Posted in mental illness, Midlife Journey

Mental Illness Awareness Week and Midlife

October 7th began the recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week.  In honor of this very important drive for awareness and advocacy in the field of mental health, I want to address some of the mental health issues that tend to show up during the midlife and menopause transition.  Join me in building awareness of mental health issues and the valuable resources that are out there to support those who struggle with mental health concerns.

mental illness awareness week

It Might Not Be PTSD

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which they shared their recent journey through their father’s death. This friend expressed feelings of being “wrecked” and suspicions that the symptoms they were experiencing might be a form of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  As a Spiritual Director and Midlife Mentor, I have witnessed many who have experienced similar symptoms – anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, mood swings, obsessive thoughts, even panic attacks which have mysteriously surfaced during similarly significant losses.  While I am not able to diagnose the existence of lack thereof of PTSD, what I suspect about my friend, and what I have witnessed in both myself, and others I have accompanied through the transitions of midlife, is that more likely than not, what we are experiencing is ultimately our truth trying to find its way out, and that the harder we resist our truth, the more persistent and painful are the symptoms that present themselves.

Mental Health Issues

Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, mood swings and sleeplessness all fall under the category of mental health issues and depending on the degree to which we suffer from these complaints, may qualify as mental illness.  It is NOT a bad thing to experience mental illness.  In fact, the benefit of having a diagnosis is that we can then find effective treatment, support and medication where necessary and appropriate.  It is imperative, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, to SEEK SUPPORT and then, to become your own advocate in the way of education, treatment and insurance coverage (where available).  Mental illness is treatable and many experience satisfactory and enduring results which greatly improve their quality of life.

A Complement to Mental Health Treatment Options

As a complement to traditional interventions for symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic attack, sleeplessness, obsessive thoughts, mood swings; and the oft-experienced physical symptoms of acid reflux, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, auto-immune disease relapses that often show up in conjunction with midlife, it may be helpful to begin to explore your own inner truth.

  • What are the past losses/changes/transitions that are in need of identification, grieving, healing and release?
  • What are the heretofore ignored or suppressed dreams that might be trying to find their way into the light?
  • Have there been past experiences of sexual, emotional, mental, physical, verbal or spiritual abuse that are calling to be revisited and healed at a deeper level?
  • Are there sexual orientation issues that are seeking to be known and lived freely in the world?
  • Are you being invited to realign your life choices and direction with your own desires instead of those of some outside perceived authority?
  • Are you being invited to identify and claim your own needs?
  • Are you being invited to take responsibility for your own life instead of being the hapless victim of some outside malevolent force which seems to be out to get you?

Midlife, unparalleled with other periods of transition, seems to unleash within us all the hidden and unspoken truths that we have silently hidden in the darkness.  If we have to COURAGE to go into those places of darkness and EXHUME our unrecognized truths, in seemingly miraculous fashion, we are often freed of the previously judged as unpleasant symptoms.

If you are looking for healing and support of mental health related issues, contact your local NAMI chapter, ask your physician for assistance, find a mental health professional in the form of a psychotherapist, behavioral counselor or therapist, and if you suspect your symptoms may be related to truths unexpressed, contact Lauri Lumby at (920) 230-1313 or email lauri@yourspiritualtruth.com or find a spiritual director/life coach/personal mentor/ anam cara near you.

Posted in grief, mental illness

Mental Health Week – Wrap Up

First of all, a huge THANK YOU to all who have contributed to Mental Health Week(s), through their article contributions and participation in discussions!  I am sure the discussion is not over and submissions on this topic are always welcome!  I am humbled to have been given this opportunity to provide education and support for individuals who are suffering with mental illness and their families, as well as helping the general population to gain a better understanding of these conditions.  Today’s blog provides a few final words on support and will direct you to some great resources in support of those with mental illness.

