Et tu, Gene Simmons? Oy vey!

By Julie Fidler

genesimmons

Admission: I kind of like KISS music. I kind of like Gene Simmons. Some aspects of him, anyway.
I never joined the KISS Army like my husband did in the 70′s – wait, I wasn’t alive in the 70′s – but after 15 years of being married to a man who starts jumping around the room every time he finds out the band is going on tour, I’ve found a few tunes I actually enjoy.

I loved Gene Simmons Family Jewels. It was one of the funniest shows I think I’ve ever seen. It was rather satisfying seeing a guy who calls himself The Demon taken down a peg by his unimpressed family. Over time, I sort of started to respect Gene for all the work he does on behalf of the troops. Yeah, he’s a misogynist…maybe a narcissist…but he loves America. He appreciates it because of the new life it gave him and his mother – a holocaust survivor – when they immigrated here from Israel.

But last month he made these comments during a radio interview and people got angry, and for good reason:

“My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear f**k all about ‘the world is a harsh place.’ She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life,” he said. “And for a putz, 20-year-old kid to say ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle,’ f**k you then kill yourself.”

“I never understand, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says ‘Jump!’ when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, ‘That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump,’” Simmons continued. “Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut … up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

“By the way, you walk up to the same guy on a ledge who threatens to jump and put a gun to his head, ‘I’m going to blow your … head off!’ He’ll go, ‘Please don’t!’ It’s true. He’s not that insane.”

So Twitter totally blew up over this and Gene Simmons has taken down his Twitter account. He semi-apologized on Facebook:

“I have never sugarcoated my feelings regarding drug use and alcoholics. Somewhere along the line, my intention of speaking in very directly and perhaps politically incorrectly about drug use and alcoholics has been misconstrued as vile commentary on depression,” he added. “Unkind statements about depression were certainly never my intention.”

You know, I’m so tired of getting angry at the people who say these things. If I roll my eyes one more time, they’re going to fall out. I can’t do it anymore. I don’t know I’m fatigued or just biased because I know that Gene has done a lot of good, but I’m just not angry. I’m not going to call him out for being an idiot or write out another lecture.

I think a recovery center should call up Gene Simmons and invite him to come sit in on some 12-step groups and talk to some people. You know how many recovery centers there are in Los Angeles? One of them should school him in a way that I never could. He obviously doesn’t make the connection between depression and addiction, so he needs to be confronted with it face-to-face. I think that’s what should happen anytime one of these celebrities says something deeply hurtful.

Public opinion might make someone shut up but they’re not really learning anything. I’ve decided I’m not going to lambaste these folks anymore on this blog or my personal blog because it’s not worth the time or effort. Yelling at someone for being a jerk doesn’t help them understand the reality of depression or addiction. How does the Bible say to handle these things? Speak the truth, walk away, then pray. We plant seeds, God grows them.

I suppose this is a challenge, though, in a way, to any professional who might be reading this. Send some of these people an invite. Gene, Shepard Smith, Todd Bridges… Todd Bridges has been there and done that but maybe he needs a refresher course.

You do what you can, then you walk away and pray.



Dear Robin Williams

By Julie Fidler

robinwilliams

Oh, Robin Williams. If you could see the enormity of your loss, I wonder if you would still be with us.
I wish you could see how much you were loved and how many people are devastated by your loss.

Some have labeled your suicide “selfish” but that is a purely empty, ignorant viewpoint. I won’t give those people any attention in this blog. Yes, you made the decision to end your life in the most technical sense, but the notion that you just dismissed your family and friends and decided they weren’t worth living for goes against everything I’ve read about you. I’ve been suicidal, Robin, and I understand your pain. My readers, I pray, understand your death and the fact that severe depression strips you of all logic and reason and blinds you to the many reasons you should stay alive.

No one wakes up and says, “I’m going to kill myself today, just because. I don’t feel like dealing anymore. To heck with everyone I love.”

If you don’t have depression, most problems are conquerable. I long to be one of those people. When the darkness descends, your brain – your illness – tells you there is no hope. Sometimes, the whisper of death in your ear turns into a scream and you think that, surely, if you are this miserable, you must be making everyone else in the world miserable, too.

Maybe that is the part that so many people don’t understand – that depression tells you that the world would be better off without you.

Maybe one of the things so many Christians don’t understand is that not every believer who commits suicide does so because they have given up on God. Rather, they feel that they have failed Him and are useless to Him. Of course it’s incorrect, but tell that to a malfunctioning brain. I don’t know where you stood with God, Robin, but I believe that His grace runs deeper than the grave.

