Tag Archives: psychology

Mental Illness: It is an Illness

As I tried to get out of bed yesterday morning, this post wrote itself in my brain. With every re-setting of the alarm and clicking on the snooze button, paragraphs formed in my mind.  I was compelled to write it. I tried to be productive all day – because of my current (crazy and, honestly, about to get crazier) work demands – it took until 4 p.m. yesterday before I had time to actually sit down at my desk and write.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, we need to get educated about mental illness because it does not always look the way we expect it to.  With a little play on the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” article’s title, I elaborated about how we expect depression (and other mental illnesses) to look one way, but they often look entirely different.

Each person’s experience with mental illness may look different than we expect.

medium_306983822As I thought about the post, though, I realized that – as important as the concept of knowing how depression and other mental illnesses may show themselves differently – accepting the fact that mental illness is an illness…rather than some manifestation of laziness or whatever negative adjective that has been used to describe the mentally ill…is pretty important.

Let’s all say it together (I dare you to say this out loud wherever you are right now): mental illness is an illness, and an illness needs to be treated. (Repeat as necessary)

If you (all) can agree with the truth that mental illness is an illness and – therefore – should be treated in the same way that other illnesses are treated, then another part of the stigma surrounding mental illness can be removed.

Just in case you cannot agree with this, I guess I will just keep writing the thoughts that came to me as I slept…and awoke…and slept…

Who withholds treatment from someone with diabetes?  No one!

I use diabetes as an example because it has several good correlations with mental illness.

  • Both can sometimes be controlled with diet, exercise, and life choices.
  • Both often require medication.
  • Both are controlled best when “patient” makes and keeps appointments with a trained professional.
  • Both require a lifetime outlook but could be mediated or “in remission” so to speak.

I know that I do better with my bipolar self when I eat better, walk or do yoga, and make good choices (like getting enough sleep).  When I do not do what I know I need to do, I am working against myself.  The same is true of a diabetic.  In some people with either illness, medications could be avoided (in some cases) when following the “life prescription” from our doctors.

However!!!! I had a good friend in high school who followed all of her doctor’s directions, and her cholesterol (yes, I switched illnesses…you can follow…) still required medication.  She was just five feet tall but weight under 100 lbs and never went to McDonalds.  She was not  someone you would expect to have a high cholesterol problem!  No matter what she did, though, she could not change her chemical make up without medication.

This is true of many with mental illness, but society often forgets that this is true.  There are many who expect those who suffer with depression to just pull it together or those who suffer from schizophrenia to stop hearing voices or seeing people who are not there.

Seriously?

If we accept that mental illness is an illness, then we need to agree that the illness may need treatment.  And that treatment could involve both life changes such as more exercise or eating right AND medication, therapy, or other things.  Telling the person with a mental illness to try harder is pretty insulting.

When we are someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to accept this, work with our health professionals, and make wise choices so that we can live as “normal” of as possible.  We may need to do a few things to help our condition, and we need to accept that and –  well – do them.  For example, I absolutely should start every morning with a walk.  When was the last time I did that??? Time to start – it helps!

When we are supporting someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to support that person, to hold that person accountable for going to appointments, and to encourage him or her to do all that will help – diet, exercise, medication, life changes…whatever! BUT we need to be careful and wise how we do that.  What we say is not nearly as important as how we say it.

In the past few months, I have taken some time off from this posting a lot on this blog.  While I did that, I took a blogging class that asked to consider why I write.  Originally, it was to help me to mediate the impact of my own bipolar self.

For nearly two years, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about everything – things I saw, things I did, and things I thought.  I argued against myself from one week to the next on issues.  I ranted. I raved.  My fingers flew across the keyboard.

My mind emptied, quieted, and slowed.

The blogging helped me.

Now, though, I see my purpose in this blog to a voice for those who have lost their voice to whatever biological, psychological, or illogical sickness ails them.  I want to help those who have been marginalized because of society’s misunderstanding of the crazy we feel inside our head – and trust me, I think some crazy thinks sometimes.

The foundation for this purpose first and foremost has to be to help promote the fact that mental illness is an illness.  While those of us who suffer from it – just like someone who suffers from diabetes or high cholesterol – can make choices to help mediate it, we might not be able to “just get over it.”

And we need not only to be treated but to be respected, loved, and even cherished.

I am thankful for my family and friends who have walked this road with me over the past three years since my diagnosis. While I have probably always suffered, I was incorrectly diagnosed throughout my life. Now that we have an accurate diagnosis, we can have an accurate treatment plan.

