A way toward stigma reduction?

A blogging colleague of mine have been talking a little bit about stigma reduction associated with keeping mental illness symptoms associated with the illness itself rather than with the person. For example, the anxiety that I experience is a feature of my bipolar illness rather than some character defect or short-coming of my person. What if we were to try to represent and talk about mental illness symptoms as being features of the illness or diagnosis itself rather than characteristics of the person or the patient? By way of example, we do not think a breast cancer survivor is cancerous. Instead we say she has had cancer and fought it and is still fighting it and/or is in remission. The disease and its symptoms are not synonymous with the patient. In fact with cancer it is the other way around. People always talk about those people who are able to beat the illness cancer — it it not a part of who that person is but rather a fight to fight and to win and to overcome.

So why do we think of mental health symptoms as somehow the failure of the person experiencing the symptoms such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or some form of psychosis? When it’s mental we tend to assign the symptoms to the patient rather than to the illness. This person is anxious. This person is depressed. This person is psychotic. This makes overcoming the stigma of mental illness even tougher.

So what would it look like if we started talking about mental illness symptoms as part of the illness rather than part of the person experiencing them? It might make us more inclined to believe that getting over anxiety or depression or PTSD or psychosis is a matter of the treatment of the illness rather than the integrity of the patient or the person experiencing the symptoms.

What do you think? Do you think mental health patients are asked “to own” their symptoms in a way that cancer patients are not? Do you feel mental health stigma could be reduced if we were to more often disassociate mental health symptoms from the person experiencing them? Could mental illness be considered a challenge to fight and/or to get through like a cancer but not the result of some character defect on the part of the patient? Do we need ways of talking about mental health that include giving credit for actively working to keep symptoms under control and/or having them be in remission for a time? Do we need ways of talking about successes we have had in combatting our mental illness diagnoses even if those troubles still exist for us on some level? What of all this might help to address the stigma of mental illness?

Anxiety is a bully

I have been journaling since March 2021 about strides I am making in practicing yoga or walking on a regular basis. A week or two ago, I decided to include journaling about my anxiety in the same log. Once I started writing about my anxiety, it was as if I could not stop.

I called my anxiety a bully in that it instills pain wherever it goes. I called my anxiety cancerous in that the anxiety causes good health to go bad. I wrote and wrote and wrote about anxiety not being a friend but being a bully and how there was no room in my home for a bully. I do not allow bullying to occur in the neighborhood or at school, so why would I accept bullying at home?

I know I don’t always have control over my emotions and that is why I have a diagnosis of bipolar, but it is soooo helpful to be able to call out anxiety as a bully and think of it as something that is pervading my home rather than a feature of the bipolar I just have to accept. It is true I cannot control the anxiety when it occurs, I can only control how I respond to it when it does occur. But calling it a bully somehow helps me to think of the anxiety as “other than” and not me. I am not my anxiety. I am not my diagnosis. I am not my bipolar. My anxiety exists as a bully as part of my illness. I can call it out for what it is and I can tell it off and I can tell it it is not welcome in my person, in my home, or in my relationships with family and friends.

Does anybody else have coping mechanisms for anxiety that seem to help by differentiating the anxiety from the person experiencing it? Is it helpful to you too to think of anxiety as a bully to be kept at bay?

In a few months’ time

Come the end of December, I will be writing a series of blogs about my time in the workplace and the various responses I have gotten over the years either when I have exposed my bipolar diagnosis or it has been exposed through circumstance. I believe you may find that not too many workplaces are supportive of a mental health diagnosis. I have struggled over the years as to whether to reveal this “secret.” I hope these several blogs will give the younger folks following this thread some indication of the pitfalls of allowing your behavioral health diagnosis to be open or not in the workplace. My sentiments still remain mixed as to whether disclosure is a good thing or not.

I have just discovered

I have just discovered that my blood pressure goes through the roof when I drink caffeine. For 17 years I have limited my coffee intake largely to the morning to wake up from sleepy-time meds. Sometimes I have had an occasional afternoon coffee. But my blood pressure has been giving me problems so I have been taking my levels at home several times a day.

