Light Therapy Box and Updates

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It’s been an interesting and exhausting month around here. At the start of October, I was struggling with my goal of quitting smoking, which has been back on track for the last three weeks. I was also adjusting to some medication changes since I was rapid cycling.

Currently, I am experiencing a downshift in my mood, which has me craving cigarettes again, which shows me that I really use them as a coping mechanism when my moods are unstable. I didn’t realize the connection to my mood instability and my cravings until I just wrote that last sentence, which goes to show you how beneficial and insightful journaling can be! Like I say, “Write into the light!”

I am sure I am not the only one who uses unhealthy coping mechanisms when their moods are haywire. On the upside, I use a lot of healthy ones as well, such as getting proper rest, talking with others, asking for help, exercising, taking my meds regularly and on time, keeping up on self-care and household routines, and improving my spiritual life. Are there any others that you can suggest? Two more that I can think of are eating healthier and participating in leisure activities or creative hobbies on a more regular basis, which includes this blog.

In an effort to do the latter, I have decided to not go back to bed after the kids go to school and sleep half the day away everyday. To help boost my energy levels, I have started using my light therapy box again for the first time all year.

For years, I used it everyday, even through the summer months. So, when I no longer needed it last winter I was thrilled, thinking on some level, “I’m partially cured!” Dragging it out again this week was disheartening because it reminded me that there is no cure for mental illness. It is chronic and, more often than not, its symptoms are recurring. However, having the tools to deal with them can make all the difference in the world.

I’m sitting in front of my light box as I write this post, and I am awake, feeling good, productive and motivated for the first time all week. That’s something, and I’ll take it!

Weekend Writings – The Road Not Taken

road not taken

When I was a sophomore in high school, I came to a crossroad. I had two kinds of friends, healthy ones from stable families with good coping skills and high self esteems, and then there were those who liked to drink, do drugs and party.

The second group came from dysfunctional families, filled with violence, alcoholism, and in some cases, mental illness. I naturally gravitated towards the second group. Eventually, I dropped the friends from the first group completely and became immersed in the party scene of the second. This lead to much trouble and heart ache that permeated my life well into adulthood.

What if I were to have chosen to take the road with the healthy kids? Where would it have taken me? I would hope it would have taken me to a more safe and secure life. What would I have seen? I suppose better days filled with loving support and sincere friendships. Maybe it would have saved me from much self-destruction and pain.

Do I consider this road to be one that is “less traveled?” I do for those of us who have dysfunctional families and for many of us who have mental illness, because for one, we do what we know. I learned all of my negative coping skills from my upbringing, and therefore, didn’t really know any other way to go about dealing with life.

Secondly, it is very common for people with mental illness to “self-medicate” or try to cope with their symptoms by drinking or using drugs, especially before they realize they actually have a mental illness.

I didn’t choose the road I wish I had back then. If I had it to do all over again, I would choose differently. Thankfully, the road not taken then, is the road I am taking now.

Written for Write into the Light’s Weekend Mental Health Writings prompt – The Road Not Taken. Come participate with us!

Weekend Mental Health Writings – Change

weekend writings

Each weekend I am going to post a mental health writing prompt. Feel free to participate by writing your response privately in your own journal at home or by posting your response on your blog and then sharing the link to your post in the comment section below. Please visit those who share their writings here as well. Here is this weekend’s prompt:

You are not the same person that you were 5 years ago. We all change. Think about in what ways you have changed, as a person, over the past 5 years. How did those changes in you come about? How have they affected your relationships with others? How have they impacted your quality of life? End your writing by focusing on the positive changes you have seen in yourself.

How to Deal With Complex PTSD Triggers

Dealing with PTSD Triggers

Current Symptoms

Racing thoughts. Obsessive compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, organizing, exercising. Increased negative coping behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, and drinking. Physical pains, such as upset stomach, migraines, muscle aches and fatigue. Early morning waking. Increased irritability. Forgetfulness. Tightening chest. Racing heart rate – literally hearing my heart pounding in my ears. Shallow, rapid breaths. Dissociation or feelings of having an “out-of-body” experience.

