Weekly Five – Mental Health News Roundup – October 24, 2014

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Mental health issues put 34,500 on New York’s no-guns list. (New York Times): Well. This is a thorny one. On the one hand, keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who might harm themselves or others is probably a good thing. On the other hand, how do you fairly determine that? The stigma that mentally ill people are prone to violent behavior is one that needs to be vigorously challenged. That said, suicide rates are demonstrably higher when people have guns in their homes. I have no idea what a good solution is, here.

How Medicare covers outpatient mental health services. (Huffington Post): Important information for seniors on how Medicare covers outpatient mental health services. Mental health care for seniors is extremely important and not talked about enough. Don’t get me started on Medicaid, though…

Oilers goalie unveils new mask dedicated to mental health awareness. (USAToday Sports): This is the second story I’ve come across this month about hockey and mental illness. It makes my heart glad to see this, because I know of several former players who have really struggled with this. As I cruised around google after reading this article I discovered that, at least to the Canadian teams in the NHL, mental health awareness is A Thing. I believe I will have to post about this more at a later time.

Proposed Uptown mental health facility expansion draws criticism. (The Montana Standard): Butte, Montana Council of Commissioners chairwoman Cindi Shaw can kiss my ass. She doesn’t want a mental health facility in her neighborhood because the “area is saturated” and “there are enough services.” That’s dogwhistle for we don’t want the damned crazies in our neighborhood and I see right through it, ma’am.

Obesity, cancer, mental health. What links them all? (The Conversation): Really interesting, open conversation about the links between non-communicable diseases (like heart disease, diabetes, etc.), obesity, mental health, and social engineering. Smart people realize that there’s way more to all those things than “poor choices.” Our willful refusal to admit that these problems are as much societal as they are personal is killing people.

That’s it for this Friday!

peace…

p.s. Here’s a late-breaking story I just came across in the New York Times. A study has been done busting the narrative that lower enlistment standards are responsible for the increase in mental health problems in soldiers.

Way leads on to way. Recognizing transformative experience.

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For the last nine years, I’ve been involved with a local renaissance faire. I started off as a performer, then dropped back for a while to being a patron. Now, somehow, I am one of the people In Charge. I have no idea how that happened. Anyway, I’m passionate about it and I think a lot of people don’t understand why. It’s a dinky little faire that always teeters on the edge of financial viability. Our show is earnest, but decidedly amateur. It’s a shit-ton of work for two measly weekends a year. I could bitch at length about how screwed up it can be (and believe me, I know people who do…one wonders why they still bother if it annoys them so much), but I’d rather talk about the reasons why it’s so important to me.

To really understand what this faire means to me, you have to go pretty far back in my personal history. When I was a kid, I was always on the outside looking in. I was not allowed to be involved in the things I cared about. I tried out for plays, but never got a part. Those were for the popular kids. I was on the drill team for a year, until my place got taken by a more popular girl. I didn’t get invited to parties, ever. I was a friendly extrovert forced by circumstance to be a solitary introvert.

Attending a hippy-dippy college and touring with the Grateful Dead for six years helped me make more friends and discover more about who I was and who I wanted to be. But I still carried the imprint of high school, like an angry handprint on my cheek, and remained convinced that a social life was not something I was entitled to have. After college, and after Jerry died and I stopped touring, once again I fell into my unnaturally introverted ways. For a long time, I had no friends at all. Then I met my husband and he became the center of my world and my best friend. I didn’t need anyone but him for a long time.

Once my daughter was born, and I decided to stay home with her, I knew I needed some kind of socialization or I was going to lose my mind. I thought, “I’m an adult now. I can handle this. Surely it won’t be the same as it was in high school.” So I joined a mom’s group. Big. Mistake. Nothing in my life prepared me to be able to swim with those women socially. It was as though they all communicated in some secret hieroglyphic code that I wasn’t allowed to know. They weren’t bad people, but they weren’t particularly authentic or warm, either. I simply don’t know how to keep people at arms length and I think my desire for depth in friendship puzzled them. In the immortal words of Anne Shirley, they were not kindred spirits.

