PTSD: Depression is not always a chemical imbalance

Introduction

I was talking with a friend of mine over dinner earlier this week, and she mentioned not wanting to take meds for depression.  Another male friend of mine said the same thing a few months ago.  Both said that the medicine makes them foggy and feel numb, so preferred not taking the psychiatric prescriptions.  And during my final visit with my dietitian yesterday, depression and stress related food issues came up.

So I thought this would be a good time to share some facts I’ve learned about depression and anorexia as related to (symptoms of) my PTSD.  You see, the complex posttraumatic stress disorder sometimes includes symptoms and side effects that can also be standalone diagnoses.  Depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, self-harm, phobias, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and dissociation to name a few.

Depression

I struggle with depression often.  It comes and goes in waves depending on a schedule of personal holidays and anniversaries embedded in my mind and body.  For a long time, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses tried to give me all kinds of pills.  Sometimes they gave me the same ones my mother was on; this made sense to them as our supposed symptoms of anxiety and depression were similar.

Then they started giving me other pills to help with the psychotic symptoms: hearing voices; hallucinations, sleep issues, and so on.  The pills were supposed to make the symptoms go away – i.e. I wouldn’t hear voices or hallucinate anymore.  The nightmares would disappear.  And I’d sleep through the night.

Well I did start sleeping a lot.  And for a few months at a time, my mind would be quiet.  But, I felt numb and spent most of my time living in a fog.  Nothing penetrated the fog.  And my coordination problems got worse.  Concentration became difficult.  I started to get sick often.

So I stopped taking medicine and tried to find other coping strategies.  But I kept wondering what was wrong with me that the medicine couldn’t fix a biological/chemical problem like depression the way it did for others.  If I had depression, then it was a chemical imbalance.  Medicine fixed chemical imbalances.  Right?

Not exactly…my last psychiatrist explained to me that people who have experienced severe trauma do have problems with depression.  But their depression is not biological or chemical based.  It comes from having been traumatized; only therapy modalities that focus on healing from trauma can help with that kind of depression.

He said that about anxiety too; the symptoms of anxiety can be masked by medicine, but the cause of the anxiety cannot.  So when the medicine wears off, I will experience all of the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that were masked.  Sometimes, the symptoms will be worse because they were repressed (backlash).  It’s a risk I would take every time I took one of the pills.

These days, the only time I take one of those pills is if I haven’t slept for more than 24 hours and need to knock myself out.  Hence the nickname “knockout pills”.

Final Thoughts

Find a mental health provider who understands trauma (trauma-informed or trauma trained).  Not all of them understand trauma or how it affects mental health.  Then discuss symptoms and past experiences with medication with this person and see if medication is the right path.  If it’s not, ask for other suggestions and options.  If medicine does seem like a good path, keep a journal of the different symptoms and side effects that occur or not occur when on and off the pills.

I am not opposed to taking medicine or pills.  I am opposed to having my mental clarity and independence compromised.  So if ever there comes out an FDA approved pill that can help with my symptoms without making me foggy or so tired I sleep 20 hours a day for weeks or sick to my stomach, I will try it.  Until then, I am better off without the pills.

Thanks for reading

Admin Post: Continued irregular posting schedule until August or September 2016

Earlier this week, I put down a hold deposit for my new apartment and am moving across the country at the beginning of August.  That said, I am in the middle of getting rid of 90-99% of my stuff and then packing the rest to ship via UPS or FEDEX ground.  Also have to clean up this apartment, take care of moving paperwork, and finish transfer arrangements ar work.
My schedule is going to be crazy.  I have been working over time to complete projects before leaving here.  Most of that requires me to be in the office instead of working from home, so commuting is also earing up a lot of time.
The goal is to continue posting 2x a week.  I might only have time for 1 post instead.  Personally, I would rather skip a week or put up one quality post instead of publishing 2 less polished, clear, and informative ones on the regular schedule.

The goal is to pack and ship everything at the end of July or first days in August.  Then clean and remove the rest of the stuff from the apartment.  Leave keys and contact info with the landlord.  Fly out by end of first week in August at the latest.  Be settled into a new routine working from home and blogging 2x a week by September.
Ambitious?  Yes.  Hopeful?  Yes.  Determined?  Yes.

Will I be upset if this plan goes off schedule?  Not really.  There is a lot of flexibility worked into the time line, and I have a lot of help from my support network.

Thanks for reading and understanding about the “crazy”, busy life right now.

Best Regards,

AlterXpressions

Back to Basics: A Tool Box, a Magic Bag, and a Safe Place to Practice

Introduction

Like everything else, learning a coping strategy and remembering it takes practice and some kind of organization.  We in the AlterXpressions system use a tool box (or many tool boxes), a magic bag (or many magic bags), and at least one safe place to practice our coping strategies and techniques.  The terms can be changed to suit individual needs (pick something that reminds you of safety, happiness, or something positive); whatever helps the individual or system remember where the coping strategies (tools) are stored and how to access them.

Definitions

Tool Box – internal storage space/container for coping strategies and techniques (like a memory box maybe?)  We use a vault inside the library as our main tool book.  Some of us hide our tools in candy boxes or recycled food tins. Mine looks like a prism.

