Change in Seasons and Change in Routines

Spring started a few days ago.  We’re starting to get more rain and the weather is warming up.  Saw my first lightning of the season yesterday.  My fantasy baseball league had it’s draft last night.  Since we’re spread out all over the country now we have to have our league hosted by yahoo.  It’s been an annual tradition for me for the last ten years.  I’ve never won my league as I’m pretty average compared to the eleven other guys in our league.  It’s a diversion for me and an excuse to pay attention to games I wouldn’t normally watch.  The first baseball games start the first Monday in April.  Winter is over.

I saw my psych doctor earlier this week.  According to his scale I gained a pound since my last appointment six weeks earlier.  Hopefully I have stopped the losing streak in terms of gaining weight.  Unfortunately I have gained a lot of weight since my car accident a year and a half ago.  For a long time I was afraid to drive and didn’t go anywhere except to buy groceries and run errands.  I can tell the lack of socializing has hurt me.  I know I’m less patient with people then I used to be.  I am not as spontaneous as I used to be either.

I complained to my psych doctor about my lethargy and lack of motivation.  We increased the doses of some of my medications.  He also suggested I buy some probiotic pills.  He had read a lot of literature stating that people with mental illness problems often have gut health issues too.  He said that gut health and mental health can affect each other.  After a few days on the probiotic pills, I’m noticing I am having some more energy.  I am also not sleeping as much even after only a few days.  I am also having fewer unexplained aches and pains.  I hope this only continues to improve.  My only true complaint about the probiotic pills is they are pricey.  But I am starting to feel better and more energetic overall.

As stable as I usually am during the winter, I am glad that winter is over.  The weather is starting to warm up and I’m not just wanting to stay home and hide out all the time.  I am feeling a sense of hopefulness for the first time in months.  I really think things are starting to settle down.  I haven’t had much settled for me for a long time.  This sense of normalcy is a welcome relief.

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Finding A New Therapist and Trust Issues

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Today I’m going to write about one of the aspects of mental illness that happens to most of us with mental illness diagnosis at least once in the course of our lives.  This is the subject of changing therapists.  For me, it was a bit daunting to change from a therapist that had developed a trusted relationship with me.  Trust is a big, big issue for mental health patients.  I don’t trust anyone right away under any circumstances.  My default mode has been, traditionally, not to trust someone I just met until I can figure them out well enough to tell if they are trustworthy.  The trust of a mentally ill person does not come as fast or easy as it would with a chronically normal person.  But that trust, once broken for any reason, will never be regained.  It rarely matters how small or insignificant such breeches may seem to a normal. Once a mentally ill person has any reason to doubt your sincerity, that friendship/relationship/etc. is as good as dead.

I write all of this to simply state that we who have mental health problems have problems with trusting people right away.  This is perhaps due to some of us being more sensitive to verbal cues from others.  Some, like me, may not easily trust because we have been betrayed too many times as young people because we had difficulty reading who can and cannot be trusted.  Others, also like myself, may have never learned, or were born knowing, the proper rules of social etiquette.  Either you normals were born knowing social cues or that subject was covered during one of the dozen or so days of school I missed between kindergarten and 12th grade.  I really don’t know how to socialize properly.  I really don’t know what is the appropriate time and proof needed before I can properly show trust.  Many of us mentally ill simply do not know these unspoken rules of social etiquette.

After two sessions with this new therapist, I still don’t know if the trust can be made.  Yes, he seems to be competent.  He seems to care about me, at least in a professional sense.  But, trust is a big deal.  Not only is it a problem to know if I can trust someone, it is also a problem for me to know I have someone’s support, appreciation, friendship, etc. Even after two hours with this new therapist, I still don’t know if this is someone I can trust.

I have had too many instances when I thought I had someone’s trust (again with people I should have never opened up to at all, like coworkers and bosses), that I found out that my trust was violated.  I have had too many instances when a coworker, boss, former friend, etc. told me we were on good terms at first, then go silent for a long time.  Then, I’d get that call into private conference where I’d be ambushed with a laundry list of things I was doing wrong and people I was irritating.  It is my experience that no one, and I mean absolutely no one, in any kind of authority wants to see me unless I am already in serious trouble.  Many mentally ill people are like this as well.  I have been told I have problems with authority and no respect for rules.  My problem is I don’t believe in superficially trusting someone who could stab me in the back at any moment for crimes I had no idea I was committing.  I also cannot understand why rules that make no sense or are obsolete should be followed.  I have never been able to hold that level of cognitive dissonance between my actions and my thoughts.  Most mentally ill people are like me in this regard.

