mental wellness

Schizophrenia: When you’re not sure what is real [interview]

Schizophrenia def.: A long-term mental illness of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

… and other misconceptions

Q: How would you define Schizophrenia? (in layman’s terms)

A: Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness. The person suffering from it has a distortion of reality and hallucinations to the point that they can talk to themselves.

Q: What are the symptoms? (as you know or experience them) Is it like having multiple personalities?

A: People suffering from Schizophrenia don’t have multiple personalities, they just have a different reality. They build their own world and they cannot differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t.

In many cases they suffer from hallucinations and hear voices. They might even have full conversations with the “people” talking to them or swap from “someone” taking to them and then answering. This is the reason why it might appear as though they have multiple personalities, which isn’t the case. Having said that, due to all that’s going on in their head, they might become very absent and while you think you are having a conversation with them, their mind is somewhere else.

Q: How does it feel to have Schizophrenia? Or to be the carer (family) of someone who has Schizophrenia?

A: I remember it being very challenging and confusing. When I was younger, I couldn’t fully understand what was happening and would sometimes wrongly push the person to “just get better” or “do something to change it”. With the years, I have learnt that it cannot be cured and that the people suffering from it are actually in a lot of despair, which is the reason why in many cases they end up committing suicide to end the suffering.

Q: Are there treatment options for Schizophrenia?

A: There is unfortunately no cure, but medication and therapy are two ways in which to minimize the symptoms.

Q: Do you have to take medication if you have Schizophrenia?

A: Schizophrenia tends to be for life and yes, medication is needed. Unfortunately, the process to find the right mediation isn’t an easy one and patients have to go through trial and error until the right one and dosage are found. This process is challenging as the person might see their symptoms worsening for a bit of time.

Q: Are you able to keep a job if you have Schizophrenia?

A: I guess it depends on the level of the illness. In many instances the distortion of the reality or hallucinations are such that keeping a normal job isn’t possible. It will also depend on whether the person suffering from it is going though a bad period.

Q: Is it genetic?

A: To date there is no clarity as to why Schizophrenia happens. It’s known that there is a genetic component to it but that isn’t the only one. Environmental and altered brain chemistry play a big role too.

Q: Anything else you would like to add

A: As humans, we tend to be scared of the unfamiliar, therefore, it’s incredibly important that people talk about mental illness openly. There is nothing to be embarrassed about and only when people talk about it, will the topic be normalised.

mental wellness

Anxiety: when you feel everything [interview]

Anxiety def.: A chronic condition characterized by an excessive and persistent sense of apprehension, with physical symptoms

Q: How would you define Anxiety? (in layman’s terms)

A: Anxiety is constantly fearing the worst, and worrying about everything. Having anxiety is like being fearful of everything, from people, to dying and everything inbetween. It’s being nervous all the time, and not knowing why, just fearing and feeling stressed about every situation you go into. It’s black and white thinking, catastrophizing, being negative, feeling irritable, impatient. It’s the need to be busy all the time, to constantly be making lists, and always feeling like a failure. It’s feeling insecure, doubt, feeling like you’re never enough. It’s feeling overwhelmed, but scared to ask for help. And it also manifests physically so there are a number of physical symptoms, like problems with your gut, sweating, headaches, carpal tunnel. And yes, a lot of people may feel nervous about speaking in front of a group of people, or going to a party alone, or fearing losing their loved ones, but it’s when these concerns start affecting your life in a negative way, and become so overwhelming and overarching, that you are no longer living your life optimally, that you need to seek help. Also, there are different types of anxiety. I have Generalised Anxiety disorder, with a propensity towards social anxiety. But you could suffer with panic attacks, have a phobia, only have social anxiety. There’s also adjustment anxiety (which is what happens with major life changes).

Q: What are the symptoms? (as you know or experience them)

A: Anxiety can manifest with thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physically. For me, I experience feelings of self-doubt, I get overwhelmed quite easily. I struggle to build relationships with people because I fear that they are going to abandon me so a lot of the time I don’t put effort into relationships, or I push people away. I suffer with insomnia. I fear both the future and the past. I beat myself up for things that I said 5 years ago, or even, 5 minutes ago. Everything I say and do is wrong. I am terrible at decision-making because I’m fearful of the outcome of every decision I make. I procrastinate because I’m scared of doing things the wrong way. I get easily distracted by stimuli, and then struggle to concentrate. I suffer with headaches, and problems with my gut, and excessive sweating. I say inappropriate things to people that make me nervous, or people in authority, or I say nothing at all, and then beat myself up about it. I have very negative thought patterns, always expecting the worst. I never want to admit that I am happy, because I am fearful that the feeling will be taken away. Depending on the type of anxiety, it manifests in different ways, and then it would have different symptoms. Some people experience mostly physical symptoms, like tight chest, difficulty breathing.

