Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, newly diagnosed illness

Scare Away the Dark

One of the things I’ve always liked about Halloween is the idea of scary masks, parties with dry ice making smoke/fog, and of course candy. Horror movies try to scare us by catching us off guard, utilizing the age-old element of surprise as its weapon. Our fears are also scary. Yesterday I was asked if I was scared of anything and all I could think of was really high heights. I’m sure there are things lurking that I’m unaware of, and when they arise, I hope I can scare away the dark.

When we face adversity we often experience darkness, and heaviness sets in our body, mind, and spirit causing despair. Its goal, if you let it, is to deflate you. Utilize all your resources to fight the dark; you need those forces for health and healing. Those dark places want to take hold with the force of a vice and convince you that there are no better days ahead (the reality is there may not be, but scaring away the dark to gain a sense of peace is helpful).

The other problem with those dark places is they distort reality. Ever go to the carnival and look at the mirrors that elongate your body, or make you look like the Michelin Man? When we live in the dark (not insinuating you’re a mushroom), we lose perspective. Every experience is filtered through these dark lenses and it leads us to make less than helpful or healing decisions.

What can you do to scare away the dark? My go-to response it gather support. There is something amazingly healing when you receive love and friendship from others. I assure you their perspective is quite different from yours and at least you can see things from another point of view. Support groups are helpful because the folks in the groups are on the same pilgrimage. You’ll get lots of perspectives, some helpful and some not so helpful, but it opens you up to the range of possibility.

Read lots of autobiographies, memoirs, and pathographies, even blogs. See how others have used their internal resources to scare away the dark. It takes effort and it takes work. Depending on the circumstances of your life it may be ongoing or it may be short lived, either way you need to seek out sources of light.

Pretend every day is Halloween. Go find your scariest mask, it may as simple as a thought, and use that mask to scare away the darkness. Who knows, there may be a treat waiting for you on the other end.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness or facing some other adversity?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in how Art Heals?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in Caregiving

On a Serious Note…Caregiving and Depression

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

How many of you were wondering if I was ever going to venture into the land of the “dark night of the soul” as coined by St. John of the Cross.  You know those points in your life when you’re so down, feeling little hope, and don’t know where to turn?  Well I hope you’re not at that point, but I know that many caregivers are dealing with depression and that we have to address.

On a personal note my family is seeing the damage unchecked depression can have on a caregiver.  My mother-in-law took care of my father-in-law following his stroke for 20 years.  We, the family, tried to help her in many ways, but to no avail.  She worked for a while and that kept her somewhat occupied but she still showed the signs of depression.  Once she retired we tried hiring her a respite worker so she could go out a couple of times a week and do something enjoyable…she never left the house.

I understand that older adults are still skeptical of mental health practice, but the ramifications of treatment are too huge to ignore.  Twenty years of depression has resulted in enormous physical pain, lack of medical care and that in turn has led to huge medical problems in the present.  She’s currently in the hospital quite ill because she didn’t say anything when her symptoms started…she was too depressed.  It wasn’t until she was in so much pain that she asked her daughter to take her to the emergency room.

As I talk to my partner, her son, we noted that we never really treated her depression.  She has been prescribed antidepressants by her doctor, but she only takes them if she really feels bad.  antidepressants don’t work like aspirin.  It takes two weeks to reach a therapeutic level in your blood stream.  Taking them every so often is just a waster of a pill.

I wish we’d performed an intervention much earlier on so that we could have addressed her depression, directly related to caregiving much earlier.  She’s a bit stubborn and resistant, but if we would have pushed harder maybe she wouldn’t be in the medical predicament she finds herself.  Maybe it’s easier for some people to get help for a medical condition than a mental health condition.  Perhaps sucking it up all those years as a caregiver just created too much toxicity in her system.

Why am I telling you my story?  Because caregiving is stressful.  It can have devastating physical impact on your body if left untreated.  What should you be doing?  Eating right and exercising.  You should join a caregiver support group or see a therapist or speak with a coach, someone like me who can guide you through the process of making sense of all the madness.  Stay engaged with family and friends because social relationships and fun (yes I said fun) is good for the immune system.

If you have any further questions I hope you’ll send them to me so I can answer them for you and the collective you.  Thanks for letting me share my story.

Posted in Caregiving

Disbelief

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

If you haven’t been following the blog this week then you’ve missed out on learning about the new public service announcement (PSA) about mental illness.  You can view the video at http://www.bringchange2mind.org and see not only the artistry in the piece, but the power of the message.  So why am I writing about the PSA once again?  Up till now I’ve been focusing on the message, the importance of bringing mental illness to our consciousness, and the courage of those who participated in the PSA.  Now I want to turn my attention to one of the parents who accompanies her son in the PSA. 

