Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dressin' My Way Up

I have A LOT of studying to do this weekend. Got a little {actually waaaay} behind after being under the weather this week.

And when I woke up this morning, I could feel the grey shadow of depression creeping over me, and once again, I almost caved in. Then I remembered my KWRAP {Karen's Wellness Recovery Action Plan} - a toolbox of recovery maintenance techniques.

Yes, I had to do the cliche, cheesy selfie...
One of my tools to stave off depression is to "dress up". This entails taking a shower, getting dresssed, doing my hair, and putting on a little make-up. Now, I'm not suggesting that we need to get all dolled up every time we make a public appearance. It's just that self-care is one of the things that goes out the window with depression. Sometimes forcing oneself to take a shower, getting out of pajamas or sweats, and prettying up a bit can go a long way toward a better outlook.

This is what I did this morning. Hadn't showered in about four days {sorry, I know...}, but I reluctantly got myself into the shower, put on an outside-of-the-home outfit and a little make-up, and now I'm feeling more ready to tackle the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


I'm depressed again. It sometimes happens when I'm sick, and I haven't been well since the weekend. In addition, my psychiatrist lowered my dose of Zoloft. He suspects my sleep issues and inability to get out of bed may be a side effect of the higher dose I was put on a month ago.

Regardless the cause, I'm indeed depressed. I have to say, though, this time I'm fighting it with what little energy I have. I got out of bed, made the bed to seal up the Vortex, and have been following the to do list in my planner. I'm miserable, but I'm going to trust the process. Trust that keeping active and seeing some small accomplishments will help.

On another note, my adorable puppy ate the laces off my pink hi-tops. So I can't even put them on to tap into their super powers! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


So I know I promised to complete the mental health series - which was originally supposed to be done during Mental Illness Awareness week - two weeks ago. But alas, I've gotten behind once again.

Haven't been feeling well lately. I've had a difficult time sleeping  - not lack of sleep, but sleeping too much. My energy level has plummeted. In addition, I've been sick for the past few days. (Sorry for the woe-is-me blog, but I wanted to let you know what's up.)

And today, I'm mentally overwhelmed. I have so much to do to catch-up from being sick, yet I feel like a deer in the headlights!

It doesn't help that I read a blog this morning about a little boy who was bounced around the foster care system - carrying with him a little trash back full of his belongings and his good report card in the hopes of showing that he was worthy of being loved. Well, because he was not a baby, he was never adopted and ended up in the juvenile detention system.

My heart broke in a thousand pieces, and now I'm sad thinking about all the children out there who just want to be loved...

I have to snap out of it and get things done!

I'll just have to take it one step at a time. :/

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Okay, so I know I promised one mental illness per day last week in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Once again, I got derailed.

So, now I've personally extended Mental Health Awareness Week a few more weeks. I promise bipolar, anxiety, and addiction are coming soon. (Now doesn't that sound like fun!)

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Schizophrenia is an insidious disease that strikes about 1% of the American population. It's marked by the inability to discern between what is and isn't real, a lack of normal emotional responses, inability to think clearly, and abnormal behavior in social situations. 

Most likely it's an interaction between genes and the environment that causes schizophrenia. There's a 10% greater risk for people with first degree relatives with the disorder (e.g., parent, sibling), and a higher than normal risk if other relatives have it. 

"Psychosis", by Dave Emmet
Scientists believe that an imbalance of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and glutamate, may play a significant role. In addition, many people with schizophrenia have larger brain ventricles (fluid filled spaces in the brain) and less grey matter than the average person.

Schizophrenia is an equal opportunity disease. Rates among men and women and between different ethnic groups are roughly the same.

Substance use and addiction is higher for people with schizophrenia. This is particularly true for nicotine. People with schizophrenia seem to be drawn to smoking and are addicted to cigarettes at a rate three times higher than that of the general population.

