The Coping Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed

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There Is Always Hope Of Reducing Your Pain

You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.

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

When I have a situation that causes me pain, the first thing I need to do is figure out how to feel better. After that, I can try to resolve the situation. This is where my coping skills come in. My coping skills are anything I can think or do to make me feel better. They range from meditation and mindfulness to re-watching comedy specials on Netflix and cuddling with my husband. Some are extremely simple, like reading or cleaning when I’m on the manic side. Others are just statements I reread that I originally had physically written down on index cards kept in my “toolbox”, which is the box I keep made out of a re-purposed shoe box. Now I use this article to “thumb through” my tools at a glance.

Actions

I have many soothing or calming actions I can take to feel better. Here are the actions from my toolbox:

  • Read a book if manic.
  • Call a friend if you need compassion or to be heard by someone.
  • Lay down, close your eyes, and relax from toes to scalp if you are tense.
  • Play guitar if you need a distraction.
  • Listen to an affirming Spotify playlist if you need to center yourself or re-establish your personality.
  • Do the big/medium/small ears centering meditation. (This is where you sit silently with your eyes closed and imagine your ears are getting bigger. When they are very large, listen for all the sounds you can hear outside of the room you are in. Once you can hear all the sounds, shrink your ears to half their previous size, and listen to everything you can hear inside the room you are in. Imagine your ears going back to normal, and listen carefully for all the sounds inside your body. This helps to ground you in the present moment, and it also helps with fear and anxiety. It is a very quick and easy meditation, and only takes a few minutes.)
  • Meditate freestyle. Let thoughts occur inside of imaginary helium balloons in your mind, and then let each balloon go up and away as your thoughts come up. Have a thought, but then let it float away.
  • Drink cold water.
  • Sing until you are distracted.
  • Exercise.
  • Hold ice cubes in both hands and feel them melt. This is good for distracting your brain from your anxiety, which calms you down for a little bit. It’s good for panic attacks, but the relief doesn’t always last, so have another skill prepared for after.
  • Walk. Thinking while walking helps you process emotion, due to the bi-lateral communication between the two hemispheres of your brain.
  • Go outside and ground yourself. You ground yourself by noticing something near you and trying to take in as much information about it as you can. Use sight, smell, touch, color, lines, your emotional response to it, its history and where it originated. You can do this with anything. I recommend a tree or a plant.
  • Meditate any way you like.
  • Splash cold water in your face.
  • Watch something comforting you’ve seen before on Netflix. This one is great for depressive and dissociative episodes, especially comedy specials. They have no plot to follow, it’s okay if you tune out sometimes, they have the same volume all the way through (which is good if you are tense, anxious, or agitated), and if you’ve seen it before, you’re not being challenged by trying to take in new information at a time when you already can’t process things you usually know.
  • Write about all of your feelings.
  • Talk to someone in your family. It is highly likely that they want to help you.
  • Paint.
  • Draw.
  • Think about science.
  • Color in your coloring book.
  • Yoga.
  • Do crunches or lift weights.
  • Find the present moment. Become completely present. Not worrying about the future or the past, just noticing exactly what is happening right now.
  • Warm up like you would before a voice lesson (or any instrument).
  • Make sure you’ve eaten. If you haven’t, have fruit. This one is a good solution for when I don’t want to eat anything at all.
  • Meditate by watching your breath.
  • Cuddle with a loved one.
  • Give attention and kindness to your pet. Take your time. Be present with them. They are always in the moment.
  • Take a hydroxyzine or Benadryl (or whatever you are prescribed for an as-needed anxiety med). I only name hydroxizine and Benadryl because both of them are non-addictive anti-anxiety medicines to be used as-needed for anxiety attacks and episodes. You have options when it comes to psychiatric medication, so keep your doctor informed if something doesn’t work or causes problems. Please note that lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and diazepam all have the potential for abuse and addiction because they work so well and make you numb if you abuse them, so discuss any addictive tendencies you have with your doctor. Like I said, you have options.

