Inactivity, Depression, and Seasonal Components to Mental Illness

 

In this life with schizophrenia, I have had my ups and I have my downs.  Lately, actually for the last three months at least, I have been more inactive than I should be.  I haven’t been exercising every day like I should be.  Usually I go for short walks everyday and lift hand weights two to three times a week.  Haven’t been doing that as often lately.  And I can tell it’s starting to take it’s toll.  I don’t have as much energy to accomplish everyday tasks as I once did.  I also have been lacking the motivation to work on my writings,  unlike a few months ago.  In addition to these blog posts, I also write poetry, journals, and am working on a novel.  I currently have two books of poetry self published through lulu.com.  I figured if I don’t have a regular job, I need to find some way to keep myself occupied and somewhat productive.

As a result of my inactivity I can tell my physical health has suffered.  I have more aches and pains than someone in their early 30s should.  I attribute this to way too much inactivity.  I am convinced my inactivity was initially brought on by a bought of depression that was bad enough that I checked myself into a mental health hospital for four days back in September.  After I got out of the hospital I would sometimes sleep twelve to fourteen hours a day.  Some days I would sleep just out of depression, while others I would sleep out of boredom.  It became a nasty cycle.  I would sleep out of depression and I would be depressed that I was missing out on what was going on around me.  I would be too tired and or depressed to do my exercise and my socializing.  And I would be tired and depressed because I wasn’t exercising or keeping up with friends and family.

Even though I have been depressed and inactive for a long while, I feel like I’m starting to pull out of it.  Maybe it’s the change of the seasons or the hope of the upcoming new year that’s helping me out of my current depression.  Or it could be one of the phases of my individual illness.  This isn’t the first time I have gone through a period of inactivity and depression.  I went through one similar to this about six years ago, back in the fall of 2007.  

One of the positives about having had a mental illness for over half of my life is that I can recognize many of the patterns of the illness.  Not only can I recognize the triggers and know what places, types of situations, and people to avoid, I know a lot of the short term and even some of the long term patterns.  Many people with mental illness have a seasonal component that goes along, where they do worse during some periods than others.  For me, I have always done bad in late summer, usually August and early September.  For others it’s during the winter.

I always have had to remind myself during these days of depression during the last three months that I’ve been through these times before.  I’ve come through these times before.  And I will come through them again.  Better times will be ahead.

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Medical Advances, Nutrition, and Mental Illness

It’s been a long while since I last posted to this blog, so an update is in order.  This post will be about medical advances and mental illness.  This is another reason for those of us with mental illness to hope that the future will be better than the present.  Many of the medications that are being used to help treat mental illnesses now didn’t even exist fifteen, twenty years ago.  

New discoveries are also being made in nutrition and how full body health effects mental health.  If you don’t get proper nutrition, the body won’t function well.  If the body doesn’t function well, the brain won’t either.  We all need to make it a point to eat healthier and more balanced, mental illness or no.  Let’s not kid ourselves, the typical American diet of highly processed foods and fast food isn’t healthy.

If you are under treatment for mental illness, always tell your doctor about all of the over the counter supplements you are taking.  Some of these, especially herbs and anything with alcohol in it, can cause serious side effects when mixed with anti-psych drugs.  Know what you are getting into.  Stay informed.  Read all of the handouts that come with your anti-psych drugs.

There are rapid advances being made in research.  These advances can and will find better treatments, perhaps sooner than we think.

Taking an Active Role in Treatment For Mental Illness

This entry is about speaking up for yourself and taking an active role in the course of treatment for mental illness. I will be discussing how to ask your doctor questions about individual treatment plans.

In working with a psych doctor, you need to be completely honest. This is not optional if you want your treatment to work. Your doctor may know the human brain very well, but he/she cannot read minds. You need to tell your doctor you your bad days and the details of the worst of what is going on with you. Especially if you are feeling good on the days you go in for your
checkups.