  • Schizophrenics are violent and dangerous: the majority of violent crimes are not committed by people with schizophrenia, although risk of suicide is particularly high. Approximately 10% die by suicide. This is especially true for young males.
  • People with schizophrenia have more than one personality: schizophrenia is not the same as split personality or multiple personality disorders.
  • People with schizophrenia can't lead productive lives and should be hospitalized: with the proper treatment and strong social support, people with schizophrenia can and do lead very productive lives.
  • Anti-psychotic medication side effects are worse than the symptoms of the disease.
  • Hallucinations: seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not really there;
  • Delusions: unrealistic false beliefs. For example: believing one possesses extraordinary abilities or powers (e.g., the individual believes they are God, Ghandi, the President, etc.); feelings of paranoia that others are out to get or hurt the them (e.g., the government, aliens, people around the individual); belief that a major catastrophe is imminent, etc.;
  • Disordered behavior/movement: may include agitation, inappropriate or odd posture, lack of responsiveness, behavior that is not goal-focused, etc.;
  • Disordered thinking and speech: impaired communication which may include stringing together words that are meaningless ("word salad"), providing answers to questions that are off-topic and unrelated; and,
  • "Negative symptoms": lack of emotion, not making eye contact, flat speech, being less talkative, poor hygiene, loss of interest in activities, withdrawal/isolation, and inability to experience pleasure.
Symptoms tend to start between ages 16 and 30. It's often hard to differentiate symptoms in the early stage of the disease (prodromal phase) though, as some of the symptoms may not seem all that different from what one could expect from many teens: drop in academic performance, changes in friends, sleep problems, depression, and/or irritability. Additional signs that can lead to a diagnosis at this stage include: withdrawing/isolating, bizarre thoughts, suspicions and paranoia, and family history.  

It's important to seek help from a doctor if you or your loved one experience any of the symptoms. Help is needed immediately if you or your loved one are a danger to yourself/herself/himself or to others. 

Once again, if you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, it must be taken very seriously. Call the suicide hotline immediately1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) -- or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889). 

  • Anti-psychotic medication
  • Psychosocial: therapy that focuses on helping patients with everyday challenges (e.g., communication, relationships, self-care, work)
  • Illness management: learning coping skills to manage symptoms and crafting a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) as a wellness guide for the patient, the care givers, and the treating professionals.
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring substance use disorders: substance use and addiction are common and treatment for both is needed.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - see yesterday's post:
  • Social and vocational rehabilitation
  • Family education and counseling
  • Self-help support groups
Treatment for schizophrenia can often be complicated by the fact that many patients have trouble taking their medication regularly. In addition, because of delusional thinking, they may be resistant to treatment in the first place. This can be exacerbated by the very laws that are in place to protect all of us and allow us to make decisions about our own treatment. Unless a person is an imminent danger to her-/himself, a patient cannot be forced into treatment unless they have given the authority to a caregiver. 


Resources Online

Mayo Clinic

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Simulated Schizophrenia - (2 films): An excellent YouTube video that simulates a psychotic episode of schizophrenia.

Thirteen Myths of Schizophrenia,



Ben Behind His Voices: One Family's Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope, by Randye Kaye

Me, Myself, and Them: a Firsthand Account of One Young Person's Experience with Schizophrenia, by Kurt Snyder

The Quiet Room: a Journey Out of the Torment of Madness, by Lori Schiller

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


What exactly is depression? Everyone feels down occasionally or is sad after a major loss, but what differentiates this normal range of feeling low from that of depression the illness? To answer this question, let's take a look at the myths, the symptoms, and the treatments of depression.


  • Depression is always caused by a traumatic life event;
  • Antidepressants are all one needs to feel well;
  • Antidepressants are "happy pills";
  • Depression is a character defect, not an illness;
  • Depression is the same as sadness.
  • Telling a person suffering from depression: "just snap out of it", "you can do anything if you put your mind to it", "think positively", "get a grip", etc.
The fact is, depression is an illness that cannot just be willed away with pep talks and positive thinking; and it is not caused exclusively by loss or traumatic life events. 

Medication for depression is not a cure-all, nor will it make one instantly or constantly happy. Rather it will level the psychological playing field to enable the person to feel a normal range of emotions.

  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness;
  • Cognitive difficulties: difficulty concentrating, recalling details, and/or decision-making;
  • Cycling negative thoughts;
  • Decreased energy and fatigue;
  • Sleep disturbances: insomnia, waking unusually early, and/or sleeping excessively;
  • Anger and/or irritability;
  • Restlessness;
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable (e.g., hobbies, sex, socializing);
  • Appetite loss or overeating;
  • Unexplained physical symptoms: aches and pains, cramps, digestive problems, and/or headaches that don't respond to medical treatment;
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety and/or feeling "down", sad, or empty;
  • Thoughts of or attempts at hurting oneself or of suicide.
Depression can be fatal. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor or therapist immediately.