I have trust issues.  I don’t trust people I just meet.  It’s not because I am an arrogant and aloof jerk.  It is simply because I cannot read the social and nonverbal cues that say whether or not I can trust an individual.

Reflections on My College Years with a Mental Illness

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I currently live in a town that is home to a small state university.  School will be in session within the next two weeks once more.  As a result, several thousand college students will be coming back and this town will really come back to life from it’s annual summer hibernation.  Even though I graduated from ten years ago, and had a failed experiment that was grad school, I still enjoy seeing the college students returning and resuming what, for many Americans, has become a rite of passage into adulthood.  

 

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All of this has me remembering when I went through during these years, not only in college but also as my mental illness progressed and eventually stabilized into some predictable cycles.  When I started college in the fall of 1999 ( I know, practically the dark ages to kids now coming of age), the internet was still in it’s early stages and almost no students had lap top computers, let alone got laptops just for enrolling.  The iPod would still be a few years away, so we still carted around tons of music CDs.  The best parties, get togethers, etc. were always thrown by people who had massive stereo systems that had the capacity to change dozens of CDs without having to do it manually.  No quicker way to kill a party than having to change discs when the music ran out.  Like I said, it would be seen as the dark ages to kids just starting out now.

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One thing I did have even back in the late 90s and early 2000s that helped me  a great deal was the free use of my college’s counseling service.  I was in the early stages of what I would later find out was my mental illness when I grudgingly went to a counselor.  I had my mind full of the stereotyped visions of lying on a leather couch, confessing my darkest secrets to a Sigmund Freud look alike, looking a ink blot cards, and having to talk about my relationships with my family.  What I found was simply someone who would actually listen to my problems and issues. The good part was that, in college, no one really knew or even made an issue of me going to counseling.  At my counselor’s urging, I saw a psychiatrist to do some evaluations.  I also underwent complete physical evaluations, including a scan on my brain and brain waves to rule out anything physically causing those problems.  After all these evaluations, from which I missed quite a lot of classes, I was given a diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia.

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I didn’t consider a diagnosis to be devastating.  For me, it explained a lot of why I had problems socially and was going through what I was.  It was a confirmation that I wasn’t making these problems up to attract attention or just feeling sorry for myself.  Yes, it did put some of a damper on my social life, social activities, and did force me to give up my dream of going into medical research.  But, I still managed to graduate from college, have several friends, learn some things I wouldn’t have had to, or bothered to, otherwise.  I’m glad for the experiences of my college years.  I’m glad I made the friends I did.  I’m glad for the counseling services at my college.  I only hope that students who are going into college for the first time find their niche, make some good friends, seek out help if and when they need it, and come out ready to face the challenges we all face in adulthood.

Mind Health, Body Health, Placebo Effect, Expectations

I imagine this entry is some continuation of my last post.  I am absolutely convinced there is actually quite a bit of crossover between how one feels mentally and that can influence physical health and well being.  Likewise I am convinced there is a crossover in how one’s physical health and influence mental health and stability.  About the only real ‘scientific’ evidence I can truly point to support my convictions are ‘placebo’ effects.  In some medical studies where the patients, and sometimes even the primary doctors, believed that they were getting real medications but were in fact actually getting pills that actually had no real medication.  Many of the results of these tests found that the patients who received the placebo, or inert, pills often did just as well as the patients who were taking the real medications.

I will state up front, I am not a doctor.  I am by no means suggesting that anyone, mental illness or no, should go off any medications without a doctor’s supervision.  I am not qualified to treat, diagnose, etc. anyone.  I have issues even with my own problems and life. 

