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When Death Shakes Your Own Soul November 9, 2016

Filed under: Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:00 pm
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Yesterday Craig and I attended the funeral of a 48 year old man. We weren’t super close to him, but he made a significant impact on Craig and we are both better people for having known his kindness.

Despite not knowing him well, his death has hit me hard. You see, he struggled with his mental health. On several occasions, his wife and I would have impromptu group therapy sessions in the grocery store or wherever we happened to run into each other, because being married to someone with a mental illness is hard. Though they had different diagnoses, it was similar enough to feel safe talking about it with each other.

So as I thought about this particular death, I knew it could just as easily have been Craig’s funeral. The thing that people don’t like to acknowledge out loud in front of other people is that mental illness can be a terminal illness. Whether a person takes their own life because the pain inside has become overwhelming, or they do something utterly stupid in the throes of a delusion, death is not uncommon. It can feel like it is waiting at the periphery of our lives on a daily basis, looking for an opportunity to snatch away our loved ones.

Those of us married to people like Craig find ourselves wondering if treatment will be accepted. Then we wonder if it will be effective. It’s not always effective. The man who was buried yesterday fought valiantly for his sanity. He loved his family deeply. I doubt he wanted to hurt them with his exit from this life. When my friend was presented with the flags involved in the military ceremony, I heard her weep. My heart wept with her. I can only imagine her pain right now. I hope to never feel it for myself. But I’m not counting on it.

Craig fights every day. Still, there are days that I wonder if he’ll arrive home safely after he goes out. There are days I wonder if I’ll arrive home to him still in one piece and the house safe from a kitchen fire. There have even been days that I wished it would be over so that I could stop wondering. Those are the most terrifying days and the ones no one wants to acknowledge.

Today I still have my husband. Today I will tell him I love him because I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to tell him tomorrow.

*Note: I don’t wish to ignore or minimize the impact of mental illness on the lives of other family members. But my experience is that of a spouse, so that is my focus today.*

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Ready to Live Again October 23, 2014

Filed under: Personal Growth,Uncategorized — Meghan Hamilton @ 2:30 am
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depression_by_thirsty5

Depression Sucks.  Not just metaphorically.  I mean it sucks the life right out of you.  It slows every process in your body down.  Was mine major?  Nope.  But it has certainly interfered with my life and continues to try.  I’m beating it back though.  Most days are good.  But it’s always there, lurking and waiting to rear its ugly head.

But, Meghan, you don’t seem sad.  You have a lot going for you.  How can you be depressed?

It’s a sickness of the brain.  Like any mental illness, my neurons don’t always fire the way God designed them to.  So, in my case, my thoughts are slowed somewhat, but mostly still there and just fine.  My body lags.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to get a shower and make sure that Alex is where he needs to be and has some sort of food in his growing body.

Write?  Nope.  Too hard.

Clean?  Too hard.

Answer the phone?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Maybe a text, but no promises.

My “to do list” is rarely very long.  But Depression will put up a brick wall between my organized self and my ability to get off my butt and get it done.  How do I get this wall out of the way?  For me, St. John’s Wort is very effective.  But like anything, you have to actually take it for it to help.  A number of years ago, I saw a therapist when I realized Depression wouldn’t go away on its own.  My health insurance was crappy and a number of respectable studies had come out saying that St. John’s Wort was actually effective for mild to moderate depression.  She told me to try it, as it would be cheaper than a formal prescription.  If it didn’t work, she’d prescribe something stronger.  It worked.  I was on Prozac for a while after Alex was born.  That worked too, but it made me feel flat, rather than reconnecting my head to my body the way St. John’s Wort does.

Anyway, it works for me as long as I take it religiously.  For several years I didn’t.  And I slid down that hill of disconnection and crankiness.  Life circumstances didn’t help either.  Craig has been hospitalized twice in that time period.  The first one was a nightmare of a time in our lives.  He’d done everything right by taking meds and going to his appointments, but the NP didn’t seem to get that things were going very very badly.  The last time was much better.  The new NP understood immediately that Craig needed a change and called for an ambulance before it was a big problem.

Raising a child isn’t easy.  Raising a child with a man who can’t work and Depression trying to tell me I can’t work either, is even harder.

Now?  Now, I’m moving again.  My home is less trashed.  My family is often fed healthier meals. Business is moving again.