Then we moved to Missouri. Through a weird set of circumstances too circuitous to go into here, we discovered a local renaissance faire and decided to get involved. We had been long-time patrons of the Florida Renaissance Faire, so it seemed like a good place to meet people. It turned out to be so much more than that. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who not only wanted to spend time with me, but who also had the patience and understanding to see who I really was underneath the social awkwardness.

The seemingly simple decision to join the faire changed the entire course of my life. It has been one of the most transformative experiences I have ever had. I met my best friends through the faire. I was allowed, finally, to be part of something bigger than myself and to use my skills to benefit it. I found, in it, a safe space to learn how to be a friend and how to be part of a team. I have never met such a tolerant, gently loving group of people.

Of course I didn’t realize that immediately. We rarely do, when we’re in the middle of a transformative experience. In fact, some people never recognize transformative experiences for what they are. They don’t look back far enough or dig deep enough in their own histories to recognize the points where their life changed. Other people never *have* transformative experiences because they don’t allow themselves to. They approach life as a series of deliberate decisions leading to an ultimate goal and reject anything that doesn’t fit the plan.

That’s all terribly philosophical, I know, and maybe a little deep for a Thursday morning.

Anyway, look at my life. Just look at it! I’m surrounded by friends. I’m doing work that I love. I’m included. I’m one of the gang! It’s the one thing I’ve always longed for and it all happened because I got involved with this faire. That is why I am passionate about my faire because without it, I would not be who I am and I would not have many things that are beautiful and good in my life.

peace…

p.s. Tell me about your transformative moments. What choices have you made that led you to becoming you?

Guess what? You don’t hate change.

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I can hear the cries of protest now. “I HATE CHANGE. I hate it with the fire of a thousand burning suns! How dare you tell me I don’t hate it.”

You don’t hate it. If you did, you’d be so paralyzed by indecision that you couldn’t function. Life *is* change and everything you do changes something about you and the world around you. We all know that, on some level.

What we hate is change we can’t control. We hate change we don’t approve of. We hate change that doesn’t benefit us. We *really* hate change that challenges our emotional safety net and makes us look inward to face things we’d really rather not admit about ourselves.

We’re fine with the changes we choose (or the ones that benefit us…tell me you wouldn’t be happy if you won a million dollars tomorrow). However, we would prefer to proceed through those changes in an environment of safety and comfort and predictability, at our own pace.

But the world doesn’t work that way. Unless we choose to go sit cross-legged on a mountaintop, living a life devoted to meditation, we have to deal with the changes we choose and the ones we don’t at the same time. Because the changes that are imposed on us from the outside don’t wait for the “right time” to happen. We don’t get to pick when a loved one gets sick or dies. We don’t decide when we get laid off. We don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know, today would be a good day for the car to die because I’m mentally prepared!”

Given that the monkey of life isn’t going to stop and ask for your opinion before flinging poo at you, how do you deal?

  • Spend an appropriate amount of time grieving the change. People may try to push you into acceptance before you’re ready because as I implied, change is cascading. They want you to be OK again so they can be OK again. But your process is your process and you have to go through all the steps to get where you’re going.
  • Sit with it. Often, people feel compelled to deal with change by doing something to fix it, or make it go away. If it’s true that change is inevitable, it’s also true that what is different now will become routine in time. If meditation or prayer is your thing, it can come in handy at this juncture.
  • Look to your foundations. This step calls for a little belly-button examination because while change will inevitably alter some things, there are other things that remain the same. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find these things. When your life is a country song, your truck’s broke down, your dog died, and your girl left you all in the space of a week, it’s hard not to think that everything is falling apart. But if you look hard enough, you will find constancy. It might be in friendship, extended family, or in your own resilience. What is still unchanged in your life?
  • Have a mantra or a list of affirmations. This can be something as simple as “I will be OK.” “I can survive this.” “In time, this will be a memory.” Making a list of affirmations about the personal qualities you have that will help you through the change can help. “I am a resilient person.” “I am a strong person.” Etc. Put it on your computer screen, bathroom mirror, fridge, or wherever your eyes will fall on it during the day. Read the list out loud (trust me when I tell you this will feel foolish as hell, but it really does work…)
  • Keep your perspective. When you’re in the thick of it, even minor changes can seem huge. It’s important to step back and analyze how important the change really is in the grand scheme of your life.
  • Avoid confirmation bias. There’s something to be said for seeking out the company of others who are going through the same things you are. But at some point, group inertia can interfere with your personal growth and acceptance of change. Think of it as a cocktail hour with former co-workers who were all laid off from the same company. Are you exchanging leads and contacts and building each other up? Or are you bitching endlessly about the Unfairness of it All? If it’s the latter, you may need to avoid those people and conversations for a while.

