Archive | March, 2013

What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?

9 Mar

Once, during a heated fight with my husband, I felt a flashback coming on and fled the room. He followed and found me in the bathroom. I had wedged myself between the toilet and the wall and curled up into a ball on the floor. “Please don’t hurt me,” I said. He’s asked more than once why I invariably react to his anger with anxiety, even when it isn’t directed at me. He’s never done anything violent, not to me or in general. Why can’t I just allow him to feel angry? Why must I become skittish and immediately try to placate him? It makes him feel as though he isn’t allowed to have that emotion. (He articulates this easily because he’s a trauma-free, emotionally balanced individual, or as I call him, “a unicorn.”)

The immediate answer is that witnessing a loved one’s anger can be triggering. Anyone who’s lived with domestic violence knows that when your abuser starts losing their temper, it’s wise to hit the deck. It doesn’t matter whether the anger originated with you or how insignificant the infraction was. That rage is always lurking just beneath the surface, and the slightest provocation can unleash it.

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You’re Not Stable, You’re Euthymic

8 Mar

I recently realized that I spent the past few months trying to avoid hypomania. I did this by sleeping more than usual, deadening my mind with television, and distracting myself online. I accomplished my goal, but my depression didn’t lift. It just became my new normal.

I thought that it was safer to live within this moderate depression. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t crying constantly. I wasn’t sustaining constant waves of anxiety. No flashbacks testing the borders of my consciousness.

While tracking my mood yesterday, I saw that I am becoming hypomanic. Things seem a lot more manageable. Washing the dishes no longer overwhelms me. I’ve felt good for two days: energized, optimistic, and inspired. I’m speaking and thinking more quickly. That awful stalled car sensation of not being able to retrieve the right word or detail has been dissipating. My mind’s working better.

But according to my psychiatrist and a lot of the articles I’ve been reading, that’s not good. It’s part of my illness. Embracing that hypomania will only result in a crash into a more pronounced depression. The conclusion I subconsciously reached was that is was better to hide within the moderate depression. Accept this grey box of a life. Numb myself completely so that I never fly off the handle or end up in the loony bin ever again.

I was so angry when I discovered that there’s a psychiatric term for balanced mood: euthymia. It makes me feel like I can never live without being defined by my illness. If I do ever manage to achieve that elusive emotional and energetic equilibrium, I won’t be “doing well.” I’ll be euthymic.

What does a balanced mood feel like? Does that mean that you feel no highs or lows? How is that healthy? Why is it normal for you but a diagnosable condition for me?

I’m tired of fighting with myself. I’m tired of monitoring myself. I am weary of fearing and censoring my own emotions, passions, and creative urges.

I’m sick of people likening mental illness to diabetes in a misguided attempt to reduce stigma. It’s not fucking diabetes. It’s shaped who I am. I’ve been a conduit of energy and emotion for as long as I can remember. My mother told me that she had trouble sleeping when she was pregnant with me because I was so active in utero, that I kicked at her insides like they were a soccer ball. My first PTSD flashback transported me back to staring out into the backyard of our house in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. We moved out of that house when I was four. I have always been this way.

But I simultaneously bristle at the idea that my personality is a product of my malfunctioning brain. I’m filled with indignation at the thought that when I reported to my shrink that I felt pretty good, she wrote in her notes, “Patient is euthymic.”

I’ve read too many articles about bipolar disorder concluding with the prognosis that we mentally ill can, with therapy and a heavy dose of medication, live out a normal life if we’re willing to make certain sacrifices. The sacrifices they list include having children and careers; in other words, having a fulfilling life.

I refuse to accept that.

It’s time to come out of hiding.

Policing the Mentally Ill, Part 2

7 Mar

On March 4th, the Portland Police killed a veteran with PTSD. It was the second fatal shooting by the police this year. His name was Santiago Cisneros. He was thirty-two years old and had served in Iraq from 2002 to 2005.  In an interview with a Seattle TV station in 2009, Santiago said, “I fought a war over there in Iraq. I didn’t know I was going to have to fight a war back here in the United States within myself” and “it took awhile to realize I was dealing with PTSD because I didn’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder was.” I don’t know what precipitated his confrontation with the police. All the Oregonian reported was that he shot at the officers first, and they returned fire. He’d been speaking to his mother on his cellphone directly before the police arrived. She was still on the line when the shooting started.

The first man killed by the Portland PD this year was named Merle Hatch. His mother said he had a terrible drug habit and that neither she nor his father had seen in him in more than ten years. The police shot him a few weeks ago in the parking lot of the hospital where I attend my bipolar recovery group meetings.

I was at the hospital roughly two hours before Merle died. I stood in that parking lot chatting with fellow members of the recovery group as we wandered out to our cars. It’s a strange and sobering juxtaposition.

In both cases, the police had no other option. Merle threatened to shoot them with what turned out to be a black phone receiver. He taunted them and told them he was going to kill them. The term for it is “suicide by cop.” Santiago started shooting when he saw the police. It’s possible that he also chose that route.

The parallels between Santiago’s mother and Jay Swift’s mother are heartbreaking. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that woman is feeling. I don’t want to imagine how many parents can empathize with her suffering. BTW, here’s an account of the shooting Jay’s mother posted in response to the media coverage of her son’s death:

In a previous post about this subject, I called out the police for their use of excessive force and tendency to shoot first and ask questions later when they respond to a call involving a person with mental health issues. It’s a serious problem and it’s the responsibility of law enforcement to address it. But I cannot deny the fact that this wouldn’t be happening nearly as often if there were adequate resources and treatment for people who have mental illness, particularly when those people are in crisis.

