Navigating Psychiatry

It has been awhile since blogging (as of lately) but I sure miss it! I am not going to commit to posting on a consistent basis, yet it is something that I want to try to incorporate into my life more because it is good for my soul. Additionally, I feel I have experiences in areas that could benefit others. So with that I am going to jump right in!

Today I want to discuss a topic that I have recently been walking through. As a person who struggles with managing bipolar disorder, one aspect of treatment that I require is medication. For that medication I have to meet with a psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis. Anywhere from every couple of weeks to every three months if I am in maintenance.

In the last ten years I have seen five psychiatrists and I have an appointment the end of this month for an evaluation with a new one. Why so many you might ask? Well the first misdiagnosed me and put me on medication that drastically made me worse. At the time I was only 16 and they really had no business treating a teenager, but my parents and I didn’t know any better. That could be an entire topic on its own. (Side note, if there is ever a topic that you want me to discuss I am more than happy for the suggestions. I do have an interest in speaking with parents of teenagers or young adults to help them walk through this journey as a family as well. Okay back to me.) The second psychiatrist correctly diagnosed me and I stayed with this one for several years. Eventually I realized I was over-medicated and there was no room for discussion on a reasonable level. I was feeling very unheard. I had an instant connection with the third, but they took a job in a different location which wouldn’t accept my insurance. The joys of the medical system here in the United States. The next psychiatrist I didn’t really connect with, but they listened to me enough and I was able to be remain stable for a couple years. Unfortunately, they had personal reasons and left practice. Between that one and the fifth, I was off medication completely for a year.

There are periods of time where I am able to be off of medication. Slowly and surely though as the months progress, I have a slow and steady decline until I find myself in desperate need of stability. I have been through the cycle of on again off again meds three times and every time is the same. This last time made me realize and finally accept that medication is just going to be part of my life. I have done a great deal to work with my symptoms without medication and I am someone who needs that little extra boost to make my life go from okay and unbalanced to stable and great.

So with that notion, my therapist recommended the fifth one and I have seen them for the past three months. While they are very knowledgeable and we get along okay, I have been around the circle enough times so to speak that I need a little more from someone who is going to effectively manage me for hopefully years to come. Someone to work through issues with me and actually listen to my perspective on how the meds are or are not helping. It is very important to have that two-way form of communication and especially important that you are able to speak up and be assertive when needed. Psychiatrists may hold the “power” (or I like to think about it more as the knowledge) about how and when they prescribe certain things, but you have the power to choose someone who is going to work with you as a team. Find the right one, even if it takes time because with a chronic condition you will want someone in your corner who can form a lasting relationship to make your life the life you want. You are the one that has to deal with the treatment and side effects. They get to go home at night to their life without thinking about your life unless you are in their office. It is only fair you choose one that gives you that undivided attention at your appointments that you need. I am still in the searching phase, yet I have worked with enough psychiatrists to know that there are ones out there who fit my needs. It takes some patience and I don’t always have the patience or stability which is where the assistance of a therapist or other doctor is crucial. You can’t do this alone.

The things I would like people to get from this post today:

  • Medication can be a valuable tool in the treatment of any illness, mental or physical. The stigma that we don’t need medication is harmful and downright dangerous at times.
  • I understand that access to psychiatrists and medication can be a challenge, so find someone who can advocate for you whether that is a therapist, another doctor, even a friend.
  • If you have a crappy psychiatrist or you just need a change – do it! Do not feel obligated to stay with a certain doctor if you don’t like them or they do not fit your needs. We need a team and you need to be able to communicate effectively with each other to make your life stable and enjoyable. Maybe you don’t need to be on some medication now, but it is still a good idea to have a psychiatrist to talk through the symptoms and so they can be there if or when needed.
  • If you are prescribed medication, please take them correctly and on schedule! Don’t go off without talking to a professional just because you feel better or you don’t feel a change. Withdrawal is no joke on some psychiatric meds and trust me going through a small titration, again with a professional, can make that transition the best a situation it can be (still never fun though). If you don’t take the meds properly, they will not work correctly and you won’t get a chance to see if there is a potential for positive change.
  • If your current psychiatrist is working out great for you and they suddenly have changes that won’t allow you to see them anymore, remember they are human beings too with a life outside of their work. It is the hardest when you lose a professional you connected with, but you need to move on and pick yourself up right away to make sure you stay stable and healthy. This situation was very hard for me to deal with and although uncomfortable, moving on to a new one is just what needs to happen.

