This has come up today

This has come up today in reviewing and updating comments from an earlier post of mine. It has been suggested that people who are accustomed to mental health and behavioral health issues may be able to empathize not just sympathize with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety for the first time due to covid-19.

Therefore mental health “veterans” like us may be able to help others in some small way. I am very curious to hear what those of us who are familiar with depression or anxiety might say to those who are first encountering symptoms due to covid-19 – likely situational depression and anxiety and uncertainty. These folks may not have clinical depression or clinical anxiety but that does not diminish the impact of what they are experiencing.

What might that look like if we were to reach out to those who are not familiar with or are new to depression or anxiety or uncertainty of all kinds?

Laughter really is the best medicine

A week or so ago, I played Monopoly with my 16 year old daughter. I was the banker and kept forgetting where I was keeping my money versus the bank’s money. My memory issues sometimes are a challenge. Based on this unwitting propensity of mine to “capitalize” on my role as the banker toward my own benefit, my daughter and I were laughing so much we were almost in tears.

I came away from the game feeling like somebody had just rebooted my computer (my emotions) and all the junk files and all the computer viruses (excess anxiety) had magically disappeared.

I don’t think it really matters for the most part what you laugh at particularly if you can laugh at yourself. For me, laughing at myself last week was some of the best medicine I have had in years.

What makes you laugh? I wish each of you a good laugh that does’t stop until you too are almost in tears.

A list for a rainy day (or any day):

I am creating a list of things I like to do:

  1. Put a balanced meal on the table for my family at dinner time – I am almost always successful in this except for our new “take-out night” once a week in the post-covid-19 era.

2. Keep healthy foods on hand for my family to eat for breakfasts and lunches. I typically do pretty well at this but I have a pescatarian for a daughter and she keeps me on my toes in trying to provide snacks and foods that meet her “high” standards.

3. Regularly count my blessings that I have not lost any one to the pandemic, that my family can eat and pay the bills. I have done this but need to do this more and more. There are so many people who have been hit harder, much harder than me and my family. Be thankful for the big and small stuff.

4. Play a board game with family – I have done this once since covid started and laughed so hard during the game of Monopoly I wonder why I am not doing this every day.

5. Take the dog for a walk. I have been doing this regularly for the last month or so. Feels good to get a little exercise and to engage my husband into doing the same.

6. Talk to my Mom over the phone each day to help alleviate her feelings of isolation and mine. She lives alone and we have only had two in-person socially distanced get-togethers outside her condo in the garden for twenty minutes each. I do this phone call to her every day. Somehow or another we find something new to talk about even when there is not too much new going on.

7. Plan a socially distanced get together with my Mom after my daughter finishes with the remote learning requirements for 10th grade. Have a barbeque or something outside where we can visit at 6 to 8 feet apart and include my 83 year old Mom. This planning is underway. We have talked about the inherent risks of a get together, but plan on keeping our social distancing up to minimize this risk.

8. Bake bread with my daughter. I have done this once during covid and it was great! Need to do this again.

9. Set up the tent in the backyard for a virtual camping overnight trip. This is just an idea at this point.

10. Watch a movie or TV series with my husband and 16 year old daughter. This has been happening every day of the quarantine. Go figure. While it is sometimes a little difficult to find a show that appeals to all three of us, we largely have done this. Everybody looks forward to this time after dinner each night – school night or weekend no matter. Sometimes I do popcorn.

11. Reach out to someone who is on the front lines of the pandemic. I have reached out to family who includes a cousin who is a nurse in the ER in Massachusetts. I also try to say thank you when I go to the grocery and the pharmacy and the lab to those who are coming into work these days and putting themselves at risk. I could do more of this – thanking and acknowledging people who are doing essential things.

12. Provide financial assistance to those who are short of food. We have made one food contribution so far. As soon as we get our covid-19 check we will plan to pledge a certain amount to a food bank in our area.

13. Play music that I haven’t listened to in a long while. Play music I used to like to dance to and dance if I feel like it. Have not done this yet.

14. Reach out to old friends by text or cell. I have done some of this but I could do more.

15. Blog on a regular basis. I have been doing this for a couple of months now. I feel I could improve my blog presence by including what I am doing to counter my anxiety and depression and bipolar symptoms more that just offloading these feelings in my blog posts.

16. Take a hot bath and think about nothing. I do this on a regular basis. I could add some bath salts to enhance the experience.

