8 Frequently Asked Questions on Mental Health Forums

As someone who frequents mental health forums with the intent of helping people out who are in crisis, you’d be amazed at how many of the same questions we get, questions which can only be answered a certain number of ways. I’m not complaining, I understand completely, people are in crisis, they want help for their issue, it’s only natural.

However, it takes time for people to reply, and that’s precious time where a person is suffering behind a computer screen, waiting to hear what they should do about their issue. That’s a problem. To try to come up with a solution for this problem, I created a list of frequently asked questions, which I will share with you now…Read More Here

Catatonia

I sit on the ground, my breath rhythmic and steady. My breath is my sole attention, as I watch the world go by around me. My thoughts go by immeasurably slow. My breath is the only thing I can focus on. I am aware that there is a world outside myself, but it does not feel like a real world, I am withdrawn into myself like a hermit crab into its shell. My limbs are statues. All I am is breath.

The above describes my first catatonic stupor. A state of immobility or repetitive movements that can last anywhere from hours to years. I do not know how long it lasted, but based on the length of my other episodes I would suspect it was at least an hour. I would later be officially diagnosed with psychosis NOS, an inherently varying disease that includes many symptoms of schizophrenia. I have experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, depersonalization and derealization, and lack of focus to the point where I could not read a book, but the catatonia is still what frightens me the most.

What is Catatonia?

As mentioned previously, catatonia is an elongated period of immobility or repetitive movement. While catatonia is extremely debilitating, it is not, in itself, a disorder, rather, it is a symptom of an overlying disorder, often schizophrenia. People in a catatonic state may not react to external stimuli, or may suddenly become agitated or react to no stimuli at all. They may also maintain positions that they are put in, a trait called waxy flexibility, while others resist all efforts to be moved, called rigidity.

Catatonic Schizophrenia

Although removed as a diagnosis in the DSM V, the “Bible” of mental health, some people with schizophrenia acutely display catatonic symptoms. Formerly, these people were diagnosed not just with schizophrenia, but with catatonic schizophrenia. Note that not only do these people qualify for a diagnosis of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, etc.), but they also have catatonic symptoms as described above.

Treatments

Catatonia can usually be treated successfully with anti-psychotics, and in some cases benzodiazepines. Most people respond well to these drugs and will quickly come out of a catatonic state within a few days. Some people may require ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), and may even require regular rounds of ECT to stay out of catatonia. It is to be noted that ECT is not the horrible torture that movies often make it out to be. It is painless, and the movements seen during old time ECT is simply due to involuntary movements. During current ECT procedures, the patient is given a muscle relaxant to cease the movements.

Prognosis

Unfortunately, the prognosis for people with catatonia, in general, is not a good one. This is why I fear it most out of all my symptoms. According to one study, 14 of the 36 participants were in need of “continuous psychiatric care”, take from that what you will.

Conclusion

While I may have catatonic symptoms, which studies show makes my prognosis rather poor, and while my symptoms, as we speak, may be getting worse, I have not given up hope, and neither, I believe, should anyone else who has psychotic and/or catatonic symptoms. Life isn’t over till it’s over, and every life is worth living all the way through, even if the part of the path you’re on right now is in a scary forest with wolves all around you. One day after walking (or running) down that path for long enough you’ll come out to a field full of bright tulips, and the sun will shine.

 

 

Relapse

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things do not work out. Sometimes it’s something small, like not getting through that light coming up. Sometimes it’s something big, like breaking up with a long-time partner. Sometimes, despite taking medicine and going to therapy religiously, our mental health continues to deteriorate.

In the past week, symptoms have slowly begun creeping back into my life. The auditory hallucinations are worsening, and I’m now starting to see things as well. My cognitive symptoms are also returning, and I’m having small bouts of catatonia. So far, it is not as bad as my initial breakdown, but I fear it may become worse as time goes on.

