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Airplanes and Mental Illness May 31, 2017

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Ever since my psychotic break back in 2008, my world has shrunk. Due to my reduced mental capacity either from the damage done to my brain from the break itself, or the side effects of the medication I take, I am no longer able to process information as quickly as I used to. Trying to think is sometimes like trying to punch a hole through a wet blanket with my fist. The end result is that situations that used to be routine, such as flying so, are no longer so.

Also, to compound the situation, when I get under stress, I hear voices. They sound like telepathy, coming from inside my head. They are genderless and speak in American English. I am well aware that they are a figment of my imagination, but that doesn’t mean I can control them. Far from it. They come on gradually as the stress builds and leave a few minutes after the stress is over. If I took enough medication to never hear them, I would be comatose. I choose instead to avoid stress as much as possible. Between the foggy thinking and stress avoidance, my world shrank considerably.

The dangers of travelling alone were confirmed a few years ago when I flew to Seattle from Phoenix. The trouble started as I approached the security line. At first the voices were just a whisper, telling me that they would find contraband in my luggage. The voices told me I would be arrested and jailed when they found it. I knew I had no contraband because I had packed my luggage myself. But that didn’t stop the voices. The closer I got to the xray machine, the louder the voices got. As the TSA agents began waving a metal detector around my body, the voices got so loud that I could barely concentrate on my surroundings. Within minutes of completing the security check, the voices disappeared, leaving me with a desire to avoid travelling by myself any more.

Five years later, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe for July 2016. To speed up the process of going through security, we obtained our TSA Pre Check clearance. At the airport in July, I was pleased that a reduction in scrutiny by TSA resulted in substantially reduced stress, which meant a huge reduction in hearing voices.

Recently, my husband had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in New Jersey. The timeframe included Memorial Day 2017. He asked me to join him for that long weekend, but because of the previous event, I declined.

But a subsequent discussion with my sister in law worked out the challenges at the Seattle end. Then my husband worked out all the challenges except one at the New Jersey end. The only challenge remaining was getting from the hotel to the airport for my return trip to Seattle. I decided to brave the unknown, fight through the mental fog and stress and go on the trip, pinning my hopes on Uber to return me to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Uber came through beautifully, and my TSA precheck allowed me once again to avoid hearing most of the voices. The adventure was a success, and I am looking forward to flying solo in the near future. My world is expanding.

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Anxiety and Sleep June 24, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Sleep.
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The primary purpose of hospitalization is to administer powerful drugs in a controlled environment.  As the drugs begin to take effect, anxiety builds.  Most of the drugs, including antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, have anxiety as a side effect.   The resulting synergy from each medication’s anxiety side effect produces an incredible surge of anxiety, unlike anything most of us have every known.

So the secondary reason for hospitalization is to learn to control the anxiety. Learning to control that anxiety, as it builds up higher and higher with each passing day as the medications take effect, is how patients spend their time. We take classes on it, we do exercises on it, we learn various coping methods for it.  And in the end, we take medication for it.  But the medication is never enough, and we are limited in the amount that we can take. So we have to learn how to handle it ourselves, to the best of our ability.

Although some people live with anxiety their whole lives, in general anxiety is not on most people’s radar. They have absolutely no concept about what anxiety is and how debilitating it can be. It’s difficult to put into words what anxiety feels like, but I’ll try:  Stand up straight, legs slightly apart. Now, tighten every muscle in your body. Ball up your fists. Next, try sitting down. Can you do it?  Imagine feeling like this all of the time, 24/7. You can’t relax, no matter how hard you try.  If you sit down, the muscles in your legs are still tight. The muscles in your entire body remain tight.  You can bend your limbs  in the right direction, but those muscles don’t relax- ever. Your whole body, though not rigid, can’t relax. You clench your teeth. It’s exhausting.  When the anxiety gets too high, it feels like you want to crawl out of your skin.