The woman is the mother of an adult son who is schizophrenic.  When they interview the pair she tells about how they found out about their son’s disability.  They had gone on vacation when they received an emergency call that their son was in a psychiatric hospital.  They immediately rushed home, went to the hospital and proceeded to check him out not believing he was ill.  Over the next few days the son’s symptoms surfaced in a way that the parents couldn’t deny the problem and he was re-admitted to the hospital.  Why do want to live in the land of disbelief?  How does it serve our world view?  What happens when our assumptions about health are shattered?

This mother was well-meaning, loving, concerned and a host of other admirable characteristics, but like all of us, her blind spot got exposed.  We all have it, that place just outside our consciousness that nags at us and gives us clues but we choose to ignore.  When this happens, whether it’s a mental health or physical health challenge, the clues land at our feet and for some it takes a crisis to get everyone on the same page and to acknowledge the problem.  I’m wondering if our blind spots get revealed on the health issue, do they become exposed in other areas of our lives? 

We don’t like to think about mental illness because for many it conjures up images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.  Fortunately, our understanding of mental illness has progressed over the past thirty years.  Treatments are more effective and less toxic, although side effects still remain a huge hindrance in maintaining the treatment protocol.  We’re afraid, disgraced, and confused when a loved one is in a psychiatric hospital, but seem to be okay if the problem is physically based…why is that?  How much of our own prejudices create the veil of disbelief?  I want to be very clear, this is not about blame, but of consciousness.  As Oprah say, “When we know better we do better”; just look at the loved ones in the PSA, you’ll see the transformation from disbelief to consciousness and acceptance!

Posted in Uncategorized

Ignore the Whispers…Start the Conversation

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post from yesterday because it impacted me greatly.  The idea that 1 in 6 Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness is astounding, and I’m a mental health professional.  The biggest problem and I’ve seen in it my own family, we don’t talk about problems like depression and bipolar disorder so they stay closeted, but the signs are there and medication is prescribed and still the whispers.  This doesn’t even take into account the genetic factor involved with any diagnosis.

The public service announcements outing mental health diagnoses is truly a piece of art.  The fact that they didn’t use actors but real people with a diagnosis and their family/friends/support persons shows there is support when we take the illnesses seriously and get the right treatment.  It always helps when you have star power behind the message and having Glenn and Jessie Close spearhead this campaign is amazing.  I encourage you to go to the website http://www.bringchange2mind.org and not only watch the public service announcement but the side interviews with Ron Howard the director and the “real” people in the public service announcement.

The bigger question and this applies to both physical illness and mental illness is how do we begin the conversations.  What if everyone in the world wore a t-shirt with the word(s) that signifies their own personal struggle.  There has to be some way to begin leveling the playing field so that conversations can begin and we don’t create a caste system based on how serious one’s diagnosis is, within the grand scheme of things.  We’re all “real” people and we have “real” problems.  Facing any health challenge whether it be physical or mental health related is serious.  We have to improve our filters when it comes to those who whisper behind our backs.  Unfortunately, I believe it’s on those of us with a challenge that have to initiate the conversations and that’s never easy.

Start small, you don’t have to do a public service announcements.  My personal example begins when I go out to dinner with friends/family.  We all sit down and people offer me wine or other alcohol and I refuse.  Their next question is often, “Are you in recovery?”  That’s my opening,  I explain that I have an auto-immune disease and the medication I take metabolizes in my liver and kidney and since I don’t want to add fuel to the fire I take my doctor’s recommendation and I don’t drink.  It’s been 17 years…if nothing else all my friends know they always have a designated driver. 

How will you start your conversation?  I think this public service announcement is the beginning of something beautiful!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Would You Be Willing to Out Yourself?

I was watching Good Morning America and they had a segment on mental illness.  The guests were Glenn Close and her sister Jessie Close.  They wanted to bring attention to the fact that 1 in 6 Americans have a mental illness.  They created a public service announcement to bring this issue to the consciousness of everyone who sees the commercial. 

The commercial takes place in Grand Central Station in New York City.  We see the hustle and bustle and then two or three people walking together wearing t-shirts.  The person with the mental illness is wearing a t-shirt with their diagnosis, and the family member/loved one wears on with their relation to the person with the mental illness.  It’s a brave move, and one that takes a personal resolution to take on the illness and become your own advocate in the mental health system.  The public service announcement also shed light on the fact that we often don’t know about someone’s mental illness, we attribute their behavior to stories we make up about them.  It’s a courageous and necessary consciousness raising commercial.  If you don’t see it on television, go to http://www.bringchange2mind.org.