17. Plan what we will do as a family this summer. We have found out that my daughter’s camp will not be taking place this summer. We are uncertain of a trip for my daughter and mother to visit cousins in the UK. We are uncertain of plans to drive North to visit family. I could poll my family and ask what fun things they might want to do during a covid-summer if that is what we will have.

18. Journal and write notes about what I have been feeling and thinking about the pandemic and other challenges. I like to keep a handwritten account of what I am dreaming and/or concerned about. Right now I am most concerned with there being a second wave of covid-19 in the late summer or fall. Although I am not in a position to affect outcomes, it helps me to write down my concerns. Perhaps it helps me let go of anxious thoughts that I have no control over.

19. Consider buying a modest gift online to spruce up the house. I have not done this yet but usually feel very good when it comes time to decorate for Christmas and Easter. I like decorating. Perhaps I need to buy a new set of pillows for the living room or some other fun accent to keep it light and not be too expensive.

20. Plant flowers or herbs in the front yard. I have been doing this for five years since we moved into this new house and for as long as I can remember in the house before that. I enjoy going to Home Depot and getting flowers or herbs to plant on the front porch. It is a cheerful way to enter the house each time we go out and come in again. My winter pansies are pretty well ka-put and need a refresher at this point.

21. Talk with family and extended family each week using Zoom or something similar. My sister and her husband have been arranging this for us. I could learn how to host Zoom so as to do this once a week. So far, I have just been a Zoom participant.

22. Find a way to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from 10th grade in two weeks. Since schools are not open this is a challenge. I am just thankful that she is not a Senior in high school now with virtual high school graduation in the works. We often do a nice dinner out to celebrate good grades and end of the school year. Perhaps this will morph into a take-out celebration dinner.

There is a whole other list of things I “should” do like clean out the garage or clean out the junk room or organize my closet. I am not really doing the “should” list until it becomes essential like paying bills and doing the housecleaning.

I have not been doing that great – there, I said it!

My old old “friend”depression has been lurking about since Easter – about three weeks ago. During that time s/he has been competing with my other old “friend” anxiety. The depression and anxiety appear to be competing for the royal broo-hah-hah throne of my well-being. I have tried talking both depression and anxiety out of my life right now but they are very persistent with their need to be put first and for my well-being to be put second.

I certainly hope others are not being visited by these two “old friends.” If so, are you successful in asking them, – no telling them, to go away? Beat it?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Being Ahead of the Curve

During my work life and career, I have had to deal with being (or feeling) ahead of the curve by about ten to twenty years. The things I like to think about – circular time versus linear time, matter and anti-matter, quantum mechanics or quantum physics, an equation to designate the development of time, new treatment protocols for cancer or behavioral health or HIV/AIDS, development of biofuels as a substantial source of our energy supply – all tend to surface at least ten years before the topic reaches the mainstream.   For example, I wrote three grants to the USDA to use farm and animal waste for energy back in 1999/2000.  (I did not get the grants.)  Biofuels did not hit it big until about 2010 (this is a guesstimate) and in 2020 are still not in widespread use as a way to process farm waste and generate energy.

In some respects I have gotten used to the ten year gap and do not have expectations that my thoughts and insights will be useful to society.  I also have recognized that throughout the course of history many people with certain thoughts are often not recognized during their lifetimes.  Knowing this helps me not to get too frustrated when my inroads go nowhere.   And then again, perhaps nowhere is where these thoughts are intended to go. 

This sense of “being ahead of the curve” may relate back to the imaginary thoughts of that six-year-old child within.  Just as with any young child, my younger child within believes that all things are possible including things that logic and reason cannot readily address.  That younger child within for example believes she may have developed an equation to characterize the passage of time.  As I have no training in that area of science or even remotely connected to that area of science, any work I might have achieved in this regard must be due to the imagination projected forward onto the page by that younger child within.  Regardless, science is needed to fact check any or all of these musings.

This sense of “being ahead of the curve” most likely requires a scientific approach to validate whether any of my early perceptions are valuable or truthful.  As mentioned before, I consider this younger child within to be almost autistic.  (My therapist has asked me to consider whether I feel I am on the spectrum.)  Therefore is it possible that certain impressions of that child within may lead to the ability to work out complex problems without prior training just as an autistic person can perform complex mathematic calculations without any training in higher math?

Also, I do not have much perceived anxiety in regard to these perceptions.  They are what they are and nothing further.  I consider them to be perhaps inspired by the Divine but in need of fact-checking by good science in order to move forward.   Until then they are just thoughts.