I’ve had a lot of change happen during the last few months. Some small things, some that have rocked the foundations of my world. The above coping skills are some things I’ve learned along the way, and I hope they help you.

peace…

p.s. Do you have a coping strategy? Please share it in the comments.

 

Tough talk Tuesday: Maintaining your friendships through a depression

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“The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” ~Mark Twain

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” ~ Grandma Moses

Sense a theme?

I’m tackling a touchy subject today that lies at the intersection of what you do and need and what other people do and need. It’s at those intersections that the thorniest problems in our personal lives, and society writ large, arise. I’m going to talk about social life and how to make it work for us, particularly in the context of depression.

Have you ever had that moment when you feel like the unpopular kid? No one is calling you to make plans. Everyone is off doing fun things without you. Worse still, you’re hearing about it on social media? That moment sucks. I’ve experienced it and I’d call you a liar if you said you never had. It happens to everyone, but it feels particularly cruel when you’re struggling with depression.

That’s because depression lies to you. It tells you that the reason you’re not getting those calls and invites is because you are somehow flawed and unlikable. It tells you that your friends aren’t true friends because you’re not at the top of their agenda 24/7. Depression is an insidious creep because it never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt. It makes no allowances for any behavior that does not revolve around you. Busyness, forgetfulness, lack of mind-reading skills, none of that gets a pass from depression.

Worse still, depression turns you into a passive victim of circumstance. It strips you of your ability, and your responsibility, to manage your own social life. It feeds off the negative energy created by day after day of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring until you get stuck in an endless feedback loop.

How can you reclaim your social life from depression’s lies? Here are some ideas.

  • Be proactive. People are not clairvoyant. They don’t know when you’re having a good day, or a bad day. On your good days, or even your semi-good days, reach out to a trusted friend. Your friend may not be able to meet up with you on such short notice, but even having a brief chat on the phone can help you feel connected. Don’t rely on social media for this. What you’re after is connection, and you’re not going to get it on Facebook. Trust me.
  • Communicate. If you hear about a gathering involving your closest friends, and you didn’t get an invitation, call someone you trust and ask why. Most of the time, you’ll discover it was an oversight. Or perhaps, your friends assumed you weren’t feeling up to it. Or, honestly, people have invited you to so many things you didn’t attend that they gave up. Regardless, it’s on you to find out the truth and not allow depression to fill in your gaps in knowledge with lies.
  • Develop a thicker skin. Sometimes, you’re just not going to be invited. There are various reasons for this, but they mostly distill down into a simple truism. Not everyone wants to herd around in a big group all the time. Sometimes, it’s OK to get together with a few friends for TV or dinner or shopping and not include the whole world. It’s not because you’re not loved, or thought about. However, if you’re consistently not getting invited to things, see “Communicate” above.
  • Ask for what you need. Let your friends know the kinds of activities you feel up to doing. If you feel up to seeing a few friends, but don’t feel equal to coordinating a get-together, ask another friend to do it for you. Here’s a script: “Hey, I’ve been feeling really isolated lately. I’d like to see you and X and Y, but I don’t feel up to a big gathering. Can you arrange something?” If you need the visit to occur at your place, say so. Explain how long you would like the visit to be or any other limiting factors.
  • Be as reliable as you can. This one is hard, I know. When I’m in the middle of a depression, I can be a serial plan-breaker. It just seems like so much effort to get dressed some days, let alone leave the house. But the more you can make that effort, the more likely it is that people will continue to include you in social plans. If you are having an outrageously bad day, be honest and offer an alternative. “I’m really depressed today and I don’t feel up to going out. Instead of going out shopping, would you mind coming over for an hour or two and just hanging out with me?”
  • Be a good friend. Depression, sadly, can turn you into a taker if you let it and that wears people out. They start to feel like no matter what they do, or how much they do for you, it’s never enough. Once their emotional bank account is empty, if you don’t refill it, they’re going to quit on you. Ask me how I know. It’s old school advice that doing something nice for someone else can help alleviate depression, but it’s also a critical component of self-care to nurture your friends on your good days so that they can be there for you on the bad ones.