Advocate  Advocate  Advocate

The biggest lesson I have learned in the treatment of mental illness is the importance of advocacy.  In particular, we are called to be our own advocate – and if we cannot, our family members are called to be one on our behalf.  If we want effective treatment and relief of the symptoms of mental illness, these are the things we need to do, and our family members with us:

  • EDUCATION – We need to learn EVERYTHING we can about the symptoms we are experiencing and if a diagnosis has been offered, we need to learn about our diagnosed condition.  Learn about the disease, how it works, the symptoms, how to recognize when we might be in danger (to ourselves or others), what are the prescribed treatments for the disease and what additional supports might be helpful.  LEARN.  READ.  ASK QUESTIONS.  SEEK ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.
  • MEDICATION – If medication is prescribed to treat our condition, we need to learn everything we can about the medication.  Ask your doctor.  Look it up on the internet.  READ the pamphlets your doctor gives you.  How does the medication work?   What are the possible side-effects?  How do we recognize when it is, or is not working?  What are the symptoms that might arise to tell us that the medication is not the best for us, or that it is no longer working?  When is it appropriate to cease medication?  What does withdrawal look like? What are the counterindications of the medications or possible negative drug interactions?
  • GRIEF When we receive ANY medical diagnosis, there is grief.  This is especially true in the case of mental illness.  Learn about grief and how to process grief.  Seek the help of a grief counselor or Spiritual Director in helping you move through the grieving process.  Allow yourself to grieve, it will prove to be invaluable to your healing.
  • WHOLISTIC Supports NAMI reminds us that the greatest success in relief and recovery of symptoms of mental illness come out of an integrated approach.  Seek supports.  Research which forms of support might be helpful to your condition:  diet, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness practices, energy work, creative endeavors, counseling, therapy, support groups, service, etc. etc. etc.
  • NAMI – Check out the NAMI website for your closest NAMI chapter.  NAMI provides education and support for those suffering with mental illness, along with their families.

My Favorite Books

As a final source of support, I wanted to share with you, three of my favorite books on the topic of mental illness:

Hidden Victims, Hidden Healers by Julie Tallard Johnson.  In this book, Julie provides an 8-step process of healing for family members of those with mental illness.

Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine.  In this book, Peter describes trauma and its chemical effect on the body, especially the brain.  (trauma is often at the root of symptoms consistent with mental illness).  He then provides practical tools for the release and healing of trauma.

The Instinct to Heal by David Servan-Schreiber.  Servan-Schreiber provides information on seven natural therapies that have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

Thank you for your participation in Mental Health Week(s).  And if you have articles to submit, I am always happy to share them on this blog.  Keep ’em coming. 

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries

http://yourspiritualtruth.com

Posted in mental illness

ADD and Mental Illness

Today’s blog explores the topic of ADD and some non-professional, personal thoughts on this “condition” and tools that I have found to be supportive in relieving adults of some of the symptoms associated with ADD. 

A Collective Growl

On May 13th, when I posted the blog, Mental Health Week – Let’s Get Started I’m pretty sure I heard a collective growl of frustration and disgust when ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) was included on the list of diagnosable mental illnesses.  When we keep in mind  NAMI‘s  broad definition of mental illness: a medical condition that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning, we can better understand how ADD is included on the list of mental illness diagnoses.

Addressing ADD

Because I heard the collective groan over ADD being included in the list of mental illnesses, I felt the topic of ADD as it relates to mental illness might deserve some special treatment.  In offering special treatment regarding the topic of ADD, I will be treading very lightly because I am NOT a medical doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor.  That being said, I have worked with many adults who present symptoms consistent with ADD and I have observed some similarities in their temperments and backgrounds that may prove to be useful in developing an integrated approach to treatment.  (Please note that this discussion is ONLY regarding adults who are presenting symptoms consistent with ADD and are only my observations.  I do not typically work with children so I cannot speak with any level of experience in this area.)

Symptoms of ADD

According to NAMI, there are actually thought to be three different types of ADHD, each with different symptoms: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive and combined.

Those living with the predominantly inattentive type often:

  • fail to pay close attention to details or make careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities;
  • have difficulty sustaining attention to tasks or leisure activities;
  • do not seem to listen when spoken to directly;
  • do not follow through on instructions and fail to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace;
  • have difficulty organizing tasks and activities;
  • avoid, dislike or are reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort;
  • lose things necessary for tasks or activities;
  • are easily distracted by extraneous stimuli; and are forgetful in daily activities.