One of the most common outlets for handling anxiety in a mental hospital is to pace the halls.  Those of us with severe cases of anxiety would walk up and down the halls, over and over again, trying to work out some of that anxiety.  We couldn’t stop walking for very long, because the anxiety would come back in full force if we stopped walking.  And so we continued to walk the hallways, over and over again.  We walked miles every day, one foot in front of the other, up and down those carpeted hallways.

Everything that we did there was structured to teach us how to cope with that anxiety. Group therapy sessions discussed and sometimes actually showed us how to handle stress and anxiety. There were physical steps we could take with our bodies- everything from squeezing the flap of skin between our thumb and index finger to massaging our finger of choice to controlled breathing. Then there were steps we could take that weren’t direct acts on our bodies. We could blow bubbles, color in coloring books or on blank white sheets of paper, watercolor, or do jigsaw puzzles. There was also aromatherapy. Lavendar was the favorite. But walking the halls was the single most valuable outlet for handling anxiety.

Unfortunately, the building’s psych ward wasn’t built with our anxiety side effect in mind.  The hallways were about 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. So only a few of us could fit comfortably at a time.  Sometimes it got a little crowded with all the people pacing.  But when you’re that anxiety-riddled, pacing is your only option and crowded hallways are the least of your worries.

I seriously considered taking up smoking at the hospital because I heard from some of the other patients that it would help me with my anxiety. My mental hospital was the only one in the state to allow smoking, even supplying the tobacco and rolling paper for the homeless people who had no money to buy cigarettes. Anyway, once I became convinced that smoking would help my anxiety, I actively tried to take up smoking, but my nurse/guard did everything she could to discourage me.  In the end, because she made it almost impossible for me to start smoking, I didn’t take it up.  I’m eternally grateful to her.

Before my breakdown, I would go to sleep the minute my head hit the pillow. But with all the medication I was taking, sleep just wouldn’t come. The anxiety was just too powerful. Sleeping pills were discouraged long-term because they’re so addictive. So the access to them was very restricted.

When I was released from the hospital in the care of my psychiatrist, he started right in trying to treat my anxiety so I could sleep.  He pointed out that lack of sleep would put me back in a manic stage and I would have to return to the hospital.  Understandably, I became extremely anxious about trying to get enough sleep. So anxious that it effected my ability to sleep. I would lay awake until 2 am, knowing that if I didn’t get to sleep I would get manic.

The anxiety was so bad that I would lay in bed trying to get to sleep, my teeth clenched so tightly that my jaws hurt. So we (my psychiatrist and I) worked on finding a way to get me to sleep and keeping me asleep.  Over a period spanning several months, we went through about 6 different drugs looking for one that worked.  I would buy one drug and take it for a few weeks and then buy another drug and take it for a few weeks. On and on, racking up hundreds of dollars for drugs that didn’t work. Finally, we found Seroquel. It’s an anti-anxiety drug for me, and I can take up to 300 mg of it if I have to.  Although I take just 100 mg of seroquel, just knowing that I can take up to 400 mg makes getting to sleep much easier.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t become addicted to sleeping pills or start smoking.  I’m learning other ways to handle my anxiety.

P.S.  Eventually, the Seroquel caused memory problems and thought process problems, so I had to discontinue it and search for a new sleeping med.  I tried three different ones, but none of them seemed to work very good.  I finally settled on Restoril, but sometimes that doesn’t work for me.  Sleep continues to be a challenge.

Mental Illness and Smoking November 16, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Involuntary Committment, Smoking and Mental Illness.
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Not a smoker myself, I had the luxury of watching the etiquette of cigarette smoking unveiled right before my very eyes as I roamed the small courtyard at our 15 minute cigarette breaks during my three week stay at  the mental hospital.

Without the luxury of time afforded their rich brethren with their ready-made cigarettes like Camel and Virginia Slims, the homeless patients- who comprised more than half the mental hospital population- managed to use their ingenuity and creativity to make cigarette rolling into an art form, combining speed and efficiency.  It was fascinating to watch a patient impress his rolling technique with his own personality. Some rollers – mostly men- fancied thick, squatty joint-looking rolls. Others- mostly women- preferred thinner, more ladylike cigarettes. Each cigarette had its own distinct look. It was amazing how much variety could be squeezed out of the same ingredients. Who knew that tobacco and rolling paper could be formed into so many individual shapes while still retaining their purpose?

