Mental Health: Psychiatrists

There are some things every person should know about people who seek psychiatric care.

STIGMA

Look, not all of us with mental illness are eating other people’s faces on the side of a highway in Florida. I mean, some of us are, but most people who seek or are in need of psychiatric care are average folks you interact with regularly: your colleague, your grandchild, your mail person, your stepdad, the person two people behind you in line at the grocery store, or you.

Unfortunately it’s common for a lot of people to suffer in silence and confusion. Not only do they need care, but they also often have no idea where to begin in terms of finding the right doctor, are overwhelmed by the expense, and have to deal with the crippling, unnecessary stigma attached to mental health issues. This stigma holds us all back from achieving ideal health and an optimal quality of life.

COST

My psychiatrist, like most psychiatrists, has chosen not to deal with insurance companies due to their overcomplicated nature, but without a psych I am unable to access the meds I desperately need. So, this dissonance then falls on the person in need of care, in this case, me.

Can you imagine that in New York City it costs me $400 to see my psychiatrist for 50 minutes? Aside from our car payment, my mental health is the biggest monthly expense for me and Rick. You may be wondering, “Why doesn’t she just seek out a psychiatrist her insurance covers?” Let me back up a moment.

CONNECTIVITY

Finding a psychiatrist you connect with is like dating, only the stakes are higher. Not only are you looking for someone you get along with personally, you’re searching for the right fit medicinally. You want to be in someone’s care who takes more than 20 minutes every four months to understand the inner-workings of your mind and know what meds would best compliment your brain chemistry. The consequence of faulty prescription can be lethal.

Couple this ideology with the fact that a new psychiatrist means a fresh emotional upheaval. You’re having to rehash everything that may be helpful to the doctor to assess your mental needs, and that requires a verbalized excavation of traumatic experiences. It sucks. The longer you’re with a psychiatrist, the harder it is to leave them because you’ve been so productive throughout your sessions, digging deeper and deeper. The better they know you, the better they can help you. Psychiatrists can brief other psychs on incoming patients, but no memo can take the place of hours spent doing deep dives into your head.

ACCESSIBILITY

HOT SPORTS OPINION ALERT! Another disconnect that, to me, causes an egregious margin of error in the specific realm of medicating mental illness is the psychologist / psychiatrist team up. This model has a patient regularly seeing a psychologist who then communicates their thoughts to a psychiatrist, who then prescribes meds back to the patient. Psychologists cannot prescribe meds and are often cheaper and, therefore, more accessible. It’s certainly better than nothing, but to me this kind of two step care leaves too much room for poor communication and subpar RX.

BRAVERY

It takes a lot of guts to go into a room and figure out how to be comfortable being vulnerable in front of a stranger. It also often takes months to review what a patient may perceive as “obvious” issues before moving onto to unsuspecting things in life, which are sometimes the most insidious and medically informative. It takes time, and it takes gumption. And remember, if the doc is a bad fit, the person seeking care has to start all over again with a new doc. Speaking from experience, this redundant process contributes to mental strain.

It’s so important to normalize the discussion of psychiatric care and to be empathic and encouraging toward those who seek it.

What have your psychiatrist or psychologist experiences been like? Have you had any particular hang ups? Comment below.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Mental Health: Dealing With Suicide

TRIGGER WARNINGS: self-harm / suicide

A friend hit me up this week broken-hearted that yet another one of their friends had taken their life. They asked if I might explore the complexities of dealing with suicide and raise general awareness here on Bummed Out Baker and I am going to do my best. Please know that I mean to approach the topic with the utmost sensitivity, and am writing about it not for sensationalism, but in hopes of providing solace or understanding regarding suicide.

My first thought on suicide is that it is, of course, deeply personal. When someone takes their own life, unless you’ve been in their very position, the idea of teetering on that edge between life and death is incomprehensible. However, more people than you might think have contemplated the act, several of whom are the people in your life you’d least suspect.

