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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 …


I Didn’t Choose To Have A Mental Illness

Friday, March 7th, 2014

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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 …


Is Your Cat Making You Depressed?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

As I write this, my cat is bumping her head up against my leg and purring. That doesn’t make it any easier to write what I’m about to write.

Mommy loves you, baby. Forgive me.

mollybob4

For those of you who think cats are the devil incarnate…let me add to your arsenal.
A new study has found an unusual link between cat bites and depression.
According to the study, published online at the journal PLOS ONE, Over the course of 10 years, 41 percent of people who presented at hospitals with cat bites were also treated for depression at some point. Women who have been bitten by a cat have a 50 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

So I guess it’s just as you thought – cats’ eyes glow with pure evil.

The study notes that pet ownership has numerous benefits. It lowers blood pressure better than hypertension medication, for example. It also provides much-needed companionship. In my opinion, it also gives depressed people a reason to get up and do something when they’d rather retreat to the bedroom all day. The cat won’t feed itself, unless you have a rodent problem or leave the door to your parakeet’s cage open. He won’t clean his own litter box. Trust me on this, you do not want to neglect a litter box.

Researchers found that depressed people were more likely to own cats to begin with. I’d give you my personal opinion on why this is the case, but I never set out to be a cat person. I was always a dog person who didn’t understand how anyone could think a cat was cute, or why they’d want a pet that ignores them all the time. But then Molly showed up on my doorstep 5-1/2 years ago, just a fluffy little kitten, and she stole my heart. I can’t imagine life without her, yet I never would have adopted her if I’d seen her at Pet Smart.

The real link here, though, is between cat bites and depression. Supposedly cats have some of the …


Depressed? Be Compassionate Toward Yourself

Friday, February 21st, 2014

choosehappy

There’s a fine line between prioritizing personal space and becoming a hermit. I seem to toe the line all the time. I can say with great certainty that I think life would be easier if I could just hole up in my apartment and ignore the rest of the world.

Ah, but that’s just depression talking. ‘Tis the season. I don’t know where you live, but here in Pennsylvania, we haven’t seen green grass…shoot, no grass at all…since just after Christmas. So even if I felt emotionally up to going out, icy roads, bitter winds, and snow up to my chin would have kept me from wandering far.

Sometimes the weather makes life more stressful than it needs to be, so we curl up under a blanket and shut out the world for a while. Sometimes other people make life more stressful than it needs to be, too. I don’t know how you deal with it, but I I’m learning to react much the same way as I do to blizzards, and downpours, and the razor sharp wind chills: avoidance.

I know we usually think of avoidance as a bad thing, but not in this case. When the local government says to stay off the roads, you avoid the roads. (Unless you’re one of those people who will risk life and limb for a Snickers bar.)

Depression messes with my judgment – much more so than mania. If I had a million dollars, I could probably do a lot more damage in my manic states, but the opportunity just isn’t there. With depression, though, I take minor things far too seriously, hurtful words cut deeper, it’s easier to hold onto anger, and it seems impossible to hand over bitterness to God. I guess that’s what depression is – a hyper-inflation of all the bad stuff.

Well, I decided to take a little time off from what was eating at me. I decided to back away from the things that were making me sicker. Man, I felt some serious guilt about that, too, but here’s how I look at it: if I …


Sinead O’Connor and How NOT to Prove You’re Emotionally Stable

Monday, October 7th, 2013

MileyCyrusSineadOConnor-LRG

It was a twerking working weekend for me, but I did get to catch up on a Miley Cyrus’ Saturday Night Live appearance, and Sinead O’Connor’s not-so-motherly advice to the former Disney star.

The two have been haggling back and forth like middle school girls in love with the same boy. Here is a link, but proceed with caution because Sinead’s favorite word starts with an “F.” To summarize, Sinead wrote an open letter to Miley warning her of the pitfalls of the music industry. She advised her not to let the industry use her body for profit. Had it not contained multiple F-bombs, it might have been a decent letter. Certainly her advice was spot-on, and no one would know better than someone who has been there and done that.


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

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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 …


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 …


Talking Faith and Mental Illness

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

confessioncrpdMy friend, Amy Simpson, passed this along to me and today I want to pass it along to all of you.

From blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock:

The people who run Patheos have asked me to host a broad conversation about Mental Health including bloggers from across Patheos and beyond. You are invited to contribute by answering the question below any time this week. There are also two more questions which will follow.

Bloggers are asked to join in the discussion and answer the questions as they are posted. The first question is:

How has your religious community historically seen mental illness? – And how does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental illness?

Christians don’t have a good track record when it comes to mental illness. We used to assume that mental illness was nothing more than demon possession, and we banned people from church attendance and treated them like the devil itself. In all fairness, humanity, in general, does not have a great track record when it comes to mental illness. People fear what they don’t understand. But the fact that Christians’ reaction to people exhibiting confusing behavior was to treat them like yesterday’s trash is heart-wrenching and pathetic.

Understanding and acceptance has been a slow process for the Christian church. It still seems that while there have been major steps forward in most of society, the church continues to lag behind. Old habits die hard, old fears even harder. There are concepts in the Bible that have been twisted used to push mentally ill believers away (driving a herd of demon-filled pigs off of a cliff does not mean that’s how we should all respond to people with schizophrenia, and hopefully if you’re reading this you don’t believe that.)

My own church is a wonderful place that is on-board with modern-day medicine. They run a theophostic prayer ministry that I attended for some time, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they believed not only in the existence of mental illness, but in treatment. No pigs careening off a cliff for me. My church believes in …


 

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Recent Comments
  • beans: You took the words out of my mouth, but you put them on paper much better than I could. Being depressed,...
  • Geespee: So clearly expressed and the conclusions on how to handle and cope with the frustration of depression are...
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