  • Anti-depressant medications
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: examines the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (e.g., the flawed patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive behavior);
  • Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT): formerly known as "electroshock therapy", treats depression with currents of electricity that induce seizures in the patient. Made infamous by the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, ECT now uses lower voltage doses to successfully treat depression that is resistant to conventional treatments;
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): time-limited psychotherapy focusing on interpersonal issues as the source of mental stress;
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: also known as "insight-oriented therapy", focuses on the unconscious processes manifested in behavior; and
  • Psychotherapy: commonly known as "talk therapy" (e.g., talking to a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and/or psychiatrist).
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 25 million American adults will experience depression in a given year; but only half of them will receive treatment.

Depression is a very serious illness that can be fatal. If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, it must be taken very seriously. Call the suicide hotline immediately: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) -- or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889). 


For more information on depression, check out these resources:

"10 Depression Myths We Need to Stop Believing", by Alena Hall, Huffington Post, 9/3/14

International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Mayo Clinic


National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

PBS - Depression: Out of the Shadows

Psychodynamic Therapy 101, Psychology Today

Some excellent memoirs on depression:

Darkness Visible: a Memoir of Madness, by William Styron

The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison

Shoot the Damn Dog: a Memoir of Depression, by Sally Brampton

An Unquiet Mind: a Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison


In honor of the NAMI's "Mental Illness Awareness Week", I will be blogging about a different mental disorder each day this week.

It IS an Illness

Originally posted 3/27/13:

I still struggle at times with the notion that depression, anxiety, and chemical addiction are physical diseases, and not just character defects. Recently, I had been doubting the disease model yet again, and was beating myself up about it. I suppose, though, this is part of denial -  a normal step in the course of change {more on that in another blog}. 

Then, it hit me: I know that what I have is a physical illness and that medication does in fact work for me because of the difference in my cognition / thinking when I am taking medication. 

Here's the supporting evidence:
  1. The incessant cycling of negative thoughts has stopped. It is not that I have no negative thoughts, sadness, or anger - that would not be normal - it's just that I don't dwell on these indefinitely.
  2. like things again. No really, I'm serious. For at least two decades, not much appealed to me. I would do the things I know I should like, but everything at the banquet of life tasted like cardboard - the world was flat. I knew, for example, that horses, tennis, and time with family and friends should generate feelings of joy in me, but it was all....meh...take it or leave it...bland...grey - and at times even irritating.
  3. Color, color, C O L O R has returned to my life. Once again, I enjoy colors in objects, nature, and furnishings. My clothes, for example, have gone from neutrals to vibrant blues, purples, greens, and...P I N K. {I still adore black too!}
  4. I look forward to things. Yes, believe it or not, if nothing is scheduled on the horizon, I have actually created dates and outings in the past two months! I have reached out to female friends. This is the first time in a long is the first time that I have ever done this! 
The fact that taking a physical pill does affect change in my thoughts and subsequent behaviors, speaks of a physical, underlying disease capable of responding to medication. And lest anyone confuse psychoactive prescription medication for opiates, let me underscore: the medication does not make me feel fantastic all the time. These are not "happy pills". The meds just simply permit me to feel the normal range of feelings that the average person is capable of feeling. They free me to be Me; and for that, I am truly grateful!

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Don't know why, but I've been having an awful lot of trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. I've had sinus problems this week, but I'm not sure that's the cause. 

Then this morning I woke up with a lot of anxiety. There's nothing going on that should cause such anxiety - except maybe the Washington Nationals playoff game today (ha ha). But right now, as I sit here, my stomach is in knots, as if I am about to undergo surgery or have to give an important presentation for which I'm unprepared.

I hate it! I can see how anxiety contributes to depression, because right now all I want to do is crawl right back into bed. The fear subsides when I'm asleep. Well, sort of. I've been having crazy, vivid dreams lately. Some are about flying in an airplane that's crashing; others are about elevators that either drop or do crazy things like going sideways or diagonally; and still others are about being at work (an admin job) and realizing that I've missed several days of work but forgot to call in, so I avoid seeing the boss.

