Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Not Dead Yet

The good thing about writing this type of blog is that I get to use my personal experience with mental health issues to shed some light on the reality of what’s in the news or in the lab. The bad thing about writing this type of blog is that sometimes my mental health issues get in the way of writing anything at all.

The Lucky Rebel is still alive, but it had some touchy moments in the past year or two. Sixteen times I sat down to write. Two drafts were discarded, and fourteen were saved to the WordPress app on my Android phone. All fourteen were lost when I switched phones this past April. I had a meltdown over the cell phone carrier’s inability to help me coordinate a simple transaction, and in all the confusion, I forgot to upload all those lovely thoughts and musings before the old phone was deactivated.

The problem is, this past year has been an entire series of little bitty meltdowns. Individually, they were a blip on the radar. Together, they snowballed into a complete lack of desire to get off the couch or write anything at all. That new, seriously comfortable office chair might have been a complete waste of money if I wasn’t sure that eventually I’d bounce back. I always do, and I’m getting more familiar with the ups and downs so I can remember that the downs won’t last forever.

Lately, the upward bounce is taking its sweet time, though, which has me a little worried. It’s ironic – the couch is much less comfortable than the chair. But my laptop is nicer than my desktop computer, so I talked myself into staying on the couch. And with that, my inner compass laid down on the couch with the TV remote in hand and decided to stay there.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still functioning. I’m still working. I can’t say my heart is in it all the time, but I keep up with the work. I’m working more slowly, but I’m working. (Trust me, I’m not billing by the hour anymore.)

Part of the problem is my medication. My psychiatrist prescribed a small dosage of Seroquel several years ago, and I began to sleep so much better. But when my son died suddenly in an accident, I asked him to increase it, and he did. Oh, that felt like the biggest blessing to me. If there was ever a time I needed something to help me sleep instead of freak out all night, it was then. I’m so glad I was already taking it. But then the doctor took off without a word, and I was given a new psychiatrist, who promptly proceeded to double my dosage – not just increase it, double it. Big mistake. The XR part was a great idea – that way, I only had to worry about taking one pill a day – but the increased dosage was completely counterproductive. I now sleep way too much, and I’m starting to feel lethargic when I’m awake. I have to get her to give me a lower dosage when she gets back from vacation.

Come to think of it, I remember that I started to take the new pills the day before I switched phones – I especially remember that I was too much of a zombie to engage in productive problem-solving, and it ended up costing me the rebate that teased me into trading up to a better phone in the first place. Nobody should be asked to make a major decision in that condition, but the rebate had a deadline, so I had myself convinced that I had to go for it. A rough adjustment to any new psych medication is somewhat normal, but that was a seriously ridiculous two months spent undoing the damage of day one, or day two, or whatever day it was.

If I had to guess, I’d say the other part of the problem was the grief itself. Every time I hear about another child’s death, it all comes back to me – the sadness, the pain, the extreme sense of emptiness, that awful choking feeling…everything. I live near a major urban area, so being down is pretty much a weekly thing. (I gotta quit watching the news.) So you can guess what events like a school shooting do to me.

There is no one reason this happens, and no one way to deal with it. It depends on your perspective.

You can crumple up in sadness, thinking that the world is a horrible place – and in one respect, you’d be right. Death does not discriminate by age, and the younger the person, the more horrible and unfair it seems. But in another respect, you’d be wrong because you’re denying the beauty that the rest of the world offers. It’s not healthy to think in terms of a horrible world for very long.

You can be properly outraged and indignant, resolving to do everything you can to make sure it never happens again – but it always does, because the problem has no single solution and we the people can’t seem to agree on the right way to tackle it. Focus on what you can control, and let go of what you can’t. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the only rational thing to do when nothing else seems to work.

You can blame it on the decline and fall of man’s ability to love and live God’s way of life, but the love of God by a human being is always imperfect by definition. God is powerful, but He created us so that our bodies can physically expire, and that won’t change with all the prayer we can muster together. All we can do is look forward to the time when we will all have spiritual bodies that will never die.

Or you can feel nothing, because this happens all the time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And I have no answer for that one, because that statement gets closer to the truth in my mind with each passing year.

