By Ruth Z. Deming, MGPGP
New Directions Support Group
“Conquering Depression & Bipolar Disorder”
A One-night Class given at
Upper Moreland (PA) Adult Evening School
Feb. 3, 2005, 7 – 9 p.m.
Willow Grove, PA 19090
Your mind is the most important thing you own: Your ability to think, to reason, to create, to feel, to love, to relate, to work. Let nothing stop you from preserving or developing the fine qualities of your mind. Recovery from mental illness is indeed possible, even in the smallest steps. By recovery, we mean that we acknowledge we have a mental illness, a disorder of the central nervous system, a condition that is still very much a mystery to scientists. Yet this condition can be overcome. Every day of our lives we use every available tool to maintain a healthy mind. This is the job of your life. It takes nothing less than your full attention and all of your effort. In time, it will become second nature. Print out these Keys to Recovery and add your own.
There are 2 kinds of people: Those who really want to get well and those who pay lip service to getting well. First, figure out which category you fall into. Be totally honest with yourself. If you’re not ready to get well, that’s totally okay. Perhaps in the future you will be. It is the great challenge of our lives.
Recovering from mental illness takes commitment and will power. We were dealt a tough deck of cards. But, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, It’s how you play your hand. These Keys to Recovery are how I played my hand. I have to say that just plain luck played a big part. I have also in the past year discovered that I can talk to God whenever I feel like it. And thank him for everything he’s given me, particularly the return of my mind. To remind me of God’s presence, I bought a beautiful mezuzah and hung it on my doorpost. And from my upstairs home office on a quiet street in Willow Grove, where my backyard maple trees press near my window, all sorts of birds fly by, including Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, so very beautiful, and of course the dear squirrels, who, I fancy, appear just for me.
“One day I woke up and found myself ensconced in the body of Ruth Zali Greenwold Deming of Willow Grove, Pennsylvana.”
What is mental illness? It is a state of mind in which one’s thinking, mood, and behavior, due to abnormal brain activity, cause abnormal emotional conditions of severe distress. Age range is from infancy through old age. Such distress often, but not always, prevents people from performing their major life functions, whether they’re a child, student, a wife, a parent, a member of the work force. Unlike other illnesses, mental illness is often invisible, not easily seen by others. It’s not like a broken leg where a person wears a “cast” displaying their injury. The injury of a mental illness resides within our thoughts and brain – in our emotions – and often goes unnoticed by others, except in extreme cases. Those who are close to us recognize our condition. To someone who has never experienced a mental illness, the emotional turmoil is indescribably terrible. Sometimes the pain is so terrible, the person is driven to suicide.
Think of yourself as a normal person whose emotions are exaggerated to the extreme. It’s estimated that half of all artists and poets experience emotional extremes, though I’d wager it’s far higher. Many people with depression and bipolar disorder write poetry. We don’t know why this is, but it is a curious fact. In the act of writing poetry, a person is in the present moment, using his or her gifts of imagination. He or she is intensely in that moment, perceiving herself, her mind, her body, and having, at the same time, an encounter with herself and her subject. Writing poetry or creating art is an affirmation of life. We are all in a state of polite denial that someday we will die.
We are always in a state of encounter: [… from readings by philosopher Martin Buber] …An encounter with our self… an encounter with another… an encounter with nature… an encounter inside an establishment such as a school or a place of business. All encounters, except those with nature, occur inside a room or an enclosure. Even we, ourselves, are enclosed within a room, that of our bodies. We really do not ever know who we are, as we are ourselves are enclosed in a room or an envelope or a carapace, whatever we wish to name it. The feelings of our selfhood are localized in our head, our mind. It is interesting to watch body language. We intuitively touch our upper chest when we speak of something dear to us, something evoking passion. The goal of a healthy life is to manage our being-in-the-world – our encounters, whether we’re alone, with others, with nature – with honesty, tranquility, fearlessness, and joy, while fulfilling our life functions. This is an ideal state. We are in fact always seeking the “power to be ourselves.”
Our bodies and our minds are always in a state of flux. We live in the temporal world, where nothing stays the same. We and the living creatures around us, whether people or cats or cows or mosquitoes, and even the objects around us, are constantly in a state of growth and of aging. Everything has a lifespan: people, countries, empires, buildings, ideas. There is no proof that anything exists beyond the temporal world. Those that profess an afterlife do so through a phenomenon called “faith.” It is a wonderment to have faith. People in dark depression must have faith that they will get better. They must have a person to pump “faith” into them. That’s what New Directions and your support system and your professional healers are there for: to provide you with faith.
When we write poetry or create art, we are present in the moment, as much as that is possible. It seems, while we are writing or creating, that time stands still. But eventually we put down our pen or our paint and the fantasy of eternal life vanishes. In the depths of our being, we realize, consciously or unconsciously, from an early age, that we are aging always and moving toward our inevitable demise. This keen knowledge causes poets and artists to question the meaning of life. In dark depression, our life may seem meaningless. And indeed to the global eye, there is no meaning. But to our human eye, man makes meaning of things. No life is meaningless. And it is a fact that every life affects those around him, and every action is linked to every other action, though it is an irony that people in depression cannot feel the connection and indeed withdraw from the connection that in happier days binds our gregarious herd-natured species together… as we all were on the evening of February 3, in a room with a clean blackboard, chalk and an eraser on the first floor of the Upper Moreland High School.
People with (and without) moodswings have the gift to perceive the preciousness of life and to create art out of it. Identify with artists as a way to relieve the societal-based shame of having a mental illness.
Here is how NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) http://www.nimh.nih.gov defines bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious but treatable disease of the brain. Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings from overly “high” and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression. Different subtypes of bipolar disorder, namely bipolar I, bipolar II, and rapid-cycling, are diagnosed according to the frequency and severity of these episodes.
