Prescription for Peace 

Garden of the Mind

geese in deep water

Let’s talk about psychiatric medication. 

Over the last few years, I have had many conversations with friends and family about various mental health diagnoses of ourselves and loved ones (both confirmed and speculation) and only a few times medication has been part of the discussion.  Most of the time when mental health is discussed, I hear the story of how someone becomes diagnosed due to a breakdown or Stage 3 or 4 symptoms and then that’s the end of the story.

When medication is part of the story, it’s often spoken about in a negative way:

“You can’t just pop a pill to be happy.”

“She was all doped up on all kinds of meds.”

“He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.”

“The medicine prescribed just made things worse.”

“I felt like a zombie.”

“Someone could have punched me in the face and I would have smiled and thanked them.”

“Mental illness is spiritual warfare, so medication is not the answer.”

 

Mine is a somewhat classic story, in that medication was not part of it until I had been struggling with mental illness for many years. 

I first experienced anxiety as a young child, which evolved to an anxiety disorder and depression as a teen.  I attended talk therapy sessions from 14 until I moved away to college and from those four years of therapy I mainly learned that talking about feelings and a 20 minute walk daily should ward off depression and anxiety.  No medications were suggested as I was coping and seemed resilient.

During college, my anxiety increased and I began to develop OCD and have panic attacks. At 21, I was prescribed my first antidepressant after I had a silent, nearly undetectable panic attack in my new internal medicine doctor’s office.  I had become practiced at hiding my anxiety in public since I had no idea it was a medical condition and had a name.  I tried hard to hide my symptoms and feelings because I thought I was just mentally weak.

The doctor prescribing me the antidepressant did not give me any referral to a therapist, or psychiatrist, or make any follow up appointments with me to manage this medication, unfortunately.  I took the low dose antidepressant for a few months while living alone at college, but later stopped it on my own when I was feeling better. (Rookie mistake! Always talk to a doctor when changing your meds).

About a year later, I went to my student counseling center, on my own accord, and signed up 15 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the OCD and anxiety.  These sessions made a tremendous impact on my functioning and mood.  No meds were required at this point in my life.

Fast forward to today and I have been taking medication for panic disorder regularly for about seven years.  I attend talk therapy regularly and have regular check ups with my psychiatrist.  I love to read articles that help me tweak certain areas of my life relating to mental health and relationships.

In the last two years, I have become well-versed in self-care. I believe that caring for myself through managing stress is key when living with any mental health issue.  I am continuously working on becoming more comfortable with my diagnoses and am beginning to find the courage to speak more openly about my experiences in order to fight mental health stigma.

Mainly regarding my anti-anxiety medication, I have had to use self-talk to teach myself that I am not just “popping a pill” to make me happy, but that there are times that I truly need this life improving medication.

I am grateful that I have been able to receive the necessary pharmaceutical treatment for my anxiety disorder.  While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was life-changing, so was the relief of being able to alter my fight-or-flight response chemically with a medication, as needed.

I am not a doctor, so this is a disclaimer to please consult a psychiatrist or doctor when making medication or any healthcare decision.  

I felt the need to share my personal experience here so that it might be helpful to someone reading this who has been taught to have a negative attitude toward medication or doesn’t realize that other options such as CBT are out there.  

Whatever self-help tactic you choose, I hope that you receive the help and support you need so that you can life a happy and healthy life.   

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Preventing Panic

Garden of the Body


I have several health care appointments over the next two weeks. Most are for annual or quarterly exams and one is my therapist. 

I was very anxious about today’s appointment because it was with a new doctor. New people, places, and things are, at times, anxiety provoking for me and since I have bouts of “white coat” anxiety a new doctor ups the freak-out-factor. 

A few things that help me manage anxiety when I have a new person, place, or thing to deal with:

  • Plan ahead and be sure to allow plenty of time to get dressed, travel, park and have food and drink before, etc. to limit anxiety related to feeling rushed or having a blood sugar issue
  • Call ahead and ask questions (if possible) about the new place – especially questions that are raising concerns that are provoking anxiety. If a phone call is too much, try email, looking at their webpage, etc.
  • As necessary, take my anxiety medication about an hour before the new experience
  • Arrange for a moral support person to go with me. 

Here’s how I applied and slacked on these strategies today:

I didn’t plan ahead in order to eat at home before my appointment, so we had to grab drive through on the way…not my best preparedness, but I didn’t enter the appointment hungry or thirsty. I took care of a basic need and completed that self-care task to ensure that the anxiety was kept to a minimum. 

I had a few questions and concerns on the drive to the new doctor, so while my husband drove, I called the office and asked those questions and got comforting answers. Anxiety gague is lowering steadily!

Having my husband go to the appointment with me and even sit in on my visit with the doctor was a great support.  Sometimes the 30 minutes waiting (sometimes under a paper gown) for the doctor to come into the exam room is the worst part of the exam, so having him there today to talk to me and even make me laugh while waiting helped ease the tension so much. 
I took my anxiety meds about an hour before the appointment – another great reason for husband to come with – to drive.