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I just graduated from high school. How can I make my life meaningful?

Congratulations! Now you will be thrown out into the wide world to learn how to be an adult. Don’t be scared; it’s just the ride. You’re on a ride. It will go up and down, thrill and scare you, but in the end, when you die, it’s all just been the ride.

Your last teen years and your twenties will be interesting, to say the least. You’ll make a lot of bad choices, which is totally normal, natural, and a healthy part of growing up. Don’t be too afraid of making bad choices. If you try not to hurt anyone, use birth control always, prevent STDs, go to the doctor when you need to, and stay away from hard drugs (no one tries crack, meth, or heroin just once), you’ll probably be just fine. Don’t get me Happy Fishes CCwrong; use your best judgment as often as you can. Just remember that everyone is imperfect and we all mess up sometimes. Nothing great has ever been accomplished through guilt or shame.

Your brain will stop changing and will be fully developed around age 25 if you’re a woman and age 27 if you’re a man, so you’ve still got a lot of personal growth and change coming. You’re not fully an adult yet.

For now, your job in your personal development is to figure out what you like and don’t like, what makes you happy, and how to feel better when you feel bad. A note though: don’t turn to alcohol to make your problems go away. If you do this often, you will become dependent and eventually have to give it up for good. Addiction is real and will really mess up your relationships and your life. If you only drink when you feel okay, you may be able to use alcohol successfully for the rest of your life.

There is no universal purpose or meaning to life. Everyone has to decide on their own what they want the purpose of their life to be. I decided that the purpose of my life is to learn, love people, and spread knowledge about mental illness. I get to decide, because my life is mine alone, and I’m the one who has to live it.

One of the ways everyone can make their life more meaningful is through practicing mindfulness. The internet will have better explanations of mindfulness than I can fit in a post, but the idea is bringing yourself fully into the present moment through various techniques, actions, or thought processes. When you get into the moment, it’s beautiful. The more you can get there, the happier you’ll be. There have been clinical studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness on mental health.

As far as giving your specific life meaning, I suggest you write about your feelings often. Try to pay attention to what basic things make you happy and find a way to form a life around them. If you really like plants, go work at a nursery and build a garden at home, or get a job in a local park. If you like walking around outside, get a job as a letter deliverer. If you like babies, go work at a daycare. If you like cooking, be a cook. You don’t have to be a doctor or lawyer or business executive to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy, although it is much better for Continue reading

Why Now Is The Best Time To Be Mentally Ill

This is the best time in the history of the world to be mentally ill. We have psychiatrists, drugs, psychologists, scientific researchers, therapists, hospitals, and we are working toward public knowledge of mental health as a legitimate concern. Many people know what depression or anxiety mean, and can list names of other psychiatric conditions as well, even though they may not be able to name the symptoms.

Modern life also allows us to be connected to communities online, with social media sites, mental health support sites, and many blogs that try to spread awareness and understanding of mental illness. If your family or friends don’t “get it”, you still have people to communicate with who understand what you’re experiencing. Having a social support network can save your life, even if it’s made up of people online who you never meet in person (or friends you talk to on the phone who you never see in person anymore). Talking to others who are fighting the same battle you are makes you feel much less alone or abnormal, which is tremendously helpful for your sense of self as a human with inherent worth. In other words, having a community is good for your self-esteem, and the internet allows anyone to reach out if they choose.

The digital age revolutionized my care. I use a pharmacy that is open every day for 24 hours, and I can manage and order refills through an app on my phone. My doctor’s office uses a system called MyChart, through which I can contact my doctor online with any questions or concerns, and he gets back to me in just a few days. This level of treatment is radically different from what I had for most of the duration my illness previously. Because things were so difficult before, with problems like not being able to speak to my psychiatrist directly, not being able to change dosages without an appointment, missing refills after I had run out, the pharmacy being closed every day at 6 and closed on weekends, having to call my prescriptions in and wait on hold for up to forty minutes, and then having to call and wait again to confirm that they are ready (or find out that they’re not), I count myself incredibly, unbelievably, undeservedly lucky that I am getting such amazing care. That’s largely due to the fact that everything in the world is turning electronic. The internet is helping keep me alive, and I am grateful for that.

