My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘psychotherapy’

Parts of My Life I Miss the Most

Last month I wrote about how bipolar disorder had cost me – well, not the ability – but the capacity to read (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-qp). I am intensely thankful that the concentration, focus, and motivation to read have returned as my healing has progressed.

But there are some other things that are missing from my life that I wish desperately that I could get back. Or wish I had never lost in the first place. (Depression is very much with me right now, so forgive me if I dwell in the past with my failures a bit.)

First are friends. I’ve written about this before too (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2W), but the subject was brought home to me recently when I received a fuck-off letter from a former friend I was trying to reach out to, in hopes of reestablishing the relationship. One of her main reasons for cutting me off was that every time we went out, she felt it was “her and me and my misery.”

She did acknowledge that at times our friendship had been burdened by her misery too, but evidently that either didn’t count as much, or else mine lasted too long. (If it was too long for her, it was even longer for me.) I am very disappointed that, now that my “black dog” is smaller and on a leash, she found other reasons not to associate with me. To make it more ironic, she has been a therapist and now teaches psychology.

I also miss having a steady paycheck. My last 9-5 office job was over ten years ago, and since then my mental state has not allowed me to get and keep another such position. The security of knowing how much money I would have every month allowed me to plan.

And to travel. I really miss traveling. Admittedly, part of my inability to travel now is determined by my physical health. But my anxiety would make it just that much more difficult. Now I can barely get away for a weekend, and even then I must carefully monitor my moods, limit my activities, track my eating and sleeping, and avoid crowds.

One of my deepest regrets is that when I was undiagnosed and untreated, I couldn’t fulfill my potential. I attended an Ivy League university, but I can’t say I got out of it what I could or should have. I feel now that I skated by, impeded by many depressive spells, lack of focus and concentration, and confusion. I even took a year off to get my head together, but since that didn’t include getting help for my bipolar disorder, its value was questionable.

Lest this seem like nothing but whining (which my depression is telling is what it is), there are also some things that bipolar disorder has taken from me that I don’t miss at all.

Oddly, one of them is a 9-5 office job. While I do miss the steady paycheck, I absolutely don’t miss the things that came with it. Now, doing freelance work, I can fit my work around the things I need to do (like seeing my therapist) and the things I have to do (like slowing down when depression hits). I don’t have to get up at the same time every day and dress appropriately (if at all) and try to fit in and socialize with my co-workers. That was never easy for me and became nearly impossible after my big meltdown.

And, as much as I miss travel, I don’t miss business travel. Again, being “on” all the time, for days at a time, with no time or place to decompress, would be impossible now. Since we usually had to share hotel rooms, there wasn’t even a chance for any alone time, which I need a fair amount of. I could never get the hang of “team eating” either.

Finally, I don’t miss the boyfriend who took an already broken me and broke me worse. (I wrote about him in my post about gaslighting http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-pm.) My self-esteem was not great before the relationship, but afterward it went into negative numbers. Self-harm, self-medication, self-doubt, and negative self-talk were what I had instead. But Rex didn’t do it alone. He had my bipolar disorder there to reinforce his words and actions. And to not let me see what was happening.

Bipolar disorder is a balancing act, in more ways than one. It takes away good things from our lives. But my therapist reminds me that it also gives an opportunity – as I rebuild my life, I can choose which pieces I want to reclaim and which I want to discard. And the parts I can rebuild are what I should concentrate on.

And I will, once this spell of depression releases me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Things Psychotherapy Has Done for Me

Why pay $250 an hour just to talk to someone?

That was my sister’s reaction when I said I was going to start seeing a therapist. This is my answer.

Mental health symbolWell, Lucy, while a psychiatrist doesn’t cost 5 cents anymore, therapy can be had for a lot less than $250. There are community mental health centers with sliding fee scales – which is what I was going to then. There is insurance, for now at least. I’ve even known psychotherapists who would accept less than their usual fee for long-time patients in temporarily dire straits.

And I’m not paying to talk to just “someone.” A therapist usually has at least an M.A., and sometimes a Ph.D. Psychiatrists have an M.D. or D.O. They have years of training, more years of experience, and colleagues they can consult if your problem is particularly challenging or out of their area of expertise. You can also find peer counselors, religious counselors, and proponents of every variety of therapy or treatment you can name, from neuro-linguistic programming to electroconvulsive therapy.