A huge part of self-care is keeping yourself healthy and while regular doctor check ups are not as much fun as other more pampering self-care techniques such as getting a spa treatment, they are a necessary part of a holistic approach to self-care. 

Thankfully, my appointment went much better than I expected (imagine that!) and my husband and I enjoyed the rest of the sunny spring afternoon together. 

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Are you on the right path?

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I noticed a trend on inspirational websites today in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.¬† Three of the sites I follow had posts about following a “path” in life and images of roads and trails with inspirational quotes. One site had an article entitled “5 Signs You’re on the Right Path” and¬†another had a photo of a train track with the quote “Never run back to what broke you” written on it.¬† Tonight I¬†realize that¬†when reading those items God¬†might have been¬†preparing my heart for a phone call I would receive this afternoon.

Two months ago I resigned from an anxiety-provoking,¬†stressful job without looking back.¬† You can read about that here.¬† Since then, I have slowly returned to a person I used to be.¬† I’m happy again on a regular basis.¬† My family has even commented on that fact.¬† I haven’t had to take my anxiety medication except to attend a funeral and deal with the occasional anxiety hiccup, a marked improvement from taking my medication almost daily before resigning from my job.¬† I’m still going to therapy regularly which I enjoy for the most part since I’m not crying the¬†majority of the¬†time as I was when working.¬† Crying is a good¬†release at times so even those sessions weren’t that bad.

Life is truly looking up since I am out from under the¬†stress and I am starting to actually enjoy life again rather than just endure it.¬† I said¬†to my husband last night, “We have a¬†really nice life.”¬† I am so thankful to be able to say those types of things to him since he had to endure heartache watching me¬†struggle through my hard times.

Today, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old coworker from the job I had before¬†my most recent job.¬† She wanted some help preparing for an interview doing the same type of work¬†from which I had just resigned.¬† I explained to her that I would be happy to share with her the good, the bad, and the ugly of the field but that I had resigned from my position two months ago.¬† She asked what I was doing now and I proudly replied, “I’m being a housewife for now.”¬† She got really excited about the fact that I am unemployed and told me I needed to apply for the position as the director of the¬†job she¬†was applying for so that I could be her boss.¬† I was flattered and excited at the prospect of being qualified to be the “big boss.”

I told her that since it involved a move to another city it would most likely not be possible for me since I am married now and with no disrespect to my husband at all this is one reason¬†a spouse¬†is sometimes called a “ball and chain” –¬†one can’t pick up and move as¬†easily as when one is single.¬† She insisted that I look into the job since the pay was considerable and I am highly qualified.¬† Again, I felt flattered.

I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about this job, other work options and how I felt about being “just” a housewife (or homemaker as is now a more PC term I hear).¬† I also started questioning the new path I have chosen.¬† The same path¬†that less than 24 hours before I was telling my husband how much I was enjoying.

path sign

Even though I had a few doubts today about my recent change of direction from career woman to housewife I have peace again tonight.  If I had not had to hike such a treacherous path for so long being unhappy and stressed I might not be as grateful as I am now for being feeling so free and happy again.

If you are going through a hard time now, please know that good times are ahead.¬† You might have to change paths as I did, but trust that¬†life can’t be uphill forever.¬† Who knows, you might have a “mountain top experience” like this one ahead.

path view

I took this photo on vacation last fall.  We were driving to a cabin rental for the first leg of our trip and followed the GPS directions which unexpectedly took us over the top of the highest peak in the area and through a forest.  I was not mentally prepared to drive up the narrow, winding mountainside, so I had not braced myself for the momentary terror excitement.  It was a bit tense at times when meeting other cars along the way up and when there was zero guardrail to hold us back from plunging to our deaths if we accidentally left the road.  I had not driven in the mountains in a long time so it was a shock to my system.  The photo opportunity above was well worth the scary parts of getting there.

I believe that whatever scary or uncomfortable things that are on the paths we travel are momentary and that we all will have views like the one above at the end of our trials.

Weeds & Flowers

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This week I have the opportunity to take some photos of the glorious spring we are having.  Flowering trees were in full bloom and skies were blue.  This spring did not disappoint.

DSCN5791[1]

Birds have built nests and are singing almost around the clock.  The world is waking up from its winter nap.  Thank goodness!

I have heard so many people talk about how happy and relieved they are that it is now spring.  Some of us have struggled with the winter blues (a.k.a seasonal affective disorder) and are beginning to see the fog of depression lift.

With the glorious weather and spring flowers also come spring weeds!  This is a photo of the grass that has appeared in the pot on my patio that usually contains dianthus.  DSCN5827[1]This pink and white dianthus was purchased and planted where I lived two towns and about four years ago.  It made it through two moves and decided it was tired I guess and this grassy weed type thing has taken its place.