Depression in the modern age still exists in a gray area of public understanding. Many people know what it is and can validate it, many others do not and cannot. Any individual who wants to help fight the stigma against mental illness can do so by educating people one at a time, teaching the origins and symptoms of their disorder to people and showing at the same time that they (the sufferer) are a decent, regular person. With Facebook and Twitter, we can even display our conditions to large groups of people as part of the fight against the stigmatization of mental illness.

Because of the advancements we have achieved as a world, we as a world society are in the best position to support people with mental illnesses that we have ever been in. There are elements to our care that are still severely lacking (and it varies widely based on country), and many people do still die by suicide due to mental illness, both treated and untreated. We need to teach emotional intelligence and coping skills to our children, all of them. There are many things that still need fixing in our system. But there are also many things that have already been fixed. For that, I am indescribably grateful.

 

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“How do I comfort a loved one who is in mourning?”

red moon during night time

First and foremost, be patient. This is a wound that will only heal with time. And don’t worry. There’s nothing for you to fix.

Be supportive. This refers back to patience. You will temporarily have to pick up some extra responsibilities, because there are things your loved one can’t do right now, like dishes, running errands, or laundry. They just can’t. They’re not being lazy, they are actually incapacitated.

You will also have to help them with self-care, by reminding them to eat, shower, and brush their teeth. If they are not sleeping well, buy an over-the-counter sleep aid and remind them to take it, because if they sleep poorly, that will drastically worsen their depression. Inversely, if their sleep gets better, they will have an easier time with their depression.

Since this is what is considered a situational depression, these problems will not be long term. The depression will probably be over in less than a year, and will gradually get better day by day. It may even be better in a few months, depending on how quickly your loved one processes their loss.

If you can make an appointment for them with a therapist, do so, and offer to drive her/him to her/his first appointment. If they hate the therapist, try again with someone else. A therapist can teach your loved one coping tools that will help ease her/his suffering. You can learn coping tools alongside your loved one, both for you to use yourself, as well as for you to remember so that you can remind your beloved to use specific tools. If you would like to borrow some of my tools, I have a list here with explanations of how to use them: Coping Tools You Can Borrow! – The Goldfish Painter

Let them be angry, and remember that if they get angry with you for doing nothing wrong, it’s their grief talking and that their anger probably Continue reading

Angry At Everything

I’m really struggling, and I just want to be heard. Please hear me. Please don’t be offended.

I need to vent.

This is me angry. I’m not angry at you. Please keep that in mind. I just need someone to hear me say all of this. I need it out. I need it said. You’re my readers, so I’m having faith in you that you will still follow me after you read all this mess that I just want out of me.

I almost feel like I don’t have a right to complain about my circumstances, but fuck it, I need to do it. Some things feel like poison if you keep them inside. My therapist says “Some things just need to be said.”

I am angry.

I’m angry that I’m not autonomous. There are so many “normal” things that most people take for granted that I just can’t do. And since I don’t look sick, people around me assume I can do normal, daily things like