These are common occurrences for those of us with anxiety disorders. This week, I experienced all of them (except for the drinking.) Only after forcing myself to sit down long enough to do some journaling was I able to identify the source of my anxiety…

Triggers

There is always a cause for anxiety. Did you know that? It just doesn’t come because “we are crazy.” There is always a root cause, and it serves me well to sit down and face the fear of finding out what it is, because once I realize what is causing it, I can deal with it, and the symptoms will subside.

Sometimes finding the cause isn’t as simple as it can be with straight-forward Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, which are caused by specific events such as accidents and natural disasters. Sometimes the events are actually an accumulation of events occurring over a period of months or years, where the person is subject to long-term, repeated trauma as in the case of child abuse. In such cases, the term “Complex PTSD” is often used even though it is not officially a diagnosis included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This week my three-day anxiety attack which culminated into a full-blown panic attack was triggered by a few things. First of all, I posted my BPD story last weekend, which set my anxiety level higher than normal, but in and of itself didn’t cause me too much stress. However, add that to the fact that on two different occasions last week I unexpectedly ran into different individuals with whom I went to high school, and then the kicker was an unplanned evening of looking through my high school yearbooks (at my daughter’s request.) She wanted to see what her dad and I were like back in the day, and I didn’t think twice about taking a trip down memory lane. Next time I will.

Past Trauma

High school was a very traumatic time for me. My parents’ alcoholism was at its peak; dysfunction and emotional abuse and neglect were at an all time high in our home. Memories of those years are clouded with my own drunken states filled with self-harm behaviors and untreated bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms, which I talk about in great detail in this video post.

Before going to bed that evening, I made a passing comment to my husband about feeling a little anxious after looking through those yearbook, and then I thought nothing more of it.

Three days later, I had my first panic attack in many, many months.

After quickly figuring out the cause of my anxiety (due only to writing about my feelings, which is why “Write into the Light” is my mantra) I began to ask myself many questions:

  • Is knowing the cause of my anxiety enough to make it go away?
  • Do I need to worry that these memories triggered me the way they did?
  • Is this a sign that I need to work out some more stuff in therapy with my counselor, who I haven’t needed to see in six months now?
  • Does this mean I am not healed all the way like I thought I was?

Healthy Coping Skills

I was a mess at this point. But, here are the skills I used to cope with my state of mind at the time. My hope in sharing these is that it will give you some ideas to try when you find yourself experiencing extreme anxiety.

First, I left messages for two friends who I knew would understand, and I also left a message for my therapist.

Next, I tried sitting with and observing my feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judgment; trying not to push anything away nor hang onto anything. Just noticing and observing as if I was an outsider looking in.

I tried soothing myself by rubbing scented lotion on my arms and hands, which didn’t help much.

Then I decided to call my doctor to get an emergency refill of my PRN anti-anxiety medication. Luckily, the pharmacy filled it in ten minutes and also luckily, my husband was due home for his lunch break and was able to pick it up on his way.

While waiting, I wrapped myself in a warm blanket and sat in a fetal position on the couch in a quiet room. This helped calm me immensely.

I also said some simple prayers.

I took my medication at the same time my therapist called back. After telling her what happened, she said that I might need to try some “exposure therapy” meaning that I look at the yearbooks when I am in a good place emotionally and mentally, and even then only for a short time, and maybe not with my young daughters.

Integration

I made the comment to her that I thought I had gotten past this part of my life, that my negative feelings about it were gone. She said they are always going to be there; that the goal is not to get rid of the bad memories, which is impossible, but to instead integrate them. Integration is the goal. (Integration: The organization of the psychological traits and tendencies of a personality into a harmonious whole.)

She also said that I should try to dig up a few good memories from that time. She said they are probably there, but are just overshadowed by the bad ones. At first I didn’t think she was right, but then I made a conscious effort to get out of my black and white/all or nothing thinking, and started thinking dialectically – where good and bad memories can co-exist.  And guess what?  She was right!

Discussion Questions:

When you’re anxious do you dig deep to find out what the root cause is? It may be something more than what it appears to be on the surface.

What physical symptoms do you have when you are feeling anxious? Do you take the time to sit and notice your body’s sensations and your mind’s thoughts during these times? Why or why not?

