Do I have [insert DX here]? The Joy of Mental Health with WebMD

For the Love of Labels

Receiving a diagnosis, even when it’s not considered a “serious” problem and even when it feels like all the disjointed problems are finally explained is not always a relief. There’s something about a healthcare professioImagenal looking you in the eye and saying, “You have [xyz].”

From about age 14 on, I had terrible anxiety and panic. It got to the point where I almost fainted a few times from hyperventilating. So every day in high school, I’d walk through the halls wondering if something was going to set me off, and if it did, would one of the guys in class make fun of me? Would he say, “She’s such a drama queen” or, “Oh, are you going to faint?” and roll his eyes.

It took me about 14 years to accept that I really needed treatment. Even though I had a family history of anxiety and depression, an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a graduate degree in counseling, it still took me that long to even consider getting help. After a week of feeling sick even though I knew nothing was physically wrong with me (I visited the doctor’s office the way the devout visit church) I finally made an appointment to talk about the anxiety. I was tired of worrying about what awful thing was going to happen next or when I was going to have to lie down under my desk and hope none of my co-workers walked by and saw me. (Oh yes, that happened.)

So the day I walked into the doctor’s office, I knew what I had, but even at that, having someone tell me, “You have moderate anxiety and mild depression” made me burst into tears. It’s safe to say that I was especially fragile in that moment, but I also knew I’d crossed a point of no return. I could no longer kid myself into thinking maybe I’d just had too much coffee or that it would pass as soon as things settled down at work, or as soon as my husband got a better job. There was always something else it could be . . . until there wasn’t Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts on Mental Health Awarness Month

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For many obvious reasons, maintaining mental health or coping with mental distress is a private process. The foundation of the therapeutic relationship is based on confidentiality and trust, and I completely support that. The only downside is that all of us go from regular life to therapy appointments without a clue as to the suffering other people endure in silence. Many people feel that if they are seeking therapy or considering therapy it means they are crazy, weak, or selfish. From what I have seen, nobody who has come to see me fits into any of those categories; not even close. Quite often, those of us who get overwhelmed by stressors in our lives are intelligent, generous, strong, and sensitive people, and often the motivation for seeking therapy is, “I don’t want my parents/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend to have to worry about me.”

Also, maybe this isn’t true of other therapists, but I doubt it: in my experience, clients work hard during and between appointments. (If you are considering therapy, that is the key to making progress.) It’s a huge investment of time, energy, and often, money. Plus, unfortunately, going to therapy does carry a certain amount of risk for people. If someone has a job in law enforcement, transportation, politics, medicine, or another area that puts people “under the microscope” they really do need to stop and wonder what will happen if anyone finds out. Sadly, their fears may be valid in certain situations, and the economy isn’t helping. Of course, seeing a therapist and paying cash keeps the insurance companies out of it and keeps it off the books, but not everyone can afford to pay out of pocket for mental health, and I don’t think that pressure ever should exist. From my perspective, calling a therapist and setting up an appointment is often the bravest thing someone can do. Therapy is not always pleasant either.

Sometimes, I feel like I am dumping on therapy by reminding people that some sessions might make you feel worse walking out than you did walking in. If that is what usually happens, you may want to change therapists, but it happens with everyone once in a while. Keep in mind that the idea behind psychotherapy is talking through issues that are troubling you and, in some way, processing the emotions associated with certain beliefs or experiences. Bringing these issues to the surface tends to heighten emotions, and that’s not always going to give you the best feelings. However, if we never feel pain, we can’t feel joy. Sadly, that’s just true. Oftentimes, people believe that depression means being sad all the time. While people who are depressed may be sad all the time, and cry a lot, depression and some cases of PTSD are usually associated with emotional numbing to a certain extent. When pain becomes too overwhelming, our brain “protects” us by limiting access to some of that pain the same way adrenalin temporarily makes it harder to feel physical wounds during a crisis. If you have depression or PTSD, part of the therapy will involve learning to tolerate emotions again, and that means the full range, not just the nice ones.

As we go through Mental Health Awareness Month and into PTSD Awareness Month in June, I’d like to remind anyone who sees this that it’s so important to be kind. We never can tell for sure what someone else is going through, and mental health issues can be the most painful and least visible challenges anyone has to face.

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc

Doing Your Thing With Integrity

medium_10276676424As I write this, I can’t help thinking about that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Andy’s boyfriend tells her he wouldn’t care if she pole danced if she did it with a little integrity. That’s a bit extreme, but I actually decided to revisit this topic because of another movie (also a book to film adaptation) Revolutionary Road. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, the Reader’s Digest version is: a young couple in the 1950s gets married, falls into average young professional life and has a joint crisis in their 30s when they realize they aren’t doing anything “extraordinary” with their lives. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t end well. Now, that’s fiction, but I know a lot of people come to see me because they don’t feel like they are doing what they set out to do, or they’ve been doing what felt right at the time, but it doesn’t feel alright anymore. If you fall into one of those categories (or are concerned that you might someday), take a deep breath and read on. Continue reading

When is it time to part ways with a therapist?

Anyone who has ever been in therapy has probably considered parting ways with his or her therapist at some point. It’s normal. That said, bad therapy can make people feel worse and “undo” progress. So at what point is it a matter of, “We’re working on issues that are unpleasant” versus “I need this person out of my life, like, yesterday?” Continue reading

Are you sure you want to talk about this?

As a counselor, my inclination is to encourage people to talk to me because I want to hear what they have to say. For me, being heard is such an invaluable gift, I want to give that gift to others as much as I can. So much of our experience goes unacknowledged and unmentioned, and usually, those are the experiences we need the most support for. We need someone to bear witness to what happened, if for no other reason, to validate that it was real and acknowledge that everything they felt was real. I want to hear my clients out, and I embrace the opportunity to be there when someone decides that they want to work through something that is hard to talk about. Something else I’ve learned on my journey to trying to be “super counselor” is that readiness is a real thing, and no matter how dedicated, well-trained, lovely or caring your therapist may be, if you aren’t ready to tackle an issue, they can’t do it for you. Before you seek help with a particular problem, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when it comes to what to expect of the therapeutic process. Continue reading

Day 2 – Mindfulness Meditation for the Modern Life

Sheila Singh

As we enter week two, we continue our discovery of mindfulness meditation practices, a discovery rooted in kindness and care.  We discussed the importance of a more clear and stable mind before we enter into the practice of vipassana or insight.  Without both stability and ease, we risk being captivated and identified with the experiences that will arise.  Shamatha allows us to cultivate focus and ease so that we can strengthen our capacity to sit with experience more fully before we begin the task of interpreting it.  To this end, we will continue exploring shamatha practice through the course of the series, even as we begin to peel apart the layers of our experience.

Vipassana practice is where we take a steady lens to skillfully investigate various aspects of our experience.  These aspects are known as the four foundations of mindfulness: physical, emotional, mental and environment.  Often we spend a lot time in our heads…

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