What I am getting at is that sometimes something, whether it be a treatment, medication, set of beliefs, set of actions, etc. works for us as individuals because we believe they were work and we want them to work.  I suppose it’s sort of like if someone thinks they do well at a job because they look and act the part, then that is true for that person.  I would even venture to say this applies to even basic human emotions, such as love and anger.  If you think you are in love, or angry, with someone, then you are.  I guess that if you think something works for you, then maybe it does for you.  Some of the wisest ideas I ever came across can be expressed by this short statement, “I think, therefore I am.”

Think about this for awhile.  If you, or someone you know, are always complaining about things that you either have or control over or won’t do anything to change, why should you expect to have any happiness at all?  I’ve heard many philosophers, gurus, experts in many fields, etc. state that what a person thinks about will come about.  That’s only part of the equation.  What is really should read is something like, “What a person thinks about and acts about will come about.”  I suppose the phrase “I think, therefore I am” should be coupled with “By their deeds you will know them.”

I didn’t really start feeling really good mentally until I, along with my writing and promise to myself that I would never stop learning, decided to improve my physical health.  Yes, reforming my previous coach potato ways were tough.  I even failed at these attempts the first few times.  Yet, I can tell you that after the first four months of getting as serious about my physical health as I am about my mental health, it is more than worth the work I’m putting into it.  Though I am not close to making my ultimate health (and weight) goal, I am far better off physically and mentally than I was even four months ago.  I personally believe the improved physical health is breathing new life into my mental health.  Likewise the renewed mental health is fueling the improving physical health.

No, I don’t have more scientific evidence that mind-body, body-mind health effect each other besides the placebo effect.  But I know in my own life, and experience, there is a connection.  I truly am convinced of this.

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
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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.

Being Held Accountable While Having A Mental Illness

         This is kind of a tough topic to write about.  I’m going to discuss being held accountable while having a mental illness.  I know that I am walking a very fine line when I say that there were times that I, as a mentally ill person, needed a healthy dose of tough love from my friends and family.  Fortunately, I have friends and family that know me well enough that they know when I’m using my illness as an excuse for when I could be doing better.

         Being mentally ill myself, I completely realize that not all mentally ill individuals would fare well at all under the tough love approach, especially when applied hap hazard.  I am not advocating hap hazard approach to tough love with anyone.  I am saying that there are some of us who can handle such a thing, in the right manner applied at the right time.  It is a fine line to walk and should be applied only when a support person (whether it be family or friends or counselors, etc.) knows the mentally ill individual extremely well and knows when it will work.  It is far from an exact science.  I would go as far as saying it’s like raising children, knowing that some things work with one of your kids but doesn’t work at all with another.

          Fortunately, it is possible to hold someone accountable without resorting to tough love.  Tough love should be used only as a last resort.  But use with caution and always use with healthy doses of love.

         My bouts with schizophrenia and depression made the going in college and the first few years of work extremely rough.  There were times that I just wanted to quit on the idea of being able to work.  But with people like my parents, my friends, my psych doctor, my counselors at college and later when I was working, and my extended family, I had plenty of people holding me accountable.

       Support people are not there just to be a shoulder to cry on.  They are also there to administer a healthy dose of discipline and tough love when necessary.  And there are times when tough love is necessary for even the mentally ill if we are to improve our current situations.  We have to be held accountable like everyone else, sometimes even more so.  I am sure there are many times I didn’t make things easy for my support people at all by my actions and bizarre behavior. 

        Had I not had a counselor to meet with once a week while in college to help keep me grounded and focused, I probably would not have graduated college.  I certainly wouldn’t have done as well in my classes as I did.  And that is simply because I knew I had someone who was going to ride my case if I didn’t do the job in classes. 

       Had my friends and family not encouraged me through occasional tough love, I would not have tried several different jobs before I finally I found a job I could do that I was good at and that didn’t cause me much stress.  I may not have been working my dream job, but I had the discipline to stick to a job for over four years had my friends and family not challenged me to keep looking for work when I was ready to throw in the towel.

       I didn’t like the tough love approach at the time it was being applied.  The thing is, it’s not supposed to be liked; it’s supposed to motivate you to do good things with your life.  Sure I as a mentally ill individual could just mope for the rest of my days about what I have lost?  But what does that gain me? 

        Sure you are mentally ill or may know someone who is mentally ill?  But what are you going to do about it now?  Are you going to learn about the illnesses and try to better yourself?  Or are you just going to drift through life?  The choice is yours.