Feeling Completely and Utterly Alone Because You Have a Mental Illness? This Can Help

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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You have a mental illness, and you feel incredibly alone. Intellectually, you know that you are one of millions of people who also have a mental illness—people who also have depression or an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

You know that you’re not the only person on this planet to be in pain.

But it doesn’t matter. Because it looks like everyone around you is just fine. You’re the only one who has a hard time getting out of bed, who feels overwhelmed by everything, no matter how small. You’re the only one who feels like an impostor and a fraud. You’re the only one who feels irritable and on edge for no reason. You’re the only one who can’t seem to get through the day. You’re the only one who has strange, sad, uncomfortable and cruel thoughts.

But you’re not. You’re really not.

Sheva Rajaee, MFT, is the founder of the Center for Anxiety and OCD in Irvine, Calif. She’s lost count of the number of times a client has started a session by saying: “I know you hear things every day, but this one is really weird.” When the client shares their “gruesome or socially unacceptable thought,” Rajaee’s face barely registers surprise.

Why?

“…[B]ecause I’ve had the experience of seeing thousands of clients, which means thousands of thoughts. I’ve come to understand that if the brain can think it, the brain can obsess about it, and that everyone experiences dark thoughts and scary feelings,” Rajaee said.

Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders in Louisville, Kentucky. His clients regularly tell him that they’re the only ones who feel afraid to go into a carwash, they’re the only ones who freak out at Target, they’re the only ones who feel like they’re dying, and they’re the only ones who are dwelling inside a bubble while everyone else is actually living their lives.

Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, is a counseling psychologist who works with individuals, couples and families in Chandler, Ariz. Her clients have told her: “I know everyone knows what it’s like to be sad, but being depressed is much worse…it’s like the darkest shade of black…it’s like a 100-foot pit that I have fallen into and there is no way out. I’m in there, alone, and I know I can’t get out.” “I can’t even describe what I feel to my friends because they just think I’m exaggerating.” “Being around people is just too difficult, but being alone means it’s only me and my dark thoughts.” “I feel like I have an emptiness I can never fill; I can’t ever deeply connect with anyone because they will never know what it’s like to be me…in my head.”

According to Chris Kingman, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in individual and couples therapy in New York City, “thoughts like ‘I’m the only one….’ or ‘I’m alone in this…’ are cognitive distortions. They are irrational.”

We tend to automatically generate these kinds of thoughts when we’re feeling vulnerable and are in an unsupportive environment,” he said. Sadly, while it’s getting much better, as a whole, our society isn’t very supportive of people with mental illness. That’s “because most people have not had sufficient education about mental health and illness; and [they] feel uncomfortable when faced with others’ mental health struggles.”

Cognitive distortions also are part and parcel of illnesses like depression and anxiety. For instance, Saenz-Sierzega noted that “depression creates a severely negative view of the self, the world and of one’s future—which frequently includes feeling as though no one can possibly understand what you are going through, how you feel, and how to help. [And this makes] it that much harder to seek help.”

While seeking support is certainly challenging, it’s not impossible. And it’s the very thing that will make a huge difference in how you feel and in how you see yourself. So if you’re feeling alone and like a massive outcast, these suggestions can help.

Validate your feelings. Acknowledge, and accept how you’re feeling, without judging yourself. Honor it. “The experience of having a mental health disorder of any kind can be emotionally and physically draining, and even with all the help in the world there will be days when you feel down and alone. This is normal,” Rajaee said.

Revise your self-talk. Kingman stressed the importance of not telling ourselves that we’re alone (or inferior or broken or wrong), because “feelings aren’t facts.” As he said, you might feel alone, and inferior and broken and wrong—and that’s a valid experience, as any emotion is—but these emotions don’t reveal some end-all, be-all truth.

“The issue is that you feel vulnerable and insecure, and you need support but you’re afraid of judgment and rejection.”

Kingman encouraged readers to record your thoughts in a journal. Specifically, observe how you talk to yourself, “catch” yourself when your thoughts are critical or demeaning, and replace these thoughts with constructive, compassionate, supportive self-talk, he said.

Seek therapy. If you’re not seeing a therapist already, it’s vital to find one you trust, Saenz-Sierzega said. A therapist will not only normalize your feelings and help you better understand how your mental illness manifests and functions, but they’ll also help you build a healthier self-image and learn effective coping tools and strategies.

“The gift of mental illness is that if navigated well, you come out a survivor,” Rajaee said. “The same tools and coping strategies you have had to learn through treatment give you a resilience that makes other challenges in life more doable.”

You can start your search for a therapist here.

