News Day Tuesday: Alabama inmate struggling with mental illness commits suicide

News Day Tuesday

Good afternoon, readers! First of all, I want to apologize for the lack of posts these past few weeks–I got slammed with two bouts of cold/flu/whatever nastiness is going around this time of year and have been laying low.

This week, I want to share a recent story (updates were just posted about an hour ago) about Jamie Wallace, an inmate in Alabama who committed suicide in his cell. He originally pleaded non compos mentis (not guilty by way of mental illness, more commonly known as the “insanity defense”) in his mother’s murder, though he later changed his plea to guilty.

Those are some of the basic facts that led to Wallace’s incarceration. The more important point, however, is that before his death, Wallace mentioned receiving inadequate mental health care while incarcerated.

On Dec. 5, at the opening of a federal trial over mental health treatment in state prisons, Wallace described having multiple psychiatric disorders and claimed a prison officer once offered him a razor to use to kill himself. He also testified he had tried to hang himself at least once before. (Source: Seattle Times)

If this is true, it’s incredibly disturbing. It’s no secret that mental health care in general leaves much to be desired, though the problem is especially prevalent within the United States penal system. This is hardly the first instance of an inmate committing suicide while in prison, though Jamie Wallace’s case is yet another reminder of how much work still needs to be done.

I’m going to keep watching for updates and more details, but in the meantime, I think it’s important for all of us to focus not on Wallace’s crimes but on how the prison system failed to provide a human being with the resources needed to keep them alive. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the general state of health care within the prison system, but as in the “outside” world, it seems that mental illness is regarded as far less serious than physical ailments.

Let’s take this time to remember that we have a long way to go before we’ve achieved equality. Let’s take the time to mourn the fact that a person died by his own hand because he did not receive the help he desperately needed. Removing the “inmate” label from the equation also removes the stigma and helps us focus on what’s most important here.

Until next time, readers, stay safe and keep warm! I’ll post any updates about Jamie Wallace on the Facebook page.

News Day Tuesday: CTL Update!

Authoress, News Day Tuesday

Hi, readers! Today, I’d like to discuss some personal news, as I’ve spent a good portion of the day working as a crisis counselor for my first-ever shift with Crisis Text Line.

At first, I was petrified–there are some pretty intense conversations happening on the platform at all times, and the topics range from suicide to self-harm to gender and sexuality issues and everything in-between. My supervisor was awesome about giving me feedback and helping me brainstorm how to respond when a texter had me stumped.

Though it’s a little frustrating to not be able to give direct advice (crisis counselors are there to listen and help the texter problem-solve for themselves, which is not dissimilar to Carl Rogers’ person-centered therapy), it is hugely satisfying to watch someone go through the steps of opening up about their feelings, acknowledging their own strengths, and using those strengths to come up with a plan to help with future crises. I’ve found that I really love entering the darkness with others and that I have a knack for coming up with the right things to say to gently guide a texter toward a solution without spoon-feeding it to them.

Granted, it’s only my first day, but I decided to pick up an additional two-hour shift this evening to get more experience. It’s fantastic to feel this excited and passionate about something, and I’m taking it as further encouragement that counseling is what I’m meant to do with my life.

Have you considered volunteering at a crisis center/crisis line, readers? Which one? What have your experiences been like (from either side)?


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News Day Tuesday: Ohio State Mental Health Triage

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, News Day Tuesday, therapy

Good afternoon, readers! Today, we’re tackling the concept of mental health triage for university students. Ohio State University has reported a 43% jump in the last five years in the number of students seeking mental health care. Needless to say, that’s huge.

The question of how much academic demands contribute to anxiety levels among the student body is a complicated one. Parenting styles have definitely changed over the last decade or so–I’m 27 and when I was young, “helicopter parenting” really wasn’t a thing. My peers and I were allowed to walk alone to and from school and play outside unsupervised, often late into the after-dark hours. My family placed relatively few restrictions on how I spent my free time; reading and viewing choices were left up to my own discretion, with the assumption that I would make good choices for myself. As a result, I didn’t have much trouble adapting to the freedom that comes with college life, though I did live at home for the first two years of my undergraduate program.

As a non-parent, I can’t speak personally to what parenting styles are in vogue these days. However, it seems that (for very valid reasons) parents have become much more cautious and protective. This naturally leads to students feeling anxiety over the unprecedented freedom that comes with college and living away from home for the first time. Tuition and student loans are also enormously stressful–I know I’m not the only one who had a bit of a freak-out upon receiving that first scary bill after the post-graduation grace period ended. The overall “climate” of university life, combined with the myriad of complicated developmental changes adolescents and young adults have to navigate, creates a perfect storm for the emergence of mental health issues.