Bottom line: life can be difficult and unpredictable with bipolar disorder or any mental disorder, but in my experience medication has helped me resume a more normal and enjoyable life. I hope it can for others as well. I am not dismissing the fact that it is difficult to start or change a psychiatrist, but I am here to tell you that you are definitely not alone and millions of people are walking through this same process on a daily basis. Find community and connection and most of all find a treatment team that has your back every step of the way. In a few weeks I hope to update you with good news that this new one has the potential to be in it with me for the long haul. I realize that was a long-winded post but I hope it gave you some perspective on working with a psychiatrist. Have a great weekend!

Authentic Community

My heart has been quite heavy this week with the passing of some very iconic people. Society often forgets that mental illness physically changes a person’s brain chemistry. It is very much a physical illness but this aspect often gets left out of the picture. People still hold on to the belief that material wealth and success can make it all disappear somehow. Headlines of recent show us quite the opposite. Please remember that from the outside you can’t always tell what someone’s ill brain is poisoning them with. Try to embrace the concept that suicide is a symptom of mental illness and that these beautiful humans, and all the beautiful ones taken too early from this life, died from a mental illness, not simply because they killed themselves. Somewhere along the line their brain chemistry became hijacked and they weren’t able to get the help they needed. While it is important for crises numbers or text lines to be available – I will personally attest to the fact that in a moment of crises there was and still is a very slim chance I would ever reach out to a stranger. Others have benefited greatly from these resources which is why it is important to share, but we can do more. I have realized lately that I need to do more as an advocate. I need to make my story more available to others in hopes that it can reflect the fact that recovery is not only attainable, but sustainable. I need to work every day to keep it that way, which is why I need to be one of the people to stop and say here are my tools. Here is how I get through a tough situation or day. I believe honesty and transparency will create a community that allows for people to ask how they can get to a better place too. I know it is hard to ask for help when you are struggling. So I urge others to reach out to people to bridge that gap. Ask two or three people in your life today what they are grateful for. What their passions are. Go beyond the how are you bs and have real conversations. Talk about life and love and dreams and show people you care about them as a person, not just as a formality. There is a lot on my heart but for now I will leave you with a quote from Anthony Bourdain – “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simple across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Gratitude

It has been awhile since I have posted anything. Work has been incredibly busy. Life incredibly busy. So I thought I would take a minute to slow down and write a gratitude post. Five things I am grateful for in this moment:

A new hard drive in my personal computer which is allowing me to get back to the swing of more personal writing. Much love to my man for working on this for me!

A beautiful fall day with endless colors, making way for the first snowfall of the season tonight.

My person who took time out of her busy schedule to fly home to surprise me and share margaritas with me for my birthday.

A job I love and learn from daily. Every time I get to be in the OR observing clinical trial surgeries I feel like a little kid with so much excitement bursting forth.

Vanilla bean lattes. I can’t pass up coffee and I had one of the best lattes ever last weekend in Nashville. I am already planning to go back!

This time of year is difficult and after finding myself stressing and full of anxiety, just pausing for these few minutes to think about things I am grateful for has allowed my mind to slow. Now I can breathe and relax before starting another week. I hope if you are reading this you will take some time to clear your mind and think about five things you are grateful for too.

Quick PSA

I apologize for not posting more frequently about the mindfulness series I started to discuss.  I have had to take a step back due to a couple of injuries and the start of my second year in grad school.  I haven’t felt very motivated to write and I realize that it is perfectly okay to take time for myself.  Although I want to keep up with writing, I am not going to set deadlines or expectations for the blog.  Thanks for your understanding and patience!

