Archive for June, 2010

No, what’s YOUR problem?

17/06/2010

Stigma by the Numbers
People with mental illnesses face many battles as they try to cope with the various illnesses trying to take over their lives, not the least of these is the stigma of having to live with something that they have absolutely no control over. Think about how unfair it is to be judged for something that you have nothing to do with: it’s like being called a bad person by virtue of your skin colour or your sex. While we obviously try to not tolerate these prejudices in an ‘enlightened’ society, they nevertheless continue to take place every day. People with mental illnesses face the harsh judgements of people who have medieval understandings of the realities of the illnesses and their treatments.

We see this lack of knowledge when we hear people speak so carelessly about mental illness: how someone is ‘depressed’ because their team lost, or someone has a ‘split-personality’ and must be schizophrenic. What they don’t realize is that true depression is a serious illness that can, if left untreated, lead to death, and that schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with ‘split personalities’; that is a myth perpetuated by bad movies and an ill-informed media.How Misunderstood Mental Illness is in America

When dealing with issues such as suicidal ideation or serious suicidal states it must be made clear that these acts are not done merely to attract the attention of others. When someone only wants the attention of others they will ‘grandstand’, declaring their intentions in such a way as to attract that attention, usually before an actual or serious attempt is made. However, an attempt at suicide, regardless of whether it fails or not, is a call for help that should never be ignored.

Stigma can only be defeated when we answer ignorance with reason, demonstrating that people with mental illnesses have as much to contribute to society as anyone else.

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Adventures in Recovery

14/06/2010

Living with Bipolar Disorder is an ongoing challenge that I have been facing for the past twenty years. The constant mood swings make day to day activities arduous tasks, all for the simple reason that I can never know from one day to the next what my mood will be like at any given time, making advanced planning an exercise in frustration.

Thanks to the care of a very dedicated physician and a team of health care professionals I have learned many strategies for coping with this disease, and a cocktail of medications has also helped to bring my symptoms under control, but the cycling from hypo-mania, agitation, and depression still continues with annoying regularity.

A few years ago I discovered a new form of therapy, an additional treatment protocol to be added to my existing recovery plan that consisted of medications, relaxation exercises, regular appointments with my doctor, and maintaining a healthy diet. This new protocol was simply named Dr Seuss.

Now, before you get the idea that I’m immersing myself in the fantastic stories of Theodore ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel, that’s not the case at all, though that might not be such a bad idea. No, Dr Seuss is my cat, and my therapist. Even as I write this, on paper (my laptop having been temporarily shunned so that he may have full access to my lap) his loaf-like form is stretched out upon me.

My cat therapist, Dr Seuss. Truly, the sweetest thing.

All curled up, he has no idea how much his presence in my life serves as a balm to a troubled spirit; as his unconditional love, supplemented by cat cookies, regular feedings and cleanings of his litter box, go a long way in keeping the darkest moments to a minimum and allowing the light to shine once again.

While there are different therapeutic routes available to someone living with an affective disorder, including medication, CBT, and psychiatric rehabilitation, there is one form of therapy that has recently become part of my recovery plan that has had greater benefits than any other: cat therapy. My cat, Dr Seuss, has become an integral part of my recovery process in ways that I could not have imagined when I first brought him home from the pet store almost three years ago. While I may have provided him a home he has provided me with more than he can ever know.

My recovery began ten years ago when I was diagnosed with the illness I had been living with for over fifteen years; an illness that still causes annoying disruptions to a life that sometimes seems more out of control than in. A combination of medications and regular appointments with my doctor has helped as recovery strategies. I also participated in psycho-education programs for several years, learning to recognize symptoms and learn about goal setting and other coping mechanisms for dealing with mental illness, but none of that has been able to compare with the therapy provided by Dr Seuss.

When I spend even a few short moments in the presence of Dr Seuss, a cat with a gentle spirit unlike any that I have ever encountered in any cat that I’ve ever seen before, I experience a sense of calm and joy that supplants all other emotions. It is impossible for me to feel bad when I am with Dr Seuss, he destroys negative emotions the same way the sun melts ice. If I feel depressed and pet him the dark feelings seem to melt away, flowing out of my hand, sliding off of his slick black and white fur.

Seuss reclining - his favourite pose


There is something transcendent about being in the presence of this gentle creature; even after the worst of days it only takes a few minutes in his presence and I can feel myself calm down in a way that would not have been possible without the use of medications. What is really significant about this ‘pet therapy’ is the way Dr Seuss gets me to stop looking internally all the time. Rather than focusing on my own emotional state I have to make sure that I’m taking care of his needs as well, something that requires me to look externally. Some days it would be very easy to stay home and hide from the world, but if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to go to the pet store and get the necessary supplies that I need for my little friend.

By taking care of a creature that only wants to return my love with love (when he isn’t engaged in his favourite activity, that being sleeping) it becomes possible to see that there are things in life that are more important than the universe centering around the ‘me, myself, and I’. Of course, some may not be ready for such drastic ideas, those being the ones for whom the self is too much to let go of and for whom suffering has become a profession, but that need not concern me for now. Thanks to the help of my little doctor, and the continued work that I’m doing with my other doctor, coping with bipolar disorder has become something that I can see myself living with, something I couldn’t say so easily ten years ago.