May is Mental Health Month, so – while I most likely will not post every day – when I post, the date will coincide with the letter of the alphabet from A-Z. Today is May 8th so we will focus on a mental health trait starting with the letter H.
According to this article from the National Institution for Mental Health, life expectancy in the U.S. has definitively increased. This should not be surprising, if we consider medical treatments, technology, and vaccines available today that weren’t in the early 20th century. The article states that longevity has increased “from 51 years in 1910 to nearly 79 years (81 years in women, 76 years in men) in 2010.”
Since I know my perception changes with my attitude toward any problem situation in my life, I’m often curious about how others deal with illness (in general, not just those with mental health issues). Does anyone know of the “belly laugh” experiment by Dr. Norman Cousins in 1964? It’s an amazing story. After returning from a stressful time in Russia, Dr. Cousins “was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen), which left him in almost constant pain and motivated his doctor to say he would die within a few months.”
Instead of giving up, Dr. Cousins dug deep. He watched humorous shows on TV and read funny books, comics, and so forth. He claimed that a mere 10 minutes of belly laughs would allow him two hours of sleep without pain when even morphine couldn’t help. Defying all odds, he was able to return to work full-time within two years! In 1979 Cousins wrote a book, Anatomy of An Illness, in which he shared the astonishing results of his experiment.
Though I can’t say that we all should try the doctor’s method, it certainly ought to give us pause. Although striving for more happiness to boost our mental health does not guarantee a longer life, it is said that people who are mentally ill tend to die at least 10 years earlier than their more healthy peers.
Let’s be honest. We all want/need to be loved. Newborn babies who are not held or touched, actually die. We all want someone to say “I love you and I always will. You are important. I’ll try my hardest to never let you down. I’m here.”
I’ve learned in the last four months that animals have many of the same emotions as human beings. That shouldn’t really surprise us. I mean, my previous dog suffered from pancreatitis, so we know they share at least one biological, internal organ as do we. But it is fascinating to read something like this: Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities between dogs and humans
A little over four months ago, I adopted a dog who had been through the hurricane in Flordia. So he most likely suffered PTSD, as humans do when we suffer something horrific. He lost his family and was moved from place to place to place until he came to live with me. I think intellectually I knew it would be difficult, but was terribly unprepared emotionally for all the emotions and behaviors he expressed that worried me. To be honest, three weeks ago I seriously thought about placing him with another owner, because I wanted a better life for him, and I didn’t think he could have that with me. I’m still in contemplation. Don’t judge me.
I’ve learned some things during this time with my little man (an affectionate nickname), some things that pertain to both anxious humans and dogs both:
1, Be patient. This is maybe the most basic and most difficult practice, patience. Things happen in their own time, and if we try to rush them we most likely will end up mucking it all up, left with feelings of frustration and irritation. PTSD is essentially a form of anxiety. There are all kinds of theories about a dog’s memory. Some people would say my dog has gotten over his anxiety, fear, skittishness, isolation, or whatever else. Others would say it takes a while to move from that feeling. Forgetting isn’t always easy for dogs. They remember when they’ve been abused. And how do we explain the reaction and memory of a dog who would completely knock down his owner and lavish her with kisses after she’s done a year-long tour of duty? Which bring me to number two.
2. It’s not about you. It’s rough not to take things personally when dealing with animals. Don’t we all have that picture in our minds of the lab laying his paw on his owner’s head, the man on his porch, complete with the breathless sunset? Ha ha. Yeah. It’s a beautiful image, but it’s not always that way, and even if it is, it takes work and patience. But maybe, like me, you’ve taken into your home an animal that mostly distrusts you (you think), but then jumps on you when you come home. It’s puzzling and sometimes heartbreaking.
3. It is what it is. This is a rough translation for “radical acceptance,” which means accepting what is in front of us completely, absolutely, without taking away or adding to. It means we stop fighting what’s real, and in doing so, we hurt less. We don’t hold on so tightly. We try to remind ourselves that nothing stays the same: good times don’t last, or bad, or complicated, or simple. They just are. Like a drowning person, we won’t survive our rescue until we accept the fact we’re drowning and someone has come to save us.
5. Be calm. I’ve heard it said, when “growing” a dog, that they often take on the personality of their owner. So if we are calm and happy, our dogs/cats might also become calm and happy – again, depending on the circumstance. So if we are Woody Allen stereotype anxious or worried, our animals might be the same. My mother always says to me if I didn’t have something to worry about, I’d make one (I’m worried that I’m not worried? lol). A happy medium is probably best.
