Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Running Away From the Circus

I enjoy time alone. I'll go as far as to admit I enjoy my own company. "Down time", as I refer to it is simply when I need to step out of the three ring circus of life. And, no, I do not stay in my room with the shades drawn, curled up in bed. No, no Nanette, I just do anything I want to. I have no schedule, no appointments, no itinerary. And no one to deal with. (Unless I choose to.)

There have been times when my week was so frantic or the black dog was at the door, and I felt as if I may miss the trapeze bar slinging toward me as I stood on the tall platform. It was time. I needed a mental health respite.

To me this is akin to changing my life from 24/7 CNN to a 90 minute movie on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, I know how it is going to end. Just hold your sneers or chide comments, suspending reality is good for everyone every once in a while.

If your schedule prevents you from declaring yourself removed from "life" for a day during the week, certainly a Saturday or Sunday is a possibility. When I worked, there were times when the clown car was getting very full and I would just take a day off (always trying to choose a slow day that would least effect everyone I worked with). I proclaimed it my mental health day.

Go to a spa, get your nails done, visit that gallery that you have wanted to see but it never suited everyone else. Get together with friends you never have time to see. Heck, if that kitchen cabinet has been stressing you out, take an hour to empty and reorganize it.* Whatever you choose will bring you peace, enjoyment, and rest.

Yes, this is selfish, but if you don't take care of yourself, who will? If it doesn't suit those around you and they suggest that perhaps you can do it later - There's your sign. You need a day to yourself.

If you spend your "down day" worrying about what you should be doing, how you are going to justify this, or feeling guilty, then maybe you should just ask yourself, "Am I 'fitting in' to someone else's life, or living my own? Am I always juggling my time, doing things for family and friends because they need it or is it because I feel I have to? 

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and try to clear your mind? Cannot do it? Feel exhausted? Take that deep breath. Do you feel better in the moment right after than you have in a while? 

If that did not work, perhaps the ringing phone, buzzing text notifications, (screaming children), traffic, and trying to plan supper after a hard day that is going to resume as soon as you open your eyes will convince you. 

Remember, as I said earlier: "Breathe normally. [ ] Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are [ ] with [ ] someone who requires assistance, secure your mask, and then assist the other person."

Of course don't forget it will always be show time tomorrow. Few of us have the luxury of running away for several days. In today's fast paced world, life is a circus. Just remember you do not want to fly without a net.

But do not do any housekeeping even when you feel overwhelmed by guilt. Just don't do it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

I Don't Vacuum my House in Heels and Pearls - Anymore

Forget what you learned about putting everyone else first. If you do not make yourself happy, eventually you will find yourself miserable and perhaps on the edge of self destruction.  That was the advice that was drilled into me by my southern mother and my old maid Aunt Kat that I should put myself last and remember to "Take care of my spouse, my children, and my elders." "Make sure my house was always clean." and "Never go out in public without my hair done and lipstick on." Of course as a southern woman this was akin to being expected to vacuum my house in heels and pearls, I would never question what I was told.

Then there was reality - the full time job, the hormone ravaged teenage daughters, the husband who was spoiled by his southern mother and childhood maid, weight problems, premature gray hair, varicose veins, a house plagued with dust bunnies, and 24 hour days filled with 26 hours of duties. (Yes, this is when I was convinced God was definitely a man.)

And look where it landed me? In picking up the pieces, I realized if I did not look after myself, no one else would. Oh, sure I have a loving family, supportive friends, and a gaggle of doctors. They are looking after my health and well being. But only I can look after myself. Just like learning that I do not have to clean my plate (due to all the starving children in China), I also need to shed the advice that molded my karma for so many years.

The world will not end if my house is not always spotless. If someone thinks less of me because my hair is not perfect and I am not wearing makeup then I know they most likely are not going to be on list of those I call in my time of need. So what. My husband and daughters are adults and can take care of themselves. I love them and support them but taking on their stresses is not going to help me a all.

I am not saying neglect your family and friends. Nor am I even suggesting you let your looks or your house go to Hell in a hand basket. I am saying prioritize your life and make sure you are on top of the list. Do what makes you happy. If at all possible, avoid what stresses you out. Live life for the moment. 

It doesn't matter what action you take today, nothing can change the past, so there is no point in worrying over what is in the rear view mirror. Stressing over what may happen in the future is not going to help you at all, unless what you are doing at that moment is going to directly effect it. 

If anything, take this advice to heart. Do not drown in your own self destruction. Put yourself first and live for the moment. Trust me, you'll be a much happier and healthier person when you do. My mother, bless her heart, was just doing what she had been taught. But then again, she never told me about Ultra-Brite.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Finding Light in the Darkness

Those with rose colored glasses see the world sunny side up. I cannot tell you the number of times some Pollyanna has assured me that life is wonderful and, sure, "a little rain must fall" but that makes one appreciate the good times that much more. So cheer up!

