Thursday, June 7, 2012

Overcoming Ongoing Challenges

There will be ups and downs living with mental illness. Recently, I've experienced some bad days, which concerned me very much because I do not have a lot of bad days to the extent that I need to take a step back and to regroup- emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Stress makes my illness flare up or worsen, I know this by experience, however, fortunately I usually understand how to cope with the stresses of my life- discussing concerns with family and friends, writing, listening to music, or walking- I handle my stress like other people handle theirs who are living with or without a mental health diagnosis.

In the past, my stresses of college and finances led my symptoms to escalate to psychosis- where I heard voices that other people did not hear, saw individuals that did not exist, experienced confusion, anxiety, irritability, irrational thinking, racing thoughts, etc. etc.

A few weeks ago I experienced some bad days. In the beginning I felt jittery, anxious, and then exhausted and irritable. One morning I had a lot to do, however, it took me three hours to get out of bed despite the aid of the snooze button and alarm, which I pressed and set a few times, because I felt extremely overwhelmed and tired. I did not make my first meeting and almost was late to the second meeting that morning. The warning sign that alerted me that something was not right with me was not only the long morning in bed but also the high level of anxiety, which reminded me of my physical state during the most difficult time in my life- five years ago when my life went out of control- in my mind, and in reality, because of my undiagnosed mental illness- schizophrenia.

This feeling of anxiety frightened me, I thought to myself I've come too far to let my diagnosis pull the rug from underneath me now, I have accomplished a lot since my diagnosis for my schizophrenia to flare up and to steal my joy like it did a few years ago. I knew I needed to take a break, and fast!

Prior to the bad days my stress built up. I recently gave birth to my son, which that alone impacted my mood and hormones like it would for any new mother, living with or without a mental health diagnosis, my personal relationship has been especially challenging with our little one to adjust to, I had a lot of events to either host or to participate in- a weekend training out of town, train peers in a two day training, manage a workshop, and to attend a conference- all within a month's time, among daily life stresses for myself and family. So, I had a lot things going on in my life at the time my bad days tried to dominate my livelihood.

I did what worked for me in the past to cope with the stress, and to recuperate, by discussing my challenges with close family and friends. Accordingly, we decided I should seek professional support immediately, and the respite bed for clarity and a fast resolution to overcome my uneasiness and exhaustion.

I called my mental health clinic and requested to speak to my therapist, which we did talk that same day. As a result of our conversation I made an appointment to meet with my doctor, however, I went back to the facility the next morning as a walk-in because the appointment was a week too far out for me. I shared information with my mental health doctor on how I was feeling, what I was doing that may have contributed to my health, and what other medications I tried that previously worked for my concerns. Together, my doctor and me made some adjustments to my medication and made a follow up appointment for the near future.

To help me cope with these new stresses I went to a wellness center and interviewed for, and requested a respite bed for a couple of nights. A respite bed is a comfortable place for individuals who need to regroup but do not want to go to a hospital and their symptoms have not worsened to the extent that they need to go to a psychiatric hospital.

Accordingly, I made arrangements for my son and then checked into the respite center and stayed there a couple of nights- I would have stayed longer but I had to return home to care for my son and because I missed him. During my stay at the respite bed I relaxed- I snacked a lot- ate fruit, popcorn, etc., watched a movie with peers and got some rest.

Analyzing the situation now, I think I alleviated a hospitalization stay by immediately addressing my mental health concerns, being honest with myself and those that can help, and seeking professional advice to prevent a crisis. I recognized I needed help and sought help before it spiralled out of control. Now, I do not feel uneasy or anxious! I am thankful for my support network and access to services to help me overcome schizophrenia. I believe if my peers who are experiencing bad days recognized their early warning signs and triggers or experiences that made their symptoms worsen, and seek professional help, they can prevent a crisis.

I shared this experience with you to let you know I still have challenging moments despite taking my medication regularly, and I have overcome them through support. If you experience some bad days I hope you will recognize them and seek the support you need to overcome your challenging moments too.

To learn more about schizophrenia and to get support visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Thank you Ashley for sharing your struggles and your coping skills. I think one of the most important things you did was being very honest with yourself and others.
You have come a long way because of that ability. I'm glad that you had the support services that you needed and hope someday those services will be available to everyone countrywide.

Congratulations on giving birth to your son! I wish you both all the best.

Kate : )

Chris said...

Hi Ashley,

I would, as well as other women, be interested in hearing about your medication routine while you were pregnant. Have you talked about this in your blog already? So many women with SZ want to raise a family and would like to know about how to keep healthy while pregnant.