Hmm.  Funny how treating an illness actually can make it better rather than ignoring it.  I’m done letting it suck the life out of me.  I’m ready to live again.

sunshine1

 

Mental Health Awareness Month May 6, 2012

It seems like there is a day or a month to make us aware of all sorts of things.  May has been proclaimed Mental Health Awareness Month.   If you have been following my blog or have known me for more than five minutes, you probably know that my husband has Bipolar Disorder.  Thus, I am all to well aware of mental illness. 

If you want to find out specifically about him, browse through old posts.  If you want to find out more specifically about Bipolar, use Google or any search engine you prefer.  Today I would like to talk about mental health in general terms and my observations about how people view it.

If you read my post about jury duty and you know my life with my husband, you may wonder why I didn’t find in favor of the plaintiff when she came to court seeking compensation for emotional damages.  The fact of the matter is, she did not prove to us that she suffered unduly and the defendant’s actions did not fulfil the legal requirements to be made to pay.

Do I discount anxiety or emotional strain as being “in her head?”  No.  These are very real things.  They are very real mental disorders and illnesses.  I see my husband’s anxieties play out almost daily.  I see other people struggle with anxiety.  I have seen and known sleeplessness and felt my own stomach knot up with worry and fear.  These things should be recognized by our legal system and by our society as very real illnesses just as a broken bone or diabetes are recognized as such.

One of the problems I see in our society, thus our legal and healthcare systems, is a refusal to believe that these are biological disorders.  Even though mental illnesses respond to medications, many people would have us believe that someone can “snap out of it” or “just get over it.”  Because of this attitude, people suffering from a real illness are reluctant to seek medical advice for it.  Would you tell someone with a rash that won’t go away no matter how many over the counter creams and lotions they have applied to it, to “just get over it?”  No!  You would advise them to see a doctor.

As I have learned about my husband’s illness and my own postpartum depression, there are many pills available to help people through mental illnesses.  There are many counselors out there to help people through stressful situations that arise from the illness or from an external situation. 

My inclination is that the woman in the court case I watched play out last week is to believe that she had a situationally triggered  illness of some sort.  The problem was, she had been too reluctant to have it evaluated.  To compare it to a cut, there was no way of knowing if this was a small scratch that healed easily or if this was a deep wound that would have required thirty stitches, or somewhere in between.  What if our culture made it easier for her to see a counselor?  Or even to just visit her primary care doctor for an evaluation?  That case may have turned out much differently, especially since we don’t have any visible scars to indicate the level of anxiety she had experienced as we would an external flesh wound. 

What can be done?  I ask you, reader, to evaluate how you see mental illness.  Do you believe that it is a physical illness affecting the brain?  Or do you believe that it is something else?  Do you believe that all people with mental illnesses are “crazy” and don’t deserve the time of day?  What do you believe?

I believe that all people deserve to have their bodies cared for, whether it is their brain or their pancreas that is ailing them.  When I encounter people in mental distress, I encourage them to seek counseling.  When I encounter someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I don’t assume anything about how it affects them in their ability to function and work on a day-to-day basis.  Every person is different.  Every person deserves to be treated as a person with real feelings and real problems.  No one deserves to be told, “Just get over it!” when it comes to their health.

Thank you for reading my blog.  Don’t forget to click, “Follow” so you don’t miss any posts.  You can find me on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit

 

Psychiatrist or Psychologist or Other Counselor? March 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meghan Hamilton @ 7:08 pm
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Mr. Man has been to approximately ten mental health professionals (excluding hospital staff) since his first major Manic Episode in college. Yesterday and today he has had appointments with two of those people. All in all he has four professionals guiding him on this life journey.

First is his psychiatrist. For those of you who are confused about the differences the various titles connote, I will try to explain. A psychiatrist is a doctor in the traditional sense of the word. He/she went to med school, completed their M.D. training, then decided to specialize in psychiatry the way some docs specialize in obstetrics. As such, many of these people are very talented at diagnosing disorders and are interested in getting the body in good working order. Mr. Man’s mother found his psychiatrist a number of years ago and he has been a Godsend. This man finally correctly diagnosed him with Bipolar. As an M.D., he can prescribe medications. Additionaly he ran many other tests (bloodwork and rEEG among others) to determine Mr. Man’s general state of health. This doc discovered his food allergies and intolerances as well as other non brain things that were affecting his brain’s ability to function. He got him on a good medicine regimen. He brought Mr. Man to a better state of health in his body. But like many psychiatrists, he is less adept at counseling and helping his patients actually deal with their lives – and often lives are a mess in the wake of mental illness. Being a very intelligent and caring man, this doctor has people on his staff that are very good at counseling.