It seems impossible to face the death of a child when you have emotional problems, but it’s not. Consider yourself lucky if you feel something – anything at all, because it’s only when you shut off your heart that you shut off your ability to cope. The feelings may come out like a dam breaking, or they may be as lifeless as a brick wall. Either situation can make you feel completely helpless. When it finally hit me four years ago, I felt like I had a three-year-old sitting on my chest. I couldn’t breathe without physical pain for months.

That level of pain has gone down, but the hole in my life is still there and no amount of medication will ever fix that. Making sense of it has come down to realizing that sense has nothing to do with it, and that I can’t give up on life. I’m not dead yet, so I might as well make the most of it while I still can.

Grieve, in your own way, for those who are gone, for those who are left with holes in their lives, and for those who lost a bit of their innocence over having to witness it. If you can, support those who will try to make everything a little more bearable in that town. But don’t let the events of the day take away from all the good that is still left in the world, the probability that good will eventually overcome evil, and the truth that love will always be more powerful than hate. You’ll start to see your way more clearly soon. Don’t give up.


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I found an article that gives new meaning to the concept of listening to your gut. The opening line reads “Early digestive problems may hardwire the brain for depression.”


Researchers at Stanford are trying to figure out which comes first, the gut problems or the depression.  The working theory was that hormones released during sadness trigger negative effects on the stomach area, but now they’re not so sure. The gut problems might trigger the depression.

This isn’t exactly a scientific observation, but I can vouch for their theory. I had bad stomach pains when I was young, before anyone noticed signs of depression in me. Diagnosed with nonspecific gastrothisandthat or whatever, I ended up in the doctor’s office or the ER on a regular basis. I was doubled over in pain, and nobody could figure out why. Here’s the kicker: When I went on antidepressants and mood stabilizers in my mid-20s, the gut problems mysteriously disappeared.

A research group from Kings College in London has narrowed down the genetics of severe recurring depression to chromosome 3, and both the Stanford group and a research group from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, have come up with basically the same results. In the research world, all three groups finding the same thing is pretty important.

The curious thing about genetic mapping is that there is so much apparently unrelated information on each chromosome. According to the National Institute of Health, there are currently 51 known disorders known to be associated with chromosome 3, one of which is the thoracic aortic aneurysm my dad had. I’m pretty sure that had nothing to do with depression…although come to think of it, he was going through a pretty low time in his life… But I don’t have any of those syndromes or deficiencies…that I know of…yet…hmm.

But then there’s still this “which came first, the chicken or the egg” thing. Do certain disorders make it easier for depression to surface, or does depression pave the way for certain other weaknesses to present themselves – those gut problems, for example?

See, I think the process of discovering all of this is interesting. Someday, all this research put together will help doctors prescribe more effective treatments for depression instead of “hey, I got a new sample – let’s see what this does.”

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Social media is a trip and a half. It’s communication on steroids, broken down into semi-connected fragments – a little like my Gemini brain seems to be. It mirrors my life, in a slightly warped way.

I have six sets of people I keep up with, depending on which era of my life happens to be front and center at the moment. In real life, none of these subgroups actually intersect. My family is now scattered all over the country so my high school classmates have never kept up with them, my church friends definitely don’t know my bar friends, and my former coworkers have no idea how awesome my online colleagues are. But I can keep up with every one of them, separately and together, on Facebook. I can introduce them to each other, or I can use the extra features to keep my communication group-appropriate. I even found out that two of my friends, who I would have never guessed had anything in common, are already friends with each other because they take the same classes in college. It’s a miracle. I didn’t even know I knew 175 people, let alone 175 people who wanted to be friends with me. That’s a self-esteem booster right there.

But how many different ways do we really need to keep in touch with each other? It depends on how you like to be touched. Need to know everything right now? Twitter. Need to express yourself? MySpace. Need to get up close and personal with a whole group of people at once? Facebook. Need to stick to business and work a virtual room? LinkedIn. Need to simply give and get information? Scores of other websites are just falling all over themselves wanting you to become part of their community.

