“The Greatest Loss is What Dies Inside Us While We Live.” ~ Norman Cousins

Dl-9CTEWwAAkxx6
Death by Asphyxia

So, here we are as a nation having to be isolated from one another and then knowing we are taking a chance at getting COVID when we go out to get what we need.  Today I was at the grocery store and to be honest with you, I was scared by what I was seeing.  There were people there with not only masks on, but with huge bandanas wrapped around their faces so only their eyes showed.  When I would reach for something and my arm wasn’t exactly 6′ away, I’d get a dirty look.  The instant we let go of something, it’s sanitized.  Now, I know the measures need to be taken.  I get that, and I would be devastated if someone in my family contracted this.  But here’s my point:  we are taking so many measures to fight this virus.  This crisis.  And that’s the right thing to do.  I guess I just want to see the same measures taken for a crisis that has no ending in sight.

Now, hear me out.  In 2018 (the most recent data I can find), 48,344 Americans died of suicide, which is about 132 people every day.  Further, 1.4 million people attempt suicide every year (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).  What scares me the most is this:  between 2007-2017, the suicide rate for teenagers (15-19) went up 76%.  Read that sentence again, grasshoppers.  Seventy-six percent.  For KIDS ages 10-14, the suicide rate tripled during that same time frame.  For both age groups, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death and takes more lives than anything except accidents which include motor vehicle deaths (Centers for Disease Control).  Finally, men over 65 are at the highest risk for suicide, and people 85 and over are the 2nd most likely age group to die (NPR).

sawyer-sweeten-suicide-secrets
Sawyer Sweeten (Everybody Loves Raymond) Gunshot wound – age 19

Obviously, I could go on and on with other statistics, but I think I made my point:  suicide is a public health crisis in America ALL of the time, and I think attention needs to be paid to this; particularly when it’s taking the lives of so many of our kids and teens, as well as adults.  Do you realize we are twice as likely to die by suicide than homicide, while cancer, heart disease and stroke deaths are lessening?

Think about this:  suicide is preventable.  Yes, I said preventable.  Suicide is not about death, it’s about ending pain in the person’s life.  No one truly wants to die, we have a huge survival instinct.  Think about the Jews in the Holocaust, or the POW’s in Japan during WWII or Vietnam.  When I think how so many willed themselves…forced themselves…to survive in spite of the abhorrent conditions they faced, it astounds me.

I teach about the Donner party in my Sociology classes, and most people joke about this:  “Hey…what are the Donner’s going to have for supper?  Aunt Jane!”  Actually, it was tragic.  These poor people who had lost the great majority of their food and supplies because of the Great Salt Dessert crossing and Paiute Native Americans who attacked them, got stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains for an entire winter where literally, scores of snow fell which made climbing these impossible.  They tried numerous times though, but failed.  The first person that was eaten was a man who had begged his daughters to do so.  If they lived, he said, so would the rest of their family.  But no one ended up eating their kin, and no one consumed meat unless everything else had been used:  bark, leather, fur, etc.  That’s survival, peeps.  That’s what life means.

Go back to those stats.  For kids and teens to be in such pain they end their precious, young lives is unacceptable to me.  Overall, not only do we have a suicide epidemic (literally) that cuts across all ‘lines’, but we have a mental illness/mental health crisis that is behind these horrific losses.  It’s a 2 fold problem:  a society that’s in so much pain, people of all ages are killing themselves because of problems bigger than they are mentally capable of handling at that point, and a lack of resources.

12-Quotes-From-Anthony-Bourdain-We-Will-Never-Forget
Anthony Bourdain – Death by Hanging        (1956 – 2014)

Look at this:  The National Institutes of Health are the largest funder for biomedical research in the entire world.  In 2016, they spent $68 million on suicide, but 5x more studying SLEEP (what the fuck?), and 10x more on breast cancer which actually killed less people than suicide.  Something has to give.  We are spending more money on killers that take fewer lives.  Isn’t there something very wrong with that?  Doesn’t that show the value we place on mental illness and mental health issues?

And like I said, the kicker is that suicides are preventable, primarily with hotlines where the counselor establishes connection with the caller quickly, shows care and empathy, and let’s them know there are other ways to end the pain they are overwhelmed with in their lives.  Another prevention?  Breaking the stigma of mental illness by making is less ‘risky’ for people to say they are battling depression, or feel like they are outside their bodies looking in, or are experiencing so much anxiety, panic, or mania, they don’t think they can handle it another day.  Men are 4x more likely to commit suicide, and are also less likely to receive help for mental health issues.  Hmmmmm.  Plus, these approaches don’t require social distancing, masks, or staying at home in isolation:  it requires work in terms of funding and education.  In my mind, that’s doable.