Q: How does it feel to have Anxiety?

A: Having anxiety for me, feels like I have too many train tracks running in my mind at any given time, and it never stops. A friend gave me the analogy of having 1000 internet tabs open, and they are all flashing at the same time. A million thoughts constantly running through my head, fears, things I should say, things I said, things I need to do, analyzing my environment, things I should be doing, things I should be saying, everything that I am, everything that I’m not. Having anxiety is like always having that feeling of nervousness before an interview, or speaking to a big crowd of people. And it’s like being afraid all the time. And like always being busy. Always having things to do. All the time. It’s like being on, always. There is no rest, no off switch, because then I convince myself I’ve forgotten something. I always feel like I’ve failed. I’m fearful of trying new things and then I feel like a failure because I’m not living my best life. It’s like always being in fight or flight mode.

Q: What are the treatment options for Anxiety?

A: For me, I’m in talk therapy, and I use medication to treat my anxiety. I know people who use mindfulness and meditation to treat their anxiety. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, CBT (behavioural therapy) can work. My personal opinion is that it’s important to find the root cause of the anxiety. Mine is quite complex, so I’ve been in therapy for a number of years, and we’re still uncovering things. For some people a few sessions of CBT helps them develop practical steps to manage their anxiety.

Q: Do you have to take medication if you have Anxiety?

A: Not everyone requires medication. For me, the medication helps slow down the train tracks so that I can find a space to breathe, and concentrate on one thought process at a time. The decision on whether or not to use medication should be made with your therapist/psychiatrist though. Everyone is different. And some people are able to combat their anxiety with only talk therapy or CBT, or mindfulness techniques. Some of us might have to be on medication for most of our lives.

Q: Is it genetic?

A: From what I’ve read, and the psycho-education that I’ve done with my therapist, you do have a predisposition to get anxiety. If you suffer childhood trauma, the chances of getting anxiety are pretty high, even if your parents don’t suffer. There is also a theory I’ve been reading a lot about, on generational trauma, and just like many illnesses pass down through the generations, so does trauma, in the wiring of our brains, and our neurochemicals. But what I love about this theory is that they are proving that yes, trauma is transferred from one generation to the next, but so is healing. So even if you have a predisposition, or you are suffering from generational trauma, you can be the one to start passing down generational healing.

Q: Anything else you would like to add

A: Living with anxiety is hard. It’s like feeling everything all of the time. But it’s not a life sentence. You can get help, and with treatment, you can be healed. It is possible to recover. It’s not immediate, but healing is possible. I feel like I’m proof of that. I am definitely not the same person I was a year ago. And I definitely feel like I’m passing down generational healing in my family.

mental wellness

A Letter to our Loved Ones

(From the perspective of someone with Depression and Anxiety)

Dear Loved One/Carer,

I’m hoping this letter can help you understand what I go through daily.

Some days are good days. And on these days, I’m able to get out of bed, go to the gym, socialize. Do all the things. I don’ t know when these days will happen or how long they’ll be around.

Then there are the bad days. When I sometimes can’t get out of bed. I am unable to wash my hair, or have the energy to brush my teeth even. On these days, the list of things is sometimes longer. Anxiety tells me to do all the things. I have 5 different lists running through my mind. My rational mind knows I’m setting myself up for failure. But anxiety says it must be done, so I write lists. Depression on these days, tells me that I cannot do anything on that list. I have no energy. I’ll never get it done. It’s all impossible. What is the point of living? To do the things anxiety says. To what end depression says. So nothing gets done. I’m overwhelmed and in despair. And depleted and exhausted from doing nothing.

And if you find this hard, and confusing, imagine what it’s like not knowing how you’ll wake up in the morning. Sometimes, I go to bed with energy, planning out my day, setting up my gym clothes. Only to wake up, physically unable to get out of bed. That is depression.

Or I plan to run before my  gym class. Because anxiety tells me that I have to do everything and be good at everything and lose weight and everything. And then I wake up late and I hate myself because all I got to do was the class. Anxiety has told me that I’ve failed.

What I need on the bad days is for you to sit with me. Not fix me, not solve the problems caused by anxiety and depression. Just be there. Just listen if I want to talk, or hold me if I need to cry.

On the good days, we can do all the things around the house, the grocery shopping, everything. All of the things. I have the energy and capacity on the good days.

Sometimes we’ll plan like tomorrow is a good day, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Then, we need to change our plans. Like if you plan to do the washing and you wake up and it’s raining. Change your plans. Not never do washing again.

