Category Archives: depression
I’ve been struggling with my eating disorder. I’m ashamed to say that but it’s time to be honest. Not to be taken care of, not to be attention seeking but because lying and hiding does me no good. Also, it’s past time to get on track and in my case transparency has been the best motivator for that.
I’ve been in recovery from my eating disorder for almost three full years. I’ve been extremely proud of that. Extremely. In fact, out of everything I’ve done in my life I can say that this was the one thing I have been proudest of because it is the thing I have had to work the hardest for. And now? Well I can see it slowly slipping through my fingers. It’s a scary feeling for me and I know it’s a scary feeling for those around me.
What happened? I don’t exactly know. I suppose it’s been a combination of factors. Med adjustments, depression which caused loss of appetite, stressors, a lingering dissatisfaction with my body which never really went away, change and the biggest one of all – a significant trauma anniversary (which at one point I plan to write about). All of that collided and I let down my guard and the disorder slipped in.
I owe some apologies. At this point in my recovery I can’t slide back into my disorder without some awareness of my actions. There was some familiarity in the behaviors and feelings. They brought relief I was seeking but even that is no excuse. I owe apologies to my friends who fight everyday for stepping away from the battle and for leaving you to fight alone. It invalidates your struggle and for that I am sorry. And it goes without saying that I owe many apologies to those who love me.
So where do I go from here? Well, I try. I try to get back on track. I pray that I haven’t gone too far down the rabbit hole and that I can still yet pull myself out. I try with every fiber of my being even with my brain screams that this is wrong. I fight the biology of the disorder with everything I have and everything I have learned. And believe that I can regain the reground I have lost and come the end of February I can celebrate my third year in recovery.
Well last week I restarted my Sunday song posts and this week I’m already late again. Oh well. In the theme of picking songs that speak to my depression I chose the song Life’s for the Living by Passenger. The lyrics touch me and while it sounds like a sad song it does give me some hope.
So I recently wrote that I had been admitted to the psych ward twice (the first time just short of three days and the second time just short of a week). What I failed to mention was what I did with my service dogs, Benny and Shona, while I was admitted. This was deliberate. There is so much criticism in the service dog world about how people treat their dogs and represent service dogs as a whole. In fact, there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to finding “fakers” or people they deem irresponsible or misrepresenting service dogs and publicly exposing them. I was reluctant to share my decisions in how I handled my stay and my dogs in fear of judgement and bullying but I am choosing to in order to perhaps help someone else think through how they would like to handle a similar situation.
First, I need to say that I always consider my dog’s needs first before my own. The hospital I go to is a safe environment with a well trained staff. In addition, it sits on a large area of grounds and easy access to these for potty breaks at anytime. In addition, I could take my service dog for short ten to fifteen minute walks. Staff was more than accommodating day or night in allowing me to take Ben or Shona out. Before staying at the hospital I considered my dog’s temperate. Ben is a dog that is not easily effected by other’s emotions. If Ben is a dog that naturally picks up and feels all the feelings around him a psych. hospital would not be the place for him. But Ben is very emotionally stable and stern. He loves people but their emotions don’t effect him negatively (Shona struggles with this more) so Ben was the dog I chose to take with me.
Ben did not remain “on duty” the entire time he was at the hospital. He was allowed to visit with the other patients, play and act like a dog. If he had remained “on duty” the entire time he would have become worn out and burnt out. Instead he had time to just be Ben and be a dog. There were times I needed him on duty but I also made sure he could be Ben. I deliberately made sure I spent time in my room during the day so he could sleep just like he would at home and wouldn’t be overstimulated. This way he got enough rest.
I considered the population of patients. I was not in a severe mentally ill unit. For the most part there were not psychotic patients. Most were struggling like me so Ben was in no danger. He in fact provided much needed relief to these patients and when not working was allowed to be petted, cuddled and hugged. He served as a therapy dog as much as anything. This is important to note. If you are considering taking your dog inpatient you need to be clear to yourself before going in what your boundaries will be. Will you enforce the no petting rule? I did when Ben was on duty but when he was not I allowed him to be petted like a normal dog. This will require interaction. People naturally want to pet your dog. They will ask questions. You will have to be near them. This was hard for me. But Ben craved their attention and in order for me to make the stay positive for him I allowed him to have the attention he desired.