Although many people with bipolar disorder can be helped by currently available treatments, including medications and psychosocial therapies, significant challenges remain. NIMH is dedicated to improving treatments for bipolar disorder and is investing considerable research effort in pursuit of this goal.
I want to emphasize the word “irritability.” Many people think “highs” refer only to the well-known energetic creative highs we read about. However, “irritability” and “anger” are cardinal signs of mania. This is very important to realize. One must also realize the difference between normal “healthy” happiness and anger and those emotions stemming from mania or hypomania.
People with bipolar disorder and depression have difficulty in processing their emotions. Anxiety, I believe, is the root of depression and bipolar disorder. That is my belief, based on my own observations about myself and others. I am no scholar, but rather an intuitive thinker. Many of us face the world with intense anxiety and don’t know how to comfort ourselves. Think of a baby in a cradle and how the mother comforts the baby and then the baby learns how to self-soothe. All of us with moodswings need to learn how to soothe ourselves or have others who can comfort us.
The most soothing of all things is the sound of another person’s voice. In times of trouble we must seek out a voice that loves and soothes us. It is a fiction that we must love ourselves first before we can love others. Rather, we must find another person to love us, to feed us love as a mother feeds milk to her baby, and then, fed with love, we can love ourselves and love others. A psychiatrist or a therapist provides a certain kind of love for us. Remember, there are many different kinds of love. But, unlike the Greek language, English has only one word for love.
Some folks with mood disorders have difficulty processing feelings of love. They can’t quite believe someone loves them.
Folks with mood disorders usually have difficulty processing anger. They may let anger build up inside them until they explode. Or, someone may say something to us that hurts our feelings and we may not know how to tactfully let the person know our feelings have been hurt. It is vital to learn how to successfully process our emotions, and release them at the appropriate time. Communication is another tool we need to develop. Work with an excellent psychiatrist or therapist to learn these vital tools. We are also very sensitive to rejection.
There are successful strategies that can be employed to learn how to overcome emotion-processing problems.
The course of the illness changes over time. It may be present in all life phases but many patients first exhibit symptoms that cause them to seek professional help when they are in their teens, or early twenties. Yet it is not uncommon for symptoms to appear later in life. Some people seem to outgrow their symptoms. If the brain can be injured, why can’t it heal itself? See the important website of Daniel B. Fisher, MD, PhD, a practicing psychiatrist diagnosed with schizophrenia. He directs the National Empowerment Center of Lawrence, MA, http://www.power2u.org.
Science is in its very infancy in understanding mental illness. We must keep a very open mind. The people with the most power in the country about mental illness – our psychiatrists – do not, in my opinion, have an open mind about our ability to recover, although I believe that is changing. A recent interview in the influential online medical e-magazine, Medscape http://www.medscape.com/ with the previously mentioned Daniel Fisher, may herald a new day in psychiatry.
As for myself, through a series of accidents, mishaps and just plain luck, I am only on one psychiatric medication: 1 mg. of Klonopin. However, this is me, and we are all different. I have also taken homeopathic remedies twice in my life, which were extremely effective.
At age 59, I no longer suffer severe moodswings, anxiety or psychosis, as I once did. The brain, I believe, once injured, has a capacity to heal itself. I am living proof of this and am happy to share my Keys of Recovery with you.
KEYS TO RECOVERY
Each and every one of these keys is vital to your recovery. Most important is the knowledge that Recovery from mental illness is indeed possible. By this we mean, in particular, that mood swings, can be stabilized through medication and lifestyle changes. And that a good quality of life awaits us all.
(All of the considerable medication changes I’ve gone through have been under the care of a psychiatrist. In the 21 years I’ve been under the care of one doctor or another, I’ve never tampered with my medication. That is because I always like the psychiatrist I am working with and trust his or her judgment.)
1. Find the very best psychiatrist you can. One who engages in eye contact and who listens. Pay out of pocket if necessary. Partner with your doctor. His or her expertise plus your astute input. The ideal situation is to hire a psychiatrist who both prescribes medication and does therapy. Note use of the word “hire.” The doctor is working for you. You have the power to hire or fire him.
It’s important to size up your psychiatrist on your first visit. If you definitely do not like him or her – and if you have an alternate selection – don’t go back again. Don’t waste a single moment on your quest for recovery. Your mental health is the most important thing in the world. I have been to many psychiatrists over the years. I have seen great psychiatrists and ones that are not so great. Who I may think is great, you may not. But one thing I’ll say is this: If I see a psychiatrist and don’t think he or she can help me – or I don’t like their attitude or if they fail to return my phone calls or emails – I never go back a second time, as long as I have another one waiting in the wings. Never abandon even a bad psychiatrist unless you have a replacement. At New Directions, we keep a list of Recommended Psychiatrists and Therapists.
As we know, the role of the psychiatrist has changed dramatically over the years. Their role has been drastically altered by managed care and they are not able to practice true healing in the way they were trained: meds plus all-important therapy. The “15 minute med check” is the worst thing that ever happened to the profession of psychiatry. It’s a ridiculous concept, doing a tremendous disservice to the patient. Doctors don’t like it any more than we do. Once, New Directions had a very fine psychiatrist, Bill Greenfield, come speak to us. He spent an hour ranting and raving about what managed care had done to psychiatry. His honesty was terrific.
So, if you are consigned to the 15-minute med check, make it work for you.
