Month: July 2020

The Simple Acts of Falling Asleep and Waking Up For Those With Mental Health Issues Such as Bipolar and Schizophrenia

 

It has been a very interesting week for me. I was lucky enough to find two summer jobs, one teaching computer literacy 2x a week and the other teaching creative writing 1x a week. Thanks to Covid, I am teaching these courses online, which gives me the great benefit of having my morning commute be only 8 feet which is the distance from my kitchen to my laptop. I find I really love to teach, it’s a funny thing because I don’t have an education degree, I was mostly chosen for these jobs because of my patience in dealing with others and hands-on experience. I really find it to be quite an honour.

I feel so honoured by being given these jobs that I want to do them well. The most important thing for me is how much sleep I get, and that is where my current problems come from. I have been using over the counter sleep aids for some time, though my doctor will give me sleeping pills and they are covered under my health insurance. The problem is I was told that sleeping pills affect your memory. Well, the sad thing is that it seems over the counter sleep aids also do this. My memory, at least my short-term memory has been getting really bad. I hate to count disorders, but so far it seems like I have symptoms of schizophrenia, symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, severe depression, mood swings, poor impulse control and OCD with a tendency towards hoarding. I like to just say I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and leave it at that but I think if I ever go back to seeing a therapist, I will have to be honest about all of my symptoms. I guess one has to think about what affects their day to day life the most. Today I got some bad news about a writing project I had set in motion and depression kind of blindsided me. Then I wrote an email to a friend and they were kind enough to call and talk with me for about 2 whole hours. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was feeling pretty upset. The main problem was the fact that for any number of possible reasons, I think I was in what bipolar disorder experts refer to as a ‘manic’ state. I had them much worse when I was younger, and I was aware of them, I just never knew that if you leave these mood swings untreated for too long, you run a large risk of entering psychosis and acting irrationally. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind that so much, but the truth is that untreated schizophrenia has been known to cause brain damage. It is a pretty harsh thing to look in the mirror and see a person with a mental illness looking back at you.

But what I most wanted to talk about today was sleep, and when you are experiencing mania it can be damn near impossible. The lack of sleep, (at least in my opinion) is perhaps the largest disabler, the biggest reason that many people with bipolar can’t work or hold down a job. When I was younger I had a system going, I would play the radio most of the day instead of watching TV, and when bedtime approached I would put on progressively slower and more relaxing music. It worked pretty good, I used to refer to it as coming in for a smooth and even landing.

The part of this equation that makes people with mental health issues feel bad comes in when (at least in my opinion) they sleep too much. I sleep very jagged, disruptive sleep at night. It could be because of my many years of night shifts working as a security guard, but it also leaves me pretty tired when the sun comes up and I have to take my morning medications. I really have to watch because if I go back to sleep after my medications, I can easily sleep until 2pm. This is something that was very much frowned upon by my dad when I was growing up, even in the summer. Of all the summers I had, the one I enjoyed the most as a kid was the one where my dad would wake us up and get us down for breakfast before he left for work. I had so many fun bike rides and went to matinees, read comic books and watched cartoons. That summer seemed like two summers long, which is why I really kind of hate it when I fall into an oversleeping trap. This isn’t always detrimental I believe because when I have work days in my week I get very energized and don’t sleep until the evening, and if I have allowed myself to go into a manic state that means the cycle can continue. Then comes the pills, the part I really hate.

I have a few different kinds of over the counter sleep aids such as melatonin and gravol (not meant as a sleep aid but seems to work well for me when I can’t sleep–I told my psychiatrist about this and he said as long as I’m not doing it every day it is okay). Sometimes I take a medication to get me to sleep and I don’t sleep. This is when I am best off to get out of bed and read, or do what I am doing now, writing in my blog. If I can’t sleep and I’m not working I will sometimes take on a writing project. It is amazing how the wee hours of the night can melt away while I am ‘creating’. But wheat seems to be happening more and more is that I stay up very late and am totally unproductive, then when I realize I am getting close to the point where I can just grab a few hours, then I will sleep just that short time, wake up and dose up with coffee, got to work, and sadly all to often either stay up and find myself in not just a manic state, but also in a bitchy mood with more than a tiny bit of paranoia, but I also don’t perform well at work and the situation steamrollers whether I have a nap (in which case I don’t sleep again that night) or stay up which requires copious amounts of coffee. It’s all a pretty viscous cycle, but small bits of wisdom often help. Of course, writing a new blog entry helps a lot. So does trying to get a nice long walk in. Going to the pool always helps but our pools are closed now until fall. My favourite thing to do when I can’t sleep is to go and soak in the tub for a half hour or so, make the water really hot and then just towel off a little when I get out and lay in bed without getting dressed. That has gotten me to sleep many times. I have tried so many things in my life from hypnosis to meditation to reading and on and on and on. What it all really comes down to with me is, if I am going to stay up late, how can I make that time worthwhile? I have been looking at trying to write more science fiction lately, and I not only find great videos on YouTube about writing, I also have found a lot of awesome astronomy/space programs to watch. My favourite treatment for when I am extremely tired and want to get to work? Splash after splash of ice cold water on my face. Feels good when you stop.

