Category Archives: Mental illness

Sleep: My Blessing and My Curse

sleep-whats-sleepThere’s no question that, when you’re trying to manage mental illness, sleep is especially important. But there are times when my dastardly sleep cycle plays tricks on me. It makes want to scream “Why me, God! Why me!”

My sleep cycle has been especially haywire lately. Either I can hardly sleep at all, or all I want to do is sleep. There’s almost no in-between. Last night, I got maybe three hours of sleep, even though I was very tired when I turned out the lights. I swear, I did everything I know how to do. I tried getting in comfortable positions, and all that led to was a lot of tossing and turning. I told myself to think calm thoughts. My mind responded by racing. I don’t even remember what the racing thoughts were. I just remember being very, very frustrated. Now, that’s it’s morning, I feel like shit.

I don’t know what to do about it. I thought I had this problem licked a few weeks ago when my doctor adjusted my meds. For a while, I was sleeping normally, which for me, amounts to 6-7 hours a night.

But now, my cycle is off again. And especially when I can’t sleep, my waking hours are so much harder. I’ve tried reading before bed, but all I want to do is read more. A friend of mine has an unusual remedy. He reads, but he deliberately reads things that he has no interest in whatsoever. This does the trick for him. He falls asleep out of boredom — but he falls asleep.

I may try that. Or maybe I’ll move my meditation from the morning to the evening. I don’t know. I just want to be able to count on a good night’s sleep.

Are there any tricks you use to fall asleep (non-med related because God knows I take enough meds as it is, and I don’t want to take more)?

Feel free to share in the comment section.




A new home for my meds, thanks to Shakespeare

Shakespeare pill boxLike just about everyone I know with a mental illness, I have a love/hate relationship with my meds. But now I have something that helps ease some of the hate — this Shakespeare pillbox.

Recently, I went with some good friends to the Yale Center for British Art. While browsing in the gift shop, I found this. I had to have it.

I’ve loved Shakespeare for as long as I can remember, and I’ve loved him even more since being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Now, I can relate to characters like Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth on an even deeper level than I could before. I know what it’s like to feel melancholy and despair.

On the flip side, just the site of this pillbox makes me smile. I look forward to opening it, and I’ve become much less likely to forget taking my meds. So, thank you, Will. You are helping me “to thine own self be true.”


A tough part of mental illness — dealing with other people’s mental illnesses

It’s been a tough week emotionally, and unfortunately, the place that I normally go to for strength — my mental illness support group — became the root of my anxiety.

More accurately, it was someone who had been attending my group — someone with severe anger issues. If someone set her off, she’d yell and swear at the top of her lungs. She’d also throw things. I saw her throw a laptop. She also threw a remote, breaking a window at the hospital building where we hold our meetings. She was also harassing a fellow group member with vicious emails. She swears they weren’t mean, but doctors and security personnel at the hospital didn’t begged to disagree. They were very concerned about the emails — so much so that they ordered extra security for our meetings. Let’s put it this way, when you send emails and you call someone a cunt and a bitch (and those were some of the milder words) it doesn’t exactly win you points.

We had no choice but to kick this woman out of our group. I understand that for some, severe rage is a horrific part of their mental illness. But you can’t be in a support group — a place where we go to listen to one another and of course, support one another — if you yell, swear, throw things, and send harassing emails. You just can’t. I happened to be facilitating the meeting where this woman threw her laptop and the remote. It was quite scary and alarming.

Fortunately, things like this don’t happen very often. I’ve been a mental health group facilitator for about a year now, and this is the first time I’ve had to deal with someone who was so angry and disruptive. I know this woman needs a lot of help, and I hope she gets it. Maybe it’s just that support groups aren’t a good fit for her right now.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this woman. Even with hospital security warning her to stay away, I know she has already called the hospital and demanded that she be allowed to come. The hospital isn’t budging. She can, if she wants, come to the hospital for individual treatment. But she can’t come to our meeting. She cannot compromise the safety of those of us who attend.

After I witnessed this woman’s most recent episode, a friend of mine who attends the group said that I should think about the people I’ve helped; the people whose lives have been changed for the better because they can finally rely on others who know exactly what they’re going through. That was great advice, and it’s been a very comforting thought.

But if I’m going to continue trying to help others with mental illnesses, I must deal with the fact that, at least once in a while, I will come across people who need much more than I can possibly give.

Last night was the first night that the group met since this woman’s latest outburst. I briefly thought of avoiding the meeting. But that would have meant giving into fear. I didn’t want to do that.

I went to our meeting. I found many friends there, and met some new ones. We sat in a circle, talking about meds, frustrations, happy milestones, the good, the bad, and lots of things in between. We were there for each other, just as a support group should be.

Once again, it was the best place for me to be, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.







For Philip, whose battle with life is over

Dear Philip,

I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your memorial service. I really did consider going. But last-minute airfares to Atlanta are ridiculously high (like more than a thousand bucks high) and that just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I’m glad, though, that your friends held the service in a book store. That was so appropriate. So you. The Facebook invite promised “lots of laughs and crazy Philip stories.” I hope there were lots of both.