I wish you’d had hope. I wish you could have drown out that scream. I wish you were here to make us laugh, cry and marvel at your brilliance.

And I’m so, so sorry that it took the loss of one of the most brilliant comics who ever lived to make people realize that no one – NO ONE – is immune. I pray we do a better job of raising awareness and reaching out to those around us who are sick (and we all know somebody) and that it doesn’t take another tragedy to bring us to our knees and elevate our understanding of the deadly disease that is depression.

I know you weren’t selfish, Robin Williams. You were just sick.



The Science of Prayer and Healing

By Julie Fidler

powerofprayer

Yesterday I wrote about praying for others and how it can improve and stave off depression in many cases. Sometimes I get accused of not being “scientific” enough for some tastes – understandable – so I thought I’d throw a little science into the equation today.

I found a study on the U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health website that I wanted to share with you. The purpose of the study was to find out how effective person-to-person prayer is in the treatment of depression. In other words, researchers wanted to find out if someone with depression would improve if they had someone directly praying for them.

I won’t go into all the details because you can read it for yourself, but the outcome was pretty amazing:

At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls (p < 0.01 in all cases). Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements (p < 0.01 in all cases) for a duration of at least 1 month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study. Cortisol levels did not differ significantly between intervention and control groups, or between pre- and post-prayer conditions.

Now, if you’re not the praying type or you think the idea of God is nothing but baloney, this study might not mean much to you. I know what you’re thinking because despite my faith in God, I tend to analyze things pretty deeply. Maybe the people in the prayer group improved because they knew they were being prayed for, and thus felt more cared for and just felt more positive knowing that someone was trying to intervene on their behalf. You could argue that humans just swap and absorb each other’s energy, positive and negative alike, and that’s why the depressed participants improved so dramatically. You could also attribute patients’ improvement to the meditation and repetitious aspects of prayer, though many believers, including me, would tell you there is nothing repetitious about their prayer lives.

I say it lends a backbone to what Christians have known all along: prayer changes things. And yes, I’m sure that positive energy and feeling loved is part of that equation, but those are as much a part of our faith as crosses hanging above the altar and shaking hands with people as they walk into church.

Here are a few more statistics to consider. These come from separate studies at Dartmouth, Duke and Yale universities on the effect of prayer on healing in general.

Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.

Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.

Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.

In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Yes, sometimes when we ask God for something, He says “no.” Understanding that requires more brain cells than I can rub together. It’s a harsh reality of life.

But one thing seems to be pretty obvious about prayer: it can’t hurt.



Pray for Others and Stop Pitying Yourself

By Julie Fidler

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When I’m stressed out and overwhelmed by anxiety, I picture the red parlor piano my grandparents had in their basement in New York. It was always out of tune but my cousins and I couldn’t resist it. They actually knew how to play the piano, but no matter what they played it always sounded kind of creepy, even a little demonic because the wires were warped.

Then I’d come in with no piano skills whatsoever and just pound on the keys until my hands hurt or my grandmother yelled at me to shut up from the top of the stairs.

Sometimes I feel like that piano is sitting on my chest and the creepy music could be the soundtrack of my life. I feel it squeezing my rib cage, pushing on my heart, making it harder for it to beat. I don’t get a little cranky when I’m stressed, I get crushed.

Then, just when I’m about to accuse God of being an absentee father, I hear something or read something that jars me out of my own head and shoves me away from my pity party in the making and I realize someone else in the world has problems, too.

I can’t always stop that wave from hitting me and I can’t always immediately fix the circumstances that are turning me into an emotional pancake! But it’s really hard to baste in my own misery when I turn my time and attention to others. When I’m stuck on me, it’s time to start praying for someone else. It doesn’t have to be a long, flowery prayer. (Thank goodness because I’m not the long, flowery type.) “Lord, please help Bob” is plenty effective. God knows when we’re having a hard time. If God digs obedience when we’re doing great then I have a feeling He appreciates it even more when we’d rather eat a tub of Nutella, spoke a pack of cigarettes and curse the day we were born.

My dear friend and mentor, Shaunti Feldhahn, has always tried to instill this little wisdom nugget in me. It’s biblical, obviously, but I haven’t always thought of prayer as being beneficial for both sides. I suppose I always thought God told us to pray for others so we don’t become selfish jerks, and while I’m sure that’s at least a little bit true, I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that praying for another person actually helps us, too.

