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Know Your Medications, Options, and Risks

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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 …


Triggers

Friday, September 27th, 2013

As I write this, I’ve got a lot on my plate.
A husband facing a health crisis.
Financial struggles.
A book project I can’t seem to dream into existence.

I don’t know how it is for you, but around here life is a delicate balancing act between trusting God and throwing something really big and heavy through the TV. That’s about as encouraging as I can be today.

What worries me, even more than the problems I face, is the sense that I am always this close to going through a bipolar cycle. It won’t be the health crisis, the financial struggles, or the professional frustration that gets me. It will be the combination of all of them combined. I’m sure you’ve felt like life was piling up and you’re one more memo from your boss or one more car problem away from breaking. Everyone, whether healthy or mentally ill, knows what that’s like. It’s just that it’s more catastrophic for some of us than others.

Any type of life change, no matter how big or how small, can trigger an episode of bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental health issues. For some people, all it takes is an argument or the change in seasons.

All my life, my mother told me that God would never give me more than I could handle. Now I know that’s not true. Relevant Magazine just published an article on this very topic. In the piece, author Michael Hidalgo points out that not only did God notpromise to give us more than we can bear, there are plenty of examples of overwhelmed souls in the Bible – Jesus included.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus told His father, “This is too much for me!” We see this kind of thing in the Psalms, too. The Psalmists ball their fists in rage, and shout at God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22) In their sadness they say, “darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88).

So I go into this period of my life not expecting God to lift me up and over the pain. Even the best psychiatric …


Which Matters More: Brain or Body?

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

warning_fda_approved

By day, I write for a large law firm that deals primarily with personal injury litigation. These aren’t the small, ridiculous cases you hear Stephen Colbert making fun of on The Colbert Report, these are huge cases that often involve injuries, illnesses, and deaths caused by medications. I never cease to be amazed at the way pharmaceutical companies will put millions of lives at risk to earn a profit. I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them are immune.

It burns a little to have to write so much about anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication. Thank you, Lord, that I wasn’t one of the teenagers who became increasingly suicidal when I was prescribed Paxil and then Zoloft nearly 20 years ago. It’s heart-wrenching to think about the countless families who lost an demented elderly relative to a death hastened by anti-psychotic medications used to keep their behaviors under control. I think about the many people who became diabetic after taking Seroquel to hush a mind full of racing thoughts that refused to calm itself naturally. People like me.

Even though these drugs come with harsh side effects, and, yes, drug manufacturers sometimes lie about the (lack of) safety and efficacy of their products, there is no denying that some of these drugs are lifelines for many people. After all, it was Seroquel that seemed to put the kibosh on my rage-a-holic tendencies.

It’s just sad that so many of us face a terrible choice: Do I want good physicalhealth, or good mental health?

If I could go back to 2006, I’m not convinced I’d trade in Seroquel for a working pancreas. A lot of people don’t understand why I say that, but that’s because they’ve never been stuck in the hamster wheel of Bipolar Disorder. It’s harder to appreciate peace if you haven’t lived most of your life in an emotional war zone that comes complete with the torture of sleep deprivation.

After spending a good bit of the summer hiking, however, I’ve started to wonder about these drugs that I take…I wonder if there really is a …


Talking Faith and Mental Illness: Suicide

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

silentangel

Blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock is hosting a “broad conversation about faith and mental illness” and last week I responded to his question about the way my own faith community has historically viewed mental illness, and how my own faith shapes my views of it. This week Warnock touches on the very sensitive subject of suicide.

Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?

In my 20+ years as a believer, I have found it very difficult to nail down what Christians truly believe about salvation, let alone suicide. There are Christians who believe in “once saved always saved” theology – there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and even fewer Christians seem to know what that means. There is another set of Christians who believe that if you renounce your faith and walk away from God, you absolutely can lose your faith. I can only assume that ending your life – which, if you believe in Christ, is no longer yours but His – would fit into the category of renouncing your faith and walking away from God to this particular group of Christians.

I don’t believe religious faith protects against suicide in every case. Certainly, for many it does. But mental illness isn’t really about faith, and that’s why this conversation is happening and why this blog exists in the first place. Wow, don’t you wish you could just believe yourself out of faulty brain? Lots of people seem to think you can – ha, if only!

My official stance on this issue is simple: I’d rather not find out. But God knows the difference between someone who just decides to abandon Truth and someone who is truly afflicted with mental illness and can’t choose.

Here in Christian America, we love telling people that God has a “wonderful purpose” for their lives.
We …


Family: Trading Understanding for Acceptance

Monday, May 13th, 2013

handMothers Day is a touchy holiday for some people. I know it was for me.
I didn’t always get along with my mother and, actually, there was a time in my life when I wanted to disappear without a trace because I was sick of all the fighting and painful feelings. But that was many years ago and now I have a pretty good relationship with Mom. It’s not perfect, but no relationship is. I’m just happy that we are friends and as my mother ages, my instinct is to draw closer rather than run away.