Now, as I reflect on my clueless sister, I’ve started thinking about all the things that therapy has done for me.

Diagnosis. When I first started going, back in the 80s, I could only afford one of those community mental health centers with the sliding fee scale. (At the time, I paid $5 per session.) There I was diagnosed with depression. The primary treatment they offered was “talk therapy,” but I had years and years of mental difficulties to talk about. Later, when I was seeing a psychiatrist, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar 2 and anxiety disorder. Suddenly, my past became a lot clearer, even if my present was still messed up.

Medication. There has been a lot of it over the years. I started, as so many did, with Prozac, which had a noticeable effect on my depression. It was like the difference between watching a black-and-white TV that got only one channel that showed only tampon commercials, compared to a wide-screen color TV that got hundreds of cable channels. The meds I’m on right now keep me functional, at least enough to make a living and be creative.

Perspective. When I first started going to my current therapist, the word I used most often to describe myself was “pathetic.” I no longer call myself that. Dr. B. helped me view parts of my past in a different light and helped me develop techniques and strategies to deal with the problems I was facing at the time. Now she keeps me on track, reminding me that I have the tools to cope with many of my recurring problems. And she reminds me how far I’ve come since my “pathetic” days.

Couples counseling. When we married, I was still smack in the middle of clinical depression. (My husband had problems too, but I don’t want to talk about them here, except to say that a codependent and a depressive living together can never decide where to go for lunch. And that was the least of our difficulties.) Several times since then, we have had to turn to counselors to work on problems related to sex, money, and just plain living and communicating together.

Group therapy. Actually, though I’ve attended group therapy a few times, what I’ve learned from it is that it’s not for me. I do appreciate the fact that it’s there if I should need or want it, and that my therapist can recommend a group if she or he is going to be away for a while. Perhaps I just haven’t found the right group yet, although the support communities I’ve found online may serve part of the same purpose.

In short, therapy has given me my life, my sanity, my coping skills, my emotional strength, and my creativity back. And I can definitely say that professional therapy has been worth more than 5 cents, or whatever insights my sister could have offered.

 

The Scientific Tease

Fun doctor

I know the headlines and accompanying news stories are supposed to give us hope: New Treatments for Mentally Ill, Scientific Advances for PTSD Suffers, How Research Is Finding Causes – and Possible Cures – for Bipolar Disorder, Brain Science May Explain OCD.

But the reality is that those headlines are teasers. Once you read the story, you realize how little is new, how far from reality the science is, and how long it will be until the supposed cures make any difference.

I’ve written on the subject before (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-7Z), and included a link to a short video that explains the scientific process, from original study up to the time when a new drug or treatment hits the market (http://www.vocativ.com/culture/junk-science/).

But drugs aren’t all the scientific world is offering for people with bipolar and other mental disorders. There are transcranial stimulators, magnets, fMRI, and other technologies that hold promise for at least understanding our illnesses and, in some cases, treating them. Studies of the human brain, DNA, epigenetics, neurotransmitters, precursor chemicals, and more are touted as ways to unravel the mysteries of why some people get mental illnesses and some don’t; why some medications work for some people and not for others; and how the medications that actually do work do what they do.

If you are buoyed by the hope these scientific articles and the advances they hold out, you may envision a world in which parents can tell when a baby is liable to depression and watch for early signs; a troubled teen can be diagnosed with bipolar 1, 2, or psychotic bipolar; which particular “cocktail” of drugs is the best fit for an individual; how a small machine can send signals to the brain that will ease the symptoms of, well, anything.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Oh, there is scientific research going on – although there would be more if funding for mental health issues were taken more seriously. But not all that research will result in effective, practical treatments for mental illness – more closely targeted drugs, new understandings of various psychological models, new methods of diagnosis. A breakthrough, when it comes, may even be discovered as an unexpected side effect of something else entirely.

Besides, can you imagine these wonder drugs and diagnostic tools, and nanobot treatments (or whatever) making it to the vast majority of the mentally ill? Will psychologists be able to send clients to get an fMRI to pinpoint problems, and will the insurance pay for that? How would you convince a homeless schizophrenic to place his head in that clanking machine, hold still for half an hour, and answer question? How long will it take the FDA to study and approve a new drug, and will it cost $12,000 or more per year? And will insurance coverage even be available because it’s still considered “experimental”?

