The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain

https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/

Recently, a friend reminded me how much stress is affecting me. For the umpteenth time, I will have to talk to my doctor about a full neurological workup because I am not myself at all. Dizzy, anxious, burnt out, exhausted to the point where I can barely keep my eyes open, yet I am not getting the right amount of sleep. Last night, I broke down and took the prescription I had previously mentioned. I slept under seven hours, but was mentally awake for most of that time (which means I was not hitting a real REM cycle); I just couldn’t move, and when I did, I would drink some iced hibiscus tea, which I keep in a big Starbucks cold cup, and go right back into finding a comfortable spot, especially since I woke up a little before midnight with a cat firmly attached to my feet. She doesn’t usually spend her nights with me, so I knew she was worried about me. That’s when she becomes maternal. I then woke up from a headache and an anxiety attack which piggy-banked into a full blown panic attack. At 1:30 in the morning. For no obvious reason, and by then, she had wandered off.

Stress can break you down. I should be calm and a little more laid back as certain things in my life are going really well, but for some reason, my mind is not on board. I hope there’s a way to find out what’s wrong and get the help I need before I am hospitalized and having to relearn how to do things. It is scary, but this has happened in my family, so I am well within my rights to be concerned.

I am trying to take it easy, limit stress, and hopefully I can manage this without lashing out at my doctor later this month. I feel he has been hesitant and irresponsible when I’ve presented all the lead up symptoms to what I m currently experiencing. If he blows me off again, I will schedule an appointment with someone new, and fire him by year’s end. Unfortunately, I feel this is is something I need to do if he refuses to take it seriously. I can’t exactly go to Urgent Care with something I’m deeply unsure of. Yet, I know my body and I know something is wrong. I’m praying it is something that lifestyle adjustments will fix, but part of me feels it’s worse.

Praying for less stress and better days.

I’ve Built…

It has always been important to me to be transparent about my shortcomings and the strengths. I don’t try to pretty anything up. Too often, people pretend their lives are so perfect online, with perfectly posed, edited photos, but you never see the truth of what goes on behind closed doors because all they care about is the imagery. That’s not what attracts me to people or to their work. Honesty and humor attract me. Real humor; the kind that isn’t forced, that isn’t passive aggressive, the kind that is wholly natural. It takes a lot to make me laugh. In the past week or so, I’ve maybe laughed four times. Each time, my cats came to see what was going on. “Is she having a stroke? Should we get help?”, they probably wondered. Of late, laughter hasn’t exactly flowed.

As an extremely private person, I still know that being forthcoming about my suffering (From A to Z) has helped others get help, come out of their shells, talk, trust again… I know this because they have e-mailed, messaged, and shared these facts with me, even if it took them a few years to say anything. I didn’t know my voice would help people, but it has and it will continue to do so, because I know the power of using your voice for change.

Wishing you all a safe, warm, stress-free weekend.

P.S. I will be listing charities ASAP who are helping out with the crisis in Texas. Every penny helps. It took our government way too long to respond to the need for help, and our own people were forced to endure this without an immediate helping hand. It’s disgusting beyond words. It’s Puerto Rico and Hurricane Katrina all over again, and it is NOT acceptable.

I know people who are 6-7 days without power and who have no clean water. Power is being restored slowly, and many are afraid of what will happen when they return to their homes. Will the pipes have burst (A much more common occurrence in colder climates.)? Will they be able to return home safely? They have no idea what they’re walking into. They are NOT prepared for the kind of weather they got. Never again should states be lacking a strong electrical grid, not have adequate salt, sand, and plows for snow removal, etc. This is not being discussed enough! I’ll do my part and hopefully there can be some unity in this country to help where needed.

What Are You Looking For In A Therapist?

You’ve seen the title of this piece, so let me start by saying this question has been asked of me by my doctor, and it’s a long story. Overall, my best response was, “Someone who isn’t an asshole. Someone who isn’t going to waste my time, and someone whose office I will not leave more furious than when I went in.” If you’ve never dealt with a therapist before, believe me when I say these are supremely honest, reasonable requests. Then I noted my history and realized how much this traumatizes me, repeatedly.

I began talking with psychiatrists and therapists around age twelve or thirteen, as a way to combat the damage I was experiencing at home, with an abusive, controlling father. The first doctor was fired after roughly two sessions, in which he threatened to hospitalize me at the first appointment because I didn’t care to talk to him. “If you don’t change your behavior, I will hospitalize you.” First time meeting me, barely knew a thing about me, and he was already making undue threats. That’s called, “abuse of power”. There’s not a single mental health professional who should be threatening their patients. That’s illegal and, depending on the personality they are dealing with, quite dangerous. He had already openly admitted of being afraid of meeting up with someone like me in a dark alley, but he made no attempt to connect or get to know me and what I was going through.