No offense to those who are true believers and have dedicated their lives to God. He offers comfort and salvation, but when the darkness descends, even his glory is shut out. Sure there are those wrapped in their chosen denomination who believe accepting Jesus will "save" you, don't worry your life is preordained, we are all sinners, your soul will continue after your body is physically dead, or the end of days will come and only those "believers" will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven - everyone else will be damned to Hell. In other words God, alone, can solve all your ills.

If it were this simple all the pews would be filled with those seeking instant relief. There would be no need for professional assistance. The evils of depression would easily be managed by prayer. Trust me, I was in therapy with many God fearing dedicated Christians (as well as Jews and Mormons) who had not forsaken their God or their religious beliefs. They understood just believing would not take care of them.

All this said when the dark cloud descends the last thing one is able to remember is that "life is wonderful" and, (once again) no offense to those faithful to their religious beliefs, that there is a God (or a Son  or Holy Ghost for that matter) there to save you. Even those with strong beliefs find the salvation and comfort of their religion suspended. Life feels more like the edge of Dante's Hell than earth.

One cannot see anything positive, and when it gets bad - nothing to live for. The key is catching oneself before one slides into the unstable darkness. Thankfully I have learned coping skills to use the proverbial rope to climb out instead of hanging.

I do not write this as a cry for help, I have the skills, tools, and knowledge to keep me in the light. However, I realize I am the lucky one. If your dark days are becoming darker and you start to question the meaning of life, now is the time to face reality and get help. Having someone pat you on your head, tell you life is good and look on the bright side is not helping you. This is no time for patronization.

This is the time to painfully bare your soul to someone you trust. They in turn should assist you in finding the appropriate help. Even in Pollyanna's world rain falls and tears are shed.

What you need to know is: it is OK to cry, seeking help is a "must" not a "maybe", trusting the one trying to help you is necessary, and there are no easy fixes. Also, keep in mind you are not alone. There are many out there, often friends and family, also in the shadows. Take care of yourself then you can, in turn, help someone else.

Like you are told during the Safety Demonstration on an airplane, "Breathe normally. [ ] Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are [ ] with [ ] someone who requires assistance, secure your mask, and then assist the other person."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Age of Aquarius

One of the miracles of modern medicine is the progress made in medication to help and, in some cases, manage mental illnesses. Now, if you have ever been prescribed any of these medications, you are probably aware of the side effects some of them may have on certain people. 

The "fun" in all this is that a doctor really has no way of truly knowing what side effects may appear on any given patient. Trying psychotropic drugs, is akin to throwing spaghetti against a wall - if it sticks (ie works) then great. If it slides off (ie either doesn't relieve any symptoms or causes severe side effects) it is back to the drawing board.

To make it even more "painful", some drugs take as long as 4-6 weeks to take effect and provide any relief (or show side effects). In my case it took me and my doctor 2 years of trial and error to come up with an effective drug cocktail (combination of several medications) that helped me manage my issues without any severe side effects. During that time I suffered through weight gain, sleeplessness, agitation, shaking, lack of concentration, and total aloofness.

Paying attention to drugs ads, I wonder if the drug companies are quite sure of what they created. For example one drug (I will not give the name) is advertised to help make one's current medication for depression more effective. However, in the small print (or in this case mentioned very quickly by a calm and reassuring voice at the end of the commercial) it says:

Warning: If you experience any of the following, stop taking the medication and immediately call your physician:
  • Increased gambling, sexual, or other overpowering urges
  • Depressed mood, trouble concentrating, sleep problems, crying spells, aggression or agitation, changes in behavior, hallucinations 
  • Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
  • Blurred vision, sudden and severe headache or pain behind your eyes, sometimes with vomiting
  • Fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
In very rare instances, the drug has been known to cause the following:
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Constipation, flatulence, and vomiting
  • Hearing problems, hearing loss, or ringing in your ears
  • Seizure (convulsions)
  • Sleepwalking, and also eating, making phone calls, having sex and driving while asleep
  • Severe anxiety and depression
  • Thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
  • Coma or death
Seriously? Wasn't the purpose of this drug to "help make one's current medication for depression more effective"? Uhm, Seizures? Anxiety? Convulsions? Coma? Suicide? Death? Define "effective". I'll take my chance with what I am currently taking.

No wonder it took 2 years for me to find something that worked. I'm surprised I survived without developing some additional physical or mental issue, such as a third eye, severe anxiety, or death.

But, I digress.

I was amazed at the attitude folks had with taking their prescribed medication. Peter (who was convinced no one liked him and his mother called him names) told the therapist he did not take his medication because it did not work. The therapist reminded him that he may have to take it for several weeks before he could see any results.

George (who was convinced aliens were communicating to him through the flickering lights and talked with Jesus twice a week on Channel 18) only took his morning medication due to his schedule, unless he was home for supper, then he would take his evening medication - if he remembered.

