Psych Ward – Day 5 – Bedtime

Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy)

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Sleep eluded me. Up and down. Up and down. I walked the full length of the hamster cage again and again and again watching the hour hand on the clock edge toward midnight. From one set of locked double doors past the men’s rooms on one side, around the curved employee desk, down the women’s rooms past my room by the other set of locked double doors. Back to bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for a three-inch mattress on a plastic bed frame bolted to the floor. Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy) and then finally surrendered.

I walked to the nurse’s station. “Hi Dana, what can I do for you?” It was the kind nurse, the new one – the one who didn’t give me the false smile that faded as soon as she turned away and the cheery Kindergarten teacher voice. No, this nurse was an angel.  “I need something to help me sleep.”

This request was rare for me. I hate taking medication. But this time, the benefit outweighed the risk.

I hadn’t slept well since admission. Who knows why? The psych ward brought with it a state of constant alertness. It could have been a side effect of the new medication. It could have been that I was missing my children. It could have been the fact that I was locked in what was essentially a large room with people with known anger issues, and I was sleeping in a room that didn’t lock with a complete stranger who snored like a chainsaw felling a forest. It could have been the knowledge that I was being watched and assessed constantly as they tracked how much I ate and how much I slept. Who knows?

She smiled, scanned my armband, and handed me a pill. I winced and asked her if she had 80 more back there. I was only kind of joking. It’s the kind of thing you are not supposed to say in the psych ward. She frowned, shook her head, and said, “I have them, but I’m not going to give them to you.” She cared. I could see that she cared. She leaned over the half door, looked straight into my eyes and then through them into my soul, and implored, “Dana, hold on to what is real.”

This woman was the first person that I met who was invested. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who worked there were kind and dedicated to their jobs. But this woman was different. This nurse made eye contact and talked not like she was trying to pass the time, but like she was trying to help. I at once had a glimpse of what mental health care should or could look like if the perception were different. If instead of treating disorders, we treated people.

My eyes were dry, but inside I wept the tears I could not shed. I swallowed the pill. Back in bed, sleep came quickly. It was the sleep of the dead: dreamless and empty.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Crazy Pills

Please don’t be afraid.

Disclaimer: If you are considering starting or currently taking prescribed psychiatric medications, please READ TO THE END. Also, I’m not a doctor. This is personal opinion, not medical advice. Please consult a doctor if you feel you may need help.


Every day I think about going off my medication. Every. Single. Day. That’s crazy. I know it is. I won’t do it. And yet this very real, very strong temptation is ever present.

There are a number of reason why it is hard to stay on antidepressants. These don’t all apply in my case, but I’ve had a number of people ask why it is so tempting not to adhere to the recommended dosage schedule, so here are some pros and cons to taking antidepressants:

THE CONS

It’s a pain.

As with any daily medication, it becomes so routine that it is easy to forget. And as your brain chemistry normalizes after you have been taking them for a while, and you start to feel normal, it becomes hard to remember why you ever started taking them in the first place. You’re healed, right?

Negative side effects.

Each medication comes with a comprehensive list of possible side effects ranging from barely noticeable to bad. These effects vary from medication to medication, from person to person, and from dose to dose. You may have several, or you may not have any. Sometimes you have to weigh the positive against the potential negative and choose which one you can live with. My choice was life or death, so it was an easy choice for me. But there are a ton of options out there so if one medication doesn’t work, there are plenty more to try.

It makes you feel weak.

There is this thing about your brain that you cannot control or fix on your own. That is a difficult thing to accept. You feel like your mind has betrayed you. The part of you that defines you is malfunctioning and you have to rely on medication to balance you out.

It is different (not necessarily harder) than physical disorders because all of the other organs feel like ancillaries to the “headquarter” of the brain. They are all important, but the brain is what defines who you are. If it doesn’t work, if it breaks, then who are you?

You worry people will think you are crazy.

Or broken. Or both. Mental health disorders are still not very well understood. They’re just not. I mean it makes sense that you can have a chemical imbalance in your brain that would affect how it functions. Your brain is an organ just like any other organ. But the concept of not having complete control over every aspect of the mind is a terrifying possibility.

I think many people are afraid to acknowledge the reality of mental disorders because these disorders do not discriminate. That means that anyone could develop one at any time. It’s easier to discount them as a fraud because then you never have to worry about having one. But it also makes getting treatment more difficult because of the perceptions of others.

You are afraid of the unknown.

As bad as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia and other mental health disorders are, when you have lived with them for as long as many of us have, they become your normal. It is human nature to prefer the known to the unknown. And it is terrifying to imagine yourself or your life being different.

