Category Archives: Mental Illness

The pain of really seeing yourself

I remember clearly the day I was somehow capable of seeing myself. I mean, truly seeing….

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I didn’t immediately seek help but it was at that moment when I  knew I needed it. I would continue on a path where it took me years to seek treatment but in the back of my mind I knew I was sick. The image of my face burnt into my memory. Why I could see myself this day and then not again, I do not know.

I had been starving myself for days. I was constantly tired and sleeping more and more. It had to be from the lack of nutrition. I loved sleeping. When I was asleep I didn’t have to worry about food or deal with people expecting me to eat. I had also convinced myself that as I slept I was getting thinner. I did eat but I would binge eat and then rid myself of all the large quantities of food by forcing myself to vomit. Then I would go without eating again. I also popped laxatives like candy. The feel of food in my stomach disgusted me. I had to get rid of it as soon as I was able too. Sometimes this meant hiding and vomiting after eating out with friends or family. I always managed to eat in front of others. I never wanted anyone to know about my secret battle with food. I thought I was hiding it but I now believe some people knew.

On this particular day I had woke up late again. I dressed quickly and grabbed my makeup bag to finish getting ready at the office. There was a small mirror in the hall where I could finish up my makeup before the office would get busy.

That is when it happened. I walked past the mirror on my way to the restroom and I saw it… I saw me. I saw a person I did not recognize. A pale person drained of life with a sunken face and large protruding cheek bones. I had brittle hair and extremely dry skin from the continual vomitting. There were black rings around my eyes and a yellowish tone to my skin. I was horrified!
I was seeing myself… the real me. A person I had never seen. I did not want to believe in that brief moment that the reflection I saw was me but I knew in my gut that it was.
I do not know what happened in that moment that allowed the true image of myself to be revealed. It was as if my mind opened up for a split second allowing me to view the monstrosity I had become. I saw what I had done to myself.

This moment prepared me to believe I truly needed help and eventually I did get treatment. It would be several years down the road but that day stuck with me.

Today I try to lead a healthy lifestyle. I still have days where I struggle with self imagine but I look back and ask myself, “was I truly happy in that condition?” Of course the answer is NO. My size, weight, ect… none of that really made a difference. What mattered most was dealing with what was going on with me on the inside. Finding what was behind my behavior. There were so many underlying issues I hadn’t faced at the time that fed into my disease…  Until I faced them, I could not truly face myself and my own reflection of truth.

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My scale was ruling my life

Yes, I said it. My scale… a 20 dollar, digital box that I would stand on every morning ruled my life. The number that came up would determine if I have a good or bad day. It sat so perfectly on my bathroom floor and could strip me of any amount of joy in a matter of seconds.
Each morning I would remove all my clothing. I did not want anything adding even an extra ounce to me. And regardless of what it told me I would exam myself in the mirror and go over every area that I felt needed improvement. My back, my legs, of course my stomach. Nothing was flat enough, thin enough, good enough.

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I was a pro at dieting. I would go on any fad diet I would hear about. I would think to myself, “they need me as a spokes person, I make this look easy.” But the truth is I made it look sick. I didn’t realize how sick at the time. I could go three days at this point without eating. Friends starting voicing concern. Telling me I was getting scary thin. Yet there were still others who I wanted to notice and didn’t. I could not eat without throwing up and I knew people saw me and heard me. I wanted them to care… wanting (maybe even needing) that attention intensified my illness.

I was also in a depressive state. I could feel and see my life unravelling around me. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was going through a divorce and I would cry and cry. My sons would visit and I couldn’t keep it together. The hardest thing was seeing them afraid. It was at this point that I knew they needed to stay with their father until I could pull it together. And to add to it, missing them caused me to mourn for them. It got to where I would hide in bed and wasn’t eating at all. My heart hurt, my body was weak. I wasn’t even sure why I was still here… It was God’s grace that kept me alive. I didn’t feel I had a purpose anymore. I had become so self involved I was only thinking of myself the majority of the time. Something needed to change. Anorexia had consumed me and it was killing me mentally and physically.

To be continued…

The military and mental health disorders

Today is Veteran’s day and children are out of school and many others have the day off.
My Facebook news feed is overflowing with photos and statements of gratitude toward servicemen and everyone seems truly grateful until tomorrow when there is no longer a reminder to be grateful to those who have fought to protect this country.
I am not saying people aren’t truly thankful but there is little than can be said to those who have sacraficed. We know of the many soldiers that return wounded not just in body but in mind. Like my uncle who returned from the Vietnam war with an undiagnosed mental disorder that soon followed. My very own father had a mental breakdown while serving and mental illness soon took hold and he was given a disability discharge.

