Month: July 2019

The Greatest Enemy of Good Mental Health is Isolation for those With Schizophrenia or Bipolar/Unipolar Disorders

This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.

What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.

I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.

Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at viking3082000@yahoo.com with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.

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Psychiatric Patients Can be Tormented by Negative Memories Along with Delusions, Hallucinations and Paranoia

I live in the city pictured above, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the moment the weather is ideal (aside from a lot of rain this year) but it isn’t always the healthiest climate for recovery. A few years back, I was in the hospital for a month on two separate occasions, and wanting to enjoy the summer weather, I sat outside my apartment on a picnic bench, and a young child while hiding himself was yelling insults at me. This of course is a common thing for young children, but I found it extremely disturbing at the time and felt it was directed at me.

Feeling insults and threats were directed at me is also something not new and not always valid. Before my last hospital visit, I was having extreme problems with paranoia, delusions and hallucinations due to a new medication not working properly. It really can be extremely difficult to function when this sort of thing is going on, difficult to leave the house or to work. I actually got to the point where I thought the people next door to me were laughing and directing insults and threats at me that I recorded what I thought were the remarks on my cell phone to play it for my building manager. She listened to it and couldn’t hear a thing. I remember thinking, and saying that something was very seriously wrong.

One thing I want to note here is that a person’s first few years with a diagnosis of an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar can be very difficult, but statistics show that you can bounce back, that most people do bounce back. The most important thing I feel at this point is just not to isolate yourself. You may be unable to stay with your parents or a sibling as a helper and caregiver, but it would be really positive if you had a roommate. I remember getting an excellent suggestion that I put up a notice at the University in the psychology department telling the truth, that I had a mental illness, and asking for a student to share a room. I didn’t end up going through with it, but still it was a pretty good idea.

I wanted to talk a little today about resentments. All of us have times in our past where we were pushed around or bullied, hurt, taken advantage of. Sadly that is not just the normal for people with mental illnesses, but for most people in general. I remember my junior high days being filled with beatings from the biggest kid in school, for no better reason than I was the one he needed to prove he was tougher than. The fact is, and I myself am guilty for this, you can’t continue to live your life and constantly look back at regrets.

There are a couple of ways of looking at times when people hurt or wronged you. These incidents often play themselves over and over through your head, and when you have psychosis, they can actually change in your memories to be even more disturbing and troubling. One of the ways I have recently discovered to help deal with feelings like this which was suggested to me a long time ago was to take all of your anger and hurt and put it into an exercise like swimming or lifting weights, really push yourself to your limits and let the anger loose. I haven’t always agreed with this, but I know that it makes you feel a lot better and has many healthful side benefits.

Another way of looking at thinking about those in the past who hurt us is that we are literally letting them rent free space in our heads. In the end, we have control over how we see things, we have control over how we let them affect us. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to enact this control. One of the best ways to learn is to participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but that can be expensive and time consuming. Still, it gives proven results. Look into places you can get this kind of therapy on a sliding scale, or perhaps even join a group therapy session.

The next way of dealing with these thoughts is something I didn’t really event, but I seemed to discover it on my own as a teenager. I was a smoker and I hated what it did to my health and really wanted to quit. My most successful attempt at quitting came when I used a psychological method of distracting myself from my cravings. One of the big motivators for people in their teens is attraction and desire, so what I did was whenever I wanted to light up a cigarette, I would indulge myself in putting thoughts and images in my head regarding a young woman I really liked. Although I started again later, this was very nearly a successful result that ended up taking 17 more years and professional help to deal with.

So, some of those methods can help get the thoughts out of your head or distract you so you don’t dwell too much on one thing, but I also wanted to describe one of the best things you can do for your mind and your brain. It is meditation, and I make no apologies that I have talked about it before. It is such a simple, though not always easy thing to do. You need to have some quiet time and space, unless you are fortunate to have a class or monastery available where you can learn, and all you really do is focus and breathe. You simply try to clear out your head, and think of nothing. This can be difficult at first, but as you practise meditation more, it will become easier. You breathe in and count one, breathe out and count two. You try to count to ten without being distracted or thinking of something else, which will happen many times, but just gently guide yourself back to not thinking and start again from one. There are many books on meditation, and also many resources like apps. I even once owned a virtual reality headset that had a ‘game’ where you could go to one of 12 destinations and just be alone to think and let your positive thoughts grow and negative thoughts go away. With that, I hope all of you can find peace and enjoyment in your lives, be you caregivers or people who suffer from mental illnesses, all the best!