Category Archives: Mental Health
artwork by Ruben Ireland
In the past, I’ve written on rare disease and adjusting to life after becoming homebound. As the world learns to cope with the reality of life at home, threatened by a terrifying virus, and concerned for what the future has in store, this is the only topic I’m compelled to write about today.
While we live under the shadow of Covid19, how are you handling the images in the media? How are you coping with social distancing, and isolation? Have any of your family or friends tested positive?
Here we’ll be discussing some of the feelings that come along with heightened stress, and why it can make our lives seem out of control.
In a crisis, the natural reaction is to feel shocked, upset, overwhelmed, concerned, confused, sorrowful, and/or physically agitated. If these feelings sound familiar to you, then take some small comfort in knowing that you’re reacting like a healthy, normal human being.
Though these feelings can be physically and emotionally difficult, they are completely understandable under the given circumstances.
On the flip side, if you were living without a care in the world, then one might wonder if you understood the gravity of the situation. Staying in denial might feel better temporarily, but it can lead you to take dangerous risks for yourself and your family. Failing to grasp the seriousness of our situation may lead you to go as far as spreading misinformation or even the virus itself.
Concern serves a purpose and it’s the appropriate reaction for survival. Concern can be a very useful emotion, and keeps you more alerted to possible dangers.
We generally try to avoid or ignore our concerns and feelings of stress, but in a crisis situation, remember that feelings of anxiety are there to serve a purpose. It’s perfectly understandable to be worried for your loved ones. It shows a heart of compassion; it can drive you to check on the people you care for, to listen to local authorities, and to go the extra mile to keep your family safe.
Everyone is sorting through their own unique life circumstances due to the “Stay at Home” orders. If your regular routine has been interrupted by the quarantine, then you’re even more likely to feel the pressure. When you lose control over your plans, you can begin feeling as though life has become chaotic, and you’re helpless to change it.
Losing your workday and regular routine can also cause confusion, feeling a loss of accomplishment, lack of motivation, and feeling a sense of uselessness. Being alone with your thoughts in isolation all day removes your typical daily distractions which can make stress seem even more pronounced!
These are distressing times, and the images in the news can play up our worst fears. It’s the media’s job to capitalize on the most distressing images and stories- the ones that grab our attention, and get our adrenaline pumping. I would caution anyone from watching too much broadcast news. Especially if you’re home with access to the news all day; it’s guaranteed to pump the volume up on your stress. The same goes for unsubstantiated conspiracy posts on social media which are meant to tap into your deepest fears.
In the moments when anxious thoughts flood your mind, logic won’t always prevail. Your survival instincts can begin to override. During periods of crisis and high stress, you may find yourself in “Survival Mode” (Fight-or-Flight).
If so, you might be experiencing: nervousness, sleeplessness, bursts of adrenaline, agitation, excessive loneliness, intrusive thoughts, racing mind, mood swings, sudden bouts of exhaustion, and confusion.
In survival mode, we instinctively want to fix things. We feel the need to actively find solutions, which is a great motivator, however, it can also lead to feeling helpless if we don’t have ways to exercise these desires. Feeling helpless combined with high stress and isolation can be a slippery slope to feelings of worthlessness. If you have a family member with a history of depression, try to check in with them during this time, and let them know how much they mean to you ❤
You may not be able to find a cure for Covid19 or go back into work yet, but using your energy to do a hands-on project at home will help you get a better sense of control, and therein begins your new routine.
Building a new routine at home will help you feel more in control. Building a routine can be as simple as getting up at the same time each day, making breakfast, and limiting your screen time.
On that note, I would encourage you to avoid the common terms “positive” and “negative” emotions, and instead give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. Specifically, labeling emotions as “negative” can make us feel as though sadness, loss, heartbreak, and frustration, are somehow forbidden. If we view our most challenging feelings as “negative,” it can unintentionally, cause a sense of shame or wrongdoing. Though some feelings are uncomfortable, they help us learn, grow and build character.
Acknowledging our full experience, however difficult, can also allow us to have more empathy and compassion for others.
Seasons of struggle have a way of making us feel alone inside of our pain. If it seems as though no one understands, if you’re feeling withdrawn, depressed and/or have a sense of doom, I would urge you to contact a counselor through an online therapy app. Please take good and gentle care of yourself! (You’re the only beautiful you that we will ever have.)
We should all try to reach out to our friends and family by video chat during this quarantine for some social interaction, get some fresh air, and find creative ways to connect with one another (safely) online.
If you’re staying at home, and observing social distancing, I thank you personally on behalf of my immunosuppressed self and all of us who are at higher risk. After almost 9 years, I understand that the idea of being confined to your home can at times sound like a prison- to be given boundaries you can’t cross. But this boundary is to keep you safe, to keep the virus out, not to make us feel trapped or alone.This season will be over soon. For now, let’s make the most of this time and try to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in the face of hardship. Reach out, check on your elderly friends and those with disabilities and chronic illness, since they may have difficulty getting basics. Caregivers and delivery programs may not be serving them right now, so an offer to help might be appreciated.