For example:
You’re at home watching (fill in some random Netflix series) in your pajamas with the hole in the crotch. You’re covered in orange Dorito cheese. You have $3 till Friday and your cell phone got turned off. WELCOME TO MY SATURDAYS! Anyway…

You could stay home and…
…get fat
…cry
…feel sorry for yourself
…hate your neighbor because he has a pool
…tell yourself you will always be poor and you should just move into a box and give up trying to be an adult

OR

You could…
…lick the cheese off your fingers
…turn off that smut you’re watching
…ask God to help and bless someone else
…realize that someone out there might need you
…stop isolating yourself and meet up with a friend who needs a listening ear
…improve your own mood just by being unwilling to wallow in your problems

Here’s the other thing: if you make an effort to do this ALL THE TIME, you might just PREVENT yourself from being squashed by a giant red piano that plays devil music and wants to eat your soul!

Look up and outside of yourself and take a step towards healing and prevention.



The World’s Most Eye-Opening Psychiatrist Appointment

By Julie Fidler

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Finally, after more than a year, I got to see a psychiatrist yesterday. Forgive my negativity, but…I was not expecting much, and the good doctor did not disappoint. He did not exactly come highly recommended. He just happened to be taking new patients.

I was greeted with a half-hearted handshake, directed to a couch, and told in no uncertain terms that our appointment would be 45 minutes and not a minute longer.

“I’m going to ask you a lot of questions but don’t go into detail because we don’t have time for that. Going forward, you should know that all of your future appointments will be exactly 15 minutes. I will not spend time with you or really even check to see how you’re doing. I will check your medications and you will leave. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s actually very wrong, but that’s how we do it.”

It had already been a long day. My husband is sick. I drove with my parking brake on and thought there was something seriously wrong with my car for, like, 20 minutes before I figured it out. When I went to get gas, I pulled up to the pump on the wrong side…twice.

Remember that old country song, “Did I Shave My Legs for This”? I’ve been singing it in my head ever since I got home. Thirty seconds into my appointment and he had already done everything but win me over.

So he went over a long list of rapid-fire questions, none of which were out of the DSM. Nowhere in the DSM does it ask: “Do you talk to aliens or ghosts flying around your head?” Nowhere does it say: “Have you ever been found wandering the street naked and talking to yourself?”

If I hesitated for even a second on any of the questions, he motioned at me with his hands to hurry up. Everything was very black and white. No room for explanation or interpretation. He said there’s nothing wrong with being “crazy” or with choosing not to get treatment for being “crazy.”

He confirmed what I already knew: that Seroquel is making me gain weight and Effexor is making me lose my hair. He said he doesn’t think I’m really bipolar because I’m 35 and have never been “locked up” for a lengthy period of time. If I was truly bipolar, I would have done some serious psych hospital time by now. I tried to tell him that there were times when I should have been hospitalized, but he waved that off and said it doesn’t work that way, whatever that means.

I never quite got a diagnosis out of him, which is frustrating because I’m fairly certain that if anyone else had listened to my answers, they would have at least diagnosed me with depression, no questions asked. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind or in the mind of anyone knows me that I suffer from depression. But all I got was a “mood disorder undefined” and possibly anxiety.

Oh, there was that one other possible diagnosis…I could be a “PITA.” I had no idea what that meant, so he explained that it meant “Pain In The A$$.” No, he wasn’t joking. He wasn’t joking at all. If at any time during my appointment this man was joking, I was completely unaware of it. If so, he should start playing poker in Vegas because he’d totally clean up.

He didn’t really explain anything to me, but when he did take a stab at clearing something up he explained it in racial terms that I didn’t understand. He’s Philippino (I found out during the course of our discussion) and I don’t think he likes Americans. He kept saying “you Americans” and “here in America” in the most sarcastic way possible. He tried to explain to me that bipolar disorder is different from, say, intermittent explosive disorder, because…um, something about “just because someone has dark skin that doesn’t mean he’s black, he could just have a really dark tan” and something else about black people having curly hair. I…I don’t know. He lost me there.

At one point during the question-and-answer session, he just blurted out: “Sex.”
I said, “What about it?”
He said, “Do you want it?”
I sat there for what felt like an eternity before I realized he was asking if I had a sex drive. I’m glad I took the time to figure that out because I was on the verge of saying, “Not with you” or “Nope, I’m good.”

At the end of the appointment, he laid out my treatment plan for my very vague “undefined” illness. He told me to go home, look up some psych meds to see which ones look the most attractive (have the least side effects), talk to my husband and my friends about it, and come back in five weeks and tell him what I want to take. (This could either be the start of one wild party or a slow descent into complete madness.)