Here is where a number of other titles come in. A psychiatrist has a Master’s degree or a Doctorate in psychology. A Licensed Social Worker also has an advanced degree. Before seeing their first patient, they should be certified to counsel patients. These people are qualified to diagnose psychiatric disorders. But because they do not have an M.D. they can not prescribe medications. Thus they often partner with a psychiatrist or with the patient’s primary care doctor if the patient needs medication. These professionals are generally adept at helping people live their lives. You can’t talk someone out of a mental illness, but you can equip him/her to live with it. They can also help family members know how to deal with the illness. For example, Mr. Man has anger management issues as a result of his illness. His psychologist has really helped him learn how to deal with anger in a more constructive way. If I have a concern, he hears me out and then works with both of us to resolve it. He doesn’t take sides. If he thinks I am overreacting, he lets me know. If he thinks Mr. Man needs to change something, he lets him know. He wants our lives to work.

The third Professional in Mr. Man’s life is a Nurse Practitioner who also is a licensed counselor. This man works for his psychiatrist. An NP has an advanced degree in nursing (often a doctorate) and can prescribe most medications. But he/she must work under the supervision of an MD. For Mr. Man, the NP he sees provides the best of both worlds. Mr. Man can get meds refilled/changed and get counseling at the same appointment. He is also good at helping us smooth out the bumps in the road of our marriage.

The 4th person on the team is Mr. Man’s primary care physician. When the NP suspected a sleep disorder was making the bipolar worse, he sent him to the PCP to get a sleep study. Sure enough – sleep apnea was keeping him awake and making him crazy. His PCP also helps keep an eye on his general health which becomes even more important when taking medications that can be very harsh on the body. He also evaluates Mr. Man’s state of mind at appointments and communicates with the psych people as needed.

In all of this, the doctors and nurses ask both of us how Mr. Man is doing. They want to know what family sees as well as what he feels.

If you are looking at a mental illness in yourself or a loved one, keep looking for professionals that you feel comfortable with. They will be in your life for a long time. Two qualified people will have different styles and fortes. Find the ones that work with your personality and give them time to build trust.

 

Expectation vs. Reality: Marriage February 7, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I always have expectations.  They rarely match up to reality exactly.  Some things come close and some things are vastly different.  I suppose that is what makes life interesting.  It can also make life vexing. 

Today I want to talk about my expectations of what my marriage would be and what the reality of it has turned out to be. 

Expectation: Mr. Man would work and support the family financially.

Reality:  His bipolar has progressed to a level of severity that prevents him from working.  Fortunately he qualifies for Social Security.  But it isn’t enough.  So I must work.  I like working, but juggling it with a toddler is a challenge.   

Additionally, this means that I have him at home all the time with all of the ADD symptoms that often accompany Bipolar Disorder.  So, his clothes, dirty dishes, books, trash, and anything else he has recently touched, are dropped wherever he happens to be when he turns to the next item of interest. 

Why is this a problem?  I am already struggling as a housekeeper.  His ability to destroy a clean space in under thirty seconds is beyond frustrating.  I can not keep up.  Add in all of the toys our society seems to think a small child needs, and our apartment looks like the pictures of tornado victims’ homes.  Really. 

Expectation:  We would sleep in the same bed and have sex regularly.

Reality:  We started out in the same bed, but due to his resuming smoking and snoring, I sent him to the couch.  When he resolved those issues, he decided to stay on the couch.  I do not like sleeping alone.  So, I have not forced my son to go to his own bed when he decides to sleep with me.  Apparently, he doesn’t like sleeping alone either.  As you can imagine, this has had an impact on our sex life. 

The other major impacts on sex?  When Mr. Man is off meds, he is, to be technical, “hypersexual,” which means that he really can’t get enough.  His demands had become so strong, that it pushed me away.  (Not to mention that the smell of smoke to a non-smoker is very very very nasty and a major turn-off.)  When Mr. Man is on meds, his sex drive is all but turned off.  In some ways this is a major relief for both of us.  But somewhere I would like to find a happy medium. 

I have learned that even though I don’t get as much physical affection as I would like, this does not mean he doesn’t love me.  It just means that he is not at a point in his life where he can express himself physically.  Part of living with his illness is that he changes drastically from time to time.  That means I must change with him or end things.  At the moment, I am changing and adjusting.  No need to end it.