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Until next time…

Wil

Experiencing Guilt for Having Psychological Limitations

“Sometimes we just can’t, and that’s ok. Sometimes we kind of can, but the energy trade-off just isn’t worth it. Society demands that we keep overcoming, overcoming, overcoming. But we don’t have to. Nowhere is it written that to be a really real human you have to brute force your way through your limits. Nowhere is it written that not doing so makes you less worthy.” ~ Author, unknown

It is Easter Sunday and I am experiencing guilt for not being able to take my kids to church (and not getting myself there as well.) The crowds, parking, and stress of it all is more than I can bear, I know from experience. Plus, my husband is working which makes it all the more difficult to handle since I am on my own.

On top of that, we will be with family later on this afternoon…loud, excited kids, my siblings and their kids, my parents, all cramped into a tiny house for the evening…need I say more?!

Here’s another kicker – a mess up with my medication refill leaves me with no anti-anxiety pills this weekend. Kind of a WTF? moment…

Thinking about it all makes me want to shut down OR fall into a panic attack. I feel like my body doesn’t know which one to choose.

What I am choosing however, is to try and sit back and observe all of these thoughts and feelings as I would if I was watching another person go through them.

Acknowledging them, not fighting them, but also not making them who I really am…separating my thoughts and my feelings from my true self (who is simply a consciousness/higher self comprised solely of peace and love) seems to really help.

Maybe some would call this a form of detachment, and in a real sense I suppose that is what it is. Reminds me of that saying “Go to your happy place” – the place in your mind where no one or nothing can hurt you. Only this place isn’t in my mind. It is outside of my mind.

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I picture it floating directly above my mind. Although, it is not a place but more of a presence, an aura so to speak.

And in this entity I am not escaping from reality but rather engaging in it as an observer…not a fighter or a victim or any kind of participant, but simply as an observer that knows – believes – deep down that all is ok, that I am ok no matter what thoughts and feelings are happening inside my mind.

It truly is a peaceful phenomenon on this joyous Easter morn. I do hope you are having positive thoughts and feelings today. And if not, I pray you can access your higher self – that space outside of your mind but still within you that can sit back and observe and know that it is safe, it is happy, and it is pure love.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts today. I would love to hear yours. Feel free to leave a comment if you are so compelled. Until next time…

Wil

Clinical Depression While Life is Good

depression

Guess what? My life is awesome! I have a great husband, supportive family, sweet although moody pre-teens, cute little dogs, financial security, spirituality, good health, friends, great doctors, good medical care, and outside of the normal stresses of motherhood, nothing to complain about.

So what’s the problem you ask? I am going crazy in mind and body! Panic attacks in the form of heart palpitations have played guerilla warfare on me all day.

For the past five weeks my moods having been swinging back and forth, progressively reaching further toward each extreme.

For the past three weeks I’ve been crying, sad, irritable, losing my temper, and anxious.

Over the past two weeks, my mind’s eye has jumped from one self-harm thought to another with increasing frequency and severity. These are not thoughts I consciously think of nor do I dwell on them when they occur. They pop up out of the blue, usually during extreme stress-states.

I say “stress-states” instead of “stressful times” because my external surroundings are not extremely stressful, but my internal states are. Short of kicking everyone out of the house so that I can be alone in complete silence, these are the symptoms I am currently having to cope with.

The suicidal thoughts concern me. I become especially scared when they start to feel as if they control me rather than the other way around. So, I told my husband about them – all of them – in detail. I feel relieved. They have less power over me now. I will be calling my doctor and therapist on Monday as well.

It is important for us and others to know that mental illness is a disease, like cancer and diabetes. Yes, there are external factors that influence the disease state – smoking habits, diet, exercise, stress, etc. – but, sometimes cancer comes back, and blood-sugar levels fall despite our best efforts.

And sometimes, even though life is going good, people get depressed. And it is not their fault. It is no one’s fault. It just is. And that is ok, if it is dealt with in healthy ways.

Talk to someone. Call your doctor. Be completely honest. Go easy on yourself. It is not your fault.