Ashley Smith said...

Hi Kate,

Thank you very much. Like you, I hope everyone gets adequate services they need.

Hi Chris,

I have not discussed info on my pregnancy, however, I will definitely share sometime soon.

Thank you, Kate, Chris for your feedback and comments!


Chris said...

Hi Ashley,

I too want to congratulate you on the birth of your son.

I respect and admire women with SZ who want to have kids.

Alas, from a young age, I knew I didn't want kids. Then when I got the diagnosis my decision was confirmed.

I'm glad you felt the peer respite helped you.

Again, congratulations!


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you are feeling better now. I am also glad you are well educated on this matter and know yourself. You were able to recognize a problem and immediately address it. Love your articles! WOMANRISE

Gledwood said...

I had undiagnosed schizoaffective disorder for at least 6 years. (6 years marks first hearing voices, albeit mostly quiet ones and getting the first psychotic-type symptoms... the depression really started in childhood and became pretty bad when I was 19/20 and the hypomania started in my 20s but went undetected, it was only when I really went severely manic and psychotic that I got proper psychiatric attention and a diagnosis)...

Anyway as for stress: yeah that's a MASSIVE trigger. I realized quite some time ago I never could do a high-power job, especially one working for someone else. A lot of times I'm fine with it, but every so often stress really will get to me and it makes things just undoable.

One thing I wanted to ask you: do you think you KNOW when you're ill or getting ill now? If it got severe, would there come a point when you stopped thinking you were ill and just got swept up in delusions?

I ask this because although I did get "paranoid ideation" and some grandiosity I never really got delusional last time I was really ill. The psychosis mostly took the form of pretty florid hallucinations, visual as well as audio ... I didn't think I had "schizophrenia" but did start worrying I might do when I searched images for a picture of how I felt, keying in different psychiatric states bipolar didn't capture it at all (lots of 2 faced people scowling one side, smiling the other) but when I typed in schizophrenia I got a whole page full of images that looked just like I felt inside: faces torn up and rearranged and viewed from bizarre angles and surreal and unreal... THAT is how I felt inside and then one night I heard a voice in one ear saying "nervous breakdown" then a woman by my other ear said "schizophrenia" and I was really upset. When the dr said it was "manic depression and schizophrenia" I was so upset I went home and cried, and this was despite the "elevated mood" he had just told me I had.

You sound very responsible in your approach to your illness. I've known someone with paranoid schizophrenia for years and he doesn't believe he's ill and did anything for years not to take his medication, until he was put on depot shots... Having a 2-stranded diagnosis like I do I find I have to look in 2 different places for enough information to make a complete picture. Eg I can relate to everything people say on bipolar forums... but the schizophrenia forums are full of people ranting on about how the US Government has stolen their brains and put a satellite transmitter inside their cranium... or whatever, so much stuff like that.

Have you noticed that self-help books for schizophrenia are hardly EVER written directly to the patient but usually to their family, friends and carers... is it so unusual to have schizophrenia and know it? It's weird...

Anyway I'm glad I found your blog. Sorry to go on such a long time. Really I just wanted to say hi!! :-)

The Blue Morpho said...

This is a fantastic post. It really shows how having a support network and a triage plan can make all the difference. I'm sorry you had the tough time, but am so glad you were able to get the help and rest you needed. Wow. It is a great example of what it means to really try to take care of ourselves, and treat ourselves well.
Adventures in Anxiety Land

Ashley Smith said...

Hi Womanrise,

I am very thankful I was able to get the treatment and support I needed in a timely fashion! Thank you for reading this blog- I appreciate all readers and comments:)

Hi Gledwood,

Thank you for sharing info about yourself- it's nice to know a little bit about my readers.

For me, I felt like my health was not as well as I usually was because some of the physical, mental, and emotional signs I described in the blog entry.

As for indiividuals with schizophrenia and/or other mental illnesses- everyone is unique in how they live with the illness, I am NOT trying to speak for my peers.

Your statement that most self-help books are written for everyone but the individual with the illness is interesting- hopefully that too will change with a new look on recovery and our fight to reduce stigma!

Hi The Blue Morpho,

A support network is a MUST, in general, for people living with or without a mental illness. I shared a lot of info on the post of how I was able to regroup- I need to elaborate a little more- this was NOT an overnight fix. It took me a couple weeks to get well rested again, to regroup, I am thankful to my family for helping me take a break from my daily stresses and visit them with support for me and my son. It was a pleasure seeing them bond with our newest family member!

Ashley Smith

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