We proudly wear the title of “Land of the free and home of the brave” while we have become home of many military mentally ill. Are they brave? Yes! The bravest!! But our freedom has come at a great cost.

How many veterans are homeless in your city due to mental illness and who are we to say it is okay because we are free? Are we simply going to say it is the price we have to pay for freedom? Well, I am telling you that is not okay!

Many of our servicement are left in the balance because their mental issues aren’t considered severe enough. So these men and women are discharged from duty but are considered “chaptered” out for misconduct instead of getting the medical help that they need. This means a less than honorable discharge and no retirement, no student aid or medical benefits (that are promised to them at enlistment).

Often a generic code is used to discharge the men and women that have been released due to a mental health issue or disorder such as PTSD. Because of this there are no records of how many men and women are discharged from duty based on their mental health… which often results in a lack of followup care and medical mental health treatment for those who desperately need it.

We need to take a stand to ensure those that have been discharged from duty do not continue to have conditions that remain downplayed and untreated.

How can we help?

First, it is important to be educated on what is happening with our military and their mental health.

Second, be a voice and spread the word! The more we talk about the issues it brings awareness and can not so easily be swept under the rug.

Third, contact your Congressman or woman. Men and women who have enlisted to protect this nation should not lose their benefits from a diagnosis that is a result of serving this country.

More stories are coming out and though we are not where we need to be progress IS being made. We all need to be a part of the change. This affects those that serve, their families, and their friends.

I have only touched the tip of the iceburg with this topic. If you are interested in knowing more please look up and read the below posts.

http://www.npr.org/2015/10/28/451146230/missed-treatment-soldiers-with-mental-health-issues-dismissed-for-misconduct

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/12/16/3604091/ptsd-veterans-benefits/

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How can you love others if you can’t love yourself? It is simple, I just do.

My pastor recently shared a message on love that penetrated deep into my heart. All my life I have struggled with love. Not the love of others but loving myself. I have heard the saying multiple time... How can you love others if you can’t love yourself? It is simple, I just do.
I love others, my children, my husband and I do for others because that is what love does but when it comes to me I see every flaw. My lack of love for myself is not something I decided on one day…  It was a gradual thing that I learned as a child. Don’t misunderstand me, I know there were people that loved me and there are many people who love me now but as a fragile child seeking love and affection I worked and worked for approval but didn’t find it. I had little to no contact with my mother who left me when I was a baby. I never understood how she could leave. I realize now that the struggle was within her and not me. And of course growing up with a schizophrenic father wasn’t easy. He stayed in his room or in the hospital and I grew up afraid to speak of his mental illness. I am not telling you this to make anyone feel sorry for me. I am telling you this because children long to be loved and when they feel rejected and unwanted it determines how they will love and be loved as an adult. We need to show love and give love to our children and even to those who aren’t ours. You never know if they are receiving the love they need at home. Many are not.

Here are the points my pastor made. I hope they touch you too.

* Love that is given to someone without a guarantee of change or that they will love you back is love given in courage.

* Love has the power to catapult you past fear.

* Love makes you a conqueror.

*Learn you are valuable simply because you exist.

*God knows you and loves you better than anyone on your friend list.

*Find a friend that will stick with you in all your junk and in all your awesome.

I am learning to love myself and loving myself has been a conscious decision I have to make and then remind myself of everyday. Sadly it took a lot of time to get to this point and I still struggle and fight the negative thoughts daily but I want you to know that no matter what this life has programmed you to believe, “YOU ARE LOVED” We are in this journey together and loving and supporting each other is how we learn and grow. No matter what happens keep loving!!

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Why I hide my depression

My mom tells me I was a strongwilled child. So as long as I can remember I have bucked against the system.
Go ahead and tell me I cannot do something and I will prove you wrong. Being strongwilled isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Especially when it pushes you to be better. But there are times being extremely strongwilled or stubborn (let’s call it what it really is) can have its downfalls. Like those times you need help but you are so prideful you cannot accept it. Why? Because you should be a strong female that can handle her own.

Well, this mindset has not always been a good thing and has prevented me (many times) from admitting when I am struggling with depression.
I feel this sense of pride, this bullheadedness, that I should be able to hold my own.  There have been times where my husband has asked me why I did not confide in him. Why did I not tell him I was having a hard time?

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Below are some reasons why I often do not admit I am struggling and what I have learned about myself.

#1. I am a mom – my children need me.
Regardless of how I may feel I know I need to be there for my boys. This often results in me making a choice to put on a happy face and going with the flow instead of asking my husband or a friend for assitance.