As a nonsmoker, I was initially offended by this dichotomy: serving cancer sticks to the ill seemed morally bankrupt. Later on, I came to understand the stabilizing influence of tobacco. Its anti-anxiety effect became crystal clear to me as I watched the nicotine-deprived mentally ill patients visibly calm down after the administration of a cigarette or two.  Forcing a psychotic patient to suddenly stop smoking was not good medicine, I came to realize. Besides, if the nicotine was looked upon as an anti-anxiety drug, then its administration to a suicidal patient became an action similar to administration of morphine to a cancer patient. Side effects, in other words, are relative.

Watching the daily calming influence of nicotine became a siren call for me to take up smoking, much to my husband’s chagrin.  His daily visits, usually during smoke breaks, were spent watching me learn to roll cigarettes, and then having to listen to my explanation of why I was going to start smoking. To his credit, he neither discouraged nor encouraged me, sensing that any direction whatsoever to a psychotic mentally ill person- especially his wife- would be useless and even counter-productive.

My announcement to the nursing staff of my intention to start smoking was met with less than enthusiasm. The nursing staff, viewing my intentions as simply another manifestation of my mental illness, did everything they could think of to discourage me from lighting up. But the reality was that the same tobacco and rolling paper the homeless used was also available to anyone who wanted to start smoking. Even me.

My anxiety, from the medications as well as the illness, was enormous. Unbearable, even. It was so awful that I would do anything, try anything, to alleviate as much anxiety as I could.  The prospect of dying of lung cancer paled compared to the anxiety of desperately wanting to crawl out of my skin. If smoking would relieve even a small portion of that horrible anxiety, I reasoned, then the price was more than worth it.

While not outrightly engaging in any sort of discriminatory behavior, the nursing staff nevertheless managed to communicate their dislike of smoking, stopping short of suggesting to the smokers that it might be a good time to quit. They realized the very strong stabilizing effect of tobacco on their charges’ psyche. But while they didn’t actively engage in trying to get people to stop smoking, Hell was going to freeze over before they were going to allow a non-smoking patient to take up smoking.

Their first line of defense was to try to reason with me.  Didn’t I realize that the reason the drug (tobacco) calmed people down was because it was a “fix” from the habit of smoking? That it really didn’t alleviate anxiety like the anti-anxiety pills did?

But I wasn’t buying any of their bullshit. They were lying to me.  I was convinced the drug really was like an extra dose of the anti-anxiety pills. Besides, the doctors limited the number of those pills we could take, but not the number of cigarettes we could smoke. It was, I believed, like getting an extra dose of Klonopin.  Besides, all my new friends smoked.

In the end, I couldn’t make my mind up whether to start before I was discharged from the hospital. Once out of the smoking environment, I totally forgot about my desire to take up smoking. Besides, the tools- the tobacco, paper, and rolling machine- were no longer at my fingertips.

M medication is stabilized and I no longer have that incredible surge of anxiety through my system…most of the time.  Although I am glad that I never took the habit up, I no longer pass judgment on the smokers of the world.

Anxiety September 8, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Involuntary Committment, Psych Ward.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

The primary purpose of hospitalization is to administer powerful drugs in a controlled environment.  As the drugs begin to take effect, anxiety builds.  Most of the drugs, including antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, have anxiety as a side effect.   The resulting synergy from each medication’s anxiety side effect produces an incredible surge of anxiety, unlike anything most of us have every known.

So the secondary reason for hospitalization is to learn to control the anxiety. Learning to control that anxiety, as it builds up higher and higher with each passing day as the medications take effect, is how patients spend their time. We take classes on it, we do exercises on it, we learn various coping methods for it.  And in the end, we take medication for it.  But the medication is never enough, and we are limited in the amount that we can take. So we have to learn how to handle it ourselves, to the best of our ability.