  • drive: It’s too dangerous. I’ve been in two car accidents, and now when I get behind the wheel I get terrified and tremble. My family is also uncomfortable with me driving. I haven’t driven a vehicle in over a year.
  • walk through a grocery store without having my soul catch fire with anxiety, which usually triggers a dissociative dysphoric episode: It leaves me confused and dumb, unable to complete simple tasks. When I dissociate, I lose my rights as an autonomous adult: I am not allowed to use knives, the stove, or our gas heaters (our only source of heat, so if I’m by myself, I just stay cold). It’s not safe for me to wash the dishes. I can’t plug in or unplug appliances because it’s too dangerous. I can’t go for a walk by myself because I might get lost. All of this, triggered by 20 minutes in a grocery store.
  • have any sort of conflict without shaking like a leaf for hours afterward: In any scenario involving someone having a negative feeling that I caused or a scenario in which I’m nervous or feel judged, my hands start to shake. Actually, my whole body shakes, but the tremors in my hands are the most visible. I’ve had people tell me to calm down and not be so nervous. I lie and say I have a tremor from a seizure disorder. It’s close to true, but not the truth.
  • have any strong feeling without crying: this is typical of dissociative disorders, which I learned about recently, when my doctor added “dissociative disorder” to my official diagnosis. It is very inconvenient, and even more embarrassing. I can’t stop it. A very strong feeling can make me cry anywhere: the store, out to dinner, in a movie theater, in the mall, at the salon… I can’t escape it, and it hits me hard where the self-esteem lives. It makes me feel like a child if I’m in front of other people. These strong feelings, followed by crying, usually lead to the same kind of episode I described in the grocery store.
  • remember anything about a movie a few days after I watched it: I have no retention. I forget everything. When my husband mentions a movie, I hardly ever know anything about it and have no clue whether I’ve seen it or not. Last night, we watched a comedy special that I had already seen 3 times, but I was convinced that we were watching a slightly altered movie because parts of it were completely new to me.
  • remember a date with a friend even if it was important to me: Like I said, I forget everything. This includes friend dates and family dinners at my parents’ house. I can be told the day before and still forget and miss the meeting. For doctors’ appointments, I write down the appointment on the paper calendar on the wall and put a reminder in my phone. It’s not so easy to remember to put every date in my phone right away. That’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate because at least I have that little bit of control.

I can’t do these things. And these are only some my limitations. These are all part of my disability. If I’m being measured by healthy standards, I will always fall short of what I “should” be. I will always fail.

I don’t want to be measured by healthy standards because I don’t want to be a disappointment or a failure. But I don’t get to choose how I’m measured. I can live up to my own expectations all I want, it doesn’t stop me from being a problem for other people.

I need you to hear this because I need SOMEONE to hear this. It’s exhausting to constantly be failing in the eyes of others, especially when I am absolutely powerless to change the scope of my abilities. I didn’t ask for this, I did not choose this for myself, but I’m responsible for it and it’s something that becomes a problem for the people that I love. And it’s a problem I can’t fix. I can apologize all I want and still be stuck in the limbo of watching other people get disappointed or irritated or angry with me over things that I can’t change.

I fight to get healthy and stay healthy because I know that if I don’t fight, if I don’t keep this as under-control as possible, it will exhaust my support system and people will start giving up on me. I don’t want to be put in care because I have no one left who can put up with me. If I did not stay on top of my pill schedule, keep my blood sugar level, exercise, go to all my therapy appointments, use coping skills to get through most of the day, and do everything I can to keep this under control, I would lose everything.

To people on the outside, I’m sure it looks like I have it extremely easy. No job. Not many bills. There’s nothing I can do to change that perception outside of telling people the reality of my situation one person at a time and trying to find a way for them to relate to things they’ve never experienced. But I don’t know how to communicate what a dissociative episode is like. I can’t bottle the essence of dysphoric mania. I can’t describe the terror of delusions and paranoia. Sure, I can describe a hallucination, but the relatability stops there, at the physical. How could they possibly know how it feels to be hungry but do not know how to make food, or even what I can eat? How could they know how it feels to be terrified of making even a tiny decision, like which candy to buy? Or to be cold and be afraid to light the gas heater? Or to have to rely on the emotional and monetary charity of others daily, just to survive? Or to watch myself upset people over and over in so many different ways because of things that I am responsible for but not able to change?

This is not a pity party. This is an expression of anger. I’m angry at my circumstances and my brain. I’m angry at my limitations. I’m angry at my life. I’m angry because most people don’t understand that by healthy standards, I am always going to fail. These are things that I need to be said, and I’m also angry because I don’t think this will be well-received, and may even fall on deaf ears. If you’re still reading, thank you for falling down this hole with me. It’s dark and lonely down here. Knowing that someone will read this is what is sustaining me today.