#2. I have responsibilities.
I have things I need to get done. There are times I want to hide and veg out on the couch but who else is going to clean the house, grocery shop, and drop off and pick up kids from work and school?

#3. I am supposed to be the strong reliable one.
People are relying on me. Plus, many of my friends and family have struggles of their own. How can I add to their stress? I am supposed to be there for them and maybe they will feel I can no longer handle it.

#4. I am embarrassed.
Pride! There I said it. This should probably be #1. I do not want anyone to know about my struggles. I am supposed to be strong. How can I admit that I am weak and need help too?

The bible talks about pride being a downfall to man. (2 Chronicles 26:16)
I know I am only hurting myself when I react to depression with a prideful attitude. It is okay to say I am struggling.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Overall I am learning that it is okay to ask for help or even just admit that I cannot carry the weight of everyone all of the time. There are times I am weak.

I am allowed to tell a friend or family member I am overwhelmed and cannot help out or commit to an outing.
It is okay to confide in my husband about how I have been feeling down and out and just wanted to cry all day.
Most of all it is okay for me to not always be okay. I do not have to feel bad or make excuses for what I am experiencing. I can take the time to refocus and recoup. I am allowed to take care of myself and not feel bad about it.

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good (physical & mental) health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2 NASB)

Cancer threw me into depression

I gave up.
I am not completely positive when it happened… if it was a week later or weeks but somewhere along the way I gave up.
I did not plan for skin cancer to impact me the way it did.
After a biopsy, PET scan, and bloodwork I found out that my cancer was caught early and not as serious as it could have been. I mean stage 3 skin cancer is nothing to mess with. Especially when your lab results show that it is ‘brisk’ (fast growing).
BUT stage 4 means it has gone into your lymphnoids and chemo is necessary. I was lucky and able to rid my body of the intrusion by the hands of a surgeon with no further treatment needed.
When I think about it there are people who have gone through so much worse. I even became angry with myself that it affected me the way it did.
I froze. It wasn’t overnight. I just knew one day I woke up and I was overwhelmed. Everything overwhelmed me. Dealing with doctor appointments and tests all while driving children to work and school and no help made me feel so anxious. Taking my sixteen month old son with me to appointments didn’t help matters either.
I was tired. So tired I was comatose, zoned out with my head nodding trying to stay awake enough to monitor my children. All I wanted to do was nap. I was experiencing extreme fatigue.
And I wanted to cry but had somehow convinced myself I was not allowed to. Well, because I had to be strong (I was even told by someone) it is really not that big of a deal.
But… If it was not that big of a deal why did I feel paralyzed? And no one understood and no one offered help.
I am not even sure I realized how bad things had gotten until about a week after my surgery. It was almost like I had woken up and saw all that had been neglected. 
I stopped fixing my hair and wearing makeup. The house was a wreck. Laundry was piled – not just in the laundry room but in every room. Junk piles of mail and school papers were stacked everywhere and toys cluttered the rooms and everything had collected dust. Where had I been that I let everything go?
I realized what had happened. I do not know how I did not see that I was in a depressive state until it had passed. I thought I was coping. I thought “I got this!” Man was I wrong.

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The Price Tag of Freedom

It was something we never talked about growing up. It was hush hush in our house except for the prayerful cry that came from my mother’s bedside in the middle of the night. She was grieving and begging God for a miracle. Even at five years old I could recognize it. My dad had been away serving in the military but he was home now. He was not dead but to my mother he had died. He was now a man we no longer recognized.

My dad told me what happened a few years ago…

“It was a normal day. We would get up and run drills and go through training. We would prepare in case there was a war. This particular day I was having a hard time. I had gotten a letter from my mother a few days prior with news from home that was hard for me to know about. All I could think was that I wanted to be home. Everyone was homesick. I was stationed in Germany at the time and we were preparing for a drill.  We were suited up with equipment and given directions. This drill used toxic gas. We went into a building and we were supposed to put our gas masks on. I fumbled with my mask and I was slow at getting it on. By the time I had gotten my mask on my eyes were burning and I could not stop crying.  We were directed out of the building and my sergeant was yelling at me to get myself together but I couldn’t control it. I was sent to the medical building where they rinsed my eyes out.

Then two days later I had a massive stroke. I was paralyzed on one side of my body and I could not walk. I had to go in a wheelchair. I was in Germany and there was no one there. No family just me. Then the military decided to send me home. I was lucky because the feeling came back into my body and I was normal again but something happened to my brain. They said I had a chemical reaction.”

