Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Issues Surrounding Psychiatric Medication

Yesterday, Lydia of On The Borderline wrote an interesting piece on the stigma surrounding psychiatric medications and opioids for chronic pain. Today, I am going to add my own two cents to the conversation on meds.

Like Lydia says, many people, including patients, fear that psychiatric medications will change the person taking them, turning them into a zombie. I must say there is some truth to this. However, it’s hard to tell whether the medication is at fault or it’s the person’s illness. For example, as regular readers know, I spent a long time in a psychiatric hospital, including on a long-term care unit. Most people there have severee, treatment-resistant schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Most people who fall into this category were indeed heavily sedated and could be seen as “zombies”. However, the term “zombie” is a rather derogatory term for any human being, mentally ill or not.

When I started medication in 2007, I was indeed afraid of the antipsychotic I got prescribed turning me into a “zombie”. I was on a low dose of an atypical antipsychotic (which seem less sedative than classic antipsychotics) and it didn’t sedate me that much. It did keep me somewhat calmer than I was without medication, though I still felt pretty much as miserable.

This brings me to another issue that I touched upon in my comment on Lydia’s post: medications aren’t there for behavioral management. Okay, that may not be entirely true, in that severely aggressive people may benefit from medication for behavioral management if nothing else works. However, it’s a last resort and care must be taken to assess whether the patient actually feels better or they’re just too drugged up to make their feelings known. In this sense I, being a former long-term psychiatric hospital patient given medication for behavior control, have a different perspective to Lydia. She, after all, seemed to assume in her post that it’s stigma that keeps people from taking medications that could make them feel better.

Not that this didn’t happen in my own case, but in a different respect. I was taught in my years in inpatient psychiatric treatment, that medication is pure behavior control and how I felt didn’t matter. This not only got me to take medications I feel I didn’t need, but it also kept me from getting medications I did need. This is the case with my antidepressant. I was finally diagnosed with recurrent, moderate major depression in 2017 when I sought a second opinion on my diagnosis. I’ve probably been suffering depression off and on since at least age ten, but it was masked by my challenging behavior. Because I with good reason didn’t expect anyone to care about my mood if it wans’t bothering the staff, I was never treated for depression while in the hospital. Finally, earlier this year, I got a psychiatrist’s appointment to discuss my mood and was prescribed a higher dose of my antidepressant. (I had already been put on an antidepressant several years earlier, but don’t ask me why.) It seems to be working now.

Increase in My Antidepressant Dose: Is It Working?

Tomorrow, I will see my psychiatrist for a medication review. Last month, the dose of my citalopram, an SSRI antidepressant, was increased. Do I truly feel it helps?

When I started on the higher dose of citalopram, I had no idea what to expect. I’d originally been prescribed this medication in September of 2010 and had never had its effecacy evaluated. I seem to remember I was put on citalopram after the dose of my Abilify had been increased twice in a few months’ time and I was still very irritable. Abilify is an atypical antipsychotic commonly used for irritability and emotional dysregulation of all kinds. Citalopram is primarily used for depression and anxiety, but it can also help with emotional dysregulation, or so I seem to remember my psychiatrist having said.

Even before I started on my higher dose of citalopram, my mood started to lift a little, possibly because of anticipation. Once I started on the higher dose, my mood remained relatively good for a short time. Things were looking up in the day activities department, so that also helped.

One thing I have clearly been noticing, is that I’m more active. I have less need for sleep during the day. I am also a little more motivated and inspired to get things done. Though I obviously did’t complete the #AtoZChallenge, I did write far more regularly on this blog last month than i’d done in almost two years before.

Another positive that I’ve noticed is that I am more able to keep myself from engaging in self-destructive behavior. I do still have urges, but I’m more able to reach out for help first.

Though these are all very positive changes, I must say that if I’m truly honest, my depressed mood is still the same if not worse. Same for my irritability. I still experience this feeling as though a heavy weight is on my shoulders. I still get agitated very easily. I still experience suicidal thoughts.

Then again, these are most likely more symptoms of emotional regulation issues rather than major depression. Unfortunately, there’s no medication that targets these specifically. I won’t have my first appointment with my new treatment coordinator till the 17th, and I assume we won’t be diving back into dialetical behavior therapy right then. I try to use the skills I’m learning through self-help groups and apps, but it’s all rather hard.