I know these things all too well from my own experiences at attempting suicide – when you are in such a fucking dark place where you look around and see only this black hole enveloping you more and more, you have no way of seeing anything else.  That monster has you, and it takes someone outside of yourself to start the journey of climbing up those walls.  It takes someone showing you that you matter.  That you can survive.  Saying: “Things will get better…we all go through stuff.” or “You just got to look on the bright side.” or even “Don’t be so dramatic” are just going to make the person feel guilty for what they are feeling.  But saying “Hey,  I care about you  I want to help you” can.

2908768_1
Kate Spade – Death by Hanging (1962 – 2018)

Edwin Schneidman was the pioneer in the study of suicide, and stated there 10 commonalities of it:  seeking a solution, cessation of consciousness, intolerable psychological pain, frustrated psychological needs, feelings of helplessness-hoplessness, feeling ambivalent, a feeling of constriction, a want of escape, communication of intent, and the coping skills the person has.  (The Suicidal Mind – Oxford University Press)

Look at some of these closer.  How can we help ease people’s psychological pain?  By maybe recognizing and helping those with it?  By reducing the stigma of expressing this?  What about feelings of helplessness & hopelessness?  By giving people, such as the homeless, lonely, and sick something that gives them meaning?  Something they feel some control over?  Something to feel they are needed?

And communication of intent?  Maybe we can help by addressing it.  Believing it.  Showing empathy for the person.  Helping them while standing beside them all of the way.  That’s what my ma did for me, and it obviously worked.

Lastly, the coping skills the person has.  Mine suck balls, like a lot of others with bipolar.  I haven’t been able to cope with much since I was a gangly little girl.  Normal things hit me hard.  Very hard.  Just having a friend pay attention to someone else would devastate me (and I don’t use the word devastate lightly).  Having my ma or dad express disappointment in me would crush me down to where I felt incapable of being loved.  Having a guy reject my feelings in HS would get me so emotionally distraught, I felt I was a ‘nothing, like an invisible girl no one really saw.  Is it no wonder the first time I attempted suicide was when my first love told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore?  And my second time when too many things piled up on me at once that I totally collapsed under the weight of it all?

We need so much to understand what some people can handle, others can’t.  When my ma would say “Honey, you’ll get over J and move on with someone who loves you back” I know her intentions were very good, she simply hated seeing me in so much pain.  But I couldn’t  ‘just’ do that, no matter how much I tried.  Her coping skills are amazingly strong, while mine are amazingly weak.  When people would say “Kristi, your nephew is in a better place”, I knew that to be true.  But guess what?  Maybe understanding that does comfort some, but it didn’t do shit for me when mourning a boy who had barely grown up.

Look, peeps…we are in the midst of a pandemic.  We all need to stay healthy and safe.  We all need to be diligent about washing our hands, wearing our masks, and staying away from others.  But let me tell you something and I want to make this very clear:  suicide will still be around.  Long after this fucking Covid has either ‘run it’s course’ or we develop a vaccine for it.  However, suicide will still be taking lives, young and old.  Every single day we’ll see another 129 people kill themselves, all preventable deaths.

I don’t know about you, but I want this epidemic to be over too.  Badly.

Kristi xoxo

The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7 – 1-800-273-8255

Shame on you.

So, I was surfing around on my iPad last night, and came across a couple of blurbs about celebrities who have been age shamed lately.  Eva Mendes posted a pic and someone said she was getting older (OK…how should she stop time?), and another was of Gwen Stefani who wore a leotard, hoodie and boots with sequins while giving a concert.  People said she should ‘act her age’ and ‘quit performing since she’s so old’ (she’s 50!).  Lara Spencer on Good Morning America was age-shamed because she posed in a dress with ‘old looking knees’, and Madonna was shamed regarding her old looking hands, and actually had multiple, invasive, painful treatments on them to make them look younger.  And we all know about fat shaming:  take a look at the tabloids this summer and we’ll see pics of celebrities who have the “Worst Beach Bodies” because of weight.

