Guest Post by Tim Stoddart
Edit and Post Design by Christy Zigweid
Photo by markus53 via Pixabay - made using @WordSwagApp
In general, anxiety is part of the human experience. It’s a natural reaction to stress. It might show up as sweaty palms before an interview, chaotic thoughts clashing in your head before making a big decision, or a general sense of unease in daily situations like meeting new people. Anxiety spans across a broad spectrum.
One of the most common mental illnesses affecting U.S. adults--about 40 million—are anxiety disorders. When anxiety levels become difficult to control and negatively affect day-to-day living, it can be deemed an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can lead to a host of physical problems, as well as life problems: anxious habits, substance abuse, difficulty with relationships, problems at work.
No matter how it shows up in your life, anxiety can be troublesome. An anxious response can range from uncomfortable to inconvenient to overwhelming. Even in situations of “minor” stress, our brains behave differently and we don’t always think clearly.
Your Brain on Anxiety
Our brains can also trigger an anxious response from something internal—a quiet thought or worry—and experience the same fear, dread, or apprehension. Our bodies still react, and our thought patterns can become clouded by emotions.
Anxiety is a powerful force in your brain. But how you react to it can make a huge difference in the power it has over you. Don’t think of anxiety as all bad! That energy in us can also help us to be more productive, pay attention to detail, and creative. It’s not about beating anxiety, but outsmarting it in your everyday life.
Being told to “just breathe” can be really frustrating in the heat of anxiety, but it’s actually great advice. In a research study, scientists found that certain emotions change our breathing pattern. Similarly, by taking control of our breathing, we can change the way that we feel.
When we’re anxious or stressed, our heart beat elevates and our breathing becomes fast and shallow. If we continue this breathing pattern, we prolong the emotional response. According to the study, the best medicine for anxiety is “deep, slow breathing into the belly.”
Does your mind ever start racing, but you need to get focused again? Grounding techniques are a practice in mindfulness that you can use every day. When the thoughts start picking up speed, ground yourself by focusing on something concrete.
Focus your attention on sensory details around you and stay in that moment. Wiggle your fingers and watch their movements. Tap your feet in a rhythm. Focus on those sensations and the control that you have over your body. Look up at the sky, hone in on the movement of the clouds. Describe the colors and shapes of the leaves—aloud or in your head. Whatever you can do to put yourself in the present and relax, do it.
We spend so much time worrying about the past and the future, but things slow down when we can put ourselves in the present. In general, you can practice mindfulness at any time—while you’re eating, in the shower, on a walk, or listening to music. It can help in any intense emotional state.
It’s easy to lose touch with Mother Nature amidst our busy lives. But, time spent outside is important—it’s a break from our everyday stresses, it can help us to relax and breathe easier, and it’s the ultimate place to get serene and practice mindfulness. Even if it’s just for a short stroll, by stepping outside to appreciate the tangible beauty in our world, we can bring ourselves back to center.
A great activity to practice outdoors is meditation. When we’re tangled up in anxiety, it might seem impossible to sit still, be quiet, and meditate. Like any skill, meditation gets easier with practice.
Think of meditation as personal therapy time—a space to untangle your intense emotions. First, control your breathing and let your emotions settle. Then, quiet your mind. What are you feeling? Are you bothered, angry, fearful, stressed? Taking the time to meditate reminds you that—here, in this moment—you are safe and you are okay.
You can meditate at home, outdoors, or even in a quiet place on your work break. Meditation isn’t limited to sitting cross-legged in the lotus position. You can sit in a chair, lie down, or take a walk. Some people enjoy guided meditation recordings, calming music, or nature sounds, while others prefer quiet. And it doesn’t have to last an hour—try 15 minutes, 5 minutes, or even just 1 minute.
Reason with Yourself
If we can slow down our thoughts, we have a chance to challenge some of our thinking. When you’re feeling nervous, afraid, or overwhelmed, talk to yourself like you would a friend.