Most importantly, I need you to try and understand my diagnosis. I can help you, but I need you to be open to hearing me talk about it. Sometimes sharing links to blogs, or websites that articulate how I am feeling is easier for me, and also it helps to normalize what I’m going through so that you understand my illness as an illness. I might not be ready to share everything directly related to me and my particular experience, but it’ll come, as I learn to trust.

Also important though, is that this is not only about me. You are you, with your own needs. Do not be afraid to express these. No relationship is going to function without both people sharing their needs, and having their needs met.

I know it’s hard living with me. Trust me, it’s hard for me to live with me too.

For both of us, it’s important that we support each other on this journey. It may be my recovery journey, but as I grow and change, you’ll be there along the way. As I learn about boundaries, we may test each other, but this is part of relationship building. The more I understand myself, and where I start and my diagnosis ends, the better I can help you understand the same.

I want you to know that I love you, and I appreciate you, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. Thank you for still being in my life. And thank you for being on my journey of recovery with me.

Love,

Your Loved One,  who suffers with mental illness

*           *          *

Practical steps –  Adapted from “The Depression Project”

We need people to sit and listen to us without judgement or criticism. You may have thoughts and opinions on what we’re going through, it may seem irrational to you, the solution may seem obvious. Trust me, it’s probably obvious to our rational minds too. But our rational minds are clouded by our illness. Help us centre, and clarify our thoughts, help us rationalize what we are going through, guide our thinking. Do not tell us we are irrational, or that we aren’t feeling what we say we’re feeling.  

Check in with us, if we would like to do something. It is sometimes positive for us to go out for a walk, go for coffee, the movies. Something that will recharge us. And also it will help to get out of the space that we are in, the space that is causing difficulty.

Sometimes we are feeling too weighed down to do anything, maybe we would like something to comfort us. Maybe we just need a hug, something to drink or eat. In these situations, sometimes the smallest act of kindness can do the world of good.

If we are in a really dark space, and none of these are working, ask if we want you to sit with us, or if we want to be alone. If we want you to sit with us, that’s all we actually need. Just be there. It’ll help us to not feel alone, even though we are not ready to talk about anything. If we need you to leave, it’s not about you, we need the space to recharge, and deal with what is going on at this point in time.

* * *

Being related to someone with mental illness, or being in a friendship or relationship with someone who suffers with mental illness, can be really hard. It’s confusing, and you never know what to expect. What we need though is for you to be there, even in those difficult moments. Know that we are trying, and that we need your support and empathy. And most of all, and I cannot say this enough, is that we appreciate your presence in our lives, even though we don’t always have the words, or means to say so.

mental wellness

The Sum of all Parts

So one thing that I’ve learnt in the past two years that I’ve spent on my healing journey, is the importance of holistic treatment. I used to be scared of medication because I was fearful of it fundamentally changing who I am. I believed in talk therapy, because I felt that my problems weren’t that big. I didn’t realise how seriously my anxiety was impacting my marriage because I didn’t realise how ingrained it was with who I am. And also, I thought things like moms groups were lame, and also I don’t like interacting with “moms”, where all we have in common is the fact that we are moms. And worst of all, I thought clinics were like a scene out of “Girl, Interrupted”, and when you talk about your stay in one, you should always whisper the word “clinic”, out of shame.

And then, these humans found their way into my life. And my head. And they have all shaped my journey to recovery in important and valuable ways.

DISCLAIMER: I realise that I am quite privileged in that I have access to all these healthcare professionals, but if you can get holistic treatment, it is so important and helpful to your overall journey. But what is most important is getting the help you need.

The woman who saved my life

My Therapist. About two years ago, my son was born with two holes in his heart, and then I was retrenched, and lucky enough to find another job, but still I felt like I needed support. I happened upon a Facebook ad for a moms group, and when that fell apart, I contacted the facilitator to see if she would see me individually. She unfortunately couldn’t see me until December, and I felt like I needed to see someone before then. So she suggested a colleague of hers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I remember sitting down in that first session and saying to my therapist, that I’m here for what she called “champagne problems” on her blog. Those things that make us feel bad, but aren’t quite clinical. We started with me sharing what led me to therapy: a complicated pregnancy, a son with a heart condition, a retrenchment. In our next session we went through my history: family structure, childhood, issues I deal with.

We had an immediate rapport, we were able to joke, while talking about serious things. We have a shared love of books and words. And she understood me. For the first time I felt like someone was seeing me. I felt validated.

We are still working through my stuff, because it turned out that it wasn’t just “champagne problems”, and the fact that I thought that they were speaks to all the stuff that I have to work through.

The woman who saved my mind

After seeing my therapist for a few months, she suggested that I see a psychiatrist for medication to help with my anxiety. I was a bit nervous to go the medication route, I really believed that all I needed was talk therapy. I didn’t want to mess with my brain chemicals. What if the person I’ve always been changes?

