Category Archives: family therapy

How Did Everyone Ignore My Mental Illness Growing Up???

I recently read a wonderful post written by the Musings of Fred.  It discussed how the signs of mental illness in minors are often ignored.  This post hit home with me.  It was extremely true for my particular case growing up.  Not only were my signs of mental health issues ignored, but even when they came to light, they were just not addressed. 

Why does this happen?  Why does it take so long for parents to step in and get help for their children?  Honestly, I don’t have the answer.  I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  I have done no research whatsoever.  So I am not here to give some scientific answer.

I just I just wanted to give my thoughts.  And I wanted to see what everyone else thought. 

For me, I honestly hid my emotions and feelings of depression quite well.  I am not sure my parents actually knew up front.  My mom did find a suicide note when I was in 6th grade though, and she asked me about it, and then it was never talked about again.  Some teachers asked me about my depression, but again, did nothing.  One teacher seemed to care, but he abused his power and molested me.  This is when it all came to light – my 8th grade school counselor found out about the molestation, she told my parents, I was cutting and I was suicidal.  My school counselor urged them to put me in therapy.  I did not want to deal with anything and did not want to go.  My parents never discussed anything with me and I was never put into therapy.

My mental health deteriorated over time, Deteriorated a lot, suicidal thoughts were awful, life was awful, my parents never stepped in, teachers never stepped in.  No one seemed to care even though everyone seemed to be aware. 

I think a lot of people were in denial.  How could I be having problems?  My grades were still perfect 0 straight A’s in fact.  I was in all AP classes.  How could someone doing so well in school really want to die, how could they be destroying their lives – they had a bright future.  I don’t think my parents wanted to believe that I had been molested.  I don’t think they wanted to believe that their child had a mental illness.  I don’t think my teachers wanted to get involved and as some told me, I always seemed to be better at the end of each semester when my grades mattered. 

I told people I didn’t want help when I was younger, and yeah, I was scared of getting help because of what my teacher did to me.  I had told him about being depressed, and he took advantage of me.  But I also longed to not feel the way I was feeling.  I wanted someone to save me from my mind and how much it was torturing me.

I hope that people quit ignoring the kids and adolescents that need help.  I hope that those that are reaching our for help, and those that are silently suffering because they don’t know how to reach out for help or feel they cant, can receive the help they need.  Too often people do see the signs – teachers, pastors, friends, and family, they do see the signs – but the blind themselves to them.  They don’t want to believe it could happen in their kid.  They are too preoccupied with their own problems or work.  They think it is just a phase. 

We can’t look the other way anymore.  I truly believe if someone had helped me when I was younger, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time in college, I would be suffering as much as I am now.  Yes, I said I didn’t need help then, I said I didn’t want therapy then.  I was 13 or 14 though.  I didn’t know what I wanted.  I was scared.  I didn’t want my friends to judge me.  I shouldn’t have been able to make that decision, I was a kid. 

If you want to know more about warning signs in kids from preschool to the teen age years click here.

When You Have a Family Member With Mental Illness

I know my illness affects those around me.  I know that I have said and done things that have hurt my loved ones.  I am sorry for that.

Today, I saw a post on a site from a family member of someone with mental illness (no one related to me) that said something to the effect of, “What about the family members, we deal with them all the time, we have to suffer all the time!”

I actually had two reactions to this:

-In one way I was actually mad.  You deal with it! Think about me! I DEAL with it. I LIVE with it.  Think of what goes on in my head.  How much I struggle with it. Think about how much I hate to do the things I do and struggle to not do them and fight with myself and feel depressed and manic and suicidal and have no idea what is going on in my head a lot of the time. 

-And then, there was a part of me that agreed with their comment.  Yeah, they do have to deal with us.  They deal with our “drama” of our emotions and ups and downs and hospitalizations and medication changes and whatever else we might be going through. 

 

So what can family members do to help them when they are having a hard time with us? There are some things that family members can do to help them cope with having a family member with mental illness.  This will allow them to keep from the anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, and burnout that can occur from the caretaking and worrying of their loved ones.

1) Avoid placing blame – You cannot change anyone. You are not a magician.  Just be supportive of yourself and your loved one and look toward the good things.

2) Take time for yourself – set aside time each day for yourself.  Even if it is just 20 minutes that you can get away at first and slowly build up.  Practice meditation, read a book, get out in the sun, go for a walk, do something you love to do.  This will give you some time to relax.

3) Set limits (boundaries) – Learn to say “no.”  If your family members are asking to much of you, just say no.  Take care of yourself first. 

4) Educate yourself – Learn about the mental illness.  Sometimes it helps just to know about what is going on.  If we understand what the person is going through we are more empathetic about their situation and often get less frustrated when situations occur and know what to do during a crisis.