What’s going on? What’s inspiring your fear or apprehension? Are your fears posing an imminent threat, are they far-off in the future, or are you stuck on the worst-case-scenario? What can you control, and what’s out of your control?
Take action when you can, but so much in life is out of our control. Ease the panic by identifying what you can do and what you must let go. You can use internal self-talk to get real with yourself; try talking aloud, or writing those thoughts into a journal to make more sense of them. Reasoning with yourself may not “fix” the problem, but you parse through the intense feelings and see things more realistically.
Be Kind to Yourself
Many people, like myself, get frustrated with their anxiety. We perceive ourselves negatively when anxiety has a hold on us. Instead, make an effort to be a patient and accepting friend to yourself. Allow your feelings to exist without judgment. Bolster yourself against negative thoughts, rather than putting yourself down even more.
One of the best ways to practice this is through positive affirmations—statements or mantras that you use to bring positive thinking into your life. You can say them in your head, aloud, or write them down and post them somewhere you can see them. The idea is to practice them daily and change the color of your thoughts. No need to be insincere—use statements you believe in, that will actually help you.
I am safe. Life is good. It’s a beautiful world.
Let it Out
Last but not least, we all need an outlet for our feelings. With any emotion, it manifests in our body as energy—and you can feel that pent up energy and tension with anxiety. Find a way to let it out.
For many of us, this means having a trusted friend you can talk to or call in tough moments, or scheduling time to meet with a therapist. Talking it out is a way to release those feelings and reason with yourself and someone else in the process.
There are also healthy routes of self-expression worth trying. Journaling is extremely effective for many people, helping them to interpret and understand their thoughts. But, writing isn’t the only way—paint, draw, collage, sing, dance, cook a meal. The idea is to find a way to express whatever chaos goes on in your brain so you can lessen the negative impact it has on you.
Anxiety is Smart but You're Smarter
About the Author
Have you ever wondered what on earth people are banging on about when they mention 'healthy boundaries?'
The word 'boundaries' comes up a lot in therapy, in coaching, in life actually! We may have a sense of what boundaries are but the concept can be difficult to describe. Boundaries are not concrete. There are no hard-and-fast rules, no one-size-fits-all to boundaries. So, if you're not sure what exactly they are, then you are most certainly not alone.
Because we create and maintain our own boundaries, they are often something we don't even notice. It's becomes an 'unconscious habit'. If we are lucky, we've had parents or other adults who have role modeled healthy boundaries to us and we learn automatically how to have and set healthy boundaries, too. With some luck, we know when to say 'yes' or 'no' - and feel no fear when we do it.
If we are lucky.
But not everyone is that lucky.
We know that healthy boundaries are rooted firmly in a clear sense of self-worth. If we value ourselves, we tend to have healthy boundaries and if we don't, or if we're uncertain about our worth, then our boundaries become fuzzy, weak, rigid, broken.
And that means we are vulnerable to getting hurt or abused (or we may even hurt others!).If you have found yourself saying "People always take advantage of me" or asking "Why am I always treated so badly?!" then it's possible that you have "unhealthy" boundaries. The good news is that this is totally workable!
So what do healthy boundaries look like?
Do you have someone in your life whom you just know will not allow you to take advantage of them? Whom you just know will say 'no' if you try to push them to do something they don't want? Who won't meet you or do you a favour unless they are truly able and have the time? Who will respectfully give you time when it's right for them and who can say no to you without being aggressive or rude?
Who won't take you on the mother of all guilt trips?
That person has healthy boundaries. They are clear about what's right for them and they can stand their ground and own their decisions without attacking or blaming you, others or themselves. They have a strong sense of self worth - and by that we mean, they believe they are worthy of good treatment.
And, even if you don't always like that they say no when you would rather that they say yes, you probably feel safe with this person. You have a sense that they are 'solid.'
That's their boundaries that you're sensing right there
People with healthy boundaries don't just treat themselves with respect - they naturally treat those around them with respect, too.
So, what do unhealthy boundaries look like?