Bottom line, like Mark Twain and Grandma Moses said, no one owes you a social life. Your social life is what you make of it. It’s the product of the amount of effort and care you put into it. And you know what? You may not feel like putting much effort and care into it when you’re in a depression and that’s totally understandable. But part of living with depression is owning the fact that rebuilding your friendships and social world after a bout with depression is something you’re going to have to do. Repeatedly. It sucks and it’s not fair. But that’s the way it is. Cowboy up, cupcake.

peace…

Weekly Five – Mental Health News Roundup – October 4, 2014

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How teleconferencing could help urban schools solve a mental health crisis. (Citylab): This article uses the example of urban schools, but tele-mental health is a Thing. My own hospital system uses tele-mental health to connect with patients from the large, rural area they serve who might not be able to get into town.

Reporter feels full weight of mental illness. (Des Moines Register): This article makes me so proud I could spit. One of the biggest fears I have is facing employment discrimination because of my bipolar. Here’s a guy who’s right out there with it in the pages of his own employer’s paper. We need more people with Daniel Finney’s courage.

What happens to patients when mental health clinics close? (US News): From happy land to this-one-makes-my-blood-boil. Not only are mental health clinics being closed because “we can’t afford them,” we can’t even afford to study what happens to people when they do. Also, this article summarizes a lot of the obstacles people deal with even when there is a clinic available, and discusses the therapist-patient relationship and why yanking someone away from their therapist because of budget cuts is just a mean-ass thing to do.

OHL launches mental health program after Terry Trafford’s death. (Toronto Star): This one is close to my heart because it’s hockey! And mental health! Seriously, I’m glad to see the OHL taking this seriously. For my non-hockey addicted readers, the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) is a feeder league to the NHL, much like college football is to the NHL except the players in the OHL are even younger. Hockey players who hope to turn pro leave home at a very young age, sometimes as young as 15. They face unique social and mental challenges as well as the rigors of playing an intensely competitive sport. Good for the OHL for taking care of these kids.

Behavioral health deserves — and demands — its own Cabinet-level agency. (Boston Herald) I really don’t know how to feel about this letter to the editor. On the one hand, yes, more resources for mental health. On the other hand, no, no, no to any further separation of mental and physical health. The two are deeply intertwined. What do you all think? Let me know in the comments.

peace…

Why I’m going gray

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A couple weeks ago, I got all my hair cut off.

Before (clearly I was cranky about getting my hair cut):

before

 

The amount of hair we cut off:

hair

After (you can see the sides and back…not a cute photo…good lord…)

after side

After (with my glasses on and looking like my normal cute self)

after2

 

Notice a couple things. In the before picture, my hair is thin and limp. This is a side effect of Depakote. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of my hair fell out after I started taking it. So it was already looking pretty manky. Also, notice the snow white roots. I have decided to grow out my natural hair color which should be a mixture of the original dark blonde, white, silver, and gray (I don’t actually know since I’ve been coloring my hair since my mid-20s).

So I cut it all off and it will likely be grown all the way out to gray by Christmas.

I thought about it long and hard before I did it, believe me. For women, our hair has many layers of meaning and emotional baggage. See what I did there? Layers? Heehee… Long hair is deeply associated with femininity. I’ve never much bought into that one and my husband likes it short anyway, so losing the length wasn’t as deep an issue for me as it might be for some people. I’ve had it short before, although never quite this short.

Gray hair? That’s tougher. Especially for a woman. On a man, gray is often described as distinguished and lends a sort of unspoken authority. On a woman? Not so much. For a woman in this society, visible signs of aging are one of those things we’re constantly told are The Big Bad. Nothing is a more visible sign of aging than a head full of gray hair. But I believe that’s changing. Public figures like Dame Judy Dench, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Emmylou Harris have embraced their gray and still have thriving careers and seem happy in their own skins.

