Thoughts From MY Cluttered Mind offers positive angles to the issue that faces those with mental illness. Living with Bipolar Disorder myself and being able to share my experiences with others, is the best way I know how to pay it forward. Life can be difficult, my goal is to bring a bit of hope to a place where many feel there is none.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Making the decision about psychiatric medications and treatments

There are times I wish there was one drug to work for everyone.  I went through years trying to find a combination that worked for me, to be stable (if that is possible), keep the psychosis and mania to a minimum and depression at bay.  Part of the issue I faced in the early years of my diagnosis was being in the military, I moved around a lot.  So, just when I found find a good doctor and felt comfortable with them, it would once again be time to move.  I got to the point where I didn't care much anymore, especially when it came to one of the last doctors I had.  He rarely listened to what I had to say, I was on two medications and I was having awful side effects, I begged him to change them.  He would sit behind his desk and fill out his insurance forms for the visit.  After a few visits and no help I did the only thing that sounded logical to me, I weaned myself off all medications.  I'd had enough.  

Fast forward to a year and I crashed, hard!  It was then I realized that I was not going to be able to do this alone, I had to be on medication in order at least keep some level to stability.  The journey would become harder than I thought, but after three psychiatrists and psychologists, I found not only a medical team I could trust, but also a medication combination that was helpful.  It was not an easy road however; it took several attempts to find out that my system rejected just about every new drug that had come on the market.  In addition, the Anti-Depressants I was taking were actually causing some of my mania.  With that off the list it came down to relying solely on mood-stabilizers, anti-psychotics and anxiety medication, but as we slowly ticked off the list of medications I could not take I became more discouraged.  The main hurdle we faced, in my eyes, was the extent of my diagnosis, Schizo-affective was simply the tip of the iceberg, it also included General Anxiety disorder, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorder.   Thankfully I had a doctor that would not give up.    

In the end we came up with a combination of Lamictal, Neurontin and Klonopin.  The first two keep me stable, for the most part (not drug is going to make this go away completely) and the later helps me not only sleep (my brain refuses to shut down, especially at night), but I can take it during the day if I am having an anxiety attack.  It is important to add that medication alone was not the answer, at least for me, and while we discussed medications he decided to approach the subject of ECT, (Electro-Convulsion therapy).  The idea more than scared me, but I was desperate and I trusted my doctor.  I checked into the hospital, was admitted to the psych ward and for the next 10 days had five treatments, and then I had three treatments as an outpatient.  The experience as not what I expected, my only side effect was bad dry mouth afterwards, and a headache.  

Now being the challenging patient that I am, and while the ECT worked to ease my depression, it brought on mania.  We didn't see it at first, it was subtle, but there was something going on.  12 months later I was back and had a second round after I hit bottom again after losing my cousin to suicide, his death destroyed me and sent me into a severe mixed episode.   Since the last sequence of treatments had help with the depression, this time my doctor knew we had to take a different approach.  It is most common to administer the treatment to one side of the brain; however, for me he decided he had to administer to both sides in order to balance out the depression and mania.  It was like my mind was fighting itself for control and he was making every effort to call a truce.  There was some success with the treatments and balance was restored, but there was a part of me that had hoped that it would make it all go away, I was growing more and more tired of it all. 

I began tracking my symptoms a few years ago; I watch how my mania, depression, anxiety, psychosis and sleep fluctuate from day to day. With the graph I can see what may have been going on that day to cause more a depressive state and what may have caused anxiety.  It’s not fool proof, but it can give a general overview of what may trigger some of the mood swings and then I can make any changes I may need to. 

In the end, yes the ECT did help and the medications continue to keep things in check - for the most part.  Over time I realized that we must live with these illnesses as they are, work with a good medical team, and have a strong support system.  Without all these pieces in place we run the risk of continuing to hide behind our mask and tell the world we are “OK,” when what we really need is help.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Cold Hard Ugly Truth about Mental Illness and Sensitivity

I initially had the idea of focusing on BipolarDisorder and Schizophrenia as it pertains to sensitivity, but realized a single focus leaves out a lsrger group of people who also face these challenges on a daily basis.   

Five years ago, after several failed attempts at holding a job for more than a few weeks, countless severe depressive episodes and medication adjustments it was decided that I should consider apply for disability.  It was a hard thing to accept, while I welcomed the idea the realization that I was not able to hold a job was difficult to face and yet relief at the same time.  When I received my letter that I had been approved I became depressed, suddenly I realized that everyone (doctors, the state, and the disability system) saw me as not good enough, crazy and unable to function in society.  The one thing that was to make life a little easier and take some of the stress and anxiety away from me actually caused it.  In my mind I had this idea that I was damaged and not worth anything anymore.   I cried and yet felt relief at the same time.  The confusing world of mental illness and over sensitivity at its best, maybe they did know what they were talking about after all.   It took some time, but I accepted what I knew was the right choice and in the end realized that I could still contribute to society in many ways, but had the ability to do it on my terms, in my time and if I needed to walk away and take a break I could.  So, I began writing again and found a new love of photography. 

So, how does this all relate to sensitivity, you ask.  Well, for many people being sensitive is just part of who they are.  Everyone is sensitive at some point and in some way, its human nature.  However, for those who live with a mental illness, being sensitive becomes a challenge of mere survival and the trying to find a healthy balance. 