7. Give yourself a break. I’m quick to judge myself’ and I assume I’m not the only one to do so. I’ve made many mistakes working with my little man Pookie. I’ve not always been consistent, which I understand is crucial for training. Sometimes I say, “Pookie, come,” in the happiest, cheerful tone I can manage. When Pookie sits there at the top of the steps musing his options, I say (probably a little louder) “Come on, Pookie!” accompanied by an inviting pat to my knee. Finally, I give in to “Pookie Stachura, come here right now. I mean it.” In which case he eventually comes. Or, when none of that works (he can be as stubborn aattention s me!), I’ll try waving my hands down the stairs, calling “Hurry hurry hurry!” Yet, he’s gotten away from me four times – three by just pulling hard, and one when he slipped out of his collar. Each time, my frantic “Pookie, come!”brings him back, where he sits, calmly, usually behind me.*sigh* My point is, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Puppies have the span of a gnat. Three-to-five minutes five times a day is the most to hope for, and that might even be too much. Ending on a good note, where he actually gets the command, is jackpot. Go easy. Keep it simple. And remind yourself that two steps forward, one step back is still one step forward. 🙂
This has been my first post in quite a while. I try my very best to supply information in a fun, sometimes funny manner.
“Change is inevitable We can depend on that. By letting go of our efforts to influence the future, we become freer to experience the present, to feel all of our feelings while they are happening, and to more fully enjoy those precious moments of joy.” –Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
So, you might think, as you read this, that bringing humor to the situation is insanity. But you know me and my sarcastic wit. Would you recognize me any other way? 😉 Besides, the alternative is too stupid to consider, and useless. Plus really, who doesn’t love a little Tina Fey?
But seriously, I have had such a hard time writing this (it’s been on my mind for a while), because I honestly don’t want to come off sounding pitiful, or elicit sorrowful responses, most of all. What has happened to me could happen to anyone–could happen to you. So please–don’t feel sorry for me. I’m here, I’m alive, and that’s a good thing.
It has not been the greatest year so far. Lol. First, I had to go back into a psychiatric partial day treatment program to get my bipolar meds adjusted. But what I learned shortly after I was admitted was that this therapist had noticed my hypomanic episode building since before Christmas. Why she didn’t say something earlier is still a mystery to me, but hey–at least she copped to it when my mom finally told me my agitation and irritability were getting hard to deal with. All of this explains why I had such a hard time decorating for the holidays last year. Seriously, I was like a slug, and even when I’m depressed it’s like my favorite time of year. I barely put up lights on the ceiling and yanked out the tree (with lights already on), no ornaments—voila. There. Be happy. Ha ha.
Psych partial started on January 25th. My psychiatrist there (it’s like you no longer have the shrink you had on the “outside;” this shrink, the one in the hospital, calls the shots) tried several different meds, at different levels, and suddenly—instead of hypomania, I started feeling incredibly depressed. Yeah, I know–I should have my own channel on Youtube, because my life is just that fascinating.
Then, I went home early from the program on February 13th, because my back and left leg were just killing me. All I missed was relaxation therapy, but you’d think it was chemical engineering, for all the tap dancing I had to do to get out of it. So I went home.
That night, I woke up in the wee hours freezing cold with my teeth chattering. Yikes. I can’t remember the last time my teeth chattered. So I got up, took my temp, and it was elevated; something like 101. (I’m not totally sure at this point; my baseline temp is 97. I just know I had a fever) I also noticed like a big cyst or something high up on my inner left thigh. I wasn’t too worried at this point. I took a couple aspirin, ran some hot water on a washcloth to lay on the cyst and went back to sleep under like 5 blankets.
The next I knew it was morning and I was in a sweat. Good. So my temp was down and the cyst had also diminished. But then, my fever spiked back up again at around eight. I told my mom I thought I needed to go to the ER, and she agreed.
Long story short, what started out as a simple cyst turned out to be necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. Yep. My WBC, which is supposed to be 10 or under, was 21, so I was admitted—instead of let go from the ER—on Valentine’s Day. I had three surgeries in four days in that most private of areas–whether you are a woman or a man–and spent eight days inpatient. Granted, I was on morphine, and much of the pain is now a blur, but still. My fever was up and down, up and down. They had me on I.V. antibiotics, three at a time (once I read a label, and it said 2,000 units!!)–like throwing paint on the wall–trying to see what would work. Finally the WBC came down enough that they could let me go with Amoxicillin for one week.
I had to have the surgical sites packed (with gauze) by home care nurses for at least two months, my surgeon said. So yes, I’m positive 2,000 people have seen my va-jay-jay at this point. I kept forgetting to charge an admission fee. I always meant to, though. At least I still had some self-respect. Just kidding. The nurses were so kind and gentle with my body and my heart. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to care for me.
