Tag Archives: mental illness

Robin Williams: Let’s Start the Conversation

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Robin Williams Quote. True. true words. "I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that you make you feel all alone."

This morning, as I was watching one of the many tributes to Robin Williams on television, my daughter asked me how he could be depressed if he was a famous actor. She is 9. And while that may sound like a 9 year old question – I am hearing similar comments made by adults today. The DJ on the radio right now is confused because “Williams had plenty of work” (4 movies due to come out yet this year). I have heard some say he is selfish and weak and ungrateful for his lavish life.

“Depression doesn’t care who you are, honey. It is an illness that can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how big your house is. You can have millions of people who love you and still have depression. It is sad and scary. But there is help and many ways to treat it. Most people with depression can live normal lives – it doesn’t have to be hopeless.”

I don’t know if my answer was appropriate – I tend to be as honest as possible with her.

I have been very open about my struggles throughout the years. So open, in fact, it has made others uncomfortable. I have lost friends due to my outspokenness about my anxieties. My mother was never very happy with my openness, a little embarrassed, perhaps. I am certain I have not been taken seriously when it really counted in the Dr’s office because of me not hiding my anxiety in the past. While dating, I was dumped a number of times because I admitted to these issues. There certainly are consequences to sharing experiences such as these. So much stigma still remains when it comes to mental illness.

Even with all I have mentioned, it hasn’t stopped me from talking about it. I refuse to be ashamed of something for which I have no fault. I refuse to be silent because it might make someone uncomfortable. If I have a friend, relative, doctor, etc. who cannot handle my honesty – they are clearly not a person I need in my life.

I have never wanted to end my life. Not really. I may have had fleeting thoughts out of pure exhaustion and frustration. But never could I cause my own death. And I am very grateful that my depression/anxiety isn’t on that level. Yes, I have lived with this for most of my life. And there are times when it has been worse than others. So I do understand it. I can imagine that feeling of no other way out. I can imagine being so depleted of all energy. I can imagine no longer having any fight left within.

We hear all of the time – Cancer Sucks. There are 5ks, ribbons, Facebook games, telethons. You can’t go anywhere without seeing pink breast cancer paraphernalia all around. But how often do we hear about suicide awareness or mental illness charities? Why are people who are plagued with depression or OCD or bi-polar considered weak while cancer patients are considered warriors?

Here is a post I made yesterday on Facebook:

When you see an addict – picture their bandages because their using is almost always an attempt to self medicate. When you see someone with a mental illness – picture their wounds because they are as real as anything visible. Stop seeing mere weakness because there is nothing weak about being sick. What is weak is how society views and deals with these very real diseases.

Many of us grew up watching Robin Williams. He was an American icon, a fantastic actor and an electric comedian. He brought happiness and laughter to countless people around the world. And he was a true humanitarian. The loss of his life have many in a contemplative space today. The sadness is almost tangible. And it kind of upsets me that it takes such a tragedy to get people talking about something we should have openly dealt with long ago. But it is better late than never and I truly hope that, if nothing else, this horrible situation will open the eyes of family members, politicians, physicians, media and those suffering.

Stop the silence. Stop the stigma. Speak up. And speak loud.

For information on getting help for yourself or a loved one, please visit:

 http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline

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Stinkin-Thinkin-itis

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Cognitive Distortions. A concept which seems so simple, yet I have never even heard of it or thought about it until a couple months ago. My therapist – who really is great, by the way – has gradually mentioned it over the course of my treatment recently. Yesterday she told me that my distorted thinking is causing her concern. She said I seem to grasp onto this way of thinking like a crutch almost. As though it is something I need. Through sometime in my life I continued to grow physically and intellectually but not emotionally. That led to these distorted thoughts which are leaving me in this rut seemingly unable to crawl out.

I have asked her in the past if she thought I had bi-polar or a personality disorder or even OCD. She doesn’t seem all that into labeling…but the answers were all a certain no. It has always been known I have depression – since about age 12 if not sooner; anxiety – probably as long but didn’t get BAD until my early 20s; PMDD – from also about 12ish…but I just figured it was normal for all women and didn’t have a name for it (besides PMS…which is different) until about 6 years ago. So, these are what I have known myself to “have”. These have been the reasons for my having been on medications here and there throughout my life. These were something which was a part of me – an illness – that was takin’ my ass down sooner or later and one way or another.  So, simple enough…therapy and drugs, right? Seems the thing to do. But for 25 years?