Speaking of Facebook, I know you’d find it more than a little ironic that Facebook is where I found out you died. I mean, all those times you lamented how social media and technology were robbing us of human connection. But, true to 21st Century grief, your Atlanta friends took to your Facebook page and turned it into a cyber memorial.

The first messages were kind of cryptic. One said “I’ll miss your stories about books and movies. Stay mellow.” What did that mean? I thought maybe you got fired.

But it was something I’d never even heard of — an aortic dissection — that killed you. Even after Googling it, I’m still not sure what an aortic dissection is. But I guess it’s like your aorta just thought “fuck this shit. I’m out.” One of your close friends said you were in pain, but not for very long. I was at least glad to know that.


Philip and I both hated having our pictures taken, so this is the only photo I have with the two of us. It’s from his 30th birthday party. He’s the guy at the far left. I’m in the tan shirt by the presents.


I was also glad to know that your death was not a suicide. After the shock, that was the first thing that popped into my head. It was one of the things you and I had in common — membership in the Failed Attempts Club. I was often worried that you would kill yourself. After all, in the past few years, life sure gave you a lot of reasons. You lost your home to foreclosure, and since your temporary housing was small and didn’t allow pets, you also lost your beloved book collection and your beloved cats, Simon and Schuster. So many times, you told me that if it wasn’t for Simon and Schuster and the books, you would have committed suicide a long time ago. My response was always the same: you had reasons to live, and you knew it.

When I told you about my own suicidal ideations, you didn’t flinch. You related. You were not surprised. I honestly wasn’t shocked when you talked about your past attempts, too.

I guess when you grow up together, there’s a bond that’s always there. Remember how we used to laugh at the name of our apartment complex? It was the Edgewater Terrace Apartments, only it wasn’t at the edge of any water. You used to say that the name was so ironic. I think I learned about the word ironic from you. I’m an only child, but when we were little, I sort of thought of you as a crazy older brother. I mean crazy in a good way. Even when I was little, I knew there was something different about you. While the rest of us kids were Crocodile Rocking to Elton John, you were fiercely loyal to Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.

You were always singing show tunes, but I knew you weren’t happy. I couldn’t blame you. Your mother weighed something like 400 pounds. She and your father always argued. Your sister became rebellious, then became a drug addict. And your home was always filthy. I remember balls of papers strewn all over your living room, and your mother seemed oblivious to it all.

That was a big difference between your mom and my mom. My mom was a neat freak. When we had company, everything was spotless. Still, our moms were best friends. I saw a lot of you. You saw a lot of me.

In fact, you saw much more of me than I realized. You saw through me. Remember your last trip up here to Boston, and that long conversation we had about everything over pastrami sandwiches at the S and S Deli? I told you how abusive my home life was. How I was molested at age 11, and how no one did anything about it because Alex was the grandson of mom’s friend Betty, and mom didn’t want to lose her friend. When I told you all of this, again you didn’t flinch. In fact, you told me how you just knew things were wrong. You heard my mother’s yelling. I don’t remember crying, but you remembered seeing me cry.

At first, I was relieved when you responded this way. Family and friends who lived nowhere near my home told me I was over-reacting. Being dramatic. Making things up. But you — who didn’t live in my home but lived pretty damn close — you knew.

For this, I loved you and hated you. I loved you because you believed me. But I hated you because there were times when even I would tell myself that maybe it wasn’t all that bad and maybe I have a vivid imagination. Your confirmation robbed me of that. Damn you!

I didn’t say this to you, but when you visited me in Boston, I couldn’t wait for you to leave. You were too real for me. Oh, and also, you complained a lot. About the world. About the human race. About the Chinese restaurant that didn’t have a bowl of crispy noodles right there at the table when you sat down. (“How could they not have that! I thought all Chinese restaurants had that!”)

After a few days, I just got tired of all your bitching. But then, when you got back to Atlanta, you called me and thanked me, and you even said this was one of the best trips you’d ever had. I laughed. I realized then that complaining was just your way of dealing with the world. I understood how you’d rather spend time re-reading your favorite classic books than spend time with people. Ruth Rendell, Margaret Mitchell, James Michener, and Harold Robbins (for those times when you just wanted something stylishly trashy.) They were the ones you turned to most. .

Of course, now I miss your complaints. My Facebook feed just isn’t the same without your carping that they don’t make good movies anymore, and that people have become so rude, and that there just aren’t any modern-day authors who know how to tell good stories nowadays. Some people try to hide their depression. You wore yours for everyone to see.

I remember a phone conversation when we both talked about our mothers. We were sure that our mothers both had some form of mental illness. You wondered why they didn’t talk about it. “They couldn’t,” I said. “If they talked about it, they could have been locked up. At least we can talk about it.”

Only now, we can’t. When your sister died a few years ago, you didn’t say that she died. You said she “lost her battle with life.” Those words were just so sad and powerful and raw and honest. You didn’t sugarcoat anything — even in death.

I wouldn’t say that you lost your battle. The last time I talked to you, you seemed pretty content. Well, content for you, anyway. But your battle with life is over.