This brings us back to the subject at hand: mental health triage. It’s an intriguing concept and one that’s particularly timely; with so many patients in need being turned away from psychiatric wards due to lack of beds, it’s clear that we need to figure out a way to prioritize who needs what kind of help, and how urgently they need it.

Ohio State’s triage consists of determining whether students require more intensive one-on-one therapy or more general group-based therapy and seminars. The university offers a workshop called “Beating Anxiety,” which is something that I’d love to see implemented at more schools, particularly as part of the standard first-year curriculum. During my first year of undergrad, I saw many of my peers struggle with taking full responsibility for every aspect of their lives. It can be overwhelming to navigate roommates and coursework as well as meeting daily needs for the first time. Add to that a work-study job or two to supplement financial aid, and it’s not hard to see why so many students are stressed.

Another aspect of Ohio State’s program that I love is the “Recess” event:

On a grassy lawn, there are tents where students can make balloon animals, blow bubbles and play with therapy dogs and a large colorful parachute. The event is designed to help students relieve stress and to introduce students to counseling center services and staff in a fun way.

– Students Flood College Mental Health Centers, The Wall Street Journal

You can read more about the impressive range of resources offered to students at Ohio State here.

Readers who have a college background, what kinds of programs do you think are most valuable? What was/is available to you?


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News Day Tuesday: Bipolar Awareness Day!

a cure for what ails you, explanations, major depression, medication, mood diary, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, therapy

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today (October 4th) is Bipolar Awareness Day, so I wanted to share an article with you that outlines the basic symptoms (for the uninitiated, as I know there are some new readers here) as well as what’s on the horizon in terms of treatment.

First of all, let’s hear about what bipolar disorder actually is. I’m referencing bt.com for the purposes of this tidbit, as the article I found gives a really great Reader’s Digest condensed version of the illness.

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

According to this article, it takes 10.5 years on average (in the UK) for people with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed. The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMD) paints a similarly grim picture: it can take ten years or more for a diagnosis to be reached, and 69% of cases are misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

-bt.com

My experience began very early. I remember fits of agitation and depression as early as eight years old, which at the time was chalked up to the incredibly rough hand I was dealt–a broken home, a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder herself as well as alcoholism, extreme bullying, and persistent nightmares (which were later diagnosed as a feature of PTSD). NAMI states that rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, the most severe form of the illness, seems to be more common in individuals who begin exhibiting symptoms early in life.

From NAMI.org:

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder In Children and Teens

Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors. A new diagnosis, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), was added to the DSM-5 in 2014.

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder/Overview#sthash.l0XKtkSy.dpuf

When I was eighteen, I decided to see a therapist and psychiatrist for the intense mood swings that had plagued me for most of my life. I was initially told that my deep depressions were the result of PTSD. I was prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which only made the agitation worse. And I was still depressed.

At 22, I relocated to Wisconsin and began the search for something, anything, that would finally help me feel “normal.” The misdiagnoses continued: major depressive disorder, for which I was prescribed Abilify and trazodone. I felt amazing on Abilify for about two weeks, and then I crashed. Trazodone made me a zombie. (Note: It is not atypical for antipsychotics to be prescribed to treat both MDD and bipolar disorder.)

Bipolar disorder is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of episodes and behavior.

-healthline.com

When I was 24 and in my first “adult job” with health insurance, I found a wonderful psychiatrist who, over the course of several sessions, examined my family history and asked very specific questions to find the root of my illness. At first, I didn’t even think to mention my “up” periods, because even with the agitation and sleeplessness, I actually felt good–and no one goes to the doctor when they’re feeling well. But upon deeper probing, he came to a conclusion: first bipolar II, then, after further investigation and a few weeks of mood tracking in a journal, rapid-cycling bipolar I.

That first year was rough. I cycled so frequently that the days were exhausting. One day, I bounced between depression and mixed episodes several times in a single 24-hour period. Slowly but surely, the medications my doctor had prescribed (venlafaxine/Effexor, lamotrigine, and lithium) began to take effect. I began to stabilize. There were no more florid creative periods, but I was also able to sleep for more than an hour a night for the first time in weeks. My misery began to ebb, and though it didn’t disappear completely (a dysfunctional marriage contributed, among other things), I began to feel like a person again instead of a defective thing that needed to be turned off and fixed.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, NAMI’s website mentions cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy that focuses on self-care and stress management, and, in rare cases, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Learning to recognize the triggers for each type of episode is key; one suggestion offered by the numerous therapists I’ve seen over the years is mood tracking/journaling.