This idea of ‘distorted thinking’ has really been an eye opener. But also, it is making me question what is REALLY wrong with me. Perhaps the depression, the obsessing, the worry…all of it…is caused by this ‘stinkin’ thinkin”. And perhaps without these silly thought problems I would not have this depression or a need for treatment. Maybe it really IS all in my head – an argument I would have fought against mere months ago.

I am going to paste something from an article I recently read by John M. Grohol PsyD.

15 Common Cognitive Distortions

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

 

What’s a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them? Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

For instance, a person might tell themselves, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized) thinking. The person is only seeing things in absolutes — that if they fail at one thing, they must fail at all things. If they added, “I must be a complete loser and failure” to their thinking, that would also be an example of over generalization — taking a failure at one specific task and generalizing it their very self and identity.

Cognitive distortions are at the core of what many cognitive-behavioral and other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’,” a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will slowly diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.

Cognitive Distortions

Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.

1. Filtering.

We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.

(there is no doubt in my mind that this is an issue for me. i think anyone who knows me would say it is pretty obvious. someone can read one of my writings and say it is great…but that they would just change this one little thing. Well, I will focus on that one little thing and feel bad about that instead of the writing as a whole.)

 

2. Polarized Thinking.

Things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure–there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

(oh hell yes. me to a friggin’ tee. black or white. right or wrong. all or nothing. win or lose. its funny that i was going to name my son Grey when there obviously isn’t much room for the shade in my life. as a kid, if I couldn’t play a sport well the very first time, i would give up forever. in high school, i didn’t make the school play – even though i thought i did well at the time – so i never tried again. if i’d ruin my diet by having some cake, i would say fuck it and eat like a cow for the entire weekend.)

 

3. Over generalization.

We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

(as much as i hate it when others or an entire society does it…i have to admit, i do it as well. with people, situations, events…if one was bad or mean or anxiety provoking – they will always be that way…oh and there is another one…’always’. always, never, every and none. oh my.)

 

4. Jumping to Conclusions.

Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us. For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them and don’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.

(oh. my. god. seriously? will i be checking a YES mark to every one of these?? i always called it my intuition – which really is quite keen. but it also sucks because i don’t always know when it is my intuition or the distortion. how will i be able to tell? if someone gives off a bad attitude, i will typically think it must be because they don’t like me.)

 

5. Catastrophizing.

We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).

For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).

(now catasrophizing is something i have been aware of for a number of years now. between the ages of 23 and 30, i had the most debilitating panic attacks. just horrible. towards the end of this time my husband did probably thee nicest thing he has ever done. he stopped at a book store, on his own, without request, very much out of his element lol…he bought me a book that ended up helping me unbelievably. it was called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. i believe there was a whole chapter about it and boy could i identify. every headache was an aneurysm, every chest pain was a heart attack.)

6. Personalization.

Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to us. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc. A person sees themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that the were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t’t have happened.”

(i think this kinda tags along with the ‘jumping to conclusions’ one in some ways. in others, i am all over this. i compare myself to others constantly. people i know, strangers, people on tv. regardless of the topic, the surroundings, the circumstances – 99% of the time, i don’t even come close to measuring up. this is especially true in the looks department. but also with success, creativity, talent, mothering…)

 

7. Control Fallacies.

If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”

(this is also part of that wanting to please. my dad, when he was in my life as a child, would often tell me to stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ all of the time. i said it annoyingly too much. another often heard phrase from me, ‘are you mad at me?’ if i sensed any tension or noted any negative behavior or emotion i would worry it was something i did wrong.)

 

8. Fallacy of Fairness.

We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us, “Life is always fair,” and people who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it.

(this could likely fall into my obsessive need for justice. why i may always get so angry when i hear about scott walker or witness any kind of bullying. i get angry, frustrated and feel the need to FIX it. and when it is too big of a mess, i will just feel defeated. this is how i feel now about the whole political thing. for a while i thought i could do something…help in some way. now, i just feel defeated.)

 

9. Blaming.

We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.

(yes. i do this. doesn’t everyone?? anyway, while i have been known to behave this way…i can also say that i forgive just as easy as i blame. is that good for anything?)

 

10. Shoulds.

We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’t’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.

For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.

(i think it is super eerie that that the author took some of my direct quotes…said over and over and over…)

 

11. Emotional Reasoning.

We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

(again, you mean not EVERYone is this way?)

 

12. Fallacy of Change.

We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.