An unhealthy boundary leads us to say 'yes' when we'd rather say 'no.' When we do that, we may become resentful, aggressive, and we may not take responsibility for our own choices and decisions.
When we have poor boundaries, we often surround ourselves with similarly boundaried people and wind up being abused (or being abusive) - in mild ways all the way up to dangerous ways.
Self-Assessment: If we are feeling like we are blaming others, or feeling victimised constantly, that might be a sign that our boundaries need some attention.
So - now you've watched it - how would you rate your boundaries
Here's another insight: sometimes our boundaries are really strong and healthy in some situations or with some people, and really poor with others. We challenge you to check:
*What's happening to your sense of self-worth in the places where you have difficulty?
* What are you saying to yourself about YOU?
* What beliefs do you have that are influencing the way you allow yourself to be treated?
Like Tanya says in the video there, our boundaries are not the responsibility of others. Naturally, we deserve respect. But we alone can teach other people that we believe we are worthy of that respect, and we can only teach others if we believe it about ourselves first.
Now - have fun with those condoms! ;)
ps: Please feel free to comment below with any other analogies you can share with us to help explain the idea of boundaries - we'd love to hear them!
pps: We wrote a detailed "Saying No" piece last year if you're interested in reading more.
About the Authors
Sally wants to help create a world of compassion for ourselves and others. A world where mistakes are allowed, gender roles don’t exist, sex ed in schools is a real thing and everyone dances – lovely! As a psychologist and psychotherapist in Ireland, she’s worked for nearly twenty years in private practice, with adults and trainee adults of all ages. She blogs on her own website, is a feature writer for super duper parenting website Voiceboks.com, does print and radio media work and has been known to Tweet. She’s the one running our Twitter page!
When she’s not working, you will find her engrossed in Science Fiction or some dark and Danish TV show, listening to music, watching the sea (while really, really wishing it were warmer), or figuring out how to work Lightroom on her Mac. All while munching on Bombay mix.
She’s happiest when dancing and erm…. her cat has his own Facebook page. We won’t link to that, it’s too embarrassing..
Tanya looks forward to living in a world where people know their worth, respect boundaries, and always have time for tea and chocolate. A magic bubble that protects her from sticky fingers, hormonal girls and dog hair would be awesome as well.
Her education and much of her training is in the areas of psychology and human potential. She worked as a licensed psychologist for over 14 years, with 10 of those years spent building her own successful private practice. In total, she has over 20 years of varied experience working, volunteering for non-profit agencies, and consulting to small business. Most recently she has launched her dream online coaching practice where she gets to work with motivated, amazing women who need help overcoming life’s hurdles. Exciting times!
She has lived in Ireland, Ethiopia (okay, just 6 months), Canada, and currently lives in central Texas with her husband, three girls (including fraternal twins), two dogs and three cats.
When she’s not finding ‘everyday moments’ to write about here or on her own blog, you can find her being walked by her dogs, unearthing unidentifiable food-objects under the couch cushions or baking her famous banana bread.
Tanya runs our Facebook page – and not to be outdone by Sally’s cat, her dog has its own Facebook page too.
Dan Lukasik returns to the podcast to discuss SUPPORT GROUPS. He has become a national thought leader and advocate of supports groups having lead one himself for the past 10 years.
NAMI Support Group Information: Link
Dan is the creator of Lawyerswithdepression.com. He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Compeer, Inc., a Buffalo organization that matches mentors with people who struggles with mental illness. Dan has also been featured on CNN, WSJ and NYT.
Guest post by Michelle Peterson
Edit and Blog Post Design by Christy Zigweid
Photo by karosieben via Pixabay made using @WordSwagApp
Addiction comes with many risks, including impulsive or dangerous behavior, health issues, and overdose, but many fail to realize how a serious addiction can have a fatal chain reaction that could lead to suicide.
The link between addiction and suicide is a strong one, according to many studies done over the years. One such study showed that the strongest predictor of suicide is alcoholism, a disease which carries depression along with it; either alcohol exacerbates symptoms of depression that were already present, or it has a dark effect on moods and can lead to isolation, violence, or a slow decline in the individual’s ability to function daily.