I am curious, do other people ever feel like they are ahead of the curve?

I seem to be the queen of simultaneous feelings right now

As a person who has managed and struggled with bipolar disorder more than half my life, I find myself experiencing two different sets of emotions simultaneously these days. On the one hand, there is my old friend anxiety that I am having trouble keeping at bay. I talk myself out of anxiety each day by noting how few times something I worry about actually comes into being. So on the one hand, my symptoms of anxiety are heightened by the onset and prevalence of covid-19. On the other hand, I find that I feel somewhat obligated to let the general public know that anxiety is alright. It is a normal feeling to be experiencing as we go through this as a society. It also has a beginning and an end. I am not sure if it is my ego that wants to tell the general public that anxiety is OK or my sincere desire to let folks know who have never experienced anxiety that things will ultimately be OK. There will be an end to this madness at some point.

I would be curious if other people are experiencing simultaneously contradictory emotions?

Thought for the day – resilience

I do not know if this is the experience of other people with bipolar disorder or clinical depression or other behavioral health diagnoses including addiction, but when I am in the midst of a high or a low, it feels like that state will never end. The mania is all consuming. The depression seems never ending. Yet invariably the high or the low does dissipate. Perhaps this is because I have found medication that is useful or perhaps I or my therapist have talked myself out of anxiety about this or that potential event occurring. In the past when I have had a low or a high that was not receptive to medications, I have felt like that high or that low would last forever. The mania is all consuming so that I am unable to think of anything else. The depression feels like it will go on interminably. The only silver lining in these episodes is the idea that “this too shall pass.” Invariably after medication (including trial and error with multiple meds) and/or therapy do take hold, I can see clearly that the mania was temporary as was the depression. So is it possible that those of us who are first-hand familiar with anxiety and/or depression are perhaps more familiar with the anxiety that surrounds us today perhaps because of our own mental health conditions? Do we go through each day with the knowledge and perhaps the mantra that “this too shall pass?” Can we be a reminder to each other through our words and our actions that whatever negative thoughts or feelings we are having, in time things will be looking up or at least be more manageable? Can we be a reminder to those unfamiliar with anxiety or depression that again “this too will pass?” Can we through it all be the face of resilience?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Airports Then and Now

Follows Fear of Flying post

As you may understand, for years if not decades after this event at the airport (see Fear of Flying post) , I have had an intense fear of flying.  Every time I go to the airport I feel the original anxiety of that day in February 1985.  The intercom voice announcements seem to echo off the walls and the floors in some surreal fashion.  The lack of windows to the outside leaves me feeling claustrophobic always.  In the early years, this meant I had to be escorted by family to the runway gate if I were traveling alone.  (This was before the days of post 9/11 security checks.)   Years later even if I am traveling with family, I tend to be hyper aware of safety issues at all times when I am at an airport. My thoughts become more elevated and I am prone to high anxiety.  Strangely (or logically) enough these fears largely take place at the airport itself and seldom revolve around safety issues pre-flight or mid-flight while on the plane.  I am not very fearful once I am on the airplane or in flight.  The anxiety is almost always associated with being in the airport and feeling unsafe.  Gladly, my husband is also not fond of flying, so we tend to make marathon drives for our summer and family vacations. 

As a side note on airports and airport travel, I tend to have a very hard time with changing time zones when I am flying.  When I am traveling by car or by train this is not so much the case as the time change is gradual.  Because of this time zone change difficulty, I largely avoided flying to Europe for almost thirty plus years.  Even a flight from Baltimore to San Francisco was difficult in that I would experience a three-hour time change and all the difficulties associated with that, particularly impacts on sleeping.  In the last few years, I have progressed through my fears and my sleep issues of changing time zones and have traveled to Europe twice – once was for a conference in Zurich, Switzerland in July 2012 and once was for a wedding and a conference in the United Kingdom in July 2013.  Thanks to Melatonin as prescribed by my psycho-pharmacologist, I was able to make these trips with relative ease in the area of jet lag and adjusting sleep cycles.

I am very thankful that my psycho-pharmacologist as an MD was open to prescribing a relatively non-traditional form of medicine for jet lag.  This option worked beautifully for me and has given me hope that overseas travel is no longer a huge worry or huge hurdle to overcome.  In general, I am very blessed to have care givers for my bipolar illness who bridge traditional medicines and their prescription with alternative medicines such as Melatonin. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.