Also, if you’re in the “mental health system,” which means if you are a low-income person and see a psychiatrist through the County, you might consider doing the following, as one of our members did. Type up a brief history of yourself for your new psychiatrist. They are often pressed for time and some mental health agencies are in such a state of turnover, they don’t give you the same psychiatrist every time you go! Your own typewritten statement, put in your chart, will serve as a nice introduction to you. Keep it brief and compelling. Stress your strengths so you will pique the doctor’s attention and they will want to work with you.
Doctors and therapists enjoy working with people who are serious about wanting to recover. (As a psychotherapist, myself, who has seen hundreds of patients over the past 13 years, I can vouch for this! It’s a waste of both of our time if a patient doesn’t want to get better.)
Also, create your own version of a “mood chart,” detailing wellness or exacerbations of your illness in between doctor visits. Find correlations between life events that influenced your staying well or becoming ill. Then work with your therapist on strengthening your coping mechanisms to maintain wellness. See Step No. 2 below for more info on “mood charting.”
For those of you who have just been diagnosed, here’s how to find a good psychiatrist:
..Attend a New Directions Support Group meeting and ask Ada Fleisher or group members for a referral.
..Go to the DBSA website and find a psychiatrist listed there. (www.DBSAlliance.org)
..Ask your trusted family physician for a referral.
..Call a teaching hospital and ask for a referral.
Believe it or not, most people diagnosed with mood disorders see a family physician or internist for their illness, due to the American prejudice against mental illness. For the very best possible treatment, see a psychiatrist. They are specialists. When I worked as a volunteer receptionist at a general medical center last year, I asked one of the nurse practitioners what percentage of patients were on antidepressants. She said 20%.
In today’s world of medicine, we are in charge of our own healthcare. I have a folder I keep in my desk drawer labeled “Mental Health Treatment.” In there I keep all pertinent information about myself, including what meds I’ve been on and dates, receipts of doctors appointments. I write notes and stick them in this file.
We advocate for our own best health. We select a treatment team for ourselves made of the very best psychiatrist and therapist possible, (and any other doctors we see). Unfortunately, people with mental illness often also suffer from a variety of other health concerns. As head of the team, we constantly monitor how effective the team is, making changes as necessary. We learn not to put our doctors on a pedestal. We ask our doctor questions so that we can be a true partner in treatment.
Make sure your psychiatrist has taken a complete history of you (a “psychiatric evaluation”) – and that he asks about your family members, as well. As we know, many of our family members suffer from our own illness or related disorders, such as panic disorder, anxiety, alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling.
If you wish, consider being part of a genetic study to help pin down “susceptible genes.” Genetic research leads to better treatment for people with mental illness. My family and I participated in a study from the NIMH because I thought it would advance the cause of medicine and also because I thought it would be interesting to be interviewed. Interestingly enough, the very nice lady who interviewed me made an assumption. She assumed I enjoyed my manias. On the contrary, I have always hated them, which I discuss below.
Between doctor visits, it’s very important to write down questions or concerns that arise. Keep a piece of paper handy and add to it, like a shopping list. Then bring it in to your doctor. At the end of every psychiatric session, make sure all of your questions and concerns have been answered. Also make sure you come away from the office feeling refreshed. Always leave on an upbeat note. When I was feeling ill, my doctor would always reassure me, “I’m sure we’ll see an improvement with the increase in this medication.” That’s why I chose him for my doctor. He gives me hope! Hope is one of the most important components in getting better. By joining a support group you will be with people who will give you hope. Ask for it whenever you need it! It’s there for the asking.
2. Take the right medication. Ideally, it’s a good idea to become aware of every medication used to treat your illness. (See Medication Sheet at end of this brochure.) Realize that medication has unique results on every patient. This cannot be overstated. In this way, it is vastly different than medicine, for, say, an infection. Whereas antibiotics help nearly everybody fight off infection, a particular antidepressant will not help everybody fight depression. Your experienced doctor, through his or her expertise, will have an idea of what antidepressant will work best for you. Doctors usually have favorite medicines they prescribe because they’ve seen these meds work well on their patients. (We’ve heard good reports about Lilly’s new antidepressant Cymbalta, which hits 2 neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. www.cymbalta.com.] Information on just about all meds are available by typing in the name per the above. But, please, don’t get carried away and read all the side effects. Most people have very suggestible minds. That’s why the placebo effect works on 33% of all cases.
If you attend a support group meeting, you’ll note that people spend a lot of time talking about medicine and what works for them. It’s very important to talk about your medication and how it makes you feel, as long as you remember that not every medicine works the same for every person. Also realize that you may experience side effects that are unheard of for your particular medication. If you have tracked these down to coincide with the taking of the new medication, you are most likely correct: the unusual side effect is due to the medication. Some doctors simply refuse to believe this. They are being close-minded. However, you know yourself better than anyone else does. Never forget this.
Psychiatric medicines, unfortunately, are person-specific, rather than illness-specific. And that is the great challenge – and terrible frustration – of every patient: to find out what medication works for you. Keep in mind that most patients respond to medicine, coupled, if possible, to “lifestyle changes.” For example, if you are living with an abusive wife or husband, how can you possibly expect to feel good? If you have a job you hate, how can you expect to feel good? A “lifestyle change” is necessary. These changes are difficult, to say the least, and one needs the help of an excellent counselor, whether a professional or a wise friend.
If you are having undue difficulty in getting on the right medication, there is a center for “treatment-resistant” patients at the University of Pennsylvania under psychiatrist Jay Amsterdam. Call 800-789-7366.
Keep in mind that if a medication has worked for a family member, that is the best indicator of what may work for you.
Be aware of the importance of titration. Many medications need to be titrated, which means started or stopped – or upped or lowered – slowly. If not, the mind may react as if in shock, as if diving into a cold swimming pool. We’ve heard reports of terrible suffering if medication is not titrated properly.