As you know I focus on physical health challenges at http://www.survivingstrong.com.  I have a question for you, “Would you be willing to wear a t-shirt out in public ( a very public venue) for all the world to see?”  There are some illnesses where just leaving your house outs you and your diagnosis, but what about the more invisible illnesses?  What about for those of you whose symptoms are very mild or only visible to those who know your diagnosis, would you be willing to wear a billboard on your t-shirt announcing to the world your own challenge? 

This is how we bring about change, by creating consciousness raising programs like the one headed by Glenn and Jessie Close.  They were willing to face the stigma associated with mental illness to get people talking.  It got me immediately motivated to post this entry to begin the dialogue.  It’s through connection and communication that we can build understanding and compassion for all who are facing a physical or mental health challenge.  Go see the public service announcement and let me know how it impacted you.  Will you do anything different after seeing the public service announcement?

Posted in after the diagnosis, authenticity, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

The Relationship Between Depression and Illness

An article on Comcast cited a report form The American Heart Association that both heart attack survivors and those in the hospital with heart problems have an increase in depression compared to the general population.  They state that heart patients are 3 times more likely to suffer depression than the general population.  Their recommendation is to screen heart patients for depression more often, even routinely.

The truth is that many or most illnesses are accompanied by some degree of depression at one time or another.  The recommendation for screening is important and should be included in all follow-up exams no matter your diagnosis.  Just as your weight, temperature and blood pressure are measured at each visit, it should be part of the protocol to screen for depression.

Diagnosing depression is important because left untreated many patients experience a decrease in their quality of life.  They have increased levels of hopelessness and they begin to wonder why they even entered treatment.  There are a lot of causes for depression so that’s why screening is important.  Of course, once you’ve been screened, it’s up to you, the patient, to follow up with treatment.  Some doctors who are not psychiatrists feel comfortable prescribing anti-depressants but not all.  Meeting with a mental health professional may be necessary.

I’m also a strong proponent of support groups.  It’s often beneficial to attend groups with those who have the same diagnosis.  It makes it easier to offer education and resources when the group is illness specific.  What these organizations or groups can do is reduce your feeling of isolation.  It ends your “terminal uniqueness”, the feelings of despair rooted in the feeling that you’re the only one in the world suffering with this health challenge.

When we look at the mind-body connection the evidence is clear that depression is bad for the immune system.  It lowers your immune function making treatment less effective and opens you up to more infections and complications.  We have an epidemic of depression in our culture aside from those facing chronic or life-threatening illness, having the illness adds one more layer of complication.

There is hope for those suffering for depression.  If your doctor isn’t screening for depression then one way of Surviving Strong is to bring your emotional distress into the exam room.  Let your doctor know how you’re feeling.  It’s okay to coach the doctor who isn’t asking about depression to include it in each and every follow-up exam, at least for you.  You may be wondering how you would do that in a depressed mood.  What we’re talking about is honesty.  If you’re honest with your doctor it won’t take a lot of energy.  It will take some courage because being honest is often difficult especially if you think you’ll be judged.

Believe it or not many doctors treating patients with illness are not surprised at all by the reports of depression.  You might wonder if that’s the case, why don’t they ask about it.  The answer is, doctors like to ask questions about things they have answers to.  They may be able to replace four valves in your heart, but be unable to help mending a broken heart emotionally.

If you’ve dealt with depression since your diagnosis, what have you done?  Who have you received support from?  What would you like to have known before embarking on the journey out of depression?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Having a Voice, Personal Conviction

Mind-Body Connection…DUH!

The news agencies reported on a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, linking Diabetes and Depression.  The study looked at over 6,000 individuals.  What did they find?  The found that those suffering from type 2 diabetes were more prone to depression, and lo and behold those with depression were more prone to getting diabetes.

I say it’s not a surprise because we’ve been discussing the mind/body connection for years.  This type of study is a message to everyone facing some type of health crisis to get treatment, good treatment, and find a way to make peace with the illness.  It’s the struggles that are associated to living life with an illness that creates these secondary conditions.

No one wants to have to tackle more than one health crisis at a time.  If you are facing a life-altering diagnosis consider ways to live life beyond illness.  For tips you might consider information on the website http://www.survivingstrong.com.  Don’t suffer, learn to life live beyond the illness.  Find ways to assimilate the illness into your being so you have it and it doesn’t have you.

The longer we live the greater the chances of facing some type of illness.  Let’s keep it to a minimum by understanding that the mind/body connection is real.  Let’s not give illness the opportunity to co-opt our quality of life.  Let’s take the illness and put it in its place, figuratively and literally.  Let’s make the case for greater support services that serve as an adjunct to medical treatment.  Let’s tell our providers that our mental health is as important as our physical health and vise versa, and create a comprehensive treatment plan.  Put the odds in your favor and keep the mind/body connection in the foreground and you’ll make healthier choices.