5b9af586d1a92.preview

Shame.  That’s an interesting word; one we need to understand since it’s being done so much to others on social media.  Do you know what it means?  To shame someone is to try to make them feel they are disgraceful or should be humiliated by what they ‘are’.  It means you should feel bad for whatever someone deems to be an issue.  Look at those words:  disgraceful, humiliated, guilty.  Damn.

Of course we should feel shame when we do something wrong.  Self-shame in that regard is healthy since it makes us realize how wrong we were and then hopefully makes sure we don’t do whatever it was again.  I once read a parenting book that said “You should never allow your child to feel shame.”  What the fuck??  Of course I wanted O to feel shame when he did something wrong.  How else could he learn to internalize his own consequences for behavior?  And I don’t know about you, but I’ve done a lot of things in my life I am ashamed of, and rightfully so.

However, we aren’t looking at personal, internal shame.  We’re looking at what’s put upon us by others who want us to feel shame simply for ‘being.’  Age shaming?  OK…guess you’re not going to get older (let me know how that goes).  Fat shaming?  All righty…stop eating those desserts before you gain a few.

Hmmmmm.

But, what really hits home for me is mental illness shaming.  And yep, it happens.  The mentally ill are shamed for having a disorder or condition.  Period.  We are supposed to feel humiliated, disgraced, less than.  Our illnesses are shameful while other medical conditions such as arthritis, COPD, asthma, etc. are accepted as a struggle the person has to bear.  “Of course, take the medications that help treat the symptoms.”  “Of course you can’t join us for dinner since you aren’t feeling well.”  “Of course, take your time…I know you are struggling today.”

57cf081d160000ef1bc00ec5
Gemma Correll

What?  Of course physical medical conditions should be treated with such care and support!  But, shouldn’t that hold true for MENTAL ILLNESSES we well?  Sadly, those of us who live with mental illness hear things like this instead:

  • “Do you really need all of those meds?  Don’t they just screw up your brain even more?  I wouldn’t take something that messes with MY brain!”
  • “C’mon.  You’ve been depressed long enough.  Get out there and so something!”
  • “You can’t make it?  Why are waiting until now to tell me?  What the hell?”
  • “Therapy?  How does talking to someone help?  No one’s probing my mind.”  (Thank fuck for that.)

And of course, the list goes on.

Why is it that so many people look at mental illness as something WE are at fault for?  That we must have ASKED for?  That we should be able to control on our own?  Maybe they think we are ‘sick in the head’ because we’re being punished for something.  Why can’t people understand that our illness are often biological too?

In a study done by Ole A. Andreassen at the University of Oslo, people with bipolar have thinning gray matter, particularly in the parts of the brain that control inhibition and motivation (the frontal and temporal lobes).  Psycheducation.org states that “Evidence is growing quite strong that a region of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex is underactive in people with bipolar disorder even when they are having no symptoms at all.”

how-to-tell-the-difference-between-bipolar-disorder-and-depression-neuroinnovations
health-innovations.org

 

The Stanford University School of Medicine has determined that scrambled connections between the part of the brain that processes fear and emotion and other brain regions could be the biological reason for types of anxiety disorders and even depression.

MRI’s show structural abnormalities in the brains of those with major depressive disorder or social anxiety disorder according to a study by Youjin Zhao from Sichuan University in China.

In terms of eating disorders, findings are showing that the hypothalamus may not be functioning correctly in triggering the response of being full in the person.  Further, researchers are also determining that certain neurotransmitters in the brain are tied to eating disorders as well.

So…we are finding more and more biological causes of mental illnesses.  Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and even some personality disorders.  Borderline, for example, is now considered an inheritable brain disease with specific brain abnormalities.  Wow.

SSSSSOOOOO, here’s my question.  Why in the HELL are we shamed for having a biological brain disorder???  Answer that for me, peeps.  Mental illnesses are not made up for attention or an excuse or crutch people use when they can’t cope.  They are BRAIN disorders.  Period.  And we should feel guilty for having one (or in my case, 2)?  We should feel disgraced that our brains differ from others?  We should be humiliated to carry a diagnosis showing that we have brain abnormality?

