Stop Telling Me to Get Off My Meds if I Need Them

A lot of people tell me I don’t need medicine.  This especially happened when I was first diagnosed with depression.  “Oh I have been depressed, it will pass.  Just don’t worry about things.  You have such a good life.  You are doing so well in school.  I don’t even know why you are depressed.” – they would say.  Even today, I get the whole “mind over matter” given to me or “God will heal you, just pray.”

My problem with this is, none of these people have been in my situation.  Sure, everyone gets “depressed,” BUT depression is such an overused word now that it has lost its real meaning.  In reality, everyone gets “sad.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, depression is defined as:  a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, sad is defined as:  affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness

So when people say they are depressed, they are not, they are sad.  Unless they have been to a doctor and have been diagnosed with a disorder that encompasses depression, they do not understand.

I am not saying that everyone who has a psychiatric diagnosis of something that encompasses depression will need to take medication, because there are a select group of people that can function and learn to function without it.  However, many people do need to take medication. For others to put stigma on mental illness and basically encourage them to not take their medication by saying they do need it is dangerous.

I personally have gone on and off medication.  I was noncompliant with my medication when I was first diagnosed.  I didn’t think I needed it and I didn’t want to take medication the rest of my life.  What ensued after every time I stopped taking them was a trip to the ER and then psych hospital for a suicide attempt, a trip to the psych hospital for suicidal ideation, the cops coming to my apartment for welfare checks and then usually bringing me to a psych hospital…and that continued until I was eventually committed to a state hospital where I was forced to take medication.  The light bulb went off in my head there, my Aha! moment occurred there though.  I was actually doing better! I was feeling better!  The medications actually helped me!

It took years and years to find the right combination of meds for me.  And for most people it does take that long.  It is easy to give up, especially when people are telling you that you don’t need it.  If you know that you need them because you are not functioning well though, don’t give up.  Continue to use your coping skills and continue to fight to gain your life back.  Mental illness is not easy, but you can learn to live with it.  And not only live with it, but live a good life with it.

Most importantly, if you ever feel like you want to get off or change medications, for any reason at all, make sure you talk to your doctor about it.

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Grounding Techniques for Anxiety, Panic Attacks, PTSD

I have struggled with anxiety for forever!  I have PTSD and so panic attacks have come and gone in my life for a long time.  Since I began therapy to deal with the trauma specifically they have become much more frequent though.  Luckily I have an amazing therapist that has taught me some wonderful grounding techniques.

1) When you begin to feel anxious and panic, take deep breaths in and out.  Blow out longer than you breathed in.  Pick a specific color that you see in the room around you, then begin to focus on all the things you can see in the room that have that same color.  For example, if you see something that is green, look for all the other items in the room that are also the color green.  This particular technique is my favorite.  I am a very color oriented person and so this distracts my mind.  It took some practice at first, but it has become an excellent tool for me to use.

2) Again, begin to take deep breaths in and out, with the blowing out being longer than breathing in.  Begin to name the objects in the room.  Describe them, such as where you got them or who gave them to you.  Think about why it is important to you.  This one is still a bit hard for me, mainly because many times I do not have much attachment to the things in my apartment.  They were simply bought at a store that I do not remember and not many things that people gave me.  But many people have antiques or special gifts from family members, and this could possibly be very good for them to use.

3) Pick a particular object.  Use all 5 of your senses to describe it.  For example, make a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.  (This way you can enjoy it also!)  Look at it intently.  How does it look?  What is its color?  Are there swirls in it from stirring?  Is the cup warm to touch or too hot to touch?  What does it smell like? How does it taste?  Is it flavored coffee with a hint of French vanilla, or regular strong coffee?  Is it a dark chocolate or milk chocolate flavor? Do you hear anything?  Are you stirring your cup? Does the spoon clink against the glass?  Or is it simply quiet where you can only here the birds outside or the fan spinning in the room?  This is an activity the I enjoy as well.  It allows me to focus strictly on what is going on in front of me.  Although it is a bit harder to do exactly during a panic attack, I can practice it at other times to help me be more mindful and reduce anxiety on a daily basis.

4) To bring myself out of a nightmare of panic attack and back into the present moment, it has been recommend that I just simply grab a piece of ice.  Simple right?  Doesn’t sound like it will help?  I didn’t think it would do much at first.  Supposedly the change in temperature shocks your body into recognizing there is a difference and therefore coming back to the present.  So, if you go into a panicked mode, a flashback, or wake up from a nightmare and do not really know what exactly is going on – are scared and frightened and need a way to refocus… simply grabbing a piece of ice or running your hand under cold or warm (not scalding hot) water, this might help to bring you to the present moment.  Then once in this place, you can begin to practice one of the other grounding techniques.

Those are a few techniques that have helped me.  Everyone is different though and not everything that helps one person will help another.  It is important to try things out though.   If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up, because most times things do not work on the first time and take practice.  Talk with your therapist or doctor though to see if they have any ideas as well, as there are a multitude of grounding and mindfulness exercises out there.

Importance of Support Groups

Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training!  I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings.  Why am I so excited about this?

Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness.  I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms.  I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals.  I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me.  I went anyway, and continued to go.  Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously.  I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills.  I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me.  I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI.  After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here.  The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway.  I made such amazing friends.  Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both.  And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away.  And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.

So, what exactly is NAMI?  NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  It is the largest mental health grassroots organization.  It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico.  There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one.  They run all types of educational programs.  They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.

Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization.  Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us.  It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways.  Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go.  They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.

I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out.  There are many out there.  A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America.  Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.

A little bit about….

Today, as I start this, I look back on how far I have come in my own recovery.  I currently have been diagnosed with Bipolar, PTSD, and Borderline Personality disorder.  I have had problems with mental health for as far back as I can remember, but I distinctly remember at the age of 10 feeling the absolute pain of deep pain and feelings of wanting to die.  That pain continued to worsen for the years to come.  In 2011, while in my junior of college, I completely fell apart though.  I had my first of 15 psychiatric hospitalizations that would occur within a two year period and would lead to my commitment in a state hospital.  However, that commitment would be the best thing that ever happened to me.  I was in an intense treatment program, I had an excellent psychiatrist, psychologist, group therapists, recreational therapists, psychiatric technicians, and made a lot of friends who I actually still talk to.  I spent 6 months there and left stable on medications, with a better understanding that I NEEDED to take my medications to feel better.  A concept that I failed to really believe before that.  Since being out of the state hospital, I have been hospitalized twice, however 2 times in one year is a big improvement for me opposed to 15 times in 2 years, so I feel like I have accomplished a lot, especially since both times I reached out for help opposed to being court ordered on a 72 hour hold.

There were many things that have helped me get to where I am today in addition to the professional support and medications.  Most importantly, support groups.  I have been involved in NAMI (The National Alliance for Mental Illness) Connection Support Groups since 2011, in 3 different states, that I have lived in.  Every time I moved I found a group to attend.  It has been integral to my recovery as it helps me connect with others that have similar problems as me and find coping skills, help others, and gain support when I feel I am slipping.  Currently, I am going through training to become a facilitator myself and I am very excited to move on to this role! But I will continue to attend one group a week as a participant to ensure I follow through on getting support for myself as well.

That is just a little bit about myself.

More importantly though – Through this blog, I want to express issues related to mental health.  Different disorders, coping skills, problems with the mental health system, and other issues.