Early in the course of my treatment, I made the mistake of telling the doctor I was doing well simply because I was feeling good on the days that I was seeing him. At the time I didn’t realize that felt good on those days because I was seeing him. I believed rightly so that he would give me new insights into how to go about my treatment routines.

But I was making the mistake of not telling him about my really bad times. For the first two years we were stumbling in the dark as to what worked and what didn’t simply because I glossed over the bad aspects of my illness.

To make up for this I started making notes and keeping journals on how I was feeling from day to day. I was amazed, and I still am, at the amount of changes I can go through during the course of a month or so. I discuss what I learn from these notes with my psych doctor at all of my checkups. I recommend keeping notes and day-to-day journals for all mental illness patients to keep track of your mood swings and emotions. You’ll be amazed.

In addition to the notes of your day-to-day feeling and activities, I strongly recommend making a list of questions to ask your doctor about your illness. Questions can include “What can I do to make things better in addition to medications and counseling,” “What are the chances of my getting better,” or any other question you may think of for your particular situation.

This list of questions is important because it will give you better information and insight into how your illness is changing and your treatment needs to go. The doctor may know your illness, but you alone, know the true extent of your own problems. Mental illness is not a cookie cutter one size fits all deal. Mental illness varies greatly from one person to another. This is even true of individuals that have the exact same diagnosis. Body and brain chemistry play a role in how certain medications will and will not work.

Since no two people have the exact same body chemistry, finding the right combinations of meds can be somewhat of a trial and error deal. Sometimes you and your doctor will hit the bull’s eye with your meds; other times you may miss the board entirely, while others may work some but not as effectively as other types of treatments.

The important thing to remember in all of this trial and error is to never give up. I cannot stress having hope enough. New anti-psych medications are being developed all of the time. There is a great chance that there is at least one combination of medications and treatments that will work for you. Yet I can guarantee that is absolutely no one combination that will work for everyone. There just isn’t and probably never will be. But medical science is making new breakthroughs every year. Many of the best medications were not even in existence even ten years ago.

I recommend that you keep informed on your treatment and diagnosis. Read books about your illness. Read the handouts given out at the doctor’s office concerning your illness and treatments. Do read some of the Internet sites, but do be careful the sites. Some sites are very reliable. But there are many that are not reliable, some that are biased, and some that are complete frauds. Seek the advice of experts know mental illness treatments. Seek the counseling of people who work with the mentally ill every day. Keep informed about your problems. And inform your doctor about your problems.

Stressing on Stress

 

One of the problems that comes up for those of us with mental illness, myself included, is the issue of dealing with everyday stress and anxiety.  Stress about issues like work, money, taking care of family, community activities, running errands, routine housework and maintenance, etc. can be enough to tax even the most ‘normal’ of people at times.  Yet for those of us with mental illness, every day stress can be overwhelming at times, even crippling occasionally.

I have had to made adaptations to my life in order to reduce the amounts of stress in my life.  Over the years I have found the stress situations such as fast paced working environments, social environments where I’m expected to interact with many people I may not know well, and driving in fast paced heavy traffic areas have all been triggers for not only high levels of stress and anxiety, but also have triggered symptoms of my particular mental illness.  In my case, such instances have triggered paranoid thoughts, high levels of agitation and aggression, and even auditory hallucinations.  As a result, I have to be really careful about the jobs I apply for, the social activities I attend, and make it a point to find someone else to drive when I have to go to a major city and just offer to navigate.  I would not be any fun at all at a cocktail party with a hundred strangers I didn’t know.  Even though I scored really high on intelligence tests as both a kid and an adult, I probably couldn’t handle most office jobs simply due to the stress involved.

Stress is tough for even the most grounded people.  But it can be life altering and crippling for the mentally ill.  It can drag down even the most stabilized mental health consumers if left unchecked.  Sometimes even the stepping back and taking deep breaths isn’t going to be enough.  Sometimes a person just has to avoid certain circumstances altogether or even just know when to walk away.

