Make Each Day Better

There are two people in my life who are battling difficult health issues.  If the health issues aren’t enough of a challenge, they are both also having a tough time with anxiety and depression as a result of the uncertainty of their physical difficulties. Besides my knowing that they are spending many days not feeling well, I understand that it is not easy to move oneself through and past the concerns and fears, as well as the unknown future that permeates their daily life.  The confluence of all of these issues can be paralyzing to a person.

As a result of this traffic jam of situations, a lot of what occurs in their daily lives is beyond their control.  They simply have to deal with all the day to day issues that go along with negotiating the impact of a serious illness.  They are committed to doc appointments, the fatigue, the loss of mobility, the side effects of medications, etc., etc.  As the saying goes, they are living with “new normals” and it ain’t easy.  It would be nice to see them retake control over a little piece of their lives, starting with the paralyzing anxiety.  One of the two people is in fact trying very hard to keep a positive attitude, and that helps reduce the anxiety.  Of course, each day brings new problems, and he is trying to stay on top of those challenges with as much support from external resources as possible.  He is definitely open to asking for help and is overcoming the stigma attached to reaching out for help.  The other person, not so much.

But everyone should be open to recognizing the benefits of a positive mental outlook in healing the body.  Perhaps relaxation exercises are your thing.  Or maybe imaging would work for you.  There are many options to consider.  Whether one does relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, imaging, or any one of a myriad of other self-help programs, taking steps towards developing and maintaining a positive, proactive demeanor may go a long way in helping someone become a partner in the healing process instead of a victim of the disease.

Make each day count. Try to make each day better.

 

 

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Ready Again

I would describe the challenges of the past year, some of them sad and painful, and some of them wonderful and validating, but the point of my blog is to help to remove the stigma from the words mental illness,not to provide a diary of the details of my own journey.  However, I will tell you that all of these challenges coming one after the other , both the good and the bad, made the journey of the past year difficult.  And yet, I have made it through, almost intact, by putting one foot in front of the other, and asking for help when I needed it.

Although taking a pause in writing for my blog, I did continue to read articles and listen to interviews about mental health issues.  I realized that there are a lot of people thinking and talking about the stigma of mental illness, and how that stigma is keeping many people from getting the help they need.  That ongoing conversation helps me believe that we are on a path that will lead us to a kinder and gentler world for mental health sufferers.

People are increasingly talking about mental health.  One of the points that is being made repeatedly is that getting help for a mental illness is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.  They are asserting that anyone, from any country, with any kind of socio-economic background, with any kind of job, with any kind of public recognition, with any kind of family, with any kind of profession, with any kind of financial resources, can be touched by a mental health illness.  Just as with any other illness in this world, mental health illness knows no boundaries, and all men and women are equally susceptible.

Below you will find a list of some of the many organizations that can provide help to those who are touched by mental illness and would like to find a path to achieving wellness:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

A Good Step

Articles about opioids and drug abuse, publicity about hazing on college campuses, ads about sanitary napkins and other menstrual products, articles about birth control, advertisements about solutions for erectile disfunction, and even a few conversations about mental health issues, have creeped into our lives.  Once forbidden public topics, these personal aspects of our lives appear to be part of a growing set of acceptable mores.  Some of the stigma attached to these topics is sloughing away.  Slowly for sure, but nonetheless little by little, it is becoming acceptable for a human being to have an imperfection.

So we appear to be making some progress in the field of taboos.  What does that mean for those of us who are challenged by some of these taboos?  What does that mean for those of us challenged by the taboo of mental health illness?  Truthfully, I am not sure of the answer.  I am only sure that every little step of progress towards making mental health illness less stigmatized is a good step.

Part of my luggage

I now believe that once a person has suffered from a mental illness, that person is always in recovery.  I am convinced that all the therapist appointments and medications in the world do not insure that one will never suffer another episode of mental illness.  There is no iron clad guarantee that one’s life will be free and clear of additional episodes of mental health-related problems.  In fact, I believe the opposite.  Once a mental health illness has touched one’s life, the possibility of future episodes related to that illness is almost certain.  It truly pains me to even write this, but I believe it to be true.