Most of all, I want to remind you that you’re not alone. The entire world is going through this difficult time collectively. Thank you for continuing to help your community by staying home, and remaining socially distant. It’s a sacrifice you’re making for the greater good!
Keeping our healthcare professionals, essential workers, and all those fighting this virus in our prayers and on our hearts. Also praying for the safety, health and healing of our brothers and sisters around the world. Let this be a time of community, understanding, and finding more gratitude with every passing day. We hand over our fears and uncertainties, trust the future to you, and plant our feet in your eternal hope. Amen.
God be with you.
Thank you for reading. Take good care, and stay well. -Mary
How to manage anxiety in a changing world
Did you know that being positive isn’t necessarily the same as being optimistic? Did you know that your methods for coping with stress might be hurting your health, even if they make you feel better?
There was an entire revolution in psychological treatment called “Positive Psychology” which began after the book Learned Optimism changed everything in the 90’s. Before that, psychological practices were geared toward treating severe functional mental illnesses.
The author of the breakthrough book, Martin Seligman, asked the question, why aren’t people fulfilled and thriving when we know more about human behavior than ever before?
Because he challenged the field of behavioral sciences, an entire branch of psychology became dedicated to helping (otherwise normally functioning) people become their best selves.
In his book, Learned Optimism, he discusses the surprising spike in depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug addiction when we live in a happiness-driven society. He believes it is much more than simply public awareness of mental health driving the rise in diagnoses.
In his book, he explains that children were once taught how to overcome obstacles, how to cope and persevere, however the focus in education has instead shifted to boosting self-confidence regardless of effort. Seligman theorized that the self esteem movement, which was standardized in classrooms around the country during the 80’s and 90’s, played a major role in changing the way early childhood minds develop and learn coping strategies.
One point that I found particularly interesting is that he proposes individuals of prior generations (Boomers and earlier) were raised to believe they were surrounded by an invisible support system.
Today, that sense of strong community doesn’t exist for most young people.
In the past, there was a sense that one’s support system shared responsibility for every success and failure. This support system contributed to the overall person that one became. Since there was an awareness that outside forces had a hand in their lives, when their hard work did pay off, they were happy to share their triumphs and celebrate with their circle of support. Likewise, when their attempts failed, they wouldn’t fall too far or stay down too long as they had a safety net ready to pick them up and get them back on their feet. Just as the successes were shared, the devastation of each loss fell not only on one person’s shoulders, but they shared it with their community.
In the past, community looked quite different than our version today. For most people, that community consists of acquaintances we selectively share information and photos with on social media. The community of today may give approval, encouragement or compassion, but is often lacking in deep supportive relationships and the accountability that Seligman discusses.
Americans once valued country, faith in government, religion, family, patriotism, even the President. People were raised connected to a personal faith in God; organized religion provided another strong support structure of people they viewed as their second family. They were inclined to make life long connections inside of their schools and residential areas where they were urged to be active citizens. Above all, the nuclear family was once the cornerstone of society.
Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Today, most don’t grow up ingrained with the same surrounding support system, lasting personal connections, or strong faith in God and country.
To clarify, I would personally never want to go back to those days, but learning about these changes in our community structure helped me understand how we see the world so differently, and why we might be developing such vastly different coping and social habits from our parents and grandparents.
We are independent. Our successes are our own to take pride in and celebrate. Most learn to have faith and rely only on themselves. There is great emphasis on self-determination, therefore we reap our own rewards when we succeed. But on the downside, our tools for coping with inevitable life failures and day to day stresses may unfortunately be lacking. We are taught that personal responsibility and success are absolutely everything, but when we fail (as we all do), the personal fallout can be emotionally and psychologically devastating…even traumatizing.
I was working on my Learned Optimism piece when I read an article on Resilience, and was surprised to find that the number one quality suggested in becoming more resilient is to create the same types of communal support that past generations grew up with (as Martin Seligman found).
Surrounding yourself with close connections, friends, family members, becoming more connected to faith, plugging into community, and making permanent, lasting relationships with “people who affirm you, recognize your strengths, natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need” will increase your resilience [Mary J. Yerkes].
More ways to become more resilient:
-Accept “good enough” instead of expecting perfection
-Focus on the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t
-Find deeper meaning in life
-Accept advice from your loved ones and those who know you best
-Take care of yourself
-Ask for/accept help
-Don’t be surprised when life changes suddenly
-Have faith that things will eventually get better
-Set goals you can achieve
Being resilient isn’t about silencing yourself through turmoil or ignoring your emotions, but resiliency is a method of utilizing multiple positive coping strategies along with a mindset that is always ready to “roll with the punches.”
