28.

Authoress, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Today is my 28th birthday. I generally don’t put much stock in them–it’s just another day when you get past a certain age, in my opinion. But my fella made today really special (breakfast and a mini scavenger hunt to my gift!), so it’s the best birthday I can remember.

Birthdays are significant to me for one reason: they’re proof that I’m still alive. It might seem silly to most people, but as quite a few of you know, those of us afflicted with PTSD tend to also be plagued by the belief that we’re just not going to live very long.

For me, this feeling of dread started when I was in my mid-teens. I thought I wouldn’t make it to sixteen, then nineteen, then twenty-one…and here I am at twenty-eight, having endured three lifetimes worth of horror and survived it all. Every year on this date, I take a moment to marvel at that.

It’s kind of incredible. And you, my readers–all of you–are incredible for hanging on and being alive. Remember that when the bleakness starts to press close and you feel like you’re buried above ground. You are still here, and you should be so proud of that.

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

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The Big Bad Blues, they’re a-comin’

anxiety, Authoress, bipolar disorder, major depression, personal experiences

The Blues are back in town, and unfortunately, I don’t mean the Snooks Eaglin, ramblin’-soul-man-with-a-guitar type. Thanks, winter!

Don’t get me wrong–I am loving the Maryland weather. The winter has been mild, but when it’s 70 degrees one day and 30 the next, oh man, that’s like hitting a brick wall doing 90 miles an hour.

I like to imagine that there’s some kind of a party going on in my brain. I  picture my synapses and neurons and all those delicious chemicals that enter my body in pill form each morning to keep me sane, dancing around in a conga line with lampshades on their heads before passing out with permanent marker on their faces.

The party bit isn’t what troubles me. That feels okay and decidedly un-manic these days. It’s the afterward, that insidious unraveling of the good-times and how they fray bit by bit until all that’s left is the worst kind of loneliness–the loneliness that is you and your brain and nothing else.

There is a vast emptiness that comes with depression. When I decide to stay up after Paul has gone to bed (because our sleep schedules are pretty different–he has day classes, mine are at night), I’m often struck by an aching loneliness. Even though I know he’s fifteen feet away in the bedroom on the other side of the wall from me, a dark antsiness sets in. It’s not because we’re not together, because I can be my own company and take care of myself. It’s how frightening it can be in the quiet of the apartment when the day is done but I’m not tired enough for bed and while my brain isn’t especially active, the emotions hiding just beneath the surface start to make me feel bad for no reason.

Sometimes I get shivers, but on the inside. It’s like having someone reach out from inside your organs and tickle your ribs, disconcerting and uncomfortable. It makes you want to cry for no reason, but then when you try, you find that you can’t. There is no catharsis. There is only waiting and distracting yourself until it calms down or you go completely mad (and sometimes both, by turns).

These are the Big Bad Blues, and it seems they’re back in town.

Sometimes they show up only at night, and only for a day or two. It’s unavoidable; no matter how well-medicated and well-adjusted you are, things are going to slip in through the cracks from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast. My body and my mind are like a drafty house in that way. I take care to shut the doors tight, to put plastic on the windows and check the vulnerable spaces with candle flames to see where there’s a leak, but in the night, little wisps of cold sometimes slip in and wrap around me. If I don’t catch it early and fight back with whatever’s within grabbing distance, I begin to feel as though I’ll never be warm again.

Then there are the ones that come in the late afternoon, just before sunset, when the shadows stretch long and the light begins to turn golden in the before-dark time. The Golden Hour, I’ve always called it, but it doesn’t mean anything good. I have about a thousand theories as to why this time of day gets me down harder than anything else, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with that information once I figure it out or how the insight will make me feel better. For now, all I can do is turn my head away and get through it until it passes and the calming near-dark comes.

When I start to feel like this late at night, I slip quietly into bed and read for a while. The proximity to someone I love who loves me back is comforting, and whatever book I’m currently reading relaxes and distracts me. When I get to feeling low, distraction seems to be the only thing that can snap me out of it. I spend a lot of my time hanging out by myself in the apartment with the cats and my textbooks, but having something to do keeps me sane. It’s the nothingness that’ll get you, and it will get you every single time.

I’m pleased to report that I woke up today (albeit much later than I wanted) feeling just fine. At present, I’m working on reading ahead a week or two for my classes, though I’ll inevitably forget to cross it off in my planner and then go back to it on the appropriate week and wonder if a mysterious ghost-highlighter has gotten hold of my books. It’s actually a good source of humor and plus, it’s always a relief to realize that you have less homework than you thought.

And I know I’ve been promising-promising-promising that series, which at this rate will be out by sometime next year. (I kid! I need to make some sort of research schedule for each day, though, because I am spectacularly unmotivated and there always seems to be some other thing that grabs my attention.)

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.

 

Update!

explanations, housekeeping, Uncategorized

Good afternoon, readers!

I have not abandoned you–on the contrary, I’ve been busy doing research for the upcoming series on deinstitutionalization and the history of psychiatric hospitals here in the United States. (I’m also back in school now and taking three classes–counseling techniques, diversity and social justice, and legal and ethical issues of counseling–all of which are very interesting!)