For a good overview of the problem, check out this article from the Charlotte Observer:

I wish I could drum up some optimism about this, but quite frankly I can’t. Cut after cut has been made to programs that would avert these kinds of tragedies. Our economy might be in for another recession and the sequester is set to decimate these programs even more. I do know that I see the imperative now more than ever to become an advocate and an activist. We are facing a spike in fear and stigma because of last year’s mass shooting in Newtown CT and the fear-mongering groups like the NRA engage in because they want people to blame us instead of guns. Resources for treatment and management grow scarcer with each financial crisis, and given the current state of our federal government I’m not holding my breath for things to improve on that front any time soon.

But we do have advocacy groups, and the Internet grants us access to information and means to mobilize. We must educate ourselves and others. We must make our voices heard in our communities and seats of government. And we must do it now, not only for ourselves but for our family members who also suffer from mental illness and the loved ones whose lives are ruined because a person they love can’t get the help they need. We must do it for the people with mental illness and the police who die when this broken system of ours engenders yet another avoidable crisis. This is literally a life-or-death issue.

Look Forward to More Shootings: What the Sequester Means for Mental Health Services

6 Mar

The mental health advocacy group Mental Health America reports that 1.3 million children and adults are at risk of losing mental health services based on the cuts dictated by the sequester.

That means more mentally ill people will die. In all likelihood, more police officers will die. Unless our elected officials figure out how to stop squabbling and do their jobs, we will be seeing an uptick in the number of shootings this year.

Whenever there’s a school shooting, politicians blame our broken mental healthcare system. Some of them do it to throw the heat off of gun control. Others like the sound of it because they can nod and provide vaguely concerned sound bites about how disgraceful our current system is in the hopes that their constituents will think they’re doing something about it. But more than a million people, including children, may lose their mental healthcare because of the sequester, and I don’t see anyone in Washington evincing any concern.

MHA reports that the sequester also slashes over two million dollars from national youth violence prevention initiatives–the very programs most needed to counteract school shootings. None of the politicians who were grandstanding about this problem a few weeks ago seem the least bit conflicted about allowing that axe to fall.

Substance abuse treatment will also feel the pain of the sequester with an estimated 10% reduction in budget for federally-funded treatment programs and resources. Grants funding research in substance abuse treatment will also be cut. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ numbers for 2007, 26% of violent crimes in the U.S. were committed by people under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Our country is like a dysfunctional family denying its role in their children’s trauma.

For a good overview of what the sequester means for mental health services, I recommend this article by The American Prospect:

Great website: “Meditation-PTSD”

4 Mar

Meditation is a wonderful and often overlooked method to help recover from and manage post-traumatic stress disorder. The techniques taught in meditation–breathing, mindfulness, and focus–can also be used to regulate intrusive symptoms of PTSD such as panic attacks and flashbacks. A study recently conducted about the efficacy of using meditation to treat American soldiers’ PTSD reported not only gains in their recovery, but also in their ability to retain new information:

Meditation has also been shown to lower blood pressure, aid digestion, mitigate insomnia, enhance immune system functioning, decrease pain from migraines, muscle tension, menses…you get the idea.

I attended meditation sessions at my local Zen Center while I was working through my trauma, and they were very helpful in calming my mind and lowering my anxiety.

I understand people’s reluctance to try it, but one of the great things about meditation is that there’s no one “right” way to do it. You don’t have to bend yourself into a pretzel: you can meditate in a simple kneeling or cross-legged position. I’ve also attended a meditation group where we sat in chairs.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of sitting in a Dharma room breathing incense smoke while surrounded by a bunch of Buddhist monks, please know that there is a variety of meditation styles and groups out there: do a little digging and find what works for you. There are low-key groups that approach it from more practical, less spiritual angles. I will say that I find doing it in a group to be very helpful because it provides support and instruction. Most communities have meditation centers and groups. You can find them through a simple Google search, through, or through review sites such as Yelp. The meditation meetings are usually inexpensive or free with the option of a donation. Many meet on evenings during the week and on weekend mornings.

If you’re the solitary type who prefers to try it solo, there are numerous DVD’s, CD’s, and online resources that can guide you through it.

Bottom line: there’s no harm in trying it, it’s affordable, and you might find it to be a natural, healthy alternative to piling on more meds to treat your anxiety and insomnia.

“Study Points to ‘Shared Biology’ between 5 Psychiatric Disorders”

2 Mar

From CBS News’s website:

“For the first time, researchers were able to see if there are any genetic variants that are linked to not just one of those disorders, but to all five. ‘And there were,’ Dr. Jordan Smoller, one of the lead researchers in the study, said on ‘CBS This Morning.’

Smoller, a psychiatry professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained, ‘There were several regions of the genome, several variations that seemed to increase the risk for all five. It’s important to realize, of course, that this is a small part of the genetic component of these disorders, but it points to a shared biology.’

The researchers took this approach because disorders often cluster in families. Smoller added, ‘It’s not only that, we sometimes see the same family being affected with multiple kinds of disorders, so there was some evidence that there would be shared links, but this is the first time we’ve been able to see specific DNA variations.'”

Thanks to the blog Depression Time for originally posting this. I highly recommend checking it out:
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