Be aware of a fairly rare medication quirk called “paradoxical effect” whereby a patient experiences the exact opposite reaction on a med than expected. Again, this is not your imagination. Only you know how your body and mind respond.
When you go on a new medicine, keep a log. What I do is to write on a kitchen calendar: the day I started, the dosage, how I feel on a scale of 1 to 5, and any side effects. Also write down any stressors you were going through. It’s often a good idea to start a new med on a weekend rather than the day you go to work or school. Also, if your doctor is going on vacation, don’t start a new med unless absolutely necessary. You don’t want to call a substitute unless absolutely necessary.
New Directions recently had a guest speaker Erin Murphy from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She introduced a brilliant concept in mood charting – an automated mood chart. Go to http://www.advancedconceptsinstitute.com/.
The goal is to introduce our doctors to this idea.
Medication categories overlap, so don’t be fooled by the general category under which your medication falls. (Again, I’ve listed common medicines and categories at the end of this handout.) For example, “antiseizure drugs” used for epilepsy are helpful for people with bipolar disorder and are used as mood stabilizers: to stabilize mood swings or “ups” and “downs.”
Klonopin, best known as an antianxiety agent, is also an antiseizure drug. This is very important to know. Many psychiatrists have used it in the past to calm mania, in addition to its antianxiety activity.
Antidepressants not only help depression but also alleviate anxiety. And are also prescribed for chronic pain.
Just because a drug has been on the market for years, doesn’t mean we should disregard it. Lithium, for example, was the first mood stabilizer invented and remains the excellent drug it was in the early ‘70s. (It requires lab tests to make sure it isn’t harming the body.) The newer drug, Lamictal, is often used as a modern substitute for lithium and has far less harmful side effects on the body. It’s been used to treat people with epilepsy since about 1990, and, as we know, meds for epilepsy are often helpful for people with mood disorders.
The same applies to the older antidepressants, known as the MAO inhibitors, often tried last, due their dietary restrictions. They remain excellent drugs and should be tried in treatment-resistant cases.
Your doctor will inform you of the major side effects of all medications. I personally don’t read package inserts, as they are too frightening, but rely instead on the info given by my doctor. Remember, it is not only psychiatric medications that cause side effects. Most medications, unfortunately, do.
Also, don’t feel ashamed to take an antipsychotic. As one psychiatrist remarked, the term “antipsychotic” is an unfortunate one, and carries with it a stigma. Many patients fight taking an antipsychotic because they correctly say, “I’m not psychotic.”
We at New Directions do not promote the sole use of vitamin therapy, herbal remedies, meditation, or any other unproven treatments.
Be sure to get parameters from your doctor of medications you are taking. This means what dosage is it okay for you to take by yourself, without calling the doctor. For example, if you can’t sleep or you’re becoming psychotic, what amount of the drug is it okay for you to take on your own? Do not tamper with your medication without your doctor’s permission. If necessary, call a pharmacist or the emergency room if you can’t reach your doctor with a medication question.
Make sure your psychiatrist communicates with any other specialists you may see. All your doctors should be aware of who is prescribing what and how the drugs interact with one another. Your pharmacist is a valuable source of knowledge about this, as well as other medication questions.
Necessity of lab tests. Certain drugs require lab tests. Don’t allow yourself or your doctor to become complacent. Always get necessary lab tests. Unfortunately, psychiatric drugs – and other drugs – affect the body. (On a personal note, lithium decreased my kidney function to 38%, enough function, according to my nephrologist, to last a lifetime. It also altered my thyroid function, and caused diabetes, which I control through diet and exercise: “Tastycakes and lying on the couch watching Oprah.” Just kidding.
Be aware of taking certain drugs that may cause moodswings: steroids, allergy medicines, antihistamines, blood pressure meds. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but be aware of the possibility and monitor your moods when on them.
3. Get “talk therapy.” Find an excellent therapist. Good therapy is as exciting as going to school and learning new things. Ideally, your therapist should be communicating regularly with your psychiatrist.
Work with your therapist on the common issues of your illness. A partial list – which does not apply to everyone – includes: identity issues, separation from your parent, anger, anxiety, inability to see consequences of our actions, difficulty prioritizing, impulsivity, perfectionism, difficulty getting along with others, anti-authority, projection, self-absorption, blaming others, boundary issues, making commitments, trust, feeling unlovable, psychosis, suicidal ideation. Many of us are the product of infant and childhood trauma, including trauma in utero. When you attend a well-run support group, you will see that you are not alone in facing these issues. It feels wonderful to be able to speak openly and honestly with people, like yourself, who look just like anybody else.
Here’s a very important point. A few people who are correctly diagnosed with moodswings also suffer from head trauma as a result of accidents. Their minds work differently than your typical person with bipolar disorder. It’s necessary to get a proper history so we know what can be fixed and what can’t. This also occurs with people diagnosed with the terribly stigmatizing diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. It’s not the diagnosis that’s important. What’s important is treating the symptoms. Currently there’s a movement called “DBT Treatment” (find it on the web). I’ve heard mixed reports about its effectiveness.
Get in the habit of doing “reality checks.” For example, if you suspect you may be a bit on the manic side, check with your therapist or a trusted friend: “How do I seem to you? Am I a bit hyper or am I just feeling good because I just got a great job.” There is a difference between the urgency/pressure of hypomania and a normal “high.”
With good therapy, the above issues can be successfully resolved. The more we can work through our issues, the higher the probability of living a full and healthy life. As we get healthier, our medication needs will change and we may not need as much.
On a personal note, the type of therapy that helped me most is called insight-oriented therapy, or psychoanalytically-based therapy. You can’t imagine how I looked forward to my sessions! In therapy, my psychiatrist and I examined various perceived traumas and worked them through. It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever done: getting to know myself! And then of course I went on to become a psychotherapist myself and helped other men and women discover what went wrong and how to fix it. It was and is enormously gratifying!
