I’ll Take the Magic Pill Please

By: Azure Stilwell

I received an e-mail today asking about the status of my next blog post. I had no idea it was that time of month again. I cannot remember anything right now…

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I do electro-current therapy (ECT) treatments once a week and it is killing my short-term memory. I couldn’t even remember who my dentist was the other day or where our local Publix is. I go to check the mail and there are bills in the mailbox for companies I don’t remember having services with until my husband reminds me. I can’t wait for the treatments to be over. I want to be able to drive again. I want my life back. I want my memories back.

I spend every day wondering what happened to me. When did I stop laughing, smiling, finding joy in life? When did I become so depressed? I want to wake up and not have the first thing I think of be, “Is today going to be a good day?” I stopped going to church. This Easter was the first time I’ve been back to church in months. I’m trying a new church, one that I hope I will be able to get more involved in. I need something to grab onto and feel good about. This seems like a logical answer.

I am still taking my normal medications but I feel like that needs changing, too. In fact, I feel like everything needs changing. My home, my medications, my daily routine. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I want to move back home to Augusta. But when I visit, my problems seem to follow me so I know that isn’t truly the answer that I seek. I just want a magic pill that makes everything go back to the way it was before I got so sad. I hope that my next blog post (if I can remember when that is) will be about something other than mental illness, but this is what I am struggling with today so bear with me.

Working with Friends

By: Shannon Boatwright

I recently read an enlightening article called, “How Coworkers Affect Your Job Satisfaction,” written by Jacob Shriar.

In the article, I came across an interesting bit of information about the results of a 20-year study on the work environment in all sorts of different job fields. They expected factors like long work hours or having a mean boss to be a major factor affecting a person’s health. According to the article, “What they found instead, was that the factor most closely linked to health was the support of coworkers. The meaner a colleague was, the higher their risk of dying. According to the study, middle-aged workers with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.”

 Wowzers! Isn’t that crazy!? This was really eye opening for me, especially since lately I have felt especially thankful for my amazing coworkers. I am truly blessed to have colleagues that are not only supportive, but many of them are like family. We’ve created a special bond that has helped us all to better survive and make the best of our job situations. I always say, if it weren’t for them, I’d never last in my position in our messed up education system. We band together and lift each other up. We always have each other’s backs. We love and care for one another. The support is real and genuine. I can’t imagine my life without these people I’ve come to know and love.

Reading this article just added scientific back-up to what I knew in my heart already: having friends at work is truly important to our mental health. Check out the article link above and take stock of your own work environment. Do you have a friend at work? Do you have a family of fabulous colleagues? It really is important and can be so beneficial to your overall health! If you’re like me and are blessed to have an incredible support system at your place of work, thank those special friends. Let them know how much you appreciate them. As they say…appreciate the good people in your life. They are hard to come by!

To my family at CMS, I positively adore you all! I’m here for you and can’t thank you enough for being there for me in return. You fill my heart and lift my soul! Big smiles and millions of thank you’s!

January Blues

By: Azure Stilwell

This month has been difficult for me. I feel bad for feeling bad, but my posts are real so here it goes.

Sun will come out tomorrow

The high of Christmas and having my oldest home from college has passed and everyone has returned to a normal schedule. That is, everyone except me. My normal schedule has become a battle with depression and it is winning this month. Being Bipolar is difficult, especially during the lower times. My medications have been changed so many times I can’t even keep count anymore. I sit at home either giving into or fighting the urge to sleep my day away. I need a purpose, a reason to get up, and right now I just can’t find one, at least not until 3 p.m. – that’s when my youngest gets off the bus.

I have thought about volunteering somewhere but I don’t know where or how to begin to do something like that. I have a hard time with a set schedule. I never know when I will have a Bipolar episode, so having others depend on me causes anxiety within me. It’s really a catch 22. I need to get out to overcome my depression but I am too anxious to commit to any set volunteer time. I need a place that allows me to set my times or has short bursts of time available, say 1-3 hours, so I don’t get overwhelmed.