Schizophrenia and What it Means

In previous posts I have written about my life experiences as a mentally ill individual.  In this post I’m attempting to describe the symptoms of my particular illness, rather than just the results of the symptoms.  I have done this in a poetic form.  So here goes.

 

Schizophrenia and What it Means

 

Schizophrenia means a broken mind,

A mind broke off from the real world.

Unable to separate the delusional

from the factual truth.

It also means crippling depression,

Constant sadness,

And mourning for dead potential;

The loss of a life that never was.

Schizophrenia shattered mind unable to process

most kinds of stress or anxiety

without ghostly hallucinations chanting their condemnations,

Causing wave upon wave of unrelenting anxiety

to slam upon an already tormented, battle weary soul.

How do I explain to old friends,

family, and strangers I meet

I am not well, have trouble holding a job,

When on the surface I look normal and well?

Lurking in the depths of my mind

The monster schizophrenia causes havoc,

launching an all out assault on my mental senses.

My abilities to socialize, to handle stress, to live normal,

are crippled.

I’m not lazy, I’m not a freeloader.

I’d do anything to be rid of this silent monster.

Filling Voids in Day to Day Living

            After I found out the hard way that I was going to not be holding forty hour a week employment, I needed to find a way to fill my days.  I could have been content to just sit in front of the TV for hours on end day after day.  But that type of life isn’t good for anyone.  Let’s face it, it just isn’t.  I decided early on that I needed to find activities that would bring variety to my life.  This would make my time worthwhile and interesting, not just endlessly dragging onto nothingness.

            There are many programs for the mentally ill and physically handicapped who are unable to work.  There are social clubs that engage in different activities everyday.  These activities can give an individual reason to leave the home and give a routine.  These programs vary greatly from town to town and city to city, so be asking around to see what’s available.

            Good source of information on social clubs include mentally ill individuals themselves.  Other sources my include your psych doctor, psych nurse, therapist, family friends, or just anyone in the know.  You won’t find out unless you are willing to ask around.

            We the mentally ill have as much need for socializing, appreciation, and belonging as anyone who is considered normal.  Such outlets as church groups, NAMI, and Goodwill are important for those with mental illness issues that make working difficult or impossible.  People are not meant to be isolated for long periods of time as we are social creatures.  Every person has a need to belong to something and identifying with something bigger than just an individual.  Entire sciences such as sociology, psychology, political science, etc. are devoted to learning why people act and socialize the way we do.  Socializing with others is so important to our own humanity that it should never be neglected.

            In America, we are closely identified with our jobs and careers simply because we spend so much time engaged in our employment.  We are now more identified by our employment than by anything else we do in this country. 

            Yet this line of indentifying is a drawback for those of us who are not able to hold long-term employment or hold employment at all due to physical or mental disabilities.  It is even more of a drawback for the mentally whose problems are not are not as obvious as other illnesses.  The line of thinking for many in the mainstream is that if you are not physically disabled or not in a mental hospital, you ought to be able to work full time.  It doesn’t always work out that way.  Mentally ill individuals do not always have physical signs of problems.  Most would never guess who among us is mentally ill if we were seen just once in public.  Yet the mentally ill can have as many problems as the physically ill.

            I cannot stress enough the importance of finding activities to fill the voids in time in your day-to-day life. Life is meant to be exciting and we are meant to interact with other people.  Life is not meant to be spent hiding in your home and living in fear.  For some of us who don’t even like going out in public, a walk to the corner and back can be a start.  Or perhaps you can do your shopping at night or when the crowds are not as large like I do. 

            The important thing is to not take in too much all at once.  You need those small victories before you can go after the big goals and challenges.  Positive and lasting change is a slow process.  But the results are well worth the time and effort.

            I cannot stress enough the importance of having at least one hobby.  Hobbies have been shown to reduce stress and give joy to people.  We have different interests and talents.  There has never been anyone who couldn’t develop a talent for at least one thing that they have a passion for.  Only you can tell what your interests truly are.  If you are not entirely sure about your talents, take some quiet time every day to listen to that “little inner voice” of your heart.  That could be yourself telling you what you are truly interested in. 