Emotions: Dealing with Emotion Regulation Issues #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 5 in the #AtoZChallenge of random reflections. For my letter E post, I focus on emotions. In this post, I’ll explain what it is like living with emotion regulation issues and how dialectical behavior therapy helps. Both I and my treatment team prefer the term “emotion regulation difficulites” over “borderline personality disorder traits”, as my emotion regulation issues are likely in part due to my autism. Also, borderline personality disorder is very stigmatized. Now I know the solution to that is not to avoid the term, but I do feel I’m not the “classic” borderline.

First, I have difficulty understandign my own emotions. This is called alexithymia and is relatively common in autistic people. I can usually tell whether I’m feeling “good” or “bad”, but not whether “good” is joy or love or “bad” is anger, sadness, etc.

I feel “bad” far more often than I feel “good”. This may be because I suffer with depression too. I however tend not to express my depression as sadness. Rather, I express all “bad” feelings as irritability. Over the years, I have gotten slightly better at knowing when I’m genuinely angry and when it’s another feeling that I express as irritability.

In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the treatment I follow for my emotion regulation difficulties, we learn to counteract emotions by acting opposite to how the emotion “makes” us act. For example, one skill that I’m trying to practice is to half-smile, accepting the situation as it is even if I don’t like it. I initially thought that acting opposite to emotion was acting cheerful whenever a cheerful mood was expected. For example, I’d greet my husband enthusiastically when he’d come home even though I still felt like crap. Now I know that you’re not supposed to “fake it”, but that acting opposite from your initial impulse might help you achieve your goals. For exaple, if I feel like crap and want to stay in my room all the time, it may be more effective if I reach out to my husband instead.

Dialectical behavior therapy also teaches me about the misconceptions about emotions I may have. One of them is that some emotions are just stupid and shouldn’t be felt. Another is that emotions come up for no reason at all. In fact, emotions all happen for a reason and as such have value. Now that I write this, I realize this is the strongest argument against fake cheerfulness. It is important to acknowledge an emotion without judging it, but also without dwelling on it too much. Mindfulness, as such, is the first skill of DBT.

Suddenly I Am

Sometimes, I am the wise woman. Inside, I am a college sophomore, though on the outside, life has moved on. I call myself Clarissa. I can talk up a storm about psychology and psychiatry, arguing that, yes, in fact autistic people can have multiple personalities. It’s a shame people tell me they can’t just because that person’s psychiatrist has told them so. It’s nowhere in the DSM-IV or DSM-5. In fact, autistic people are quite a bit more likely to suffer from trauma-related disorders like this.

Then suddenly, I am that autistic teen. Inside, I am 19-years-old, though on the outside, life has moved on. I call myself Carol. I am not your typical intelligent Aspie. In fact, I am quite severely autistic. I use repetitive language and engage in self-stimulatory behavior all the time. I can barely function at a day activities center for people with severe intellectual disabilities, even though I’m not intellectually disabled. I’m not gifted either, no matter what some people like to believe. I’m just average intellectually, but emotionally, I’m severely impaired.

Then suddenly, I am a little girl. Inside, I’m a shy and scared five-year-old, though on the outside, life has moved on. I call myself Little. By the time I first emerged, it was thought I was the youngest alter. I am not. I can’t breathe sometimes. Sometimes, I have to color inside the lines, and I can’t, because I can’t see very well. I am very scared.

Then suddenly, I am a precocious seven-year-old. Inside, I take care of the baby self (with help from the inner mother figure), though on the outside, life has moved on. I call myself Suzanne. As much as I want to help the baby,I also want my stuffie sheep meh-beh and beh-meh.

Then suddenly, I am that mother figure. Inside, I am 28-years-old, though on the outside, even now life has moved on. I call myself Esther. I sometimes go on Mommy forums as a child advocate, even though in real life, I don’t have any children. I grievethis fact, but don’t let it show.

Then suddenly, I am a childfree woman. Inside, I am 35-years-old, t hough life hasn’t caught up with me yet. I call myself Annemiek. I like to craft and like my childfree life with just my husband and Barry, our cat.