"And are they working for you?" asked the therapist.

"Well, yes and no. I think I feel better mentally, but I am having problems sleeping, I have headaches, and blurred vision."

Margaret (who wanted the aliens to take her children) said she took all her medication at the appropriate time. Although she said she had talked with her dear friends in her garden club and they seemed to be taking a more effective medication that she had seen advertised on TV. She was going to discuss this with her doctor.

Diane, Levi ("all" of him), John, and Ruth said they took all their medication at the appropriate time. They understood how important it was and had seen some improvement due to the drugs.

But my favorite was Judy's response. She said she took her blue and green drugs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The white ones she took on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Any other colors she took on Sunday. The therapists asked her, "Are you taking these as prescribed?"

"Well, yes. I take all of them."

"But, didn't the doctor tell you that your medication needed to be taken daily and that some may need to be taken in the morning and some at night?"

"We did not discuss that. I set up my schedule so I was taking the pills according to the astrological chart. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are under the sign of Aquarius, so those would be my blue and green days. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday fall under Virgo, so white is appropriate."

"And on Sunday?" the therapist asked out of total curiosity.

"Oh, I just had pills left over so I figured that was the best day to catch up."

"How is that working out for you?"

"I'm still having some problems thinking straight and now I can't sleep. But my doctor told me it would take some time for the medication to take effect."

"And when was that?"

"About 6 months ago."

"Judy, if you cannot see any difference in 4-6 weeks, you definitely need some adjustment in your medication. I'm really surprised your doctor hasn't already made some changes. Have you discussed this with him?"

"Oh, every time I see him I tell him I doing well because I have faith. According to the charts, Saturn will rise in the east in 3 more months and that will coincide with a near Lunar eclipse. On that day everything will come together and my medication will make me better."

The therapist hesitated, "Well, I think your doctor would be very interested in how that works. You should explain that to him next time you see him."

Let me reword my initial comments about the great strides that have been made in the modern medication, especially in psychotropic drugs. I feel certain that the drugs could be optimally effective if they are taken as prescribed despite Saturn rising and Lunar eclipses. But check back in 3 months, who knows, I may be "cured". But then my moon has never been in the 7th house and my Jupiter is not aligned with Mars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Wages of Death is Sin

Another morning two new people joined the table at therapy. As we got started, as usual, the therapist had us go around the table, introduce ourselves, and share our diagnosis. When it got to the new young man, he said, "My name is Roy and I suffer from depression." He leaned back in his chair, "And, I'm suicidal." I wasn't sure that was a diagnosis but obviously he had no problem sharing it with the world.

Soon it got to the other new arrival, an older lady sitting across the table. She reminded me of a church lady - the kind dressed for Sunday-go-to-meeting, wearing everything but the hat and gloves. Chances were the gloves were in the purse beside her chair that matched her sensible shoes. "I'm Estelle, and they say I have anger issues and depression." (And obviously must be in denial.)

The therapist thanked everyone and started the session. The theme of the day was dreams - what we dreamed of doing, who we dreamed of spending time with, and such. He asked us what we dreamed of. The idea being, if we had something to work towards it may help us in our recovery.

"Dreams" that were shared included starting a business, starting to date again, getting a dog, buying a house, driving a motorcycle across country. Then Roy spoke up, "Killing myself." The room went quiet and all eyes turned toward Roy.

The therapist asked,"Roy, why is that your dream?"

"Because it is the one thing I really want to do."

At that point the session turned into an intervention. 10 minutes or so into this, Estelle spoke up, "Roy, according to the bible, taking one's own life is a sin." Roy did not say anything.

"It says so in the Bible - Ecclesiastes 7:17 - 'Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?' 

Don't you read the Bible and go to church?"

Roy looked at Estelle, "No, I don't go to church," he said sharply and rolled his eyes.

I would have thought Estelle to be the compassionate and caring kind. But I was wrong. Estelle was loaded for bear.This sweet church lady leaned on the table, in a stern voice said, "So I guess you haven't accepted the Lord as your savior?"

Before Roy could say anything, the therapist spoke up. "We don't discuss religion here unless the client brings it up. Estelle, we all want to help Roy, but right now let's leave our comments secular."

Estelle sat back and under her breath I heard her say, "Humh, God said killing yourself is a sin. It's a sin."

Roy left with the therapist and (I assume) was taken to meet his doctor. We all just sat there. John, who could be a smart ass, spoke up, "Estelle, if someone doesn't believe in God and wants to kill themselves, I don't think they are concerned about whether or not it is a 'sin'."

"But that poor child needs to accept the Lord," Estelle retorted.

"And, the Lord is going to keep Roy from killing himself?"

Ruth interrupted, "Estelle, no disrespect, I'm a Christian, I go to church, and yes, I have accepted the Lord, but so far he hasn't saved me from all my problems." She smiled, "But I don't expect him to solve all of them. And, like most of us, I know I sin."