I’ll begin by laying my cards on the table. In 2008, before I was properly medicated under the supervision of a good psychiatrist, I hoped for death most every night. I was 19. I feel like chronic depression (or other mental illnesses) are like addiction / sobriety, in a way. If you’re an addict who doesn’t keep a close eye on the maintenance of their sobriety, a trigger that leads to a slip could sneak up on you. (In this vein, I can’t help but think of the tragic death of the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman. Read the moving piece from his partner here.) Mental illness is similar. Sometimes brains need a medicinal switch up, and if you’re not monitoring the effectiveness of your current (or absence of) RX, dark thoughts and ideas can begin to infiltrate your psyche and then start to seem reasonable. Something else to be aware of is that suicidal ideation can be heightened in the first several weeks of taking a new medication. A medication can also blatantly make things worse – the whole thing is a precarious trial and error to be treated with sensitivity and care. While my thoughts of death still come and go, with therapy and medications I am able to better manage with self-talk. Like I’ve said before, I don’t know when the cloud will left, but I know it eventually will.

I believe suicide to be about interiority, something happening on the inside that feels irreparable, a drought of hope that can never be replenished due to circumstance or chemical imbalance. After the initial shock, denial, and guilt, some people believe suicide to be selfish. An English teacher of mine in college opened my eyes to an alternative idea when she likened viewing suicide as selfish to wanting someone to walk around in shoes that are killing them with blood and blisters for the rest of their life, simply because it would make you (another person) feel better. When you think about it, of course that’s not something anyone would want for a loved one. But feeling that there is no way out is also something no one would want for a loved one. One of the hardest things to accept is that someone else’s suicide is not your fault. The layers of complexity continue.

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, we had about one kid a year die by suicide. Another kid would’ve gone to my high school, but he took his life while still in junior high. Kids. While this was post-Columbine, it was before the violent normalization and seemingly general acceptance of mass school shootings and before the internet loomed over every young person, a constant highlight reel produced by their peers. Social media is like a mutant toxicant that’s arrived to plague people in their formative years, a time that’s already painful enough. There is incredible pressure to be or look a certain way, and much of online presence is edited and curated to portray an idealized façade. I am 30 years old and cannot imagine that kind of weight, so I can’t fathom what it’s like to be a 15 year-old today.

While some people with suicidal tendencies are proactive towards death, others are indifferent, not trying to die while also not caring if they, in fact, do. This is different from the fleeting feeling of invincibility that typically couples with adolescence. It’s a step beyond, a matured nonchalance rooted in numbness caused by depression.

Suicide is often discussed in private, hushed tones with tearful words recounting the devastating circumstance of a self-inflicted death of a loved one. When we openly talk about suicide and self-harm, though, we make it okay for people to come out and talk about issues they may be having, which can lead to life-changing help.

While it may sometimes seem suicide may be the only route to relief, it’s simply untrue.

What can you do?

  1. Create community by normalizing the open discussion of thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Delay judgement. Open yourself to people and be receptive to what others have to say. Talk about it!
  2. Call any applicable government representatives to voice your concerns about prioritizing mental health resources and accessibility to the general public.
  3. If you have the means, donate to mental health nonprofit organizations. These orgs often provide resources, community, and solace to those in need and are unable to find elsewhere. At this point in time, these operations are a societal imperative.
  4. This is a bit pointed, but snuggling and talking to beloved pets, especially dogs, lowers BP, is calming, and helps pare down stress. There’s a growing body of research that points to mental comfort of being with your pet. (See: Harvard Health) I often tell my golden retrievers “You bring me so much comfort and joy!” while giving them belly rubs and ear scratches and I don’t know if they know what I’m saying, and I most certainly sound nuts (spoiler: because I am), but it sure does make me feel better.
  5. Always, always remember, if you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

I’ll leave you all with this touching music video. It’s a couple years old, but remains important. Also, Logic looks like Steve Brady. Bonus!


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue and Hyper-Empathy

Rick is annoyed that I’m self-diagnosing myself again, but I can’t help it. I was listening to a podcast* while getting ready for bed the other night when I burst out of the bathroom to enthusiastically announce my discovery to Rick: “Hey! I have compassion fatigue and hyper-empathy!” Did I mention I get into bed about 1:00am? Poor Rick, all he wanted was to fall asleep listening to inspiring football stories on YouTube. I just get so excited when I gain language for something I’ve been experiencing and unable to accurately put into words for years, especially as a writer. It was like the time I discovered “dual diagnosis” and “co-occurrence” to describe mental illness + addiction. Revelatory.