            It also doesn’t hurt try out different activities to see what you are interested in.  If you are truly interested in something no one has to push you into such an activity.  Follow your heart and it will lead you to your true interests.

            Another bit of advice is don’t just sit in your home and stare at the TV waiting for life to happen.  Go out and do something with your life.  Interact with other people.  Get in touch with old friends and family members that you have lost touch with.  Even if these activities last for only a few minutes a day, do something with the life that you have.  Gradually build up if you have to.  You don’t have to be successful to start but you do have to start to be successful.

Struggles at Work with a Mental Illness

 

            When I first came out of college and entered into the world of work, I was all gung-ho and thought I could do it all.  I didn’t think that even schizophrenia was going to slow me down, let alone be a major hurdle to holding full-time employment.  I was wrong.

            I quickly found out that I couldn’t do all that I thought I could do.  I couldn’t work the forty-hour weeks that full time demands.  I couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time, at least not for the first few years out of college.  I would freeze up and have panic attacks around large crowds of people, especially people I didn’t really know.  So reality came crashing back down on me.

            I drifted from one job to another for the first two or three years I was out of college before I decided that I needed to take some time off and do some serious soul searching.  I needed to reevaluate my job strategy and why I wasn’t able to hold my jobs for longer than a few months at a time.  I needed to figure out why I was alienating myself from my coworkers and my supervisors.  Then one day in the fall of 2007 it finally dawned in me; I was not being honest about my illness to my employers.

            Let me state that again, I was not being honest about my illness to my employers.  Thanks to such laws as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and such third party go betweens as Goodwill and Vocational Rehab, workers with disabilities have a much easier time in the work place than they did in the past.  But I was not taking advantage of these programs.  These programs will not do you any good either if you refuse to acknowledge your need for help.  These programs are there for you to use; use them.

            I found out the very hard way the best thing an employee could ever be is not intelligent, skilled at their job, or even have good people skills.  No, by far more important is honesty and integrity.  And I was not doing myself any service by telling my supervisors I could do jobs without accommodations that, according to the ADA I was within my rights to request if it was made known I had a disability, in all reality I could not.  I was not helping myself. 

            In short, because of my pride and being in denial as to how bad my mental illness really was, I was lying to my supervisors as to my work ability.  I was also lying to my coworkers.  I was lying to myself.  All because I refused to acknowledge that I needed help.  I was too proud to ask for it. 

            It took me three years of failed jobs and a lot of heartache to figure out that the best thing a person with mental illness that wants to work can do is be completely honest about their illness.  Tell the truth.  If you cannot perform a duty, let it be known right up front.  According to the ADA, an employer has to make “reasonable” accommodations for a job to allow someone with a disability to perform that job.  Employers cannot refuse to hire someone simply because of a mental illness; that is hiring discrimination and that’s illegal. 

            In my paranoid state, before I stabled out and had some good work experience, I was afraid my mental illness would be held against me in a work place.  Paranoia that comes with schizophrenia can be tricky like that sometimes.  Fortunately I had a third party in Goodwill as a go between for me to help me find my last job.  This job I held over four years.  As a result I have seen that my previous paranoia about my illness being held against me was just paranoia; it never materialized into anything real.

            If anything I have found my employers willing to work with me and help me out during the rough times that I have had.  I still have flare ups occasionally where I have to miss work for a day every now and then.  But my supervisors are more than willing to work with me because I have been honest and up front with them about my illness.  It also helps that I’m a good worker who shows up on time and doesn’t leave until it’s quitting time and makes an effort to be friendly with my coworkers even on my bad days.

            In closing, my struggles at work were largely due to my not being honest with my supervisors as to the extent of my illness.  Once I broke that trust, it was only a matter of time before I was looking for another job.  If you are mentally ill and looking for work, be totally honest with your supervisors.  It will pay off in the long run.  And they will often be accommodating.