Well, I thought, this was turning into an evangelical debate. So much for keeping things secular.

John spoke again,"Estelle, yes, the Bible says taking one's life is a sin. But so is stealing, lying, taking the Lord's name in vain, and coveting another's wife. And I cannot speak for anyone else here but I have committed more than one of these sins. Even if I had accepted Christ, my actions are up to me. I doubt God would have intervened on my behalf."

Estelle replied,"Well, if Roy went to church, Jesus would save him."

I knew what was coming next . . . and I was not disappointed. From the end of the table, George spoke up, "Estelle, he doesn't have to go to church. On Wednesday night, if he goes to channel 18, Jesus will talk to him."

John ran with it, "That's it. Why didn't I think of that? He can have a direct line."

Estelle was confused. "Y'all make no sense. In fact you are not right in the head."

John smiled, "Yep. Why else would we be here? For the free Pizza on Friday?"

Thank goodness at that point the therapist walked back in. Everything got quiet. "Now where were we? Dreams, what other dreams does anyone have?"

Estelle answered, "I don't know about dreams, but being here is a nightmare. I'm in the wrong place. You all have serious issues. My only problem is with my Doctor and my children who think I need help."

The therapist looked at her. She continued,"This is a group of rude heathens with no respect for the Lord." With that she stood up, put her purse on her arm and crossed her wrists. All I could see was Dan Carvey on SNL. "Humh, telling me you can speak to Jesus on some channel on TV."

The therapist stood up, "Estelle, if this  is not the right group for you, let's get your counselor and find a more suitable group." He gently took her elbow and with that they walked out. When he returned, he laughed, "Lord knows this has been one heck of a Monday."

John spoke up, "Remember, we need to keep this secular."

Margaret added, "Maybe we could use some Devine Intervention."

Everyone at the table turned her way with a collective look of "Seriously?" She paused, "Or not." 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No, I'm Really Not OK

#4 on the list of coping skills is : Make sure you have a support system.

Like today's dysfunctional family, a support system can be made up of any of a list of things: your family, friends, therapist, Doctor, neighbor, Pastor, Priest, Candle Maker, and/or Indian Chief. Whoever you choose, whatever the makeup of the support group, it is YOUR support group.

These are the folks who you can turn to when you need someone to talk to. These are the shoulders you can cry on. These are the ones who can tell the difference between a "blue day" and the "black dog". These are the folks who are there for you. More importantly, these are the folks you trust and the folks you will listen to and you will hear what they say.

Acquaintances and those who hardly know me ask, "How are you doing?" Sometimes this can be a serious inquiry about my state of mind. Being in the south, this can be the proper thing to say. And, due to our human nature and unease, it can be the only thing that comes to someone's mind if they are aware of my most recent unpleasantness. More often than not, it is the second.

Even though down here we have been schooled in certain things to ask in pleasant conversation : ("How is your mother?" "What color did you decide to do the dining room in?" "How do you think the team will do this year?"and "How are you doing?") However, most cringe at the thought that the answer to the later will be anything more than, "OK", "Fine", "Alright", or "Better".

God forbid someone be honest and say, "Not very well. I am having a hard time dealing with life today." or "Badly." or "Depressed." There may be an uncomfortable silence. The alternative will be a weak attempt to respond in some type of compassionate way.

This leads to skill #5: Communication. Be honest and truthful when anyone asks how you are doing?

This flys in the face of the way we were reared down here. Our Mamas taught us to always be polite and pleasant when asked about our well being. So here lies the conundrum. Not only do I have to fight my ingrained upbringing, I have to bare my soul.

Seriously, it is hard to learn to be honest, when my natural instinct to answer, "Fine" or "OK", whether I am on top of the world or fighting the black dog. It is important to be truthful in my answer. Not for sympathy or attention, but to be honest to myself and let my support group know my life is not rosy. It also helps me face reality and accept how I really feel. How can I get help and ever get better if those who want to help don't know when I need it most?

For the record, I still tell little ol' ladies and gentlemen, as well as folks I do not know well, that I am "Fine". No need to share my issues with the world. Afterall, even in my condition, I can set boundaries.

Friday, February 17, 2017

It Is My Damn Box

For years I suffered in silence with my depression. But, to me it wasn't suffering, it "was dealing with it." It was a personal thing, something between me, myself and I. To the world, I put a smile on and trudged forward. Yet, every time I visited my doctor, I did not hide the emotional mess and darkness that I held inside. It came tumbling out like clowns from a small car. Only the sessions and the medications kept me afloat.

Oh, sure I wasn't always smiles and a happy face. Like everyone else, I often showed my family and the public that I was having a "bad day". To them that meant I was "down in dumps", "a little blue", or "sad" about something. Hey, everyone has those days. Move along, nothing to see here.