This study discusses compassion fatigue due to the overwhelming nature of social problems that leads to burnout. It’s from 1996 and is still relevant. The fact that this is a thing shouldn’t be surprising, taking into account the stressful existence of a 24-hour news cycle. Something else that will likely be to no one’s surprise: compassion fatigue is often experienced by social workers, hospice workers, nurses, and psychiatrists. Guess what I’m talking about next week with my psych?! Cause now I’m worried about him.

I worry about government corruption, our oceans and forests, people without quality / accessible medical care, those assholes at Texas A&M who give golden retrievers M.S. so they can do tests on them, violence against women all over the world, whether people next to me are comfortable and me thinking Did I hurt their feelings? over and over, whether the person on the subway next to me has enough personal space and then arranging myself so none of my belongings are in it**, whales in captivity not getting to swim long distances with their family members, the whale pup at SeaWorld who got taken away from its mom who then just sank to the bottom of her tank and audibly cried for days, whether the man running the newsstand downstairs is happy, the time I saw $20 fall out of someone’s pocket in high school and instead of returning it I kept it and now imagine them not eating for days because of me, racial justice and reparations, the guy in front of the subway stairs who’s leg is rotting off (so I called 911), gay people who aren’t included or treated with respect while I get to go off and marry Rick no problem and am even celebrated for it, hurting the feelings of the employees at Jersey Mike’s when I parked in front of their store only to walk next door to the taco shop, that time ten years ago when my dad called me because he hadn’t talked to me that day and I responded “Do we have to talk every day?”, gentle pigs and cows getting shot in the head for unnecessary human food, forgetting to send a gift or thank you note, not saying thank you enough in general, whether or not my parents are okay, whether or not my parents know how grateful I am, whether or not my golden retrievers are dehydrated or hungry or hot or sad or in pain because they can’t talk and tell me, whether I’ve signed enough petitions and done enough to effect policy change, it goes on and on and on.

I worry about people, animals, our planet, and whether I’ve upset anyone CON. STANT. LY. Like a tick, I feel the overwhelming need to interject to apologize or explain long after everyone’s forgotten about what I’m even talking about. I cannot focus until I clear the air of things perhaps only taking place in my brain.

My parents joke that I sleep so much because I’m emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. I chew through mouth guards, subconsciously toiling away about all the problems in the world, real or imagined. To remedy, I try not to feel bad about having a cocktail and turning my brain off to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills. In the podcast* they call this type of activity “babysitting your brain.” You know, just let my brain sit over there for a while. Meanwhile I’ll be over here, strong cape cod in hand, in case it needs me.

Fun fact: hyper-empathy and compassion fatigue can be linked to borderline personality disorder. 🎶 Learn something new every daAaAaAy 🎶

Does anyone else suffer from hyper-empathy or compassion fatigue? Do tell. Revisiting all of my pet worries was extremely tiring to write, so I’m gonna go sleep for three days straight, now.


*Listen to “Too Much Empathy” from the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You here.

**The other day I sat on the subway and the man next to me elbowed me twice in the side and, without looking at me, said “move over, you got all that space.” There were several inches between us, our bodies weren’t touching, and someone else’s stuff was on the other side of me. I am so conscious of other people’s space that I went home and burst into tears and told Rick I’d never be enough. Poor Rick 2: Electric Boogaloo.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Weight Gain and Mental Medications

May is Mental Health Month, and I’m coming in hot here on May 1 with a vulnerable topic. Putting all my business on the internet is scary, so I thank you in advance for your kindness and open-mindedness while reading.

This topic plain sucks. But, I think the effects of mental meds on our bodies and the way we talk about bodies are both critical to openly discuss in the mental health conversation.

I’ve been on more mental meds than I can even remember, starting from the time I was 14. Whatever it is in the realm of depression, I’ve probably been on it. I’ve even dabbled in mood stabilizers! #versatile

2007

Zoloft (early-mid 2000s) made me break out in a rash. Remeron (2015) didn’t make me feel better and it made me eat everything in sight. Wellbutrin (2008-current) caused me to lose so much weight that my family was concerned for my health, and then, still on it the following year, I gained back all the weight I’d lost. I got off Wellbutrin and got on it again. I got off it again and got on it again, again. This was so much fun for my family.

I’ve been put on Lexapro, Effexor, Concerta (wth? thanks for the unnecessary ice), Prozac (current), Lamictal (current), and Cymbalta. These are just the meds I remember.