Learn to accept your illness. People with mental illness are perceived in America as being in a lower social category. This is an unfortunate fact of life. Be cautious about disclosing your mental illness to others.
Being labeled “mentally ill” makes most of us feel inferior or different than other people. Realize that everyone in the world has some form of mental health problem. Think about it. No one is perfect. Even doctors or lawyers or teachers or business people get anxious or angry or have memory lapses.
In ancient days, people with mental illness were regarded as gifted people: seers, prophets, artists. The artist, for example, has a different mentality than the average person. Many people with mental illness are artists. Ally yourself with artists – composers – musicians – inventors – poets – sculptors – the saints. John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway both won the Nobel prize for Literature and suffered from intense mood swings. The great William Faulkner, unfortunately, suffered from alcoholism. And of course John Forbes Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economics and suffers from schizophrenia. He no longer takes medication for his symptoms and says he deals with them through cognitive means. He learned to recognize them as “symptoms” and not reality.
The above individuals possess a different vision of life than other people. Without this vision, mankind can’t survive or progress. They are visionaries. Take pride in thinking differently, in your own uniqueness.
We are also asking you to look at yourself for “Who I Am,” rather than from the perspective of “What The Illness Makes me Be.” A person who hears voices telling them what a terrible person they are or that they ought to kill themselves needs medication to quell the voices, and also needs unending encouragement from their psychiatrist and support team to allow you to know “You are a fine, good human being. You are not your voices.”
The same is true for many people with depression. During our depressed phase, we may hate ourselves and feel that our life has been futile. This is a terrible feeling and must be put into perspective. When feeling terrible, make use of a Compliment Page (see below) or a “Reason to Live” book, where you list all the reasons to stay alive, including photos of loved ones. Stay in touch with your support team. Talk with a special person at least once a day.
3. Educate yourself about your illness and your medication. Learn as much as is necessary. Our illness may make us feel powerless or out of control. Counteract these feelings. Knowledge confers a sense of order and control.
4. Develop and assiduously follow a daily routine. This is easy if you work. If you don’t, or if you are between jobs or on disability, it’s imperative to buy a daily calendar and write things down. Review your calendar before you go to bed and when you get up. You need a clear plan of action for the day. Empty days are the ruination of people in depression. If you have a tendency to stay in bed when depressed and ruminate, remember this: As soon as you get out of bed and start moving, your negative anxious thoughts will decrease as you get involved with the needs of the day. Even though it is difficult, get out of bed as soon as you can and start moving. It is a curiosity that when the depressed person is lying down in bed – in the supine position – our thoughts are at their worst, and we succumb to painful rumination. Find ways to get out of bed. Have a friend call you and talk you out of your bed. This is very effective. In fact, someone should invent an automated telephone message, (like the automated mood chart) – using your name, to get you out of bed. Again, the sound of the human voice is all-important.
Have a sheet of paper called your “To Do” list. Our minds can be a jumble of whirring disorganization. By writing things down, we free our minds of the chaos and create order and feel more in control. Like a shopping list, write down everything you need to do during the day: post office, laundry, dishes, visit mom. As you accomplish each task on your list, cross it off. Take a look at all you’ve accomplished and feel proud of yourself!
Journal. Again, if you’re going through a hard time, get your “bad thoughts” out of your head and onto paper. During the rough early years of my illness, I filled loads and loads of diaries with painful words. I would write before I went to sleep, but rarely ever read them back. It was simply a very pleasant and easy way for me to cope. Many people have journals in which they draw pictures as well.
5. Rely on scheduling “external events.” If you don’t work or are between jobs, leave home at least once a day. Make a point, shortly after waking up, of literally setting foot outside the door, if only for a moment. Do this as needed throughout the day to keep you from entering “stay-at-home/isolation” mode.
Most important, though, is to schedule “external events.” While it’s fine to take a walk or go to the library, these are “soft events,” requiring your own “will” to motivate you. When we’re well, motivation is no problem. But when we enter a depressed state, motivation is far more difficult. The key here is to schedule appointments outside the home – “external events” – with a set time and place, such as a doctor’s appointment, a lunch appointment, volunteer job, making a bus or a train, taking an adult evening class, a book discussion group, to make sure you get out of the house. Be very strict with yourself. Use all your discipline to make sure you keep these commitments. One measure of good health is the ability to keep commitments.
One thing we notice with people who are recovering from depression is they often don’t notice small changes that indicate they are coming out of the depression. Other people often notice these things first. The scenario is this: The depressed person’s energy and behaviors change first, before the person’s mood actually lifts.
The individual needs to be told they are improving, as they often aren’t capable of perceiving it themselves. Again, they are hungry for hope and feel so happy when told they are getting better.
6 “Compliment sheet.” Many of us with bipolar disorder or depression have such low self-esteem that in a “down” moment, we may think “I’m a nothing, I’m a nobody.” In those times, we need to bolster ourselves up. When people who matter to you give you compliments, write them down, and have them handy to read when you’re in a funk. You may also have a special drawer or bulletin board where you put things that make you feel good about yourself. Utilize these important tools!
For me, a compliment sheet was one of the most important keys to my recovery.
As are affirmation cards. Or “Goal Cards.” I have used these since I was first diagnosed and got the idea from a guy I used to play volleyball with. He was very serious about self-improvement and told me about the concept. What you do is take an index card and write down your goal. In the act of writing, you are focusing your mind on your goal and embedding it in your unconscious, a form perhaps of self-hypnosis.