When my family finally learned the depths of my depression, I felt violated. It was if someone had cut me open and exposed all my inner thoughts, fears, and issues. Suddenly I found myself vulnerable with no privacy. Every frown, plain countenance, and quiet moment was put under a magnifying glass. "Are you OK?" "How do you feel?" "What can I do?"

From my soul there was a primal scream, "Leave me alone." Suddenly I was resentful that the darkness I dealt with was no longer hidden. To me it was Pandora's Box, full of serious issues, problems, fears, and daemons. However, unlike Pandora, curiosity did not tempt me with my box. I knew what was in it and it was all I could do to keep it closed, much less have any desire to face what it contained. As long as I could sit on top of it, shoving any dark feeling or issue back into the box that tried to escape, I was doing OK.

The problem was that I was so busy dealing with my "box" of  darkness that I could not imagine help. It was hard enough to keep the lid shut and the emotions contained in the box. The idea of having to deal with the issues, share my feelings, and attempt to get a hold of this, was in a way more frightening than the darkness itself. Literally, I could not see (nor imagine) the light since I had been in the darkness so long.

Lewis Grizzard, the wickedly funny southern columnist wrote a book entitled, "They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat", about his open heart surgery and recovery. I could relate. Facing my depression and the horror of learning how to cope with it, was much akin to having my soul torn out and stomped flat.

Oh, I wasn't embarrassed about my depression. I wasn't in denial about my depression. But it was MY depression. My friends and family now being aware of my condition meant that I could no longer keep the box closed. Oh no, I was going to have to open the box and deal with each daemon as it escaped into the light of day. That was the hard part.

Yes, I am so far better off  than I was. I am blessed to have the love and support from friends and family. I will always deal with my box. Now I know that when the evils and daemons seep out, instead of spending all my time and energy trying to stuff them back in,  I understand I need to spend my energy taking care of myself.

Trying to fight all the dark issues as they escape is a lost cause. Hopefully the box (which will always sit in the corner, quietly rumbling) will stay closed most of the time. And when a daemon or two does seep through a crack, I now have the skills to deal with them in the light of day instead of trying to confine them to the darkness.

I have come a long way and am so much better. All that said, it is my damn box and opening the curtains to let the light in was harder to deal with in many ways, than learning how to manage the box. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Seriously Depressed over the Inequality in Health Care

Given the number of Americans who suffer from mental illness in this country, we are failing miserably in caring for our own. The Affordable Care Act, aka ACA, or "Obama Care" was the first time the government had seriously looked at this national issue and made practical steps that offered help to the American public beyond Medicare or Medicaid. For those of you against the ACA, stay with me here.

Finally in 2013 the federal government implemented the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). This law, orginally passed in 2008, mandates insurance carriers have to recognize mental illness and substance abuse as the "illnesses" they are, and offer coverage equal to that of other "traditionally" covered illnesses. This, together with the ACA, gives every American the ability through the marketplace or private insurance, access to coverage for mental health and substance  abuse issues. Finally Washington has accepted the ugly truth - many Americans suffer from these illnesses and need help. 

My recent therapy brought this to my attention. Oh, for years I have seen a wonderful Doctor. Because I was blessed with really good private insurance this was covered. Well even with rich insurance coverage, I was only reimbursed 42% of the cost of each visit. Of course I was limited to 21 visits a year. (Keep in mind, Doctors will tell you, those who need serious help, require access to their doctor  twice a month or more often).There was no coverage for inpatient or out patient treatment.

After the ACA was passed and the MHPAEA finally enacted,  the amount of money I was reimbursed for each visit did not increase (due to my personal policy), however the number of visits allowed was greatly increased. (In fact may be unlimited but I am not sure about that.) Inpatient and Outpatient treatment was covered. However this is where, even given the great leaps forward, there is room for help. 

When I started Outpatient Therapy, my Doctor suggested 2 or 3 weeks. (Personally, I was hoping for 2 at most.) 2 or 3 days into it, I realized there were folks who had been there for 3 or 4 months and although they had made significant progress, they still (seriously) needed more therapy.

At the end of the week I was told a counselor would need to meet with me to complete a report for my insurance company. 20 minutes or so into the meeting, the counselor said, "I hate to tell you, but given your progress and how well you are doing, I am afraid your insurance company is probably not going to approve coverage for any more time." Knowing the cost of each day was $576, my paying out of pocket was not affordable. 

She continued, "I'm not saying you would not benefit from more time, but this is what we deal with every day with private insurance companies."

I thought for a minute, then I asked, "I know everyone's situation is different, but there are people here who have been in the program for 3 or 4 months. And not to judge, most are unemployed and don't strike me as folks who have this much money to pay out of pocket."

The counselor smiled. "This is what makes us so mad. If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, you are eligible for unlimited care. I am never required to do a report on those patients. However, I am required to do a detailed report for each patient on private or marketplace insurance each week in order to see if their coverage will be continued."