5) Find a support group – NAMI has a Family to Family Support Group where family members and friends of those with mental illness can come together for support. NAMI also has a Family to Family Course that is 10 weeks which helps educate on different mental illnesses. DBSA also allows family members to attend their support groups alongside those that are mentally ill, so it is a mixed support group.  There are also support groups for those with mental illness through both NAMI and DBSA that you can get your loved ones involved in as well if they are willing.

Lack of Mental Health Resources

There is such a lack of mental health services and even if there are resources available access to them is quite hard.  For example, I live in a larger city (Tampa, FL), and there are quite a few psychiatrists and therapists around.  Many of them do not accept insurance at all (only self pay), many only take a few insurance plans, and those that do accept most insurance plans have long waiting periods to even get an appointment (3-6 months to get an intake).

What are you supposed to do when you need medication but you cannot get in to see your doctor?  Go to a hospital?  You aren’t suicidal and you don’t have insurance – but the only way to get your medication is by getting admitted to a psych hospital?  And in some areas, they do not even have enough psychiatric beds in hospitals even if you are suicidal, so they simply send you home when you are in danger (sadly, this does happen).

I was lucky enough to live in a town in Indiana for 6 years where I obtained great services.  I unfortunately was not functioning well enough to get much help from them, but they provided therapy 2x a week, case management 3x a week, psychiatry 1x a month, a clubhouse that was open 7:30am-3pm, and on call services 24 hours a day.  They had their own hospital affiliated with their clinic.  When I had insurance they accepted it.  When I didn’t have insurance they worked with me for a reduced rate ($11/apt).   This was completely unavailable when I moved to Florida though.  I left the state hospital in Indiana and moved to Florida with absolutely no services for the most part.  I had a 3 month wait for the psychiatrist (luckily it was set up while I was still in the hospital, but I still had 1 month after I moved here).  This office was horrible though.  My appointment would be at 1pm, but I wouldn’t see the psychiatrist til 5 or 6pm.  And this was a regular occurrence – I wouldn’t actually see the psychiatrist until 4-6 hours after my schedule appointment time.  I couldn’t handle it and finally scheduled an appointment with another psychiatrist, but it took a 3 month weight, and of course, this one didn’t take my insurance so I am self pay.

There are just far too few mental healthcare professionals today.  They are one of the lowest paid specialties in the medical field.  With the high cost of medical school, few people choose to go into the field.  In many areas, there are only private practices as well and not community mental health clinics.  Private practice clinics do not offer many of the services that a community mental health clinic can offer such as case managers, medication management, and most importantly a reduced/sliding scale fee that many people may need.

More attention needs to be focused on increasing resources geared towards mental health.  Not simply just creating awareness, but actually doing something about it.  Fixing the system.  Adding more healthcare providers.  Getting people more inspired to go into the field.  Adding more psychiatric nurse practioner programs to help aid reducing the time patients have to wait to see someone.  Increasing funding for hospitals so that patients are not turned away.  If someone goes to a hospital for help, they should not be told that they cannot get it.

This lack of mental health resources needs to be addressed.

 

Denial and Learning Acceptance

Last night at my NAMI support group meeting we started talking about how many of us were in denial when we were first diagnosed.  It made me think about when I was first diagnosed.

In one way, I was very relieved.  My whole life I had been suffering with immense emotional pain.  I had been severely depressed and had suicidal thoughts since I was about 10 years old.  I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what and I didn’t want to be different, especially as a kid and teenager.  So when I finally got my diagnosis, it was a huge relief – it was a medical issue, there was a name for it, I could take medicine!

But then – it hit me.  There WAS something wrong with me, I had to take medicine for it, people thought that “people like me” were not normal and that we could just snap out of it – not that it was a medical problem. I didn’t want people to judge me.  I was already judging me.  What would others think of me?  I didn’t want to take medications for the rest of me life.

Denial caused me a lot of harm.  I would start the medication and I would stop the medication.  I would start it and then just not want to take it.  I hate taking meds, so that would be one reason.  Then I would just end up back in the hospital.  Or, I would start the medication and it would actually make me feel better!!! And so I would quit taking it, because of course, I thought I didn’t need it anymore – I was fine, why was I on meds in the first place?  Then, the downhill spiral would occur once I was off and I was back in the hospital.  For me, meds are needed.  As I have mentioned in some posts before, not everyone needs them and some can function fine without them.  But for me, I need them, so when I was in denial, and felt I didn’t need the meds, it just caused my mental illness to get completely out of control.

It wasn’t until I hit completely rock bottom.  It wasn’t after my first suicide attempt, my second suicide attempt, or even my 7th or 8th suicide attempt.  It was after I was finally admitted to the state hospital, and 3 months into that admission when they decided to get the court order to extend the commitment another 3 months because I was not progressing, that I realized I did have a problem.  I realized I NEEDED to accept that I had mental illness.  I needed to learn about my bipolar, my PTSD, my borderline personality disorder.  I am still learning about all of them.  I needed to learn to cope with them.  I needed to learn to take my medications as prescribed and not be more own doctor.