I don’t deal well with anger. I don’t deal well with any strong feeling. I can’t help it. I’m getting ready to double up on therapy to try to get more control, faster. I know I’m exhausting my support system. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Just continue to fuck up and continue to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness? I don’t see any options. Just the shitty, shitty status quo. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m sitting here, terrified of losing everyone, terrified of exhausting everyone, terrified of hurting everyone. I’m scared. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I’m trying, I promise I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying. I’m so tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

I know I just have to keep moving forward. Therapy helps me gain some control over my feelings and thoughts, but not the chemicals in my brain. My self-esteem is shot to shit right now, so I’ve got to build that back up. I feel worthless. I’ll keep doing what I can to change.

 

Post-Script: I wrote this during a dissociative and mixed-state episode, and it began as a letter to my partner. I decided to edit and then publish it even though I’m worried that it may be offensive to some people. Not everything in this is objectively true: my partner assures me (he’s an honest person when it comes to my shortcomings) that I’m not exhausting him or my support system. The problem with incorrect thinking inspired by negative feelings is that I believe all of the horrible things I tell myself, which increases my fear and despair. In the moment I wrote this, none of it felt like hyperbole. In the moment, I was sure I’d lose my partner, my family, and my friends because I was too large a burden and not worth the effort. Self-esteem is a bouncing ball for me, and that day, I was on the floor.

If you live with mental illness, please, please recognize that your thoughts lie to you when you feel bad. They can make you feel worthless. They can make you believe horrible things about yourself and your life that are simply not true. You eventually see that when you come out the other side. If you’re stuck right now in a place where you hate yourself and think other people hate you too, and if it might be a while before you see daylight again, you’re going to have to take your own thoughts and beliefs with a grain of salt. That grain of salt is “I cannot be sure this is objectively true. No matter how true it feels, I cannot be sure it’s true.” Take those thoughts and beliefs to someone else to help you confirm or deny the truth of your beliefs. Then, trust that person to tell you the truth. This takes some practice and some courage, but asking others to help you fact-check is amazingly therapeutic. I had to take these feelings to my partner in order to figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

I’m not worthless, and I’m not exhausting anyone. The rest, unfortunately, is true.

 

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The Difference Between Normal Emotions and Mentally-Ill Emotions: The Color Explanation

nature red love romantic

The way I explain the difference between normal feeling experiences and my feeling experiences (with bipolar, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) is with color:

 

Imagine you’re holding a ball. It is deep blue. This ball contains all of your sadness. This ball is 100% of what you experience when you are sad.

 

Now imagine walking into a room. The walls and ceiling are painted the same deep blue as the ball. This room contains all of a depressed person’s sadness. This room is 100% of their experience when they are sad.

nature red love romantic

The important part is that the ball and the room are the exact same color, and each of them contains 100% of each individual’s sadness. One is larger than the other, but the sadness is based on the same color. If you have felt 100% of your sadness at some point, you have experienced the same sadness a depressed person feels, only you experience that sadness to the extent that the ball can contain, and they experience it to the extent that the room can contain. It’s the same color, and either way, you’re both at 100%

 

The room full of sadness causes far more problems than the ball full of sadness. A ball doesn’t take up much room and can Continue reading

How To Help A Friend with Anxiety

Holly CC

Talk to your friend about what activities are soothing, as well as what the things they really need to hear from you are. Encourage them to write these things down, with the goal of giving you the piece of paper to keep, so that you can say or do helpful things when they are having a hard time. Note: it is also very important that they make a similar list for them to refer to.

Some of the things you can say that might make a difference are:

Breathe slowly. You’re going to be okay. You’ve always gotten through this is the past, all you have to do is wait it out. I know you are strong. This will be over soon.