"Patients on private or marketplace insurance are only covered 3 to 5 days at most, even when they badly need additional time. Often 5 days doesn't even get us started." She paused, "So those who work and pay for, at least part of, their insurance or purchase it on the market place get extremely limited coverage. Yet those on Medicare or Medicaid get unlimited care. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that at least some Americans are getting the care they need. But everyone needs access if they suffer from mental illness or substance abuse."

"Wow, I had no idea."

"Neither do most Americans, and Washington just doesn't get it."

When I first started the outpatient treatment I was hoping to be there as little time as possible. However several days into it I realized how valuable it was and how much I was gaining from it. When I learned that indeed the insurance company had decided 5 days was all I needed, I was disappointed. 

I will now step up onto my soap box. The ACA is flawed. I see it as a work in process. Doing away with it or greatly weakening it will reverse the progress this country, supposedly the greatest in the world, was finally doing to join most other civilized modern countries who ensure all their citizens are covered.

Oh, and one more thing, you may not be aware but all Senators, Congressmen, and the President have the best insurance offered in the country with the lowest co-pays, lowest rates, and best coverage. I know because for 18 years while I worked for the Federal Judiciary, I had access to that same coverage.

Therefore, I doubt they can relate to the rest of us when it comes to health insurance. So if you ever wonder why the US Congress and the President do not feel many Americans' pain with the lack of adequate coverage - they don't have to, literally. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Show and Tell is Next

One morning I noticed a new young woman sitting around the table. I say "young" as in probably no older that 18 or 19, with her left armed tattooed from her elbow to her shoulder, and an earring in her nose. I could not tell if her frayed blue jeans were truly worn or the designer ones that cost $100's. Her brown hair was a bit unkept and her t-shirt had "Weed Love to Have Some" written in block letters. (This description is not any judgement of her or her dress, I just wanted to give a picture of her. I am in no place to judge.)

Before I sat down next to her, I said, "Good morning." She replied something I could not understand. I just smiled, sat down, opened my drink, and pulled out my journal. I thought to myself - Another day - what would it bring?

Another young lady, Joy, came in and exclaimed, "Marnie, you are here!"

The girl sitting next to me, answered with little enthusiasm, "Yeah, here I am, great."

Joy rolled her eyes, "Tell me about it."

"How long have you been here?" Marnie asked in a voice that lacked enthusiasm. 

"About a two weeks."

Marnie picked up the journal she obviously been issued by the center. (If you did not have your own, they issued you a generic notebook.) "And, what the f____ is this for?"

Joy said, "That is your journal. We all have one. We are supposed to spend the first hour writing our thoughts in it."

"You gotta be kidding me. Like I want to do that."

"Well, you can write anything and no one sees it but you."

Marnie just sat there and looked around the room at everyone else writing (or drawing) in their journals. For a while she didn't even touch it. Finally she pulled out a pen and opened the journal. 

Olivia, who had been watching all this, quietly said, "Honey, it's hard to start but I promise once you do, it will not be so hard."

Marnie, in a very sarcastic voice, asked, "What's next? Arts and crafts?"

John smiled, "No, we do not get to that until after lunch. Next we have Show and Tell, they did tell you to bring something, didn't they?" 

Everyone short of Marnie, quietly laughed. There were words of welcome and encouragement to her from some of the others.

She just leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and said,
"This place is insane."

Ruth laughed, "No honey, this place is here to help you. We are the ones insane."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thank God it's Only One Daemon

Into every life a little rain must fall. I do not want anyone to think that all my days are rosy. That, unlike those haunted folks in therapy, I am not free of dark days. Oh, the dark clouds descend. Often they come out of nowhere. 

Sometimes they come slowly seemingly like a storm one can see in the distance with the clouds rumbling closer and closer. Other times I find myself in the dark as if someone turned out the lights. But usually, it is a foggy haze that envelopes me and the entire world appears somewhat separate.

I find myself walking through life but removed from everything. It is as if I am a walking zombie, playing the role, but only interacting when totally necessary. If I can quietly remove myself from everyone and everything and suffer in silence. At that time I can get myself together and, hopefully, climb out of the darkness or the fog to find my "normal" self again.

But don't feel sorry for me. I am so much better than so many people in the 25%. (1 in 4 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness.) I could be fighting anxiety and have the frightening fear of things that may happen (or may not). To spend most of the time with my stomach in knots and my chest tight fearing walking into that grocery store, going to the family dinner, or writing a paper for school.

I cannot imagine suffering from agoraphobia and not be able to leave my house, or worse yet, my room. Not being able to even think about walking out the door to even check the mail.  Being totally shut off from the world out there because I cannot go there, except for the very small part that comes to me.

Or to have Multiple Personality Disorder and have two or more personalities. Not knowing who will be speaking, worse yet, trying to get a grasp that there are different people occupying your soul. Can you imagine not knowing which part of you is going to react to a situation or say something? It could be a shy man or brash female or cussing SOB, none of whom you can control. 