However, I had to stop at one point because, in the heyday of my illness, I began to obsess over the cycles, sometimes tracking up to ten or eleven times a day. Instead of the journaling soothing my mind, I began to worry that I was untreatable. I found my mood journal during a recent move and it was difficult reading, to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much my quality of life has improved since receiving a proper diagnosis.

These days, I’m doing much better. My medications have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the deep depressive episodes I’m prone to during the fall and winter months, but I am proud of myself for being able to recognize that the winter storm was a-comin’. Three years ago, I would not have been able to see the symptoms for what they are: a warning sign and a signal that I need to not only keep up with my medications, but to practice good self-care. In the past, I saw fall and winter as something awful that I had to endure. Now, I realize that I can still enjoy life even when the days begin to get longer and darker. The seasons are no longer a metaphor for the overall “climate” in my head.

How long did it take for you to receive a proper diagnosis, readers? Are you taking care of yourselves as winter approaches? I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and safe. And spread the word–this illness is massively misunderstood, even by mental health professionals, so it’s our job to reach out and counter-strike against the misinformation and discrimination.


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News Day Tuesday: Local Mental Health Resources

a cure for what ails you, abuse, anxiety, medication, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

Good afternoon, readers! This time, let’s talk local resources for mental health care.

I saw a wonderful counselor through the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (which I’m eligible for because my significant other is currently a student). I’ll share more of the personal details in a post later this week, but the counselor I met with gave me some information about local resources I had no idea existed, and I’d like to pass those on to you. I feel they’ll be particularly useful to anyone in the Baltimore area, but I’m sure there are similar programs throughout the country.

First is Sheppard Pratt. Being new to the area, I was unfamiliar with this hospital, but they have a program specifically designed to help people dealing with all sorts of trauma.

The Trauma Disorders program at Sheppard Pratt specializes in dissociative disorders and CPTSD, which is exciting because I had no idea these types of programs existed anywhere. They certainly weren’t a thing in the Midwest, where I’m from. It’s an inpatient program, which isn’t a good fit for me for a number of reasons, but I plan to reach out to see if they know of any good outpatient therapists who are well-versed in these issues.

It’s comforting to know that there are facilities that offer support specifically tailored to complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which can present challenges to many therapists. I found one therapist during my time in Madison who seemed to know quite a bit about PTSD, including my dissociative symptoms, but she went on maternity leave shortly after I began seeing her. My subsequent searches for therapists was largely unsuccessful, which is not a negative reflection on any particular counselor–as I said, it can be a tricky affliction to effectively treat. I’ve been told that because of the depth of my dissociative symptoms, I’m not a great candidate for EMDR, which eliminates one of the most widely-used techniques for treating PTSD.

The second resource I learned about last Friday is the Baltimore County Crisis Response, which offers not only crisis intervention (as the name suggests), but also a 24-hour hotline and–this is the most exciting part–one-time psychologist and psychiatrist consults, which are particularly useful for people who are in a transitional period and looking for providers in the area but need refills of medication or therapy. That’s right, readers; there’s actually a place you can go for those all-important refills you can’t get anywhere else, which means no more rationing of medication to make it through.

The counselor at JHSAP was also kind enough to email me a long list of references for therapists in the area. Admittedly, I’ve been procrastinating a bit and haven’t gotten around to checking them out, but it’s on the list for this week.

Are you aware of resources and programs in your area, readers? Are they easy to locate, or do they require a bit of digging?


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News Day Tuesday: Childhood Mental Illness

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, stigma

Good afternoon, readers! This week, I’m featuring an article from NPR related to the early detection of mental illness in children. Child psychologist Rahil Briggs states that half of all children show signs of mental illness before age 14.

On a personal note, I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder around age seven or eight. My mother had gone to prison when I was six years old, and I went twice a month to visit her at the correctional facility that was several hours from my home. By this point, nightmares were a common occurrence–I’d had them regularly since age five–so my guardian and other relatives didn’t think much of it when the frequency increased slightly after these visits began. There was some talk of finding a therapist for me, but the idea was abandoned.

One of the earliest memories I have of PTSD-related symptoms was one night when I was attempting to play chess with my aunt in the basement of my grandmother’s home, where I lived for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. I began to feel odd, detached from my own body and my surroundings. I remember saying to my aunt, “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” because that was the only way I could describe it at the time.

She had no idea what I was talking about and gave me a strange look, a reaction for which I can’t exactly blame her–if I weren’t “in the know” about the symptoms of PTSD, I would have found such a statement very strange.