What I am finding is that my blood pressure spikes in the morning after my daily caffeine ritual. I have cut my caffeine in half over the years making coffee with half caf and half decaf. But to be honest it sort of defies the purpose when I have four cups of this mixture a day anyway.

I have posted a message on the patient portal at my primary care physician’s office asking whether I need to curtail caffeine. I am almost sure her answer will be to cut out caffeine completely. I can do this, but it will be a huuuuge adjustment. I use the caffeine each morning to kickstart myself after a long medication induced sleep on clozapine/clauzerile.

I am not looking forward to this change in habits/behavior. But perhaps it will help with the bipolar highs and lows as well.

Anybody else have caffeine challenges? Anybody else asked to go off coffee to help with health conditions? If so, do you have any secrets for how you accomplished it?

Does anyone besides me have symptom exaggeration on vacation?

Vacation is supposed to be the time to relax and rejuvenate and get ready for what comes next. For me though, vacation can be a time of challenge.

Often during vacation we are with 3 to 4 generations of family under one roof. While there is generally no direct mal-behavior toward me from family, I can get overwhelmed with this many people sleeping and eating and playing under one roof. I am often unable to keep my same routine or best perhaps I can modify it – I am definitely a creature of habit.

During this summer’s vacation with 4 generations of family I had a bit of a meltdown. I was being extra-sensitive to the comments of my seventeen-year-old daughter when I should have known better. My Mom chatted with me about it for a while. My sister chatted with me about it for a while. My sister even let me know that when her boys were 17, she went through her husband to communicate to them. She could not get answers to direct questions or to requested behavior change. That made me feel better that my daughter’s shortness of temper with me was more a product of her age rather than that I am not measuring up due to the bipolar.

All in all we had very nice vacation times this summer with my husband’s family in June and with my family in July. I am working on letting teen-age behavior just roll off my back. Of note is that now we are back home, my daughter’s behavior is nicer and more respectful than any time since the beginning of the pandemic. I think we all forget how the pandemic has made us live on top of each other and each other’s emotions while in quarantine.

Anybody else have a vacation hiccup this summer to share? Anyone have a vacation where you might have experienced an unexpected meltdown? Were you able to work through the bulk of the meltdown by talking to others and getting more perspective? Is there anything you could name to prevent a similar hiccup in the future?

Summer has gone by quickly

This year in particular summer has gone by quickly. My daughter started her Senior year in high school in-person (full days) yesterday after a summer jam-packed with schoolwork and college essay prep. In some respects it doesn’t seem like we got much of a summer in at all with the looming work of summer assignments and prep for college work. We also spent two weeks looking at 9 potential colleges.

In addition to be noted is that kids are back in the classroom full capacity not just at 50% so there’s bound to be more risk circulating about the school. We will be watching trends closely.

All in all though, I believe we’re off to a good start at Senior Year. My goal is to be more hands off on the whole college thing and work to let my daughter manage most of it. I am sure I may not meet this goal 100% of the time. But it is true next year I will not be able to intervene in the day-to-day business of a college Freshman! Kudos to me if I can learn this early this year!

Anybody else transitioning kids back to in person learning? Or getting ready to be an empty nester?

Are we having fun yet?

I have spent a good bit more than half of my life dealing with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Thanks to modern science I have been on a drug called clozapine since 2008 which treats treatment-resistant bipolar illness. Since taking the medicine I have been hospitalization free for almost 13 years.

While that is an accomplishment for me, I would like to raise a subject that often alludes me – having fun. It feels like most of my energy is wrapped up in getting things done, handling things in my life and my family’s life and staying symptom-free or almost.

What is completely missing from my life however is the element of having fun. What is fun anyway? Is it laughing aloud with family or friends? Is it listening to music I knew before I was diagnosed at age 22 that feels like letting go? Is it cooking a meal with my daughter — not so much full of laughs but full of good times?