Then there are those unfortunate people who have been diagnosed with psychosis. They hear voices in their heads. These voices are real to those afflicted. They cannot separate real from fantasy and have no reason to find the difference without many hours of professional help. Voices come to them from the TV, flickering lights, or the movie screen. 

Often people suffer from a combination of these diagnosises. No, as bad as it is at times, I'll take the card dealt me. Thank goodness I have only one daemon to fight. That's enough for me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

No Buts About It

I found myself at therapy early one morning with just Peter. Thinking I could make conversation about something we had in common, I asked, "You said you used to go camping. Where did you go? My husband and I camp."

"Oh, I cannot camp now I would never be able to get out and camp. My anxiety is just too much. I haven't been camping a long time."

"I'm sure one day you'll be camping again. But when you did camp, where did you camp?"

"I was so hungry last night and we ate late. Now I just feel bad." He pointed to his stomach, "It's like everything is sitting here."

"I'm sorry."

"I woke up gagging this morning, just gagging. Do you wake up gagging in the morning?"

Before I could say anything John walked in and asked Peter how he was doing. Peter answered, "Not very well, we ate out late last night and it didn't suit me. Do you ever wake up gagging?"

"Can't say as I do?"

Margaret walked in and spoke, "Good morning everyone. How are y'all doing?" John and I both said "Great."

Peter started over again. "I feel like all my food is right here," pointing to his stomach. "We ate late last night and it did not suit me."

"I'm sorry", said Margaret. "Maybe you should eat earlier."

"I would, but Mama wanted to go late last night and now I feel sick. I woke up gagging this morning. Do you gag in the morning?"

I could tell this one threw Margaret, "Um, no. Maybe you should discuss this with your doctor."

"I did and he said it was just anxiety."

"Well, maybe you should have stayed home today."

"Oh, I wanted to. It was hard to get out of bed with all the gagging you know. But I had to come. Mama would be upset if I didn't."

John chimed in, "Didn't your doctor change your medication this week?"

"He did but they're all the same, I've taken so many."

"Well it may take some time for it to start working."

Just then Levi walked in, "How's everyone?" (In his outgoing voice) Before anyone could answer, Peter started, "We ate late last night . . .

On the bright side, I thought at least he didn't think everyone disliked him - yet. But the day was young.

Then the therapist walked in, "Peter, what is today?"

"I don't know." (I swear he reminded me of Eeyore.)

"Remember you and I discussed that today you would be positive all day? No 'Buts' ".

"Yeah, but we ate late last night and . . ."

The therapist interrupted him, "Nothing after the 'But' is ever positive."

Peter sat there with his head down. "I can't help it. Mama wanted to eat late last night and I feel sick."

"You are your own worst enemy. Start being positive. And not everyone dislikes you."

"Do you ever gag in the morning?"

"Peter! So far you have not uttered a positive word this morning."

"I know but I did not want to get out of bed, my stomach hurts, and . . ."

Olivia was sitting across the table from Peter. She was a prim and proper little lady, I guess in her late 60's or early 70's. In the time I had been there I had never heard her speak up unless spoken to and then it was in a quiet proper voice.

Suddenly she said in a fairly stern forceful voice, "Peter, I'll have no more of that nonsense. I have the same anxiety that you have, maybe worse, and the same depression." She leaned forward and started wagging her finger at him. "Oh I used to whine and complain, but finally this here group told me to get my stuff together. Ain't nutthin good come after a 'But'. You ARE your own worse enemy."

She glared at him. "And I'm tired of hearing 'bout your Mama, no disrespect, and the 'Oh woe is me'. If I have to come across this table and jerk a knot in you I will. Can't you see everyone here is trying to help you?"

Peter lowered his head and started to tear up. She slid a box of tissues across the table. "Gett'n better starts with you." She paused, "And for God's sake Peter, we all like you."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Me, Myself, and Diane

Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative  Identity Disorder, is fascinating and frightening at the same time. Before my most recent unpleasantness, I had no idea what this diagnosis was. Then I met Levi in therapy. I was not around him long enough to get to know the details of his personalities, I just learned that one never knew "who" Levi would be at any given time during a session. 

One afternoon we were discussing taking care of one's self and the importance of finding time for one's self. We also discussed finding things that brought joy and peace into one's life. 

Levi was sitting to the therapist's right, so he asked him first, "Levi, how do you make time for yourself and what makes you happy?"

Levi sat back in his chair. In a very quiet voice he said, "I spend most of my time alone. Since no one lives with me, finding 'alone time' is not an issue. As for what I do....well, I collect stamps."

"And you find that relaxing?"

"Very much so."

"Good. John what about you?" And around the table he went asking each of us the same questions. The answers ranged from going to the movies to taking a long hike to finding a quiet place in a library. Activities ranged from cooking to scrap booking to furniture making to coloring to reading.