I do post more regularly on the Facebook page for The Dissociated Press, so you can check out (and like, if you’re so inclined) the page for updates and other bite-sized posts.

I hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule soon!

-Jess

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: Mental Illness and Prison

bipolar disorder

Good afternoon, readers! First of all, I want to share some big news of my own–on Thanksgiving, on the rooftop of a family friend’s townhouse, my fella proposed to me! His parents and sister were there, which made it so special. I could not have asked for a more perfect guy or a more beautiful memory.

Now, on to the meat of today’s post–the treatment of the mentally ill in the United States penal system. I found a wonderful piece of investigative journalism (courtesy of the Boston Globe) that follows one inmate, Nick Lynch, through his release from prison and his adjustment to life on the outside.

Lynch, twenty-six years old and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been incarcerated for eight years at the time of his release. His father had made plans for the two of them–going back to college was a huge goal, undergraduate for Nick and graduate school for his father. However, as Russell and Cramer note, “But Nick was sicker now than when he’d gone to prison.”

In prison, Lynch received little in the way of mental health care, and his illness was exacerbated by being segregated. Near the end of his sentence, he attempted suicide, which was the final push needed to secure better mental health care for him. This is deplorable and only serves as one more tragic event in the ever-mounting heap of stories of how the very systems designed to protect us–people with mental illness–fail, often with tragic consequences.

While prison officials defended the course of action taken at the facility, Lynch’s father tells a different story, stating that he was the one who had to push to secure appropriate treatment for his son.

The article is lengthy, but it follows Nick’s saga of treatment, the overall difficulties navigating the mental healthcare system, and his return to prison. I strongly encourage you to read the entire piece here–it is a wonderful example of the type of exposé we need to start making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

This brings me to my next point–I’ve been meaning to do a series of sorts about deinstitutionalization in the United States, which I’m hoping to get started in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to go more in-depth on.

And, as always, stay safe and lovely, readers. I’ll see you next time.


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Andrea Gibson – The Nutritionist

a cure for what ails you, three hopeful thoughts

Hello, readers!

Today, I want to share with you a poem/spoken word piece that has always deeply resonated with me. The first (and second, and third…) time I heard it, I was reduced to helpless tears. I had the privilege of meeting Andrea Gibson and seeing her perform about six years ago, when she was doing a show in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. I ended up getting a comforting hug and crying on her shoulder when I told her how much this poem means to me, and I will never forget that moment.

“The trauma said, don’t write this poem. No one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.” This, and the final lines: “Live. Live. Live.” will always make me cry–not from sadness, but from relief. This is the single most reassuring thing I have ever read (and heard) in my life.

When I discovered Andrea Gibson I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was not alone and that everything was going to be all right in the end. It was the first step in my long journey that eventually culminated in the ability to just sit with the pain and accept it for what it is. I have learned that no matter how low I feel, how dark the dark nights of the soul get, not every day will be like today.

The Nutritionist

The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables
Said if I could get down 13 turnips a day
I would be grounded,
rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away to where the darkness is.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight
Said for 20 dollars she’d tell me what to do
I handed her the twenty,
she said “stop worrying darling, you will find a good man soon.”

The first psychotherapist said I should spend 3 hours a day sitting in a dark closet with my eyes closed, with my ears plugged
I tried once but couldn’t stop thinking about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet

The yogi told me to stretch everything but truth,
said focus on the outbreaths,
everyone finds happiness when they can care more about what they can give than what they get

The pharmacist said klonopin, lamictil, lithium, Xanax
The doctor said an antipsychotic might help me forget what the trauma said
The trauma said don’t write this poem
Nobody wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones

My bones said “Tyler Clementi dove into the Hudson River convinced he was entirely alone.”
My bones said “write the poem.”

The lamplight.
Considering the river bed.
To the chandelier of your fate hanging by a thread.
To everyday you could not get out of bed.
To the bulls eye on your wrist
To anyone who has ever wanted to die.
I have been told, sometimes, the most healing thing to do-
Is remind ourselves over and over and over
Other people feel this too

The tomorrow that has come and gone
And it has not gotten better
When you are half finished writing that letter to your mother that says “I swear to God I tried”
But when I thought I hit bottom, it started hitting back
There is no bruise like the bruise of loneliness kicks into your spine

So let me tell you I know there are days it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets when you break down like the doors of the looted buildings
You are not alone and wondering who will be convicted of the crime of insisting you keep loading your grief into the chamber of your shame
You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy

I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth with a red cape inside
Some people will never understand the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside
Some days I know my smile looks like the gutter of a falling house
But my hands are always holding tight to the ripchord of believing
A life can be rich like the soil
Can make food of decay
Can turn wound into highway
Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says
“it is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society”

I have never trusted anyone with the pulled back bow of my spine the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
Screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound
Four nights before Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington bridge I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
Calculating exactly what I had to swallow to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down

What I know about living is the pain is never just ours
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo
So I keep a listening to the moment the grief becomes a window
When I can see what I couldn’t see before,
through the glass of my most battered dream, I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin, don’t try to put me back in
just say here we are together at the window aching for it to all get better
but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts may have only just skinned their knees knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming
let me say right now for the record, I’m still gonna be here
asking this world to dance, even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet

you- you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Raising your bite against the bitter dark
Your bright longing
Your brilliant fists of loss
Friend

if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,

my god that’s plenty

my god that’s enough
my god that is so so much for the light to give
each of us at each other’s backs whispering over and over and over
“Live”
“Live”
“Live”

You can watch one of the many versions of Andrea performing here, and I encourage you to check it out! It’s a great reminder that no matter how lonely we get, none of us exist in a vacuum.