My fear stems from two corners. In one corner, I am terrified of becoming sick again, and, more specifically, staying sick. In the other corner, I’m scared of going to the hospital. So great is my fear that I am planning to  suicide if it gets to that point.

I don’t want to write about this, and I’m sure most of you don’t want to read it, but this is my week to write an article and dammit I’m going to write one. I’d like to write about something nice, something to educate you or make you feel better about yourself, but I can’t do that this week. This is the only thing I can think about, and hence, it’s what this article must be about.

Tomorrow I see my therapist. After much deliberation, I have decided to tell her about my plans to kill myself. I’m not sure what’s going to happen after that, but I have a strong suspicion. That suspicion is the reason I am posting this on today rather than the usual Friday, before I go to my therapy appointment. If I don’t post my article week after next, you’ll know where I am.

I know I’m not the only one in this boat. I know there are more of you out there who are terrified of reaching out for help, or deathly afraid of the hospital like I am. I wish I could give you some uplifting pep talk, but I know from experience that there are no magical words that make everything better.

All I can tell you is that right now you are pulling a heavy wagon up a steep hill. The only way to get to the top is to get help pulling. Getting  down  that mountain won’t be a cakewalk either, with rocks and pitfalls along the way, but as long as someone’s next to you pulling, you have a chance.

I want to sincerely thank all of you who have, and continue, to read my articles. It really means a lot to me that you find it worth your time. I hope to write many more for you in the future. Thank you.

 

Joy

To begin this article, I would like to wish everyone that celebrates it a merry Christmas, and to everyone else, happy Holidays. This time of year is one filled with joy, wonder, and wishes. December itself is enveloped by this sentiment. I believe joy is something that is vital to all of our lives, and for not just one month, but for all of them. Joy is unbridled happiness, it is not hindered by logic or reality, in that moment, when you are joyous, nothing else but that emotion matters. Joy is pure.

I had an early Christmas present this year. It came in the form of a 37 pound black, white, and brown, bundle of energy named Jack. Jack was a shelter dog and had been there, much to our surprise (because of how sweet he is) for over 3 months. We immediately fell in love and brought him home. I bring up the story of Jack, which I’m sure must strike most of you as completely unrelated, because, as all dog owners know, there is nary a purer, more unadulterated source of joy than a dog. As a favorite show of mine (Limmy’s Show for those interested) said in one episode, a dog does not overthink things, he does not sit in a car going 70 miles an hour thinking “how is this possible?”, he just sticks his head out the window and enjoys the wind blowing in his face. That is joy.

Jack does not think about the 3 months he spent at the Humane society, in what surely must have been a terrifying experience. He does not think about the time he spent in a high kill out-of-state shelter, which I’m sure was much worse. He doesn’t think of the heartbreak he had to have experienced when he was adopted out for a week and then brought back because the owner “didn’t have time”. No, Jack does not think about any of that, Jack just runs around our half acre yard at full speed, trips, sending him somersaulted across the yard, gets back up, and keeps running like nothing happened with a huge grin on his face.

Jack is joy, and I think we could all learn something from him.

 

The Importance of Sharing

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As a lazy college student, I don’t get out too much. I don’t go to extracurricular events,  join clubs, rarely go out with friends…to be honest it’s stretching the limits just going to class. Knowing this, I hope the reader will be impressed that I actually got out and did something. Something that I found very frightening, but that instantly made me feel better after I did it. I told my story.

I have told you all my story before, but, in real life, never have I told anyone outside my family, close friends, and mental health professionals what happened to me over a year ago now. What tortured me for nearly 6 months until I finally got into the right psychiatrist and on the right medication. Last week I got a message about a group on campus called Active Minds, which was having an event in which people who struggled with mental illness talked about their struggles. I knew I had to go.

I can’t quite explain why I needed to go so badly. Perhaps I wanted to see that I wasn’t alone, as I had never met someone that openly had a mental illness before. Perhaps I wanted to inspire other people on the edge to make that push to get help. I’m not sure exactly why I had to go, but next thing I know I was emailing the secretary of Active Minds asking if I could come speak.

