Tag Archives: mental illness

Dealing with Rumination

Being someone who prefers to get along well with everyone, I found myself ruminating over the situation I described in yesterday’s post. Despite reassurances from friends that the person in question had behaved poorly, this evening, my mind keeps returning to the matter:

Cycle 1

Ugh! So, just now, I spoke to my dearly beloved about three strategies I’m going to use for the rest of this evening to avoid rumination:

1. Take a reality check. I asked my partner to review the triggering events with me. Easy, and rewarding! He gave me a phrase: “I don’t care.” Love it. Let’s pare this thing back to basics: a person I don’t know, who has no place in my life, was rude to me. Let it go, woman!

The reality check is like a little bomb, disrupting the cycle:

Cycle 2

2. Discipline my thinking. If my mind circles back to that topic again, I’ll consciously acknowledge it, remind myself that I don’t care, and turn my attention to something else. Note that I’m not trying to avoid thinking about it; that’s not helpful, as repression leads to unhelpful expression!

Disciplining my thinking in this way is like turning one arrow in the sequence outwards, breaking the cycle:

Cycle 3

3. Understand the deeper issues. No need to go into details; let’s just say all those years of therapy are paying off!

Holding this insight in my mind helps put the rumination cycle in context:

Cycle 4

Now that’s a much better picture, isn’t it?

As I now look forward to a rumination-free evening, I’d like to throw the question open: how do you cope if your mind keeps going back (and back and back and back) to an unpleasant topic?

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Shapes and Sizes

Return visitors might recall that I’m currently rocking “quirks and frailties” language for discussing psychiatric conditions and other mental health issues. After all, we all have “quirks and frailties” – they’re just more pronounced in some of us!

I’m upgrading laptops at the moment, and came across this photo taken in Frankston, Victoria, a couple of years ago:

2012-07-07 13.01.36

The varied forms of these trees got me thinking about how different we humans all are. In fact, New Scientist informed me in 2012 that there were 11 things which are uniquely our own: our DNA, fingerprints, face, gait, ears, eyes, voice, scent, heartbeat, brain waves and microbiome! Surprisingly, even identical twins’ DNA is only 100% the same at the time of conception; from then on, their genomes diverge, and the older they get, the less identical they are (don’t ask me, I’m just a curious reader).

So, we’re all unique, and we all have a set of quirks and frailties willed to us by our nature, strengthened or weakened by our nurture, and ultimately expressed in our environment.

To me, this is one reason I love psychotherapy so much: it’s so deeply personal. Medication hasn’t yet reached the stage where drugs can be manufactured to match my genes, and the briefer therapies – CBT, DBT and the like – teach valuable skills, even essential skills, but don’t necessarily deal with those individual and underlying patterns which keep recurring in my life. They teach me to live with them more comfortably, but are not necessarily transformational.

I see my “talking therapy” as an essential part of my wellness regime. It might not be trendy; research is less prolific, because the number of variables makes designing research programs problematic; but, to me, long-term psychotherapy is part of my healthy moving forward.

What’s your opinion of psychotherapy? Have you tried it, and have you found it useful?

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“…shows great courage…”

From MasterChef last night:

To change your career at 27 takes great courage.

Sorry, Marco Pierre White, I beg to differ.

This isn’t because I think the young man you were talking to isn’t an outstanding individual. It’s not because I’m well over 27, and have changed career a number of times.

It’s because I seen even greater courage daily among the mental health community.

You think it’s hard to change your career, Mr White? What about adapting to a completely new way of being in the world? What about suddenly realizing that what you’ve done all your life isn’t going to work for you any more – and may, in fact, be the end of you?

These are the questions mental health patients come up against, at precisely the time in their life when they’re least equipped to deal with them.

I enjoyed a long “phone date” with one of my best friends yesterday afternoon. Her schedule is busy, and we don’t get to talk often these days, but I always enjoy our chats. It was really great to be able to say that – finally! – I’m beginning to feel different,  to feel better again, to be able to think differently and constructively about my future. I haven’t been able to tell her that in a long time.

She asked me what I thought was the biggest factor in overcoming my mental illnesses. I gave her an honest answer: “My attitude.”

I believe that I will lead a happier, smoother, healthier and more hopeful life again, and I work hard towards that goal, even when it’s difficult. I still have a way to go, but I’m fortunate to be inspired and supported by those who walk alongside me.