I have social anxiety which causes me to have a very small circle of people. Since I quit working, that circle in Columbia has gotten even smaller. I also want to feel needed and not just sitting around feeling like I am just there instead of at home.

I need suggestions on how and where to get started volunteering. Any ideas?

Weighty Issues

By: Azure Stilwell

One of the issues with Bipolar Disorder and the medications I have to take is that I tend to forget things. I have alarms for everything: to remind me to take my medications, to get my son off of the bus, to wake up, to go to bed, and the list goes on. Yet even with these alarm clockreminders I still manage to miss a thing or two. It is very frustrating. So I always try to keep my posts honest and relevant to my ordinary life, which is why I share things like the following.

I am starting a weight loss journey. I went to see my primary care doctor and she suggested a meal plan and exercise routine, but after 3 weeks I have not been able to keep it going. I need accountability on a regular basis and someone to cheer me on. So I am joining the Livestrong program at my local Y, which gives cancer survivors 24 free classes beginning this month. I am also thinking very hard about re-joining Jenny Craig as I did have success with that program in the past. I became concerned (way overdue) during a recent hospital stay when I actually saw the number on the scale. Let’s just say being breathless all the time makes sense when you are carrying another person around.

I am hoping to find some great recipes that I can share with you. I will keep you posted on my progress. Today: 0 for me and 1 for my food baby. I am now putting an alarm in my phone so I am reminded of my next blog post. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend. 🙂

No Regrets – Who You Are

By: Lydia Scott

I am really bad about wanting to be helpful. Therapy has taught me about my “helper” persona and how it’s a blend of being a little bit of a hero and a little bit of a victim all rolled up into one. Helpers, like all the other personality styles out there, are awesome and important to have in our lives. Helpers want to make a difference, find the solution, make life easier, make things happen, and help you excel. We don’t want our needs to be ignored; yet we will be the first to turn down offers of help, questions of “are you okay?” and depressionsuggestions of rest. A little bit hero, a little bit victim. There’s not a thing wrong with our helpful ways, but it can cause us to crash and burn when life gets mean. And I’ve done that – crashed and burned. I was ashamed of it every time, and every time was really unpleasant, but I don’t regret any of it.

On three occasions in my life, I’ve crashed and burned to the point of having to take myself to what I call “the happiness hospital.” Behavioral counseling centers, psychiatric hospitals, inpatient stability centers…whatever you call them, they are where people go to get concentrated, inpatient help for addictions, suicidal issues, severe depression, or even just sheer emotional exhaustion. During one of my stays, I met a lady who said she admitted herself because she needed a vacation from her life and needed to be forced to take care of herself. It can be a really humiliating experience to take oneself (or be taken to) the happiness hospital, even though it should not be humiliating. While none of these experiences were high points in my life (and in fact occurred during the worst times of my life), I don’t regret any of them.

A middle class, stay-at-home mom “shouldn’t” have debilitating depression and severe emotional instability. Looking back at all three instances, I totally see what lead me to lose my grip on myself: feeling completely alone AND not taking care of myself on the inside. I was going and going, losing one thing or person after another, and never stopped to deal with any of it. I didn’t feel like I had anyone who could wrap their arms around me and help me feel stronger and not alone, even when I was married (the first time) and had family trying to support me.

It just snowballs until one day you physically can’t stop crying or you’re researching just how many pills you would need to take to not wake up tomorrow. If you’re lucky, you’ll realize you need help and you’ll stop the world in order to get it, even when the person who should be your biggest supporter responds to your plea for him to take you to the “mental hospital” with eye rolls, protests of “Why did you let yourself get so bad?” or, “Your problem is you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try harder.” You keep trying, even when that person instructs you to not “come home until you’re well” when you ask what will happen to your marriage because of this. (Big hint…my first visit resulted in the staff psychiatrist telling me the primary cause of my issues was my marriage.)