Reach out. This is a powerful way to “get outside of your own head,” Saenz-Sierzega said. “Surround yourself with person(s) who love you, know your worth, and appreciate you for who you are.” Talk to them about how you’re feeling.

Join an in-person or online support group. For instance, Kingman suggested participating in 12-step recovery groups. They “are free and there are many groups in every city for so many human issues, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, relationships, emotions, over-spending, and more. Lots of acceptance, support and solidarity in these groups for human suffering, diagnoses [and] struggles.”

Also, check out the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue.

Rajaee suggested finding online forums with people who’ve been through what you’re experiencing. Psych Central features a variety of forums.

Another option is a therapy group, “where the experience of being human and the struggle of having a mental health disorder is normalized and where you are celebrated for your strength and resilience,” Rajaee said.

Finally, Saenz-Sierzega suggested texting “home” to 741741.

Listen to sound mental health information and relatable stories. “[I]f you’re not ready for [therapy, or want to expand your knowledge], start with a podcast on mental illness to get familiar with how to even talk about it and to learn what helps others,” said Saenz-Sierzega.

She recommended Savvy Psychologist and the Mental Illness Happy Hour. Psych Central also has two excellent podcasts called A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic and a Podcast, and The Psych Central Show.

Read inspiring stories. “To alleviate human suffering, we need solidarity with others who are suffering and working on their own process,” Kingman said. He recommended reading the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Psychologist David Susman has a blog series called “Stories of Hope,” where individuals share their mental health challenges and the lessons they’ve learned.

Psych Central also features numerous blogs written by individuals who live with mental illness.

Create a list of comforting things. Your list might include activities, movies, songs or photos that make you laugh or spark a fond memory, Saenz-Sierzega said. Turn to something on your list when you’re having a hard time. Let it “remind you of who you are and who you are fighting for.”

Mental illness is common. If you just look at anxiety disorders, the stats are staggering. They affect about 40 million individuals per year, Chapman said. Forty million. Maybe this is reassuring to you. Maybe it’s not. Because your soul feels alone.

This is when reaching out is critical. This is when talking to someone face to face or in an online forum is critical. Because this is when your soul actually hears the truth: You are not alone. You are absolutely not alone.

Feeling Completely and Utterly Alone Because You Have a Mental Illness? This Can Help

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12 Ways to Keep Going with Depression

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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About once a week I hear the same question from a reader, “What keeps you going?” The short answer is lots of things. I use a variety of tools to persevere through my struggle with depression because what works on one day doesn’t the next. I have to break some hours into 15-minute intervals and simply put one foot in front of another, doing the thing that is right in front of me and nothing else.

I write this post for the person who is experiencing debilitating symptoms of depression. The following are some things that help me fight for sanity and keep me going, when the gravity of my mood disorder threatens to stop all forward movement.

Find a good doctor and therapist.

I have tried to beat my depression without the help of mental health professionals and discovered just how life-threatening the illness can be. Not only do you need to get help, you need to get the RIGHT help.

A reporter once referred to me as the Depression Goldilocks of Annapolis because I have seen practically all of the psychiatrists in my town. Call me picky, but I am glad I didn’t stop my search after the third or fourth or fifth physician because I did not get better until I found the right one at Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center. If you have a severe, complicated mood disorder, it is worth going to a teaching hospital to get a consultation.

Be just as choosy with your therapist. I have sat on therapy couches on and off for 30 years, and while the cognitive behavioral exercises were helpful, I didn’t begin making real progress until I started working with my current therapist.

Rely on your faith — or some higher power.

When everything else has failed, my faith sustains me. In my hours of desperation, I will read from the Book of Psalms, listen to inspirational music, or simply yell at God. I look to the saints for courage and resolve since many of them have experienced dark nights of the soul — Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa. It is of great consolation to know that God knows each hair on my head and loves me unconditionally despite my imperfections, that He is with me in my anguish and confusion.

A substantial amount of research points to the benefits of faith to mitigate symptoms of depression. In a 2013 study, for example, researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, found that belief in God was associated with better treatment outcomes.

Be kind and gentle with yourself.

The stigma attached to depression is still, unfortunately, very thick. Maybe you have one or two people in your life who can offer you the kind of compassion that you deserve. However, until the general public offers persons with mood disorders the same compassion that is conferred on people with breast cancer or any other socially acceptable illness, it is your job to be kind and gentle with yourself. Instead of pushing yourself harder and telling yourself it’s all in your head, you need to speak to yourself as a sensitive, fragile child with a painful wound that is invisible to the world. You need to put your arms around her and love her. Most importantly, you need to believe her suffering and give it validation. In her book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., documents some of the research that demonstrates that self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being.