Frankly, I can’t see most of these heralded miracle treatments making their way down to the community mental health center level anytime soon, even once they’ve been developed, tested, proven, and put on the market. Like so much of medicine, I fear psychiatric advances will be available only to the rich or those with platinum-level insurance. And although one in four Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes – and millions more friends, relatives, caregivers, and loved ones will be affected by it as well, psychiatric topics don’t draw government or university funding or charitable support the way other conditions like HIV, breast cancer, and heart disease do.

So forgive me if I see those uplifting headlines and think, “Pfft. More pie in the sky.” I do think progress is being made and will continue to be made, but I doubt whether it will be soon enough, or tested enough, or cheap enough, or available enough to benefit me. You younger folks, now – you may still reap the benefits of these remarkable advances. But in the meantime, while you’re waiting for that magic pill or Star Trek device, keep on taking the meds you’ve been prescribed, and talking to your psychotherapist, and building a support system, and taking care of yourself.

For now, let’s work with what we’ve got.

The Therapeutic Hug

People Group Teamwork Holding Logo. 3D Rendering illustration

Big Group Hug

The common wisdom is that a person needs four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth. I doubt that this is confirmed by any scientific studies and I doubt that it is true. If it were, there would be millions of people on Earth who would not survive.

I would be one of them. Despite being married to one of the two truly world-class huggers I’ve met in my life, I do not get my four-a-day. And certainly not twelve. Assuming eight hours a day for sleep and eight hours a day for work, that would leave eight hours to work in twelve hugs. That’s one and a half hugs per hour, and I suspect half a hug just won’t do.

In fact, I know it won’t. Scientific research has been done on the 20-second hug. It releases oxytocin, a pleasure and bonding chemical in the brain. Half a hug would need to be 40 seconds long to do the proper amount of good, and young lovers and newlyweds tend to be the only people who give hugs of that duration.

Then there’s the question of what constitutes a hug. For greatest oxytocin effect, I would recommend the full body hug – toe to toe, torso to torso, heads on shoulders, arms tightly squeezing. But you probably can’t give that particular hug when you run into an acquaintance in the supermarket, especially not 20 seconds worth, without blocking the aisles.

Other variations of hugs that may be less effective are the side-by-side one-shoulder squeeze (and the multi-person variant, the Big Group Hug), the manly back-thumping, and the A-frame hug (standing a distance apart and leaning in for a hug from the shoulders up). Then there are the virtual hug, usually written ((hug)), with the number of parens indicating the length/intensity of the hug, and the proxy hug, in which you delegate a person to pass along a hug when you’re not able to be there. None of these seem really conducive to the 20-second, made-for-thriving hug.

But, on some level, we know that hugs are therapeutic. Oxytocin or whatever, they make us feel better. Lots of hugging goes on at support and 12-step groups, and people who go to those daily might indeed make their recommended quota.

I go to private psychotherapy, however. I’ve never hugged my therapist, and am not even sure whether it’s appropriate for therapist and client to hug. It would be awkward to ask, “Can I have a hug?” only to hear, “No. That’s unethical.” But I suppose it depends on the therapist and the client and how each feels about the subject. I know sex is unethical, but hugs may be a gray area. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Of course, there are people who do not like to – or are afraid to – touch other people. Think Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. People who are aware of and skilled in responding to others’ body language may be able to see the little (or, let’s face it, large) cringe when one person sees another moving forward with open arms. If the non-hugger is quick enough, he or she can quickly stick out a hand for a hearty handshake, or the potential hugger will abort the hug and retreat to a friendly tap on the shoulder.

But there are people who will swoop in and envelop you in an unwanted embrace and maybe even air kisses with smacking noises. I suspect these would be more likely to shut down oxytocin entirely, and possibly release adrenaline instead in a fight-or-flight response.

As with sex, the safest route is to ask for consent – “Can I have a hug?” – and take no – “I’d rather not” – for an answer, without taking offense or pressuring – “Aw, c’mon” – and making things even more awkward.

Still, the best advice I can give is to be proactive about hugging. Say, “I need a hug” when you do. Ask “Do you need/want a hug?” when a person you know seems to be in distress.

