Friday, October 3, 2014

"Just get over" the mental illness?

This story was printed in the NAMI ADVOCATE, Winter 2014, page 23.

For years, I was told by friends and family that I was overly dramatic and overreacting to situations around me. I was told to “just get over it” and “be normal.” For all those years, I tried desperately hard to act like everyone around me. Yet I always realized that they had something that I didn’t have. They were able to process events and not get upset. They weren’t changing from extremely

happy to super sad in a matter of hours. They didn’t think about killing  themselves every moment of the day. They didn’t get relief by cutting up their bodies. Something was different, and I just couldn’t figure it out.

In college, I decided to major in psychology. We learned everything there is to know about the human brain and all of the chemical imbalances that go along with different disorders. My sophomore year, I had my first incidence with suicide. Before I was able to do anything, my friends caught wind of it and called the police. From that day through the next few years, suicide was about the only thing on my mind. The police were called intermittently during these years, but no treatment or counseling was ever sought.  Besides, I had found a different outlet for my pain: cutting and alcoholism.

My drinking quickly evolved into full-blown alcoholism within weeks of taking my first drink. At the time, I knew that alcohol was basically the only thing that was keeping me alive. Then February 15, 2013 happened.

That morning, I went to work chemically altered with a lot of the new anti-anxiety pills that were just prescribed to me. I was going to kill myself that night. I had given away my dog, packed up my house, and got everything all set. Somehow my boss caught wind of it and ended up calling the police. I was sent to a special psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for about a month.

There I was officially diagnosed for the first time in my life with borderline personality disorder and bipolar II disorder. However, I did not want to admit that I had a mental illness. After being told this information, something snapped in my brain and I began getting violent and ended up on four-point restraints.

(After repeated hospitalizations, more restraints, and many more medications, Ashley’s journey took a more positive turn.)

Finally, I was sent to a local hospital with a psychiatric unit after another attempt to kill myself. I was blessed with being assigned an amazing psychiatrist who finally figured out my medication. He took me off the boat load of medications that were basically just sedating me and put me on a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant. Suddenly, life was beginning to feel easier to handle. My moods weren’t swinging from one extreme to another, and I no longer wanted to kill myself every day. He set me up with a community agency that would provide me my medication and therapy on a long term basis. I was able to return to school and pursue psychiatric nursing while obtaining a new job. I was finally beginning to function like those “normal” people that I had admired ever since childhood.

Throughout my journey, I have been hit with many negative views and criticisms about what I was going through. The stigma of having a mental illness began to flood into my life and affect everything. However, thanks to NAMI’S Peer-to-Peer classes, I began to understand that I wasn’t alone in the fight against stigma and that together we can enlighten the world one person at a time.Its danger is not to be underestimated. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States and other developed countries. If left untreated, it can lead to suicide.”
The good news is it is a highly treatable illness.

A closer look at symptoms reveals these characteristics of mood: sad or very irritable; cannot be cheered up; loss of interest in pleasure in daily activities.

Among physical symptoms are insomnia or sleeping too much; change in appetite or a significant unintentional change in weight; being visibly slowed down or agitated; extreme fatigue and lack of energy; decreased sexual drive, catatonia (psychotic stage).

Behavioral symptoms include decreased motivation; decreased task performance; withdrawal and isolation; loss of gratification in effort; lack of attention to hygiene and appearance; no desire to talk, interact, socialize; grossly disorganized (psychotic stage).

Symptoms associated with thinking include accusatory, self blaming thoughts; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; having very low self-esteem; marked indecisiveness or the inability to think, remember, concentrate; recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans; delusions (psychotic stage), disorganized, incoherent speech (psychotic stage).

Symptoms involving the senses are hypersensitive to noise, light, stress;
hallucinations (psychotic stage).

Psychosis is a break with reality in which the person sees, hears, or feels things that are not there.  Psychosis can be manifested in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, as well as depression.

Abraham Lincoln gives a glimpse of the depths of his depression when he said, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

Because the physical signs of a major depressive episode can mimic other illnesses of the thyroid and adrenal glands, and illnesses like MS and heart disease are known to cause depression, these physical disorders need to be ruled out. It is absolutely essential for people experiencing depressive symptoms to ask for, and get, a complete physical as part of their diagnostic work-up.

It is important to know there is good treatment for depression. A person should not try to “tough it out.” There is HOPE. Treatment works.

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