What is EMDR?

Right Brain Left Brain CC

Above: Right brain and left brain, pictured on opposite sides, surround the present mindful moment that flows out between the two.

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a partially physical treatment in psychotherapy used to reduce psychological pain associated with trauma. It involves watching a light move back and forth, tapping your hands on your legs, or holding two small vibrating paddles, one in each hand, while letting your brain relive a traumatic event. The physical component (be it the moving light, the tapping hands, or the vibrating paddles), causes bilateral stimulation. When combined with the brain’s amazing ability to make sense of complicated feelings and situations, effective healing can occur.

We have two hemispheres in our brains; the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. They are connected in the middle by a part of the brain called the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum does the job of communicating thoughts, memories, emotions, and other information between the two hemispheres. When you experience a traumatic event, your brain makes a fixed memory, including all of the physical and emotional feelings you had at that moment. This is sometimes referred to as a “flashbulb memory” (flashbulbs were used with old cameras as the necessary light source for a photo), because the image is frozen in your mind in great detail, and details will remain there, largely unchanged, for years. It is important to note that most memories are extremely flimsy and subject to change, even from hour to hour. Flashbulb memories are different. They are “stuck” in a neural memory network in a specific part of your brain and are cut off from the rest of your brain. Anything that comes in contact with this “stuck” part of your brain will be negatively affected by your trauma. The stuck trauma can cause negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is where EMDR comes in.

Bilateral stimulation means that both hemispheres are stimulated alternatingly (right brain, then left brain, then right brain, then left brain, and so on). Bilateral stimulation is the crucial element in EMDR because it aides the corpus callosum in communicating between Continue reading

On Gaining Weight. And Losing weight. And Gaining Weight…

conv meditation.jpegTrigger Warning: This article discusses weight loss, severe weight gain, and disordered eating.

Psychiatric drugs make weight gain so, so easy. My first antipsychotic made me feel like I was never full for the first year and a half that I took it. I would eat seconds, thirds, fourths, dessert and second dessert. I would get the feeling that my stomach hurt from being so overly filled, and I would stop at that point. I would have a stomach ache for the next hour, and I was still hungry. This was when I was at Oberlin and had access to a cafeteria. Yikes.

The weight gain was slow at first, but over the years I grew to a size that was unacceptable to me. A big problem I have is using food as a pleasure button that I push to entertain myself. Eating makes me feel good, so I want to do it more often than is healthy. Sometimes I go on binges and don’t purge afterward. I’ve also gone through years in my life with symptoms of anorexia. Eating disorders are real mental illnesses, and while I’ve only been informally diagnosed by my therapist as having some sort of disordered eating, I know how complicated my relationship with food is, and that it’s not a healthy relationship at all.

I have had a period of my life during which my relationship with food was very healthy, Continue reading

Tell the Truth: Ask for Help!

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I’m trying to act in a way that promotes self-acceptance and honesty. I have stopped lying to people when my illness precludes me from participating in something. I no longer say I have a stomach bug, or that my parents need me to help them with something. I say that I am disabled, and I need to just sit and do nothing for a day or two in order to prevent an episode. This puts me in a vulnerable position. I may be judged harshly, not taken seriously, or even hurt someone’s feelings. But if I want to be a mental illness advocate, I know I need to live that role. Most people are understanding and want to help, even if they don’t know fact one about mental illness, so I decided that it’s a good idea to put awareness and information out into the world. I want to be an ambassador of our cause, and the best way I can do that is by being open, honest, and frank about my disability and what kind of help I need.

Asking for help takes bravery, nothing less. It means admitting that you can’t do something for yourself. No adult wants to feel that way or be seen in that light. But if you are disabled, you have a legitimate need that has to be met. If you can’t help yourself in the active sense, you need to spend some time thinking about what help or accommodations you need, so that you can ask the people around you very specifically to help you in those ways. Guess what? Most people want to help. Like seriously, earnestly want to help, even when they don’t understand the problem. If you ask someone for help, you will probably get it. Isn’t that great?

Of course, everyone fears the day Continue reading

A Manic Introduction to a Realistic View

What will I be without my illness?

This question terrified me. And it terrified me to admit that I was terrified because that meant something was wrong with me. And there is. There is a pretty massive thing wrong with me: I have a broken brain.

Along with that broken brain came a personality developed from the results of mental illness. There is a lot I have not been that I want to be. I have rough spots and ugly edges. Now I know that I can make those edges any way I’d like them to be. I have the power to do all of the things I want to do. They are all completely possible. I can step out of the cage and grow into whatever I want to be.

I had a seizure, and it changed me. I woke up in a slightly different world. It’s beautiful. I have the power to make all of the things I want into reality. That is an incredible gift. My life is going to be meaningful.

Now that I have all this power, I have to start looking at what it is I want. If I could pick anything… and I can pick anything… then I need to think hard about what I want my life to be.

Of course, any joy this high comes under scrutiny. Mania is always possible, and it can give one delusions of grandeur. That is what this looks like from the outside, and I know my family will be worried. But having a seizure made me wake up different, and now I’ve got everything figured out. Or, rather, I know how to figure anything out. I will have to work hard, but I know that I can. I just have to keep putting small thing on top of small thing until I make something big.

The paragraphs above were written during mania. I rarely have “happy” mania, but I definitely did when I wrote this. I remembered today that I started writing an article a few nights ago and I wanted to sit down and finish it. I remembered that the article had a positive perspective, and I was excited to see what I had written. Then I read it and immediately went “Oh. Delusions of grandeur.” It made me smile.