You are so loved, I care about you deeply, and I will help you any way you need if you tell me how.

We can get you out of this situation if we need to. (Make sure you can follow through on this.)

You are not in danger. This is your anxiety trying to take you over. I am here to help you feel safe. (If they will not respond positively to you saying that their reaction is coming from their anxiety, just promise them you will keep them safe.)

Some actions you can take to help are:

Try to remove your friend from the situation that is causing the anxiety response, like a social or family situation, the store, the mall, or a party/formal event. Go outside with them and encourage them to breathe in slowly through the nose while counting, and breathe out for half as long out of the mouth. This physically slows their heart rate. You can count out loud for them to help them concentrate, and feel cared-for. You can also offer them the option of leaving the situation entirely, if possible. It’s okay to cancel plans with friends and family in order to help your friend function. It’s something that they will need sometimes. If their friends and family can’t be understanding or supportive, they are going to lose those people eventually anyway.

Remind them to eat. Low blood sugar can trigger an episode. When you go somewhere with them, keep a piece of fruit with you.

Encourage your friend to get in to see a therapist if they don’t already. If they can’t afford it, there are some therapists who offer sliding-scale pricing, which means your friend would pay according to what they make. When they see the therapist, they should go in with goals in mind. These goals could be “I want to be calmer in public places.”, “I want to feel less anxiety.”, or “I want to struggle less with my daily life.” The therapist will then help them build tools and skills to use every day that are aimed at lessening their pain. If your friend is reticent to go to therapy, offer to help them find a therapist and to drive them to their first appointment.

Remind them often that they are loved and supported, in and out of anxiety episodes.

Remind them to do any of the activities they wrote down as “soothing”. It’s easy to forget your tools when you’re in crisis.

Please remember that your friend can get better and experience less anxiety, but they will probably never fully recover. The goal is not to be cured, the goal is to learn to live successfully, in as little pain as possible. Most of the responsibility to get better rests on your friend’s shoulders, not on yours. Make sure you take care of your own mental health before reaching out to help your friend. It’s okay to sacrifice a little for them, but if you find yourself slipping into a depression because of their situation, take some time to yourself to get better, and then return to your friendship refreshed. Since your friend has a mental illness, they should be understanding if you express the need to take care of your own mental health for a while.

It is very loving and honorable that you want to help your friend. If you have a very close relationship and you are willing to take on more responsibility, this has more ways you can help: How Outsiders Can Help – The Goldfish Painter

 

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Fact-checking. What’s Real?

I’ve had doctors who were surprised that I can distinguish most of my hallucinations from reality, so I’m led to believe it’s not common, but I am not a professional.

I know when I’m in a psychotic episode and I can use logic to detect most hallucinations. I call it “fact checking”.

adult automotive blur car

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

If I’m in the car and I hear the driver (I don’t drive. I have a license, but it scares my family. It’s disheartening at times.) singing along with the radio, I look at the driver’s mouth to see if it’s moving. Sometimes it is, and I’m hearing them singing. Sometimes it isn’t, and then I realize I’m just hallucinating them singing.

sunglasses girl swimming pool swimming

Photo by Juan Salamanca on Pexels.com

Once, I saw a young, blonde-haired boy in a blue and orange swimsuit floating motionlessly near me at the bottom of the pool. I panicked, yelled “Help!” and dove down to grab him and bring him to the surface. When I reached out to grab him, he disappeared. I returned to the surface with a pounding heart and told the lifeguard that I was mistaken, nothing was wrong and thanked him for coming to help. My whole body was shaking for the next hour. Finding out you’ve had a hallucination is comforting in that the problem it presented is not really there, but your adrenal system will continue to flood you with panic chemicals long after you’ve found out.

I frequently have visual disturbances, the most common of which is smoke or bent light in the air. Imagine billowing smoke, and then take the same curves and lines you would see and turn that into light. It’s a lot like the reflection of light at the bottom of a swimming pool. It doesn’t obscure my vision, it just passes over it. This is usually the first sign I’m having psychosis.