In general, I feel like my illness has made me a doer. As long as I am doing this or that and fulfilling obligations of wife and mother and daughter I give myself a grade of doing OK. But still, it feels like something is missing – that illusive idea of having fun.

Does anybody have a bucket list for laughter that they’d like to share? I will be working on a new list soon – a list that includes things that don’t just need to get done but also includes whether or not I am enjoying myself. I know it’s hard to fathom having fun when you are depressed or even when you are manic since that’s not the fun I am talking about. I am talking about fun that is centered in a centered self.

Does anybody want to help get the having fun list together? I think we all could benefit from reading it and/or trying to help create it?

Are We Getting It Right?

Basically in the States we are getting the message that if you are fully vaccinated you are protected against covid-19 and the various variants. The variants seem to be very contagious with worse impacts than the original. Obviously moreso for the unvaccinated. Are we getting it right that being fully vaccinated protects folks against the delta variants and others?

I hate to be a doomsdayer but it feels like we need more data and more reassurance about how protected we (the vaccinated) are from the variants. This comes at a time when most people are sick of hearing about vaccine issues and vaccine effectiveness and vaccine availability. They just want it to be over. “I got my shot(s) — I am fine.”

How will/do the experts at the CDC inform us as to whether to feel secure in the vaccine’s efficacy with the variants? How and when do they get that data? How and when do we know about the booster availability? Not to mention – what are the larger ethical concerns about vaccinating the world population at large?

I Wonder

This afternoon I have had a strange thought. What if I were to visualize all the times I have been anxious about something (like in a bar graph) and compare that with the number of occasions that something that I was anxious about really occurred.

I have not done this exercise before, but I would guess every day I have an anxiety bar graph of at least a 5 or 6 or 7 or an 8 on a scale of one to ten (ten being the worst). I would also bet that there is a one in fifty chance that something I was/am concerned about will present itself as a reality. And that reality if it presents would probably be a one or a two on that same scale from one to ten.

By choosing to create a numeric or visual graph of my anxiety, I am not trying to minimize the anxiety I experience at all, because it can be quite debilitating. What I am trying to do is give myself a visual of how severe the anxiety is as contrasted with whether that anxiety I experience is ever tied with an actual anxiety-premeditated outcome.

I guess you could say I am trying to rationalize my anxiety and put it into perspective in terms of how often the incident I am worried about actually occurs. I hope the result will be that I am able to talk down myself from a high anxiety event by recalling how many times my anxiety is NOT tied with an actual stress induced event. Ie. I would like to keep myself honest as to what percent of the time that I am worried actually results in a prior perceived stress event.

Just out of curiosity, what techniques do you use to talk yourself out of anxiety? Is that working for you? What else is important to consider in trying to mitigate your anxious feelings?

Experiencing Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

Please be aware this post could trigger child abuse / sexual abuse issues or memories. Let this be a trigger warning, please, before reading further.

I have one memory from childhood that qualifies as sexual misconduct. I am unable to discern if I was “asked” to witness this behavior several times when I was 6 or whether I was “asked” to engage in this behavior when I was 6 or both.

In any case, the behavior in question was/is pole dancing – a visual together with an audio track. I do not recall if I was exposed to such behavior on the television or a home movie screen or when visiting a neighbor. I do not recall whether I witnessed the behavior or was asked to provide the behavior. All I have as memories are a dark room with the figure of a woman or a girl pole dancing and making lewd sounds.

I honestly don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know if I have just “confronted” the abusive behavior and am now freed from its hold on me. I don’t know if I need to further explore the behavior in order to “make sense” of it. I don’t know if there is a slew of stigma now to overcome.

I have googled pole dancing and apparently now for some people it is a form of exercise. This sounds completely insane to me as my experience with pole dancing was extremely harmful and confusing and damaging. I am sorry to share details if these details disturb you. I am just trying to process something that happened over fifty years ago, to make whatever sense of it I can and move on.

I have shared this memory with my therapist several months back and her response was to acknowledge and move on but not to dwell.

Thank you for listening to my story. I hope it does not trigger your issues in any way.