Imagine! You go to your family doctor sick with some sort of bacterial infection, and he tells you to pick out your own drugs! This would never fly in any other field, obviously. People would be requesting Xanax to treat yeast infections.

My psychiatrist doesn’t have a great bedside manner. He sort of talks down to you. You don’t get the overwhelming sense that he loves his job. But I have to give him a little credit, because he was honest. Brutally, painfully honest.

“If you have mental problems, you can’t really get treated unless you try to kill yourself, try to kill your mother, or are wandering the streets without any clothes on.” I double-dog dare ya to find another psychiatrist who will say it exactly like it is. It’s not what I wanted to hear, but it didn’t come as any great shock, either.

Here’s where it gets really messy, though. He blames the whole mess on Obamacare. Now, we all know that the mental health system was absolutely terrible long before Obamacare…and long before Obama himself. That part seems like a cop-out to me. It’s a convenient excuse to give frustrated patients who, frankly, spend more time waiting on their order at Taco Bell than they do receiving real answers and treatment from psychiatrists.

The doctor’s attitude isn’t what frustrates me. I can handle smug and sarcastic, that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that this was my one and only option – literally the only psychiatrist who was seeing new patients. I’d love a second opinion, but do you know how impossible that’s going to be?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind not having bipolar disorder. (And I do believe he’s right about that, after reviewing the events of my life over and over…) But I don’t have any answers at all because of the lack of time and interest on his part, or I should say the system’s part. The fact that I’m not violent or delusional means I can’t be accurately diagnosed or treated.

There are no preventative measures, at least not medically. If I feel like I’m getting severely depressed, possibly even borderline suicidal…oh well! I have to actually harm myself or someone else (or at least threaten to do so) to get help. That’s like saying I can’t get my insulin unless I slip into a coma.

I don’t know if it’s possible to be not surprised and absolutely shocked at the same time, but that’s how I feel. I am now – basically – undiagnosed. Undiagnosed, lost, wondering what it will take to raise this sinking ship we call the mental health system.

I’m usually asking people to send me horror stories about their experiences, but please, PLEASE, if you have had the opposite experience, let me know in the comments.



Mixed Messages About Getting Help for Mental Illness

By Julie Fidler

mentalhealthaware

This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of PsychCentral.com.

I spoke to a friend last week who was in an emotional state of upheaval.
She has battled anxiety and depression for most of her life, has been prescribed numerous drugs, but never sticks with them long enough to find out if they work. She is starting to accept that she needs more help than just meditation and a Bible study at church.

She went to see a new psychiatrist (she moved to a different state several months ago) and he prescribed a brand new drug – one I’d never heard of, and that’s rare in my line of work. I’ve written about more drugs than you can shake a stick at, but this one hasn’t even caused a blip on my radar. That’s because, I found out, the drug is so new that no one has had a chance to file any lawsuits over it yet. (The sad but true reality.) My friend called me to find out what I knew, and I couldn’t help her.

Because the drug is so new, my friend’s insurance won’t pay for it. Her psychiatrist is trying to fix that, but in the meantime, the antidepressant is very expensive and my friend, because of her move, is short on cash and not sure how she’ll pay for it. She explained this to her psychiatrist, who gave her some samples and a coupon.

I am definitely concerned about the potential side effects of a brand new medication, but I’m more concerned that a psychiatrist has started my friend on a brain drug (because that’s what these things are, think about it) that she may or may not be able to keep up with. She is taking a pill that is altering her brain chemistry, and if she can’t afford to continue taking it…then what?

We live in a country of mixed messages when it comes to mental illness.
The list of psychiatric medication is growing and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon.
The only time we hear about mental illness in America is when someone goes on a violent rampage. After the fact, there are almost always reports from people who knew the perpetrator, people who say “he had problems” or “he was angry” or “he was despondent.” The same is true of suicide. There are usually signs that go ignored or missed.

If it comes out that that person wasn’t taking medication, we collectively shake our heads and ask why. We try to find someone to blame, and we usually blame the offender himself.

But when I read something like this – about how antidepressants aren’t really fixing anything and how 1 in 6 people who take antidepressants aren’t really clinically depressed, it just makes me want to scream. Literally, all of our attempts at breaking through the stigma of mental illness are biting us in the butt because we’re getting two sets of information shouted at us from two different directions.

“GET HELP!”
“No, don’t do that! It probably won’t help anyway!”

Ugh.