It made me smile because I can appreciate the more ridiculous things about my disorder. For years, when I had to come face to face with a shortcoming, weakness, or disability, I would cry and feel deep hopelessness. It felt like I was worthless and broken. Now, I have gotten better at accepting that I am disabled, and I don’t need to be ashamed Continue reading

How An Episode Unfolds, and What It Feels Like

conv fishes sophie2.jpegIn case you don’t already know, I have bipolar II, mixed state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features. I get hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions during manic and depressive episodes, which is part of having mixed state episodes. A mixed state episode can lean one way or another so it can be helpful to refer to them as manic or depressive for purposes of communication, but every mixed state episode has features of both mania and depression.

A real-life example of a troubling psychotic episode would be that I can hear the clouds above me whispering (hallucination) and even though I can’t hear what they’re saying, I know they are talking about me and are going to come down and hurt me (paranoid delusion). This happens often in episodes that lean toward mania. In an episode that leans toward depression, it is common for me to believe that there is an intruder in the house (paranoid delusion), or to feel very afraid and not know why (paranoia). Every episode has features of both mania and depression at the same time often in conjunction with hallucinations or paranoia. My episodes are rapid cycling, which means that they are short and intense, usually between 4 hours and 12 hours, and I have them three days in a row at about the same time of day, unless I am able to get 14 hours of sleep in a night, which interrupts the cycle and prevents an episode the next day.

I usually use the metaphor of a thunderstorm to explain how an episode unfolds. Continue reading

How to Survive Depression

I have lots of practice dealing with depression, and I hope I can help you with what I’ve learned. When you’re depressed, not much appeals. Nothing sounds fun. Nothing seems worth doing. When that happens to me, I know I’m depressed. Losing interest in things you usually care about is a normal and typical symptom of depression. For many very lucky people, sadness passes in a day or so. For those of us whose sadness lasts weeks and expands into full depression, we need a plan. Deep depression can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. If you’re going to stay alive, you need tools to help you do so. Suicide happens when the pain you experience exceeds your ability to cope with it, so if you’re going to stay alive, your options are to lower the level of pain or increase your coping ability. This explanation is not original to me, so don’t credit me for it. I use it because it’s a clear and simple analysis of a messy state of mind.Above the Spiral CC

So. You’re depressed. Time to get to work. Self-care is where you begin. Self-care is easier than all-out self-love, which is often not possible when you’re depressed. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating something is a good place to start. If you’re severely depressed, all three of those things may be impossible. If those things remain impossible for more than two weeks, you need medical intervention. If that’s where you are right now, then the job I assign you for today is to make a doctor’s appointment. That is the only task you need to do today. You can do one thing. You can spend the rest of the day watching TV and crying if you need to, just get that one thing done. It’s the first step to saving your own life. Continue reading

How Outsiders Can Help

One of the biggest worries of a mentally ill person is that they are a terrible burden on their friends and family. As an outsider, most of what you can contribute is verbal. Regularly remind your loved one that they are not a burden, they are not going to lose you, you love them, and that it’s okay to be upset. Physical contact is also very powerful: a hand on the back, a squeeze of the hand, or a hug can make an enormous difference in the current mental state of your loved one in crisis. If it’s appropriate to your relationship, lay with them and hold them, or let them put their head in your lap so that you can pet the side of their head. This sounds very basic and very infantile, but the difference you’ll make is enormous. Just being present with your sick loved one is powerful. Try to listen without judgment, and try not to give advice, only reassurance that they’re safe and loved. If your loved one is very sick and not making good choices, keep them at home. Even a trip to the grocery store could be catastrophic for their state of being. If they’re not making sense, do not let them cook or drive, and keep a close eye on them to keep them safe.

If your loved one is suicidal, take them immediately to the emergency room, because they’re going to need to Continue reading

Coping Tools You Can Borrow!

Chris's Eye CCGood news! You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.

It takes a long time, some training, and a lot of practice, but you can learn how to calm yourself during a depressive episode, an anxiety attack, a panic attack, a bipolar episode, or something similar.

You start the process by noticing what things you do that calm you down: concrete actions that take place outside of your mind, like reading a book, writing in a journal, playing on social media, eating an apple, meditating, being mindful, or talking on the phone. Whenever you find something remotely soothing, write it down. These soothing behaviors will be your coping tools, so you need to write them down and practice using them whenever you are in emotional distress. It’s best to always continue to build your “toolbox” Continue reading

The Disclaimer For Your Advice

Meeting Myself CCEach person is mostly like every other person, but not exactly. And the not exactly goes to varying degrees. Some people are sick. Of the people who are sick, there are many different body parts that can be sick. Of the people with one specific sickness in one specific body part, each will have different and varying degrees of the effects of the illness and the effectiveness of their treatment.

Every illness is like this. The world is full of different people; mostly all the same, but each with a personal experience that no one else gets to experience. My mental illnesses are different from yours. Mostly the same, but different.

Don’t assume you know what someone feels because you wear the same label that they do. I, for example, do not have happy mania. Continue reading

Why I Won’t Have Children

I have always desperately wanted a daughter, and wanted to have several babies. I worked in infant care for seven years, and babies are my favorite people. I feel so much love toward them and from them, and have so much purpose when caring for them. From a very young age, around four or five, I have looked forward to becoming a mother. I wrote down “get pregnant and have a baby” on a bucket list I made when I was eight years old.Holly CC

When I was 19, my bipolar disorder presented. My ultimate diagnosis was bipolar II (mixed-state, rapid-cycling episodes with psychotic features), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I have had extreme difficulty keeping myself functional and safe over the years, and it is literally dangerous for me to do something like cook when I am in an episode. I had to leave my job working with babies and go on disability because I had an episode at work in which I was not safe and I was endangering the babies. That was eye-opening. And I did not like what I was forced to see. Continue reading