Those living with the predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type often:

  • fidget with their hands or feet or squirm in their seat;
  • leave their seat in situations in which remaining seated is expected;
  • move excessively or feel restless during situations in which such behavior is inappropriate;
  • have difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly;
  • are “on the go” or act as if “driven by a motor;”
  • talk excessively;
  • blurt out answers before questions have been completed;
  • have difficulty awaiting their turn; and
  • interrupt or intrude on others.

I have worked with adults who have presented many of these symptoms and  every one of them has shared with me one common experience.

Trauma

Every single adult that I have worked with who presents symptoms of ADD experienced their childhood as traumatic in some way.  (Before going into further discussion on this, it is important to note that what is perceived as traumatic for one person might not be traumatic to another.  We each perceive our human experiences through a unique lens based on our temperments, upbringing and coping skills.)  These traumatic experiences may have come in the form of physical, mental, emotional, sexual or spiritual abuse.  Others may have experienced their parents’ divorce, a job change or an illness as traumatic.  Some grew up in home environments that to them felt unsafe, unpredictable or simply inconsistent with the needs of their unique temperment.  To those born as a highly sensitive person, sometimes life itself can be perceived as traumatic.  Whatever the experience or event, it was perceived in their body as traumatic.  As a result of the perceived trauma, they developed certain coping mechanisms that allowed them to survive an environment that on some level did not feel safe.

Defense Mechanisms and Adaptive Strategies

In adults that I have worked with who struggle with symptoms consistent with ADD, I have observed certain behaviors that I have come to call adaptive strategies or coping mechanisms.  It was through the application of these strategies that these individuals attempted to create a sense of safety in an otherwise “unsafe” environment.  While these behaviors may have given them a temporary sense of safety and a temporary sense of having control over their environment, all they really did was create more anxiety within them.  The behaviors I have seen look something like this:

  • Compulsive planning or (what I call) anticipatory thinking.  Through this strategy, the brain is occupied with the constant anticipating of “what comes next” or “what might happen” or “the list of all the things I have to accomplish today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.”  It is the mind’s way of trying to gain control by planning and predicting all the possible events of our lives.  It is also the brain’s way of staying in high-alert, on-guard for the next possible trauma or unsafe event. While planning and to-do lists are not bad on their own, when indulged to this extent, they become an obstacle rather than a help on our path.  This kind of thinking puts the body always on alert by stirring up the adrenaline we will need to fight or flee the next perceived trauma.  The irony is that instead of calming us and helping us to feel safe, this stirring up of adrenaline puts the body and the mind under additional stress and when stressed enough either the body, the mind or both will shut down.  This manifests as depression, emotional and mental paralysis, the inability to concentrate on or complete tasks.
  • High Sensitivity.  High Sensitivity might be a case of what came first, high sensitivity or ADD?  The specific experience of high sensitivity I am referring to here is, the ability to “read a room” or “being able to read people.”  Through this strategy, we can walk into a room and FEEL if it is safe or meet a person and determine if they FEEL safe.  This high sensitivity may be an inborn trait which pre-disposes us to experience our environments as traumatic, it might also be an adaptive strategy we developed to create an illusion of safety in an otherwise “unsafe” environment.  If we can determine ahead of time that someone or someplace is not safe, then we can protect ourselves or leave.
  • Self-Stimulating behaviors.  These “adaptive strategies” work in a similar way to the “anticipatory thinking” above. Those that feel unsafe in their environment have to create a system that will help to create the illusion of safety.  Self-stimulating behaviors stir up the adrenaline we need to maintain a posture of “high-alert.”  Some of these self-stimulating behaviors include:  self-destructive behaviors, creating chaos or conflict, stirring up problems where problems don’t exist, use and sometimes abuse of stimulating substances: energy drinks, caffeine, amphetamines, etc.