I gotta tell you, this is doing a real number on my ADHD. I can’t tell whether all these social media options are feeding the way my brain flips from one thing to the next, or if they’re just aggravating the condition and making it worse.

Then you have the new social politics. If you have a friend on Facebook, and you don’t follow him on Twitter, does that mean you’re being rude? What if you digg something you just stumbled upon, but you can’t tweet it because your BFF just facebooked it all over your wall? And if you don’t learn to use the word “friend” as a verb, are you really ever going to be socially acceptable? 

I have to learn to keep all this straight someday… No, seriously. It’s going to make my head spin until I figure out how to put the puzzle together. The prize is that the spinning stops, the headache goes away, and I end up pointed in the right direction. Wish me luck! I’m going to need it. 

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I have to say that Squidoo is the coolest website I’ve seen all year. I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before, but I like the idea of each of us being a lens through which everyone can look at some part of the world. The tagline is great: Everyone is an expert on something.

Did you ever talk with an expert one on one, and catch yourself thinking, “I can’t believe that came out of her mouth!” or “Wow … where did that come from?” or “What in the world made him say that?”

You see, everyone – including the expert – is also clueless about something at some point or another. And when you have one of those “huh?” moments, you may have just been a witness to that glorious moment in history, that one moment when this expert will have to say, “Sorry, everyone, I had no clue what to say next, so I just made that one up!”

I’m good for a laugh once in a while, and not because I’m trying to be funny. Let’s just say that the longer I live, the more I learn to shut up when I have no clue what people are talking about. I can play Trivial Pursuit with the best of them, I can explain the theory of relativity, and I can copy almost any tune into sheet music for the piano. Don’t try to talk to me about transposing music for an entire orchestra, though, because I can’t manage the percussion notation. It confuses me, I get dizzy, and I have to tune out before my head explodes. Then there was the time I tried to transpose Wagner’s Bridal Chorus for the bagpipes, never having played the bagpipes myself, let alone seen the sheet music the pipers learn from. (“Oh yeah – no problem!” – how hard could it be, right? I can Google it.) I would be very glad to tell you about that, but the person who actually should be telling that story is the one who asked if I could do it, and I’m not sure he’s speaking to me anymore.

It’s the same with electronics. I’m clueless. We’re remodeling our basement, and my husband decided to change the exhaust fan in the bathroom. Before I went to the home improvement store for painting supplies, I asked if he needed anything. “Whatcha doing, honey?” I said. I was about to regret that question, because he proceeded to actually tell me. That wonderful, patient man saw my eyes glaze over and tried to explain it again in fifth-grade English. As he was pointing at the wires and taking things apart, I caught some of what he was saying, but part of my brain had already shut off by this time. Not wanting to look stupid, I picked up the little orange cone he had put down, noticed it was dirty, and said, “Okay, looks like you need three of these, right?” YES! He thought the lightbulb in my head had finally turned on. I walked into the home improvement store, proud as punch, and asked the guy on the floor, “My husband says to get three of these electrical thingamabobs. Could you please tell me where to find them?”

Now, I can get away with being clueless about electronics. My husband knows about that sort of thing, and what he doesn’t know, we can hire an expert to do. I have no problem admitting I’m clueless in that area. But for some reason, for a while there, I had a problem admitting I was clueless about some types of musical notation. Then there’s the running joke about why men never ask for directions. I know some women who have way too much fun with that one. Unfortunately, they ask for it. The stubbornness is just way too entertaining sometimes.

The truth is, we’re all guilty of that once in a while. Is it a weakness to be clueless about things like when to shut up and when to ask for directions, though? Maybe not. None of us know everything, and even the brightest minds can’t figure everything out. That’s where the strength comes in. Isn’t it harder to admit you’re clueless than announce you know exactly what’s going on?

I might begin to have a hard time admitting I’m clueless about electronics if my husband died and I was left with no money to hire someone if a fixture needed replacing. Would I try to do it myself, or would I call a friend for help? I would probably try to go online, Google it, print out a step-by-step tutorial, and do it myself first so I didn’t bother anyone if I didn’t absolutely have to. (Let’s hope we have a double plot, just in case I screw up.)