I really wish I could get a handle on this! 

You know, maybe I should consult my KWRAP (pronouced 'Crap'!) {When I was in partial hospitalization, we had to do a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and I added 'Karen's' to the title, thus, "KWRAP"!} This is the document that contains my action plan for what to do when I'm not well. I haven't consulted it in over a year, but perhaps this is the time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

New Hobby

The first playoff game for the Washington Nationals (against the San Francisco Giants) began minutes ago. I am on the edge of my seat and actually a little nervous! I love the Nats!
At a Nats game earlier in the season.

Not unusual for a seasoned sports fan, but very unusual for me. In fact, before the fall of 2012, when I entered recovery for depression and anxiety, I hated professional sports - baseball included. I thought it was a waste of time and money.

Then as the medication began to sink in, and with the help of therapy, I rekindled a love of baseball. It helped too that the Nats were doing well that season, but mostly it was because I was reconnecting to an old hobby.

I remember before I entered recovery, when I was depressed, my husband would suggest that I needed a hobby. He would ask me what I was interested in and I'd say, "Nothing." (Of course, before addiction recovery in 2005, I'd say, "Wine!") 

It is just amazing the things that come back to you - the things that bring you joy (and an upset stomach as I have now watching this game!) - when you crackle back to life after depression. 

And you know, hobbies keep you healthy too (assuming the Nats win ;) ). They get you actively engaged in life, in living, in feeling connected, and that's a very good thing!


What hobbies do you have? Why don't you spend some time on them this weekend!

Update: Game 2 - I'm there now!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

People-Pleasing No More!

As a result of social anxiety, I am a people-pleaser. I've been so for as long as I can remember. I'm terrified of going against the grain and speaking up if I have a differing opinion.

No more.

I just posted an article on Facebook that is not going to win me any friends in the DC area; in fact, I may even make some of them irate. But I've had enough of me just shutting up to keep the peace.while others share their opinions openly and freely.

I'm sitting here now all terrified of the fallout from my post and the comments that may ensue. But I have to stand in my own space and assert my right to speak freely, especially when I feel very strongly that something is wrong and unkind. My voice counts too! My opinions are worthy of consideration too!

Sorry for the cryptic blog. I don't want to discuss the topic in question here because it is off topic to this blog. However, anxiety is very much on topic; and today I took a small step to break the shell of anxiety which has paralyzed me for so long.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Big Day - Update!

Well, I have an update from my job interview detailed in the post, Big Day. Though I did not get the job for which I interviewed, they were very impressed with me and have subsequently put me on the short list for the next opening! 

In the meantime, I have decided to volunteer there as a temporary group facilitator. I will be teaching life skills, success tools, and recovery tips to clients recovering from various mental illnesses. I start next Monday, working two days a week.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Anonymous People

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) declared September 2014 to be Recovery Month. In honor of this, the club (of which I'm president ;) ), the Virginia Association of Addiction Professionals (VAAP) Student Chapter presented a screening of the documentary The Anonymous People followed by a panel discussion. 

The film is about the Catch 22 of recovery: to protect recovering people from the hurtful stigma attached to addiction, it is important to maintain anonymity; however, anonymity perpetuates the stigma!  

The movie presents the new, or rather, revived movement of people coming out openly and calling out addiction for the disease it is. It suggests we follow the example of HIV-AIDS patients who came out as a united front in the late 80s / early 90s and smashed the myths about their disease with honesty and openness. Just as they declared, "Silence = Death", it is important for addicts to educate the public openly and unite against the stigmas that prevent millions from getting help.

This is one of the reasons I blog about my addiction, as well as my mental illness: to shine light on the darkness, to help those suffering feel less alone, and to encourage others to speak their truth as well.

If you are an addict, someone suffering from mental illness, a family member or friend, or just someone interested in positive change, the film is a must see! It is available to rent or own on Amazon Instant Video. Check it out!

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Since school started two weeks ago, I've been one giant ball of stress. I've been so worried about all the little details of the projects I have going on with my club in particular that I'm forgetting the big picture. Stressing about the weeds, and losing sight of the forest. 