Wall-of-Shame

NO, grasshoppers, we shouldn’t.  Why in the fuck should I apologize or feel shameful for having bipolar?  Why should I have to worry about ‘coming out’ and disclosing this to everyone?  (Kristi…are you sure you should talk about all of this?  What about your job?)  First, it’s a fucking career I went to school for 8+ years to get (so let’s get that straight right now!).  Second, why should I HAVE to worry about having an illness?  A disorder?  OH YEAH.  Because it’s in my brain.  Even though I earned a freaking M.S. in 18 months, while taking care of a toddler, and teaching to pay for it, people should still worry that I just might screw things up at school.  Well, I haven’t yet for 23 years…so…

Here it is:  I’m so tired of people shaming other people for things that they can’t help or control.  I’m going to get old (OK, I’m already there).  I’m going to gain weight as I age (less estrogen, less metabolism, more tummy).  And I’m going to have this bastardly bipolar until the day I die.  Except now there are studies showing how dementia is more likely to happen among us who have bipolar, so that’s something else to look forward too as well.  Goody.

We who have mental illnesses shouldn’t HAVE to be afraid to talk about it…ask for support…get compassion.  I understand when my neighbor with arthritis can’t carry in her own groceries, so I do it for her.  Why can’t others understand that when I’m depressed, I simply can’t answer my phone at times?  Can’t go out to the mall?  Can’t make plans for the week?  When are us ‘crazy, psychotic sickos’ going to get the same treatment as those with physical disorders?

I don’t have the answer for that, grasshoppers.  But you know, I’m just hopin’ and prayin’ it happens soon.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

Invasion of the Monster.

So, a friend and I were yacking yesterday, and we were talking about what being bipolar is like.  He truly wanted to know what went on in my head and how it felt to be me.  Very few people have ever asked me this, so it felt really good for someone to be so interested that they asked me for my personal experience with it, as opposed to textbook definitions.

Here’s what I told him:  “When I’m manic, it’s like a blender with ice, fruit, and juice, on high, with no lid…just spraying around the kitchen.”  But really, in this scenario, the juice has an outlet…it’s escaping the blender.  I can’t escape my blender…the ingredients (thoughts & emotions) just keep coming back and getting spewed out again and again.

Then I said this about depression:  “It’s like there’s a monster with heavy metal chains that grabs my mood, reels it in, and makes me sink so low during this process that I can’t escape.”

black chain
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

After listening to this, he said it helped him understand it more, but he had something to confess (Ought oh…I’ve heard that phrase before).  His ex-wife had depression and would spend days in their bed, refusing to even get up to eat dinner or walk around.  He said it would tick him off, that he just wanted her to GET UP and try.  He said he feels guilty now, that after learning more about depression, he was so hard on her when she was down.

First, I can understand him feeling guilty.  As much as I want people to understand bipolar and take that into consideration, I don’t always reciprocate well.  Ex-partner has a personality disorder:  I thought for a long while it was Narcissistic Personality Disorder since his treatment of me mimicked narcissistic relationships in terms of idealize, devalue, and discard (he repeated this cycle multiple times).  A couple of months ago, he got formally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder which actually does make more sense while considering other issues in his life.  Anyhoot, I knew he had a personality disorder along with the PTSD from his military tours.  But here’s the thing, I would get impatient with him.  I’d try to change what I was seeing by getting angry with him and telling him what he should be doing instead.  I’d respond to his irrational behavior by yelling at him and holding grudges.  (On the flip side, he’d do the same:  get mad at me when I was ‘too emotional’…get frustrated when I was bouncing off the walls).

So why did I do this in response to his behavior?  Like my counselor has said to me before:  “He’s Borderline…what did you expect from him?”  Yikes.  She’s right.  Right as rain.  Just like I’m bipolar, what the hell do you expect from me?   I’m gonna be up and I’m gonna be down.  BUT the behavior that results from mental illness can be frustrating, hurtful, embarrassing, anger provoking, etc. to others in our lives.  It’s hard to deal with people like us!  It’s hard for others to understand us when we can’t always understand ourselves.  I get angry at me.  I get frustrated by me.

Back let’s go back to my monster and depression.  I do believe my monster is very very strong.  However, I can’t lay down and always let him win;  it’s time I started fighting back.  You know, there’s not many times in my life where I’ve been a fighter against people who were hurting me.  When I was being bullied in grade school, my sister always protected me so I never had to fight back.  When the psychologist I was seeing at 16 sexually abused me for 2 years, I didn’t fight back out of fear and a misplaced sense of loyalty.  When I was bullied my Jr. and Senior years in high school, I just tried to look away and make myself as inconspicuous as possible.  When ex was cheating on me, I apologized for my role in it.