Avoid hugging strangers, though. That hardly ever helps. At least wait until you’ve been properly introduced.

 

 

Guest Post

Beautifully Bipolar just resurrected an old piece of mine as a guest post. It’s on hiring and firing a therapist and you can find it here: https://notmydisabilities.com/2016/04/12/hired-help-janet/

Bipolar Basics for the Newly Diagnosed

If you have recently been diagnosed as bipolar, there are a few basics you should know. You’ll likely find them out on your own, but it might take a while.

So, here are some tips.

    1. Being bipolar isn’t necessarily a tragedy. It’s a chronic illness. At times it’s better, at others, worse. It’s not a death sentence and it’s treatable. You can still live a reasonably full and satisfying life.
    2. You need help. To live with bipolar disorder, you need a support system. Unfortunately, your friends and family may not be all that supportive. Fortunately, there are online support groups. But the most important parts of your support system, at least at first, are your psychiatrist and your psychotherapist. I recommend having one of each – psychiatrist for medication, therapist for talk or cognitive behavioral therapy, or whatever works for you.
    3. You will most likely need medication. And the odds are good that you will need it for the rest of your life. Don’t panic. After all, diabetics need insulin, usually for life. You may hate taking pills, you may hate the idea that you are dependent on them, you may hate the fact that they remind you of your brain’s difficulty functioning. But realize that meds will make your brain’s functioning less difficult. They are worth the hassle.
    4. Everyone is different. Everyone’s symptoms are slightly different. Everyone’s medications are slightly different. Everyone’s reactions to their medications are slightly different. A support group can help you with general information, but they cannot tell you what is ultimately best for you. Your particular symptoms and your unique version of bipolar disorder may well require different medications, in different amounts, than your friends. And you may have different reactions to them. Some pills have no effect at all on one person and are life-savers for another.
    5. Getting better takes time. Once you have your diagnosis and your medication, don’t expect to feel better quickly. Most medications for bipolar disorder take a while to build up in the body. Six weeks is not unheard of. Then your doctor may assess how well the medication is working, and change the dose or even the medication itself. Then you may go through another six weeks of waiting for the new dose or drug to take effect. Each case of bipolar disorder requires a medication regimen tailored specifically to the individual, and that often takes some doing.
    6. There are several different types of bipolar disorder. The two main types are called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is the classical bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic-depressive illness. Type 2, a more recently identified version of the disorder, often manifests as mostly depression, possibly with hypomania, a less severe version of the ups that accompany bipolar 1. Other forms of bipolar disorder are rapid cycling, in which one’s mood states alter quickly, even within a few hours. Another version of bipolar disorder is called mixed states. Mixed states occur when a person experiences both extremes of emotion at the same time – for instance, depression and irritability, or fatigue despite racing thoughts.
    7. The odds are that you already know someone with bipolar disorder, or at least some kind of mood disorder. One in four Americans will have a psychiatric or emotional illness at some time during their lives. Because we don’t talk about it, though, no one may ever know. Especially when the disorder is treated properly, a person with bipolar illness can maintain function in society and choose whether or not to share the diagnosis with friends and coworkers. Many people choose not to because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s a valid choice, but it cuts the bipolar person off from possible support and understanding from others who may share the disorder.
    8. Relationships can be difficult but not impossible. Relationships are difficult for everyone. People with bipolar disorder have relationships that are difficult too. The disorder may make the relationships even more difficult, especially when the family member or loved one or even close friend does not understand the symptoms, the medication, the mood swings, the anxiety or fatigue, or all the other facets of bipolar. The best cure for this is education. However, it may not be possible for a relationship to survive bipolar disorder, just as a relationship may not survive trauma, grief, addiction, infertility, incompatibility, meddling relatives, infidelity, parenting, or a host of other conditions. It may be better to look at all the circumstances surrounding a troubled relationship rather than automatically blaming bipolar disorder for difficulties.
    9. Learn all you can. Because bipolar disorder is so little understood by the public, because it manifests differently in nearly every case, because a person can be actively suffering or in remission, because a person may have any of the different types of bipolar disorder, because everyone is different – the need to educate yourself and probably those around you is essential. The more you know, the less you’ll panic when a symptom you haven’t experienced before suddenly hits. Rely on reputable sources. Medical, psychiatric, or psychological websites are usually the best. Support groups can offer much information, but the people in a support group may not be any more well-informed than you are. And there are lots of people selling “miracle cures” that can lure a person away from needed medication and other services.
    10. Keep trying. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s confusing. But bipolar disorder is something you can live with, and even something you can rise above. The secret is to keep trying. Keep seeking out therapy and friends who support you. Keep taking your medication, even if you don’t want to. (Stopping your medication without advice from your doctor can be dangerous, so don’t try that.) Be stubborn. When you feel like giving up, tell yourself that maybe things will get a little better in the morning. Hang in there. You may not realize it, but there are people who need you in the world, who need you to be functioning and happy, who need you to keep fighting the disorder.