I need to reconnect to my mission. Why am I doing everything I'm doing? Why am I going back to school, involved in my student chapter, and actively pursuing employment in the field? It isn't to stress myself out. It's because I care about making a difference in the world. I care about helping other people - helping them to climb up with me in recovery from mental illness and addiction. That's the why.

There. I actually feel a little better now!

When you get stressed out by all that you have going on, take a few minutes to reconnect to your mission. Is what you are doing in alignment with your mission? If not, ditch it. Do you even have a mission written out? If not, take some time to contemplate it and put it into words. Your mission is your compass on the road to success.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Healing Waters

I'm finally feeling better. My husband, daughter, and I ventured out to a local lake yesterday afternoon. The weather was gorgeous and my husband thought this was just what the doctor ordered. He was right.

As you know, I've been anxious all week. A half hour in to our trip out on the lake, however, and I began to calm down. The quiet sound of water rippling as we gently glided along was pacifying. The only other sounds were the screeching of a heron in flight, an occasional boat passing by, and the sound of water lapping up on the shore.

My anxiety melted into the water below me as a gentle breeze caressed my hair and the sun warmed my skin.

All was well with the world.

This morning I woke feeling fantastic - for the first time in weeks! I finally feel that things are manageable. I was so worried this past week about school starting and my club getting off the ground this semester. (In case I didn't mention it before, I'm the president of my college's student chapter of the professional association for addiction professionals.) We're sponsoring an event each week in the month of September in celebration of SAMHSA's National Recovery Month. (SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.) I'll be doing a lot of public speaking and there are a lot of loose ends still to be tied for each event. As a leader, all eyes will be looking to me and last week, it unnerved me. I was feeling overwhelmed and doubted my abilities. 

Somehow, the feeling has passed. Maybe it was the lake and getting out into nature that calmed and strengthened me. I don't know. But I do know this; I'm feeling great today - confident and excited about the month ahead.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Today I Feel...

As you may know, if you've read my posts this week, I have been unusually anxious lately. So as part of my therapy, I decided to blog about the disorder itself.

Anxiety happens to everyone. Fear is a survival mechanism that readies us for potential danger. It becomes a problem, however, when it interferes with everyday living and the ability to live one's best life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year". In addition, "Women are 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime."

Anxiety comes in many forms: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, phobias, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I will only address the first three here.

Symptoms vary for each disorder. They include:

  • Feelings of uneasiness with no obvious cause
  • Feelings of fear/panic with no obvious cause
  • Unwanted or obsessive negative thoughts
  • Cold, sweaty hands/feet
  • Numbness/tingling in hands/feet
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations/racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
To be diagnosed with a disorder, symptoms must last for 6 or more months, and without treatment, will get worse.

Effective treatment typically includes at least two of the following: 


For more information about anxiety disorders, check out the following:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

National Institute of Mental Health

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Electric Cloud

I have been suffering from serious anxiety in the past two weeks, and my husband reminded me of something. It was about two years ago, after returning by train from another vacation that I had the episode of major depression that landed me in the hospital. Perhaps my mind is reliving it.

The anxiety has been non-specific - no real source. Just a constant electric cloud hovering around me all day - threatening to zap me at any moment. I feel like running away, but there's no place to go to escape!

What did I learn in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) at the hospital? I should probably pull out my WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) and apply some of the symptom management techniques, such as:

Shade and Bella

  • Sleeping 8 hours (and only 8 hours) tonight
  • Limiting caffeine (uh-oh...)
  • Eating lean protein / complex carbohydrate balanced meals
  • Drinking half my body weight in ounces of water
  • Taking a walk in this gorgeous weather
  • Talking to one of my support partners (e.g., my husband)
  • Blogging my thoughts out (Done!)
  • Praying / meditating
  • Spending time with my pets
Okay, that sounds like a plan. Let's see if it works!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big Day

I have a job interview today, and I'm feeling nervous. My daughter suggested I wear my Pink Hi-Tops with my suit! Maybe I will!

This is my first interview for a paid position directly related to my mission. I'm interviewing for a peer support specialist position at a local organization which provides assistance to the mentally ill - helping them in recovery to become self-sufficient, integrate back into the community, and maintain mental wellness. It is an ideal position for me, as they are looking for someone who has lived experience with mental illness and/or addiction, who is also comfortable speaking in front of groups of people. That's me.