The moment I emailed her I instantly became filled with fear. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they didn’t think my story was that big of a deal? What if they laughed at me? What if they thought I was crazy? Still, I knew I at least had to try, besides, I never had cared what people thought of me.

The terror built right up until I walked into the door to the meeting. After meeting the people I was going to be speaking to my fear vanished. I knew instantly that these were good, kind people who would never judge me or think ill of me for telling my story. I knew I had made the right decision.

After a brief icebreaker, we all began telling our stories. It was truly humbling hearing  everyone’s struggles, and as soon as I heard them I knew I was not alone. No one had quite the issues I had, but some symptoms were definitely familiar to me.  Most importantly, I felt safe and supported.

Finally, the turn came for me to speak. I told them everything. About staying in my room for three days straight, about the voices, about wanting to kill myself, about almost getting hospitalized. I told them about the feelings of depersonalization I experienced, and my intense inability to focus that crippled my mind, and how I was originally misdiagnosed, causing me to suffer for even longer. I also told them about the good things, about my great therapist and psychiatrist, about how the voices and other symptoms are gone now, and how I came out of the entire ordeal stronger than ever.

It was a relief to get my story out there, and more of a relief to know I was not alone. I think it’s important for everyone, whether it be struggles with mental illness or just with everyday life, know that they are not alone. We all struggle, and with 7 billion people on this earth, you know someone else is struggling with the exact same thing. If you are struggling, please reach out for help, and know you are not alone. If you have overcome your struggles, please reach out to others who may be struggling with the exact same thing. Let them know they are not alone, let them know you are there for them.

 

Distractions

Anhinga

About a year ago now my illness first reared it’s ugly head. For a long time I was focused solely on my illness, and all it brought me for that long time was misery and strife. Eventually, I knew that I had to find an escape, a distraction. Without one, I would consume myself with worry and fear over my illness and what was to become of it…and me. Bird photography was my distraction.

Birds are beautiful creatures, able to escape this lonely world we live in and take to the sky. They are free and majestic, not tied to a place or person. But they are fragile too. In migratory birds, a few ounces of extra stored fat can mean the difference between life and death over the long journey. In other birds, a small mishap or crash can break fragile wing bones, and cripple the bird, taking away that beautiful form of transportation known as flight, a word which does not do the actual thing justice.

When I started taking pictures of birds, it was difficult, as many new hobbies are, to get a hold of exactly what I should be doing. My pictures were blurry, I was too impatient to approach the birds slowly, my hand shook (which was partly why my pictures were blurry). Slowly though, my photos improved, and the photo you see above, an anhinga, is one of my favorite shots.

Finding a hobby, or, more specifically, finding the right hobby, is difficult. But doing so offers much needed relief and fun, especially for those of us with a mental illness. Bird photography is my outlet, my way of releasing all the tension I have built up, of relaxing and enjoying myself. Everyone needs something that does that for them. Below, I have outlined a few tips for finding the right hobby for you.

  1. Think of where you are your calmest, or where  you have the most fun (e.g. the outdoors, in the garage, in the garden). Hobbies related to that place will probably appeal most to you.
  2. What job would you most like to have? Many of us have our dream jobs that just don’t live up to reality. Want to be an author? Write a book!
  3. What books or television programs do you enjoy? Like stuff about cooking or traveling? Then that’s what’s for you.
  4. If you could only bring one thing to amuse yourself on a deserted island (not a phone or video games) what would you bring? 
  5. Go to the store. Go to a sports, crafts, or music store and look around. See if anything pops out.
  6. Revisit old hobbies. Maybe have an old hobby you forgot about? Nows the time to pick it back up!
  7. Start out small. There’s no use investing tons of money into a hobby you don’t even know you’ll like. Start cheap and work up from there.
  8. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t great at it right away. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t learn piano in a day either. Give yourself time and don’t let yourself get down, remember, it’s supposed to be fun!