(this has been true only a handful of times. there have been some extreme circumstances where i so desperately kept trying to change a person. actually, one person in particular. but i never…say, went into a relationship thinking i could change a guy or something like that.)

 

13. Global Labeling.

We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.

For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”

(i think this goes without saying…and yet again, i am shocked that no everyone does this.)

 

14. Always Being Right.

We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.

(fo’ REAL??!! i like that…’continually on trial’. how true. that is exactly how it feels sometimes…says the editorial writer lol…)

 

15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.

We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.

(this is tricky for me. i never thought this would be something to which i would say THATS ME…but i remember someone bringing it up to me before. a past therapist. he asked me why i thought something could make me ‘qualified for hell’. he seemed so astonished when i had told him i was worried about going to hell for something. funny thing is…i don’t really believe in HELL. But…what if???)

So, that is what I have to say about that. Pretty amazing really…to me, I mean…why would you care LOL 🙂 My therapist wholeheartedly believes I can combat these thought processes…tells me NOT to expect instant changes or perfection or 100% of anything. But she said if I practice certain behaviors and exercises…I could beat these distortions by at least SOME percentage…and regardless of what amount that is…it is best for me (I almost typed NEED to be) to be happy with and accept what is.
 
I guess it all comes down to that whole Buddha-istic way of life. Be in the now. Be happy for what is, not what was or what could be. Just be present and the most you can be at any given moment. This is what I have been striving for for a long, long time. I don’t need to be the most enlightened or like my friend Rocky who seems to always been so spiritually steady. I don’t have to be the calmest. I don’t have to be the best anything – mother, wife, body, face, writer, daughter, friend. Truth is – I won’t be. I have to learn how to be okay with that. I have to be okay with not being one of  the young, sexy ones in the room anymore. I have to be okay with the scars, lines, veins and saggy tits. I have to be okay with where I am right now, who I am right now. That is when this depression just may lift unmedicinally, my worries may go to the wayside, my jealousy may be a thing of the past…that is when real happiness may just be possible after all.
 
Here are of  which are also interesting and give suggestions on combating these distorted thought processes and here is an a passage from one of them I really liked:
 

Leo Buscaglia once said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy”, this is important to remember. Take on the daily challenge of recognizing and changing these cognitive distortions. By changing our negative thinking, we may find ourselves worrying less and enjoying life more.

 

Living with Bi-Polar Disorder (unedited) – Patch

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HERE is my latest story on Patch. Please visit and feel free to comment or share a story!! The one published on Patch was edited a bit so I am adding the original below….

Michelle grew up in Mount Pleasant as a very popular, active and high achieving student. There wasn’t an instrument, team or club that she didn’t touch. She knew everyone and wanted to know everything. Constant ideas, goals and accomplishments made up Michelle’s days and nights. Never tired, always fast – she would be the best…not at one thing, but at all of them. 

“In my pre-teen years it started with track. Then the piano. Then the violin. The cello. The clarinet. The saxophone. Then tennis. Then basketball. Then softball. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and community journalism. I became involved in theater getting most of the leads of all the plays. I didn’t want to just excel, but I had a grandiose notion that I would become famous.” Recalls Michelle, “I was lively, voted the “most outgoing senior girl” of my high school class. If there was a club, I was either in it, started it, or was the president of it.”

Throughout college and the beginning of law school, Michelle grabbed the bull by the horns and then proceeded to swing it over her head, toss it into the distance and make souffle for desert. There was nothing stopping her. That is, until there was.

Michelle’s grandiose self image turned into self loathing. Her massive energy became almost a nearly catatonic state. Her over-acheivment morphed into inability to function. At the drop of a hat – a hat the weight of an anvil – her life became unrecognizable and seemingly unlivable. She always knew there was something wrong, but it wasn’t until she was 27 did she finally receive a proper diagnosis. Michelle had been suffering from Bi-Polar Disorder.

“I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried all the time. I was lazy. What was wrong with me? This was not the person I knew. I knew there was something wrong, but I blamed it on other things such as my marriage, my family, the friends I hung out with,” she admits. “I became irritable and started to withdraw. I turned to cocaine and alcohol to help keep me at the level that I wanted to be at. That funny, manic, high spirited, wild and hard working person I always knew. It nearly destroyed me. After 14 years and a psychotic suicide attempt I found out I was bipolar.”