fear-monster-scary

I never really fought.  But guess what?  No more.  Let’s all say it together:  “NO MORE!” I fight that fucking monster, my biggest adversary, with as much as I can muster.  When he’s dragging me down so far I can barely see any light, I grab that chain and pull up with all I have.  Link.  By link.  By link.  And then, magically, my feet the floor in the morning.  Then Edward comes running to me to let him and Dottie out; so I hug my pooches and let them out to pee in the backyard (and eat poop).  Then I have to let them back in and that propels me for a walk to the bathroom where I hop into the shower.  Get it?  I’m tugging back on that depression monster little by little.  And, those little tugs are making me function.  Making me ‘do’.  Making me feel not so much at the mercy of him showing me only darkness.   I have vowed that he will NOT keep me so down ever again that I stand in the middle of my floor for hours, not knowing what to do with all that’s in my mind.

Look, bipolar is a brain issue.  My brain is different.  I can’t help the roller coaster this brain has set me on; just like someone with a migraine isn’t to blame.

black and white roller coaster
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s not that I’m going to suddenly ‘cheer’ up and be happy.  But yes, I can push myself little step by little step and show that monster Kristi is still here.  Me.  And that I’m going to take as much control as I possibly can; count my small victories and celebrate them.  Just knowing that I’m fighting  back makes me feel stronger,  which makes me feel ‘better’ in the midst of this depression.

I’ve had enough ‘monsters’ in my life that I haven’t fought against and I’ve decided I’m not ever going to bow down to anyone (or anything) again.  I’m going to fight.  I’m going to do all I can with all I have to get wins in these battles.  And at the same time, I’m going to get a little piece of myself off of that fucking roller coaster.  That son-of-a-bitch monster has led me on this ride for too long.  It’s time for me to start taking over at least a few of the controls.

Kristi xoxo

The Battles We Fight.

So…!

Wait.  I need to stop here first and admit something:  I’ve always hated it when people begin paragraphs with so, and I get on my students all the time about this!  And, I just read an article about how using the word SO undermines how people see you.  BUT, it just seems SO handy and such a good intro, that it’s now going to be my signature move!  🙂

so

SO, I went to a new psychiatrist this week; he is the over-seer of my counselor and she wanted me to have a ‘med check’ since this f%^&ing depression isn’t lessening at all, despite better personal circumstances AND being on my meds.  I liked him right off;  he was much more thorough with me than another I had seen, and really took his time explaining my options.  First, he told me that the anti-depressant I’m on now isn’t well indicated for bipolar.  I was put on this since Effexor is indicated for fibromyalgia (which I also have…go figure), but since that’s not as serious as the bipolar, he wants to change it in 3 weeks.  He did put me on a mood stabilizer which I am a bit nervous about.  I’ve been on Depakote and Lithium at times, and both gave me thoughts of suicide and self-harm.  I was too scared to try another, but he put me on Lamotragine which doesn’t have that particular effect.  He believes that getting on a stabilizer, as well as a new anti-depressant, will really help me with both my cycles and the depression.  He said I’ve basically been fighting this depression by myself…with no real ‘help’ at all in terms of my meds.  I can’t wait until I start feeling the benefits of the Lamotragine and once it’s had a chance to build up a bit, that’s when the other will be switched.  I’m optimistic!

You know, using the term ‘battle’ is an interesting choice of word, and one that fits for all of us at so many different times in our lives.  For some, the battle can be won and for others, it’s never over.  But we all fight them, and sometimes we forget that.

As much as I hate having bipolar, I also know how very lucky I am.  Things could be so much worse for me.  My mom’s bestie has Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a diagnosis that came after much testing at the Mayo clinic.  Prior to this, docs believed her to have Parkinsons.  This poor woman has suffered, and is suffering so much.  Her speech, her ability to eat, her physical dexterity and abilities, her pain, her weakening…everyday she faces challenges.  Here’s the thing though:  she is the most optimistic, positive woman when it comes to this disease, and she sends me messages all of the time offering ME support!  How does she do this?  How can she be fighting such a battle, and still be concerned with someone else?