Do you have any other tips for the newly diagnosed? Please share them in the Comments section.

Am I Ready to Stop Therapy?

I got my first hint that I might be ready to stop therapy when I realized how little I was going. Over the years I have scaled down from weekly sessions to biweekly.

Then I noticed that, effectively, I’ve been going only once a month. I’ve been forgetting appointments, showing up on the wrong day, oversleeping, feeling poorly physically, or having too much freelance work to do.

Of course, those could be signs that I’m in denial, that I’m resisting therapy, that we’ve hit a bad patch of difficult issues and I just don’t want to deal with them.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Here’s why.

I’m stabilized on my medications and they’re effective. When my psychiatrist moved away a few months ago, he left me with enough refills to last until this month and a list of other psychiatrists. My PCP agreed to prescribe my psychotropics if I lined up another psychiatrist for emergencies. I’ve done that, though I couldn’t get an appointment before March.

And that doesn’t alarm me. I don’t have the oh-my-god-what-if-my-brain-breaks-again panics. I don’t have the feeling that my brain is about to break again. I’ve thought about it, and I’m comfortable with letting my involvement with the psychiatric profession fade into the background of my life.

As long as I keep getting my meds.

I have more good days and I’m beginning to trust them. Oh, I still question whether I’m genuinely feeling good, happy, and productive or whether I’m merely riding the slight high of hypomania. But really? It doesn’t seem to matter very much. A few days ago I reflected on a string of particularly good days – when I accomplished things, enjoyed my hobbies, and generally felt content. And I simply allowed myself to bask in those feelings.

That’s not to say I don’t still have bad days. After a few days of hypomania, I hit the wall, look around for spoons and don’t find any, and require mega-naps to restore me. (I’m intensely grateful that I work at home and can do that. Most offices don’t appreciate finding an employee snoring underneath her desk. And my cat-filled bed is much more comfy-cozy.)

I still get low days too, but they are noticeably dysthymic rather than full-out, sobbing-for-no-reason, Pit-of-Despair-type lows that last seemingly forever. I know – really know, deep within me – that they will last a day or two at the most. And just that knowledge makes me feel a little bit better.

My creativity, concentration, and output are improving. I can work longer, read longer, write longer, take on new projects, think past today or even next week. I can trust my muse and my energy, if not immediately when I call on them, at least within a reasonable time.

I have trouble remembering how bad it used to be. Recently I’ve made connections with several on-line support groups for bipolar and mental health. I find I’m astonished at the crises, the outpourings of misery, the questioning of every feeling and circumstance, the desperate drama of even the most mundane interactions. They are overwhelming. But I realized that it’s been a long time since they’ve overwhelmed me. I recognize that I could some day be in that place again – that’s the nature of this disease. But I have a good support system that I trust to help me not fall too far without a net.

I don’t have much to talk about when I go to therapy. There are issues I need to work on – getting older, getting out of the house more, reclaiming my sexuality. But most of those I feel competent to work out on my own.  My sessions are mostly an update on what’s going on in my life at the moment, plus a recap of my recurring problems. But those problems are ones I’ve faced before and know how to cope with. I already have the tools I need and use them without needing a reminder.

So I’ve talked it over with my psychotherapist and I’m not completely quitting therapy, but I am cutting back officially to the once a month I seem to be going anyway. I know that if and when the bipolar starts giving me major trouble again, I can always call for an appointment or a telephone therapy session.

I’m not going to stop writing these posts. I still have a lot to say about where I’ve been, how I’ve got to where I am now, how things will go in the future, and all the many ways that mental illness affects society and vice versa.

You’re not getting rid of me that easily. I’m sticking around.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: