Month: April 2014

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 12 to 14

Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)
I think the dynamic of my dual diagnosis is quite interesting, and can make treatment slightly different, and while conversion disorder and depression are sometimes opposites, I do not think that I have been misdiagnosed. I say they are sometimes opposites because with depression, a recurring symptom is dwelling on extremely negative thoughts, whereas with conversion disorder, sometimes I block out emotion altogether. One commonality that is extremely significant, is that with both illnesses, I often don’t understand why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. With depression, I don’t know why I’m so sad and have absolutely no reason to be, and with conversion disorder, I either feel nothing or I feel an emotion that doesn’t make sense at that moment – like being irrationally angry over nothing, or feeling no excitement about something exciting. I must say that with both illnesses, although conversion disorder isn’t known as well, there are stereotypes that exist, and those stereotypes are often incorrect. Stereotypes such as depression hits overly emotional people, or depression isn’t a real illness, or even just the overall negative stereotype towards depression can hit me quite significantly at times. These stereotypes are a reiteration of the idea that people can be quite ignorant towards mental illness and that the stigma that is still so prevalent is entirely unacceptable. (more…)

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30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 8 to 11

Day 8: What age you were diagnosed at? At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)
I was officially diagnosed with conversion disorder in the spring of 2013, although my symptoms showed up in late 2012, so I was 18 at the time. Despite the fact that my seizures and such didn’t start until I was 18, when my brain had close to fully developed, conversations with my family and sister especially indicate that there were some signs that my brain didn’t always connect emotionally. For example, sometimes when I should have been sad about something, I would get really angry instead, or during something really exciting, I just wouldn’t really get excited (this one drove my sister nuts). I was 19 when I was diagnosed with depression and placed on anti-depressants, although I’m positive my symptoms started when I was around 13 years old, but I never got the help I needed for it until I was 19 and it was almost too late. (more…)

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 4 to 7

Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
I used to think there were no pros, and only cons to having an illness, but when I was in the hospital I was asked to make a list of 10 reasons why I am lucky to be depressed. I laughed and tossed the pad of paper on the table, claiming it was a ridiculous exercise – there’s nothing positive about having an illness that makes you want to die. BUT, as I thought about it, I realized that there are a lot of pros to having my illnesses, which I’ve touched on countless times in previous posts. I’m able to connect with people in ways I never was able to before, I am much stronger than I ever imagined myself capable of being, and I’ve been given numerous opportunities I wouldn’t have had without my struggles and experiences. Because of my mental illness, I have been taught that anything can be thrown at me, and I have the strength within to move through it. I’ve learned about people in my life who are worth keeping, and what the meaning of a true, unconditional friend is, especially when things get really tough. I’ve become an active member of the mental health advocate community and am now the President of Mental Health Awareness at the University of British Columbia. It’s clear to see that there are a lot of pros, and at times it feels like they may outweigh the cons, but having a mental illness is so incredibly difficult at times that I pray every day that a cure comes about so people don’t have to go through the hell that I still face from time to time. The cons of my depression and conversion disorder are numerous, but a main one is that it has made me stumble and fall quite a lot, academically speaking. My grades are nowhere near as high as I’d like them, and this is a result of a combination of things, including being hospitalized, being too depressed to move from bed, or being simply exhausted from having an intense seizure. The second biggest con is that my illness has interfered with a lot of relationships in a negative way. It goes without saying that I have a lot of baggage, and my baggage is a lot to put on my friends, some of whom simply can’t handle it because it is too much and my illness has been a huge strain on a number of friendships that I thought could never be weakened. I wish I could say that the cons don’t last, and eventually don’t matter, but they do, and sometimes dealing with the cons is just as hard as the illness itself.
Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture(environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?
I really believe it depends on the person. For many people who have depression or anxiety, it can be based on a trigger situation – a traumatic event or something emotionally scarring. Illnesses like PTSD have to be triggered by something, whereas some others can be born with bipolar, depression, panic disorders, or schizophrenia. Personally, I believe my illness is largely a part of natural factors, being biology and physiology. From what I understand, the levels of particular neurotransmitters in my brain are not naturally maintained at healthy levels in my brain, and that is why I need pharmacological support to function properly. I also think part of it is just luck of the draw – anyone can get a mental illness for any reason and it has nothing to do with how good or bad of a person they are, and to be quite honest, it hits the people you’d least expect the most.
Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?
Yes, I do know that some relatives of mine have experienced mental illness at some point in their lives, but don’t know the full extent of it or exactly how profoundly they were impacted.
Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?
Absolutely, as far as “episodes” or my seizures go, the two biggest triggers are lack of sleep and stress. They go hand in hand because if I’m really stressed out, I’ll be unable to sleep, and will just end up having seizures back to back, which tires me out even more and it becomes a vicious cycle. Throw depression into the mix, and it can become really bad really fast. When I’m having bad days where my depression isn’t under control, either for no reason or because I’m (surprise, surprise) stressed out or tired, I’ll get really frustrated about being so depressed and will try to shove it aside, which can cause more intense seizures. Essentially, the only way to keep both illnesses under control, especially since they thrive off of one another to make my life more difficult, is to do my best to control my stress and know when too much is simply too much. I sometimes get it in my head that I’m invincible and can do absolutely anything, but there are moments when I need to recognize I deserve to cut myself some slack and accept I can’t always do everything, and that becomes really important when it comes to self-care.