I don’t know whether switching several times a day, like I described above, is common in people with dissociative disorders. I don’t have a diagnosis of a dissociative disorder anymore, after all. To be honest, I don’t care. I have been told, when I write on this blog about my parts, that I’m obviously a really bad case of borderline personality disorder (BPD( trying to fake having dissociative identity disorder (DID). I don’t care. This is my experience and I don’t care what label best describes it.

This is not always how switching happens either. Usually, one of the functional adult parts is out in the body or “in front” about 80% of the time, though it depends which of the functional adult parts is. I didn’t describe either of the two current main fronters in this post.

It is also possible that multiple parts are out in the body at the same time. This can lead to what psychiatrists call identity confusion and also depersonalization and derealization, where you feel as though your body, mind or the world around you is unreal. The switchig I described above is called identity alteration. Then there is amnesia, which is a hallmark syptom of DID we don’t experience that often at all (so I don’t believe we actually have DID).

With this post, I didn’t mean to give you a thorough overview of dissociation. In fact, it was what randomly popped up in my mind when reading today’s prompt on The Daily Post, which is Suddenly. Like I said, I am not claiming that my experience is representative for those with dissociative disorders. It is just a tiny part of my experience, too.

Considering Getting a Psychiatrist’s Appointment on My Depressed Mood

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my community psychiatric nurse (CPN). Part of our appointment will likely be about where to go from here regarding day activities. My CPN already E-mailed me that she’d contacted the Center for Consultation and Expertise. They will hopefully take on my case and help me and my staff assess my needs. That will hopefully help us find a new place or get me the right support at my current place.

I also intend to ask her to get me an appointment with my psychiatrist. I feel too embarrassed to schedule one through the secretary. It’s been 3 1/2 months since my last appointment, so in that sense I could request one just for a catch-up. However, I want to discuss something specific with the psychiatrist and I feel incredibly ashamed of it. I’m finally coming to the conclusion that my depression symptoms are getting worse and to a point where I don’t know how to handle them anymore.

I was more or less by chance diagnosed with major depression last year. This came to light when I had my autism-related independent assessment. I had to fill out a screening tool for depression as part of the intake procedure. I scored as severe on that one. I was then evaluated further and was diagnosed with recurrent moderate depression. Because this was an independent assessment, my psychiatrist isn’t affiliated with this hospital and doesn’t need to take over the diagnosis. I don’t know whether she has.

I do take an antidepressant and have since 2010. Same medication, same dose all these years with no med review whatsoever. I don’t even know for sure why I was put on this medication, except that my Abilify (an antipsychotic) had been increased twice in a few months and I was still irritable.

This is the main reason I feel embarrassed about asking my psychiatrist to evaluate my mood. I mean, irritability bothers other people and ttat’s always been the main reason I was in care. Like, in 2007, when I was admitted to the mental hospital, it was really because of suicidal ideation but my staff always said it was because I’d been having public meltdowns.

I don’t know whether I truly believe that psychiatry’s job is to keep people, or me specifically, from being a pain in other people’s asses. I don’t think it should be. However, I’m rather afraid that my psychiatrist thinks so at least in my case. I’m not exactly sure why, as so far she’s been pretty understanding. I guess they may be left over feelings from all these years being treated like a cumbersome waste of resources.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Cuts to My Day Activities Hours

And again I really didn’t get to write as much as I’d like to have done. The past week was quite busy. I had my first session of movement therapy on Tuesday and a meeting with my nurse on Thursday. Actually, I would’ve had a session with my CPN, but she’s off sick. I was so grateful that my nurse asked whether I wanted an appointment with her instead, as I really needed to talk.

I’ve not been doing well lately. I’m very irritable and easily overloaded. I switch a lot between being completely in my “rational mind” and feeling terribly emotional. I try to use my DBT skills, of course. Not that I’ve come far on the formal DBT course I do with my CPN, but I’ve been doing it by myself. I do an okay job when I’m not overwhelmed, but once overwhelmed, all my skills go out the window.