Expectation: I will have to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc…

Reality:  He wanted to learn to cook!  I taught him and he loves to cook!!!!!  I can not say how much of a relief and delight this is most days.  I can cook, but it is a chore.  Because I taught him how I like things, many dinners are made to my tastes.  All I have to do is mention it!  Hooray! 

Laundry is split between us.  I have a bum knee and have difficulty going up and down stairs.  We live on the second floor and the washer and dryer are in the basement.  Mr. Man takes care of lugging it up and down for me without complaint.  I fold and put away most of the time.  All right, we often live out of the baskets, but hey, at least we have clean clothes to wear on a regular basis without further wear and tear on my aching joints.

Cleaning is mostly up to me.  But he does the dishes and cat litter boxes most days.  I take care of the bathroom and vacuuming and changing of sheets and whatever else needs doing.  Not a bad split.

Expectation: We would be able to have open and honest communication at any time.

Reality: While I am always honest with him, and he with me, communication is sometimes difficult.  Bipolar takes Mr. Man deep inside himself and he has difficulty coming to the surface to see and hear what other people are saying or doing.  Literally, he can’t always see and hear other people.  Crazy Boy and I often repeat ourselves, shout, and repeatedly tap him to get his attention.  So sometimes things go unsaid.  It’s just not always worth the effort to get his attention.  I know it isn’t because he doesn’t care, but this is one of the ways his illness affects our lives.  If I need love and understanding in a tangible way, I seek out a friend more often than my own husband.  The times that he is able to see and hear me are made more sweet for knowing what an effort he is putting in to be there for me.

Conclusion:  Just because the expectations and realities are not always a match, sometimes reality is livable or even better than the expectation.  Mr. Man and I don’t have a traditional marriage.  We don’t have a marriage like either of our parents have.  But we do have a relationship that seems to work for us.  Isn’t that what it’s about?  Making it work? 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

I am not a saint February 4, 2012

People like to tell me that I am a saint for staying married to my husband, but I am rather inclined to disagree.  Is it easy to be married to someone with a mental illness?  Heck no!  The divorce rate for people with bipolar disorder is two to three times higher than the national rate (which last I checked was about 50%).  So, am I a saint to stick with him through the psychosis, the depressions, the manias, the general nuttiness he experiences?  No. 

What I have, in my mother’s words, is a strong ability to “compartmentalize” my feelings.  This doesn’t mean I never deal with my feelings and emotions.  It means that in most cases, I can put them in a mental box, deal with the situation at hand with a calm and (hopefully) clear head.  Then, when I am alone and have a few minutes to myself, I let my emotions out.  This may amount to sobbing in the car.  It may amount to writing angry words in a journal.  It may be going to my husband when he is stronger and letting him know exactly how hurt, angry, sad, disappointed, etc… I feel.

Is this sainthood?  No.  It is coping.  It is simply what I have always done.  Sometimes I have taken this too far and packed my feelings away too deeply and ignored them for too long.  That has landed me on a counselor’s couch several times.   (That has been very helpful by the way. Don’t be too timid and afraid to try it if you can’t figure out stuff for yourself.)

Other people who have been through similar experiences have also been helpful when I needed to know that I am not alone in my experiences with my husband.   NAMI has discussion boards for all manner of mental illnesses.  They serve both patients and their families.  I also know people personally who have loved ones, or who have split with loved ones, with bipolar disorder and other illnesses that are much like it.  Sharing our stories is an amazing experience.  Just knowing that I am not alone makes it much easier to deal with issues as they come up.

My family is way more understanding than I could have ever expected.  They also put up with my husband’s irrationality.  They offer love and support when I need it.  My in-laws have watched our son many times when I call at the last-minute because I have to work and my husband is just not able to do it.  Friends let me complain about my husband when I am overwhelmed. 

Support has been key.

Will my marriage last?  I hope so.  To paraphrase the pastor that married us, “No one gets married expecting to be part of the 50% that gets divorced.”  In our case, the number might be closer to 90%.  Is each day we spend together a miracle worthy of sainthood?  No.  It is me and my husband each choosing to stay with an imperfect person because the rewards are greater than the trials. 