When we are first diagnosed, it can be a relief but it can also be scary.  Education and a good support system is the best thing we can do and have.  It is hard to accept our illnesses at first, especially when there is a stigma attached to it.  I have learned to open up to those around me, even if they are not willing to accept the diagnosis.  I will continue to educate those around me as much or as little as they are open and willing to learn.  Just as I slowly had to open up my own mind to learning, those around us will do the same.  Attending the NAMI support groups and the MHA support groups really helped me to gain the acceptance, support, understanding, and education about my illness.  With the help of others with mental illness as well as my long term hospitalization, I have really come to terms with what I will, most likely, be dealing with the rest of my life.  But, I know I will be able to face it head on, and I am ready for it now!

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Having PTSD has made my life extremely hard. Waking up from nightmares, going into panic attacks in the middle of the day, suddenly having a flashback, having horrible social anxiety as if people can just tell about my past and are judging me, guilt about things that happened, and even the awful thoughts about suicide.

While many tend to relate PTSD to veterans that have come back from war, often PTSD is related to other traumas that civilians have experienced – such as childhood abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, natural disasters, or violent crime (anything that might have caused physical harm or the threat of physical harm).

There are three stages of PTSD. You can experience one stage at a time or multiple stages at a time:

1: Re-experiencing
-Nightmares
-Flashbacks

2. Avoidance
-Staying away from places, events, things that are reminders
-Numbing your emotions
-Having trouble remembering the event

3. Hyperarousal
-Being easily startled
-Being on edge

I did not understand how I easily got through life from 8th grade – 12th grade without having any problems despite being sexually abused and then suddenly fell apart after my rape and other issues in college. Upon talking to my therapist I realized I had been in the avoidance stage at those times and so I had numbed myself and avoided things that reminded me of the situation so I wouldn’t have to face it.

Children will deal with PTSD in similar stages, but they will also have slightly different symptoms as well. Bedwetting, acting out, and being clingy might also occur.

There are different treatments for PTSD:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Talk Therapy

Group Therapy

Family Therapy

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I currently am working with a therapist at a crisis center that specialized in trauma therapy. We are doing talk therapy at the moment, but focusing on different techniques to help me process through the trauma – rewind techniques, collages, etc. I couldn’t talk at first, but slowly as I have begun to trust her more, I have opened up more. It has been extremely hard, but I know that it is for the best.

As easy as it might be to try and forget that it never happened, eventually the trauma might come up and haunt you eventually. Some people can work through it on their own, but many cannot. It is always good to work with a trained professional and talk through it with them. Let them help you process through your thoughts and feelings about what happened and how you are dealing with it. Having a good support system will also help you out a lot. I did not have therapy as a child and I avoided talking about my traumas with anyone until I completely broke down. Twelve years after my first trauma and 8 years after my second trauma, I am finally facing them. Even though it has been incredibly hard, I know it is the best decision I have ever made because it is going to pay off in the long run for my mental health.

Setting Boundaries

Having bipolar, ptsd, and borderline personality, along with bad social anxiety causes me to have problems with relationships in my life.  So many times in my life I have been involved with people that bring me down.  They destroy me.  I long so much to be wanted, to be understood, to have someone care about me though that I don’t seem to understand that these people are just making my mental illness worse and they are hurting me.

I have such bad social anxiety that once I do find someone I am comfortable being around, I don’t want to leave that situation even if it is a bad one – be it a friendship or a romantic relationship.

I didn’t grow up in a great environment.  I don’t have a great relationship with my parents.  I currently talk to them, but I try to set up boundaries around the relationship I have with them because I am not comfortable with them.  It took me a long time to learn how to create boundaries with people though.  I always use to say “yes” to people.  I didn’t know the word “no.”  I was a people pleaser as some might say.  My friendships were usually one sided — I would always stay up late listening to other peoples problems, but no one would listen to mine.  I would always go out of my way to help them go get something, but when I needed something I was left on my own.  So many people in my past had hurt me though, that I felt like if I didn’t do these things that I would lose these people who I thought “cared” about me.

Boundaries are a big thing. I didn’t know how to even set them.  It took years in counseling for me to understand what boundaries were and how I could implement them into my life.  I still have problems with it today, especially with my parents.  I feel guilty since they are my family.  But they are also toxic to me many times.  I have to set boundaries no matter how people are related to me if they are more detrimental to my health than helpful.  That is something I have had to learn and am still coming to terms with.

Someone told me one time, “No is a complete sentence.  You can just say no.  You do not have to add on to it or justify it or create some story.  Just answer them with ‘no’.”  If you need to set up a boundary with someone and you don’t want to be with them or spend time with them that day, say you cant, tell them no you cant help them out.  It is ok.  Take care of yourself first.