To provide helpful background, I was in no danger of harming myself or others, but he saw fit to disrespect me, to call my mother names when he asked her to leave the room for a short period of time to “chat” with me (Asking me about her personality and disrespecting her for seeking out help for her child. Yeah, that didn’t sit well with me. To this day, despite the fact that my mother has been gone almost thirteen years, if someone disrespects her or speaks negatively about her, they might end up choking on their own teeth. I tend to warn people in advance, but I only warn you once.), and when I told her precisely what was said behind closed doors, she called and cancelled the following appointment, letting him know I would not be returning. He had the audacity to call her and ask why I didn’t show up for my appointment, pretending he had not received notice of the cancellation. She had given him plenty of notice as to why I would not be coming back, but once he called, he opened himself up to being schooled for his horrible behavior. This first introduction to a psychiatrist, one who specialized in treating adolescents, left me scarred. I was not scared of this doctor, but I did contemplate going back to his house (he worked out of a home office) and cutting his tires. I had to return to the person who’d referred me and explain why this doctor should not be seeing anyone, leave alone children. I don’t remember his name, but I hope he rots for how he treated me. I didn’t need an abusive doctor; I already had enough abuse at home.

After that, I saw a therapist for a few years, and she was all right. At this point, I was already an established writer and I was careful with my words with her. She still assisted for a while when I moved out of state.

My next doctor wasn’t much better, except that instead of abuse or threats (or a combination of both), her answer to everything was medication. For over a year, she practically force-fed me Prozac until I put my foot down and refused to take it. I was about five foot three at the time and one hundred and twenty pounds. Antidepressants in that particular class can cause severe weight gain and other health issues. I wasn’t eating any differently, nor was I eating more often, but suddenly I was trapped in a body that wasn’t my own. If I hadn’t started out depressed, I was by the time I fired her. I spent two straight years on roughly ten different medications before I finally decided to stop seeing her. She was unreachable when not in the office, she was not helping me in any way because she had misdiagnosed me, and when my therapist at the same location left, so did I. I then spent a few years obsessed with working out in my attempt to shed the medication weight. I was working out three times a day. This doctor didn’t understand that she’d destroyed my sense of self and self-esteem. Her answer for everything was pills.

After firing several more doctors, I would end up back in session with the therapist who had left, but now had her own practice. In three years, I didn’t feel she did much for me, and when she was pregnant with her first child, she decided not to see patients any more. She left me in limbo, and I’m sure this was true for others, as well.

A year or so later, I ended up in the office of another doctor. To say he was a piece of work would be a vast understatement. Don’t assume a physician who went to three Ivy League schools is better equipped at helping you than one who went to medical school elsewhere. He was a nightmare, and my neurologist at the time had referred me to him. This doctor refused to take my mental health seriously, and wanted to put me into some kind of “day program” where I would interact with other people who suffered from varying degrees of mental illness. He thought this was the only way I’d, “get better”. He even yelled at me during an appointment in which he had to fill out a form for my insurance, which took less than ten minutes of his time at the end of a session which cost roughly $500 for an hour. Mind you, this was his charge before insurance reimbursed me. This “relationship” where he refused to help me did not last long. In fact, it lead me to a new therapist who would refer me to a psychiatrist who happened to know the previous doctor.

I was under the care of the new psychiatrist for sixteen years. His treatment was sub-par, outside of when I was in his office. When my records were requested in 2016, he actually claimed I was never under his care! After having submitted my entire chart, which was over six hundred pages, which included personal notes which never should have seen the light of day, I called him and confronted him. For sixteen years, he told me I was suffering from Bipolar I and II, mixed episode. This diagnosis was one hundred percent inaccurate.

In an attempt to help myself, I did see a therapist for six months in 2012. When I lost my insurance, she disappeared. I’m still annoyed by that because I feel like she was a good therapist for me.

When I met my current treating physician, he was astounded by how much medical neglect I had endured between doctors and inept therapists. When he handed me my new diagnosis, it was a game-changer, but it also left me devastated, because there was no way to fix any of it. The damage was done, and all we could do was treat things here and there.

The day I first met him, he disclosed he’d be leaving in a month. Our last discussion, days before he left that particular hospital, he said his biggest regret was not being able to do more to help me. This stayed with me. Upon his departure, my case was handed over to another doctor who, upon meeting me, in less than ten minutes, insinuated I was an addict because I was taking medication she didn’t approve of. This woman tried to damage my medical record as part of her vendetta, and she pursued getting me kicked out of the mental health care clinic, but I lucked out with a therapist who fought on my behalf. Unfortunately, nine months later, she would also leave that particular hospital.

I was now left with no therapist and no doctor. I signed up for waitlists with a handful of places offering therapy and either no doctor or they had someone who came in once a month to prescribe medication. After meeting with two different therapists, I lost my patience and let both of them know I would not be returning. Not long after, I bumped into my doctor in one of the medical buildings where I now go, having since changed insurance companies to one that covers a broader spectrum of things and has a larger service coverage area (the entire state, pretty much, along with parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut). In less than two weeks, I had an appointment and was “back in business”, so to speak.

