Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Like the little engine that could...

It began with the idea that I could.

The very first lesson that I received on the idea of self empowered healing from "mental illness" was during that week in the hospital in September of 2007. (You can listen to this part of my story here on Blog Talk Radio with Michele Rosenthall of Heal My PTSD)

A Note: keep in mind, I had continued to read and study mental health issues for years but had been dismissed by my previous providers when I asked if I could ever live and function on my own, without "meds" and lifelong "talk therapy".

So while I had believed and hoped all the years in this system that I could find my way out of this dark place, like many others, I trusted and believed it when my doctor and therapist told me that this was something to be managed for the rest of my life.

Hint: if anyone is telling you "you can't"...this does 3 things. 1. it puts them in control and 2. it re-enforces that I am incapable and re enforces that false belief of helplessness to change or better my situation and 3. it creates an unhealthy dependency and re enforces that state of perpetual victimhood and hopelessness as we continue to believe that the power to heal lies with someone or something outside of myself. (more on this another time...)

For more information see Michele Rosenthal's post of March 8th 2010 on Knowing when to seek a different kind of help.

I was very literally going through withdrawals from all the medications that I had been dependent on to make it through each day. There had been a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant or two, the pain killers, muscle relaxers...etc).

Over time the medications were changed and dosages increased as my body developed a tolerance to them. I believe it was this tolerance that saved my life but that's another story...

I had become used to not sleeping years before as the racing thoughts and nightmares took their toll on my mind and ultimately my body as it began to break down from lving in the stress response for so many years without relief.

The doctor was asking me how I was sleeping. I told him I wasn't sleeping but that I would stare at something - a light through the crack in the door, a spot in the wallpaper, the frame of the door to make it through the long nights. I said that I was wishing for sleep...but sleep would not come. In other words, I was using dissociation to cope with my insomnia.

In one sentence he said something that changed my life, altered the course of my journey.

"You know that you don't have to go there, you don't have to follow those thoughts."

I was stunned. That had never occured to me before. That I could choose to not follow the racing thoughts?

My mind went back to the first time I told a "mental health professional" that I wasn't sleeping, that I was pacing my house like a caged lion, waiting for an attack from my abusive husband who had been stalking me for the past year. You can read more about my journey into the mental health system here.

The solution I was given was the beginning of my dependence on things outside myself to "fix" me; I was given an antidepressant.

I was told and I believed, trusted blindly the word of the "professionals"; that my brain was now broken and irreparable. That I would need "meds", psychiatrists and a therapist for the rest of my life to "manage" this "illness" that had cropped up out of nowhere.

That night in the hospital I still did not sleep. I knew that in stopping the meds it would take some time for my body and brain to adjust to functioning without drugs in my system. So I was patient.

But I practiced "not following" the racing thoughts, instead creating a picture in my mind where I felt safe and at peace. This is where I would direct my thoughts as I learned to become aware of and redirect the movies, pictures and voices that played out in my mind.

Just as in the beginning I was willing to do anything to get better, to make the nightmares and voices in my head stop, to not be so overreactive to normal everyday life stressors that could send me over the edge - I now had a new hope that I could truly "get better".

I took this one little idea - that I could choose where my thoughts went - and this became the foundation for this new path that I would follow in my journey to find myself and create the life of my choosing that I am living today.

For the rest of my stay in the hospital I did not sleep more that an hour here or there before the nightmares and racing thoughts would wake me and cause me to walk the halls of the psych ward as my body began to adjust to it's new drug free state. In fact it took nearly a year before I slept for more than a few hours at a time without waking.

It has now been 2 years and 6 months since that fateful turn in my life when this doctor told me those words that changed the power structure in my mind and provided me with a new hope that I had the power within myself to calm my mind and find peace.

Today - most nights I can sleep a full 8 or 9 hours uninterrupted. But this doesn't just "happen". It takes a conscious effort to live this new life each day. This doesn't happen just because I "wished" it or wanted it or someone told me to do it, but rather because I make a conscious effort each day to be aware of my whole self; what I'm thinking, what I'm feeling and making a choice as to what I will do with that information in my chosen actions.

"I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can."
— Little Engine That Could

DO NOT STOP YOUR MEDICATIONS ABRUPTLY. There are some serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms when psychiatric medications are discontinued even with tapering off over an extended period of time that can lead to an increase in both emotional instability and cognitive distress. Do your own research; talk to your doctor. Make a plan. But it is very dangerous to attempt to discontinue psychiatric medications abruptly. If you need more information on this topic please visit: www.bipolarblast.wordpress.com for a really great library of info and resources. 

Each of us has our own path to walk. This is my journey. That does not mean it should be yours. My hope is that this blog will provide you some information that will help you to begin to ask your own questions, find your own answers and encourage you to live the life you choose for yourself each day.


Kyla said...

Great post~
I remember back ago yrs,- when i was first dignosed with PTSD, and how my phychatrist said it would be a lifelong thing to deal with, and that only meds could help etc etc..i didn't have a therapist than never have, until this day, but i am working on getting one once i establish a reg doctor to get a referal.
I beleive that, might have helped the meds for me than..cuz i think meds and theraphy should go together to be effective, just my thoughts.
I don't use meds anymore,- didn't like the side effects etc and felt i didn't need them anymore about a yr or so ago.
Apart of me feels like I may need an anxiety med again..but i'm pondering on it until, i have my appt to esablish a reg doctor. I would rather try thing's naturally, since I was on meds alone for quite sometime in past.I love the way you write thing's out, gives me a good thought and, It's nice to know there is someone who is/has dealt with similar thing's<3

Susan said...

Kyla; I think that meds can have their place in this process as a tool. The issue I have is when they are presented as the only option and that it is not possible to live without them.

I'm glad you are able to define what works and doesn't work for you and to find your own power in forging your path in your journey :)

And likewise - it is helpful for me to hear others stories and know that I am not alone in this...hugs!

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