The truth about medication, from my experience, is that it lifts the fog of depression, and slows down those train tracks of anxiety for example. It gives me the space to actually work through all the stuff from talk therapy. It helps me to have a better handle on my day-to-day functioning.

My psychiatrist is great, and she is particularly skilled with managing women’s issues. Also, when I started with her, I was still breastfeeding, so she prescribed medication that I could take while breastfeeding.

I’ve been through a couple of brands, and a mix of dosages, but I think we’ve found something that suits me for the time being. Every time we up my dosage or change brands, I have to try it out for a month and then go back to her to check in if it’s working. If it’s not, then I need to try something else. I’ve had some bad medication experiences, but in the end, I’m supportive of the medication route, if it’s necessary.

It doesn’t change who you fundamentally are. And also, being that I’m in this process would it so bad if the person I’ve always been changes?

The woman who saved my marriage

Having two kids really changes a marriage. Having two under two is like a wrecking ball to a marriage. And our marriage was already under strain due to my husband working shifts. From my side, I felt depleted, and distant from my husband. I felt like he took me for granted and completely disrespected me.

We had been in marriage counselling in our first year of marriage, and she had helped us navigate our marriage, and the changes it brought to our lives. I didn’t want to go back to her because I felt like she favoured my husband, and with my whole self-renewal process that I was undergoing, I couldn’t be in a room where I didn’t feel as heard as he was.

So we tried out someone else. We saw him for 3 months. And while he was well-revered, with many years of experience, I felt like he didn’t change anything in our marriage. I also felt as though he preferred my husband to me.

And that is when my therapist suggested the psychologist that my husband and I are currently seeing. She is helping us communicate properly. She’s teaching us about communication styles, and how our emotions work at a neurological level. We’ve learnt what is hampering our communication with each other. And she gives us homework to make sure that we practice what we discuss, and that this process is dynamic and not held in the room with her only.

The women who help me re-parent myself

Parenting is not easy, no matter if you have one kid or many. Girls or boys. Babies or adult children. Parenting is hard. And confusing. And you never feel like you’re doing anything right. One day your kid is eating carrots. The next day she hates them. Parenting is hard.

My therapist introduced me to “Mindful Mamas”, which is a group facilitated by a therapist, and through which we are guided through healing stories. We are also taught about the Conscious Parenting movement, which we can then try and apply in our lives.

The main tenets which I have gauged from this process is to treat my children like tiny humans, with their own thoughts and emotions. Discipline is no longer about getting them to do what I believe is right, but rather guiding them through life.

I have learned to review my own agenda, and what it is that I want out of the situation, and how it is perceived by them, and what they want out of a situation. All kids want to do is enjoy life, and play. And this is valuable for anyone. I have learnt so much from them about mindfulness. Yes, we need to get done and go to work and school.  But is it really going to harm us if we sit for a few minutes to build a lego house? And in reality, it’s not. In fact, it heals us more than it harms us.

I still struggle through parenting, but, as a conscious parent in training, I feel like I’m building valuable connections with my children, and validating them, by seeing them for where they are. And hopefully through all of this, I am building a secure attachment, and building confident children, with a healthy sense of self.

Special Acknowledgements

Friendamily

My friends. Who are always by my side. The people who will stand up for me when the world is against me. But will also stand up against me to steer me in the right direction.  

Cuckoos

I recently spent a few weeks in a psychiatric clinic. And I met a group of awesome people. We spent many nights giggling and talking. For the first time a group of people just got me, and could support me in ways I have never been supported before. They held me together when I was falling apart. And they are part of my journey to recovery.

Liefie

(actually that’s his nickname for me) I’ve mentioned him before. And about how our marriage was falling apart. But he has truly been so supportive. When things were really bad, and he was scared out of his mind, he was able to give me the space to heal. And then opened himself up to learning about me and my struggles, and what I need from my partner. He finally read all those blog posts I shared with him.

Wildlings

My kids. They are lively and energetic. And mothering is draining sometimes (most times). But when I walk in that door, and they run towards me shouting “Mommy!” all is forgotten. And on the bad days, all I need is a hug from them, to get perspective. And to remember two of the reasons I’m living for.

So there it is, your support can come from the strangest of places. And if you are in a dark place, you may not realise that you have anyone at all. A lot of the time, despite having all of these people in my life, I feel really lonely, and like I have no one. But that is part of my journey. Learning to lean on those around me for support, and about boundaries and who to trust.

But if there is no one that you do find comfort in, I hope you find comfort in this blog, to know that there is this quirky chick, with some issues, who wants to be there for you.

Resources:

http://thebeautifulmind.co.za/ OR https://www.facebook.com/clinicalpsychologistfairuzgaibie/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1950822965156283/