When I told my parents that I’d been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. I knew the conversation was going to tank. I thought about not telling them at all, but it seemed like such a big thing to skip over. I didn’t want one of them to read about it before I told them about it, either. As I expected, they didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t even believe that BP was a real disease. You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and dealt with life, you didn’t give it a scientific-sounding name and take a pill for it – that was for weaklings! For years, the topic would never have come up had I not brought it up myself, and when I did, my mother did everything she could to steer the conversation in another direction.

I’ve never wanted to be a mental health evangelist, believe it or not. I believe the Lord tried very hard for many years to get me to write and speak about it, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I especially didn’t want to be the mental health evangelist in my family because it was so frustrating and disheartening. I just wanted my family to understand it and have my back, and I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. Ah, but relationships are about compromise, aren’t they? If you go into any relationship thinking you can change somebody, you will be sorely disappointed.

Sometimes, you have to trade understanding …


Mental Health Frustrations and Rethinking Church – Kinda

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

whitechurchcrpdThe Mental Health Grace Alliance published a blog post last week entitled 3 Frustrations of Mental Health and the Church; 3 Ways to Re:Think Church.

The post covers:

Spiritual Stigma
unfortunately, pastoral staff members grow frustrated when they don’t understand why their ministry methods are not working.  In response, they unknowingly go into “religious default” mode, which places the blame on the individual, rather than the ministry. Like Job’s friends, it’s assumed that this hardship/ problem is due to the individual’s sin, weak faith, or demonic oppression.  Then, the church often backs away.  One pastor was dealing with a person diagnosed with a mood disorder.  When the pastor didn’t see it go away, he said, “It’s because the sin issues of his youth are finally catching up with him … he just needs to will himself into better choices.”

This is the “biggie” that so many of us deal with. Sometimes it prevents us from seeking help because we already know what the reaction from others is going to be. In my case, these were things I believed about myself, but I didn’t realize other Christians would accuse me of them. How I was naive enough not to think that I will never understand. I have come to realize that I was never accused of deliberate sin or of being a bad person; when someone takes this angle with me, it implies that I have not surrendered my all to God. There is something I must be holding back from Him, and that is why I continue to struggle with emotional problems.

Spiritual Fix or Miracles … often times pastoral support will prescribe biblical counseling and intense discipleship to “overcome” or see “breakthrough”. Some will even insist on “deliverance” ministry or an intensive “inner-healing” ministry designed for immediate breakthrough. The idea is to have the individual do more constructive bible study, prayer, and intensive ministry for an immediate “breakthrough” to “overcome” … to “fix” everything. It forces the individual to “pray” or “believe” harder for a miracle breakthrough. We believe God can …


Wednesday’s Hope Round-Up

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

butterflyhope

Sorry for the week-long break, guys. I was not feeling well most of last week, so a hope round-up is a great way to start a fresh blogging cycle! First up…

Study: Believing in God Helps Treat Mental Health Disorders
I love it when science proves something I already know. :-) A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders says that people who believe in a “higher power” were more likely to see positive results from treatment. Researchers studied people with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other disorders and found that “those who expressed believing in God between “moderate” and “high” had better chances of responding well to treatment, while those who said the do not believe in God or only believe in him slightly had a doubled risk of not responding to treatment.”


Rick Warren’s Petition of Hope

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

bubblecrpdIt’s a little late for Wednesday’s Hope Round-Up, but this story gave me a lot of hope: Rick Warren wants what we all want – to urge educators, lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness … and support the families that deal with mental illness on a daily basis.

As you may know, Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide on April 5 after a long battle with mental illness. Anytime someone uses their personal pain to ease the pain of others, its a reason to celebrate and have hope.


A Few Thoughts on the Death of Rick Warren’s Son

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

rickwarren

 

This afternoon I found out that Pastor Rick Warren’s youngest son committed suicide and my heart just broke. (Rick Warren is one of the founders of Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step group I mentioned in my last post.) I was struck by the contrast between the joy I felt earlier in the day and the despair that young man must have felt in his last moments.


Sexual Abuse, a Painful Past, and Recovery

Friday, April 5th, 2013

godheals

 

Everyone found out about the sexual abuse on my birthday.

A handful of energetic fifth-graders had gathered at my house for a slumber party. Man, my parents always hated those. Probably every parent who has ever experienced a sleep-over can understand why. The rented movies went unwatched; the girls were more interested in playing Truth or Dare. At some point, my mother said it was time to be quiet and go to sleep, but we never did that. We just giggled as quietly as we could inside our sleeping bags.


 

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