I have an appointment with a psychiatrist next month. It has taken me over a year to find one who is taking new patients. I wish I could say I was thrilled, but I’m going to see a doctor I haven’t heard wonderful things about at a facility that is known as the “conveyor belt of psychiatry” – you get in, you get out. You tell them what’s wrong and they hand you a script for something. Not exactly my idea of “getting help,” but it’s my only option. My family doctor wants a psychiatrist to handle my bipolar medication, and I can’t say I blame him.

Jonathan Rottenberg, the author of the HuffPost blog linked above, is correct. We are an over-medicated society. There was a time in history when, if we’d lived in the wrong place, you and I might have been shipped to a concentration camp or extinguished for having a mental illness. It wasn’t that long ago that we might have been locked up in a sanitarium and been subject to all sorts of demented forms of torture as “treatment” right here on American soil. We are slowly beginning to understand that mental illness is truly an illness, but we’re still terrible at explaining the difference between a medical condition and having a bad day. We want everyone to wake up and realize that depression and other mental illnesses are real, and that they might have one, but we get bent out of shape about the influx of people looking for help.

The change starts with quality care, not psychiatric conveyor belts that just want to make sure we’re sufficiently doped when we walk out the door. I don’t know exactly what that would look like. I’m not sure how we go about educating the public about the difference, but I want to be involved in it, and I believe it is necessary. I couldn’t even have a session with my chiropractor until I watched an informational 20-minute video, but I can walk out of a psychiatrist’s office with brain-altering drugs and no real explanation of what I’m putting in my mouth.

I hope that freaks you out a little, too.

So, what’s it going to be? Are we going to encourage people to get help, or are we going to encourage them to avoid it?
It seems to me like the better option is to give them all of the information and help them to make an educated decision. It’s up to us to figure out how to make that a reality.

That brings me to the favor I’m about to ask you.
I’m writing a book, and I want to hear your stories, good and bad, about the psychiatric care you’ve gotten. If you haven’t been able to find any, I want to hear your stories about that, too. Drop me a line at: quandaryblog @ gmail DOT com. (Got to avoid the spam bots!) Please email me your story, don’t leave it in the comments section.

And as always, I’ll see you over at my other blog.



There is Only One Good Way to Rewrite History

By Julie Fidler

lifestory

There are certain things you shouldn’t do when you’re depressed, like watching sad stuff on TV. I try to avoid that sort of thing as much as possible. Actually, I’ve decided that watching a few reruns of “The Golden Girls” is great therapy for those down days.

The other day I was dealing with a very bored, very restless sort of depression. I’ve talked about this before – when you get that way, you don’t really feel sad or that life is just too painful to continue, you feel like nothing is interesting or worth the energy it takes to participate. I flopped down on the couch and reached for the remote and turned on Hulu Plus. (Cool service, by the way.)

I did what is normally a very dumb thing for me to do: decided to watch a documentary called Hitler’s Children. Here’s the description from the IMDB website:

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Nazi official Hermann Göring. Katrin Himmler is the great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, second in command of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. Rainer Hoess is the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, creator and commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, Polish Governor-General during WWII, he who was responsible for the ghettos and concentration camps in Nazi occupied Poland. Monika Goeth is the daughter of Amon Goeth, commandant of the Plaszów Concentration Camp. None with Nazi leanings, the five talk individually about what it is like to carry a name associated with the Nazi Party, being a blood relative to someone associated with hate and murder, being German at a time when that in and of itself was seen as being associated with Naziism, dealing with their family regardless of their allegiance to the Nazi Party, and if they feel any guilt associated with the actions of their infamous ancestor.

Now, if you’re in a bad spot, I don’t recommend watching this or anything like it. Nothing will rattle your faith in humanity like stories from the Holocaust. It’s information we all need to know, but sometimes you have to be selective about when you learn certain things.

As much as I was struck by the stories of concentration camp horrors (like 9/11, it never ceases to shock me), it got me thinking about much more than the events of World War II or how humans can be so monstrous towards each other. It got me thinking about how easy it is to rewrite history for the purpose of covering up shameful and abysmal events, and not just on a worldwide or even nationwide scale.

The individuals interviewed for the documentary knew firsthand what that was like. One woman had no idea her father was a Nazi monster until she was confronted by a Jewish bartender who had lived in her father’s concentration camp. Another woman thought her grandmother was just a kind, loving old woman until she dug through her personal belongings after her death and realized she had remained a Nazi until her last breath, even communicating with other Nazis without anyone else realizing it.