Then he got back to Levi. For some reason Levi thought he needed to reply again. Leaning forward, he laughed and in a loud voice said, "Well you know I live with my 3 sisters and there is always something going on around the house. Those women have never heard of peace and quiet." He laughed again, "To get away and find some time for myself, I take my Harley for a long ride. Then as a hobby, I fancy myself an amateur  taxidermist."  

As the therapist moved on to another subject, a female voice came from Levi, "Are you going to let me answer."

The therapist said, "Of course, I just had not gotten to you yet."

"Well," this female Jersey voice said,"I just go shopping to get away. Helps every time. Nothing like a day with the girls and a little bling."

Then the second Levi spoke up, "Diane, would you please take my sisters with you so I can have some peace and quiet?"

The first Levi said timidly, "You are welcome to join me. It is always quiet at my place. As I said, I'm always alone."

There was some nervous laughter around the table.

In my mind I thought - It is all I can do handling Me, I cannot imagine the confusion of Myself and I being added to the burden.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Freedom of Crazy

Call me crazy but once everyone knows you have been diagnosed with a mental illness there is a certain freedom you feel. You can pretty much do whatever you want and you will get 1 of 3 responses (1)
Everyone will understand you, whether they agree or not, (2) They will be clueless but assume your action had something to do with your diagnosis and therefore you cannot help it, or (3) Just dismiss everything you say or do as nonsense.

Once you get your wits about you, if you have any self esteem, you really don't care. You know you are sane and literate. If someone thinks otherwise so be it. So now folks are either normal, clueless, or dissmissive. But then thinking back on it, those are the reactions I have always gotten. Now others feel justified to feel that way and I am empowered not to care what they think.

Friday, February 3, 2017

There's a New Sheriff in Town

It's always in the mornings when the crazy shines. I'm not sure if it the issues we are dealing with, that time of day, or I just walked in from the real world and haven't quiet adjusted.

 The first hour of each day is spent in a large room with tables and chairs, coffee, a microwave, refrigerator, etc. And as everyone arrives we are supposed to spend the hour "Journaling". Everyone has their own journal. I have carried one around for years just to jot interesting and funny situations I run into and know I will never remember the details, etc. But, I digress.

To paraphrase the therapists, the idea is open up your mind and write down whatever comes to you. You can write letters. You can write feelings, frustrations, your mood, your plans, heck, you can write your grocery list. It is whatever comes into your head. No one else ever sees it. Naturally, I am always noting stories of my "adventures" in therapy.

Anyway, one morning I walked in, spoke to everyone, and before I could put my bag down a voice from the other end of room shouted. "Don't ya sit yet. Unt uh. There's a new rule. Yous  gotta  sign this here paper," and she pointed to a clipboard in front of her.

I cheerfully said, "OK, let me put my things down and I'll be right there." George was sitting across the table. He just smiled and rolled his eyes. I had never seen this lady before. Quickly I walked down to where she sat. Lord knows I did not want to be scolded again. I knew she wasn't with the center because she was not wearing one of their required ID badges.

On the clip board was a sign-in sheet asking for our name, time we arrived, and if we needed refills on any of our medications. It did not take me two seconds to comply. I looked up and smiled, "There, I guess now I'm officially here."

"Yes girl there is new rule, uh huh, every moning, first thing, everybody gotta sign this fome."

I said, "I'll remember tomorrow, first thing when I get here."

"Ya better. Now, ya know."

I went to the refrigerator, got a drink, and sat down. John happened to be sitting next to me. He leaned his head toward me and quietly said, "There's a new sheriff in town in case you didn't notice."

I laughed, "No kidding. She's pretty serious." And with that I pulled out my journal and started writing. It was very quiet, like it usually was as everyone wrote out there thoughts and, supposedly cleared their minds. The (peace and) quiet was suddenly interrupted by loud music from the other end of the room.

Janie (the new sheriff whose name I learned later) was up on her feet dancing. She was being egged on by another patient, Felicia (whom I did know). "You go girl. You still got it," said Felicia.

Janie responded,"I'm gonna do the electric slide. Y'all get up and dance." No one moved.

Felicia spoke up, "Know what you need girl? You need you a man."

Janie now dancing with her hands over her head responded, "Ain't gonna happen. Been through three, ain't nuttin but trouble." The music and dancing continued for five minutes or so until they either tired or lost interest. Quiet returned to the room.

The therapist walked in at the end of the period, with warm greetings. Then he asked if everyone had signed in. Everyone replied that they had. From across the table someone said, "Janie took care of it. She was quiet efficient."

The therapist laughed, "Thanks Janie for doing that."

"Glad to help. Ya just gotta catch 'em befo they sit."

The therapist replied, "Well I don't think we needed to be that efficient."

"When I do sumpem, I do it right."

Yep I thought, God bless what was left of those three men who were "nutten but trouble" when she got through with them. But, if not for her efficient command of the sign-in sheet, she at least deserved a star for her performance of the electric slide.