A Baffled Look

The straight dope on mental health

Month: September, 2012

Jerry (1952-2012)

A man who was instrumental in my getting sober 19 years ago and was my former roommate killed himself last week. When I first learned about it, I didn’t believe it. I thought the person who told me was mistaken. I looked up his obituary in my local paper and still couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t until I went to the memorial service that it hit me.

I used to camp and fish with Jerry. He loved the outdoors. Making money wasn’t a priority. He belonged to my bipolar support group too. I don’t think he took medication. He worked under the table cleaning houses and didn’t have insurance. Maybe he was eligible for Medicaid, but without proof of income he probably wouldn’t have qualified. I know he couldn’t get help from my county’s mental health provider because they won’t help people without insurance anymore. He fell through the cracks and that’s what saddens me most.

He went to the same AA group for over twenty years. I thought his memorial would have a lot of people, but it didn’t. Did he withdraw from his AA group? Is that why so few people were there? It upset me to see how few people came to the service. What happened? He withdrew from my bipolar support group so he may have quit going to his AA group too. Depression makes your world smaller.

I shared about how much Jerry helped me so his son could hear about what a great guy he was. I can’t imagine how his son must be feeling right now. Will he inherit Jerry’s illness? Will he fall through the cracks too?

A woman from Jerry’s AA group came up to me after the service and thanked me for what I shared. I should’ve asked her the questions I’ve asked above. I’ve thought of going to his AA meeting and asking someone who knew him. I doubt they can tell me anything. People don’t like to talk about suicide and I might get an answer I don’t want to hear. A lot of people don’t understand depression and some people may think it’s an issue outside the purview of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s not. I’ve seen plenty of suicides in all my time going to AA meetings. It’s not self-pity. It’s an illness and he didn’t get the help he needed.

Your Drugs Are Not Magic Pills

I have to admit that the psychotropic medicines prescribed to me have helped a lot, but lifestyle changes have made the most difference. I’m not advocating discontinuing medications. I’m just saying that changing certain habits have made a huge difference. I had to work at it.

I haven’t consumed alcohol or street drugs in almost twenty years, but I have to admit that it was fun in the beginning. It helped me feel calmer at first, but I ended up liking it a little too much. So I joined a twelve step group. I got a lot of support even though I didn’t really buy the god stuff. The only requirement for Alcoholics Anonymous is a desire to stop drinking. Most of the people who come to the meeting I attend regularly don’t stay, but the ones who do get better.

I’ve cut back on caffeine, but it would be disingenuous to say I’m going to stop it completely. A lot of seriously mentally ill people also have anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant and increases anxiety. Caffeine also causes insomnia, which can trigger a relapse. I limit my consumption to one or two cups of coffee in the morning. Look for caffeine in soft drinks. I just found out that the brand of diet orange soda I was drinking has as much caffeine in it as a Diet Coke. I was drinking several cans a day and started to have symptoms. I switched brands.

Think of things that help you to relax. Find something you love to do. A woman in one of my support groups has started making beaded jewelry. It’s helped her a lot. It’s soothing for her. I used to teach a beading class at a local drop-in center. The women loved it.

Here’s another thing. Don’t take on too much stress. It can trigger an episode. A lot of people commit to obligations when they’re feeling good only to feel overwhelmed by their commitments when they’re not feeling well. Learn to say, “No.”

Finally, my bipolar support group has helped me recognize my symptoms and has provided support. Just the other day, when I was feeling depressed, they emailed and called me expressing their concern. Just the thought that they cared cheered me up.

All of these things don’t require a lot of money, but they do require discipline. By making a few lifestyle changes, you can feel better and avoid relapse.

A Baffled Look at Mental Health Terminology

First of all, I hate the terms “mental health consumer” and “psychiatric survivor.” The word “consumer” reminds me of some idiot who will buy anything and the word “survivor” makes me think of someone who is sanctimonious and self-righteous. “Consumer” is a word for those who are actively seeking treatment and “survivor” often means former patients who no longer wish to be treated. I’ll go into these movements in another post.

If you go to a psych unit for treatment – which may or may not be forced – and you’re resisting the staff’s efforts for treatment, they call it “negativism.” Group therapy is “psychosocial counseling.” At least one psychiatrist was straight with me. He called my depression “profound” instead of “clinical” or “treatment resistant.” I’m having an “episode” and I’m “decompensating” or “not responding to treatment” instead of getting worse. I’m not saying my condition is not a problem. I’m just saying that using euphemisms about my suffering isn’t working. The terms they use make you feel like a specimen, not a person.

How about some more? They call presenting emotions “affects.” Another phrase that they use all the time is “acting out.” It means you act impulsively instead of verbalizing your thoughts & emotions.  It usually means they disapprove your behavior. When you’re in the hospital it’s better to remain passive because if you “act out” they can keep you there longer.

“Thought Disorder” means psychosis or they say you have “poor reality testing.” “Mood disorder” means depression or bipolar disorder. “Bipolar Disorder” is another term I don’t like. They should’ve stuck with manic depression.

“Bipolar Disorder” & “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” are some of the terms used to describe my condition. These labels don’t really tell you anything – except to your “mental health providers” and insurance companies. I understand the need for standardization so doctors and insurance companies can understand each other, but they can use plainer language and still communicate with each other. Even the term “mental illness” is a politically correct euphemism. Just call me crazy.

George Carlin was right. These terms obscure meaning instead enhancing it. It dehumanizes people with conditions like mine. Maybe if the staff used plainer language they would show more compassion.