I mostly find that I can’t handle this huge, gaping split between my (verbal) IQ and my emotional, practical and behavioral functioning. At day activities, this is becoming more and more problematic. The staff are telling me that my irritability upsets the other clients, who are “like a baby” and can’t understand. I tell them that I don’t understand stuff myself, either, but because I’m not intellectually disabled, I should somehow be able to be more capable.

Because I’m too much of a handful, my day activities are being reduced. I won’t get additional home support in exchange. This upsets me greatly. It feels as though, when I need more help the most, I’m punished for it by getting less. Again, the main reason is my IQ, because other people with significant behavioral challenges at my day activities, get more care.

“We don’t do psychiatry.” That’s my day activities staff’s reasoning for cutting my hours when I’m too irritable. The other staff even mentioned finding me another place to go. I don’t know where. I mean, day activities for mentally ill people cater mostly to those with psychotic disorders. I have experience with that and I run into the same crap I get here there. After all, people with schizophrenia can’t help reacting to their voices either.

For clarity’s sake, I’m not saying that people with severe intellectual disabilities or those with actively psychotic schizophrenia should just be able to hold it togehter. I know they can’t, but I can’t always hold it together either.

I know my staff try their best. The staff who decided to cut my day activities hours, got angry when I told her they’re expecting too much out of me. I know she’s never worked with a person of at least average intelligence who still has signiificant sensory issues and challenging behavior. I know the manager probably told her to prioritize her main focus group, ie. those with severe intellectual disabilities. It’s interesting that she refers to the other clients as “the clients”, not “the other clients”, when she talks to me.

However, I can’t keep from being reminded of all the great lengths to which the staff go to accommodate their other clients with challenging behavior. For one person, a staff goes to his group home to provide him day activities one-on-one. Two at my group get several hours of one-on-one too. I don’t ask for that, but I don’t ask for the other extreme, ie. being cut off my hours, either.

Succumb

I often feel like I want to succumb. Especially in the weeks after my first overdose last July, and again now, I find a form of peace and comfort in the thought that I could do it again. Note that I don’t want to die and the fact that apparently I could have died, makes these thoughts scary at the same time. I still envision myself coming out of a possible suicide attempt alive each time. It’s really hard to imagine anything else, as, you know, when I’m dead, there’s no longer me, so nothing to imagine for me. I mean, yes, I sometimes imagine what my funeral will be like, but the very fact that I can imagine it, means I’m alive.

I rationally know, these two times that I did something that could’ve cost me my life, that quite frankly there’s nothing positive about this. I mean, at the end of the day, each time, I still returned to my life as it was before my overdose. I didn’t even want to be taken to the psych unit and there was no need for it either.

How different were these events from my major crisis of 2007? At the time, I didn’t even take any actions that could’ve cost me my life – I just threatened suicide. However, I badly wanted, needed even, to escape the life I was in at the time. This was effective, as I went into the mental hospital and didn’t leave institutional life for almost a decade. Now I’m in the community again and it’s proving hard, but I must say, not as hard as I’d expected it to be. If things had gone as I expected them to, I would’ve been in chronic crisis mode. I’m not now. I don’t make any plans to end it all. Not that I did so back then, but I did run away from my home each day for a week before I finally crashed and threatened suicide.

I don’t know what makes my current thoughts that I can, if I want to, take my life any less serious than the thoughts I had back in 2007. After all, I did have these thoughts for several months following my crisis. Still, they feel less serious now. Is it because now, I don’t dramatically over-express them (unless this blog post counts)? Is it because, other than having these thoughts and being in a pretty depressed mood, I still go about my business as usual? Then again, I did most of the things I had to in 2007 too, up to taking an exam at university three days before being hospitalized.

I think honestly, the difference is that, back then, I was over-emotional, whereas now, I am under-emotional. Back then, I experienced and expressed quite intense emotions, whereas now, if anything at all, I feel numb.

I don’t know whether this is better or worse. I have a feeling that it is less serious, as I’m not emotionally dysregulated like I was back then. I don’t go about having public screaming and crying fits. I barely go about expressing myself at all, unless again this blog post counts. I don’t go about making suicide threats to random people. I don’t even know what I want to avoid or achieve anymore. As such, I don’t make any actual suicide plans, but I don’t know whether I care if I died right now either.

This post is linked up with The Daily Post’s prompt for today: sucuumb.

