Sunday, October 31, 2010

10 Ways to Deal With Anxiety

Dealing with fear comes with the territory when you are a caregiver of a person with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other severe mental illness. Last night, my husband and I were at our church, Vineyard Columbus, listening to Pastor Rich Nathan's teaching on "wrestling with God," As my husband said, Rich's words, in effect, hit him over the head with a two-by-four. And he wasn't the only one.

It's easy to be anxious and scared when dealing every day with a loved one stricken with these awful diseases. I put together this list of 10 ways to deal with anxiety several years ago, after another two-by-four experience during a teaching by Lee Campbell at Xenos. I refer to it often, and I altered Item No. 1 last night.

1.  The huge problems in your life are not problems with people. They are problems with your relationship with God. Ask for the gift and grace of enough faith to hand it over and feel peace.

2. Accept the circumstances God allows in your life.

3. Don't think more of yourself than you should.

4. Don't demean people, even when they seem to be making your life miserable.

5. You really can't control anything except yourself.  (And even that can be iffy.) Worrying is not a productive activity.  Let it go.

6. Take every concern to God specifically.

7. Practice the presence of God in your everyday life.

8. Practice gratitude and thanksgiving. Dwell on your blessings.

9.  Focus your thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, including the people in your life.

10.  Have confidence in God and encourage others to feel the same way.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time to Get Loud

Sunday's multi-story report in the Columbus Dispatch, an Illusion of Treatment, demonstrated how broken Ohio's mental health system is and how it has destroyed lives.  My family is among those on an 8-month waiting list to get a psychiatrist who accepts Medicaid.  We've lived the horror story of trying to get care before the Medicaid, so I'm just grateful that a) we now have it and b) we have the money to pay a psychiatrist who does not accept insurance to get the prescriptions while we stay on the waiting list.

Ohio, home to 418,000 citizens with serious mental illness, is among the 10 worst states for mental-health budget cuts. And it is obvious everywhere. In a letter sent to its known advocates, NAMI Ohio points out:  "Ohioans would never tolerate this sort of heartless disregard of individuals with other serious debilitating brain illnesses such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. We at NAMI Ohio believe that the only reason we allow individuals with severe and persistent mental illness to be treated in this fashion is because voters are not aware of what's happening." 

Well, that, and the fact a lot of people don't care.

NAMI has asked us to do something:  Write a letter to the editor. Ask people running for office what they plan to do to fix this. Email the article. In short, "keep the issue alive." Because people are dying here.

I'm reminded of the early days of AIDS when Larry Kramer and others in New York insisted that people needed to get angry and ACT UP to get the attention the problem needed. And, frankly, advocates seeking funding for other illnesses are doing a better job at drawing attention to themselves.  (Pink ribbons, anyone?)  It is time to get more organized, time to get louder. Because we're running out of time. Again: People are dying here. 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mental Health Secrets and Statistics

It costs billions of dollars every year and claims a life every 30 seconds.  It is more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.  But mental illness still leads a secret life because so many people keep the problem to themselves.

Because I've always been open about my family's struggles with mental illness ... frankly that's one way I keep my mental health in shape ... I know how secretive others can be. After talking about our family's situation in a meeting or at a party, I'm routinely pulled aside later or emailed the next day by someone who is facing the same situation.  How common is mental illness?  Here are some statistics from the World Health Organization and National Institute of Mental Health:

  • An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older have a diagnosable mental disorder every year. 
  • About 6 percent of Americans have a severe mental illness, including 5.7 million with bipolar disorder and 2.4 million with schizophrenia. (Worldwide, 154 million people have some form of depression and 25 million have schizophrenia.)
  • Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada.
  • More than 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. Worldwide 3,000 people commit suicide every day.
  • As many as two-thirds of people with mental illnesses do not seek treatment.
  • The cost of mental illness to the U.S. government is estimated at $150 billion a year for the costs of social services, disability payments, lost productivity and premature mortality.
  • In the United States, fewer than 55,000 people are getting treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile nearly 500,000 men and women serving time in prison have diagnosable mental illnesses.
  • About 40 percent of the homeless are mentally ill. 
Sounds like something we should be talking about, doesn't it? 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When You've Had It

The suicide of a Rutgers student who was incredibly abused online by a heartless roommate has reopened many conversations about bullying and despair. One hundred percent of the children and teenagers I know who have struggled with mental illness have been bullied ... and each one has dealt with despair. Most every caregiver of someone with mental illness also has had many long nights of anguish and despair.

One powerful response to recent suicides from the Gay and Lesbian community is a program called "It Gets Better." Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" recently posted a very powerful message about his own attempted suicide at age 17. You can watch it here

In the message he mentioned that people in despair cannot overcome it alone. That prompted me to think about God's reaction to despair, particularly the story of the day that Elijah got fed up with the strain of his life and decided that he wanted to die. That story is told in 1 Kings 19. After a day of literally running for his life, Elijah sat down under a juniper tree and prayed, "It is enough. Now, O Lord, take my life."

The reaction of God is telling because it shows that he is not harsh or judgmental, but merciful, to those in despair. As Elijah slept, an angel arrived with food and water.  After Elijah had eaten and slept, he took a long journey to have a face-to-face with God. And in that famous passage, Elijah waits in a cave through a windstorm that broke off rocks on the mountain (for God was not in the wind), an earthquake (for God was not in the earthquake), and a fire (for God was not in the fire.) Finally, he heard a gentle breeze, wrapped his face in a cloth and went out to talk to God.

This story is one of the accounts of God's mercy to those in despair recounted in a good book called "Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?: Helping (Not Hurting) Those with Emotional Difficulties" by Dwight L. Carlson, M.D.

The main point: God is always on the support team for those in despair. He wants us to take physical and emotional care of ourselves. And he is there like a gentle breeze when we need to talk. He loves us all: gay and straight, ill and healthy. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Life Support: Stop Walking on Eggshells

Need to take your life back? One of the best books of practical advice I've found is "Stop Walking on Eggshells" by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger. The authors focus on Borderline Personality Disorder, but the advice is good for ANYONE who is feeling overwhelmed by another person's behavior.

You start by asking yourself:  Are you being a sponge (soaking up the other person's pain) or a mirror (reflecting reality back to the person)?  The advice about improving communication is particularly good.

You must not spiral into another person's distorted world, but you still can listen carefully to detect what the person is really upset about. It's hard to be verbally attacked for a delusion, but the pain and fear underneath that attack are real.

While the person's feelings may not make any sense to you, they make sense to them. Don't judge. Don't trivalize. Don't be condescending. Use active listening skills to validate the feelings.

Still you must know your boundaries ... what you will and will not tolerate.  Stay consistent, no matter what. Research shows that inconsistent response to a behavior actually makes that behavior more persistent than even rewarding the behavior every time does.

When things need to change, make specific requests in simple language, as in: "I want you to stop hanging up on me and then immediately calling me back when we are talking on the phone" rather than "Stop being so disrespectful."

If you feel helpless, get some help yourself from a counselor.  Together you can work out responses to difficult situations. When my daughter was very ill with juvenile bipolar disorder, I had my own therapist. She was a great gift in my life because she understood that my daughter's illness and could see difficult situations with a compassionate outsider's viewpoint.  That gave me insights and ideas I would not have had otherwise.

In effect, you are learning to love the person while still being loving to yourself.  It will make both of you better.