Magic Bag or Grounding Bag – physical container to carry when out and about; I use the phrase magic bag because everyone in the systems believes in magic and coping strategies are like magic for us.  My therapist uses grounding bag; she learned it from a training workshop run by an EMDR specialist and trauma therapist

Safe Places to Practice – internal and external places with some quiet and privacy to learn and use coping strategies; we little kids love practicing on the jungle gym and obstacle courses.  The trees like practicing in meadows or looking over the bluffs to see water below.  Some of the boys work best in a sound proof radio station.

Helpful Skills

The skills and personality characteristics we practice in developing our tool box, magic bag, and safe place are:

Imagination/Creativity – our tool box is a library inside a maximum security vault with an intercom system that connects it to all of our internal safe spaces.  Our body tends to wear the “magic bag” in terms of clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and accessories; the rest goes into a backpack or plastic bag.

Visualization – The library is like a bee hive or cave system with sunny places, access to the ocean and forest, cozy fire places, lounge chairs, book shelves, a kitchen, blankets and pillows, stuffed animals, a craft corner, etc.  And everything is movable.

Focus/Concentration – Each alter has his/her/its own tool box.  We also have group tool boxes and community ones.  We create these as our go-to places when someone wants solitude or alone time or small group time.  Or for different age groups because not all tools are appropriate for all ages and genders.  Takes focus and concentration to create, store, and remember them.

Persistence – keep trying to create the ____ until each one feels right; and make changes when something doesn’t feel right anymore

Thinking outside the box – sky is the limit; use a scarf and hat as a magic bag or underneath the bed as a safe place.  One of my favorite safe spaces is a walk-in closet with locked doors

Self-Confidence – success builds on success; every time we accomplish something positive, our confidence goes up

Independence – we can learn how to use the tools and build each piece, but it’s up to us to create and utilize our knowledge to the best of our ability

Accomplishment or Success – finish something = accomplishment or success; success brings positive feelings and builds on itself

Final Thoughts

Basic coping strategies are like automatic defense mechanisms.  They get used without conscious thought.  Taking time to think about behaviors and thoughts that help us cope with every day anxiety and triggers helped us develop the first tool box.  As different alters cycled through periods of remembering and forgetting, it seemed like the best option was to create an accessible internal tool box like a library with security and safe places so that everyone could access all of our tools.

And once we learned about physical grounding and started reading about magic bags of holding (fae and Celtic mythology) from some of our favorites fantasy books, a magic bag that holds our favorite coping tools without being obvious was born.  Our magic bags change in shape, size, and contents all the time.  Depends on who is in charge, who is the most distress, and what tasks have to be accomplished.  Yes we have grounding tools in and around our bedroom.  A magic bag is in the works too.

But most important is having a safe place to practice these tools so they are available no matter what kind of stress, distress, panic, or anxiety hits.  And the best way to practice is when we feel relatively calm and safe.  This way, the tools come out of the tool box, get used for a specific purpose, and get put back in the tool box when we are clearheaded.  Like muscle memory, repetition works.

Repetition, not a routine or a workbook.  We practice when we can, as often as we can.

Thanks for reading.

 

Back to Basics Series: Introduction Post

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about going back to basics and provided a list of some basic strategies and techniques that get used the most.  These “back to basics” posts are meant to share experiences about how and why they work so others can understand better and try out something when nothing else seems to work.  I and the rest of the alters will alternate writing and sharing experiences so be prepared for different levels of writing skill in each post.

Some of us are adults and write well.  Others are adults and not so good at writing.  The adolescents and young adults vary too.  And once in a while one of the child alters will chime in and share a story.  We will try very hard to change the font or let our guests know when the author has changed in an obvious way, but it might not always happen.  You have our sincere apologies for this in advance.

Some of what gets discussed here will be triggering.  But since these are meant to be resources, we will try not to get into too much detail about the scary stuff.  Instead, the goal is to share only enough through examples so that our guests can understand how different strategies and technique works.

REMINDER: I am not a therapist or a professional counselor.  What gets written here is based on personal experience and shared stories through therapy and groups.

Some of the topics (might be discussed more than once in different ways) are:

  • Mindfulness (DBT version and others)
  • Distress Tolerance (DBT version)
  • Emotion Regulation (DBT version)
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness (DBT version)
  • Thought awareness and changing negative thoughts (CBT version and others)
  • Obsessions and Compulsions
  • Distractions
  • Grounding
  • Self Soothing
  • Comfort
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Food

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Fight or Flight or Play Dead?

Not much to say except this week we are all fighting.  

The anxiety is strong.  So many triggers with new people invading our space at work.  So many ways to give in amd not go to work this week.  So many reasons to get up and fight another day – deadlines, seeing friends, accomplishing goals, not wanting to give in to the fear.

Sometimes one of us will signal break time.  Then we go out and walk for a bit.  Or go to the restroom for quiet.  Maybe walk down to the lobby and talk with the guard on duty.  And then get back to work.

Once in a while I feel like running, but can’t leave the desk.  Food, juice or sour drink, chocolate, music, games, or a book help there.  But no one can help us feel the anxiety that comes from tok many people and too much movement and too much noise.

Yeah, I am nof the best writer.  And I don’t proofread either.  But mo one else wanted to post anything using the phone app.  Our personal computer got donated.  The work one is at the office.  And will stay until we bring it home tomorrow – incentive for going into the office.

Thanks for reading.