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Co-occurring Disorders

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I found this helpful article on causes and solutions of having dual diagnoses (substance abuse AND mental illness.) I wanted to bring to you some interesting facts and highlights. To view the handout in its entirety click here to download the Hazelden Foundation’s pdf.

Factors involved in the development of psychiatric disorders:

1. Vulnerability (determined by genetics and early life experiences)
2. Stress (challenges faced in life)

Factors that can help reduce symptoms and relapses:

1. Abstaining from alcohol and drug use

“Avoiding alcohol and drug use can reduce biological vulnerability in two ways. First, because substances affect the brain, using alcohol or drugs can directly worsen those vulnerable parts of the brain associated with psychiatric disorders. Second, using substances can interfere with the corrective effects of medication on vulnerability. This means that somebody who is using alcohol or drugs will not get the full benefit of any prescribed medications for his or her disorder, leading to worse symptoms and a greater chance of relapses.”

2. Take prescription medications according to your doctor’s orders
3. Learn to use positive coping skills
4. Develop social support systems
5. Engage in meaningful activities

Which factors are you incorporating into your life to help reduce symptoms and prevent relapses? Which factors do you need to add?

Counseling versus No Counseling

“Doing” versus “Being”

I’ve been feeling extremely uneasy this past week unless I’m engaged in busy work – cleaning, writing, reading, taking care of the kids, or watching TV with my husband. (I can’t seem to watch it by myself); uneasy like something bad is about to happen.

During times of non-activity, when I am feeling called to just “be”, which is how I often find peace, I am extremely uncomfortable and I don’t know why.  I suppose I could go back to therapy to see if there is a root cause or if it is just because – for no other reason than I’m human and we all go through emotional ups and downs regardless of mental illness.

UpS and DoWnS

My motivation to get out of the house is low.  Even to run a simple errand or take my daughter some where or pick her up without having to leave the car is a chore.  I want to sleep by afternoon and not wake up until the next morning, for it is in the morning that I feel most productive, happiest, and most alive.

After lunch my mood starts to plummet as I feel like I have given all I can for the day and it is only 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  I believe I need more therapy, but I keep putting off doing anything about it, ignoring it, hoping the urge will go away.  It’s been lingering for a month or two now, so I suppose it’s time to pay heed to my inner voice which is telling me I need therapy.

Counseling or No Counseling

It is hard to talk about the things going on inside of me.  I’d rather figure them out on my own, but I know from past experience, and more recently from the last two months, that this is not possible.  I can write about it, I can pray about it, I can talk to my husband or friends about it, but all of that is like putting a band-aid on a gusher of a wound.  For me, healing doesn’t come unless I see a professional.

I suppose those other things work for people who do not have mental illness, specifically complex PTSD (which is common in adults who were abused and/or neglected as children).  Personally, I need the structure and the accountability of seeing a professional.  I also need the expertise of a trained therapist, not simply a shoulder to cry on or an ear to complain to (not that those things aren’t important as well :).)

So, tomorrow I will call and make an appointment with someone, and hopefully, this uneasiness will pass soon.   Has anyone out there ever found that they needed professional counseling? Do you listen to that inner voice that tells you to get help or do you ignore it, hoping it will go away even though it never does?

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I don’t want to be insane; I just want to be at peace.  I want to live, and love me.

“Doing” for Now

In the meantime, I’m going to take a bath, listen to some relaxing music, put on some scented lotion, and then see what you all have been up to.  I know these distractions will help me to get my mind off of myself and my stresses.  I will then deal with the stresses when I have the support of a professional to get me going in the safest and healthiest direction. Otherwise, I feel like I am prescribing my own medicine, and that is a dangerous thing to do.

While thinking about what I just wrote in this post, I realized that blogging in this way is a blessing. For one, it gives me the opportunity to help others to know they are not alone in the way they feel. It creates an atmosphere where we can share with one another what works for us – positive coping ideas.

Secondly, it makes me accountable. I have been telling myself that I need to call a therapist for months and still haven’t done it.  But I think since I have now written about it, and publically made the committment to do it, I will be more likely to follow through. Thank you for that.

Now, tell me how you are doing (or “being”)…