For some, substance abuse is a way to self-treat depression, anxiety, stress, or emotional pain from big life changes, such as a divorce or death in the family. It may be the only thing that helps the individual sleep or cope with everyday events, but the truth is, drugs and alcohol are only making things worse behind the scenes. It’s estimated that the suicide rate among those who suffer from substance abuse issues is as high as 45%, yet it’s still difficult for many people to start the conversation with a loved one who is at risk, in part because the subject is so taboo in our society.
We are afraid to bring up the word “suicide” for fear that it will be suggestive, or that it will offend the individual at risk.
Another issue is that not everyone knows what to look for. Even trained professionals may have a hard time diagnosing someone with a substance abuse problem--or with depression--and establishing a safe place for the individual to talk openly about their feelings.
Photo via Pixabay by Unsplash
Although warning signs of addiction can vary from person to person, there is a general list to be on the lookout for. It can be especially difficult to differentiate between warning signs and typical changes in mood and behavior when a teenager is concerned, so be aware that if you think these signs are present in a loved one, it’s important to talk to them about it before you make assumptions. Bringing up your concerns won’t put ideas into their head about suicide; if they were already thinking about self-harm, however, having the word out in the open could be enormously helpful in moving toward a healthy path. Some of the most common signs include:
In talking to a loved one about your concerns, one of the most important things to remember is not to introduce guilt. Being judgmental will only make the individual feel worse, and it’s likely that if they do have a substance abuse problem or are having thoughts of suicide, they already suffer from low self-esteem or feel isolated. Let them know that they are not alone, and listen with a sympathetic ear. Statements such as “I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling that way” are particularly effective.
If your loved one admits there is a problem but doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about it, that’s okay. You can still offer to help them find a counselor, group therapy, or healthcare professional to aid them in recovery. If you feel self-harm is an immediate danger, don’t leave the individual alone. Stay with them and call for help, and, if possible, remove any items that could be used as weapons or cause injury from the area.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- (TALK) 8255
About the Author
Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.
From Dan's Website:
Dan is a mediator living with bipolar disorder and the founder of MH Mediate. He has spent the past decade working to improve how people communicate about mental health. Dan has been a support group facilitator with the Mood Disorder Support Group of NYC, a speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and a Mental Health First Aid training instructor with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He studied mediation at the NY Peace Institute, where he sat on the Mediator Advisory Board and mediated criminal court, youth-involved, school, and community cases.
A sought-after speaker and trainer in mental health communication and conflict resolution, Dan has presented workshops at many conferences and led MH Mediate trainings in over a dozen states. He holds a masters degree in Mental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a bachelors degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Dan has delivered programs for the Department of Interior, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the University of Notre Dame, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Association for Conflict Resolution, the Association for Professional and Family Mediators, Cardozo School of Law, and many other organizations. He is excited to see conflict resolution become a bigger part of mental health across the United States.
Addiction is categorized as a mental illness, even if it’s not always seen that way. Those addicted to drugs or alcohol are twice as likely to have an additional mental illness. Unfortunately, these two illnesses can send a person down the path to self-destruction.
A good friend of mine committed suicide after years of struggling with alcoholism. It wasn’t until he found himself in a substance abuse program that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It makes one wonder if things may have turned out differently had he been diagnosed earlier.
Since my friend’s death, I’ve been taking a closer look at the connections between addiction and other mental illnesses. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD) is an illness which often walks hand-in-hand with addiction. PTSD is most commonly suffered by veterans and victims of abuse. The disorder causes a number of disruptive symptoms including flashbacks, insomnia, and depression. With the modern stigma against mental illness, some sufferers of PTSD go untreated. Without proper treatment, PTSD symptoms grow worse, leading those with the disorder to self-medicate. Self-medication is most often done with alcohol but also can be done with a variety of drugs. Below, we highlight a few of the dangers of self-medication and the reasons those suffering from addiction should get help.