Martin Seligman writes, “If we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that failure is our fault, it will undermine everything we do.”
Pessimists feel personally responsible in all success and failure, and helpless to make changes. This thinking leads to tendencies for depression and anxiety. Chronic pessimists are also more likely to have health troubles later in life, according to research in behavioral science.
Does this mean that society’s focus on self-reliance and self esteem could be creating generations of pessimists? I don’t know if that’s true, but it would be very ironic in our happiness-driven, positivity-focused culture.
The good news is, both Resilience and Optimism can be learned!
If you’ve been hit hard by suicides in the news this week, you are not alone. It’s crushing to learn that these two incredible artists have chosen to end their lives.
Together you can create a plan to help you get on a path BACK TO YOURSELF.
*Your life is worth fighting for.
It washes over you like the song that makes your heart pound. Like the goose bumps your body forgets to have any more. It’s like a constant shiver, and then sometimes, all at once- like being startled. Then, it shatters so loudly into a million pieces all over you and you think your insides might have been shredded along with it.
If you have grieved a sudden loss, you know this feeling.
If you have lived through multiple crises, traumas, or losses, you know this feeling all too well. And if this is a very familiar feeling to you, I am sorry for all of the pain and shock you have endured throughout your life.
Good news: my body has had its first good days in 4 years! The past year, I could feel improvement, however every inch of progress has come with a setback in another area of my health. So, it has been a slow year of trade offs and feeling as though my head, body and brain have been fighting against one another. Since I couldn’t make physical progress, I took advantage of the slow return to clarity of my mind. I have been focusing on improving my brain functioning, my speech, fine motor skills, trying to regain memory, and making strong connections with others again online. In four years time, that seems like minor recovery, but when you can’t wait around for your body, you do whatever you can with the tools you do have. I know everyone reading with a disability, in recovery after stroke or an accident, or with a chronic illness understands that sentiment.
I’m not new to chronic illness as I’ve had severe chronic pain for 10 years, however dealing with multiple chronic illnesses in such a debilitating way started in 2011. Actually, last week was the 4 year anniversary of the procedures that caused all of the major issues that have so changed my body, mind, and the lives of my husband and our families. No matter what, I feel as though a part of me will always be left back in May, 2011. And a huge piece of my subconscious is still 22 when the problems first began. I think losing health stops time in a way- or changes the way time moves and how we move through it.
I thought I was done grieving for my loss of health, but after becoming bed bound at 28, the grief process started all over again. Every time something else is lost to my body, I have to mourn first before I can accept it. Several years into my journey with chronic pain, I decided to celebrate the “Spooniversary” that began in 2004. It was no longer a melancholy day of loss; instead I decided to celebrate the endurance, support, and faith it took to traverse it. Ten years was a milestone. But all of my newer illness acquisitions are a different ballgame. Maybe next May I will be ready to also celebrate how much this body and mind have endured since 2011. For now, I think I’m just now beginning to come to terms with much of what has taken place over the past 4 years.
Last week was also the anniversary of the passing of my best friend. Every year at this time, I reflect on all of the ways she changed my life, all of the soulful years we spent learning and growing together. The way we became each other’s family at a time when we both were desperate for a safe space to call home. We became each other’s peaceful place in the world. The time has finally come, so many years later that I can look back on her life and our years spent together and feel more joy than sorrow. Her life continues to affect mine. Her spirit echoes into me every day. I think of her words, her soul, her love, and I cannot help but feel love still flowing like a river from her memory. Because of her, I know that a person can have more than one soul mate- and those rare relationships can save you from life’s ugliness in the most beautiful way. These unique connections can ground us to the world so we don’t float away when the earth seems to have lost its gravity. I remember her every day as she is part of me, and always will be. But as you know, there are those days, those celebrations, those dates marked on your personal calendar which tug at your heart just a bit more. The week of Mother’s Day is always that for me.
And the same week, without warning, like a loud crashing vessel falling from the sky and onto our roof. Gravity was lost on the earth again. Another confusing life circumstance. So many unanswered questions. Shattered pieces all around- you don’t know where to begin the pickup. For now, I don’t even have the words to express what I am feeling or what just happened in our family. This new current issue is certainly unexpected. I think May is definitely NOT my month!
I will look forward to a time when my needs aren’t in the hands of others, and I can be the one helping once again. I am always very thankful to have those in my life willing to do the things I no longer can for myself. Having better health days lately makes me feel like that time might be closer within my reach.