My dad is a paranoid schizophrenic. After discussion with some family members the accounts above are true. There are some facts that are left out but this is his recollection of the events.  I share this with you because we do not know if the toxic gas or the stroke could have caused the schizophrenia or if the overall event was the trigger. I believe that this tragic event triggered schizophrenia in my father but because of our family history he was already vulnerable to the disease. It could have been triggered at a different point in his life if this had not occurred.

People who have been through a stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia. However, a positive major life event such as winning the lottery can also trigger schizophrenia in some vulnerable people. There are also some environmental factors that can contribute to schizophrenia but there is a higher probability that a person already has a predisposition to the disease. Yet with study, scientist are discovering that genetics does not necessarily mean destiny. These means that there is hope for my children and yours.

 

(Image Source: Debby Tsuang, M.D., M.Sc., University of Washington/VAPSHCS, Special thanks to Dr. Kristin Cadenhead, UCSD)

(Image Source: Debby Tsuang, M.D., M.Sc., University of Washington/VAPSHCS, Special thanks to Dr. Kristin Cadenhead, UCSD)

 

If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, may be developing schizophrenia please contact a health professional. You are not alone.

Do you have a story about a loved one or yourself that was hurt in the military? I want to share your story. Contact me by completing the form below. 

I feel helpless

Sometimes the anger fills me up. Sometimes I get frustrated at my dad and then I am angry at myself for feeling angry. It can be a never ending cycle.  

My father has a mental illness. At this point my dad who is 59 years old seems to have the understanding of a teenager. It is such a hard thing to explain. I don’t know if this is caused from him taking so much medication over the years for his schizophrenic episodes or if it is part of the progression of his mental illness.

He seems to keep getting himself into trouble. He calls me and he is upset over the next thing he has gotten caught up in and I feel helpless.

I feel helpless that he won’t listen to me and nothing I say changes his actions.

I feel helpless that I reach out to those I think are there to help him and there isn’t much that can be done.

I feel helpless that I am always concerned for my dad’s safety and wellbeing but there is nothing I can do about it.

I feel helpless and how I feel really doesn’t matter.

My father has lived with my family in the past but moves around a lot because of his paranoia. Right now he is back living with my grandmother – his mother. She is elderly and she gets extremely upset at him. They constantly argue because she wants to help him make good decisions and he seems to defy everything she says.

There are a lot of people over the years that have taken advantage of my father. One female had him returning stolen items to Wal-Mart and getting the cash in return. He also purchased her a car and took out several payday loans for her. He was sending her money while she was in jail and supported her and her family when she got out. She continued to tell my dad she would marry him while she was seen with other men.

Another woman mistreated my dad so badly that she would pull his hair and force him to do drugs (my father had never done drugs or alcohol). She did horrible things to him as he gave her money every week and drove her anywhere she wanted to go. She ALSO made promises of marriage to my father.

This last female also has a mental disability and is younger than I am.  I am talking over 20 years younger than my father. My dad was married to her at one point but he feared for his life so they divorced after a little boy was conceived. This boy is now 10 years old and is also mentally disabled. This female blames my father saying his genes were bad. There have been constant fights as my dad has gone back and forth. She dangles the carrot (so to speak) in a constant effort to get money from him. The sad part is I have a brother I barely know and more children are involved.

I have come to the conclusion that my dad is lonely and I cannot control what my dad does. I talk to him and try and reason with him but that doesn’t seem to work. So, right now I just love him and I pray. I pray that he will make smarter decisions and that he will just be happy. I just want him to be happy because I know, really, that is what he is truly searching for.

And I pray that I can let go and stop being angry at my dad, at these women, and at myself and just be the supportive daughter that my dad needs me to be.

Me and my dad

Me and my dad

 

The thing about schizophrenia is it takes…

Not only does it take from the individual with the disease but it takes from nearly everyone who is a part of their life. It doesn’t care who you are. You can be a doctor, a parent, a husband, a pastor… the list can go on and on.

There are many creative minds that have been linked to schizophrenia, showing us that no one is exempt. Schizophrenia can affect anyone regardless of their financial or social standing.

“I have lived part of my life with the fear that my dad’s disease would find me. Almost like I have been secretly hiding, hoping, praying that it will somehow pass me by.”

My dad’s brother was also a schizophrenic and experienced psychotic episodes. Some of my family members say his episodes were caused from the time he spent in Vietnam but some of them remember things about my uncle from the time he was a teenager.

My grandmother still today will not admit that my uncle had a mental illness.

Maybe it is because he was highly intelligent. He knew how to rebuild cars and was what the family considered a mathematical genius.

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Unfortunately, my uncle did not have a good support system and his life ended in tragedy. He went missing a few years ago during the summer months. He would often say that voices would tell him to go to the desert.

This was a common practice for him but this time he never came back.