Following the billowing light, I usually become very frightened, with the cause being some vague danger, a threat to my loved ones’ or my safety. I frequently ask if we’re safe (anyone in my life knows to expect this, and fortunately the answer is always “yes”) and sometimes need my fiance to search the house for strangers on my behalf. This fear is paranoia. I actually consider myself lucky for not having more specific fears. The more specific the fear I’ve had in the past, the more intimidating it was. Sometimes, if I’m in public during a psychotic episode, I will believe that I can hear everyone’s thoughts and that they can hear mine. I’m afraid I’ll think the wrong thing and everyone will hear me and get upset. That’s a great example of a paranoid delusion. In this state, I know I’m in an episode, which allows me to continue to move through the world looking a little bit normal (with the guidance of a loved one) even though I’m inside of an absolutely insane situation. I can experience it as real, the way I’m being forced to experience it, but pretend that nothing is happening and just do the things I’m told to do, like walk next to someone, get in the car, or stand in a line. This level of coping with psychosis is ninja-level. I cannot express how hard I have worked to get to the point where I can actively fear for my life and stand in line at the grocery store at the same time.

Being 12 years into my treatment for bipolar, nothing now is nearly as scary as it used to be. I used to be completely entranced by horrific hallucinations and believed completely that they were real. I once sat next to Satan on an American Airlines flight (I really was on an airplane). He had a little boy in his lap, and I was trying to figure out how to signal to the stewardess that the boy needed help, but I was nearly paralyzed by fear. I looked down between my feet so he couldn’t see me crying, and the floor of the aircraft had disappeared. I was sitting 40,000 feet above the earth with nothing between me and the tiny lights below but air. That was real to me.

By 3 years ago, I’d come around to being aware of almost all my hallucinations. I once saw a flock of black angels/bird people flying over the car I was riding in. I knew it was a hallucination, but it still mattered to me. I wasn’t at all afraid. It was beautiful. I watched them swoop and dive around each other. They were fast and graceful. I watched until they disappeared. That memory is still special to me. That experience was only mine. No one else in the world can possibly have that memory, not even the people that were there.

Knowing I’m having hallucinations is much easier than knowing I’m having paranoia or delusions. Paranoia and delusions are less tangible. Seeing something is easy to disprove, especially if it disappears while I’m watching it, which is frequent with my visual hallucinations. If the person is singing in the car, I can watch their mouth. But if I believe I’m not “safe”, for whatever vague, paranoid reason, it is very hard, and sometimes impossible, not to trust my gut. Instead, I have to trust someone else’s gut. My fiance is my partner in life, and we have been through enough episodes together to have each other trained in what to do. If he’s the person I’m with, which is usually the case, I have to ask him questions, sometimes repeatedly, about the nature of actual reality as he is experiencing it. I use him to check what is real. I ask him about the validity of things I see, hear, and think. I will ask him if we’re safe, and he’ll say yes. If I don’t calm down, he will describe why we are safe. If I’m far enough gone that I can’t calm down, it’s probably all terror-crying from that point on anyway, so he just takes me home, stays with me and reiterates that we are safe. I much prefer hallucinations, as you can imagine. They, at least, can sometimes be fun. Paranoia, so far, has never been fun for me.

I am self-aware enough now that I know when I’m in an episode most of the time. Sometimes someone else will point it out before I’ve figured out what’s happening, but as soon as I realize it, I am able to stay grounded in that knowledge. Knowing that I’m in an episode and that I can’t stop it sometimes feels like falling, only I never land. It just goes and goes, without my permission, and I can’t change it. The intensity of it can be ridiculous. Humans shouldn’t be able to manufacture that level of intensity, especially with no external source. It can be quite incredible, in the original meaning of the word. In fact, that incredibility is part of why fewer people understand or validate mental illness. It sounds made-up.