Each of my stays at the happiness hospital lasted from five to ten days, and I was on suicide watch for all of them. I learned how to make do without a lot of comforts (my regular deodorant, shoelaces, shaving alone, eating what and when I felt like it), and I learned a lot about both myself and humanity in general.

There was the heavier set lady in her 50s who came in straight from home, had no one to bring her any of her things, and was in tears because she had no bra and was humiliated to be walking around with the girls swinging free. (We happened to be close in size, so I gave her one of mine). There was the elderly lady in a wheelchair who adopted me as her confidant, and would sit next to me for hours telling me about her life and sobbing over everything and everyone she’d lost. There was the high-powered, well-known attorney in the robe and slippers pacing the hallways, who turned himself in for drug and alcohol abuse that resulted from the horrors he dealt with in his cases.

There were wealthy people, homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics, sad people, exhausted people, confused people, young people, old people, employed people, jobless people. And we all had common ground…we were all here because something wasn’t right and it wasn’t getting better. We didn’t need a new kidney or stitches. We needed teachers, guidance counselors, and friends to lean on, talk to, cry with. We needed to learn who we were and how to live life.

When I had to give up my kids and the alcohol and nightmares took over my life, leading to my last happiness hospital trip, I especially needed an identity and a purpose. I felt useless, worthless, lost, and like the biggest failure to ever exist. That visit helped me learn who I was, deep down inside, regardless of what role I was playing in life at any given moment. I was no longer a wife. I felt like I was no longer a mother, no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, no longer Daddy’s girl (he had passed a few years earlier), no longer had a home, and no longer had my friends. The counselors helped me figure out WHO I was, not just WHAT I was. They taught me to identify people who always wind up hurting me and how to keep those people from hurting me again.

Most of all, although it took three times, I finally learned how to say “I need help” before crashing and burning. I can never regret the incredibly human people I got to know, and the glimpse into the rawness of what really being a human being is built of. It’s built of pain, smiles, and hugs. And it’s built on not being alone.

Have you ever really identified WHO you are, rather than WHAT you are? How hard or easy is it for you to say “I need help?” Did you go through something extremely hard and unpleasant, but don’t regret it? What did you learn?

Getting Real About Mental Health

By: Leah Prescott

LeahThis has been a long time coming. I think I’ve mentally written this post dozens of times and have been re-writing it on paper for months now. As much as I consider myself to be an honest and open person, I don’t think I’ve ever completely shared with anyone about my reality, maybe not even with myself. Why come clean now? Because growth doesn’t happen without transparency, and openness can be healing. Hopefully healing for myself and others. Plus, May is Mental Health Month, so that was finally the push I needed.

Anxiety is something I have long struggled with. I was a worrier as a child. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, after I became a mom, that things took a turn for me. My worrying nature became a true disorder and began to inhibit my life.

At first the diagnosis surprised me, then I found it far too easy to believe. So much made sense now that I had a name to put to the struggle. Realizing what Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is has helped me to know how to fight it. GAD affects about 3% of adults. Statistically, women are twice as likely to struggle with clinical anxiety as men.

Some of my symptoms include IBS, dry mouth, cardiac symptoms, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, repetitive negative thoughts (OCD), insomnia, irrational fears, phantom skin sensations and good ole’ panic attacks. Sometimes these symptoms hit me at the most unexpected times. I often have panic attacks when I am doing something seemingly relaxing, like reading a book at the end of a long day. In essence, my body is letting all the stress catch up to me whether I like it or not.

Now I find that my anxiety is the lens through which I view the world. I know that my life is good, rich and wonderful, but I can’t even count my blessings. I am ultimately thankful to God that in Him I have no real reason to fear. But over all of that lies the ugly and dirty lens of anxiety. It dulls and mutes the colors that would otherwise be so beautiful. If I am being completely honest, there are many times when anxiety strangles the joy in my life.