What happens in the brain and integrative treatment

When we grew up in environments that we perceived as unsafe and when we developed adaptive strategies to create the temporary illusion of safety, we created new thought and behavior patterns in our brain.  One of the traditional methods of treatment for adults diagnosed with ADD is medications to either stimulate those states of high-alert or to re-wire those deeply imbedded neuro-pathways.  As NAMI points out, an integrated approach to the treatment of mental illnesses has proven to be the most successful and this is equally true in the treatment of symptoms of ADD.  The goal with those experiencing symptoms of ADD is to help them to feel safe in their environment without having to use adaptive strategies that in the end prove to be counterproductive.   There are two tools in particular that I have found to be helpful in supporting the reduction of stress and increasing a sense of safety in those suffering with ADD.

Trauma Release and Meditation

For those suffering with symptoms of ADD who perceived their environment as traumatic or unsafe, the first goal would be to eliminate the trauma that is trapped in the body.  (Two fabulous books on trauma release:  Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine and The Instinct to Heal by David Servan-Schreiber)  There are countless protocols that assist us in the release of trauma:  EMDR, Quantum Bio-Feedback, Reiki, Meditation, Creative Visualization, Guided Meditation, Physical movement, etc.  Once the trauma has been released (which may prove to be an on-going process), the next step is to create a foundation of safety.  Traditional talk-therapy and behavior modification therapy can assist with this process.  In addition to this, the tool I have found to be most helpful to creating the sense of safety that effectively lowers our anxiety and stress while giving us the clear thinking channels we need to create new patterns of behavior is good old fashioned meditation.  Disciplined attention to a daily spiritual practice  – specifically, ones that engage the creative centers of the brain (ie:  Lectio-Divina, Imagination-Contemplation, mantra, chant, creative projects, etc.)  goes a long way in creating the foundation of inner peace and safety that we need to avoid the stress-inducing adaptive behaviors and create new patterns of behavior rooted in clear thinking and focused attention that will prove to be productive in way that is free from stress.  NOTE:  to those with ADD, trying to step immediately into silent meditation, centering prayer or zen practice might cause nothing but frustration.  Choose a practice that engages the mind and helps it naturally move to a quieter place.  🙂

Summary

In closing, ADD is a complex condition the causes of which are not completely known and neither is the sure path to effective treatment.  I am simply sharing with you a few things I have observed along with tools that some have found to be helpful in their journey of healing.  As is the case in the treatment of all mental illnesses, an integrative approach is helpful.  Consult your doctor, your therapist, local support groups and explore stress-relieving practices that may assist you in creating a better quality of life.

Posted in mental illness

Mysticism vs. Psychosis

It has been said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity.  In the twelve years that I have been sharing alternative wellness practices (Reiki, Christouch, Spiritual Direction), I have learned that this same fine line exists between mysticism and what would medically be diagnosed as psychosis.  Later this week, PhD Psychologist, Tom Altepeter will share his professional thoughts on this subject.  In the meantime, please find excerpt below from a blog posted by Seeds of Unfolding (for entire article, click on LINK.).  Seeds of Unfolding is a blog created by CAFH an intentional spiritual community and center for spiritual formation and development.  In this article, Tomas Agosin makes the clear distinction between mysticism and psychosis – valuable information for those in the helping fields as well as for family members of those who may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with psychosis.  If you believe someone you care about may be exhibiting symptoms consistent with psychosis, contact your local NAMI chapter for help. 

Differences

Even though there are many similarities between the phenomenology and subjective experiences of mysticism and psychosis, there are also some major differences. As Ram Dass said in a conference on Buddhism and Psychotherapy: “The psychotic brother thinks he is Jesus Christ and only he. I think I’m Jesus Christ, and everyone else too.”