st small

I think I know.  Because giving support is just as important in receiving it, no matter what you are facing.  After I post things on Facebook regarding issues I might be having, I get a ton of support, which boosts me and makes me feel better and less alone in whatever it is I’m going through.  Then, I get dozens of private messages from people who share their own struggles and issues with me, and I talk to them and help them the best I can.  Even if it’s just being a listening ear or validating their experience, or making them feel less alone.  More cared about.  Loved.  Important.  And the best thing is this:  doing this makes me feel better as well.  Not that that’s the purpose of me helping them, but it’s a nice extra consequence of doing so.  It reminds me how much we all deal with, whether it’s known or not.  That we are never alone.  There is always someone else out there struggling.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say, beyond “I care and I’m here.”  And I used to think this wasn’t enough.  I wanted to have answers for everyone!  I wanted to fix them!  I wanted to wave a magic wand and POOF, their lives would suddenly be OK!  But I realized that all I want when I’m needing support is hearing those words of care and concern myself.  I know my mental illness, or issues I might be dealing with won’t be fixed with some words.  But those words are still comforting to me.  Are still important to hear.  For all of us, at anytime.

suffering

A drawback to recognizing and supporting others who are struggling is this:  guilt.  How can I talk about depression or being bipolar, when others are looking at painful, progressive, and potentially deadly diseases?  How can I lament my loneliness at not having a partner, and the grief I still feel at losing him, when others are embroiled in contentious divorces in which they could lose their children?  How can I cry over things in my life, when there are those being beaten regularly.  Raped?  Are homeless?  It makes me feel so small to think I make my problems sound important next to these.

But does another person’s suffering mean ours isn’t valid?  Who defines what constitutes suffering and what doesn’t?  Should I feel bad…for feeling bad?  Well, I do.  Then, that guilt and feelings of selfishness make me feel even worse about myself.  Talk about a circular pattern to get into.

But ultimately, a battle you fight is your battle.  It’s your pain.  It’s your life.  And that pain is valid.  Always.  It may not be as severe a pain as others feel.  But it’s still pain.  Your pain.  And it’s OK to acknowledge it.  OK to ask for support with it.  OK to reach out.  Just remember the others in the war as well.  They too need all we do.  Support, guidance, validation, love, help.  And by giving those, we help to get more to fight our own battles with;  and we become more compassionate, more understanding, more open.  Things that help us all.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

The Coronavirus and Mental Health.

So, we’re in the midst of this pandemic and there is so much information on the virus itself and the importance of social distancing and staying at home to contain it’s spread.  Of course I think that any measures taken to reduce the spread of this are necessary, but I do worry that the mental health issues associated with this isolation, for everyone and not just the mentally ill, aren’t being addressed as much as they maybe should be.

We are social creatures, aren’t we?  We need people and the groups around us (family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.) to provide needed benefits – most importantly, meeting our emotional and social needs.  And since the isolation (both physical and emotional) and distancing we need to practice for at least the next couple of weeks is in place, I believe we are going to suffer mentally because of it.

Isolation and loneliness are 2 big concerns right now, particularly for the elderly and those who are already experiencing these issues.  And, I do believe we will see even more of an influence of these now.  You can be isolated and not lonely, and lonely and not isolated, but for many, these 2 things go hand in hand.  Choosing to be alone, and enjoying that time, is much different than being forced into isolation!  And people choose to be ‘alone’ among ‘groups’ often times anyway.  Going to the store, getting to the library, working out at a gym.  These might be done ‘alone’ or by yourself, but there are still people around who you can interact with to a degree.  Home-bound isolation is a different thing.  People can go from alone to lonely pretty quick in this circumstance.  Take a look at this article published in 2019 on social isolation which states:

There is…”evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”  “In addition…(it was) found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race…”.
Obviously, this is for more long-term isolation, but the implications are clear.  Isolation has a huge consequence on people and their health.  

Families are also suffering.  My mom lives by herself and has a very active social life.  With so many fears of the virus regarding the elderly, mom and her friends have cancelled their weekly activities.  I know this is going to affect her mood, and I worry she’ll go out to a store or something, just to be around people which can put her at risk.  As much as my sis and I tell her not too, she’s very stubborn.  Since I was in Florida for a week and flew out of Tampa which is a ‘hotbed’ of the virus, I don’t want to be around her just in case I have the virus without showing signs yet.  So, we are isolated from each other too.

My sister is worried about her grandchildren as well, and looks forward to seeing them often during the week.  Missing out on that interaction is hard for all of them.  Plus, one of my nephews has a serious condition which could require medical attention at any time.  How scary that hospitals might be over-run and medical attention is delayed.  Not being to be around our families is a great hardship for so many! 