If I look back on my life, I can spot numerous occasions of history being rewritten.
It was easier to say that that certain relative was conceited instead of anorexic, for example, because it’s easier to dismiss someone as being self-absorbed than it is to admit they had an illness that nobody really wanted to confront or deal with. It’s easier to say that the religious sect you were brought up in was above-reproach than it is to acknowledge that some of the people you loved and admired had major issues or were hypocritical.

She wasn’t an alcoholic, she just drank a little too much.
We’re a close family because we get together on the holidays, even though we don’t make any effort to see each other any other time and we live only a few miles apart.

She wasn’t bipolar; she was lazy.

I’ve always heard that if you lie to yourself enough, you’ll eventually begin to believe your own stories.
What I love about Jesus is that He is not interested in deny our pain or our pasts. He’s not interested in making us think that we just interpreted things the wrong way. He only wants us to realize that He was there…and that God, the Author, can write a new story for each and every one of us.

You over there – the girl with the absentee father. God wants to be your new Father.
You over there – the boy who was picked on for your small stature and gentle ways. God wants to fill you with strength and power, and use your gentleness to bring about healing for others.
You over there – the woman who has been wrestling with guilt from being sexually abused for 30 years. God wants to restore your innocence.

The devil is a liar. He can make anything seem hopeless, and anyone feel too far gone.
It’s not true.
Don’t let him scribble your history. You can’t erase your pain, but God can write the rest of your biography.



Our Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

By Julie Fidler

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Ah, social media. I kind of hate you, but I can’t quit you.

Facebook is great for many things. I love keeping in touch with my family in California on a daily basis. I like seeing pictures of my friends and their kids (and their cats, and their dogs), and even their food, sometimes. It’s a good place to have deep, meaningful discussions and heated debates. It’s where I keep up with Amy Grant and find out what’s going on with the production of “24.”

But have you ever been un-friended by a family member, or sent someone a friend request who rejected it? Have you ever had a friend block you because of your political views? Not very pretty. Those Candy Crush invites make smoke pour out of my ears, too.

According to a recent study, social media is changing us, and not entirely for the better. For one thing, social media makes us braver. That can be a good thing, if it means raising money for a cause, standing up for the oppressed, or educating the public about an issue (mental illness, for example.)

Not everyone can handle the anonymity, however. It allows people a forum to be as obnoxious as they want to be with few repercussions, and most of the time, nobody will ever even know their name. I’ve experienced it on Twitter, and even on this blog. People do and say things online that they’d never be caught dead saying or doing in real life.

Social media has created the perfect environment for bullies. Bullies don’t just dump your milk on you in the middle school lunchroom anymore; they can follow you virtually anywhere. Take, for example, the case of Melody Hensley, a feminist atheist who claims she has been so harassed on Twitter that she has developed PTSD. Whether you like Melody Hensley and what she stands for is not important. It’s not even important whether or not you believe that Twitter bullying actually gave her PTSD. What’s scary about her tale is that so many people feel justified in treating another person like dirt because they don’t like that individual or their beliefs.

We have the option NOT to read someone’s posts. That doesn’t matter to some. It’s much more satisfying for them to attack someone than to simply ignore them. Unfortunately, online bullying is often more severe than “traditional” bullying, as well, because of the lack of repercussions and the lack of tattlers.

You’ve probably seen funny pictures of teenagers staring at their cell phones with a pithy caption that says something like “the zombie apocalypse has arrived.” Kids may not have devolved into mindless undead creatures just yet, but according to Lemoyne College professor of psychology Krystine Batcho, social media can stunt teenagers’ social skills if parents aren’t careful.

“The greater fear of what’s perhaps taking place is that kids are not learning how to behave in a face-to-face conversation,” Batcho explained. “What could be happening in cyberspace may not translate to real life. What you do you in cyberspace is quite different than what you do face-to-face and kids may be losing those important social skills.”

Social media has become a comfort zone for people who don’t do so well in the real world, and that goes for kids and adults alike. I have to watch myself in this area. Sometimes I have to sign out of all of my many social media accounts and go meet a living, breathing friend in a physical coffee shop with actual tables and chairs, for a cup of literal, hot, liquid coffee for my own mental health.

“The greater the social media use over time, the life satisfaction decreases,” Batcho asserted. “I think why we have conflicting evidence at the moment is because we have to analyze the dynamics taking place. So for one person, social media could be very beneficial, but for another it could have a very negative impact on them. You have to think about what is motivating the internet experiences people are having in the first place to predict whether they will benefit or not on the relationship.

