Have you tried? Do you think ___ caused it?

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Butterfly, by w. holcombe

Hello.  My name is Wendy.  I just turned 53 years old and I have chronic illnesses, including Meniere’s Disease.  Unless something amazing happens, they are not going to go away.  Sometimes I feel I need to make this statement before anyone speaks to me.

Recently I was asked a few things about my health.  This was not by people who see me often, or have much knowledge about my illnesses.  This is how I handled a few of the questions, some of it was good, some not so good.

Have you tried yoga?  It can really help your balance.  I used to do yoga regularly until the Meniere’s Disease got so bad and I ended up on my face during a class.  It can only help your balance if you have some to start with!  After having a disease ruin your balance system, yoga isn’t possible.  (ok, this may have been a bit harsh, and some people with Meniere’s may get some help from yoga, I don’t know.  However, anyone as advanced as I am, who has been through Vestibular Therapy and still has balance issues all the time, cannot do yoga.  And if you have had a disease the compromises your balance for as long as I have, do you not think I would have heard about YOGA by now?)  

I heard about these positions you can get in that will make vertigo go away.  Why can’t you just do that?  There are maneuvers you can do to help certain types of vertigo.  However, there are numerous causes for vertigo and what causes mine can not be helped by those maneuvers. (do people think my doctors would just let me suffer  this much if it was so simple to “cure” my vertigo?)

Do you think this could have been caused by all the drugs back when you were younger?  Okay, this one caught me off guard.  I thought, what the heck is she talking about?  I may have experimented a little when I was younger, but she wouldn’t have known that.  I must have looked shocked and said, “nooooo?”  She then explained, “All those psychiatric drugs they put you on.”  I was shocked.  How could someone think that the treatment I received for my mental illness caused me to get chronically ill?  I’m sure I looked shocked when I answered, “No.”  “Well I was thinking….”  I stopped and said, “I know many people with Meniere’s disease and really we have nothing in common except some of us have relatives with the same disease.  They have no idea what causes this.”  “That’s good to hear, I’ve been so worried about it.”  “Well there is no need to worry about that.  The medication I’ve taken for my Bipolar did not cause me to get ill.”   AHHH!

This last question has continued to plague me.  Is this one of the reasons people do not seek help for their mental illness, they are afraid of what side effects the medications may cause?

I have Bipolar I disorder.  I take medication for it.  I also try to keep a good sleep schedule, eat well, keep my stress controlled, and see a therapist…there is a lot more to taking care of yourself  when you have a mental illness than just taking your medication.

I have never been afraid of taking my medication.  Each time my medication is changed my doctor and I talk about it.  We discuss exactly what it is supposed to do, any side effects, if it will react with any other medications I’m on at the time, and if the side effects are worth it.  I don’t just take a medication not knowing what it will do to me.  No one should do that.  If your doctor does not automatically discuss these things with you make sure you ask BEFORE you fill your prescription and start taking a medication you are not familiar with.  I also advise you to read the information the pharmacist gives you about your new medication just in case your doctor forgot something.  It happens, doctors are human too.

I have decided to take a medication even though I knew there was a chance it could cause damage to my thyroid.  It did.  I now have to be on medication for hypothyroidism.  Am I upset that the medication caused this side effect.  No.  I went into this with my eyes wide open.  At the time there were very few medications to treat Bipolar I and I decided the pay off from the drug was worth the side effect that it may cause.  I’m still happy I decided to take that medication and have those years as a stable person.  Truthfully, I would take it again today if that was the only medication that would keep me stable.

I would hate to think that people would not seek out treatment for any illness because they are afraid of the side effects of the medication they might be put on.  Become informed.  Know what the medications will do.  Know how it will help you and the side effects it may cause, you decide if it is the right medication for you.

Many of you may be thinking that there are times that a certain side effect is unknown.  You are right.  There are many stories of someone who took a medication and had a severe reaction.  There are stories of people taking a medication and years later they find out that it hurt them in ways they never knew it could.   These stories are not typical.  We simply can’t live in fear and not be treated because of the “what ifs”.

I can tell you, if I hadn’t been treated for my Bipolar for all these years, my life would be totally different, and not in a good way.  I can almost tell you for certainty that I would not be alive to write this post.  I will never regret taking the medications that helped save my life.

 

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If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  This year the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking everyone to take the pledge to stop the stigma surrounding Mental Illness.  You can do that officially here: Stigma Free. (#stigmafree)

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I think the stigma around mental illness has gotten better over the years, but there is a long way to go.  I saw this great article talking about phrases you shouldn’t say, I think it’s worth the check out.  9 Phrases You Shouldn’t Say During Mental Health Awareness Month.

Here, I want to talk about how differently we treat and think about people with mental illness compared to other illnesses.  For example cancer.  Why cancer?  Because you’d never make fun of someone who has it, you’d never blame them for having it, if the treatment doesn’t work you’d never say they aren’t doing enough, and you’d treat them with respect and compassion.   It is wrong to treat a person with a mental illness differently than you would treat a person with cancer.

A few facts you may not know.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. (Oct. 23, 2015)  – See more at:on the NAMI site.  Learn More Mental Health by the Numbers. 

 

Think about that, when you meet 5 people, chances are one of them has a diagnosable mental illness.  That’s huge!

There are many reasons someone may not get help, one of them is the stigma behind mental illness.  Because of the stigma, they are afraid of how people may react, they are afraid they may lose their jobs, respect from others….   This barrier for treatment has to stop.  People cannot feel embarrassed to go for help.  They cannot be made to feel they need to tough it out, to pull themselves together, to stop being so dramatic…..  We need to acknowledge when someone is having difficulty and let them know you support them.  We must also realize that, just like people with cancer, people with a mental illness may not realize it, they may be afraid of the diagnosis, they may not want to face it…  If we noticed someone we care about feeling or looking sick a lot we would encourage them to see a doctor.   We need to do the same when we see someone who we care about struggling with mental illness.  We need to let everyone know they are cared about and supported.

There are many reasons why people do not get help that have nothing to do with not wanting it or searching for it.  Often people  do not get the care they need because they simply can’t get it.  They don’t have insurance.  They can’t afford it, even with their insurance.  (there are a lot of barriers within the insurance system that keep people from having access to health care, I could write a whole post on just this crisis).  We often think there are public places people can go, “the mental health system will help”.  This is far from true.  There are a lot of hoops one has to go through to get be seen by someone in the system.  Often someone with a mental health issue gets way too overwhelmed to be able to do all of this.  Even when someone is in dire need of help they often have to wait months to see a professional through the mental health system.  Unless a person is “a threat to themselves or others”, it is almost impossible to get in to the mental health system in a timely manner.

These barriers are signs of stigma within the system.  Many people need and want help, but can’t get it because of the barriers.  We have to break down these barriers.  We must break down the stigma that people with mental health deserve less then people who have any other type of illness.

Please take the time to take the pledge to stay Stigma Free.

Read more about Mental Health Awareness Month and find more ways to contribute through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).