Best wishes Dear Readers, stay safe!

 

The Question of Non-Psychiatric Medications and Mental Illness: When To Draw the Line #drugs #medications #mental illness #bipolar #schizophrenia #mentalhealth #overthecounter

Mountain Goat, Jasper National Park, Summer 2020

Being on psychiatric medications can be a difficult situation and over the counter and legal drugs can make things worse if you aren’t careful. Many times in my life I have looked back and wondered what may have happened in my life if I had taken my medications as prescribed from the first time that they were prescribed. For me the first time was age 14-I am 48 now. I have asked my Doctor this question and he has told me that if I had done that at 14 I would be the exception-not the norm.

My illness is schizoaffective disorder with anxiety-I have an odd combination of having mood swings with symptoms of schizophrenia. The last time I was in psychosis it was a living hell. I had been given a replacement medication for the one that dealt with my psychosis and over time I began to get paranoid to the point of thinking all my neighbours could hear and see everything I did and were waiting for the chance to kill me. I was admitted to a hospital, but it took time for the new drug that wasn’t working for me to get out of my system so that the old one that I was put back on could get to work.

One of the things that often happens with me is that I will wake up and take my medications and then go back to bed. Prozac seems to have the ability to give me the sweetest dreams. But I can’t always do that–often if I get up at 5:00 am (like today) and take my medications, they will cause me to sleep as late as noon or later. I now have a part-time job that makes a schedule like that impossible to follow, so I medicate-with coffee and exercise. These may not seem like harmful drugs, but coffee is definitely a drug, an addictive and powerful one, and for me exercise–be it swimming or long-distance walking (my knees make it so I can no longer run, I injured them years ago) is what gets me out of my morning funk. The problem really comes when it is getting late and I know I will need a minimum amount of hours of sleep to work the next day and due to mania (mood swings) I am simply unable to slow down enough to rest. This can start a vicious cycle, needing more coffee, needing more exercise (often more than is healthy for my ageing body) and getting less and less sleep.

This is the point where I often find myself turning to over the counter drugs. Something I have found helps a great deal with short naps (they cause me severe nightmares sometimes) is to take a multivitamin before a nap. This is a positive over the counter medication that is largely harmless. But when it stops helping, I have turned to stronger ones. My first level of self-medication during times of little sleep due to nightmares used to be alcohol. I will never forget being 19 and living in a cheap hotel in Vancouver, waking from a very bad dream and being able to go downstairs, get a shot of whiskey and be able to sleep contently. Fortunately I didn’t do this every day, but still I would have binge sessions of drinking that I greatly enjoyed–which had to stop at a certain point. I did all I could, going to meetings and counselling. I even picked up other habits after quitting that had to also be dealt with like overeating and gambling, that I have now fortunately put behind me. I can’t stress enough that if you self-medicate with alcohol, and you are taking medications, it is just as bad as playing Russian roulette. You are playing a very deadly game. Compulsive gambling is a real destroyer of people and families as well. You actually become addicted to the hormones in your brain that turn on when you gamble, be it slot machines, video lottery terminals or garage poker games. If you have the tendency towards becoming addicted like I did, gambling will take over everything. All your money, all your time, all your relationships. Seek help.

So now that I have eliminated some of the less obvious medication, I should talk about some of the more obviously harmful ones. On occasion I take melatonin to help me sleep. This drug is a naturally occurring sleep hormone which I have cleared with my doctor. It definitely helps me get more hours of sleep and more restful sleep, but sometimes it can work too well. Sometimes when I take melatonin, I will wake up and feel exhausted, and all I can think of as I go about my day is how much I want to go back to sleep. And there is another thing about melatonin, a person (or at least me) can get used to it, or ‘develop a tolerance’ in a short amount of time. I try to take it rarely, and if I take it over the course of a few days, it not only doesn’t help me sleep, but it causes me to move and thrash around, never feeling settled in bed, and not going to sleep for hours.

Here comes one drug that a lot of people argue is harmless, THC. THC is often found in pot and hash, and other cannabis products. In Canada it is a legal drug, but very few psychiatrists will call it a harmless one. It is known to increase a person’s chances of psychosis, especially if used at a young age. I haven’t used it in years, and even then I don’t think I ever paid for it, I only used it a few times, and one of those times was an utter disaster. I went to a party and smoked up as they say and quickly slipped into seriously warped thinking. By the end of the party a lot of people thought I was either a cop or a true weirdo and I got so paranoid I climbed down the fire escape thinking I was going to be killed by someone at the party. It may be something to laugh at now, but when it happened, it was far from fun, not to mention that if you use THC and drive a vehicle, you are truly taking your life in your hands because your judgement will be impaired worse than if on alcohol.

Well good readers, I would like to keep on writing, but I have a strong feeling that blog readers get a little bored if I make my entries too long. As always, feel free to reach out. I am always willing to discuss any mental health topics people suggest to me here, my email is viking3082000@yahoo.com