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 1-3

Disclaimer: This is a 30 day challenge, consisting of one question per day pertaining to mental illness. Doing challenges for x number of days has become quite a popular trend, and I’ve been asked on more than one occasion to do these challenges. Each time I’ve refused for the sole purpose that I don’t like committing to something like that, knowing I’ll probably miss a day or forget altogether. That being said, this is one of those challenges that I thought would be really great, because it consists of some fantastic questions, so I’ve decided to give you all a treat and answer more than one question per post, with the promise that I’ll answer any additional questions submitted to me via email, comments, twitter, facebook, etc. within a week, and will finish the rest of the days as soon as possible. I’m trying to keep these brief as many of them have been answered in previous blog posts and I don’t want to get too boring. So here goes…

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

My formally diagnosed illnesses are Major Depressive Disorder and Conversion Disorder, though at one point a couple of years ago I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder/Panic Disorder (neither of which I believe are prevalent today). I’ll keep this brief at the risk of sounding redundant, so MDD is basically the most severe form of depression, which led me to be hospitalized for being suicidal on more than one occasion. Conversion Disorder is the term used for a disorder in which my brain doesn’t quite process emotion properly due to me supressing and pushing away emotions I didn’t understand since I was very young, but I only felt the conversion effects, which are mainly seizures, tremors or dissociative states, until about a year ago. (more…)

Why I Hate What Keeps Me Going

Anti-depressants. They are wonderful and horrible at the same time. They are the reason that I am alive today, and the reason I can go through a day without seriously considering taking drastic measures to end my life, but they are also one of the hardest parts of having a mental illness, especially depression.

I’ll start at the beginning. For those of you who don’t know, anti-depressants, be it SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs or Tricyclics, are notorious for having various side effects that can make life hell, and many are actually proven to have adverse reactions in many people. For those of you who don’t understand the acronyms, I have also posted a link in this post to help you out 🙂

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/types_of_antidepressants.htm

Anyways, there is no magic formula for figuring out which type of anti depressant, or as some say “happy pill” (which is an inaccurate description since they don’t just make you super happy all of a sudden) and this makes it really difficult to find the right one. I’m currently on my 4th anti-depressant, and so far, this one has worked the best (though I’m still not a fan). Not only that, but you also have to try different dosages (I’ve been on 6 different doses). In addition, the pill doesn’t work right away, it can take at least two weeks before you see any positive changes, so while trying to find a good fit, you get to go through two weeks of misery. (more…)

Letting Go

Letting Go

This article taught me a lot, mostly about the importance of letting go of people who really aren’t helpful to you while dealing with mental illness. It’s hard with such people, because often they appear to be the people you think will always be there for you, and that they will understand and love you no matter what. Unfortunately, these people can be extremely toxic while trying to juggle the immense emotional hardship that goes in hand with any illness,  mental or not.

