*A blog reader asked to have my email address so she/he could ask me a question. It was a very important one and I felt it a good idea to post both question and answer here. It helped me see in writing what I do to help myself in staying well.*
thank you so much for sending me your email address
It is extremely hard to find people who truly understand our illness – I have so much that I want to ask you.
For now, I just have one quick question…
I have been working with a dr. and trying meds – as you probably know, it is a taxing process to find something that works. I am starting to lose hope that I will get to that day. I don’t know if you are actually taking any medication, but if you are , have you gotten to a point where something is working and making you feel better ?
Thank you for listening; hope to speak with you again!
It’s my pleasure. It is difficult for anyone to understand mental illness unless they have faced it themselves. Many times the doctors and therapists don’t even get it. Our loved ones try, but don’t understand either.
The nature of humanity is to assume we all experience life and feelings the same way. And that is completely wrong. One person looks out of their window and can see the beauty in the sunrise, the lovely sounds of a bird singing and the possibilities of the day. I will often look out of the window and my chest tightens with the tasks to be accomplished that I haven’t done yet, the bird’s song becomes a sound played incessantly in my mind over and over that I can’t make stop, and the day looms in front of me with all of the opportunities I have for failure and chances of disappointing the people around me. And all of this before morning coffee has been consumed…
I am not sure what your diagnosis is (or are); I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD and PTSD. I was first diagnosed in a ‘behavioral health hospital’ after a suicide attempt in November 2012 but I have known symptoms of some of these illnesses for as long as I can remember.
I was given only one medication while hospitalized and that was Lamictal (a mood stabilizer often given to those who are bipolar but in my case, my dr felt it would help me out of the deep recesses of the depression). I was offered Xanax and sleeping meds but I refused those because I was terrified to be incapable of defending myself if a ‘crazy person’ came after me in the hospital. It is funny how we perceive such places when the only exposure we have had is via movies and television shows!
Once I was released I began to see a therapist. I told her I was still feeling very depressed, just numb and tired on top of it. Therapists, not able to prescribe medication, recommended I ask my psychiatrist for an anti-depressant at our next visit as she felt that would be much more beneficial to my illnesses. I did and he agreed. He also again wanted to give me benzos (Xanax). However, I still resisted because I knew how addictive those could be and I had always avoided anything that would make me feel out of control (hello OCD).
I started to feel the benefit of the 75mg Effexor XR immediately (anti depressant) but still felt tired and numb so I stopped taking the Lamictal on my own. Cold turkey. I DO NOT recommend that but I knew I wasn’t bipolar and I needed to get some of my energy back.
I told my psychiatrist what I did at the next visit and he said, “oh I forgot I had you on that. Yeah, good idea.” This was the same man who was more interested in talking about my marathon experiences than my health at each visit, so I switched psychiatrists.
My new doctor increased my dosage of anti-depressant (150mg Effexor XR) when I told him I was feeling low again and also better explained how having Xanax on me for “emergencies” would help with my extreme anxiety, which I had NO idea how badly I suffered from until I felt some relief from it for a few hours! I often found myself extremely irritated and uptight when I was in the mall or crowded grocery store and tried my first (.25) pill before a trip to the store. What a HUGE difference that made. I now have .5 of Xanax on hand at all times if I feel an anxiety attack coming. I have never had what I feel is a panic attack but that has helped me immeasurably in difficult, loud, chaotic situations.
Other non-medication related strategies that help me with my illnesses are; exercise (I really believe running has saved my life), sleep (no less than 7 hours a night), one day of no obligations and relaxation a week (Sundays are my favorite days) – I do not schedule client appointments, answer work emails or phone calls or volunteer for work related activities on this day. No obligations / no exceptions or guilt allowed. This is for my health and I get that now.
Which brings me to my work/career duties and obligations. I used to literally sacrifice my self, time with my family and health for my career. I’d work 70+ hours a week, exhausting myself hoping to find self value in basically creating a martyr out of myself. There were no awards for doing this to myself. True, I did move up the ladder quickly. (I was the youngest manager ever promoted to executive level at 23 years of age in my company) however, eventually this intense level of functioning cost me my health and almost my life. I do not do this to myself anymore. I do my best for my job and clients during working hours, but I know when to say when, have learned to not feel guilty for saying ‘No’ and amazingly enough, still am doing well in my position. I have made it known that I will walk away from anything that I feel compromises my health and my life and I have found a ton of support and acceptance in this. And of course, there are still ways to go above and beyond for clients and employers without self sacrifice. Time management and strong lines drawn between duties of the job and quality of life is important. And NO ONE will do that for you. You have to care enough about yourself to do it.
And I volunteer. Find something you are passionate about and help in any way you can. We all have been blessed with unique talents. Use them.
I hope you find some of this helpful. And I wish you a healthy future! It takes work…but you are worth it!