Anxiety has kept me from travel and from social events. I have lost friendships because I was basically too overwhelmed to maintain them. I will always, always regret missing my best friend’s wedding. Her wedding happened soon after I started having panic attacks and the symptoms at that time were too much for me to cope with. I never said goodbye to my grandmother in the hospital because the mental stress felt like more than I could stand. Looking back, I can hardly believe that I let GAD get the best of me in those situations, but it can be strong and persuasive.

I have tried a few different treatments, a few different SSRIs (a type of medication). Sometimes they help, but I am still trying to find a good fit with my medication. I would like to try therapy but haven’t worked out the logistics of that yet. I have tried taking ice cold showers with some success. I have tried different supplements with varying results. Vitamin D directly applied from the warm South Carolina sunshine definitely helps me! Exercise is also effective, but it’s really hard to fit it in to my life right at the moment. As I am typing this, I realize how crazy it is to not do everything I can to treat the problem, so I resolve to tackle the exercise challenge soon. I wish I could say I have discovered the perfect solution, but GAD is always changing and evolving. What quells the anxiety today might not work tomorrow. You just have to deal with the symptoms as they come.

Why am I sharing all this right now? I guess because anxiety reminds me that I am human. Very human, and very, very imperfect. I think my experience with anxiety has given me better empathy for others. I know that even when I appear calm and capable on the outside, I might be battling my demons on the inside. So I try to give others the benefit of the doubt; I just don’t know what anyone is going through, so I do my best to show them compassion and empathy even if I don’t understand their behavior.

I don’t want this post to be overly negative. I have so, so much to be thankful for and my life is overwhelmingly a joyful one. Knowing I am not in control helps me remember Who is in control. Without God I would be losing this battle, but with His strength I know I have already won.

I want to reach out to anyone else who is experiencing these symptoms or feeling overwhelmed beyond hope. Anxiety and Depression are very real and very treatable. Things can get better. But you have to fight. If you want to fight, but just don’t know how, it might be time to talk to a doctor or counselor.

 

The Therapy of Dirt

By: Lydia Scott

Like most of us who’ve lived more than a few years, I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life. I have done three stints in the “emotional improvement” medical facilities
during my first marriage; been to several counselors; and done the whole gamut of behavioral improvement prescription medications. While all of these things can be a Gardentremendous help to many people, none of them ever relieved my issues: stress and anxiety. I found two things that finally gave me peace and smiles: eradicating poisonous people from my life (divorce from said first marriage), and making things grow.

I’ve always loved Mother Earth and the mysterious wonders of her flora. Each plant has different needs and it’s up to you to speak their language and give them what they need to flourish. When I’m elbow deep in rich, black soil, with delicate seedlings in hand, I am at my most peaceful and fulfilled. My babies don’t always live, and sometimes it’s me that kills them, but they never hold it against me. I can say what I
like and they never share my secrets. As long as I pay attention to what they need, every day they will get a little strong, grow a little taller, shine a little greener, and bring me bigger smiles of satisfaction. They never whine or cry or scream or yell. They never rip or tear or maim. They just….grow and give. I can’t wait to walk around my yard and go to my garden deck everyday and see how these beautiful living things have progressed or if one seems to need extra attention. And when those bright, cheery blooms spring forth or we indulge in an especially tasty salad filled with garden-deck dill, parsley, and basil, my peace runs deep and my anxieties wash away.

GardenLong ago, my need for medications and head doctors dissolved. I learned that my stress came from myself and from living in a way that made me feel like I was running in useless circles. Green things, black dirt, and warm sunshine give me a measurable accomplishment that is not a life or death battle.

My private zen is indulging in a fresh cup of coffee in a pottery mug while rocking in a wrought iron chair on my garden-deck, sitting next to the vertical pallet planter my beautiful husband built me, surrounded by happy birds and rustling oaks. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh…

What is your bliss, your thing that calms your soul and soothes the savage beast?