In fact, after writing now, I don't feel nervous at all. I'm excited!

I'll keep you posted on the results!

Hope you have a wonderful day!



Well, I had my interview and I have to say, I really want the job! I think I'm a perfect fit and would love the opportunity to help those who are not only mentally ill, but  economically disadvantaged. 

Now the hard part - waiting to hear the results!

Saturday, August 23, 2014


On the train, headed to Florida
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry
I just returned from a ten day vacation to Orlando, Florida with my parents, my daughter, and my niece and nephew. It was a lot of fun, albeit very hot! We went to Universal Studios while we were there, and I have to say, the Harry Potter section is FABULOUS! I've subsequently become a huge Potter fan. I'm going to read all the books and finish seeing the movies!

Since I returned home, however, I've been struggling to get back to "normal" life. I spent much of the week in bed, sleeping twelve hours each night. I seem to have lost my momentum, and suddenly feel overwhelmed by all that I have coming up in school and at home.

I've also lost confidence in myself and my ability to succeed. I wish I could wave my magic wand (purchased at Olivander's in Hogsmeade ;) ) and make it all better, but I can't. I must refocus on my goals and mission and take things one step at a time.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Rub

I may or may not have mentioned it; but about two weeks ago, the same day I injured my back, I came down with sinusitis and bronchitis. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and it seemed to help, but it didn't fully clear up the sinus congestion and cough, and the symptoms never fully went away.

This morning I woke with a fever and a full blown cough, so it's off to the doctor for me again. Here's the rub: I cannot take antihistamines because they interact with my medications. (I think the combination drives blood pressure up?)

Don't get me wrong. Antidepressant and anxiety medications saved my life and continue to promote my mental health. However, it stinks that during allergy season or when I have a cold, I have to ride the symptoms out.

If anyone has any ideas for an alternative, I'd love to hear about it!

Stay well friends! :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm Back! (Part Deux)

I'm going to add "supplement medical treatment with alternative therapies" to my list of things to do for recovery. 

As you know, I injured my back two weeks ago. I went to the doctor, but she did nothing for me. She was going to give me a strong pain medication, but said it would interact poorly with my current medications. All I could do was rest it. So, I was down for the count...until this past Wednesday when I had my first therapeutic massage. The results were nothing short of miraculous!*

Walking into the therapist's office that morning, I was stooped and shuffling like a little old lady. But by evening, I was standing erect, my back pain diminished. Now two days later, the pain is gone, and I have complete range of motion in my back - neck too!

I don't know why the doctor didn't suggest it! Is it because doctors don't get enough (or any)
training in using anything other than pharmacological (bandaid) approaches to muscular injury? Or because "big pharma" provides incentives for writing prescriptions, whereas alternative practitioners do not? I can only speculate. Regardless, I am sold on exploring alternatives.

Another alternative medicine approach I am going to take up again is the practice of yoga. I am very eager to resume exercising, but I have to proceed slowly and with care. My goal for the next two weeks is to walk 20 minutes a day and do some lower back yoga exercises before returning to an actual class and resuming full-throttle aerobic and strength training.


For more information, see: 


The Mayo Clinic:



The lower back exercises I'm going to do:

The Mayo Clinic:

*Keep in mind, these were my results; every body is different, and results may vary. And for all injuries, see a doctor first. I personally think alternative treatments should be a supplement to medical treatment and not be a treatment used all by themselves.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One at a Time

Feeling a little better - back and psyche. I have an appointment scheduled for a therapeutic massage this week, and needless to say, I'm looking forward to it!

Been thinking about my list again. You see, I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. I want to do everything on the list all at once and do it well. The problem is I end up feeling overwhelmed and then do nothing. Instead, this time I'm going to focus on one thing at a time, and add on from there.

The first thing I'm going to focus on is drinking more water - half my body weight in ounces of water. Then, when my back is better - exercise will be my next focus.

What one thing could you focus on to enhance your life?

Friday, July 18, 2014

I'm Back! (Pardon the Pun.)

So I've been dwelling in the heart of the Vortex for the past five days now. I hurt my back last weekend, doing nothing in particular. I began to have back spasms on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday I was in bed.