Self-Medication Leads to Addiction
When a person self-medicates with drugs or alcohol to feel better, he becomes increasingly more likely to continue the behavior in order to feel normal.
Not only does self-medication lead the person to feel he needs the substance to go about his life, but it also creates a physical dependence on the substance. Addiction is the last thing a person struggling with mental illness needs.
Substance Abuse Increases the Risk of Suicide
Those who abuse a substance are six times more likely to attempt suicide.
This alarming statistic does not include the added risk for suicide experienced by PTSD sufferers. It also fails to incorporate the risk of accidental suicide via overdose. As the individual increases his tolerance to his substance of choice, he will begin to take more and more, and continue to slide down the slippery slope to unintentional overdose.
Self-Medication Damages Relationships
Any person who has struggled with addiction can attest to the strain the addiction placed on his relationships.
A person with PTSD may unintentionally prioritize his substance abuse above his loved ones.
The combination of social anxiety that often comes with PTSD, lack of proper treatment, and substance abuse is bound to batter one’s family ties. It is critical for people with PTSD, even those who already are self-medicating, to seek help immediately. Recovery is the only way to repair any damage to relationships.
Substance Abuse Makes Symptoms Worse
When left untreated, PTSD symptoms grow worse with time.
When the effects of drug and alcohol wear off, the original symptoms of PTSD are aggravated, leading a person to abuse substances even further. While self-medication may seem to help in the short term, it is wreaking havoc in the long term. The only real way to combat symptoms of PTSD is to seek help from a trained professional.
Treatment for PTSD does not have to be embarrassing or uncomfortable. There are many forms of therapy available to help you recover and cope in the way you want. PTSD service dogs also are available to make daily life more bearable. Whatever form of therapy you choose, it is critical that you find and undergo professional treatment. Self-medication may seem to work in the moment but in actuality, you are damaging your chances of living a normal life in the long run. Get help, seek support, and avoid addictive substances.
About the Author
Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created AddictionHub.org, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.
Guest post by Luke Cochran
Edit and Post design by Christy Zigweid
Photo by superanton via Pixabay CC made using @WordSwagApp
Sitting deep in a closet under my basement stairs lies my PlayStation 3. For years, it has been sitting there unused, dormant. However, a recent study has motivated me to dig it out of its tomb and donate it to help those in need.
In a 2012 study by The University of Utah, video games had a positive impact on children diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Much of the impact came from the mental stimulation users experience when gaming.
The study outlines how the patients interacted with games designed for therapeutic use. The University News Center describes how, "their own Patient Empowerment Exercise Video Game (PE Game), an activity-promoting game specifically designed to improve resilience, empowerment, and a “fighting spirit” for pediatric oncology patients." The study also included other games noted for their therapeutic use with chronic illness. Click here to see a preview of some of the games used in the study.
The video games used were also renowned for their promotion of "positive attitude and empowerment" - feelings that the study suggests stem from a games ability to "activate positive emotions and reward systems." This helped strengthen a "fighting spirit" for the patients, trickling down to other health related benefits.
Playing a Role in the Future of Medicine
Roger Altizer, a professor at the University of Utah’s College of Fine Arts and director of game design and production for the program, pointed towards the role the games can play in the future of personalized medicine. He spoke on how these games can motivate people in very individual ways because of how engaging and immersive the experience can be.
With this news comes not only reassurance that my countless hours on PlayStation 3 were of some benefit, but there is now so much possibility ahead for those children diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Just as people learn in different ways, so do patients when responding to different forms of treatment. While it will be a challenge to develop games tailored for therapeutic development, it should be in no comparison to the benefits it can provide so many people.
Therefore, instead of letting my PlayStation 3 collect dust, I think I'll put it to good use. Sending it to an organization like GameCrate (www.GameCrate.us) will make sure my games are reaching their full potential.
Connect with Luke
Article by Steve Johnson
Edited by Maureene Danielle
Post design by Christy Zigweid
Image by tiyowprasetyo via Pixabay CC made using @WordSwagApp
In the U.S., suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, and it claims “more than twice as many lives each year as homicides.”