Another factor that made the hospital stay feasible was my parents were able to visit every night. My dad took Ben out for a thirty minute walk each night. So Ben got plenty of exercise and a chance to run. Each day when they were there I evaluated his mood, attitude well-being, exhaustion and stress level to see if he was able to stay another day. If he had indicated he was stressed at all I would have sent him home immediately.
To sum up my experience with Ben I made the right decision to take him with me. It worked for us. It’s not going to work for every situation. It’s a combination of having the right hospital, the right population of patients, the right timing, the right access to resources and the right dog. Ben has come out of his stay a better service dog. His behavior is more focused and concentrated. He learned a lot from his time there. And how do I know he was not harmed from his stay? Every-time I return there for outpatient Ben wags his tail and becomes increasily excited thinking we are returning to the hospital. He would like nothing better. Sorry buddy if I have anything to say about it we are staying far away.
This song really speaks to my depression and I’ve been enjoying listening to it so I thought it would be a great first post to bring my Sunday songs back. Enjoy – Blue Skies by Noah and the Whale.
Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of my psychiatric illnesses are largely due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. My psychiatrist and I have been messing around with my medications for the past two months or so after taking me off one that was causing more side effects than it was worth and it has been causing havoc with my life, messing with my anxiety and depression. After four plus years of treatment I’ve gotten pretty good at using coping skills. And I have been using coping skills out my ears but nothing was touching the level of anxiety I was having. Nothing. This caused me to be starkly reminded that while there are some things I can do to effect my mental illness there are times when sometimes I can’t because when it comes right down to it – it’s just that an illness. A biological illness similar to diabetes or cancer except this illness originates in the brain.
This has become more and more apparent as we try and find the right combination of meds for me. It’s a balancing act as we try to find meds that stop nightmares, help with sleep, catch my anxiety and combat my depression. And part of this balancing act is sometimes stays in the psychiatric hospital. I had a short stay right after Thanksgiving where we made some changes to my meds. These changes unfortunately resulted in me being extremely sedated and sleeping for 16-17 hours a day. Not good. And didn’t help my depression at all. In fact it made it worse. Therefore, resulting in a second stay last week lasting until Christmas Eve.
I am blessed to have access to a good facility about 40 minutes away. And I am lucky that my regular psychiatrist (who is a genius with medication) was the doctor on call. During this second stay I stayed longer while we messed with my medication and I dealt with some side effects. And there are usually side effects to medication. Some more benign than others. I was relieved that this time the side effects weren’t so great as to pull me off the new medication. It seems to be helping. *crossing my fingers*
So back to the beginning of the post – my depression and anxiety is at least partly chemical. Honestly, this scares me more than if it was simply attributed to my trauma. If it was only due to trauma I could “get over it” but a biological basis? Well, I can’t control my brain anymore than someone can control their blood sugars or the number of cancer cells in their body. I’m having to surrender my control. Take each day as it comes and hope and pray that this medication change is at least a temporary fix.
We are headed into the holidays and many people may not realize how tough of time this can be for those who suffer from mental illnesses. Not just eating disorders but all mental illnesses. Holidays bring wonderful things – family, friends, traditions, fun and a multitude of other things but they also bring stress. I think that even a person without a diagnosed mental illness would agree with this.
In this case of eating disorders I suppose it goes without saying that Thanksgiving wouldn’t be that person’s favorite holiday. I am thankfully at a place in my life where I can enjoy the day spent with family and even enjoy the food but I spent several years anxious and unsure during the meal. In fact two years in a row I spent Thanksgiving inside a treatment center. However, Thanksgiving can also be difficult for someone suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or other psychiatric illness. Large groups of people can cause anxiety for some, seeing relatives that you haven’t seen for some time and a fear of being judged can be very fear provoking and just an upset in routine can be destabilizing.