I've been here all week, feeling sorry for myself and slowly sinking into the Vortex. I had been doing so well too - making progress in school and daily life; but that's fallen apart. I don't want to do anything - even if I physically could.

I'm so angry with myself. I'm out of shape, and now I'm paying the price for it. But there's nothing I can do about that until I get better.

I don't want to sink any further into the Vortex, so what can I do to make things better? Let's see, what am I not doing that I could do to improve my mental outlook?

Physically, it goes back to that list, doesn't it. I can do the following (taken from the original post):
  1. Obviously, take medication (if any) as prescribed by your doctor; and don't deviate from it without your doctor's permission.
  2. Take any supplements your doctor has recommended. For example, my GP has me taking Calcium w/vitamin D and a multi-vitamin; and my psychiatrist has added 2 - 3 fish oil capsules per day. I also temporarily take iron supplements, as I'm slightly anemic.
  3. Get 7.5 - 8 hours sleep each night; and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  4. Drink about 2 liters of water per day - more if you are exercising hard, are on medication, and / or you are spending a lot of time in hot weather or dry climates.
  5. Exercise 4 - 5 times per week employing the fitness triad: aerobic (e.g., walking, running, swimming, biking), strength training (e.g., free weights), and flexibility training (e.g., yoga, stretching). (Obviously again, check with your physician before starting any exercise program.) Aerobic exercise in particular releases feel-good endorphins in your brain, strength training builds body confidence and strength, and flexibility helps prevent injury and reduces stress.
  6. Eat properly. It has been my personal experience that the following serve me best mentally {and physically}:
  • Eat (5) portioned mini-meals per day, approximately every 2 - 3 hours. 
  • Each meal should contain (1) lean protein portion, (1) complex carbohydrate portion, and at least one vegetable portionSome example of portions: protein is the size of a deck of cards; a carb, the size of a light bulb or tennis ball; and a slice of cheese is the size of a domino. 
  • Eat at least (5) vegetables and eat (4) fruits per day.
  • Limit simple sugar (white bread, white rice,white pasta, bottled juice from store, table sugar, etc.)
  • Limit butter and saturated fats. This is old news, I know; but it is true. Olive oil, olive oil, olive oil is good for the brain. Use it, damn it!
  • Do not drink diet sodas and avoid sugar substitute. {The latter is my idea - I just don't trust 'em.}
  • Limit caffeine and don't have caffeine after 2 or 3 PM. {As a chemical addict, this is the hardest of all for me!} Note that I didn't say eliminate, just limit. This is especially important for those suffering from anxiety.
  • Do not drink alcohol - obvious for an alcoholic / drug addict, but critical too for someone with depression and anxiety - especially when on medication. 
  • See, and for some more examples of proper eating.
So, I can't do #5...yet. But I can improve my food - I've been comfort-eating all week. 

Okay, so mentally what can I do?

  • Study material from class - especially what I missed this week
  • Positive affirmations
  • Read over the "I Did It", "Lift Me Up!", and "Things I Love about Me"  pages from my Life Is Crafted planner pages
  • Pray / meditate
  • Chat with a friend
  • Journal / blog (Done!)
  • Draw / color (Yes, I said, "color" - something we did for CBT in the hospital.)
  • Thought stopping / replacement - when I start feeling sorry for myself, stop myself, and think about something that is going well or something positive
  • Quality TV programs
  • Read uplifting, inspirational, and educational books / articles
Alright, I have a plan of action now. But, can I muster up the initiative to do this? Well, do I want to feel good, or not?!

Okay, let's see how this goes.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Our thoughts really do determine our outcomes. We get what we think about - especially what we think about ourselves. Positive thinking isn't just a cliche, it's a powerful tool.

When I was a little girl, I was very, very shy. When we moved from New York to Virginia, I didn't make the transition very well. I waited for kids to befriend me; and if they didn't automatically come up to me, I assumed they disliked me. Then in turn, I behaved as if I wasn't liked and became even more withdrawn; and in turn, I was even more overlooked by classmates. It was a vicious cycle.

The truth is, I wasn't disliked by other kids; I simply projected it onto them, acted accordingly, and it became my reality.

