for the mothers who remain for us, we who need them still. We need you. Thank you for telling us your story and living with us, among us. For fighting for brain health, for freedom, we thank you. 

To the mothers who survive(d) the death of their children to mental illness, happy belated Mother’s Day. You are amazing to us. 

Today’s question is more of a request: Tell us your story please. 

Or, those of you who know these courageous women, and want to share, please do. We are listening. 

Self care tip: You tell me. How do you (they) do it?

Keep on. 

STOP! DON’T STOP! The quandary inside of us when deciding to take medication

Everyone says “Hi” to my dog, Timothy… Way more than to me. Silence.

Is it the springy fluffy hair, I wonder? They walk up, even speed, out of an unseen shadow without inhibition and rub him down. He is pleased every time, to say the least. Do I regret all the painful laser hair removal treatments I got years ago? Hm. I am half Lebanese after all and few really know how much fur I really came with.

(Curly-cue.)

Steve came looking for help. I spied him in the hallway before clinic. That’s always a little awkward for some reason. Running into someone out of context. Like we both are caught out of costume and the curtain just pulled up. (Gotcha!)

His strings pulled in, an inner tension, apparent even then. He looked susceptible to emotional or physical attack when we caught each others eye. I could see him wondering if this was “her”, his psychiatrist. What was he expecting?

When patients come in for treatment, it’s comparable to anyone acting on a realization that they’re vulnerable, asking help from a stranger. It can take immense courage.

Part of this understanding is what contributes to the awkwardness of meeting in the hallway, out of context. We are both a little undefended there.

So what would bring a person to do this to themselves? It doesn’t sound pleasant when put this way – vulnerable, asking help from a stranger.

Steve had a wife, kids, a job, a house, and a pet. Inside this bubble, Steve didn’t think he had reasons to feel the way he felt. He looked for them and felt stupid because everyone told him how good he had it. Nor did Steve see reasons to behave the way he behaved. He described his story, a rolling out of his life, like that of a hand stitched carpet. In it, we saw together that he had anxiety then, and then, and then. He had coped well mostly, until he hadn’t. Then he would spend some time falling out of circulation and incurring losses. Then he’d recover and forget. He’d forget that worse patch and redefine the lines around the man. Then again the lines would smudge, he’d get anxious and irritable beyond “control”, grapple within the darkness of the white noise, which panic brings, grapple for reasons why the anxiety came again. His identity would be so threatened, the suffering, the feedback from everyone around him would pull on him, that the lines of his person frightened him into treatment.

There Steve was. Timothy at his feet with his puffy furry head in Steve’s lap. Steve asking for help. At the same time as asking for help, he would also refuse, stating caution.

“I don’t want to change myself.

I like being the person who gets things done so well.

I like accomplishing things.” (He thought it was his anxiety that allowed him to do this.)

It reminds me of the, “Stop! Don’t stop!” that I’d tease my brothers with when we were kids.

People think that taking medication changes who they are. Understand that in order for this to be true, that would mean medication changes DNA code.

“Doesn’t it change my brain chemistry?”

Let’s say that were true, that medication changes brain chemistry. Still that isn’t changing your DNA. The DNA is what gives a person “personality,” or, what many of us say, “Who I am.”

After getting laser hair removal, I didn’t change my DNA, but I don’t have as much hair. When my kids were born, I checked, and sure enough, DNA…. They’re gorgeous! Wink. (That’s done with one heavy cluster of eyelashes around my dark Lebanese eye.)

Question: What are your fears about taking medication?

If you have taken medication, how did you see it affected your identity?  What happened to who you call, “Me?”

Please SPEAK! We need to hear you. Keep on!

Self-care tip: Self-care means taking care of yourself even at the biological level. It starts with “Me.”