Life is good

I am taking a short break from my mindfulness series to do a bit of a reflection.  Three years ago I had my spinal fusion surgery.  Reflecting over the past three years really makes me sentimental.  Going into that surgery was terrifying.  What if this? What if that?  I had painstakingly gone through the process of finding the right surgeon for me and one who believed I would get back to my old self.  There was no hesitation and his confidence allowed me to let go of my own fears and literally put my life into his hands.  I cannot stress to you enough the importance of a second, third, or fourth opinion.  And I cannot stress to you enough the importance of rehabilitation after the fact.  Since my surgery three years ago I have once again competed at a national level, have had the ability to go on 12+ mile hikes, taken part in crossfit workouts that include Olympic type lifting, continued to do light gymnastics tumbling, have had the ability to be on my feet all day whether at a museum or other event, and I could name a hundred more.  Pain free through it all!  Of course I can get sore on occasion if I overdo it, but doesn’t everyone?  I learned how to listen to my body.  I learned patience and perseverance and vulnerability.  I have since recovered from an eating disorder because this surgery allowed me to realize how much of a hold it still had on my mind when I was forced to give up daily exercise.  I started graduate school and am on a path towards a career I am passionate about.  I have grown so much as a person and I continue to strive towards what makes me truly happy.  It was nowhere near easy, but it changed me as a person and really had an impact on my life that makes me thankful I had to go through it.  If you are in the midst of a difficult situation in life, keep enduring.  Take it that one day at a time and soon you will look back and realize things are for the better.  Everything takes time.   Back

Mindfulness Based Exercise: Don’t Let Numbers Rule Your Workout

No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers.  Score, weight, miles, time, etc.  My workouts and training are no different.  In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame.  All I do in my head during an event and practice is count.  Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point.  Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes.  This mindset has bled over into recreation as well.  Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool.  I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values.  Values?  Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss.  What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it?  I really thought it meant nothing.  I mean without winning what was the point?  And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total.  That one question threw me for a whole loop.  I wasn’t let off easy either.  This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me.  And sit and sit.  Can you answer this question off the top of your head?  If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too.  Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience.  One of my values in life is compassion.  One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given.  I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family.  This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value.  Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion.  This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.

To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers.  Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing.  What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage?  What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day?  What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome?  This took a lot of patience and effort on my part.  It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while.  In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own.  Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage.  How did it make you feel?  What were you thinking about?  Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers.  It is like intuitive eating is a way.  Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest.  This was the best way to get back in touch with my body.  I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise.  Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this.  I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything.  You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that.  I thought the same thing.  I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too.  I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year.  I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling.  As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them.  If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!

 

Mindfulness Based Exercise

I just returned from competing in my 12th national championships for USA jump rope.  I have spent many hours in the gym focused towards this specific competition, but now coming home I wanted to start a blog series on mindfulness based exercise.  The majority of people aren’t training for a specific competitive event and I wanted to share some of my experiences when I am in an off season.  Even if you are a competitive athlete in the midst of training, I hope that you find this mini-series helpful to get grounded in your mind and body.  A lot of the times those who are obsessed with exercise, as well as serious competitive athletes, get lost in the motion of training and repetition.  The joy is often lost and people can have resentment towards their sport or desired exercise platform.  I didn’t truly recover from the eating disorder until I addressed my exercise dependence and reconnected my mind and body.  I hope I can at least get you thinking about your relationship with exercise and share with you some thoughts and tools that have helped me recover and continue to help me in everyday life.  Be on the lookout for a new post each week on the following topics:

~Being mindful of numbers and even learning to let go of them completely.  This applies to miles, minutes, weights, calories burned, etc

~Checking in with what your body is REALLY feeling before, during, and after exercise

~ Mobility, flexibility, and breathing

~Group or Team sports and exercise

~Exploring new exercise opportunities without judgement

~REST

~Goal setting

~Mindfulness around physical transformation

~I will also spend a post talking specifically to those training for an event or competition and how they can apply mindfulness tools even during a time when repetition and many hours of training are required for a successful performance

I hope you will join me over the next few weeks and are able to put what you read into practice.  My hope is that you will connect to exercise in a different way than you have before.  It will be good for me to reconnect after a competition and continue to have a healthy relationship with exercise.

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