Reduce your stress.

You don’t want to give into your depression, I get that. You want to do everything on your to-do list and part of tomorrow’s. But pushing yourself is going to worsen your condition. Saying no to responsibilities because your symptoms are flaring up isn’t a defeat. It is act of empowerment.

Stress mucks up all your biological systems, from your thyroid to your digestive tract, making you more vulnerable to mood swings. Rat studies show that stress reduces the brain’s ability to keep itself healthy. In particular, the hippocampus shrinks, impacting short-term memory and learning abilities. Try your best to minimize stress with deep-breathing exercises, muscle-relaxation meditations, and simply saying no to anything you don’t absolutely have to do.

Get regular sleep.

Businessman and author E. Joseph Cossman once said, “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” It is one of the most critical pieces to emotional resiliency. Practicing good sleep hygiene — going to bed at the same time at night and waking up at a regular hour — can be challenging for persons with depression because, according to J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr., M.D., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, that’s when people often feel better. They want to stay up and write or listen to music or work. Do that too many nights, and your lack of sleep becomes the Brussels sprout on the floor of the produce aisle that you trip over. Before you know it, you’re on your back, incapable of doing much of anything.

Although pleasing our circadian rhythm — our body’s internal clock — can feel really boring, remember that consistent, regular sleep is one of the strongest allies in the fight against depression.

Serve others.

Five years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and was profoundly moved by his message that suffering has meaning, especially when we can turn our pain into service of others.

Frankl’s “logotherapy” is based on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. If we devote our time and energy toward finding and pursuing the ultimate meaning of our life, we are able to transcend some of our suffering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. However, the meaning holds our hurt in a context that gives us peace. His chapters expound on Friedrich Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” I have found this to be true in my life. When I turn my gaze outward, I see that suffering is universal, and that relieves some of the sting. The seeds of hope and healing are found in the shared experience of pain.

Look backwards.

Our perspective is, without doubt, skewed during a depressive episode. We view the world from a dark basement of human emotions, interpreting events through the lens of that experience. We are certain that we have always been depressed and are convinced that our future will be chock full of more misery. By looking backwards, I am reminded that my track record for getting through depressive episodes is 100 percent. Sometimes the symptoms didn’t wane for 18 months or more, but I did eventually make my way into the light. I call to mind all those times I persevered through difficulty and emerged to the other side. Sometimes I’ll take out old photos as proof that I wasn’t always sad and panicked.

Take a moment to recall the moments that you are most proud of, where you triumphed over obstacles. Because you will do it again. And then again.

Plan something fun.

Filling my calendar with meaningful events forces me to move forward when I’m stuck in a negative groove. It can be as simple as having coffee with a friend or calling my sister. Maybe it’s signing up for a pottery or cooking class.

If you’re feeling ambitious, plan an adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone. In May, I’m walking Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James, a famous pilgrimage that stretches 778 kilometers from St. Jean Port de Pied in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The anticipation of the trip has fueled me with energy and excitement during a hard stretch of my life.

You need not backpack through Europe, of course, to keep moving forward. Organizing a day trip to a museum or some local art exhibit could serve the same purpose. Just be sure to have something on your calendar other than therapy and work meetings.

Be in nature.

According to Elaine Aron, Ph.D., in her bestseller The Highly Sensitive Person, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population is easily overwhelmed by loud noises, crowds, smells, bright lights, and other stimulation. These types have rich interior lives, but tend to feel things very deeply and absorb people’s emotions. Many people who struggle with chronic depression are highly sensitive. They need a pacifier. Nature serves that purpose.

The water and woods are mine. When I get overstimulated by this Chuck E. Cheese world of ours, I retreat to either the creek down the street or the hiking trail a few miles away. Among the gentle waves of the water or the strong oak trees in the woods, I touch ground and access a stillness that is needed to navigate difficult emotions. Even a few minutes a day provide a sense of calm that helps me to harness panic and depression when they arise.

Connect with other warriors.

Rarely can a person battle chronic depression on her own. She needs a tribe of fellow warriors on the frontline of sanity, remembering her that she is not alone and equipping her with insights with which to persevere.

Five years ago, I felt very discouraged by the lack of understanding and compassion associated with depression so I created two forums: Group Beyond Blue on Facebook and Project Hope & Beyond. I have been humbled by the level of intimacy formed between members of the group. There is power in shared experience. There is hope and healing in knowing we are in this together.