As a child, I was generally calm and reserved, but I did occasionally “act out.” I would get panicky and anxious, a tiny ball of pent-up energy and what I can only describe as rage at nothing in particular. That energy had nowhere to go, so it was directed inward, causing lasting damage before finally exploding outward. I would storm around the house in a dark mood, only to erupt moments later in a fit of crying so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

My family was helpless to help me because they didn’t understand–or perhaps didn’t want to accept–the reality of what was happening to me. Bipolar disorder, which has spread throughout the family tree like Spanish moss, was beginning to wreak havoc on my still-developing brain.

Childhood mental illness is a tricky subject. It’s hard to recognize, and it’s terrifying, both for the sufferer and the child’s loved ones. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of socioeconomic class or education level or how strong the family’s ties are. Therefore, it’s especially important for parents to remember and impress upon their children that it is an illness like any other and is not a moral or character judgment. It is not evidence of parental failings or proof that the child has not been loved enough. It simply is, and the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment and healing can begin.

Did you start showing signs of mental illness in childhood, readers? How did your family/caregivers react?


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News Day Tuesday: Mental Health First Aid in Canada

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Good afternoon, readers! This Tuesday, I’d like to draw some attention to Mental Health First Aid training in Canada, the importance of which I cannot possibly overstate. As the article states, there’s training everywhere you turn to deal with things like broken bones or heart attacks. CPR classes have been around forever, and just about everybody can recognize the signs of a stroke.

But not many people know how to recognize the signs of mental illness. It’s hard to identify it even in yourself; without proper information, it’s almost impossible to spot it in others. Part of the Mental Health First Aid training program (or MFHA) is the discussion of symptoms and what to look for, but the other component–and, I’d argue, the most important–is discourse on the stigma surrounding mental illness.

After all, if we’re not comfortable talking about it, comfortable with asking our friends, family, and colleagues questions that probe deeper than a simple “Are you okay?”, there’s no chance that we’ll feel comfortable enough with the topic to actually help those who need it most.

I believe programs like MFHA are crucial to reducing the stigma and normalizing mental illness, because honestly, it’s not any different than physical ailments. It’s in our brains, coded into our DNA, not something we bring upon ourselves. It is not a moral or spiritual failing. It’s an illness that, like any other, requires compassion and treatment.

I know I’ve written about this almost to death, but I need people to know that they’re okay, that they’re not freaks or “insane.” I need people to stop flippantly saying things like, “You need to take your meds!” in response to an argument they don’t agree with. I need people to learn to confront, and eventually accept, the things that scare them, the things that lurk in the deepest, most private recesses of our mind.

Education is the only way to combat ignorance and fear. We need to share our stories and show everyone on the “outside” that we’re just like them. We have lives and relationships and jobs and passions. Above all, we are human. We are not something to fear. The sooner we can help others realize this, the sooner we can all start fighting the common enemy–the stigma that costs and destroys lives.

Do you know how to recognize signs of mental illness in others, readers? And more importantly, how and when did you first recognize it in yourself? It’s a hard topic for sure, but it’s one that needs to be addressed.


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News Day Tuesday: Press Release – CPTSD.help

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Greetings, readers! It’s News Day Tuesday once again, and I have something exciting to share this week. A little over a week ago, I was approached via email by Adriaan Bouman,  a web developer from Holland who’s created a new online community called CPTSD.help. The following is the press release I received:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Adriaan Bouman
CPTSD.help
info@cptsd.help

https://cptsd.help/

Introducing CPTSD.help

– Community-based recovery –

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Knowing the name of it helps. Knowing that you’re not alone helps even more. CPTSD.helpis a secure, online, real-time chat platform where members can share experiences, offer support and discuss recovery topics in a safe space.

“Recovery can only take place within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”

– Judith Lewis Herman

While C-PTSD is not yet recognised within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is defined as a psychological stress injury, resulting from continuous or repeated trauma over which the victim has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape.

Web developer, Adriaan Bouman, created this open-source chat site not as a substitute for traditional therapy, but to establish a community that could help others on the road towards recovery. “In my own personal discovery and research I found that there are three main phases,” Bouman explains. “The first is diagnosis: identifying your condition as C-PTSD. The second phase is the journey towards recovery: a very personal journey. And the third is the period after recovery.”

This platform is for the many individuals within the middle phase. It’s for those who have identified their condition and are embarking on the journey towards recovery. Although that journey is always incredibly personal, it does not have to be taken alone.