But it is not easy being me…and is not always easy being around me…but that seems to be another blog. As usual, I have babbled…and have no idea how to end…so I will just stop writing…

Happy Wednesday!

photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

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Music Monday: “Carry On” by Fun.

As I sat down to write this post which has been rattling around in my head for a few weeks, I  did a quick search to find out how many other Music Mondays I had written.  I thought it had been sort of a feature of my blogging self.

It was not.

But I want it to be!  Oddly enough, the last Music Monday featured a Fun. song as well. And what I thought had been a “Music Monday” post was actually a post confessing that I let my kids listen to music with lyrics about getting “higher than the empire state.”

And – as it turns – all of these songs have been by the same group. 

I may have a little music crush happening?

On to the post…

It is hard to say for certain when a song is autobiographical about a group; however, as I read an article from the online version of The New York Times about Fun., it was hard for me not to at least consider that this song is that.

Take a listen:

Thanks to YouTube for this!

 

It seems to me that this is an anthem to encourage just about anyone.  In Friday’s post, I mentioned that we sometimes don’t pay much attention to how our life happens.  This song just grabs me out of that mentality whenever I hear it (which, btw, is pretty often right now if I am listening to the radio!).  I just want to put on my “walking shoes” and get out there and walk. 

You know what I mean?

I do not mean a literal walk.  I mean that I hear this song, and I want to just go and do whatever it is that I am supposed to be doing.

Watching the video is what made me think that maybe the song was somewhat autobiographical.  The music business is hard, and the three men of Fun. have had their struggles to get where they are today (three songs in the Billboard Top 100 is a great place to be).

But they have just kept making music.  It was in them. They had an idea of what they should do, and they just kept doing it.  And now it has paid off.

Some of my favorite lyrics (click here for all of the lyrics):

We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
So we’ll come
We will find our way home

I want to be clear that I do not buy into the idea that we should think we are awesome at anything.  I am not quite 5’ tall; I am nearly 40 years old.  No matter how much of a shining star I believe I am right now, there is little likelihood that I would be able to play for the WNBA.  However, if I was willing to completely change my life and play basketball40-60 hours a week for the next five years, there might be a chance.  It won’t be without hard work, though. 

We have to be honest with ourselves.

But – if we think we are good at nothing, we need to step back and take stock.  We all have something that can be our “great thing.” It might not be a Grammy Award winning song, but it can be great.

Here are some other great lyrics:

If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone
Carry on
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground
Carry on

I love this song because it puts the responsibility for who we are back in our hands.  If we are sinking, we need to carry on…we need to put our feet on the ground and keep walking.  We need to wake up every day and keep doing, keep trying, and keep believing.

We need to carry on.

Last thought: I want to be sure to state that I realize that some mental health issues can get in the way of our ability to carry on.  However, seeking help, finding out if we need medication, and choosing to try each day is part of carrying on.  I realize that it is not easy, but – honestly – we all have something past or present, real or imagined, and even medical or psychological that gets in our way … this is called the fallen condition of humanity.  And it is hard.  Really hard.

But…

We need to carry on.

So – readers: what are some tools that you have used to be able to carry on?

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Hunger Games–Disturbing? Indeed…

Last night, feeling the pressure to get a post up on the blog because many were asking my opinion of the movie, I published a 1300+ word post (reading it now, it seems like a bit of rant) about why young children should not see the movie of The Hunger Games.  I have to admit that it was a hurried writing and not the most logical or organized. It was passionate, though, and it seems to have resonated with many readers. Thank you to those who have shared it with others. I am honored any time a reader thinks something that comes from these fingers is worthy of sharing.

Obviously, I hit some kind of nerve, or else I just finally boarded The Hunger Games trend cycle.  Right now #HungerGames and @TheHungerGames as well as many variations are all over Twitter.  It’s times like these that make me realize why Twitter has its name: when we like something, we go all “a-twitter” about it, and we get “twitter-pated.”  But seriously – I published the post at 7:01 p.m. last night, and at that time only 18 people had read my blog on Saturday.  By midnight, over 200 people had read just the post about The Hunger Games with readers from Thailand, Canada, Australia, and Japan.  Wow!

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In some clear thinking after publishing the post and in reading some of the comments from readers (as well as those from many Facebook friends), I wanted to follow up on a thought that was simply lost in all of my ranting yesterday.  In other words, why was I so passionate about young children not seeing the movie?