What if the medication just masks the real me? What if it changes my personality? What if people like the medicated me way more than the non-medicated me? Which one is the real me? What if antidepressants make me a zombie? 

THE PROS

When you find the right ones they really do help. 

I let fear prevent me from taking medication for my depression for far too long. I wish that I hadn’t. I wish that I had those years back. I wish that I could have been as balanced as I am now. I wish that I had some of the confidence that I have now. If you are considering going to a doctor and seeking out medication, please don’t be afraid. It may take some time to find the right medication, but I can honestly say that it’s worth it.

I need them.

I may wish that I didn’t, but my brain needs medication to work right. I hate taking medication in general, but when I’m sick (which I am) and my body needs it (which it does), then I do it.

They make you stronger.

Being on medication has had the opposite effect that I thought it would. I was afraid that it would change my personality. But if anything, I feel more like myself, more at home in my skin than I did before I started taking them. I can’t guarantee that that will be the case for everyone, but I can offer the hope that it is possible.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

If you are hurting, please don’t let fear stop you from asking for the help you need. It will get better.

If you are in crisis, please call 911 (US) or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255. If you are in another country, please call the corresponding emergency number for your country.

As with all of my posts, please share this if you think it might help someone you know.

Darkness

Hold on to what is real. Don’t let the darkness steal it from you.

It’s dark outside where I am right now. Dark. Quiet. My husband is snoring gently beside me. My babies are tucked in snuggly across the hall (well, one of them’s a toddler so she could well have kicked every one of her blankets off onto the floor by now, and could be hanging halfway off of her toddler bed, but I’m not crazy enough to go in and check because if I wake her, she’ll hop up and beg to watch “Super Why”). This is the nice kind of darkness.

There is a cruel kind of darkness. The kind that saps your energy on a night when the baby is sick and all he wants is you; the kind that tries to devour you when you are laying in bed anxious with worry about the Santa’s-list-length codex of responsibilities that await you in the morning; the kind that slinks around waiting to envelop you when you miss someone so much, but you try to ignore the ache because you still have to function; the kind that whispers in your ear that you are weak, small, and worthless, that life is not worth living, that it will never get better, that happiness is a shoe that will never fit you even if you could afford to buy it.

That kind of darkness is cruel because it tries to make you forget what is real. Here is a little reminder: You are powerful. You are incredible. You are strong. You have flaws and faults, but so does every truly beautiful thing. You give so much of yourself. You empty out your cup each day to fill others. You are practically a force of nature. Hold on to what is real. Don’t let the darkness steal it from you. That darkness – that cruel darkness – is just jealous of your brilliance.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

Rebuilding from the Inside Out

I had a date set for demolition. I had the wrecking ball on-site, engine on, and ball pulled back taut ready to release, but then a friend stepped in and canceled the demolition. And most days I’m glad she did.

I’m feeling wholly uninspired today. Kind of empty. But sometimes empty is good, I guess. I don’t have the vicious depression harpies swirling around my amygdala today (although I can hear their snarls as I sit here anticipating their return). It is a novel kind of fear as I realize that I don’t know who I am without them. They have been my constant companions for so long.

I don’t remember letting them devour me. But I suppose they have been taking ant-sized nibbles of my self-worth for years, while at the same time screaming so loud to distract me that I never noticed.

I would say that I feel like a blank canvas with the promise of a fresh start . . .

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But I don’t.

That would erase all of the hard, painful, stressful, agonizing, beautiful moments where I fought and lost and learned.

I am a charred shell of my former self, like a building that has burned from the inside out. That’s why suicide was so tempting. What is the point of keeping the walls up, when there is nothing left inside? It no longer has value for its intended purpose. It makes the most sense to just demolish it and let something else take its place.

But I cannot. I have too much left to do. Trust me, I had a date set for demolition. I had the wrecking ball on-site, engine on, and ball pulled back taut ready to release, but then a friend stepped in and canceled the demolition. And most days I’m glad she did.

She could see potential there, in that scorched husk of a building, that I still have trouble seeing. So do my husband and my friends and my doctors and my therapist; They see worth in me even when I feel like my value is gone.

Someday I dream of being rebuilt from the bottom up, from the inside out: with a solid foundation, new walls, floors, and ceilings. Someday I hope to be beautiful, and useful, and strong. Someday I hope to be fully dedicated to the service and strengthening of others. And until that day, I have to stay standing even if I have to rely on others to hold me up.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

Love and the Nuclear Baby Blues

When affection was incinerated by the nuclear warhead of depression, love was the crusty, undead, radioactive cockroach that emerged from the nuclear wasteland that was my heart and pulled me through the rebuilding process.