CPTSD.help also links to many of the online resources that already exist, but what sets it apart from the rest is that its interactive nature encourages the dialogue necessary for understanding, grappling with, and hopefully overcoming C-PTSD. Discussion topics range from managing emotional flashbacks, finding the right therapist and mindfulness, to relationships, family, work, and even politics and philosophy.

Counsellors and therapists are also encouraged to join the community,” states Bouman. “The future aim is to have regular online Q&A events with experts; not only therapists, but also community members who have recovered from C-PTSD.”

– MORE –

While we may not know how many people suffer directly from the condition, we do know that there are millions out there who have been exposed to trauma on a continual basis. CPTSD.help allows us the opportunity to share valuable information, gain insights, and develop a community voice to demand a space in the DSM in the near future.

ABOUT CPTSD.help

Adriaan Bouman is a freelance front-end engineer and web developer from Holland, working out of Barcelona. He is not an expert in C-PTSD. His vision is simple: by building the platform for community engagement and support, those experts will eventually arise and help guide those still starting their recovery journey. No stranger to the power of online communities and international collaboration, Bouman brings a wealth of expertise in terms of digital and user experience design, to ensure CPTSD.help remains a secure and interactive platform for safe chat.

– END – 

I’m intrigued, to say the least. In general, I don’t jump into online spaces about mental illness because I usually go online to distract myself from whatever’s going on inside my head. However, this community is one to watch and I’m definitely going to be checking it out.

What communities are you into, readers? Have you had any experiences with targeted sub-Reddits (r/bipolar, for example)? What are your thoughts on an online community that includes patients as well as mental health professionals?

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News Day Tuesday: Proposal to open safe havens in St. Tammany Parish.

News Day Tuesday, stigma

This week, I have some optimistic news to share! St. Tammany Parish is planning to present a proposal to New Orleans city officials regarding a safe haven for people suffering from mental health issues as well as a day center for homeless families.

The plan is to offer services related to mental health crisis intervention and management (which is aimed at keeping people with mental health issues from ending up in jail, or worse). The center, which will be run by the National Alliance on Mental Health, is designed to be a safe place where people taken into custody by police can receive medical care and be stabilized, as opposed to being thrown in jail by default.

There has been an overwhelming influx of news articles about dangerous and often tragic interactions between police officers and people living with mental illness, so I’m pretty excited about this proposal. Even if New Orleans city officials don’t bite, I’m hoping  that this will set a precedent and spur more cities to action. It’s become obvious that we need more proactive, helpful approaches to de-escalating situations and actually helping people instead of just sticking them in holding cells with little to no treatment.

I’m planning to keep an eye on this one for sure. While other cities offer similar programs, the issue as a whole could certainly use a boost in publicity.

So, question time, readers: Does your city have any type of safe haven program? And, more importantly, are they well-known?

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News Day Tuesday: New drug for PTSD!

a cure for what ails you, medication, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

News on mental illness (aside from the usual stories about police brutality and the fact that mental illness physically alters your brain) has been somewhat scarce lately, readers. However, I did manage to scare up an article about a new drug for PTSD called TNX 102 SL, which is absorbed sublingually (under the tongue, like lorazepam and other anti-anxiety meds) and reportedly helps with some of the more disruptive symptoms of PTSD, like arousal/startle response, anxiety, and negative thoughts.

The drug is related to a muscle relaxant called Flexeril. I’ve heard of muscle relaxants being used to treat startle response in the past, but I’ve never tried anything of the sort before. I typically rely on lorazepam to control acute symptoms, like when I’m out in a crowded public space and begin to feel the good old irritability and hypersensitivity to sound kick in.

I’m pretty excited that new treatments are even being tested for PTSD, honestly. The startle response is definitely the worst symptom for me–any sudden noise, no matter how small, can provoke an ear-piercing shriek and a huge bump in my heart rate. And because I have chronic pelvic pain that’s partially caused by trigger points, the instinctive tensing makes the pain multiply, which makes me more miserable, and it becomes this whole endless cycle that’s really hard to break.

I’m also hopeful that some new treatments that help with sleep but don’t leave me a groggy mess the next day will pop up. I sleep very lightly now and have a hard time falling asleep. I usually use either lorazepam (if the insomnia’s not too bad, though I need at least two milligrams to get a good night’s rest) or quetiapine/Seroquel if I’m really sleep-deprived. However, even though those drugs work in the short-term, I end up sleeping way longer than intended and am basically a zombie the next day.

Readers, what do you think of this drug, given what limited information we have so far? Would you try it? What do you use to cope, either medically or psychologically?

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