Marilyn, a friend whose blog is Communicating Across Boundaries (I know her in the flesh as well as in the blogosphere although we have not had the same state of residence for over 10 years now), made the following comment on yesterday’s post:

…you were disturbed because we are supposed to be disturbed. Suzanne Collins wanted to make a point, and she did it well. It sounds like the movie is accurate in that it made it so real. That’s partially the issue – if kids are too young to understand the concepts then it’s not appropriate to show them. A last thought – I’ve never liked reality TV and we have never watched it (our tv watching is limited anyway, probably because of so many years overseas) but the books push reality TV to a whole new level that, given human nature, may not be that far off.

This comment made me glad that I had ranted. There are some things that kids should not read. There are some things that kids should not see.  Even if children have read the books, they may not be able to handle the screen images.  I had a hard time with it, and I am nearing 40 years of age!  And, as Marilyn stated, I should have a hard time it!!  It really should not matter how old we are, the deaths of children at the hands of children (or in any way, really, but especially in this way) is disturbing.  There is no other way around it.

Marilyn’s comment made me sit back and think really hard.  Our family is similar in that we do not watch much TV.  What we do watch tends to be rented seasons of shows after we have heard or seen from various sources that we missed out on something great.  We are also the devouring type (example: we watched the entire season of Lost from April to September two years go). We are also not really into reality TV although the girl and I did catch an episode of The Bachelor which made me wonder, “Why does anyone watch this?”  That is abusive – even if there is no physical violence occurring.

I decided to consult one of my favorite parenting “check” sites for movies – PluggedIn – and found that one of the Scholastic editors, David Levithan, concurs with my friend Marilyn about the purpose of the violence in the books and the movie.

“What Suzanne [Collins] has done brilliantly is create a series that is a critique of violence using violence to get that across and that’s a fine line.”

I found the books and the movie disturbing…importantly so.  The books are like a shake awake, but the movie – with its images – truly drove it home.  Watching one of the tributes stung to death by a swarm of genetically engineered wasps was disturbing.  I literally covered my eyes, held my breath, and nearly prayed for the fictional character.  Even watching Katniss shoot her arrow and kill a tribute to defend little Rue was disturbing.  Their government was making them kill each other off, and the country watched on Times’ Square sized jumbo-trons in their districts’ main square.  This is disturbing.

But what are some of the messages that we are to take from this trilogy and this movie?  Are we just going to “enjoy” this movie for the sake of the violence because we have come to enjoy that as a society?  Or – are we disturbed by what we see and understand the critique of violent acts?  And what are we supposed to do with our understanding?

Have we, like the first century Romans, become so caught up in violence that it is the only thing worth creating for television?

A Facebook friend with whom I also attend church stated it this way: “In two thousand years we’ve only gone from ‘gladiators’ to ‘teenagers’ and from ‘coliseums’ to ‘theaters’.”

Will the viewing of The Hunger Games make us ready to act?  Or do they only feed our “hunger” for violence?

Are we ready to act?  Seriously – the networks would not make violent shows if we, as a society, would stop watching them.

In The Hunger Games, Gale (good male friend of main character Katniss) asks, “What if one year everyone just stopped watching? Then they wouldn’t have the games.”

Gale (a much more developed character in the books than in the movie) recognizes the power of the people (which, by the way, becomes even more of a message in the second and third books). He realizes that there is a way to firmly say no to the Capital, but he knows that it will take the masses to do it…he cannot do it alone.  And I cannot do it alone.  My one voice…my ten fingers…will not change our society’s hunger for violence.  Child psychologists can say all they want, but they have little power.  Parents and children have the power.

What if one day everyone did not watch television, did not rent movies, did not stream movies, and did not attend movies?  One day – a burn out – could we do it?  How about one month?  One year?  Could we stand up and say, “We want quality entertainment.”?

Sadly, I fear we could not do it.  Too many of us do not see the need.  Too many of us hunger for action.  Too many of us have lost the understanding of what is good and what is right… of what challenges our mind rather than numbing it.

It is my hope that we all find the books and movie disturbing enough to take this message and make a change.

Note: there are many more messages in the books and the movie.  Would you be interested in reading more about those messages or have I run this dry?  Please let me know!