Ultimately though, what made the decision simple was my bipolar and how I deal with it. I’m loud and open about having bipolar. It’s part of who I am and by owning it and talking about it, I think I help fight the stigma and discrimination that mentally ill people face. I expect people to take me at face value and not pre-judge based on what they think they know about mental illness. And yet…there I was walking around with a head full of dyed hair because I didn’t want people to think I was “old.” That’s a dichotomy, if not an outright hypocrisy because if there’s nothing wrong with being bipolar, then what’s wrong with getting old?

No lie. It’s scary. Embracing my gray brings me face to face with my fear of getting older. But when I got diagnosed with bipolar I decided I was not going to let it be the boss of me. This gray hair? It won’t be, either. Neither will society’s assumptions about what getting old means. They can’t make me start wearing polyester pants and listening to Pat Boone. How I age is my choice. I fully intend to be buried in my Converse high-tops and nose ring because hair and wrinkles and bad knees and arthritic hips do not an old person make.

I’ll post updates whenever I get a haircut so you can all see how it’s progressing. I think it’s going to look smashing!

peace…

p.s. What do you think about letting your own hair go gray? Are you ready for that? Why or why not? Let’s talk in the comments!

Five bad reasons and one good reason to reject a mentally ill woman

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The crazy girlfriend.  We’ve all had one, been one, or know one. But when it comes to assessing whether a person with a self-disclosed mental illness would be a good partner there are five really dumb reasons to reject them, and one really good reason to do so.

Dumb Reason #1: You automatically assume that she will be unstable 24/7 because she has depression/bipolar/anxiety, etc. Many women with mental illnesses are stable for months or even years at a time. So if a woman actually self-discloses to you that she has a mental illness, and is seeking treatment for it, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s actually more self-aware and stable than a woman who is undiagnosed or, you know, just a jerk.

Dumb Reason #2: You think your future, imaginary, unborn children will be doomed to become mentally ill. Bzzt. Nope. The susceptibility, or risk, of developing a mental illness is inherited, the disease itself is not. Even genetic counselors are divided on the exact factors that lead to a person developing a mental illness, and they go through an extensive process to determine what the odds would be. Not to mention that *you*, Captain Perfect, could be carrying genes you don’t even know about that might make your special snowflake offspring the second coming of R. P. McMurphy.

Dumb Reason #3: You and your potential crazypants partner will get together, make babies, and then she will jump off a bridge leaving you to raise the poor orphans alone. Look. I’m not saying it *couldn’t* happen. And yes, the risk is higher. But having a partner pass away is a risk we all take when we decide to partner up. By the preceding logic, you should also select out anyone who drives to effing work. In fact, you Mr. Man, are three times more likely than your ladyfriend to take that dive.

Dumb Reason #4: You want to be a partner, not a “caretaker.” If you think being a caretaker isn’t part of being a partner, I wouldn’t want to date you either. This goes back to the assumption that mentally ill people are constantly in need of…something. If you need an example of the fact that they’re not, ask my friends and family. Yes, there are times when I’m more needy than others. But there are also times when I, myself, am the caretaker for my husband, our child, my friends, my parents, you get the drift.

Dumb Reason #5: You’re afraid of being stigmatized yourself. If you’re not strong enough to absorb the side-eye from your buddies about your “crazy girlfriend” she doesn’t need you. Feel free to move along to the next woman. Who, by the way, may or may not *tell you* that she has a mental illness or may not *know*. It’s crazy roulette my friend. Place your bets. If it was me, I’d far rather date a person who approached her challenges with honesty and candor, but I’m silly like that.

The Good Reason: You don’t want to. And you know what, that’s OK. If you’ve really thought about it, done a little research, talked to the potential partner who has self-disclosed to you, and you just don’t feel capable of going there that is totally and in all ways FINE. You should not feel guilty about that at all. Not everyone is cut out to be in a relationship with a mentally ill woman. Just understand that you need to make that decision based on who *you* are and who she really is, not on stereotypes of who you believe her to be.

peace…

p.s. Did you know that women are more likely to seek help and self-disclose mental illness than men, often leading to better treatment outcomes?