Byron (the young man Mr. White was addressing) did leave the show last night. Among his parting comments were this:

Being 27 and finding out what you want to do in life – it seems so late.

I’m truly happy for you, Byron, I really am; it is a wonderful thing to discover what you want to do in life: but imagine what it must be like, at any age, to try and re-learn what you have to be in life, in order to survive.

That’s courage.

Dogtags

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Stuff that’s true

Here’s a list of statements which are true, as I type this post:

  • I have a snotty nose and hope I’m not coming down with a cold
  • The central heating is working again – yay!
  • After a cluster of triggers and emotions yesterday afternoon, this morning I am firmly back in “dwell only upon that which you can control” territory; long may it last
  • I didn’t complete my exercise mini-challenge, but I’m cool with that – sometimes other things come up which take precedence
  • My therapist is away next week, so I’ll be left to the not-so-tender mercies of my psychologist, and I am expecting some major news which might be good or bad, so that will be interesting (anxiety plus!)
  • You know the difference between “want” and “need”? Well, the time when I “need” a new laptop is rapidly approaching! This little darling has had so many parts replaced it’s more new than old, but it’s fading fast
  • When something’s true, it feels in my chest like a well-constructed bell ringing. Another aspect of my psychosomatic superpower, I guess!
  • Boring housework doesn’t get itself done
  • This morning would be an excellent time to finish editing an anthology of papers for my alter-ego, but I’m not sure the task will be completed before lunch … or anytime today, truth be told
  • I love my friends, and I am loved by my friends

What better note to finish on?

Church bell cutaway. Image found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_bell.

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Language and Meaning

I’m reading Delaney’s Babel-17, a sci-fi classic which explores the concept of linguistic relativity – the idea that the language we speak and think in actively shapes our perception and cognition, something I considered during postgraduate work as a student.

The reason this question intrigues me these days is because I find myself thinking about mental health – and mental unhealth – in different ways at different times, and feeling or behaving differently accordingly. I recently wrote about naming disorders of the mind/brain, which lead to some very interesting discussions about the DSM model of diagnosis*. I also remember, not long after starting this blog, receiving a message from a reader pointing out that I used the phrase “mental health” where I might more accurately have used “mental illness”.

What have I noticed about the correlation between language and mood? Well, I’d far rather write about mental health – that which we’re working towards – than mental illness, which we are suffering from. Furthermore, mental health is something we all strive towards, always, whereas an illness – to me – implies a disease which will run its course and reach an endpoint. I don’t believe my illness has an endpoint, per se; I do believe my symptoms will lessen, and I’ll return to “normal” function, but studies have shown that if a brain has undergone a series of major depressive episodes it is more likely to succumb to another in the future. Please, give me the language of future hoped-for health rather than that of a life-long infliction!

How, then, to talk about these things which plague us? This week, I am enjoying the words ‘quirks and frailties’. We all have quirks and frailties; mine just happen to be a bit more dramatic and drastic than the general population, at this stage of my life. Furthermore, I find that just speaking the word ‘quirk’ brings a half-smile to my lips. You’ve got to love a half-smile!

Yes, if a stranger who was entitled to the information asked me what my diagnosis was, I’d speak the words my psychiatrist has written on the latest form: “Major depression with melancholia; generalized anxiety disorder; dysthymia”. If, on the other hand, a friend were to ask, I’d say something like: “My sense of self isn’t strong, due to factors in my formative years and traumas since then. I find that under stress I react using maladaptive coping mechanisms which lead to less-than-optimal outcomes. My mood is prone to sudden and dramatic plummets, which are not predictable, and leave me vulnerable to disruptive images and urges which are most unfortunate; however, I am continually learning new strategies which help me deal with these interruptions to life more effectively and quickly.”

On the other hand, I might also say: “My quirks and frailties are presenting particularly strongly these days.”

What’s your favoured manner of speaking about disorders of the mind / brain?

Quirks and Frailties

* The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in its fifth edition – is the ‘bible’ of psychiatry and clinical psychology. DSM diagnoses are often tied to the funding of treatment. For example, here in Australia, if you have certain DSM diagnoses you can receive particular medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, whereas without them you need to pay full price – even if the drug has been shown to be effective for your disorder. Stateside readers tell me that insurance companies fund treatment options differently according to DSM diagnoses. However, in my opinion, the DSM is a blunt instrument, not up to the task of classifying individual differences.

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