    • Attachment to the world. The mystic, through practices of self-control, concentration and study, gradually reduces his/her attachment to the world. The mystic sees the material world as transitory and values that which he/she perceives as more permanent, eternal.  The psychotic also detaches from the world in that he/she focuses on inner experiences to the exclusion of socially established rules of behavior. But the psychotic is also highly subjected to profound and intense reactions to whatever is in front of him/her. His/her ego boundaries are easily broken down, and because of the incapacity to control emotions, it is easy for the psychotic to shift from one state to another very quickly, leaving the patient with a disruption of any sense of continuity in his/her sense of self and the world.
    • Self-image. The mystic reduces his/her sense of self to a minimum. The mystic wants to be an infinitesimal point of consciousness, with the smallest possible ego, so that he/she can perceive life in the least distorted way. The personality is seen as a barrier, a filter that does not allow one’s consciousness to perceive life in its truest form. Humility before the enormity of the universe is a common attitude in the mystic. The psychotic sees him/herself as omnipotent and omniscient. There is a great increase in self-centeredness, with a feeling of being all-important. He/she is the center of the world, and only he/she is sufficiently important to matter.
    • Ego-identity is shed by the mystic. He/she works to transcend the smallness of ego and tries to find a more expansive sense of self. The psychotic has never acquired a strong ego identity and often clings to whatever fragments he or she can find of him/herself.
    • Serenity increases in the mystic through detachment to the temporal and transient. The mystic identifies with the eternal, that which is most sacred and valuable. In that deep identification, the mystic finds peace and inner tranquility. The psychotic, however, finds little serenity in his/her life. The emotional and mental life of the psychotic is completely fragmented: fear and lack of control of one’s mind are the predominant states.
    • Change is welcomed by the mystic, who is open to new possibilities. The psychotic person tends to reject change, for anything new brings with it a whole set of circumstances to learn to deal with. This frightens the psychotic patient since he/she has little ego-identity or inner strength with which to meet the new situation.
    • Thought processes are not disrupted in the mystical experience. In the psychotic experience thinking usually becomes fragmented and disordered.
    • Aggressive or paranoid elements are found exclusively in the psychotic experience, sometimes to the point of being impossible to control.
    • Hallucinatory experiences tend to be visual in nature for the mystic. Often these are described as visions of light, superior beings and beautiful panoramic phenomena of a most positive nature. The psychotic tends more often to experience auditory hallucinations, which are usually negative and frightening because they are projected, unacceptable thoughts that person has and can no longer keep buried in the unconscious.
    • Limited in time characterizes the mystical experience. It is usually short-lived, but it always leaves an intense impression upon the memory and has a profound impact on the person who experiences it. It leaves one with a new sense of oneself and the world.
      Psychosis can become a chronic condition.
  • The consequence of the experience is the most important difference between mysticism and psychosis, and I believe that it often is the only way to truly differentiate between the two:

The mystical experience leaves the mystic more connected and involved in the world. He/she expands his/her capacity to love and to serve. The mystic becomes more appreciative of the beauty and the miracle of life. The mystical experience leaves the individual with a feeling of reverence for all life, embracing every aspect of life and death as sacred.

Psychosis unfortunately most often leaves the person more self-centered. It narrows his/her possibilities of connection with the world because the psychotic needs to protect him/herself from the anxiety that such a connection produces. The psychotic reduces his/her capacity to love because he/she cannot forget him/herself. The psychotic spends so much energy on survival that there is little psychic energy left for more.

Mysticism and Psychosis by Dr. Tomas Agosin

The Relationship Between Schizophrenia and Mysticism by Sandra Stahlman

Psychosis and Spirituality – Finding a Language by Isabel Clarke

Posted in mental illness

Mental Health Week(s)…..Let’s Get Started!

Welcome to Mental Health Week(s) at Authentic Freedom Ministries and Your Spiritual Truth.  During the coming days, we will have an opportunity to read contributions by those who have suffered with mental illness, those who have survived and from practitioners who help to provide support for those experiencing mental illness.   The goal of these coming days is first and foremost to support and secondly, to educate and inform.  A BIG thank you for those who have been willing to come forward with their own stories and for those in the helping fields who have provided information and support.  Let’s get started, shall we?