Now here’s the best part. I saw my surgeon yesterday for our weekly checkup of the surgical wound sites, right? She was SO pleased with how well everything is healing. Everything has closed (from the inside out, to prevent future infection) at least halfway, in some cases more. In fact, I’m doing so well that she said I can say goodbye to the daily nurse care and she doesn’t want to see me again for a month. After that, who knows? That’s exactly five weeks from the day I was admitted, right?
What an incredible journey!! I wonder what the rest of the year has in store? Bring it on.
Amazingly, it’s been almost five months since I last posted to this blog. And I pay for it! LOL I’m not sure I still remember how to do it. Have I been through some struggles in that time? Of course, but you know what? So have you, so have we all! I’ve experienced some major triumphs, too. Do tell me yours.
Here’s another thing. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’ve really missed you guys. I’ve missed the camaraderie, the comments, the back-and-forth, and just knowing someone out there is reading silly things I’ve written.
You probably don’t know this, but there is a radio station out of Detroit (near where I live) which plays all Christmas music starting November 1st. Right? A little whacked, but I love it since it’s my favorite holiday. In fact, I was thinking of going to buy lights to put up around the ceiling. And, for the life of me, I cannot understand why it’s so important to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to put up the tree, even if it’s fake. Seriously?
Well, I won’t keep blabbing on and on. I read in a blogging book that the shorter the post the better (we’re all so busy these days!).
This will be my new schedule for posting: SU-T-TH-S. From now until just about Christmas I’ll be writing about trying to get my Christmas gifts crocheted in time. Yikes!
See you Tuesday. Until then, take care of yourself, and take care of each other.
In retrospect, this month-long challenge was good for me. I can still say that, even after the whining, complaining, staying up at night thinking about topics, taking forever to write, obsessing, worrying, and stressing so much that I made myself ill. I loved every haphazard minute of it. You bet I did.
But it all starts out the same way. It’s like “Oh, a challenge! Shiny, Shiny!” And then after a few days it dawns on me that this is a daily ritual and I made a commitment and all those other big scary words most adults should never have to hear in their lifetimes. See, I’m not good at commitment. I like to make a big splash in the pool, then grab my towel and walk away. I’m a good starter, so I need other people around me who like to finish. You know?
But I found that there were a few deeply disturbed individuals following my blog posts whom I simply did not want to let down. 😉 The more they stayed with me, the more it made me want to complete the challenge. I learned that I indeed had the stamina within me to complete things. I had completed NaNoWriMo twice before. But it seemed much harder to show up for a blog post every day of the week except Sundays. It says to your readers: You matter to me. I care about you, and I’m here.
And of course I learned even more about anxiety, which never hurts. 😀
This is a bonus post for the month. My schedule, as you know, is normally M, W, F, and Sun. But the Powers That Be, this was important to them. And helpful for us as well, I think.
I’m so incredibly nervous writing this, and at the same time . . . feels like home. I have been completely overwhelmed by the positive responses to my last blog post. Just–flabbergasted, truly. Those lovely comments came on the heels of a little over seven months of severe depression and severe anxiety, which brings me to why it’s been so long since I’ve posted.
So many times, when one grows up in an alcoholic family, or any sort of dysfunctional family, it becomes all about the alcoholic for so long, or about the person or sickness that draws the most attention from the family–not that they don’t each have difficulties, but the alcoholic or whatever stands out like a fresh pimple. You see? It has been true for me.
It is time now for my recovery to be about me. There is plenty to talk about just in my case, trust me. I have blemishes beyond blemishes. I even am an imperfectly flawed person, which I hope makes sense to some metaphorically-inclined soul out there.
Recently, as recent as last Friday, I was finallydx’d with bipolar depression and told I was in a manic episode (not hypomanic). I had only been sleeping maybe 2 1/2 hours a night, and I was unable to focus on anything; not TV, not reading (I had five books going at once, but had not finished a book through since Doctor Sleep at Christmastime, very frustrating for me, a book lover); extremely irritable; and easily startled awake from a catnap during the day.
My dazzling doctor gave me samples of a new bipolar med which is not supposed to cause weight gain (a big problem–get it? I crack myself up, truly). It’s called Latuda, and since it’s only about six months old, there’s not a chance my insurance would pay for it, and it would cost about a thousand bucks to get filled. Yeah. *respectful pause for that number to sink in*
I’ve been on it two days, and last night I slept 4 1/2 hours straight through. w00t!
There’s a lot more I have to say, about the last seven months, and a lot I want to say about the mental health care system in the U.S.A. and Michigan in particular, but I’ll stop here. I don’t want to bog you all down too much on my first day back in forever.