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Consequences for the Mentally Ill During the Coronavirus

It’s only been the past few weeks that I have seen news outlets, both online and on TV, as well as social media, talking about the ramifications of the Coronavirus on those with mental illness and those who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of working with the ill, enduring the virus and simply trying to get by, day by day.

My question is: why wouldn’t we pay attention to those with mental illness throughout this life-altering time? Wouldn’t this be obvious? I know the answer: why would it be obvious when the stigma around mental illness is alive and well in our society? It’s still extremely upsetting given our daily life experiences.

For me, the Coronavirus entered our country while I was in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) due to depression. I had a bad reaction to a medication for a medical problem that made me hypomanic and then once off of the medication, I became depressed. Not the best time for a pandemic to hit, not that it ever would be. Moving from in-person groups to group therapy on Zoom was not a “normal” psychiatric treatment but I did it and was discharged last week, although I am still not yet stable. The world is not normal and I don’t feel normal.

My therapist and I switched to phone sessions and then to Zoom. Our schedule is usually 4x per week and having therapy through a screen is definitely not the same as in person.

I am now weaning off of my Lithium due to all of the side effects I am dealing with. I included them here as parts of my day since this is happening now. This is where it becomes complex. This is basically my current daily schedule:

  • Wake up
  • Hands tremble (side effect)
  • Exercise
  • Eat breakfast
  • Take morning meds
  • Take a walk
  • Feel off balance (side effect)
  • Try to decide what to do
  • Stomach ache (side effect)
  • Feel sad
  • Continue online art class
  • Feel tired (side effect)
  • Feel extremely thirsty (side effect)
  • Sit and watch TV
  • Hands tremble (side effect)
  • Ruminate over thoughts
  • Eat lunch with husband and daughter
  • Watch TV
  • Feel anxious about having so much time
  • Stomach ache (side effect)
  • Feel anxious about any feelings I’m feeling: bordering on hypomania and/or depression (yes, you can feel both at the same time or within minutes of each other)
  • Take walk with husband and daughter or alone
  • Have Zoom therapy session (right now, 5 days/week, usually 4 days/week)
  • Feel sad: not able to see therapist in person
  • Feel extremely thirsty (side effect)
  • Get dinner ready
  • Feel overwhelmed
  • Feel sad
  • Eat dinner with husband and daughter
  • Play Xbox with daughter or watch TV and do mandala coloring
  • Stomach ache (side effect)
  • Put daughter to bed
  • Feel exhausted
  • Take night meds
  • Binge-watch TV shows with husband
  • Stomach ache (side effect)
  • Go to bed and worry about next day, cry

Time is no one’s friend. Too much time plus being in the midst of an episode of mental illness is exhausting. Living through a pandemic, a virus that is easily spread, that requires everyone to stay home, while being in the midst of a mixed episode of depression and hypomania is paralyzing and incapacitating. There are consequences for everyone with mental illness living through this pandemic. The psychological consequence, for me, of not being well during a literal and figurative lockdown is that of defeat.

It’s just another fucking day during a pandemic for someone fighting with her mental illness.

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OCD Piece on Bring Change to Mind

My piece about my OCD diagnosis on Bring Change to Mind:

https://bringchange2mind.org/2018/10/01/finally-makes-sense-ocd/

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Having Depression is NOT a Choice – This is Why

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I saw this on Twitter and read it about a dozen times. I thought, “this is me, this is what it’s been like during too many major depressive episodes over the past 5 years.” I shared it on Facebook and realized that simply sharing it only reaches a very small group of people. This scares people. This is honest and open. This is scary. But the part that is missing are the answers. I want to share my answers, my experience, my reality. Personal experiences are the missing link in order to gain understanding about those suffering with what can be a debilitating illness.

1. How would it feel to wake up and not having the emotional strength to face people?
I’ll tell you how it feels. I have felt it on and off over the past 5 years. It is daunting, sometimes an insurmountable goal that you know you can’t reach. I would get myself going on certain days, like days I would see my therapist and the days I work. It is not easy. I have worked in retail for the past 2 1/2 years and people is what it’s about. My mask is sometimes put up and while it has slid off at times, I have always done my best. At times, I choose not to go to synagogue with my husband and our daughter. It’s sometimes been too scary to bring my daughter to a friend’s birthday party. It can be exhausting.

2. To think that time is passing by with no reason?
I felt that strongly today. I had a session with my therapist where I felt misunderstood. While she meant well, it felt as if she were trying to convince me to see things realistically in order to not beat up on myself. I felt my feelings were not being heard. After that, the rest of the day felt odd and I am not even sure how time has actually passed.

3. To feel so alone even when you are sitting in a room full of people?

This is why I have stayed away from people when I have been depressed. Feeling alone when you are alone is one thing, but feeling alone while in a room full of people, even close friends, does not always make a difference. It is a terrible feeling.

4. To have to put on a face and hide your feelings because in your mind you think no one would care anyway?

This is almost automatic for me when I am in a depressive episode, unfortunately. I think to myself that I don’t want to burden my friends any more than I already have. There have been times I have asked my past 2 therapists over these past years, why do people care about me? Their responses were the same: a list of my attributes, reasons why people like me, love me, care about me. Sometimes I believed them, but others I didn’t.

5. To lose friends because you can’t find the strength to go out and you can’t physically be ‘happy’?

Fortunately, I have not lost one friend due to my illness. I don’t know what the odds are of that, but I am aware that it is not necessarily usual. I have heard from others, very sad stories of dear friends who literally disappeared on them because of their mental illness. 

6. To cry yourself to sleep, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day, then when you do try you are exhausted from the night before, and it all starts again?

This may sadden many, but there have been many nights I have cried just as I fall asleep over the past 5 years at the times I have been depressed. I pray for a better day, that I will wake up a bit refreshed and feel better able to tackle whatever the new day brings. The fatigue that my depression causes is the enemy of this hope on some days. It has taunted and paralyzed me. This cycle is more than exhausting, in terms of physically feeling tired, it is emotionally draining as well. This combination can be depleting and debilitating.

7. You try to hide your feelings hoping no one would notice, and more.

This is also a challenge, yet something I can do well, at times. When I am anxious, I can talk a lot. People then believe I am feeling better or well, when what is really happening is that I am not feeling great but masking it with my anxiety. I am actually not always aware I am doing it until I feel my heart beating a bit faster than usual.

8. Now tell me why someone would choose that?

This is truly the million dollar question. Would any of you choose any of this, as well as all of the treatments I have endure(d): therapy 3x per week, medication trials, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusions and psychiatric hospitalizations? Any aspect of my experience mentioned above? I can’t imagine so.

Depression is an illness, not a choice.

Saying it is a choice is the largest form of stigma I can think of. It’s cruel. I would move mountains and do anything possible to be rid of my depression, anxiety and OCD. I have tried and will continue to try. To say I would choose to have these illnesses is shortsighted and ludicrous.

I have said this before:

My mental illness is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn’t have to be.