Mental Health: The Stockpile of Gratitude

If living with mental illness is a struggle for you today, I have a piece of positivity to offer.

On my good days I find a stockpile of gratitude waiting for me because I know how dark things can get. I was just there, after all. While I wouldn’t wish having those dark thoughts on anyone, the payback of them is rich. When I come out of a dark headspace, it’s like the black and white to technicolor transition in the Wizard of Oz. When things are bad, and then they’re suddenly not, I find myself with a hyper-awareness of good.

While constantly considering my mortality is exhausting, it also manifests in all kinds of ways. I’m grateful for my physical mobility. I find myself with a wealth of mercy for people acting in any undesirable way, because life is short I have no idea what they’re going through. I feel fortunate to have such comforting, sweet-tempered golden retrievers, because dogs are an expensive luxury. I admire all the people who’ve shown me grace, supported me, taught me things, and have loved me when I wasn’t very lovable. I think about how grateful I am for a comfy bed and a safe, quiet place for me to sleep in peace.

When I’m mentally gridlocked, thinking of these things is like pushing on a button that doesn’t work. I’m numb. If that sounds like you, just know that when you emerge from the other side, and you will, you’ll have the stockpile.

It may not seem like much, but us mentally ill folk have got to stick together and take what we can get! And we get the stockpile.


Whenever I get a song stuck in my head I start to list the things I’m grateful for instead and it always does the trick to get the song out. With that being said…

Fun fact! Did you know that “Bug A Boo” by Destiny’s Child, a song in regards to an overbearing romantic interest, can also be applied to mental illness?

You make me wanna throw my pager out the window 
Tell MCI to cut the phone calls 
Break my lease so I can move 
Cause you a bug a boo, a bug a boo 
I wanna put your number on the call block 
Have AOL make my email stop 
Cause you a bug a boo 
You buggin’ what? You buggin’ who? You buggin’ me! 
And don’t you see it ain’t cool

“Bug A Boo” by Destiny’s Child

I would say “you’re welcome”, but the true accolades go to Kandi Burruss for her multi-faceted lyricism.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
The Uncertainty of Mental Illness
Mental Health: Saying No in the Spirit of Self-Care


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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: No, You Don’t “Have Anxiety”

I’m gonna try to keep my cool here because, if you’ve been reading BOB for a while, you know I get fired up about word impeccability.

I’ve known about word impeccability ever since I read the book The Four Agreements ten years ago. It essentially champions saying what you mean and meaning what you say, something that’s not as simply employed as it seems. It remains on my nightstand as a reminder to this day.

I learned about the nuance of word impeccability as it pertains to specific people while working at Special Olympics International down in D.C. People first language, such as “Tabitha uses a wheelchair” versus “Tabitha is wheelchair-bound” and “Frankie has autism” versus “Frankie is autistic” gives agency to the person being described and also eradicates the physical or intellectual disability from defining the person being described.

Shortly after adopting this language I realized its parallels to the mental health community. “Sarah has Bipolar Disorder” versus “Sarah’s Bipolar” or “The psychiatrist says the man may have borderline personality disorder” versus “the man is borderline”. It’s essentially the use of “is” (defining) versus “has” (one descriptor).

Alright, now, where word impeccability gets personal is with the flippant use of the word “anxiety”.

When I was 13 years old, the summer before I went to high school, I went with my family to a sold out showing of a blockbuster. Every seat was filled and the movie was original, visually arresting and, for me, an absolute terror fest.

I was seated next to my mom right in the middle of a packed row mid-theater, ideal seats for most. Except I began to experience anxiety that I would not be able to quickly exit the situation. If I did, I’d upset people by making them have to stand up to let me by (this was long before recliners) and then upset them again by side-stepping back to my seat in front of their view. And then, what if I had to get up again?

Wait, is that an urge to pee? No, wait, I’m going to vomit. Yep, I’m certainly going to vomit and ruin this movie for everyone in seats around me.

My body became drenched in sweat despite the generously air-conditioned theater. I slipped around in my seat and gripped the arm rests. I began to panic, and my mom glanced over me and saw my white face. She had no idea what to do, and couldn’t open up a conversation in the middle of the movie to do a deep dive on what the hell was wrong. She asked me if I was okay, and I couldn’t even open my mouth to respond. If I did, I’d certainly vomit.

What if this is my last moment? Oh, god, I’m going to die in this movie theater. This is it.

My body turned rigid.

Isn’t this how a seizure begins? I’m going to die here in this velour seat with popcorn stuck to my sweat after I fall to the ground. I’m going to choke on my tongue. This is it. This is it. This is it.

My mom pulled papers out of her bag and began fanning me. She didn’t know what to do, either.

What was this?

I might as well not have been in a theater, because my thoughts were solely on survival. My thoughts had literally turned to death. When the fanning cooled me off, my heart began to slow, but the terror of leaving my seat made me stay in my seat until, finally, the movie ended. When the credits rolled people began to leave their seats, the bottoms springing back up to meet their seat backs with a thud, clearing the aisles. As they exited the theater, my body began to relax. I was physically exhausted and dazed as I walked out into the merciless sunlight. Instead of jabbering excitedly about a great movie, I was just working to get my body to the car.

On the way out I saw one of the “hottest” guys from school and we waved at each other. I gave him a weak smile. I was so relieved to be seeing him then instead of when I almost hurled in the theater. Don’t even get me started on dealing with undiagnosed mental illness in the throes of the social stressors of puberty…

People, that is a panic attack.

An anxiety attack is like a panic attack’s more reasonable cousin, as the former usually has an identifiable source. Panic attacks come out of nowhere and I’ve been absolutely plagued by both of these experiences since childhood.

It really upsets me when someone says they’re having anxiety and it doesn’t have anything to do with mental incapacitation. It downplays the experiences of people who truly have anxiety or panic disorders. It downplays the plight that trails me everywhere I go like some hungry, stray dog. It downplays true suffering and further hurts those afflicted.

Being anxious is a normal feeling fueled by cortisol that is a part of our survival mechanisms as humans. It comes and goes in appropriate situations, like job interviews or first dates. You can be anxious, but you’re not having anxiety. You’re not having an anxiety or panic attack.

You. Are. Simply. Anxious.

Someone who actually has anxiety is like their internal jug of cortisol gets dumped over in unsuspecting, often inopportune moments that deteriorate quality of life. In the 90s and 2000s I didn’t have language to describe what I was going through and felt completely isolated. Now that there’s common language for these disorders, people throw it around like a frisbee. Now, when I tell someone I have anxiety, it’s written off because “everyone” has it. That’s incorrect and, again, downplays the very real mental illness I suffer from.

It’s a blessing and a curse, really, the growing commonality of language pertaining to mental illness. While I’m glad people are able to talk more openly about their issues, others casually adopt the wording to describe every day feelings.

As I work hard to linguistically respect others with descriptors instead of definers, I wish to receive the same respect, myself. Please, work hard to respect people by using the correct wording. Everyone deserves that fundamental consideration.

I know this is going up the day before the 4th of July so, as Kevin G and the Power of Three would say after an aggressive performance, “Happy holidays, everybody!”

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.

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.