Although some people live with anxiety their whole lives, in general anxiety is not on most people’s radar. They have absolutely no concept about what anxiety is and how debilitating it can be. It’s difficult to put into words what anxiety feels like, but I’ll try:  Stand up straight, legs slightly apart. Now, tighten every muscle in your body. Ball up your fists. Next, try sitting down. Can you do it?  Imagine feeling like this all of the time, 24/7. You can’t relax, no matter how hard you try.  If you sit down, the muscles in your legs are still tight. The muscles in your entire body remain tight.  You can bend your limbs  in the right direction, but those muscles don’t relax- ever. Your whole body, though not rigid, can’t relax. You clench your teeth. It’s exhausting.  When the anxiety gets too high, it feels like you want to crawl out of your skin.

One of the most common outlets for handling anxiety in a mental hospital is to pace the halls.  Those of us with severe cases of anxiety would walk up and down the halls, over and over again, trying to work out some of that anxiety.  We couldn’t stop walking for very long, because the anxiety would come back in full force if we stopped walking.  And so we continued to walk the hallways, over and over again.  We walked miles every day, one foot in front of the other, up and down those carpeted hallways.

Everything that we did there was structured to teach us how to cope with that anxiety. Group therapy sessions discussed and sometimes actually showed us how to handle stress and anxiety. There were physical steps we could take with our bodies- everything from squeezing the flap of skin between our thumb and index finger to massaging our finger of choice to controlled breathing. Then there were steps we could take that weren’t direct acts on our bodies. We could blow bubbles, color in coloring books or on blank white sheets of paper, watercolor, or do jigsaw puzzles. There was also aromatherapy. Lavendar was the favorite. But walking the halls was the single most valuable outlet for handling anxiety.

Unfortunately, the building’s psych ward wasn’t built with our anxiety side effect in mind.  The hallways were about 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. So only a few of us could fit comfortably at a time.  Sometimes it got a little crowded with all the people pacing.  But when you’re that anxiety-riddled, pacing is your only option and crowded hallways are the least of your worries.

I seriously considered taking up smoking at the hospital because I heard from some of the other patients that it would help me with my anxiety. My mental hospital was the only one in the state to allow smoking, even supplying the tobacco and rolling paper for the homeless people who had no money to buy cigarettes. Anyway, once I became convinced that smoking would help my anxiety, I actively tried to take up smoking, but my nurse/guard did everything she could to discourage me.  In the end, because she made it almost impossible for me to start smoking, I didn’t take it up.  I’m eternally grateful to her.

Before my breakdown, I would go to sleep the minute my head hit the pillow. But with all the medication I was taking, sleep just wouldn’t come. The anxiety was just too powerful. Sleeping pills were discouraged long-term because they’re so addictive. So the access to them was very restricted.

When I was released from the hospital in the care of my psychiatrist, he started right in trying to treat my anxiety so I could sleep.  He pointed out that lack of sleep would put me back in a manic stage and I would have to return to the hospital.  Understandably, I became extremely anxious about trying to get enough sleep. So anxious that it effected my ability to sleep. I would lay awake until 2 am, knowing that if I didn’t get to sleep I would get manic.

The anxiety was so bad that I would lay in bed trying to get to sleep, my teeth clenched so tightly that my jaws hurt. So we (my psychiatrist and I) worked on finding a way to get me to sleep and keeping me asleep.  Over a period spanning several months, we went through about 6 different drugs looking for one that worked.  I would buy one drug and take it for a few weeks and then buy another drug and take it for a few weeks. On and on, racking up hundreds of dollars for drugs that didn’t work. Finally, we found Seroquel. It’s an anti-anxiety drug for me, and I can take up to 300 mg of it if I have to.  Although I take just 100 mg of seroquel, just knowing that I can take up to 300 mg makes getting to sleep much easier.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t become addicted to sleeping pills or start smoking.  I’m learning other ways to handle my anxiety.