What is Mental Illness?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); mental illness is:   a medical condition that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Mental Illness covers a broad spectrum of diagnoses including:

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that 25 percent of adults and 20% of children and adolescents are experiencing mental illness of some kind.  Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. What is important to know is that mental illnesses are treatable and that most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.  According to NAMI, an effective treatment plan can include:  medication, psychosocial treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, peer support groups and the use of other community services.  Diet, exercise, adequate sleep, intimate friendships and meaningful paid or volunteer activities can also contribute to the overall success of any recovery plan.

Obstacles to Diagnosis and Recovery

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to effective diagnosis and treatement is the negative stigma associated with mental illness.  It is important for us to know and to share with others that mental illnesses are serious medical conditions. Contrary to some schools of thought, mental illness cannot be overcome through “will power” and is not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.  Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, gender, race, religion, income level or  intelligence.  Stigma erodes our ability to recognize that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions and often halts our search for diagnosis and treatment.  This is a tragedy because the best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective.  NAMI estimates that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life with a combination of prescription medications and psychosocial treatments and a variety of other supports.

Symptoms of Possible Mental Illness

The symptoms of possible mental illness vary on the type and severity of the condition.  WebMD cites the following as general symptoms that may suggest a mental illness is present:

In adults

  • Confused thinking
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
  • Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Many unexplained physical problems
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

In older children and pre-teens

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Changes in school performance, falling grades
  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical problems
  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Where to Go for Support

If you believe that you or someone you care about may be experiencing symptoms of a possible mental illness, early identification and treatment is of vital importance.  Early access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective can accelerate recovery and reduce the potential of further harm related to the course of untreated illness.  For treatment and support, the NAMI website is a great place to start.  Or, talk to your doctor, ask for a referral from friends or relatives (chances are, they are either suffering themselves or know someone who is), talk to your Pastor, seek the help of a professional Counselor.  Whatever you do, get help and seek out support. Current treatments are effective, recovery is possible (especially in cases where the symptoms are largely situational) and you deserve to experience your best life possible.

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom Ministries

http://yourspiritualtruth.com

Posted in mental illness

Mental Health Week – My Story

On Sunday, May 13th, I am launching “Mental Health Week” on the Your Spiritual Truth blog.  In truth, it will more than likely become Mental Health month with the overwhelming response that I have gotten from readers.  An overwhelming number of submissions have been coming in which is FANTASTIC.  All stories of love, support, resources and guidance.  I welcome your contributions as the week(s) unfold! 

Ready, Set, Go

I thought it would be appropriate to launch Mental Health Week(s), by coming out of my own closet of mental illlness.  It’s not really much of a closet as I have been pretty upfront about my own struggles with depression and anxiety, but maybe haven’t shared the “whole” story. So….here we go.

Looking Back in Honesty

If I am really honest, depression has been a part of my life for a really long time – certainly since my teens.  I remember periods of feeling really blue and the “obsessive thoughts” and  “mind chatter” that often accompany depression have been my companions for as long as I can remember.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was taking Lexapro (much later in life) and the “mind chatter” was suddenly absent that I realized I even had that symptom and that it might somehow be connected with the unique brain chemistry that predisposes one to depression and/or anxiety disorders.  I also know today that the “vertigo” and “migraine” attack I had in 1985 was more than likely a panic attack that was mis-diagnosed.

The Ceiling Fell In

But it wasn’t until the spring of 2000 or 2001 (I cant’ remember the exact dates), that I became sidelined by the symptoms of depression.  I had suffered a significant loss; been in a traumatic, potentially life-threatening storm while traveling with my two children; experienced a devastating disappointment, I was probably experiencing some post-partum; and my father had a heart-attack – all within a very short period of time. In a time when I should have been basking in the delight of my children, all I could do was sit in the living room chair and watch.  Fortunately a good friend recognized my symptoms as depression.  She suggested counseling and homeopathy (she was a professional homeopathy practitioner).  I accepted both recommendations and added Spiritual Direction to the mix.  With the support of my homeopath, therapist and Spiritual Director, I moved through 30+ years of ungrieved losses and did a lot of healing and releasing all which served to alleviate many of the symptoms of depression.