Can you see yourself asking someone for help before trying to manage something that confuses you to begin with? Why? I don’t care if we’re talking about exhaust fans, wire hats, or the sheet music for the bagpipes. Why would many of us choose to give up, screw up, procrastinate, or “fake it ’til we make it” before we’ll admit we need directions? Why would we choose to look like a dufus rather than tell someone, “no, I can’t do that – would you help me?” Do people actually choose to be clueless sometimes?

Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes it just makes your head hurt too much to press forward and learn something new. Other times you want so badly to look good to someone else, you end up doing stupid things to try and impress them…like refusing to turn on the GPS when we’ve been driving in circles through endless farmland, eventually realizing that we passed the same general store three times in the last hour looking for the way back to the highway – the one we can see on the horizon, but can’t seem to find the one road that will take us there. “No, this is the right road. We just didn’t go down far enough.” Three sheep farms, two red barns, and an outhouse later, here’s the general store again. Is it time to put the pride away and ask for help?

For the record, that story was taken from experience, but it wasn’t him. It was me. I’m the one who is most likely to try and “fake it ’til I make it.” Take that appointment for grief counseling I haven’t made yet. It has been two years and nine months, and I’m still driving around in circles, saying, “No, I’m all right, it’s all under control” while I’m playing an emotional game of dodge-the-pothole. Is it time to put the pride away and ask for help?

Everyone has something they’re very good at, and everyone has something they’re clueless about. I don’t care who you are, or where you come from. It’s okay to be clueless once in a while. We all have those moments. If you can finesse your way through those moments, great. If you fall on your face, that’s fine too. (That seems to be how I learn.) Being honest and open to learning has been very good to me when it was time to tell someone I didn’t know how to do something on my own.

And trust me, don’t ever tell anyone you can write for the tympani when you know for a fact you’ll have to do a Google search to find out what a tympani is before you begin.

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) began its journey into the wild blue yonder today.

You know the laundry list of benefits that went into effect today. There’s no way some part of the media has not reached you by now. Across the board, we’re getting ready to see:

  • elimination of lifetime coverage limits
  • restrictions on or phaseouts of annual coverage limits
  • extension of dependent coverage up to age 26
  • no more policy cancellations for sick people

And these changes are also being made, but only for employer plans or new individual policies – they may not apply if your insurer chooses not to amend your existing policy:

  • no more plans that deny or cancel coverage for children with pre-existing conditions
  • free evidence-based preventive care services
  • no more out-of-network increases for medical emergencies

Now, I think that making predictions about what these changes will or won’t do is a little like predicting whether getting a new job will make you a happier, more productive person. The grass may look greener, but you don’t know until you get there. There are too many variables involved.

But I have another list for you.

According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, we have the following facts staring us in the face:

  • 26% of Americans have a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Only 29% of those people actually receive treatment.
  • 50% of Americans with a mental disorder have problems by age 14.
  • Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability for Americans age 15-44.
  • Major mental disorders cost America at least $193 billion per year in lost wages alone. This study only focused on comparative wage levels – it didn’t include the costs of presenteeism (showing up but being unproductive) or absenteeism (calling off work) on the job.

Insurance parity is an economic issue. Mental health parity is great, but it isn’t enough. Now we need to get people into treatment and back to productivity, and cost – lack of insurance coverage – is the biggest roadblock to getting that help.

Think of the cost savings if we could get people off of public disability assistance and/or Medicaid. Think of the extra cash flow that America could experience with additional payroll tax income, sales tax income, and property tax income because so many more people would be able to work and buy things like appliances and furniture and homes. Think of what could happen if all those kids got help and became productive citizens instead of being homeless or in jail.

No matter who reacts how to the new law, we’re taking another step in the right direction for the good of our country as a whole. You can talk about bleeding hearts all you want, but the return on investment here is too great to pass up.

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There’s this big puzzle I’ve been trying to figure out for years, and it’s my brain. I have to catch up with what’s going on in the mental health world, or I feel like that puzzle is never going to get solved. And the more my mood swings grumble at me, the more I go into hypomanic detective mode.