Being overly sensitive to a situation or comment made is called a trigger, or some may refer to it as having a switch that is flicked on.  These actions or words are seen as an insult, the assumption that someone does not like you, or you are simply not good at your job or an activity you are involved in.  While you know these are not true, the brain does not offer an objective picture of the situation and the ability to feel what is real and what is not is clouded.  The challenge is to learn how to see these triggers for what they are, ideas that developed from the actions and words of others with the absence of evidence.   Be aware that when you begin to use the words; always, everybody, never, nobody, etc., it is a sign that you may not be hearing what is being said in the right context. 

To help change the thought pattern and distorted thinking, it should be looked at as a learned skill.  For instance, when an incident occurs consider writing it down. 

Form four columns with enough room to write about the occurrence in detail.

  • ·         The incident or trigger
  • ·         What you felt at the time (how it was perceived)
  • ·         How could it be seen another way (the other side of the coin)
  • ·         How can your reaction be adjusted in the future

By doing this exercise, over time it can become second nature and train your mind to face these incidents with less stress anxiety in the future.   In addition to writing these situations down, it is also important to find additional ways to relax and calm your mind such as, exercise, talking with someone, such as a trusted friend or therapist, as well as painting or writing.  

I know for myself I need to learn and relearn, sometimes on a daily basis how to combat what I encounter.  As my mind battles the challenges of Schizophrenia, I need to continually remind myself that what I am feeling may not be the truth, as I know I am overly sensitive to conflict and criticism (or what I may perceive as criticism).   It is not  uncommon for me to play a situation over and over in mind for days, creating different scenarios in my mind of what I should have done or what I can do in the future,  and at times I find myself having the conversation out loud.  Maybe that is a good thing, they say when rehearsing a speech read it out loud to see if it makes sense. 

By learning what your triggers are and how your mind processes information, you have the most powerful weapon in defeating the effects of your reaction to being overly-sensitive to what we face in the world on a daily basis.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

My Search for a Mental Health Service Dog

 I learned about service dogs for mental health a couple years when I was hospitalized, and right away I knew it was a great idea and wanted to be part of it.  I contacted a trainer in the area and requested information, I knew soon I would have a dog of my own and he or she would be the answer I was looking for.   After filling out the lengthy forms and a few emails later I learned that there was a three year wait for a dog as they were in high demand, I was immediately crushed and felt once again I was alone in this daily battle for stability.   

When I began doing research on what a service dog for mental health actually does and what they are capable of helping with, what I found was quite remarkable.  The training they receive is extensive and they are taught to focus on the most common symptoms for each illness; because of this each service dog’s job is unique to the person.  The most common mental illnesses the dogs are trained for are Schizophrenia, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.    

For these illnesses specifically, a trained service dog is able to minimize anxiety by licking the handler’s face or hands, pawing at them and physically engaging them.   They can indicate whether something is there or not for those with visual or auditory hallucinations.   For PTSD and those who have night terrors, the dog is able to awaken the person, turn on lights, and help them calm down.   If depression becomes severe, the dog is able to get the person up to go for a walk, play and simply have them moving.    

So with such a long wait list the idea of getting a puppy came to mind, after all a puppy would be fun and certainly add some excitement to life.  He or she would be able to provide me with the support I needed and wanted.  What I found, however, was not what I was expecting.  In November we got a Yellow Labrador puppy, she was 7 weeks when we brought her home and just the cutest thing I’d ever seen.  While this ball of fur was a welcome addition, over the next couple months I began to see a change in myself and it wasn’t for the better.   This puppy, who was supposed to bring such joy and comfort, was causing my illness to compound itself in not so welcome ways.  I became more anxious, my sleep patterns were way off, stress became a daily issue and depression set in.  I would often dissociate and my auditory and visual hallucinations increased, this was not what was supposed to happen.    

It took awhile to realize that while it was a good idea to have a dog and she is able to help me, having a puppy and raising her to be a helpful dog for me, was not the right path.   On the positive side she does help me concentrate on being active and social by taking her for walks, playing and talking with people we meet.  However, I didn’t expect life to change in the way it did.  Having a puppy is like having a toddler; they need constant supervision and attention.  She took over our lives; the spontaneity that was once enjoyed was no longer available as she could not be left alone for a long period of time.  I became angry, I wanted “my life back”, I missed the adventures of life and the freedom, and there are days when it is a greater weight on me than I would like, knowing life will never be the same. 

It is often in these moments, when I sit down and sometimes cry because I am trying to do something and she wants to “help” me that I get frustrated, and then I look at her and all I see are these bright green eyes looking at me and that puppy face and I know she is maybe in her way already trying to help, she knows what I need and I am the one not listening to her. 

I still struggle quite a bit, but we are getting to where we want to be.   Not only is she learning about us, but we are learning about her and I have to adjust to what she needs, it’s not all about me.  My intellectual side knows that, but the other side, the one that does not see things the right way, fights back and I am caught in the middle. 

The lesson here is, yes a service dog is a wonderful addition and is very helpful, however when making the decision to have one, it may be wise to be patient and wait for a trained dog.  The idea of a puppy and the fun it can bring is nice, but weigh the pros and cons before you do and make sure you are prepared for not only the life changes it will bring, but the challenges you may face mentally as well.