There are certain behaviors and situations that can add to suicidal thoughts. Losing a loved one, losing a job, or breaking up with a loved one are just a few situations a person may find themselves in that add unneeded stress to their life.
Drug abuse, addiction, or mental illness may also add to, or be a part of, suicidal thoughts and feelings. There are many things you can do to help a struggling suicidal individual, but if you’re struggling with how to help someone you care about, these five ideas can help you be there for your loved one in a meaningful way.
5 Ideas to Help a Friend or Loved One Considering Suicide
Support is available through a variety of organizations, and there may be several local or national services available to meet various aspects of an individual’s complex mental health condition. There are places for addiction, drug abuse, many different types of mental illnesses, and suicidal thoughts, and it’s possible that an individual may require assistance from more than one organization.
One way to start seeking help is to call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can point you in the right direction to get the help that your friend or family member needs. Don’t forget that if someone is in imminent danger, call 911 immediately.
About the Author
Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips, and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.
Top Advocates Andy Behrman & Gabe Howard Discuss The Current State of Mental Health Advocacy (Podcast)
Two of the top advocates in the mental health community come on the podcast to discuss the current state of advocacy, the glamorization of mental illness and gun rights/control for those who struggle. Andy Behrman and Gabe Howard are fully engaged and in their usual high-energy style.
Guest Post by Hillary Doerries
Edited by Maureene Danielle
Post Design by Christy Zigweid
Photo by Skeeze via Pixabay CC made using @WordSwagApp
Looking back on my life, I can confidently say that my struggles with depression began when I was in high school. I remember having days when I would cry and cry for no obvious reason. Life was good – loving parents, an attentive boyfriend, and a seemingly bright future. But the sadness would strike out of nowhere, and there was no telling when it would end. My parents – especially my mother – would try to cheer me up by leaving me handwritten, encouraging notes on my pillow; or an uplifting card in my lunchbox.
No one, including myself, had any idea what was going on or how to handle it.
A handful of years later, I started seeing a therapist when I was in graduate school. After a conversation I had with Mark, the man who would become my husband, where I admitted that things that seem easy for other people just aren’t that easy for me, we decided that seeing a counselor was the next best step. We discussed my symptoms one by one: the days where I couldn’t get out of bed for class. My irrational anger and irritation toward the people in my life. My past relationships that failed because of my unfounded jealousy and unrealistic expectations. My extreme mood swings that I could never predict. My tendency to hole myself up in my basement apartment for days at a time. My general solitary, negative outlook on the world and my place in it.
I was a mess. I was never good enough. And I never would be.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helped to rewire my brain and taught me how to look at my world differently. It was tough work. One therapist I saw during my last year of graduate school often gave me homework to take home. Things to ponder, charts to fill out, and lists that tracked my mood at the end of every day. I had to somehow make sense of layers and layers of emotions that were just beginning to surface. I feared those close to me would leave. I learned to look at the hard evidence: what clues or information did I have that confirmed that this would actually happen? Many times, there was no evidence. After a time of practicing this type of mindfulness, my fears lessened, and I realized that I was not so alone after all.
It was also by seeing a therapist that I finally had a diagnosis for my struggles: Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, coupled with General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. For me, it was important to have a name for what I was going through, if for nothing else, to confirm that what I was feeling wasn’t my fault.
Therapy was only a piece of my healing process. There were also drugs. Lots and lots of drugs over the years: Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Zoloft, BuSpar, Cymbalta, Klonopin, Effexor, Deplin, and Abilify, to name a few.
It was a constant battle to find the correct combination of drugs. My medications were always being tweaked and adjusted, and each adjustment was always preceded with a crash in my mood. But I picked myself up and was back in the doctor’s office each time. It was also a battle to find a psychiatrist who would listen to me and not just dope me up with the latest drug. I’ve seen every kind of doctor from a general practitioner to a psychiatrist to a psychiatric nurse. Then, after six years of taking psychotropic medications, I gained over 100 pounds and I began to take medicine to counteract the side effects of the antidepressants: fish oil for high cholesterol, Levothyroxine for thyroid, and Metformin to help regulate my blood sugar. Now I was fat, still depressed, and looking for a way out.