So I ran across this article in NIMH’s Science News section. I love this part of their website. I remember when I was a kid – and this was before we even had a color TV – I learned that doctors did research, and I always wondered what they were discovering. Always did like watching PBS more than the Perils of Penelope Pitstop. After I got older, I forgot all about that show…until I got cable TV and found a whole channel devoted to old TV cartoons. Rooby-Roo!!


Results of the Study

The researchers found that nearly 40 percent of those identified as having major depression also had symptoms of subthreshold hypomania (mania that lasts less than four days at a time). Compared to those with major depression alone, those with depression plus subthreshold hypomania tended to be younger at age of onset and to have had more coexisting health problems, more episodes of depression and more suicide attempts.

I could have told them that. No, really.

I think the reason I was so interested in what the doctors were discovering is because I knew I was a little off and I wished I knew why. I spent many of my pre-teen and teenage years trying to compensate in various ways for feeling so blue, and usually overdoing it. Then I would go back to withdrawing from the world because in the process of overcompensating, I had usually done something to embarrass myself. The cycle got a little more amplified over time until my late teens, by which time the ups and downs and my inability to deal with them had become painfully obvious.

The more I think about it, the more I remember being sick, too. Looking back, I think it was partly from flipping between being sedentary and being agitated. There were headaches and allergies and upset stomachs – and I remember feeling a lot better when I discovered that four Tylenol were better than two. The MDs didn’t help much. I got diagnosed with nonspecific this or that all the time in my late teens and early 20s. That was before I saw a psychiatrist and life started to make so much more sense.

Of course you’re going to get sick when your body is being unstable. We’ve always heard that it’s so important for us to take care of ourselves and be firm about giving ourselves and our kids healthy foods and a stable environment. I think we’re just now discovering the full effect of WHY we should do that. I guess the researchers can’t just take people’s word for it, though.

Can we get away from the old “because I said so” script from childhood and start being honest about the fact that mental health and physical health are intertwined in real life?

I’m talking to the people who have trouble with everyday struggles, not to the people in strait jackets. It takes practice to watch the ups and downs and to notice when the coping skills are crumbling. It takes a lot of discipline to put your foot down with yourself or your kids when you notice the subthreshold hypomania is trading jabs with the depression and something’s got to give. Find a good doctor and stay on top of your health before you end up in a corner staring at cartoons and hating life.

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I’ve discovered that I really like tag-surfing on WordPress. It’s a little like using the remote control to channel-surf the TV for something cool to watch – and if you have as little control over the clicker as I do, you can appreciate the excitement here. I never know what I’m going to find. I can click Tag Surfer on the left of my Dashboard, choose any word or phrase, and surf into the unknown world of anyone who decided to use that phrase on that day.

My favorite tag at the moment is Mental Health. Now that generates variety. Some people are blogging about general issues, some people are blogging about their treatment, and some people are just blogging about the struggles of everyday life. These are real stories about real people with real challenges. And this is just the thin slice of the population who have access to the Internet and decide to blog. I don’t know if this is a statistically valid sample, but it’s a start.

Some people should tag Mental Health and read these stories on a regular basis. For instance, I’d like to make it mandatory for politicians who are facing decisions about budgeting for health care and social services. Teachers at all levels could use some continuing ed on how nontraditional brains work in real life, and not just in their “special needs” course at college that they’ve already forgotten about. Educational administrators could use some of these stories when they’re contemplating budget cuts for the kids who really shouldn’t be forgotten at all. Then there are the people who truly and honestly believe that all unemployed and underemployed people are lazy. I’d like to see them tag-surf Mental Health every day, read at least a full page of entries, and see how the “different people” live.

Psychiatrists and other doctors should tag-surf Mental Health, and then suggest the tag-surfing or some specific blogs to their patients – they could all use some real-life stories to fill in the blanks about the definition of “normal” and how others experience it. Some of these bloggers seem to be contributing to a big virtual support group, and a psych patient who feels alone could really get a lot of mileage out of tag-surfing here.

WordPress is a great window into the minds of people from all over the world. Go ahead. Peek in the window. Learn something. Then take it with you when you go. You never know when it just might change your own mind about the world and the other people in it.

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