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
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.

Blasting Mental Illness Myths

    My name is Zach Foster and I have a mental illness.  My illness is Paranoid Schizophrenia.  I do not have multiple personalities.  I do not think I am Jesus Christ nor do I believe space aliens are following me.  These are common myths that Hollywood and popular culture trowel out about us who are mentally ill.  If left untreated, yes mental illness can become very difficult and very scary for the ill person and his/her loved ones.  Most of us who live in the very same communities and neighborhoods as the ‘chronically normal’ are receiving and participating in treatment and thus are no danger or threat to anyone. 

            Sadly the general public never hears about those of us mentally ill who are successful in treatment, successful in holding employment, successful with friendships, successful with family relations, and so on.  What are usually heard of are only the John Hinckley cases that turned violent.  Or on the other extreme, the case of Dr. John Nash who is a mathematics genius and a Nobel Prize winner, a case of someone with a severe illness but still went on to do great good.  Yet there are no praises for those who live with a mental illness but still manage to function reasonably well. 

            Just because I have a mental illness does not mean I was raised in a dysfunctional home.  The opposite was true.  My parents were very intelligent, well rounded, and good Christian people.  We had dinner as a family almost every night when my brother and I were kids, both my parents worked but had their schedules set so at least one or the other was always home when we came home from school, and I had a set of grandparents and several cousins that lived nearby.  My parents believed in discipline and much attention to detail, but that’s far better than having parents that are indifferent to their kids or just let their kids do whatever they want.  Kids need some freedom but also firm boundaries.  My parents understood this and did the best they possibly could. 

            My illness is not my own doing.  I am not an alcohol or drug abuser.  I have never used street drugs or illegal drugs.  I do not have a weak mind or a weak personality.  I may be mentally ill but I am also a college graduate.  I am a very capable and intelligent man, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.  I have a great deal of compassion and empathy for the suffering of those with mental illness.  And this is what this book is to be about.  It is a collection of short essays, often broken down by topic, to provide encouragement and moral support for those with mental illnesses and their loved ones.

            Being mentally ill does not mean that you are emotionally or mentally weak.  It would be heartless to think that someone with cancer or heart problems was physically weak and we refused to have compassion for those individuals.  Yet the public at large does just this exact same thing to the mentally ill.

            The general public at large has very little understanding of what mental illness truly is.  Fortunately that is starting to get better.  I didn’t use to tell my employers I was mentally ill for fear it would be used against me in my job.  I found that withholding that information actually hurt me worse than not telling the truth.  Since I wasn’t telling the whole truth about my situation and it would turn out I was a bit eccentric or would need a couple of days off suddenly, that would send up warning signs that would make my employers wonder what was really going on with me.  In my paranoia I wouldn’t tell the truth about my illness because I feared it would be held against me.  What was really being held against me was that I wasn’t truthful with my supervisors.  It caused a really nasty cycle of find a job, lose the confidence of my employers and coworkers, get laid off, and get my fears of my illness getting held against me confirmed.  When in truth things would have been just fine had I been completely honest right from the beginning.

            I now believe that the reason that there is so much stigma and fear of the mentally ill among the general public is because of just plain ignorance.  I say that not to imply that the general public is stupid.  Most people simply do not know about the issues and the truths about mental illness.  Yes, mental illness is a total lifestyle adjustment, not only for the patients but also for their loved ones, bosses, coworkers, and such.  No, mental illness does not mean that a person is going to become dangerous or violent if it is treated properly.  I do not believe most people to be malicious by nature.  What I do believe is that a lack of knowledge about mental illness and what we the mentally ill work with on a daily basis does lead to unintentional hurts, slights, callousness, tactlessness, and thoughtlessness.