I find myself as adult sometimes doing the same thing - thinking I'm not worthy of something and thus acting accordingly and subsequently not getting what I truly desire or need.

What thoughts are you projecting out there into the world? What is your current reality and what role does your thinking play in it?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Monday!

I didn't do much today. The calm before the storm. I go back to school tomorrow - second summer session. One of my key classes, however, was cancelled due to lack of enrollment. This now pushes my graduation back once again - to December! I cried when I got the email; it is so frustrating. 

But it is what it is. 

On the lighter side, I'm feeling fairly good lately - very productive. I've been trying to employ CBT in my day with thought stopping (catching myself when an automatic negative thought pops to mind) and with positive affirmations - which I've incorporated into my morning and before bed routines. 

It's hard, though, when one's brain is so programmed to filter out the positive, especially about oneself. Change takes time, patience, and persistence, that's for sure!

I wish I had something more profound to say, but that's it! Hope your Monday was a good one, and your tomorrow is even better!

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Treating depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses often involves medication; however, another key component to treatment is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I think I've been focusing too much on whether or not my medication cocktail is working, and have neglected CBT.

CBT is exactly as the name suggests: changing the way one thinks and behaves from negative and harmful to positive, healthy, and life affirming.

For depression and anxiety, the cognitive component entails things like:
  • identifying and monitoring automatic, distorted thinking
  • thought stopping
  • thought replacement
  • positive affirmations
The behavioral component entails things like:
  • healthy eating
  • exercising
  • getting adequate sleep each night
  • practicing new, healthy coping skills
For more information about CBT, checkout the following:

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Well, CBT is going to be my focus for the month of July. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The 7 Habits of Mental Wellness: Habit 3 - Put First Things First

This is the fourth article in the series: The 7 Habits of Mental Health Recovery - based on the late Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleSee "The 7 Habits of Mental Wellness" for the introduction to this series, as well as "Habit 1" and "Habit 2"

Habit 3 is Put First Things First. It is the habit of action. As with Habit 1 and Habit 2, before I go into how it relates to mental health, let me give you a little background on Habit 3 from the late Stephen R. Covey. 


Covey says that the way we spend our time is based on importance and urgency - that all activities fit into one of four categories:  urgent and important (Quadrant I), not urgent and important (Quadrant II), urgent and not important (Quadrant III), and not urgent and not important (Quadrant IV).

Quadrant I includes "crises, pressing problems, and deadline-driven projects"; Quadrant II, "prevention...relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, planning, and recreation"; Quadrant III, "interruptions, some calls, some mail...some meetings, proximate and pressing matters, and popular activities", and Quadrant IV, "trivia, busywork, some mail, some phone calls, time wasters, pleasant activities."

Quadrant III is driven by other people and not by our own goals, and Quadrant IV is entirely wasted time. The goal is to only spend time on that which is important - and ideally, to reduce Quadrant I by spending more time in Quadrant II.

[For a good visual, see Forbes.]

We can do this by learning to say "no" to Quadrants III and IV and by scheduling into our weekly plans Quadrant II activities which are based on our personal vision (see "Habit 2").


When one is suffering from mental illness, time management usually falls by the wayside; but managing one's time in alignment with one's vision is one of the best things we can do for our recovery.

There are many ways to do this. Cell phones come equipped with calendars, reminders, and time management apps; and there are online to do lists like and However, I think they all fall short in connecting activities to vision.

The best tool I have found for this is the traditional, hard copy planner. I prefer it because it's actually quicker to enter something into a hard copy planner than a cell phone. Also, there are planner sections for capturing on paper the notes and activities of the various roles of one's life, as well as one's goals and vision. And, quite frankly, a planner is attractive to carry around!

Planners come in myriad colors, sizes, and materials; and there's a wide variety of inserts available as well.

For planners, check-out:

For inserts, check out the above and, my absolute favorite, Life Is Crafted. With prompts for thought and inspirational quotes built right in, Life Is Crafted inserts capture your vision and passions and help you incorporate them into your monthly, weekly, and daily planning. For a great overview, check out A5 Planner Inserts Dotty 2014 Starter Pack Day Per Page and their other videos

Regardless, the medium you choose, the idea is to link your activities to your personal vision, so that you are living in alignment with your highest priorities and not carried away by the whims and urgencies of the day.