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, 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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Speaking Up About Mental Illness and The Advantages of Social Media

One of the most difficult things for those who live with a mental illness is sharing their diagnosis with others. There is an undeniable fear that comes with being open about how they feel and how they may be perceived if anyone found out they were “crazy.”

The uncertainty of how you will be received is real and it is not uncommon to go for years without telling anyone that you are struggling. With the popularity of social media, however, the ability to talk anonymously has made it easier to share and open up lines of communication, where in the past there seemed to be very few.

For years I struggled with whom to tell, who not to tell, what they would think if I did tell them; the conversations and scenarios played constantly through my mind.  It wasn’t until I started becoming more active in online forums, groups and talking with people on line that I realized there is a way to talk about mental health and not be judged.   Recently, I replied to a comment in a group on Facebook, the person had asked for advice on how to stay focused when you have Bipolar.  Within 20 minutes there were four other people, besides myself, who also had Bipolar offering suggestions and sharing our experiences.  With a simple question, those who would have otherwise stayed silent, spoke up and made themselves known, adding they were available to talk anytime.  Through this I now have a few more friends to talk to and share experiences, both good and bad. 

There are countless articles on the web that offer positives for those with mental illness to be on-line. 
According to, the connections we make online can reduce depression and anxiety, social media allows interaction with others without the stress of face-to-face interactions,   these interactions alone can often bring on anxiety.  In addition, Facebook has countless support groups for those struggling with illnesses and feel alone.   Personally, I have used them and they are especially helpful when you live in an area where there are no meetings available, or prefer to remain anonymous while remaining socially connected, without the stigma that is often attached to mental illness., agree, saying that social media can be quite helpful when it comes to staying motivated to achieve healthy goals and receiving positive reinforcements from online support groups.  By having others help you stay accountable it can increase the chances of staying on track and reaching out when you need it most.  These individuals and groups can help take the loneliness out of mental illness.  

The examples could continue, but I think you have the idea of how of social media can, in many ways help in our struggle when we feel most alone.  Being able to reach out and not be faced with the stigma, in itself is one of the best reasons to speak up.