With no apprehension from others, little support or foreseeable fixes, Michelle crawled into bed and insisted there was no way to crawl out. The world as she knew it – the world she created and seemingly controlled suddenly disappeared and her life became unmanageable. During her manic phases she was hyper-sexual, leading to infidelity. She would seek out comfort from drugs and alcohol & sneaking and stealing to obtain them. She would be mean and cruel and acted out with violent behavior. All of this led to the end of her marriage. And she has few truly close friendships to this day.

Eventually the days of sleep, crying, tantrums and confusion would take the tide back to the ocean of fearlessness, confidence and intensity. She would take on tasks and work harder and longer than any other – that is while she was in a manic state. During these periods she could achieve like nobody’s business. She needed little sleep and she was always “on”.

But these moments of highs always ended with a crash. A crash which would leave her unemployable, chaotic and often, unbearable. Losing job after job, her life imitated her disorder in an unpredictable, cycling fashion. Each time she would pull herself back up, wipe off the depression dust and forge ahead. She could gain employment expeditiously but she simply could not retain it.

“I was functioning at such a manic level for long periods of time and out of nowhere I would crash. It felt like I was having a cocaine crash, except I wasn’t doing drugs anymore. After having an amazing month of work, I couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time, says Michelle, “I called in sick all the time. At lunch instead of socializing, I would isolate myself by either retreating to the parking garage and sleeping in my car, or I would shut my office door and sleep under my desk. I was crying all the time, yet nothing outright seemed to be wrong to explain how low I was feeling. The next thing I know I had to take two medical leaves of absences within six months.”

A time came when Michelle realized that traditional employment was not maintainable during these crashes. Lost work time, irritability and liability were boulders in the way of her career aspirations. She applied for disability and is now legally considered disabled due to her Severe Bipolar Disorder.

She has been weaving through the past decade searching for answers, remedies…happiness. She was prescribed many different medications and had exhausting side effects with each of them. The medication she has been taking for the past 2 years has caused her to become hypothyroid (which brings on a whole new slew of symptoms), given her uncontrollable tremors, caused weight gain and has diminished any interest in that which used to motivate her.

And while Michelle has not killed the beast as she still fights this battle daily, she does have the experience to offer a wealth of advice to those who are new to the diagnosis or its symptoms.

“Bite the bullet and go to a reputable psychiatrist. You MUST be proactive. Keep taking your meds even if you “feel better” or think you “don’t need them anymore”. Go to therapy on a regular basis. Read as much as you can about the disease. Know your “trigger” points. Live as stress-free as possible. Exercise is a must. Utilize trusted family and friends when you need someone to lean on. Educate your family and friends about your symptoms, triggers, meds and everything else,” Michelle lives by these self appointed “rules” to help her get through life’s typical challenges while carrying the heavy load of Bi-Polar Disorder.

Michelle now spends her days at the gym, reading and taking care of her son. Due to her medication she feels her senses are dulled and her creativity has decreased. She finds little joy in writing and all of the other projects she once obsessed over. “I live a totally boring existence,” she shares. But she also knows the dire consequences of the alternative.

While the love she has for her son and the great appreciation she has for her mother fills her every day; she also feels lonely, humiliated and self conscious. But on the outside she appears to be grounded, funny, popular and successful. This disease teaches people how to hide, pretend and preform. And she does it well.

Many – if not all – of us know someone with a mental illness. We may know about it, maybe not. They may know about it, they may not. What we need to recognize is the simple fact that we don’t know what could possibly be happening behind the curtain. One may be quick to judge Michelle on her sexual conquests. Others may banish her to the bad camp because of her past drug use.

What behaviors, words or actions have you judged today? We need to remind ourselves that the very person we are vilifying, condemning or shaming could have a disease no different than cancer or diabetes.

Put yourself into Michelle’s – or whatever person you know in your life who lives with a mental illness – shoes. Imagine having to take chemicals which cause discomfort, physical changes and emotional imbalances. Picture waking in the morning with deep regret because of something you did the night before without the ability to stop yourself. How would you fare? How would you handle having to explain yourself over and over in the hopes to gain one ounce of understanding or compassion – and at the very least, respect.

Bi-Polar Disorder is the tightrope on which many need to balance while the typical difficulties of life shake the very pillars holding that very rope. Instead of reaching out your hand to joggle an already unstable anchor – reach out your arms to help keep them from falling.

If you know someone with Bi-Polar Disorder and you would like to help; or if you are a person who recognizes some of these symptoms within yourself – Please visit the NIMH Website for information and resources.