An aortic dissection. Did you even know what that was? I guess it’s fitting that you died of something unusual. A good old-fashioned heart attack would have been too common for you.

But you don’t have to fight the world anymore. Rest in peace, my friend. If anyone deserves peace, it’s you.

Love, Alan












Lotus quote

Choice: a tricky word for people with mental illness

Last night, I visited one of my best friends. If I told you he was fighting colon cancer, he’d be the first to correct me about that.

As he was reclining on his lounger, watching MSNBC, and doing his best to look comfortable despite two catheters, a deep incision in his abdomen, and his now having to wear Depends, John, almost out of nowhere, says “I don’t see myself as fighting cancer. I see myself as someone with a choice. I can look toward the sun, or I can look away from the sun. I’m looking toward the sun.”

With that, my eyes watered. I couldn’t get what John said out of my mind–especially the word “choice.”

As someone managing chronic depression and anxiety, “choice” is a tricky word, one which can easily cause me to become defensive. That’s because there are still too many people who believe that my illnesses are my “choice,” and that they’d be gone “if I really put my mind to it.”

No, my illnesses are not my choice. But what I do about them, and how I handle them? Well, those are choices.

John also has depression and anxiety. Maybe that’s why, when he saw my eyes water, he continued. “I came so close to ending my life on my own. Maybe that’s why I think about choices the way that I do.”

In an odd way, John’s cancer is giving his mental illness a run for its money. If his mental illness has told him that he wants to die, he now very much wants to live. John still doesn’t know if his cancer is incurable. If he has two more years on this earth, he will be very lucky.

Maybe that’s what makes what he said all the more meaningful to me. I know damn well that there will be days ahead where he’ll find it difficult, if not impossible, to look toward the sun. I know he knows it, too. But, just by being his honest self, John has really inspired me.


The one mental illness stigma I would change if I could wave a magic wand

God knows, there’s so much stigma around mental illness. Sometimes, I don’t know where to start. But if I had a magic wand, and I could only change one false perception, it would be this: the idea that it’s somehow self-destructive, or even a sign of weakness, to take meds for your illness.

Persona che prende una pillola, pastiglia

There are no “magic pills” for mental illness treatment. But the right meds, given with the consultation of your doctor, can be a lifeline.

I hear this resistance all the time, and I get a little angry any time I hear it. For any other type of illness, most people have very little resistance to meds. If you had a heart condition, or diabetes, or cancer, or anything else, you’d want to get treatment for it, wouldn’t you? But somehow, when mental illness is involved, so many react like they’re being asked to drink cyanide.

Here are the three resistance reasons I hear most often.

I don’t want anything affecting my brain or who I am. I think this comes from the very outdated notion that you’ll somehow wind up like a permanent zombie. You won’t. Meds and treatment have become much more advanced nowadays. And I’m not necessarily talking about pharmaceutical meds. There are alternative treatments as well, and the type of treatment you get should be between you and your doctor. But damn it, get treatment! You’ll still be you!

Meds will ruin my creativity. I’ve heard this from quite a few writers, painters, musicians and actors. And it’s complete bullshit. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe people like James Taylor, Carrie Fisher, or Sarah Silverman — people who are quite creative, and who will tell you, from experience, that the right treatment actually OPENS your creativity. If you want to turn your pain into art, great. The world needs more of that. But you’re much more likely to create something great if your brain’s actually running on all cylinders.

I don’t want to deal with the side effects.  This one does have some validity. But only some. Because the truth is, no matter what meds you take, there probably will be some side effects. But a good doctor can help you manage them, and may even be able to adjust your meds in order to reduce side effects.

So, if there’s anyone reading this who is resisting taking meds, please, please at least give them a try, in consultation with your doctor. With the right treatment, so many mental illnesses can be managed.

I’ve learned to become very grateful for my meds. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be without them. I’m much more ME with them than I ever was without them.




The Waltham Review

The Waltham Review: America's Choice in Nanomedia!

Lifestyle Blog: living with fear & anxiety

A Lifestyle Blog and Podcast on Mental Health

Eye Will Not Cry

"Eye Fly High"

Dearest Someone,

writing through chaos

Dear Hope

Mental health advocacy through storytelling and art.

A Narcissist Writes Letters, To Himself

A Hopefully Formerly Depressed Human Vows To Practice Self-Approval

Shirleys Heaven

Mental health advocacy

My Wonderland. Mental Health Blog

Finding normality within Bipolarity. The inner musings of a chemically challenged manic-depressive. Mildly* asocial and a purveyor of awesome.


Healing Truth Artistry

Grief Happens

So Does Joy

I Want To Go To There

A Blog About: Coping with depression, the people and animals I love, and finding the things that make me really fucking happy.

Seth Adam Smith

Faith, family, and reasons to LIVE.

The Elephant in the Room

Writing about my experiences with: depression, anxiety, OCD and Aspergers

Running Heartless

My transformation from Depressed Couch Potato to Disney Runner

The Persistent Platypus

Life's journey may not always be easy, but being true to your unique self and finding laughter in the small things makes the adventure unforgettable!

Caffeine and Salt

Watch your step, I lost my meaning.