When I look back on this past year, and how my body has been swapping one good thing for another big setback, the past couple weeks feel very similar to that. My body is giving me a green light to move forward in recovery, while life is ripping the rug out in another way. If I were not grieving, I would be so excited about progress. It does help soften the blow, so I’m very grateful to have the added strength at this time especially. That is life, isn’t it? The universe is always balancing itself.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, bloggers and those on social networking have been doing awesome work sharing and advocating about equal care, I wanted to add something as well. People who are bed bound or home bound do not have the same access to mental health care. Whether you have expensive private insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, it is nearly impossible in most areas to find a “Home Mental Health Professional”. Most psychologists and counselors are not covered or willing to do home visits, nor are they trained in distance therapy (online counseling). There is an abundance of web therapy now, however much of it is not covered under insurance and does not always adhere to guidelines for keeping records and evaluating. For those who are incapacitated from chronic, progressive or mental illness, there are a myriad of psychological implications and we do not have the same treatment options as those who can drive to an office, sit in a waiting room, and then sit and talk aloud with a counselor in person. We know we are losing desperate brothers and sisters who have severe chronic pain, chronic illness and mental illness conditions. In the near future, home therapy options NEED to become more easily available and covered by providers.
Take the Stigma Free Pledge for Mental Health Awareness Month 2015
Today, November 8th the CRPS/RSD community will light candles or tie balloons to their homes to memorialize those who have passed this year from CRPS. This pain is not fatal, however people have died from complications brought on by the domino effect CRPS can cause in the nervous system, immune system, internal organs and brain. We also will honor our friends who have died by suicide this year.
Overall deaths from CRPS are a small percentage, but it feels like many when we hear another friend lost about once a week in the cold months. Let’s allow this memorial to bind us closer as a community, to fight harder for one another, to open the doors to communication when all hope seems lost.
Today, let’s unite in remembrance of our friends and pray for peace for their families. I pray next year we won’t even have to do this event. Stay strong this winter, warriors.
**Below is an article about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD suicide statistics along with a frank interpretation from RSD Advisory blog.
Over the years we have heard that suicides for CRPS/RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) patients is the highest of all suicide rates.
This may not be as necessarily true as it seemed. This also does not entirely mean it’s false.
The following is an excerpt by the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA) –
Suicide and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
On June 23, 2012, Jill Harkany-Friedman, PhD, spoke to the RSDSA Board of Directors and invited guests on the topic of CRPS and Suicide Prevention. Dr. Harkany-Friedman is the Senior Director of Research and Prevention for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). RSDSA asked Dr. Harkany-Friedman to speak because of recent suicides in the CRPS community. She assured us that although most individuals have fleeting thoughts of ending one’s life, suicide is relatively rare (12 out of 100,000). Furthermore, 90% of those who die by suicide…
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Below is a serious post from a woman blogger in pain and above it is my comment to her:
I’m so sorry you are living this. I know you feel completely alone and isolated. I’m so proud of you for telling your story and sharing what no one wants to say. What we are so scared to share. This is the TRUTH about chronic illness and chronic pain and the gravity of it.
You are giving people a voice. I’m so scared you will stop. I don’t know if you believe in faith, but I AM PRAYING FOR YOU in this moment in time. That you know how important you are. That you hear me tell you that your words and your pain do not isolate you, it INCLUDES you with women who live it and need your courage to say what you are saying.
That we don’t want life to end, we want the pain to end. We want the fear to end. Insurance for a future life- of this ONE life. I could never convince you of that concrete insurance that your body will feel better.
But I can promise you that chronic illness, pain, depression: they are liars, liars, LIARS!
Tomorrow anything can change. Please, I hope you are here for it.
Saturday night, I overdosed. And here it is Tuesday morning, and I’m still barely able to function. I can’t spell basic words without a lot of thought, and I nearly pass out when I get up to go to the bathroom.
I’m not sure if I wanted to kill myself or not. I was at least half-dissociated, so I don’t even know how many pills I took. (Or, for that matter, which one[s] of us took them.)
I think I wanted either to die or to make someone notice that something is very very wrong. But I ended up not accomplishing either of those things. So I feel like a failure in every possible way.
I feel like I NEED someone to take care of me. To hug me and tell me it’s all going to be okay, to listen when I’m freaking out, to take care of all the…
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~In Her Shoes~
She asked me in a nice voice if I would wear her shoes.
It wasn’t the best choice, but how could I refuse?
The moment they slipped on, I swear I heard a crack.
Then something within me sharply turned to black.
The shoes no longer held me up as I fell to my knees.
I could not bear the weight of my dear friend’s disease.
She got down on the floor with me and held me for a while.
She put the shoes back on her feet and then she forced a smile.
I don’t know how she wears those shoes!
She must have so much strength.
I’ll never understand; I wish I could help her bear the weight.
This was written in honor of all of the women who live with invisible illnesses and invisible pain. May they have friends who try to understand what they face.
Poem featured on The #Spoonie Daily E-Magazine