And then you add other factors into the mix:  fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, helplessness, and powerlessness to name a few.  We all, I think, are feeling these to some degree.  As much as the news upsets me regarding all of what’s happening right now, I don’t want to stay away from it either since I need information to keep myself and family safe!  It’s a Catch 22!  The news makes us more stressed and fearful, but the info provided is important! 

Anytime you see stress increase, you see a greater likelihood of domestic violence and child abuse.  Will this time increase the already huge numbers of victims of family violence?  And, we know that high levels of stress can cause physical sickness (high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.).  Furthermore, the stress isn’t going to end after the isolation is lifted.  Businesses are losing customers or closing down for a period of time, and economists are saying we’ll suffer a strong recession which will continue this stress for an extended period of time.   And, I know that stress over money is one of the BIGGEST stressors a couple faces in their relationship. 

I really worry that for the mentally ill, these issues can exacerbate their conditions.  Making anxiety disorders worsen, depression to deepen.  Also, will counselors or behavioral health centers stop seeing clients?  Will meds get filled on time?   Will AA and NA meetings be able to continue? Then what about people who are schizophrenic and have paranoid delusions?  Will this worsen their thinking with all of the conspiracy theories circling around right now? 

Finally, I also wonder how our world, our own society, will be changed because of this time.  Will we continue more isolating behaviors out of fear another virus could be around the corner?  Will people start getting more and more of their needs met through non-contact ways such as social media?  Will students, who have never taken online classes but are now forced to work online for at least a couple of weeks, find the classes to be more convenient and our on-campus students numbers decrease?  Will people become disgusted with society because how some are behaving, and come to see society as a more dangerous place than they had perceived it before?  The questions are endless.

So, what do I think we can do to lessen some of these effects?  Here’s my list:

  1. Stay on a schedule.  Get up at a regular time, have a daily plan with meals, work, etc. and structure your time accordingly.  
  2. Get outside!  Sidewalks, parks, hiking trails…none of these are closed and being outside, and especially around nature, can be comforting and uplifting.
  3. Do some cardio!  Those of us with depression know that cardio actually increases the production of endorphins and neurotransmitters, and improves sleep too!  All of this can help alleviate feelings of depression!
  4. Keep connected to family and friends.  This is a great time to use social media for connection (but be careful, too much social media use can backfire…particularly with so many loud opinions being broadcast!).  Also, instead of calls or texts, video chat for a more personal experience.  
  5. Help others.  Reach out to your older neighbors and let them know you are willing to run errands for them or get their refills picked up.  Let them know you are around if they need something done!
  6. Tackle yard and house chores.  I’m going to use some of my time to get my darn closets cleaned out and then get my yard all raked for spring.  Things I have trouble finding time to do!  Put these chores on your calendar to keep you on track!
  7. Take breaks from work.  Working remotely, as some of us are doing, is very different than being in an office or around students.  Make sure you take breaks from the computer often, and don’t try to do 8 hours of work in 3 just to get done!  Spacing out your time can help relieve the tediousness.
  8. Try a new hobby.  You don’t need to go to the store to get a pencil and paper…watch a youtube video on drawing and see what you can do!  Or, if you have some supplies (paints, crayons, glue, yarn, fabric), learn to crochet or knit…watercolor…decoupage!  
  9. Give yourself a break!  This is important…being around kids, family, etc. in a close environment can be stressful, and taking a short walk, nap, or just a time-out might help with these situations.  
  10. Keep your kids structured and engaged as well.  There are so many places publishing free content for kids right now, and doing these activities together can be fun!  Here’s a great website to give you some activity ideas, and then a fun e-learning site with a ton of lessons.  And, take a look at this:  

There are so many questions we have…and not a lot of answers.  But I do believe these issues are going to have a huge impact on everyone’s mental health, and possibly worsen those already dealing with an mental illness.  Let’s all take care of ourselves and families the best we can, and reach out if we need help.  Stay healthy and safe and if you have any other ideas to share, please comment below!

Kristi xoxo

The Importance of being Honest.

So, I’m cycling through a pretty bad depression right now.  It started in the Fall, and it’s been hanging on a long while.  Hopefully, I’ll start to be back up again soon, but with bipolar, you can never tell.  And depression is a hard fight, because so much of it is out of our control.

Depression (and mania) aren’t ‘moods’…they are states.  And there’s a big difference there, one I wish was recognized more because calling ‘depression’ a MOOD disorder isn’t technically correct.