His house was so bare that people assumed he just left, even the police, but my grandmother (his mom) knew something was not right. There were no search parties sent out to find him. Especially because during the summer months it is often over 115 degrees in Casa Grande, Arizona.

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So we waited…

and six months later…

My grandmother received the call in December. My uncle had been found. It is believed that he stopped to rest under a tree and never woke up.

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The autopsy showed that his heart had stopped and he had been there for approximately six months.

I often wondered if things would have been different if my uncle had a good support system. He didn’t have many people that cared because he wasn’t what most would call a “good man.” Some believed he deserved his death. They called it Karma… but when I look at his life I notice little glimpses of good. I am not sure if that means anything. It may just be me… I often tend to see people better than they are.

Sadly, even I was afraid of him. I do not know if his mental illness contributed to his negative actions. I just know that it is easier to blame his illness than to search deeper.

It always baffled me how my uncle and my father had the same illness and how I feared this man while my father was so gentle in spirit. Maybe it was because my dad cried out to God so much. I would like to believe that even in the midst of his madness, my father has found some temporary times of comfort in God.

“That he has glimpses of peace even if it is only for moments and for those single moments my dad is on the receiving end and the taking has subsided.”

I have hope that my uncle has in death found peace and that the mental suffering he experienced here on this earth is no longer. I also know I cannot live in fear, hoping and praying that this disease isn’t hiding, waiting in the shadows for its chance to pounce on me or even worse one of my boys. I have read the statistics and I refuse to accept them. I pray that this is one place where God will show his mercy.

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If you have a family member or friend that is struggling with mental illness, you can seek help and support for them or yourself by visiting http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/index.html.

You need to know you are not alone. Other people have experienced exactly what you are going through and can help.

 

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The Military Stole My Father

 

I recall as a teen hearing Reba McEntire’s song “The greatest man I never knew lived just down the hall.” I remember thinking “she is singing about me and my dad.”

I often wondered if my dad’s suffering would have been easier if he had passed during his service. (I know that sounds cruel). Instead he came home damaged. Not physically but mentally.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my father but to go mad and not be able to control it must be… well, maddening.

Would you want to live that way?

I do have some nice memories of my dad. When he was stationed in Germany he used to record himself talking and singing songs to us and he would mail the tapes to us. My stepmom would play them at night and my brothers and I would sit and listen as my dad spoke to us about how he missed us. He would sing to us an old hymnal “one day when the battle is over we will wear a crown.”

He wanted to be home with us.

I wish I had those tapes.  How could we have known that those tapes were going to be a sign of a better time for my dad? A better times for us? They were evidence of a man that once had clarity and not the “zombie” I remember growing up.

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This picture was taken the last time we saw our father “normal”

I heard there was an accident. I don’t know the details. I only know it involved him breathing in a chemical or gas that eventually caused a chemical imbalance in his brain. I was young (it wasn’t long after the photo above was taken).

I was maybe 6 when my dad came home from the military for the last time, but this time… it wasn’t my dad.  It was someone else.  He was now a man who no longer interacted with his children.  In fact he couldn’t even stand the noise of children.  We were told we made him “nervous.”

I am certain that we did not understand what had happened.  We had no idea why he didn’t leave his room or speak to us.  We were told to never bother him. He would shut himself in his room and he rarely came out. Sometimes at night I would hear him listening to his Kenneth Hagan tapes and other times I would hear him crying, begging God, and vomiting because he had decided he was going to wean himself off the medication again (something that was a very bad idea and he never was able to do because of the horrific withdrawals). He would usually get sent back to the VA hospital and come back to us heavily medicated.

My stepmom tried to stay with him.

She was married to him for 20 years.  I can’t say I blame her for leaving. I think the years of taking care of a man, along with us was more than she could handle… especially after the schizophrenic episodes began. And there have been some bad ones. His paranoia seems to take over and he will not (cannot) listen to reason.

I love my dad and it took studying and learning about his mental illness before I could accept it. In the back of my mind I felt that somehow he could control it. I know now it is not that simple.

Growing up we did not have support groups or anyone to talk to. There was only secrets and shame.IMG_20150218_204530

I was angry…

Eventually I had to let go of the anger and the blame because it was affecting my life. I had to forgive my dad, forgive God, and even forgive the military who I blamed for stealing my dad from me.

 My dad has had so much hurt and loss and still manages to get through each day and that is saying a lot. 

He truly IS “the greatest man I have never known.”

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If you have a family member or friend that is struggling with mental illness, you can seek help and support for them or yourself by visiting http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/index.html.

You need to know you are not alone. Other people have experienced exactly what you are going through and can help.