Continue to raise your bite against the bitter dark, friends. Fight as hard as you can, because the world sees us as broken. Refuse to give up. Fight to show everyone that you matter, that you are more than the sum of your parts or the chemicals inside your brain. You are more than a diagnosis, a code on a medical chart, the endless insurance claims and the bills and the medications you swallow every day just to feel okay.

You are a human being, first and foremost. I hope none of you ever forget that. You matter. Your life matters. You are worth something to the universe not because of who you are or what you’ve done, but because you’re here. And you’re going to be okay.

News Day Tuesday: Election Anxiety

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, Uncategorized

Good afternoon, readers! It’s that time of week again!

First of all, for those of you who don’t follow the Facebook page for The Dissociated Press (and if that’s the case, why not?), I have some exciting news to share: Last night, I found out that I’ve been accepted to Johns Hopkins’ Master of Science program for Counseling Psychology! I’ll be starting in the spring.

Now, on to the main event for this week: election anxiety. I’m sure most of us have felt it at one time or another, and for many, it’s probably coming to a head right about now. Today’s article comes from K5 in western Washington state.

Bernice Imei Hsu, a registered nurse and licensed mental health counselor, stated that around 85% of her new patients come in to discuss anxiety related to this year’s presidential election. Some of the clients began presenting with these concerns as early as May of this year.

Hsu has some great tips for helping with election anxiety:

Hsu first assesses how well her clients can handle conflict and change. She then helps them come up with a plan for how they might react to election results.

She asks clients to identify people in their lives who can help them discuss their anxieties and needs. She also encourages clients to practice “relentless self-care.”

“Maybe they need to take a little break, maybe they need to turn down the volume a bit of their social media feeds, stop screaming in all caps, or reading other people scream in all caps, turn it down, tone it down, and take care of themselves,” Hsu said.

The first time I voted in a presidential election was in 2008, and I remember being incredibly anxious. That anxiety was even worse in 2012. This time, I’m feeling oddly calm about it, though I think that’s because I’m in a better place mentally and have already set up some fun activities for tonight to keep my mind off the results (even though I’ll inevitably end up watching them roll in).

I have coloring and cross stitch on the list, as well as my ever-expanding Netflix queue, which is always a good distraction. I’ve realized that while I can vote, I ultimately can’t do anything about the results and that it’s better not to waste my energy worrying excessively about it. Whatever happens is what happens; I find this point of view very calming.

What about you, readers? Do you get election jitters? How do you combat them?

News Day Tuesday: More Progress on Mental Health Care Parity?

a cure for what ails you, three hopeful thoughts

Good afternoon, readers!

It’s no secret to most of us that securing quality mental health care can be frustrating, if not seemingly impossible. In 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed, which basically ensured that insurance companies were not allowed to discriminate against mental health care when offering coverage–benefits for these services had to be more or less equal to the benefits offered for standard medical and surgical care. (You can read more about the act here!)

I was nineteen years old when the act was passed, and it was a huge moment in my life. But things are still not great; many insurance plans have extremely strict limits on the number of counseling visits allowed per year (the insurance plans I’ve had in the last ten years have placed a limit of twelve appointments per calendar year), and there is still much to be done before we can honestly say that mental health care is equal, in the eyes of insurers, to other types of medical care.

For one thing, enforcement of the parity law tends to leave much to be desired. The task force, which formed in March of this year, has identified the following objectives in reforming mental health care parity:

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is awarding $9.3 million to states to help enforce parity protections. California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island were cited as models of promising enforcement efforts.
  • A new government website will help consumers identify the right agency to assist with their parity complaints and appeals.
  • A newly released consumer guide will help patients, families and providers understand their rights and look into whether they have experienced a parity violation.
  • The Department of Labor will report each year on its investigations into parity violations

-npr.org, “Federal Panel Calls For Stricter Enforecement of Mental Health Care Parity Law”

Though I am a bit skeptical that any great strides will be made in the immediate future, I am trying to remain cautiously optimistic that within the next few years, we’ll be able to enjoy equal benefits for mental health care.

My current insurance plan offers a very limited selection of counselors and psychiatrists, and wait lists are often several months long. I had an intake appointment a few weeks ago and am still waiting to hear back on whether or not the counselor in question will even accept me as a patient. I know my experience is not unique and, even more disturbingly, there is the continued dearth of hospital beds for people struggling with severe mental illness who need immediate hospitalization to survive.


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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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