“I will finish the Keys to Recovery by midnight.” Then I will persuade someone to load them on the website. With all my connections, I can’t keep a webmaster! Even my own son, who has a high-paying job in which part of his duties include maintaining an internal website, doesn’t have time for his old mum!
If I can get this darn thing onto the web, I shall consider it one of the great achievements of my life.
7. Your living environment should be filled with things that make you happy. My house is filled with my artwork – one of my favorite pieces is a hanging construction I made out of PVC pipes I bought at Home Depot, cut with a hacksaw – and also “Memorial to Village Green Apartments” where I used to live – there was a terrible explosion that destroyed the lives of 8 people, including 2 people I knew. I’m also a clay sculptor and make tiny sculptures out of clay. All this artwork was instrumental in my healing, of course.
There is nothing in my house that I look at that makes me unhappy. Also, in the winter, I keep on all my lights as soon as it starts getting dark. I don’t worry about wasting electricity. Light is very important to us and we should soak it up.
In fact, an important recovery key is to dress for the day, even if you have nowhere to go. Wear clothes that make you feel good and look good. If you wear pajamas all day long it will make you think, “Look at me, still here in my PJs, while everyone else is out and about.”
8. Learn your triggers. One of my strengths, when I used to become manic and psychotic, was that I could always tell when it was on its way, and I’d take an antipsychotic to stop myself from going into true mania. Recall the last time you were manic, and how your mind felt before you went into psychosis. There are signs along the way – signposts – and they should be heeded. Think back and track down the warning signs.
Many people assume that people love being manic. I can’t stand it because I don’t like being out of control. I do sip on wine or beer because I love the taste, but I never become inebriated because, again, I like being in control of myself. I also carefully monitor my caffeine intake as it also inebriates me. “Drunk on coffee.” How’s that?
Once we become psychotic, there is usually no stopping us and we are beyond reasoning with. So, again, examine how you were feeling the last time you were psychotic, write down the triggers, and work with a therapist or psychiatrist on stopping psychosis before it gets started.
As far as depression, this, too, can sometimes be averted. For example, if you are working and know that your company is downsizing and your job may be affected, start sending out your resume immediately and have another job waiting for you.
The best source for finding a new job is through networking.
9. Develop a strong support network. Include family and friends whom you trust. Join a support group and talk to other like-minded people. You won’t believe the thrill and comfort of coming to a New Directions Support Group meeting and talking to people who look totally fine on the outside but are experiencing the very same grave problems we are.
10. Pursue relationships that are loving and positive. Know the paramount value of having at least one friend with whom you can share anything you wish. This is the most important element of life: Confiding in someone and being understood. This certainly applies to your psychiatrist and your therapist. But in particular it applies to peers to whom you can tell anything you choose and who totally understand what you’re talking about. In fact, that’s what I say when I get phone calls. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I used to get psychotic. Or I used to feel suicidal.” A former patient of mine called me the other day – he chooses to keep in touch with me – and was furious about something that happened in his life. “Go ahead,” I said, “get it out of your system,” and he ranted and raved about what was the matter. After talking to me, he calmed down, we discussed a strategy to solve the problem, and later that day he left me a message that the problem had solved itself on its own. But he needed to get his anger out and I was glad to be there for him. He was doing the right thing in calling me: he needed to process his anger to someone who understood.
By telling our stories to the right people, we learn how to process our emotions correctly.
Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself, who are loving and who appreciate you for who you are. We thrive on being complimented. Doesn’t it feel great when people compliment you? There is nothing wrong with asking for a compliment. Some people are so self-centered – or so withholding – they don’t realize the importance of complimenting others, particularly at work. I was just talking to an architect friend of mine yesterday who got hired at a new firm where people appreciate him and it’s made all the difference in his once-flagging commitment to his chosen profession.
Also realize that some people you love are never going to compliment you. Stop expecting it. We’ve heard horror stories of group members trying to gain the love of a relative up until the moment the relative died! Go after love where it’s available.
It is extremely important to limit the time you spend with friends or family members who put you down, tell you what to do, are harsh and critical, make you feel guilty and give out negative vibes.
Some people live for the approval of others. This is ridiculous. True mental health – true freedom – is living life for yourself and yourself only, except in the case of a mother with young children, and then, if possible, she should sacrifice part, but not all, of her life for her young child. Also, all relationships require compromise, whether marriages or friendships.
Good relationships are the basis of all success.
Also, many people have friends who engage in self-destructive habits, such as drinking, using drugs, or gambling. Use caution and common sense when you’re with them. Also, if you’re a woman, avoid the temptation of having sex with men to boost your mood or self-esteem. This is an extremely important point, whose final outcome is unwanted pregnancies.
Work with your therapist on making friends.
Some people with bipolar disorder or mental illness have difficulty making friends. If you want friends but can’t make them, find out why. Many of us have a core belief that we’re unlovable or that nobody wants to be our friend. This is an erroneous thought. On the other hand, we do need to ask ourselves and do a reality check on, “How do I come across to people?” A few of us may indeed be so inadvertently obnoxious or self-centered we drive people away. If that’s so, take responsibility for it. Be honest with your therapist or a close friend and get feedback. “Yes, you DO come across as a little overbearing” or “Yes, you do seem to focus on yourself too much and not enough on the other person.”
A tip on making friends. I happen to love to talk to people. People never believe me when I say I once had social anxiety, thought I was unlovable, boring, and couldn’t string a sentence together. Part of this was due to my medication, which did affect my ability to speak. (Remember, medication affects our whole brain and affects every part of us: our appetite, our memory, our sleep, our awakening, our digestive processes, our sexual libido, our eyesight.)
The best way to make friends is to say something nice about the other person. “Hey, I like your necklace.” Or, “Allison. What a pretty name. That’s the name of my favorite cousin.”