I do everything in my power to never use my illness as an excuse. Some days, I may feel horrible, completely worthless, or perhaps just so consumed by emotion that I physically cannot move. Instead of saying “Oh sorry I couldn’t make it, my depression was acting up” I choose to say “Hey, I totally spaced, my bad, let me make it up to you”. Is it a lie? Yes. However, most people are not understanding about how crippling and life altering a mental illness can be, that they see using it as an excuse as a cop out. The idea of excuses and cop outs is one which I will explore later, but it is especially important to note that depression cannot be used as an excuse, even when it is 100% permissible. I dislike the word excuse because of the connotation it has, but would rather like to see it as a reasonable explanation for being incapable of doing something. For those of you that work out, you know that feeling when someone asks you to go for a run just after leg day, and you’re like ‘there is no way in hell that I can possibly move my legs another inch”, my depression hits me like that. It is absurd to ask me to actually get out of bed, because it’s simply too difficult. Now at this point you’re wondering why this is an issue considering I take my pills on a regular basis and follow my doctors instructions to the best of my ability. Let me once again refer back to the earlier analogy. Just because you take a protein supplement or other vitamins to help stimulate muscle recovery after a work out doesn’t mean certain work outs will still hurt like hell, even if its a workout you’ve done before.

The author of the article makes it seem so simple – as if keeping these people at a distance takes minimal effort – but that is simply not true. For me, many of the people who I need to let go of are ones I never thought I would have to, and it’s almost as if the prospect of having to keep them at such a far distance seems more painful than the idea of keeping them close, even if they aren’t the best for me. Some compare this situation to how a victim of domestic abuse simply does not feel like they can leave because the idea of life without their abuser seems worse than taking a beating every now and then. I see this comparison as quite extreme, yet I see the fundamental resemblance and understand how a comparison can be drawn.

The bottom line is, no matter whether you have an illness or not, toxic people have no place in your life, and should either learn that if they continue that way they will be kept at a far distance, or simply get lost if they are unwilling to see their mistakes.

Keep Surviving By Living.

What’s the big deal?

The funny thing – or I guess not so funny – about depression is that people often react in extreme ways, one way or another. It’s great when people don’t make a huge deal out of it, but sometimes, people can try so hard to be nonchalant about it, that it almost feels like it’s not a big deal. Depression, as common as it may seem now for teenagers, is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. It can lead to a multitude of other issues, from self harm, to addiction, to suicide or other destructive behaviors. At the same time, sometimes people can make it such a big deal, that the depressed person feels awkward, embarrassed or shameful that they have caused such a reaction.

Striking a good balance between the two is often difficult, but can be extremely important. With me, I hated when people would lose all trust in me, as if I was going to break into a million pieces at any second. Granted, that was a possibility, but I didn’t like that untrusting look I would get from people, making me feel like I was a criminal, not someone struggling with a real illness.

I can vividly recall two completely opposite reactions, both of which made me feel completely horrible about myself. The first, was an ignorant response. For whatever reason, I have no recollection of why I was upset, or if there was even a reason, but I was crying uncontrollably. Not whimpering with a few tears, I was completely sobbing, wailing and struggling to catch my breath. In that vast space of darkness and emptiness, all I wanted was something to clutch onto. I remember attempting to reach out to a friend, who did nothing, ignored me, and at one point told me to leave them alone and screw off. It was horrid – here I was, feeling like the world was ending, and I received a response like it was no big deal. With depressive episodes, just because they are recurring, doesn’t mean they aren’t serious, or they aren’t something that requires some notice. It sounds like it could be done simply for attention, but if I wanted attention, there are 1000 other ways I’d rather try.

To take it to the complete opposite extreme, sometimes when I would get hysterically upset, crying, wailing, screaming, and probably completely incoherent, someone would threaten calling an ambulance, the cops, or something else. I say threaten, because in those moments, that was the worst possible choice. I didn’t want to be institutionalized, and yes, I was admitted for a while, but past that, I didn’t need to go back there. I knew that bad days and nights were a part of the struggle and road to recovery, and that the hospital wasn’t a viable option at that point, because it wasn’t what I needed. Sometimes, you just need a good cry, and it’s always easier when you have a shoulder to cry on.

Depression is a big deal. Suicide is a big deal. That doesn’t mean we need to exaggerate and blow things out of proportion to make people feel worse about themselves. It’s a difficult thing to deal with if you haven’t understood depression yourself, and there are very fine lines between the two extremes, but that’s okay as long as you take the time to realize that each situation is unique and should be taken as such. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it a thousand more: give that person a hug, comfort them, tell them they’re doing just fine, reassure them that things will be okay, hold them and most of all, let them learn to be okay with their pain, so they can begin to overcome it.

Keep Surviving by Living.