Will I have “Saint Meghan” inscribed on my tombstone?  Probably not.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

Beauty Pageants and X Games January 28, 2012

I have been pondering beauty pageants lately.  A mom on Facebook asked if she should allow her daughter to participate in a beauty pageant.  She had been in one as a child and loved it.  But she wasn’t sure if it was really appropriate.  It would also be a great expense.  She received differing opinions on the subject.  But it got me thinking. 

As a little girl, I watched Miss America and Miss Universe on television.  I loved to dress up in what I thought were glamorous clothes.  I loved to put on my mother’s makeup and wear high heels.  I would day-dream of walking down a runway in a formal gown.  My sister and I would have contests and ask our family who they thought was prettier. 

Although Miss America and Miss Universe are no longer a part of our lives the way they were a few years ago, the television show “Toddlers and Tiaras” demonstrates that these types of pageants are very much alive (if not so well) in our culture.  So many people claim to hate the show, yet how many hundreds of thousands watch every week?  According to Inside Edition, over 2,000,000 people watch each week. 

What about television in general?  I don’t have those numbers.  But the number above amazes me.  If you read their article, there are more amazing numbers about how much money some people spend on these pageants.

Why do we do this?  What is so wonderful about it?  Even those of us that don’t participate in beauty pageants often go to great lengths to look good.  How many of you reading this blog have ever been on a diet?  How many of you have been on more than one diet?  What was your motivation?  Was it to be healthy?  Be honest.  It was more likely that you wanted to look good. 

What looks good?  How do we know if something looks good or not?  Our notions of human beauty have changed over the years and across cultures.  But who determines what is “pretty?”  In our day and in American culture, we watch a lot of television and look at a lot of magazines with pictures of TV and movie stars.   

According to Nielsen, the Average American spends 20% of their day watching television.  That’s 4.8 hours.  If you figure that people spend 8 hours sleeping, that figures to 30% of our waking hours.  Where am I going with these figures?  And where do the X Games come in?  Bear with me for a moment.  If we are spending that much time looking at enhanced images on the television.  Yes, enhanced, enhanced by makeup, lighting, and computers.  These people do not look like this in real life.  Not even the so-called Reality Television stars. 

So we look at these people for a long time.  We might begin to compare ourselves to them.  You don’t?  Okay, let’s say you don’t.  Do you have children?  Do they see you looking at these people for 4.8 hours a day, give or take some time?  And how many hours a day do you spend actively engaged with your child?  All right, I am not trying to make you feel guilty – I spend plenty of time not actively engaged with my child. 

I am going to go out on a limb here, because I have nothing to support this hypothesis.  But what do you suppose our children are learning from this?  They are learning that the images on the screen capture their parents’ attention.  How should our children capture our attention?  By trying to look like the images on the screen.  How can anyone look like that?  Makeup?  There isn’t enough to quite get there.  Clothes?  Maybe it will help a little.  Lose weight?   That might help too!  Can some people’s distorted body image be traced to seeing what their parents thought was important and what captured their attention?  Probably. 

According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 8,000,000 Americans have an eating disorder.  That is a very high number. 

Our vision of beauty must change.

Here is where the X Games comes in.  They started in 1995.  Snowboarders, skateboarders, and the like were not recognized by more traditional athletes and the Olympics.  So what are talented people to do?  Put together their own event with their own medals and get a television network to cover it.  In 1995, this event first aired on ESPN for “alternative” athletes.  It is now huge.  Few people today would tell a snowboarder that they don’t participate in a real sport.  Few people today would tell a bicyclist doing tricks in a 20 foot half-pipe that they are not a real athlete. 

So what does this have to do with beauty pageants?  Why can’t we demand a change in what we deem beautiful?  By watching the shows that the television airs, we agree with the producers and program directors.  So how about we turn off “Toddlers and Tiaras” and most of the programming out there.  What if we host our own beauty pageants for our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and neighbors?  We can celebrate people’s achievements that contribute to a healthy society.  Did your child participate in a neighborhood clean up?  Get her on the stage proclaiming that.  That is beautiful!  Did your child get the highest math score for the year?  That is beautiful!  Did your daughter volunteer at an animal shelter?  That is beautiful! 

Why limit it to our girls?  How about the boys?  Get them involved.  Get all of the children you know up in front of a group of people and celebrate their achievements, not just their ability to put on makeup and stay skinny.  Don’t wait for their school to do it.  Show them how important they are by turning off the television for a few hours and planning a new kind of beauty pageant.  Maybe the television people will catch on and put on a new kind of program.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response.