Select mentors and watch the way they behave and then: Be like them. Or select “Reverse mentors” – and don’t be like them.
11. Make a list of people you can phone to “cheer you up” in times of need. At the first sign of distress, move your muscles. (Thanks to psychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low, founder of Recovery, Inc. www.recovery-inc.com) Get on the phone. Or leave home. Do not allow your distress to escalate. Many people with mental illness have a streak of masochism. It is as if they are on the side of the disease instead of their own side. Talk to your therapist about this. And whether or not you engage in the terrible game of self-sabotage, so well highlighted in Dr. Abraham Low’s book “Mental Health Through Will Training.”
12. Learn to manage stress and anger through the help of your excellent therapist. One woman we know, who also happens to be a gifted therapist, has intrusive thoughts from severe trauma, which she interrupts by activating a loud mechanical toy: a miniature toilet that makes a loud flushing sound.
13. Stay active and involved at work, in volunteer jobs or in other meaningful pursuits. Don’t isolate yourself. Your health is contingent upon how important you feel as a human being. Do things that make you feel important. Small things count, like watering your flowers, taking care of your dog or babysitting your grandchildren.
The human mind is wired to keep busy and to use its innate talents. When we don’t, our minds can become lethargic and go into deep depression. This is tragic, but true. We realize it is not possible for everyone to work. But do your best to stay employed or to pursue things that keep you busy and involved, such as all-important volunteer work: We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
One important concept we learned years ago in a book by a forgotten author was to “become an expert” in something. Anything. Pick something you’re interested in – say, baseball – and become the biggest expert you can on baseball. It will help your identity. “Hey! Here comes Bob, the Baseball Guy.”
14. Practice a healthy lifestyle: Regular sleep – regular medication times – eat nutritious foods – exercise regularly.
Sleep is the core problem of our illness, says Kay Jamison, PhD, author of many recommended books on manic depression. Yes, protect and preserve your sleep. The National DBSA runs an important “Good Sleeping Campaign.” Check their website www.DBSAlliance.org.
Take the phone off the hook while you sleep or when you take a nap. I always do. I’m very protective of my precious sleep.
Eat right. Many folks with mental health problems suffer from illnesses of the digestive system. It’s very important to learn to eat right. Pay out of pocket, if necessary, and make an appointment with the Abington Memorial (PA) Hospital Nutrition Center. I lost 40 pounds while I was taking lithium, after a personal consultation with their department. Keep healthy snacks in your house and don’t buy tempting foods that will make you gain weight. In my refrigerator now to snack on, I have a bag of radishes, baby carrots, fresh mushrooms and a red pepper. I’m also loaded down with fruit. I’m very fortunate because I don’t like sweets, except in the form of fruit. In my beautiful gigantic fruit basket on my kitchen table, a gift from my son, who thankfully is dating a wonderful woman – we wouldn’t mind a grandchild or two some day – are: kiwi fruit (very high vitamin C), fat oranges (see Manet’s painting “Bar at the Folies Bergere”), crunchy apples and bananas. “A banana a day keeps the cramping away.” I don’t take vitamins because I prefer getting vitamins and minerals the natural way: through food.
Exercise is the most powerful mind/body strengthener there is. Think of athletes readying for their games. Exercise readies us for the inevitable stresses in our life and our especial vulnerability to stress. Move those muscles! Brisk walking is the easiest of exercises. You can do it anywhere. If the weather’s bad, go for a walk at the mall. Take the steps instead of an elevator. I use every opportunity I can to exercise. Last weekend, I went to see my daughter in Brooklyn. While waiting for the bus to arrive, I walked briskly up and down the street, getting in my power walk. Then I hopped onto the bus, sat behind the 25-year-old bus driver so I wouldn’t be bored, and got his life story. His father held a gun to his head when he was 5 years old. I got his permission to write about him on our website, which I’ll do when I have time.
If you can’t get out to a gym because of bad weather or because you’re an insufferable workaholic, turn up your stereo and dance to the music and get your heart-rate up. New story on www.Medscape.com is about the reality of “heart break.” Very interesting!
Mindfulness/meditation is also a powerful mind/body strengthener. Yoga is also great for the body and mind.
15. Seek spirituality. “Nature” – “literature” – “art” – “fishing” – are examples of spirituality. Have spiritual moments every day, throughout the entire day. Many of us are very spiritual people. I love looking out the window at my beautiful yard. It’s winter now and the snow is piled high and my backyard is like a nature preserve. There are always squirrels to watch on the branch, and I have a great view of the sky and all these trees. I can watch the sunset out my kitchen window and the colors are just spectacular!
Many people enjoy being members of a church or a synagogue. Many people find great comfort in forming a “direct line of communication with God.” Try it and see if it works for you. Oftentimes we hear people say, “It was God that got me through these travails. I wouldn’t be here without God’s help.” Utilize your own church or synagogue, if desired, and also as a fine place to volunteer and make friends. Many pastors or rabbis are of great comfort to us. The female minister of one of our members would come out to visit her every single day she was depressed.
16. Sublimate (creating good things out of adversity): Write poetry, do art, play the piano, keep a journal, dance, sew, sculpt. Utilize your innate talents even if you don’t think you have any. Think back to when you were a kid. What did you enjoy doing then? If you don’t have a creative outlet, keep your eyes open for something that appeals to you. Don’t worry about being good at it. Just do it.
17. Reach out to help others. People who have a mental illness have an extraordinary ability to help other people. We have a “sixth sense” about other people’s distress and are not afraid to reach out and help. This is one of the best ways to help ourselves. Make a practice of doing “Good Deeds.” They will make you feel good about yourself. You will also feel important that you have helped someone else. And will make this world a better place because of your good deed.