It is a reminder that if you do not tend to the flowers the weeds can easily grow in their place.  It reminds me also of a quote I pinned on Pinterest during my hard times:

Stop watering the weeds in your life and start watering the flowers.

Having anxiety I often give power to the negative thoughts I have (weeds) and obsess over them at times.  Things like:

  • She doesn’t like me.
  • Am I annoying…offensive…(some other negative trait)?
  • Did I lock the front and back door?
  • I feel guilty that I said no to (plans, someone’s idea, etc.)
  • Am I doing a good job?
  • What do they think about me?
  • Is this random pain cancer?
  • What if (fill in the blank; this one usually is about death).

Basically, any Anxiety Cat Meme is a thought I have had at one point or another. Don’t know about Anxiety Cat? It’s a good laugh and comfort that you are not alone in your anxious thinking.

Go to: http://anxietycat.tumblr.com

I recently read another quote about a woman’s brain being like a web browser with 1,453 tabs open at once.¬† I think this describes my brain a lot of nights when I turn off the TV¬†and try to¬†sleep.¬† It has gotten significantly better lately, but my anxiety brain still gets the best of me every now and then if I have had caffeine late the¬†day, haven’t exercised that day or have had a lot of stimulation such as a big social event.

Those night those anxious thoughts go around in my mind and I have to work hard to calm my mind and focus on positive thoughts to help me relax.

Writing in my journal and expressing gratitude verbally, in prayer and in writing are all ways that I can get my mind out of the “sky is falling” mode of anxiety and panic.

What are some tactics you use to pull the weeds out of the garden of your mind?

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There’s a Fungus Among Us

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I heard this saying “There’s a fungus among us” as a child an always thought it was funny.¬† Today, fungus is causing a problem on my violas and pansies.¬† Can you see the white dusty stuff on the leaves in the photo?¬† That’s fungus.¬† I have a trip to the gardening supply in my future today, but before that I had to type out this blog about how little things like this remind me that just as we have to tend to our plants to make sure they are not becoming diseased (I hate that word) we have to check and treat¬†our hearts literally and figuratively for disease as well!

Sometimes we can buy a cure like fungicide or pesticide to fix our problem but what happens if that’s just a band aid for a recurring issue?¬† Maybe this plant needs more sun and warmth and that’s why it’s moldy.¬†No matter¬†what drug we apply it will not be healthy and thriving. Are you seeing my not-so-subtle attempt at crafting an analogy here between our environments and our plants’ environments?

I had a similar issue with my most recent job.  First, let me back up a bit and give you a little history on myself.  About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and through the years I have gone through cognitive behavioral therapy and just good old talk therapy to get a handle on it.  In recent years after receiving a promotion (go me!) and adjusting to restructuring and change of work environment I started having panic attacks for the first time since graduate school.  I had never taken prescription drugs for these bouts of anxiety since they were often fleeting, but they started to become so frequent that I found myself taking a prescription anxiety medication for them.  The infrequent use turned into needing to take one several times per week and despite therapy and prayer the anxiety and panic attacks kept coming.

I found myself pinning inspirational quotes on pinterest for hours and then rereading those quotes on a bad day to help me through things thinking that I just had to change my mindset, my perspective, myself and I could change my physical reaction to the stress.  There is a lot of truth to that idea, but sometimes no matter how hard you try to be a cactus you are a fern and you cannot survive in the desert.  I then began to realize that no matter how much I tried to change my mind about the situation, the environment was not going to change.  Despite my best efforts, I was trying to shine light onto a negative (dark) situation and instead of me illuminating the situation, my light slowly started to burn out.

When¬†I think about “being a light to the world” and “light driving out darkness”¬†it sounds easy.¬† In my current situation it was not because there were few people willing to fight the fungus among us.¬† So, as the viola I chose to stop trying to spray fungicide on myself several times per week to survive in a toxic environment and move to sunnier spot in the garden¬†better suited to help me grow and thrive.

During the process of resigning from my job I was well aware that not everyone has the luxury that I had to be able to take such a leap of faith.  Thankfully, I was not the sole breadwinner in my family and I was not relying on my income to pay bills.  Plus, my family and friends were all supportive and encouraging of my decision to resign because they had seen me hurt for so long (years) and had watched my natural talents wilt because I was not able to use them and they were not valued in my current position.

I am now reviving old hobbies including writing and journaling and feeling more confident in my ability to help people with my story while doing things I enjoy:  writing and photographing plant life.

To end on an encouraging note as I hope to always do here, I want to say that quitting my job was not easy since I have never been a quitter.  I had to reframe that thought a lot (and still do) to tell myself that I was not quitting, I was changing direction.  A quote that helped me a lot:

There is a difference between giving up and knowing when you have had enough.

This was one of the many quotes I came across on Pinterest that I still go back to on days when I need a pick me up.  What quotes help you when you need inspiration or are struggling?