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Well-Mannered Children Are Not Bred

Growing up, I loved reading a column in the Grand Forks Herald written by Marilyn Hagerty who uses the format of writing to her sister, Shirley, as a platform for sharing her opinions on various aspects of life.  While home last weekend to celebrate holiday fun with my family in Grand Forks, I had a few moments to read her latest titled “After Christmas, all well bred children write thank you notes.”  I agreed with almost everything she wrote – except for the premise that well-mannered children are bred.

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I want well-mannered children, so I have attempted to train my children to be such. I do agree that one of the many qualities of well-mannered children is that they write thank you notes. I think that well-mannered adults should write thank you notes as well. I do this better some years than others, but I try to convey thanks to those who show kindness to my family or myself as it occurs. I have also attempted to instill this in my children. Being the digital natives that they are, a thank you text, email, ecard, or Facebook post seems to suffice for them. And this is sufficient at times; however, often a handwritten note of thanks conveys the level of gratitude that we feel much more so than a text message does. A phone call can do this as well; however, the handwritten note remains the highest level of polite thanks.

Saying Thanks: After reading the article last week, I determined that this year we would do it correctly.  I summoned the children, told them that this was a top-priority task, and then set off to do something else.  The boy – a witty young pup – remarked about my attention to another task when I clearly had thank you notes to write as well.  This was easy for him to determine by the post-it note on my computer with names of family and parishioners who had gifted us during the Christmas season.  I am happy to report that all of our thank you notes are now written and in envelopes with addresses…now to get them to post office.  I rarely keep stamps around anymore.  The ones I have are outdated in terms of pricing.  Today may be the day that I send them.

Is January 7th too late to send the thank you notes for Christmas presents?  No way!  Etiquette experts disagree on timeliness of thank you notes for all occasions.  Some even say that couples can have up to one year after their weddings to send the thank you notes.  The well-mannered say thank you and believe that it truly is better late than never in all instances related to thanks.  The point is to be polite. Obviously, the sooner the better is a great rule, but saying thank you has not timeline.  And the relationship that the recipient has with the giver can definitely dictate this as well as the method used.

Are well-mannered children bred or trained?

As I thought about this question over the past week, the raising of horses kept coming to mind.  Horses are bred in the same way that children are bred.  As I formulated this idea more, I asked the boy the question.  He launched into an answer that I asked him to email to me.  Instead of paraphrasing him (and getting things wrong which makes the boy unhappy…accuracy is something he values), I asked his permission to share his thoughts on this blog.

siahThe boy’s thoughts:  Personally, I think that you can’t say that children are either bred or trained to be well-mannered. This actually goes back to a large debate between psychologists called “Nature vs. Nurture;” the debate is over whether or not a child’s physical and psychological development is influenced more by their genetics or by their environment. I believe – along with a good majority of the scientific community – that they are equally important in a child’s development. This brings us back to the original question of how children become (or don’t become) well-behaved. There are children who are probably born with a predisposition to be disruptive and raucous (in the same way that there are people who are simply born with a predisposition to alcoholism), and also children who are born with a predisposition to being quiet and well-mannered. The parents had little to do with this besides passing their genetic code to their child, and so they can be stuck with little kids who are just plain difficult to handle.

There is, however, another side to this; nurture, the environment, or as my mom has crudely put it, training. The way parents raise their children can have a huge effect on how well-behaved they are. Even a kid who is predisposed to being disruptive can be taught that they can’t always act like that. In the same way, a child who is normally quiet and well-mannered could grow up to be very disruptive. This is not simply in the way the parents act toward their child or say to their child, but also in the way they live their lives when their child is around them. If two parents shout and argue with each other in front of their kid, this could have a detrimental effect on the child’s psychological development: “If my parents act this way, then it’s okay for me to act this way.” It may also be important to note that there are some parts of “nurture” that happen beyond the parental view, but do not lie entirely outside of the parents’ control – friends. A child learns the way it is “okay” to act when they see their cool friends doing something that their friends say are “okay.” Parents need to keep in mind that things they allow their child to be exposed to – friends, movies, video games – will have a psychological effect on their child, as well as the way they act towards and around their child.

Thus, we come to the conclusion: although their are children who are predisposed to being either well-behaved or not, the way that they are raised can significantly change that predisposition. In my mother’s words “Children may be bred, but it all comes down to how you train them.”

Author’s note: After that conclusion, I need not write anything else, but I am curious to know what readers think.  Keep in mind that the debate has been around since the beginning of the psychology trade, so I doubt that we will come to a definitive decision here on this blog…but we will certainly have fun trying!

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