Knowing I’m experiencing psychosis keeps me grounded and safe during episodes. I know to alert my fiance or family, and I follow their lead, at least until I get out of public. At home, I am better able to cope with whatever counter-reality comes my way.

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“How Can People On The Internet Help Me With Severe Depression?”

All people on the internet can do for you is to listen and respond. We can offer our support through words and remind you that you are not alone. We will be here in the middle of the night. We will hear you, and we will try to help.

 

Move forward with the hope of treatment and remission. You need to be seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. Depression is hard, and you may not have much energy or functionality today. That’s okay. Make your one task for the day “Make an appointment with a psychiatrist”, and even if there is a long waiting list, set the appointment and put it on your calendar so that you will have help in the future. Do the same thing tomorrow, only with a therapist.

 

If you already have a psychiatrist and therapist, stay vigilant in keeping your appointments and taking your medicine. Start to build your toolbox of coping strategies,(that link is to a list of all of my coping tools) and use it when you’re in pain, even if that Sunflower CCmeans you are using it all day, every day. You cannot be cured, but your pain can be managed. For your next appointment, take any notes you can on your symptoms, triggers, medicine effects/side-effects, sleep problems, eating problems, and daily moods. There is no wrong way to take these notes, just write down information every couple of days about things you experience in your illness. The important thing is that you have everything written down for the doctor. The doctor will only be as good as the information you give them, and you are your best and only advocate as the patient. Don’t rely on only your memory to communicate with your doctor, because memory is fickle and fallible, and doubly so with Continue reading

The Ultimate Guide To Taking Psychiatric Medication

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When you first start psychiatric medication, you honestly don’t know what you’re doing. I wish that there was a class on how to be a good and helpful patient that anyone could take for free when they get their first script, but instead, I will write out the things I believe are crucial in order to make significant progress aided by meds.

person holding white medication tablet

Patient Skills For a Lifetime

Although I am not a doctor or any sort of health professional, I do consider myself a “professional patient,” due to the past 13 years of dealing with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. All that time, I have been in treatment with psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, general practitioners, and specialists in various fields. The following is what I’ve learned.

The Rules

  1. One psychiatric medication does not work the same on everyone. And if you’re already telling other people about your meds (what works for you and what doesn’t), then please read the disclaimer that needs to come before any advice you hand out.
  1. Sometimes a psych med has the effect of causing health problems, making things worse, or affecting you in a way opposite of its intended purpose. An example is that for some people, some antidepressants can cause suicidal ideation, and some antipsychotics can cause hallucinations. These effects happen to a small minority of people, so this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. Because…
  1. Psychiatric medication can save your life. A med can bring you back from the brink. A med can improve you enough to be able to use coping skills, which is difficult in a nonfunctional place…
  1. Doctors are stabbing in the dark when you begin treatment. This means that you will probably have to try more than one medication before you find one that works. Once you find one that works, then you will need to…
  1. Adjust your dosage and time of the dose with the guidance of your doctor. Often, a medication that works for you a little bit can work for you a lot after you figure out what time(s) of the day make you feel best. This is often called “tweaking the dose.”
  1. To learn how the dose needs to be tweaked, you will need to KEEP NOTES. Print out a mood chart from the internet (search “mood chart”-it’s easy). Go to Kinko’s or the library if you don’t have access to a printer. I know some apps do the same thing, so look for those instead if you’re inclined. Or just keep a notebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you have the following information in an easy to read way:
    • Your daily mood status
    • What you are taking, what time and how much (you don’t need to write down the things that don’t change every day)
    • Your mental illness symptoms, especially anything severe or unusual for you
    • Other health problems
    • Any problem behaviors or events (like self-harm or episodes)
    • Any insight you notice about how you are being affected
  1. Bring your notes with you to the doctor. Some doctors’ appointments are as short as 10 minutes, so every sentence counts. Having all the information on hand eliminates the need for telling long, rambling stories full of irrelevant details. This is probably the most important thing to do in your relationship with your psychiatrist.

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