Imagine the anticipation of bringing a new life into the world – an entirely new being with a unique spirit, face, and personality. It is supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life. Pregnant friends around you are brimming over with anticipation and effervescing with joy. In many ways, it is viewed as a community event. Complete strangers start awkward conversations about family planning, share birthing horror stories with you, and try to touch your belly. Everyone talks to you about how excited they are for you. People throw you parties and buy you things.

Except you are not excited. Or happy. You are empty. You try to fake it. You really do try. You plaster a grimace on your face hoping it will pass for a smile. You nod your head when they ask you if you are excited. They talk to you about when the baby comes and you mumble something about baby snuggles and then waddle away as quickly as possible, hoping they don’t notice anything.

One of the most agonizing symptoms of my post-partum depression (that unfortunately began before my son was even born) was the annihilation of affection for my husband and children. It was just gone. Poof.

 

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The post-apocalyptic wasteland of my post-partum depressed brain

 

It was wretched.

The guilt, shame, and embarrassment that I felt (and still feel at times) that I no longer felt anything for them was an angry monster in the Post-partum Apocalypse threatening to destroy me. That monster dragged me to the very edge of life and tried to kill me.

I had made two nearly fatal mistakes. First, I mislabeled love a “feeling.” And since depression rendered me emotionally numb, I thought my love was gone. The idea of love as a feeling is dangerous. Feelings come and go. Feelings are transient. Feelings are inconstant. Love was never intended to be that. Love is a decision and once that decision has been made, it is intended to be permanent.

Second, I equated affection with love. They are not the same. They are just not. Affection is the bonus prize that may or may not come when we want it to, but that affection is not love. If it was, then any wind of change, any negative turn of events, any impediment could destroy it. Love is not affection. Love is work: Long, hard, exhausting, repetitive, often thankless work. My affection for my family was gone, but not a day passed in my time as a wife and a mother when I did not love my husband and our children.

I loved my infant son every time I fed him.

I loved him every time I forced myself to hold him or talk to him or smile at him.

I loved him through every exploded diaper change, every projectile vomiting episode, every late night feeding.

I loved him even when I felt nothing.

For me real love is going to the psych ward, taking my meds even though I don’t want to, going to therapy and talking about feelings. Real love is diaper changes that smell like raw sewage, and peekaboo for the 1,000,000th time, and late night bottles prepared through puffy, bleary eyes.

Love is what saved me from that guilt-shame-embarrassment monster who would have destroyed me. Love was the anchor that kept me tethered to life. Please do not underestimate the power of that love. Real love doesn’t just disappear when times get hard or even when your brain breaks. Real love endures.

Don’t get me wrong, affection feels great and losing it for a time was a miserable experience. But post-partum depression taught me that love is much more permanent, much more durable than I ever gave it credit for. When affection was incinerated by the nuclear warhead of depression, love was the crusty, undead, radioactive cockroach that emerged from the nuclear wasteland that was my heart and pulled me through the rebuilding process.

My heart overflows with gratitude every day that love is an action and not a feeling. On those days when I’m just not feeling it, that’s okay. The love is still there. Not even depression can kill that little cockroach. So if you are like me and some days or weeks or months the affection is gone, feed the love. Have faith, keep working, keep loving. The affection will come back eventually, and the love will be all the stronger.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

And There Was Light

When a friend tells you that they are hopeless, or a burden, or depressed, ask the question. Ask that scary question that you wonder but are too afraid to put a voice to.

Some days it is hard not to lose faith that I can beat depression. According to my psychiatrist, I am a “special case,” meaning difficult to treat. I have bad reactions to many of the more common medications. I am fighting a hard battle.

I started the antipsychotic in the hopes that it would help me. It is a difficult concept to fathom that something that is intended to help you, could bring you so low – so close to the brink. Yet I once again find myself perilously close to giving in.

I live near the edge on an almost daily basis, standing so close to the chasm peering over at the darkness beyond that I wonder if it is really worth it to keep fighting. If it wouldn’t just be better to give up and tumble in. The ups and downs, the rude reversals, sap my strength and swallow my hope. Just at the moment that I rise again, my depression drives me back down in knee-buckling submission.

But there is hope.

Always.

I find it in the love and compassion of countless others: sometimes family, sometimes friends, sometimes complete strangers who give me just enough light in the darkness to keep moving forward for one more day.