Moods are temporary feelings of whatever emotion is there:  happiness, sadness, grieving, gloomy, cheerful, energetic, and the list goes on.  And we all experience a huge range of moods!  We have happy days and sad days, but those days don’t last.  The SITUATION underlying the emotion (which causes the feelings that are ‘saturated’) doesn’t last, because for the most part, that’s what they are based on.  Getting a raise makes me feel happy.  Getting rejected makes me feel sad.  But, these moods pass as others take their place.  That’s why people will say to those who are sad:  “Cheer up…this will pass.”  And they are right!  It will pass.  Although I think saying “Cheer up” nullifies the person’s emotional mood and makes it appear to be insignificant, I get what they are saying.

But states are different creatures.  They aren’t place dependent.  People dependent.  Money dependent.  They are simply there.  And they are more than just the feeling that’s being projected.  For example, people who might be sad for a while may not experience anything else but that sadness.  Whereas people who are depressed also have trouble sleeping, have changes in eating, are restlessness or lethargic, have slowed thinking and memory issues, experience trouble making decisions, entertain thoughts of self-harm or suicide, and the list goes on.

The causes of depression are different too.  A major life event can trigger depression in someone, but there are underlying issues at work as well that go along with that stressor:  According to Harvard Medical “Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood.  Researchers believe that, more important then levels of specific brain chemicals, nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression”.

So once again, like we see with so many mental illnesses, depression is in the brain.  Not in the situation.  That’s why for depression, meds are needed to regulate this brain chemistry and function, as well as counseling in order to learn better ways to cope with what is happening.

Last night, I was feeling extra down, and put on Facebook that I was really struggling with depression.  So many people reached out to me, and just knowing there is so much support and care out there really helps.  It doesn’t make me ‘less depressed’, but it does make me feel important and loved.  Anyone can use that anytime!

A couple years ago, I never would have posted anything like that because I was still trying to pretend my way through life, and hide the pain I often experience with bipolar.  But like I’ve said before, how can I expect to work against mental health stigma if I’m not genuine myself?  How hypocritical that would be!  When I was in Florida, I posted about how people on the beach were looking at the scars on my legs from when I cut myself.  Once again, if I can’t put issues out there that are related to mental illness, what am I preaching ‘lessen the stigma’ for?

I bought this artwork, created by the Chariho Youth Task Force for their Mental Health Awareness Campaign.  Digital copies of this art can be purchased here for $5 and all proceeds go to mental health programs and information.

BUT, maybe there are people who think it’s OK to talk about depression.  That’s not ‘ugly’.  However, how can you even mention that you’ve cut?  That’s bloody and gross and scary.  Here’s the thing though, cutting does go along with my illness.  It just does.  I hate that I’ve done it.  I hate my scars.  I hate how people look at me when I’m at a pool or my shorts ride up a bit.  Even more though, I hate having an illness that has made my brain so confused at times, that cutting is the only outlet given for any type of psychological relief.  I know how hard that is to understand.  I don’t understand it.  But I know it’s a demon to fight when it rears it’s ugly head, and that at times, I’ve lost the battle.

This reminds me of my Human Sexuality class and what we were discussing the other day.  I was lecturing about development from pregnancy through birth, and when I got the part about what pregnant women often suffer, everyone was OK until I said the word “hemorrhoid!”  EVERYTHING  else was met with nods…but this??  Shouts of UGH and looks of horror!  WHY?  Because hemorrhoids are ‘icky’…nothing we really want to think about!

There are a lot of things about mental illness that are ‘icky’ too.  But we need to hear it all.  The way it really is.  That’s the only thing that will help people speak up and out about mental illness, and then get the support and help they need.

The mentally ill should not be living in a society where there is shame in having a disease/disorder/illness that’s out of their control.  We have the control to get help for it (if it’s available and affordable…2 BIG ifs), and learn better ways of coping with it.  But it’s always there.  Always.  Just like diabetics can be medicated appropriately and watch their diet.  Even if the diabetes is controlled though, it’s still there.  It’s a lifelong disease.  It’s not going to disappear.

The mentally ill don’t have diseases that will just disappear either.  And, the mentally ill won’t disappear, no matter how much we try to NOT talk about the issues that aren’t easy to face.  Don’t we all have the right for care, support, and understanding, regardless of where our disease or illness originates?  Don’t we all have the right to talk about our illnesses?  Our struggles?  Without stigma or shame? I believe we do.  And I’m going to keep doing it until everyone can do the same.

Kristi xoxo