Self-Destructive

So #Write31Days didn’t work out, but not because I couldn’t be motivated to write. The reason was that, on Wednesday, I landed in crisis, took an overdose of medication and had to be taken to the hospital. I spent the night on the internal medicine ward and was medically cleared the following day. However, it took till around 5PM before I could see the consulting psychiatrist. She was a nice woman. I knew her nurse from the other time I’d taken an overdose last July. Nothing much has yet been decided, as the psychiatrist will speak to my CPN on Monday, but I was cleared to go home.

Today, I want to talk about harmful and self-destructive behavior as it happens in various mental disorders. Particularly, I want to relate it to what I assume are my current diagnoses: autism spectrum disorder and borderline personality disorder. Unlike what many people believe, the reasons for harmful behaviors are not either fully due to autism or fully due to BPD.

In autism, self-injury and aggression are common, but are seen as steretypical behaviors. For example, some autistics hit themselves as a form of self-stimulation. However, there is a common behaviorist phrase that says all behavior is communication. As such, autistics often also engage in self-injurious behavior to communicate pain, overload or frustration.

Here is where the lines between autism and BPD become blurry. After all, unlike what is commonly believed, borderlines don’t self-destruct “for attention” or “to manipulate”. Most self-harm to deal with strong emotions that they perceive as overwhelming. Whether these emotions come from within the person themself (as is often the case in BPD) or from external sources of frustration, may seem to be important, but it isn’t. A situation doesn’t make you self-destruct, after all. It’s each person’s choice, within the limits of their mind’s capacity at that particular point.

The reason I took an overdose on Wednesday, isn’t fully clear to me either. I do remember feeling sensorially overloaded with cold. I tried to warm up by going on the elliptical trainer. After all, I needed my exercise too, as I hadn’t worked out all week. I couldn’t find my sneakers or my sports clothes, so I tried for a bit to work out in my regular clohes, except for my vest. I was shivering though and this overloaded me even more. From that point, I don’t rmemeber much. I was feeling rather unreal, though I must’ve had some awareness of what I was doing, as I retrieved medications from various sources. Once the first pill bottle, which was the easiest to find, was down, I didn’t feel there was a way back.

So is this typical borderline behavior? Yes, in that it’s not stereotyped and was rather purposeful. It certainly wasn’t the stereotypical “cry for help” type of BPD behavior though. I didn’t want to call the out-of-hours GP and I had zero interest in being admitted to a mental hospital. I do think I need some more guidance, but not in the sense of somemone providing me emotional nurture.

In the sense of what caused it, it’s more autistic sensory overload and difficulty handling unexpected situations and frustrations. The help I requested when talking to the consulting psychiatrist was of such nature: I need some practical guidance on getting more structure in my day and dealing with unexpected situations. It may be my home support worker could provide this, or I may need my nurse from the assertive community treatment team for this. I also remember just now having discussed with my nurse a prescription phone call. This means that you can call (usually I think a max number of times a week or month) to a psych unit for support if you’re about to go into crisis. I will ask my CPN about this.

Psychiatric Diagnoses I’ve Been Given

I just checked out the “30 days of mental illness awareness” challenge and was inspired to write a timeline of my mental health. Then I realized I already wrote it in 2015. Another question in the 30-day challenge though is what you’re currently diagnosed with. Seriously, I don’t know what exactly my current diagnosis is. I know what the university hospital psychologist diagnosed me with, but I am not sure the psychiatrist at my current community treatment team agrees.

I’ve had a lot of diagnoses in the past. I’ve had even more suggested diagnoses that never made it into my file. Today, I will write a list of the diagnoses I’ve had. I will comment on them too.

1. Autism spectrum disorder. I was first diagnosed with this twice in 2007, then again in 2010. I lost my diagnosis in 2016 and was rediagnosed in 2017. This is the only diagnosis I’m pretty sure of that I agree with 100%. It’s the only diagnosis that I’ve been given through a proper evaluation (several, in fact).

2. Adjustment disorder. This was my diagnosis upon admission to the mental hospital in 2007. I didn’t meet the criteria for depression or any other serious mental health condition but needed care anyway. I was at the time fine with that diagnosis and think the crisis team psychiatrist who made it, did a pretty good job of assessing me.