In December 2014 I had a plan to end my life. I was overworked, stressed out, mad at the world, and in general, not taking very good care of myself. After an argument with my husband at work, I got in the car, floored it home, and went upstairs to my nightstand. I took a bottle of Klonopin out of the top drawer and through tears and cries of desperation, decided that while a part of me wanted it to just be done and over with, there was a larger part of me that wanted to figure this out. Somehow, I got back in the car, drove myself to my local inpatient mental health facility, and checked myself in. This move shocked some, but for me, it was the safest place to be for a few days. I stayed there for four days and completed all the tasks that were set before me. I met other people who were struggling, saw a new psychiatrist, who adjusted my meds, and cooperated with the nurses. After four days, I was ready to come home.
The next couple of years were kind of fuzzy. I was functioning – going to work, completing everyday tasks, and was social enough to see and be seen by others. But things still weren’t quite right.
Despite continued therapy and my cocktail of medication, I still felt there were persistent, undulating waves of depression that accompanied my everyday being. Sometimes the waves were small and not very noticeable. Other times they were loud and clear. I slept a lot during the day. Often I could only work for a few hours before feeling like I needed to go home and recharge with a nap. My psychiatrist kept adjusting my meds but I couldn’t shake this unsettling feeling that my life could be better. I just didn’t know how I was going to get there. I remained this way for several months - just kind of existing in a fog. It was like looking at myself in the mirror without my glasses, my face blurry and misshapen.
The months rolled by until finally my psychiatrist told me about a relatively new type of treatment for those with persistent depression for whom medication didn’t seem to cut it. It was called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and my own doctor happened to administer it right in his office. I discovered TMS works very much like an MRI. It’s a large machine that emits magnetic pulses meant to stimulate the brain’s pre-frontal cortex so over time, it can relearn how to make those good brain chemicals on its own, therefore possibly eliminating the need for antidepressants. After going round and round with the insurance company, I was finally approved for the treatment.
TMS is a big commitment. I had to be at my doctor’s office every weekday for six weeks in a row for about an hour at a time. For those six weeks, my life and my daily plans revolved around my TMS treatments. I ended my TMS therapy in April 2016 and I can say with confidence that going through TMS was a profound gift of new life for me. First, my mood has stabilized. People that know me often comment that I seem lighter and have more life behind my eyes. Sure, I have ups and downs as anyone does, but I am better equipped to deal with them in a level-headed, rational way. I still take naps, but now I take them because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. The best part is my doctor has started to wean me off of my antidepressants. I’ve been on the drugs for over six years now, so the process is a slow one, but by this fall, I hope to be rid of all of my meds.
While we may not know it as we’re plodding through the journey, we are changing every day. Even the small steps we take to help ensure a better quality of life help us in big ways down the road.
We have to believe, even when we feel stuck, that things won’t remain difficult and stagnant forever. As someone who has just managed to get my head above water regarding my mental illness, I want to tell others to never give up. Keep fighting for your mind and your health. Try new things and be an advocate for yourself, because at the end of the day, nobody else can but you.
And above all, if you are suffering, reach out and share your story. If nothing else, your bravery in doing so will prove to you that you are not alone.
To our health,
About the Author
Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton - From Fame to Prostitution to Advocacy
Hall of Fame Basketball Star Chamique Holdsclaw on Mental Resilience
Diana Nightingale on her husband Earl Nightingale's Principles for Mental Health Success
JoAnn Buttaro on Date Rape & PTSD Survival
Story: Its Never Too Late
Gabe Howard on BiPolar Advocacy
Phil Fulmer on Teen Suicide
Prison, Bipolar and Mania with Andy Behrman
Columbia Univeristy's Dr. Rynn on OCD