Today I work closely with my psychiatrist to find the right pharmaceutical balance for me, but when I was in high school my pediatrician’s nurse practitioner was treating me like a guinea pig which was both dangerous and inappropriate. I cannot fathom why unqualified medical professionals are able to toss anti-depressants around like parade candy, a frivolity that can be lethal. Big Pharma, is that you???

2009

Anyway, if you’re thinking of getting on meds for depression, anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder, first of all, I applaud you. It takes courage to recognize a potential issue inside of yourself and to take steps toward making your life better. If you’re new to the mental health realm, or even if you’re a veteran who can’t seem to find the right RX fit for you, I urge you to consult a psychiatrist, or, at the very least, work with a psychologist who will then work in tandem with a psychiatrist to care for you.

When that high school nurse practitioner had me sign a cartoon-y certificate that said I wouldn’t kill myself, ain’t nobody in that room felt any more assured. Take it from someone who’s done the legwork: mental illness + medical professional who’s not a psychiatrist, not okay; mental illness + psychiatrist, imperative.

Alright, now on to the next. Don’t comment on someone’s body size. “OMG, you’re so skinny!” is not a compliment, and “Skinnyyyy” is not a helpful comment to leave on someone’s photo. I have no doubt I’ve used some iteration of this as praise before because women have been conditioned to value thinness in ourselves and each other, which is a crock. Let me break this down:

  1. Someone may be having health issues causing unwanted weight loss or weight loss that feels out of their control.
  2. This can be a trigger for our sisters actively struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder.
  3. If you say that one time but not another, people can and often will get in their heads about their bodies. Did my body change? Was I not ‘skinny’ before they said that? Am I not ‘skinny’ anymore?

K-hole of misery ensues.

This is what I mean when I talk about valuing word impeccability. If you’d like to make a positive comment about someone’s appearance, use words like radiant, happy, lovely, glowing, sharp, etc. Avoid any adjectives that refer to size. No one likes to feel as if their body is being appraised, “big” or “small”. Making a conscious effort to not commodify our bodies is both freeing and key to feminism.

To bring this full circle from a woman’s POV, we already have enough bodily pressure without having to consider the effects life-improving mental health meds may have on our bodies. It’s a drag, but mental solace always wins.

Conversation is paramount and, anonymous or not, I’d love to read about your experiences regarding mental health meds in the comments.


Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

5 Ways to Support Someone Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

1. Make it clear to you are there for them, but do not press.

Unfortunately, there is still negative stigma surrounding mental health today, and Bipolar Disorder is at the forefront of misunderstanding and insensitivity. Chalking up regular but perhaps undesirable behaviors as “bipolar” has crept into social jargon, and this general ignorance may make the diagnosis particularly challenging for your loved one to accept and embrace. Make yourself available to the person but gauge and respect their comfort (or lack thereof) discussing the new diagnosis.

2. Be patient.

When someone is diagnosed with any sort of mental incapacitation, not only may it take time to accept and embrace the newfound diagnosis but the pharmacological aspect may be a lengthy journey, too. One of the best ways to support your loved one through the process of new diagnosis, medication, and therapy is to be patient. It’s important to know that finding the right meds can take several tries to get right, and while it may feel tedious to the people around the person with Bipolar Disorder, trust that the medicinal process is much more taxing on the person ingesting the meds.

3. Understand that there may be backtracking.

Like any kind of healing or medical adjustment, there may be times that feel like one step forward, two steps back, whether it’s with therapy, work, relationships, or meds. Remember that the person with Bipolar Disorder is along for that tiring ride, too. Work hard to be empathic and gracious toward the person going through this transition, as there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and it may take some time.

4. Be respectful to the person diagnosed.

Before someone very close to me was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, being around them was like walking on eggshells. That was over ten years ago and we’re now able to openly discuss what things were like before the diagnosis. It’s important to approach your loved one with respect, and not harp on old behaviors that were perhaps undesirable. Remember, the person diagnosed was previously living with an undiagnosed mental illness and that is hard enough. It’s not fair to take shots at someone who is newly healing and trying to live a better life post-diagnosis.

5. Champion respect for Bipolar Disorder.

If you hear someone describing another person’s behavior as “bipolar” as a mean write-off opposed to an actual allusion to Bipolar Disorder, kindly let that person know their misnomer is hurtful towards those with Bipolar Disorder and the people who love them. This is one way to champion respect for your newly diagnosed loved one while maintaining privacy they may wish to have.