3. Impulse control disorder NOS. I was never told why I got this diagnosis. I just found it on my treatment plan in May 2008. Probably, it was a replacement for the adjustment disorder, which you can only have for six months once the stressor that caused it goes away. I never agreed with this diagnosis and didn’t really take it all that seriously.

4. Dissociative identity disorder. This was diagnosed in November of 2010 and was probably the most controversial diagnosis I’ve ever had. I wasn’t properly assessed for it and my psychologist at the time took what I told her almost at face value. I never believed deep down that I met the full criteria for this. I mean, yes I do have alters and I do have pretty bad dissociative symptoms sometimes, but amnesia is the exception. I find this terribly hard to admit but I do have to acknowledge this diagnosis was in part based on (self-)suggestion. I do believe, like I said, that I have some dissociative symptoms.

5. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I got this diagnosis together with the DID. I don’t really know why. I mean, yes, I did (and still do) have some symptoms, but I’m not sure I have nough and I never reported more than I actually had. I did get some assessment for this. I do currently believe I definitely do have some PTSD symptoms, particularly complex PTSD symptoms. Then again, there is a lot of overlap with borderline personality disorder traits.

6. Borderline personality disorder. This was diagnosed in 2013 and replaced DID and PTSD. It was later “downgraded” to BPD traits. I do agree I have BPD traits, but I am more the quiet borderline type.

7. Dependent personality disorder. I was given this diagnosis in 2016. Never quite agreed with it, except in the sense that I could be led to believe I had every disorder that was ever suggested to me.

8. Depression. This was diagnosed in 2017 by the university hospital psychologist. I had previously been diagnosed with depressive disorder NOS, but that, according to my psychologist, was only because a diagnosis on axis I (anything other than a personality disorder) is required for treatment. I admit I was pretty badly depressed in the months that I had my assessment at the university hospital, but am not sure it was bad enough for a diagnosis. I mean, I didn’t meet the criteria in 2007, so how could I meet them in 2017? I’m assuming my current psychiatrist removed that diagnosis.

Just One Thing

Last week, I started a journal-style blog to explore my inner world. As usual, I didn’t write in it much at all, so I’m resorting back to this blog. The reason I wanted another blog is because of the derogatory comments I’ve gotten here regarding my dissociation. No, I don’t have a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder anymore and no, I don’t claim to be DID. I do however have insiders, parts, alters or however you’d like to call them. I don’t care what people think of this, or at least, I try not to care. To reclaim myself and my experience, here I’m sharing a post I wrote last week.

Manyofus1980 from Therapy Bits posed an interesting question: if the world could understand just one thing about your mental health diagnosis, what would it be? In the post title, the question is about your “mental illness” rather than your “diagosis”. This is important to my answer, as my short answer is: my diagnosis does not dictate my experience.

I have had countless diagnoses over the years, some of which I agreed with and some of which I disputed. I don’t even know what my current diagnosis is according to my community treatment team. According to the university hospital where I got a second opinion last spring, it’s autism spectrum disorder, recurrent moderate depression and borderline personality disorder traits. Of this, I doubt the depression, because my default mood is low. Then again, I do seem to remember feeling much lower than low in the months that I had my assessment at this hospital. The thing is, I can’t usually connect my feelings from the past to the present if they’re very different.

We didn’t really go into my trauma experience, as my assessment was primarily focused on autism. However, the university hospital psychologist did recommend I get EMDR treatment for the negative experiences I had in the process of moving towards independence. I have not had a trauma-based diagnosis since 2013 and that’s fine by me. I don’t need a diagnosis to justify my experience.

I am who I am. We are who we are. We don’t fit in a diagnostic box, because, well, we’re we.

Sometimes, we feel upset that we don’t get recognition from our treatment team (as far as we know) for our traumatic and post-traumatic experiences. I had a lot of difficulty answering my psychiatrist’s questions about this during my intake interview. I mean, most of the trauma we endured, didn’t leave visible wounds. I know that dissociation can be caused by attachment issues, sometimes even too mild to create PTSD. However, there is still a common belief that only prolonged sexual or ritual abuse can create alter parts. I try not to care. We are we are we, so deal with it.