My doctor actually gives a fuck about me. I am trying to keep this in mind because I’m annoyed as hell with him right now. His first attempt of setting me up with a therapist he works with crashed and burned. I wasted ten months of my life dealing with this woman, and at my very first appointment, she made the crucial mistake of threatening me. Knowing what I know about what needs to be said between clinician and patient, I tried to let it go, but I then spent the entire time waiting for her to be a better therapist, which never happened. I cancelled my last appointment with her because 1, I was going to tear her a new asshole. 2, I did not feel she would be receptive to the feedback, and more than that, did I really want her to get paid as I shredded her for being a useless therapist? No. She didn’t deserve to be paid when I was going to be angry going in and leaving. That’s not right, or fair. When I explained this to my doctor, he agreed I did the right thing by being silent, but explaining to him why it didn’t work out. She was in no way invested in my well-being, and it was obvious, especially as she repeatedly checked the clock from the second I arrived, right up until the final moments of each session.

Collectively, my doctor and I decided to shelve the pursuant of a new therapist after I called twenty different therapists, all to be told that they had full practices, which means they aren’t taking on new patients. A few had a three year waiting list to see them, and at that point, I’d had enough of the bullshit of flaky therapists.

When it came up towards the end of last year, he didn’t really have too many ideas or options for me, but was willing to keep trying. I had actually considered fighting for my out-of-network benefits to return to a previous therapist, providing she agreed.

Today is the day to go over the whole, “What are you looking for in a therapist?” question for what is hopefully the last time, and see where this goes. It gives me anxiety and makes me sick to my stomach. Because ultimately, I don’t know if I’ll ever meet a therapist and feel they are a “good fit” for me. It takes time to build trust and establish a relationship enough to be vulnerable. Anyone who truly knows me, knows I’m the least likely person in any given room to put myself in a position of weakness. I’m pretty glacial most of the time. I’m not a welcoming person; I will get to know you first. I am not overly trusting, either. These are things you have to earn with me, yet I see people give away trust like tissues all the time, and then they wonder why they’re devastated in the end.

It is so rare for me to meet anyone and feel an immediate sense of rightness, but when I do, I am much more forthcoming with them because I know I’m not being judged. Over the past year I have come to realize that, in many instances, people tell me everything about their lives, and this likely stems from being a good listener, a solid confidant, and someone people often rely on in an advisory capacity, but if asked, they would not be able to tell you much about me. This is why people often say, “Check on your strong friends.” The person who is everyone’s rock is not always okay, but by turning to them constantly, never asking about their health or life, you are diminishing them and that isn’t acceptable behavior. In fact, it’s a quick way for me to boot you out of my life. It’s not “the silent treatment”, it’s walking away from toxicity with your self-respect. That’s what I have to do to preserve my sanity at times, and I will never apologize for it.

I’ll see how this Telehealth appointment goes and make my decision from there. I know whatever happens, it will be a collaborative discussion. Having a doctor who doesn’t Lord over you is important. If you’re working on your mental health, keep this in mind through your journey.

Brightest of Blessings,

copyright © 2021 by Lisa Marino & Poison In Lethal Doses, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

When You Come Out Of The Grips…

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ―Jenny Lawson

PTSD Flashbacks

I always talk about my personal experiences when I am dealing with subject matter for #MentalHealthMonday. All forms of trauma require #Awareness.

Almost four years ago, I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Thanks to several bad doctors and three lousy therapists post-diagnosis (My Massachusetts based experiences, only.), I struggle at times with how traumatized I really am. I react to sirens (be it police, firefighters, EMS, etc.), and red and blue lights as though I’m about to be attacked and harmed. It’s awful. I am jumpy about so many things, including someone walking into the room I’m in without saying something first. 😦 If a person knocks on the door or rings the bell, I legitimately come out of my skin. A few years ago, I heard strange noises outside at around 3:00 a.m., and immediately pulled a Glock with custom sights. ON MY BROTHER (Who reacted really well, considering the situation.), who was trying to come in through the wrong door, so he freaked me out. Not a good moment. 😦

Today, as I made phone calls, I was retraumatized looking at the information in front of me, which was an explanatory script for the type of calls I was making. I ended up with a migraine and a panic attack as a result, and let me say I am tired of being dictated to by anyone, but a veterinarian’s office definitely shouldn’t be rude and unpleasant because by doing so, you will lose the business I have no choice but to pay for the health and overall well-being of my cats. Telling me you are going to over-vaccinate 100% indoor cats only makes me angry, and it is not conducive to a good beginner’s relationship. And then, looking down at the list of trauma they have both endured, I got extremely upset and declared myself a neglectful cat owner (Which, is completely ridiculous because if you met these creatures, you would see they are spoiled and get plenty of love and care.). Needless to say, the stress piled on way too high.

Then the flashbacks started. Again. Over and over, as if someone left my life on repeat.

People meet me and have no idea there’s anything wrong. They are clueless about what it takes to get me out of bed and focused on my day. And that’s sad, because they don’t ask. But what’s sadder is that trust is not something I have left to offer. It’s been shattered too many times for me to keep giving people chances.

Anyone else understand this?

copyright © 2021 by Lisa Marino & Poison In Lethal Doses, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.