The online world can help or hurt one’s spiritual life, too.
A few years ago, I led a Beth Moore study at my church and one of the things Moore spoke about in the accompanying video was how things like Twitter can blow our self-perspective, perspectives of others, and perspective of God into disarray. We follow other people on Twitter, and ask them to follow us. It’s not hard to see how easy it could be to get a big head as your list of followers increases. Celebrities have boosted and destroyed their careers on Twitter in 140 characters.

If the interwebs are dragging you down, take a vacation. The people you’re close to will still know how to reach you. If you own a pen, write someone a note instead. If you don’t own a pen, my husband has at least 300 of them. Pick up the phone. Or, you know…press the green “call” button. Ask someone to meet you for lunch.

If someone un-friends you on Facebook or stops following you on Twitter, keep your perspective. They either weren’t as valuable to you as you thought or hoped, or they’d simply prefer to communicate with you outside of social media for some reason.

If you can’t pull yourself away without panicking, get help. And if you’re being bullied, take some time off from the computer. It can be extremely difficult to stop online bullying. If you’re being threatened, tell the authorities. No one has the right to make you fear for your safety.

And no matter how much time you spend online, don’t forget to dig into God’s Word. It’s His love letter to you. It never changes, and it’s good to be reminded that if God is for you, no one can be against you.

Have a Happy Easter, and check out more of my ramblings at my brand spankin’ new personal blog!



Know Your Medications, Options, and Risks

By Julie Fidler

Interest's ConflictsCreative Commons License David Goehring via CompfightNo drug is risk-free. Know your stuff before you pop that pill.

On May 5, 2006, I realized that I was happy. I remember the date because May 5 is my birthday, and there is no greater birthday present than the feeling of true joy. Maybe cash? I digress…

Up until that point, I’d struggled to find a combination of medication that helped my bipolar disorder AND helped me sleep. Insomnia has been my worst enemy for as far back as I can remember, and a lack of sleep just makes mental illness worse. But as I stood in the sunshine under a cloudless sky on that unseasonably warm morning, watching my nephew’s Little League team struggle to get a hit (they were only 5), I realized that my medication was actually working. I also realized that I had never felt that good before, which is sort of sad, considering I was 27. That’s a lot of years of unhappiness.

My “wonder drug” is Seroquel. Though it took a while to pair it up with Lithium and eventually Effexor, I knew the Seroquel was helping almost immediately. Of course, it made me gain about 50 pounds.

Oh, and I went from being pre-diabetic to full-blown diabetic. And it wasn’t always easy staying awake…which is part of the reason I’m not self-employed.

I write for a large national law firm based in New York City. I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the FDA and drug manufacturers. Drugs are a Godsend, but there is a downside to everything. For example, many people don’t realize that a new drug doesn’t have to go through any studies or clinical trials to be approved by health officials. Using an expedited approval process known as 510(k), the FDA can approve a new drug as long as the manufacturer can prove that it is significantly similar to another product already on the market.

In other words, if the new drug has some awful flaw that could make your heart explode or your brain pop out of your eyes when you sneeze, you won’t know that until people start dying or filing lawsuits.

Basically, I write horror stories about drug makers who doctored data or withheld it from the public to make money, and about patients who died or suffered horrible health consequences because they took a defective drug. I’m not writing this to scare you. I simply want you to understand how important it is to be informed.

We go to our family doctors believing that our best interests are at the forefront of their minds. Usually, it is…but they want to make money as much as the drug companies do. I’ll give you an example. The insulin I take would cost upwards of $300 without insurance. With insurance (and yes I know I am blessed to have it), it costs $50. I found out this week that there is another kind of insulin on the market that works exactly the same way but is dirt cheap by comparison. It is actually CHEAPER to buy it without insurance, because it’s only $27.

Instead of being prescribed the cheaper product, I will have to ask for it by name the next time I go to the doctor, because they have too much to lose by just prescribing it to me on their own. I never would have known about it were it not for my job.

And there’s this: all legal & journalistic stuff aside, I was very sick before I starting taking these meds, but if I miss just one for any reason, I’m 10 times sicker. I am extremely diligent about taking my medication, but once in a great while I wind up missing one because I simply forgot to add it to my fistful of nightly drugs, or because I ran out and forgot that I was out of refills. One time I dropped half a bottle of Seroquel in the toilet by accident. Baby, once they hit the toilet, they’re gone. I don’t go fishing for them.