I used to see others in aggregate. Now I see the kindness in the eyes of a physician who validates my pain and fights by my side. I see concern in a simple text from a friend asking about how my doctor’s appointment went. I see the love in a message from a stranger, and increased calls from a busy sister, just because.

These lights, the stars in my firmament, have always been there. But when my days were light I would struggle to see them. They would often shine unnoticed. Now when I stand in so much darkness, I can finally see them clearly for what they are: tiny suns, giving me light, when I feel like mine has gone out.

Never underestimate the power that you have to be that light for others.

A friend told me today of another friend she knows who is struggling. Worry creased her face as she described this friend’s troubles. She wondered what she should be doing or could be doing that she isn’t doing.

My friend is love. She is gentleness. She is kindness. I struggled to give her a good answer because I don’t think there is a right answer. But here is what I would say if I had a second chance.

When a friend tells you that they are hopeless, or a burden, or depressed, ask the question. Ask that scary question that you wonder but are too afraid to put a voice to. Ask them if they have thought about suicide. Say the words. Do not let them go unsaid. You may save their life.

When a friend comes to you and shares their darkest thoughts, they are telling you that a part of them wants to live. Feed that part of them.

When you don’t know what else to say, tell them that you care about them. Tell them that you value them. Tell them that you want them around. Tell them that you need them. Tell them that their presence is not a burden. Tell them you love them and the world would be less without them. Tell them that as hard as life may be for them right now and as weak as they may feel that they can hang on for one more minute or hour or day. Talk to them. Be with them. Stay with them. Be a light in their darkness. Sometimes that light is the only one that gets through.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

 

 

Psycho?

Which is scarier? Actually being crazy, taking pills that label you as crazy, or writing about it to the entire world.

Which is scarier? Actually being crazy, taking pills that label you as crazy, or writing about it to the entire world. It’s a hard decision. They are all awful.

Let me explain with a little bit of my history. I’ve had depression since middle school. But I avoided receiving treatment for depression because, in my mind, a diagnosis meant that I definitely had depression and at least if I wasn’t diagnosed, I would have plausible deniability if anyone asked. Is that logical? No, it’s stupid, but would you want everyone to think you are crazy? Yeah, I thought so.

I was moseying along relatively well until postpartum depression knocked my legs out from under me. This was a humbling experience that brought me to the point where I was willing to try medication. I assumed that that meant antidepressants, and while I was not thrilled at the prospect, I decided that I would take them if they would help.

Thus the medication waltz began. I danced with different partners for months at a time only to have them step on my toes again and again and again. We would draw from further afield each time a medication stopped working. This took months of trial and error until we finally found one that worked consistently.

But this medication didn’t fix everything. I started noticing that although it helped my mood tremendously, there were some other symptoms that my antidepressant left untouched. That is when my doctor started using the word adjunct. Adjunct medication is an additional medication used to treat the symptoms that the first medication left untreated.

And then, much to my chagrin, she said the dreaded word that I had hoped never to hear in the context of my personal care – antipsychotic. Who, in hearing this word, would not panic and run in the other direction? I mean really. Antipsychotic. Anti. Psychotic. No matter how many times you say it, it never sounds better.

There it is, I thought, definitive proof that I’m crazy. Nuts. Cuckoo. Bonkers. I have a screw loose. I’m wackadoodle. I’m one card short of a deck. One spoke short of a wheel. One apple short of a bushel. One monkey short of a barrel . . . Okay, I’ll stop.

Anyway, it was hard to come to terms with needing an antipsychotic to manage my mental health. My doctor was very clear when she told me that I’m not psychotic, that in low doses this medication is used regularly as a “mood stabilizer” to treat depression. This offered scant comfort.

I told a friend about this new development and my friend, who is much wiser than I am, told me not to get hung up on the labels. This inspired me more than she probably thought it would. Who cares about labels? On medication. On diseases. On disorders. Who cares? Your eye drops for glaucoma or your cholesterol meds, your insulin for diabetes or your albuterol for asthma, your chemotherapy for cancer or your nitroglycerin for heart failure? Do the medications you take define who you are? Does your illness define who you are?

Even if I was psychotic, which I’m not, why should there ever be shame associated with treating my psychosis? Why should there be any more shame than treating any other disease or disorder of the blood, muscle, mind or heart?

My depression does not define who I am, and neither do the medications I take. Depression is certainly a part of me, even though I wish every day that it wasn’t. It is a considerable burden, but it is still only a tiny portion of who I am.

Mental illnesses are enough of a burden without the stigma, without the labels, without the misinformation. They are a sufficiently heavy load to carry by themselves, I promise.