In the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I have been known to crash and crash hard landing in the hospital or treatment (I spent three consecutive Christmas’s in treatment – that sucked). This year I feel more stable and ready to enjoy the holidays than ever but I remember those days and look around me at others with a lot of compassion. Also, although I feel stable and 90% sure I won’t need the assistance of the hospital I also know that it could be hard to manage some of the stress that comes up. I love Christmas so very much that sometimes the anticipation simply becomes too much to bear. Odd right? But this adds to my anxiety level and I can become destabilized because of this. As the holidays approach look around you at those who could be suffering. Understand that it is not that they don’t enjoy being with you or dislike the concept of the holidays – it is simply the change in routine and the anxieties that Thanksgiving and Christmas can bring that can cause symptoms. I love the holidays but as much as I do I struggle with them and I think I can speak for many when I say that I wish I didn’t. I wish I could simply sit back and enjoy them. However, I have to fight through a lot of things in order to do this. At this point in my life I’m capable of doing it. But at one point I wasn’t. So have some compassion. Show some understanding and simply be there for others this holiday season.
I recently read this blog from momastery.com. I haven’t talked much in detail about my brief college years on here and I will one day but for now I wanted to share this blog because in many, many ways it sums up what I felt during that time and what I feel now looking back. There are some distinct differences (I had a net – a net that ultimately saved me) but also many frightening similarities. So please take a look at:
I’ve gotten some questions/suggestions lately that perhaps I should pursue therapy. I’m not offended in the slightest. I think most of the comments came from a fairly good place and therapy ceased to embarrass me a long time ago. Because the truth is that I do see a therapist. Twice a week right now but this is actually the least amount of treatment I’ve had in four years.
In January 2009, after ending an abusive relationship I began seeing a therapist (a really crappy one but that’s another story). I was humiliated and embarrassed that my anxiety had become such that I couldn’t function in everyday life and that I had to seek professional help. The whole idea that I was seeing a “shrink” embarrassed me beyond belief to the point I went at great lengths to hide the fact from my college classmates that I was driving an hour once a week to seek help. I truly believed that it was “just anxiety” that was causing my obvious decline in my mental health but instead of getting better from treatment I felt downhill. Fast.
In September of 2009 I entered treatment for anorexia at Laureate’s eating disorder program. I stayed for ten months going through inpatient, residential, transitional living and back to inpatient for another short stint. I left OK (where Laureate is located). This was in July 2010. By September 2010 I was hospitalized again this time at The Center for Change in Orem Utah. This treatment stay was focused on my eating disorder and my PTSD. I left in February 2011 (after five and a half months) in a much better place, stable mentally for the first time in many years and armed with coping skills.
The next two years were rough. I was in and out of the psychiatric hospital. For a stretch of time I was in every month. In December of 2011 I went to Washington DC to The Psychiatric Institute of Washington’s Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I learned a lot here but it also opened a lot of wounds and closed memories and so my cycle in and out of the hospital continued until July of 2012. This is when my service dog Ben entered my life.
Since Ben arrived I have been stable. I have not had to be hospitalized for my eating disorder, self-harm, depression, anxiety or PTSD. I receive the least treatment I have in four years, simply seeing my wonderful therapist twice a week.
I tell you all of this because like I mentioned at one time I was so filled with shame that I was in therapy. I saw it as a weakness, an embarrassment, a sign of failure and something that made me somehow “less than” everyone else in my life. I went so far as to tell professors when leaving college to go to treatment that it was due to heart problems (not a lie at that point my heart was severely compromised due to my eating disorder) instead of due to my anorexia (however they probably guessed anyways).
Therapy is so stigmatized. Especially by young people. I believe that this is due to a number of factors but a primarily one being the lack of information regarding mental health. This not only harms those who struggle with diagnosed mental illnesses but also those who need help but refuse to seek it out of shame. The media does not help. Crimes (such as the recent Naval Yard shooting) are blamed on mental illness. Yes, this may be the cause however the media fails to mention that the majority of people who suffer from mental illness are in no ways violent or dangerous. How can someone feel unashamed of their mental struggles when they unintentionally compare themselves to a deranged man who killed many people?
The reality is that seeking help is a sign of strength. I never would have believed this four years ago but working through treatment and recovery has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Much harder than making straight A’s in high-school, much harder than transitioning to college and much much harder than staying stuck in my illnesses.
So yes, I see a therapist and no I am not ashamed. Not anymore and I can say this:
I am Kate. I have PTSD, depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. I see a therapist. I have been hospitalized for my mental illness. I have a psychiatric service dog who without I would not be able to function. But I am no less a person because of these things.