Laugh

You may think there’s nothing funny about your depression or wanting to die. After all, this is a serious, life-threatening condition. However, if you can manage to add a dose of levity to your situation, you’ll find that humor is one of the most powerful tools to fight off hopelessness. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” That’s what laughter does. It lightens the burden of suffering. That’s why nurses use comedy skits in small group sessions in inpatient psychiatric units as part of their healing efforts. Humor forces some much-needed space between you and your pain, providing you a truer perspective of your struggle.

Dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene once said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was sure that the right medication or supplement or acupuncture session would cure my condition. Ten years ago, when nothing seemed to work, I shifted to a philosophy of managing my symptoms versus curing them. Although nothing substantial changed in my recovery, this new attitude made all the difference in the world. I was no longer stuck in the waiting room of my life. I was living to the fullest, as best I could. I was dancing in the rain.

References

Rosmarin, D.H., Bigda-Peyton, J.S., Kertz, S.J., Smith, N., Rauch, S.L., & Björgvinsson, T. (2013). A test of faith in God and treatment: The relationship of belief in God to psychiatric treatment outcomes. Journal of Affective Disorders, 146(3): 441-446. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016503271200599X

Hildebrandt, S. (2012, February 6). How stress can cause depression [blog post]. Retrieved from http://sciencenordic.com/how-stress-can-cause-depression

Frankl, V.E. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Cutchogue, NY: Buccaneer Books.

Aron, E. (1996). The Highly Sensitive Person. New York, NY: Carol Publishing.

12 Ways to Keep Going with Depression

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Welcome to the Bipolar Club

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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One of my best friend’s nephews was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’d been in mental distress for about a year and was self-medicating, so this didn’t come as a surprise to me. In a way, it was a relief because the kid could finally get the right help he needed. I’ve had bipolar disorder since 1991 (and probably before that.) I told my mother that my friend’s nephew was diagnosed.

“Mom, you know Peter’s nephew, Jonathan?”

“Yes,” she said.

“He was diagnosed bipolar.”

“Oh, no!” she said with a horrified look on her face. I might as well have told her that he’d passed away.

I have to say, her reaction surprised me. I didn’t know that she viewed the disease with the angst that she did. But she’s been the mother of a daughter who’s been bipolar for almost 30 years. In many ways, it must be harder to stand by and watch a close loved one go through the roller coaster of this illness than to have it yourself.

18-year-old Jonathan’s diagnosis was certainly no big deal to me. It wasn’t the deal breaker that it appeared to be for my mother.

My friend Peter called me. “Would you talk to Jonathan?” he asked.

“You mean about bipolar disorder?”

“Yes.”

“Sure.”

“You’re the most successful bipolar person I know.”

“Wow, what an honor!”

“No, truly.”

“Well, thank you.”

“You’re more successful than most people I know, never mind the bipolar.”

What could I say? The illness took its toll in years gone by, but today, I was in recovery, had a job, was raising a child, had a good marriage and a freelance writing career, had great friends. I’d finally come into my own. I guess I was a good role model for a newly diagnosed person.

I planned out what I would say to Jonathan.

  1. Take your medication. If you don’t take your meds daily, your life will be shit. (Sorry, about my language, but there’s no better way to say it.)
  2. See a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The psychiatrist will handle the medication, and the psychologist will talk to you and help you cope with this often debilitating disease.
  3. Be careful whom you tell. Not everyone is comfortable with mental disorder. If you spread the word haphazardly, you might lose friends and keep from making new ones.
  4. Don’t mix street drugs and alcohol with your prescription meds.
  5. Plan for your future. Don’t quit school and lie low for a few months or a year. You might never get up. Dig in and get a degree, then a job, then a place to live, etc.
  6. Be happy that they found out what was making you crazy. You’re one of the lucky ones. There’s nothing worse than undiagnosed severe mental health issues.
  7. Rely on your family and true friends for support.
  8. Exercise, exercise, exercise. (This is something that I need to start doing. I don’t always practice what I preach.)
  9. Believe it or not, this malady will make you a strong, better person.
  10. Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t give up.

The above is a list of ten things I’d like to tell Jonathan, but I could go on and on. I think I’ve covered the major issues.

As far as my mother and her horror of Jonathan’s bipolar diagnosis, I have to realize that, again, she’s been experiencing my pain all through my disease process. Now that I’m in recovery, she can display how she feels about bipolar disorder.

I will do my best to help Jonathan. I’ve been down this road before.

It’s not a road I would have chosen, but it’s my road, the road that has characterized my life.

Welcome to the bipolar club, Jonathan. You’ll be fine. You really will. Don’t let the diagnosis get you down.

Welcome to the Bipolar Club

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