18. Develop strong Faith and Belief in your ability to recover. Enlist the aid of your support team when the going gets tough. When we’re down, we may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your cheering section will pull you through. Also, make sure your psychiatrist gives you hope. If he or she doesn’t, ask for it!
19. Realize you are more than just a person with a mood disorder or a mental illness. You are a whole person, whose love and gifts help make the world move forward. Every single person has an impact on another. The world is where it is because of the movement of each of its inhabitants. Sometimes when I’m stuck and don’t know what to do next, because, for me, there are so many things to do, I just let myself rest, until it becomes apparent what to do next. I think of it as getting myself back on the path.
20. Pursue the Wonderful! Be curious. Follow the side street and see where it leads. Enter the beautiful church you’ve driven by for years and see what the Sanctuary looks like. Yesterday I spent the day in Lambertville, NJ, with my favorite people in the whole world: poets and artists. I guess I’m one of them. What a supreme honor to be among them. It’s a choice I made.
Yes, life is swift. As one of the artist’s mothers – Esther – said to me, pinching me on the cheek, “You only live once.” Make the most of it while you’re here!
Thanks to the following people for their help in preparing this handout: my psychiatrist Laurence M. Schwartz, MD, of Abington (PA) Memorial Hospital; my friend and great psychopharmacologist and human being Pamela London-Barrett, DO; pharmacist Larry DiBello, RPh (call him with any questions about medicine at 610-543-2966); Wade Berrettini, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, for his help on the below-listed medication sheet, prepared in 2003; and Simon Baniewicz.
NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) – Your preeminent source of information about mental health/mental illness
NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) – The only “household word” for mental health advocacy. Click on their website to find chapters near you.
NARSAD (largest charitable organization for research on mental illness)
DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) – offers support group chapters throughout the country
TEC FAMILY CENTER, of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, helping families with mental illness
http://MHASP.org, type in “TEC”
NATIONAL EMPOWERMENT CENTER of Lawrence, Mass.
NEW DIRECTIONS SUPPORT GROUP, INC. of Abington, PA
K N O W Y O U R M E D I C A T I O N S
CATEGORIES OF MEDICATION
(The following is a partial listing of available drugs. Several new drugs have become available since the last update but are not listed.)
MOOD STABILIZERS (for people with bipolar disorder)
Lithium – Depakote* – Tegretol* – Trileptal* – Lamictal* – Zyprexa – Topamax* – Geodon – Neurontin*
Note: Some of these drugs are “anticonvulsants” used for people with seizure disorders. It’s been found that anticonvulsants also help people with bipolar disorder. We’ve indicated anticonvulsants with an asterisk.
ANTIDEPRESSANTS (for depression and bipolar depression; also helpful for anxiety and chronic pain.)
Basically, antidepressants come in two broad categories – the older drugs and the newer drugs. All appear to work with the same efficacy, but have different side effect profiles.
The newer SSRI’s – such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa, Lexapro. Action is targeted toward the neurotransmitter “serotonin.”
Other newer drugs – such as Wellbutrin, Effexor, Remeron, Cymbalta. Action is targeted to more than one neurotransmitter in the brain.
The older tricyclic drugs such as Tofranil, Pamelor, Norpramin, Anafranil. These back-up drugs are used in cases that don’t respond to newer meds.
MAOIs. Also older, used in cases that don’t respond to newer meds. Dietary restrictions.
Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax are the most popular. These are in the class of benzodiazepines. Ativan and Klonopin are antiseizure medications and are sometimes used to stop manias. Must be carefully titrated when going off these meds or may cause seizures.
Originally developed for symptoms of “thought disorders” in people with schizophrenia.
Also used to control symptoms of (1) mania, (2) psychosis in people with or without mania; and people in psychotic depressions and (3) aggressive behavior. May also be used as a mood stabilizer.
Like antidepressants, these drugs fall into two categories – older and newer.
Older antipsychotics include Haldol, Prolixin, Thorazine.
Newer antipsychotics include Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon and Abilify.
Clozaril was the first of the new generation of antipsychotics – it’s referred to as “the gold standard” – and is used primarily for schizoaffective disorder.
Author: Ruth Z. Deming, MGPGP, is founder/director of the nonprofit organization New Directions Support Group, Inc. for people with depression, manic depression, and their family members and friends. We meet for twice-monthly meetings at Abington Presbyterian Church in Abington, PA, drawing an average of 50 people per meeting. Ruth has a master’s degree from Hahnemann University in Group Process & Group Psychotherapy. She is also active in the poetry community and the political community of suburban Philadelphia. She lives in Willow Grove. As a mental health advocate, she gives community talks on bipolar disorder to lessen stigma, as well as teaches a class on Conquering Depression and Bipolar Disorder at the Upper Moreland Adult Evening School.
New Directions invites mental health professionals to come out to our group and sit in on a meeting to see what our lives are all about and how we successfully problem-solve to get through difficult times. We encourage our members to bond with one another and to call one another in good times and bad. We provide a list of Top Doctors and Top Therapists. With hard work, tenacity, faith and a boundless love of life, people who come to New Directions get better!
New Directions – and particularly Ada Fleisher and Bob Bendesky – were instrumental in a successful letter-writing campaign to get the station manager of NJ Radio 101.5 WKXW-FM to issue a weak apology for comments made by Craig Carton, a talk show host, and to implement public awareness announcements on behalf of mental health. This was all due to comments made by Carton about the wife of New Jersey Acting Governor, Richard J. Codey, who bravely disclosed she suffered from postpartum depression many years ago.
This is an opportunity to galvanize the mental health community. Shall we galvanize or shall we go quietly to the ovens?
February 13, 2005