The Walls Collapse

Enter panic attacks.  Somewhere around 7 years ago, I suffered my first “official” panic attack.  Under the stress of a marriage that was beginning to unravel, my husband’s travel schedule, health concerns around one of our children and while experimenting with a “cleansing” diet, the bottom fell out.  While driving to meet my husband for a weekend out of town, the world started closing in, my heart started pounding, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my vision started to first get really small, then began to cloud over.  I didn’t know if I was having a heart attack, blood sugar crash or if I was dying.  If you have had a panic attack, you know how terrifying this is!  I pulled off the road as the symptoms “relaxed”.  Somehow got back on the highway, white knuckled it home and collapsed on the couch for what turned into a 3 day paralyzing migraine.  YUK!

The Power of Denial and Bargaining

Do you think I went to the doctor to investigate these symptoms?  No way!  I did not want to face the possibility of diagnosis.  “I could not possibly have had a panic attack.  Those are for my other people….not for me.  I’m perfect, put-together, impervious to mental illness, Lauri, right?!   And besides, I know a better way!”  So….I spent the next 2 1/2 years pursuing EVERY POSSIBLE remedy to these “symptoms” other than diagnosis and pharmaceuticals.  To make a REALLY LONG story short, these alternative methods provided much relief and gave me many tools that I have shared with others as potential sources of not only relief, but support.  But then, after returning from a 10 day pilgrimage to England, I began having panic attacks EVERY NIGHT at 2 am which woke me out of a dead sleep.  After two months of these nightly attacks, I said, “ENOUGH!”  I consulted my physician who released a heavy sigh of relief as she had been encouraging me to accept medical support for these symptoms since my first attack 2 years earlier.

Prayers to the Ancestors

My physician wrote out a prescription to the lowest dose possible of Lexapro and I went home with my little bottle in hand.  I was terrified.  I didn’t want to have a diagnosis.  I didn’t want to take drugs.  I didn’t want to be like my ancestors who had all suffered from depression and anxiety disorders most of whom either became housebound or took to drinking to manage their pain.  I remember sitting in my backyard with the bottle of Lexapro in my hand and praying, “God, please tell me what to do.”  The response was IMMEDIATE.  I suddenly saw before me generation upon generation of my ancestors. They looked at me with desperation in their eyes and collectively begged, “Please help us.”  With tears streaming down my cheeks, I silently opened the bottle of little white pills, took one out, placed it on my tongue and swallowed.

To Hell and Back

After I made it through the initial side effects of Lexapro, I found that it did seem to alleviate many of my symptoms.  I also realized that the “voices in my head” were suddenly absent.  This was the most pleasant surprise.  1) I never knew these voices weren’t “normal” In fact, I didn’t even know I had voices until they were gone. 2) There was an overwhelming sensation of peacefulness when not hounded by the constant chatter of worry, obsessive thoughts, planning, anticipating, etc. etc. etc.   (If you have these voices, you know what I mean.)  My brain was quiet for the first time in my life!  And the timing of all of this could not have been more perfect because now, the true unraveling of my marriage began.

Where Things Get Really Interesting

This is where things began to get REALLY interesting.  It became obvious to both my husband and me that we had been beating a dead horse and that perhaps we should just let the horse die.  We accepted divorce as the best option.  Then one day, I simply forgot to take my Lexapro.  Then the next day I forgot again.  On the third day I decided, “Let’s see what happens if I just don’t take my pills.” (PS, I’m NOT advocating that anyone do this without the guidance and support of your doctor!!!!!)  What happened was nothing.  No side effects.  No withdrawal.  (unlike when I had tried to wean myself).  No panic.  No depression.  That was two years ago.  Now….does that mean my depression is gone for good and I will never have another panic attack?  NO!!!!!  I still have situational depression.  I still experience anxiety and I have had a few situations of minor panic.  AND…..the voices are back.  BUT…..I am not paralyzed or sidelined by any of these symptoms and I have learned effective tools of self-care, meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices that have helped manage these symptoms.  And the most effective treatment I have found to date?  SPEAKING and WRITING my truth.  Does this mean I won’t need medication again in the future?  Who knows?  But for today, I am happy for the relief that medication, therapy, Spiritual Direction and complementary medicine have given me.  And I know that the journey through depression and anxiety is unique to each individual and to each life situation.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