When I do miss a med, I feel like going to the ER and begging to be placed in a medically induced coma. The stomach cramps, the nausea, the brain zaps, the emotional train wreck, the aches and pains… I have asked myself on more than one occasion whether or not the pills are worth it. Some people worry about losing their jobs or not being able to put food on the table for their families, but my main worry is that someday I will not be able to get my meds for longer than one day.

Have you ever experienced a brain zap? I’m betting a lot of you have. Better yet, have you ever tried to describe it to someone else? It feels to me like someone put a plugged-in toaster in a bathtub full of water and every few seconds, he takes out my brain and dips it in the tub.

I try to picture my life without treatment. I’d either be a drug addict, living penniless in my parents’ basement, or suicide would have claimed me a long time ago. Still, sanity has a price tag. If not taking a pill for less than 24 hours can give you brain zaps, you have to wonder what these drugs are doing to your brain in the long term. Seroquel hasn’t been around long enough for us to know, and neither has Effexor.

If you need help, you need help. You go get it because you want to have a fulfilling and meaningful life. You want to contribute to the world and have your time here count for something. But take my advice, as one who writes about the very worst of mankind, do your homework. If it’s at all possible, research that drug your doctor just prescribed you before you pop it in your mouth. Will it interact with something else you’re taking? Can it worsen an underlying condition? Have thousands of people filed lawsuits over the harm this drug can do? Can I find another drug that works just as well but costs much less?

There is no shame in taking medication, but make sure you know what you’re taking, because these drugs carve new pathways in your brain, and it’s serious business. Your doctor might be a nice guy who goes to your church, but you’re not the only patient biding for his time, so go online and become a sleuth.

Stick up for yourself and ask questions. There is no shame in taking medication, and there is no shame in investigating beyond the papers that come stapled to your prescriptions. The doctor may be the one with all the fancy degrees, but it’s YOUR body he’s treating. A good doctor won’t mind you asking, and if doesn’t have the time to answer everything, he’ll point you in the right direction.

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I Didn’t Choose To Have A Mental Illness

By Julie Fidler

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I’ve dealt with depression from the time I was a child. It goes so far back that I can’t point to an age or a moment when I realized something was different about me; it has always been there.

As a child, I spent many nights sitting on the floor beside my bed, a cassette tape crackling on the stereo in the background, thinking about the vastness of the universe and how tiny and isolated the earth is (this was when Pluto was still a planet), and it depressed me so deeply that I didn’t want to live. I’m sure a lot of people have these disturbing thoughts sometime in their lives, but 10-year-olds should not be dwelling so much on the dark mysteries of the universe that they want to kill themselves.

It struck me. My brain got sick. I never asked it to.

When you have a mental illness, you eventually learn that there are certain things you can’t really do without making yourself feel worse. Watching sad movies depresses me. Skipping sleep sometimes makes me manic. My friends and family know this about me, and if I’m not doing well, they will usually ask me if I have “done anything differently lately.”

I think they’re good questions to ask, and I know that some mental health advocates believe that all of that is beside the point and that no one has a right to inquire about such things. I disagree. I think it’s important, especially if you’ve asked others to come alongside you and help keep you healthy.

But there’s a catch. These questions are only useful if the person asking them has at least a general understanding of mental illness.

Like most of you, I don’t NEED to watch a sad movie to become depressed, just like I don’t need to mess up my sleep schedule to become manic. Mental illness and addiction often go together, but they are not the same. We don’t get sick because we fall off the wagon. I don’t sit alone at night, fighting my temptation to be depressed. I don’t think to myself “OK I’ll just be depressed today. Just one more time. I don’t really NEED it, I just want one more taste of that sweet misery. Tomorrow I’ll be happy.”

I think this is how a lot of people view mental illness. We just need to pull it together, determine to be happy, and remember how important it is to be stable. Don’t give into the temptation to be unstable! Like there are two buttons on the alarm clock each morning, and if we hit the one on the right, we’ll be OK. If we hit the one on the left, we’ll be sick, and if we get sick, well…that was our choice.

One of our bodily organs is sick. It doesn’t ask us if today would be a convenient day to freak out. There is no falling off the wagon and then deciding to jump back in. So questions are a good thing in the right hands. They’re dangerous when they’re asked by someone who believes, no matter what you say, that you must have done something wrong to cause the predicament you’re in now, because nothing triggers depression like being second-guessed and doubted by people you love.

We need people to celebrate the good days with us, not quietly wait for the other shoe to drop, and we need people to believe the best about us, too. Would you ask someone to cough on you so you could catch the flu? Me, either. Why would we WANT to be mentally sick?

It seems so illogical to me, but… it’s frustrating how many people are simply clueless.

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