After I battled my way through the first episode of anxiety and depression, I thought, okay, I have conquered the demons and now all is well.  I believed I was done with that challenge and ready to move on.  Cured for a lifetime.  One and done!  That was my thought process.  But that was far from reality.  Sixteen years after my first episode, I found myself struggling with a second event, and I was shocked.  How could this be?  I take my medication every day.  I meditate each day.  I understood the issues of anxiety and depression.  I had learned tools for coping.  But there I was, in the middle of another difficult anxiety episode.  Trying to be proactive, I began to see the therapist again, because I was going to nip this in the bud.  But try as I might, the bud pushed open – wham!! – anxiety attacks were ravaging my days.  Shit!  This just wasn’t fair.

To cut to the punch line, I learned a very important lesson the second time around.  There is no such thing as one and done.  I will always be in recovery.  I have an anxiety disorder.  The possibility of additional bouts of depression and anxiety are part of my luggage.  That is my reality.

Treatable Maladies

I remember the pain of suffering from depression and anxiety.  I hated that pain.  It was emotionally crippling, just like having arthritis can be physically crippling.  I don’t want others to feel that kind of pain.  I know that I am not able to eliminate mental health illnesses from our list of worldly challenges, but what I can do is encourage those who need treatment for a mental illness to get the help they need.  There are now many ways to treat the depression or anxiety that is the cause of the pain, and there is no reason to continue to suffer.  Mental illnesses are treatable maladies.

When I suspect that someone is feeling the discomfort of anxiety, I want to reach out with my arms and my words.  I want to encircle them with a hug that will protect them from the reality of their pain.  I want to squeeze them so tight, that there is no room left for their pain.  I want to say something that will magically lift away the weight of their mental illness.  I want to let them know and feel that everything will be all right.  But, this goal is not based in any reality, for I know that healing comes from the within, and each person must do his/her own work to heal.  However, that desire to protect others from the pain of an untreated mental illness is the reason I write this blog.  I believe a productive approach through which I can assist others is to help erase the stigma surrounding mental illness, and hopefully once that stigma is gone, mental health sufferers will be more comfortable seeking treatment.  Treatment will help them eliminate their own pain.

New Medications For Depression

People have suffered from depression forever. In the 5th century BC it was called melancholia. Treatment was offered through lifestyle changes, i.e., diet, exercise, sleep, massage, bathing, bloodletting, and vomiting. In the Middle Ages it was believed to be a disease of the spirit – demonic possession – and sufferers were simply burned at the stake. It was not until the 17th century, when a neurologist named Thomas Willis declared that melancholia was “a complicated Distemper of the Brain and Heart,” that medical practitioners were able to place the disease on the correct path. The treatment at that time was still similar to that of the 5th century, but at least they had begun to think of it as an illness. Along the way to modern times, treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy, chemical cocktails, herbal remedies, and a few unsuccessful experimental drugs were tried and discarded. It was not until 1957 that scientists began experimenting with some promising drugs. None were long-lived because of terrible side effects, but the process of trial and error allowed the researchers to begin to understand how the drugs worked, and ultimately provided scientists with information that enabled them to flush out what caused depression. They discovered the cause to be depleted levels of the brain’s neurotransmitters, namely serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. That finding led to the discovery of Prozac in 1987. It was our first SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Today we have many drugs from which to choose, but still 30% of all people with depression or depression-related illnesses are treatment-resistant.

There is an FDA approved drug presently being used by anesthesiologists called ketamine hydrochloride, which is administered to people who are having surgery in order to put them to sleep. It is unfortunately also being abused recreationally to “trip and hallucinate.” In light of its mood-altering characteristics, it is the basis for experimentation in the search for new psychopharmacological medications. Several clinical tests are taking place showing excellent results for treatment-resistant patients, which further encourages drug companies to continue financing research into ketamine’s curative possibilities. One of its major characteristics is that it apparently works quickly. Unlike the currently available selection of medications for depression and depression-related illnesses, which take from one to two months to begin to kick in, the ketamine-based drugs can have an effect in just a few hours. So progress is plainly being made in addressing the need for more effective medicinal remedies. This is great news for all of us.

Heads Together

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Kate, and the Prince of Wales, Prince Harry, sponsor an organization called Heads Together*. It is an organization that speaks to the issues of mental health stigma in general, and the effect of that stigma on PTSD sufferers in particular. By promoting open conversations about mental health issues, Heads Together promotes understanding of, and seeking treatment for, mental health challenges for military people. Along with their own programming, Heads Together partners with a number of UK charities already doing great work in fighting the stigma that often prevents people from getting the help they need.

Attached here is one of the many conversations that has taken place under the auspices of Heads Together.

 

* (It is very much like the organization that Dr. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama started here in the USA, called Joining Forces.)