The biggest lesson I have learned in all of this is that I AM NOT ALONE!  Mental illness, especially depression and anxiety are epidemic.  Nearly everyone I know has somehow been touched by mental illness.   And the good news is that today we have effective methods of diagnosis and treatment and most importantly SUPPORT!  So if you are suffering or know someone who is……please get help.  There are therapists, medical doctors, pastors, spiritual directors, teachers, alternative health practitioners out there who are willing and able to help.  And don’t be afraid to share your story with others…..you are not alone and you might just find that the person you share your story with needs your support too.

If you want to learn more about mental illness, check out the NAMI website:  http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=about_mental_illness

Lauri Lumby

Authentic Freedom

http://yourspiritualtruth.com

Posted in mental illness

Teen Suicide, Depression and Mental Illness – Repeat

NOTE:  This is a repeat of yesterday’s blog.  I felt the topic to be of such urgent nature it bore repeating.  My invitation to the readers is to share this blog.  Share it on your social networks.  Share it with your family and friends.  As many of yesterday’s comments stated, “It takes a village.”  Teenage suicide is largely preventable if we know the signs and symptoms of the underlying mental disorders that can leave a teen feeling as if suicide is their only option and we do something about it.  This is an opportunity to educate and inform, guide and support.  Thank you for your loving and generous assistance!

– Lauri

This Thursday, a second classmate of my fourteen year old daughter, committed suicide.  In the past several months, a third failed in their attempt and a fourth has been making regular threats.  What is happening in our community is happening everywhere.  Suicide is epidemic among our teens and while I am not a therapist or a psychiatrist, I can Google as well as anyone.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “scientific evidence has shown that almost all people who take their own lives have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder, and the majority have more than one disorder.   In other words, the feelings that often lead to suicide are highly treatable.”  ( http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Teenage_Suicide.htm  ) 

While bullying, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, experiencing stress, rejection or loss may be the catalyst, it is most often a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder (depression, anxiety disorders, bi-polar, manic depression, etc.) that is the underlying cause of a teen choosing suicide as the coping mechanism for dealing with life’s challenges.  According to teendepression.org, TWENTY percent of teens will experience depression sometime before adulthood.  That is a STAGGERING statistic.  That is two out of every ten teens.  I believe the statistic is much greater than that.  And this statistic is only for depression, this does not take into consideration schizophrenia, bi-polar disease, anxiety disorders, etc.  It is for this reason that education, diagnosis, treatement and support are so important.  In order to help our teens, we need to be EDUCATED on the symptoms of potential mental illness and to seek proper support and treatment when we suspect there might be an issue.

So, what are we to look for as signs that our teens might be suffering from an undiagnosed mental disorder that could lead to suicide?  This is what the NAMI website says to look for:

Some common symptoms of these disorders include:

  • Extreme personality changes
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Significant loss or gain in appetite
  • Difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
  • Sadness, irritability, or indifference
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Extreme anxiety or panic
  • Drug or alcohol use or abuse
  • Aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
  • Poor school performance
  • Hallucinations or unusual beliefs

If we want to be a source of support for our teens, it is our job to become educated and to communicate.  We cannot hide behind our fear of confrontation or our denial of the situation.  If you suspect your child or one of their friends might be exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety or is making threats of suicide….GET HELP immediately.  If it is a crisis situation and suicide seems imminent, call 911.  It was through this kind of intervention that at least one Oshkosh teen was saved. If it is one of your children’s friends, CALL THEIR PARENTS and let them know your concerns.   For education, counseling referrals and support, contact your local NAMI chapter, a local counseling center or your pastor.    In Oshkosh, you can contact NAMI at 651-1148 or go to their website:  http://www.namioshkosh.org.  Let us be a source of support for our teens so that we can help to prevent these unnecessary deaths!

Lauri Lumby

Merrill Middle School Parent

Authentic Freedom Ministries

Oshkosh, WI

http://yourspiritualtruth.com