Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mental Health and Mental Illness are not Mutually Exclusive

I am a rabid believer in fighting the stigma of mental illness.  We're in the 21st century.  We have science breaking new ground in the area every day.  Enough already.  Mental illness is real.  Mental health is possible. 

One can have a mental illness and be mentally healthy at the same time.  I am.  I make no secret that I have Bipolar II.  I am compliant with treatment.  I see my psychiatrist and therapist regularly.  Medication is a tool I have to keep my brain patterns in line.  Therapy is where I get tools to improve my life.  By combining the tools, my mental illness is held in check so I can live a mentally healthy life.

And I do.  I have been treated for depression, and then bipolar II since 1981.  Along the way, I've gained insight, learned about the brain and cognitive processes, and, incidentally, become a walking history of psychiatric medication in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

I have watched anti-depressants move from tricyclics to SSRIs.  I've seen mood stabilizers move from lithium to anti-convulsives to atypical anti-psychotics.  And all the while I have been moved from one to the other until, finally, we seem to have hit a combination that allows me to function at my best.  The tool of medication has helped me survive.

As we learn more about mental illness, including addiction, I have seen the therapies I have participated in improve.  I have seen therapy go from simply talking to process thoughts to using neuroscience to help improve the cognitive processes that keep me from identifying what is part of the disease and what is not.  I've seen more emphasis on how modern medications affect the brain and, in turn the thoughts that are behind my emotions and actions. 

The tools I have to monitor myself hardly existed years ago.  Now they are a God-send in understanding and managing my disorder.  I have learned about neural pathways that exist in the brain.  These are actual physical trails in the brain.  These pathways are created by thoughts we think automatically when we experience a certain event.  When we have an experience, our neurons actually take the easiest physical path.  For better or worse

Awareness.  Being aware of feelings and actions can lead us to identify those thoughts.  We can learn more helpful thoughts.  Those thoughts can actually change the physical pathway in our brain.  To a better outcome.  To mentally healthier lives.

Just as any other chronic illness, bipolar II will sometimes take over and I can't use my bright shiny new pathways.  No matter how well treated I am.  No matter how many tools I have.  Thanks to my tools, I can more quickly identify what is going on and go for help.  Make the episode shorter, praise God/the Maker/Scientific Principle.

I am mentally healthy.  I can reason.  I can take appropriate action.  Often, I am more mentally healthy than the majority of people around me.  Awareness.  Tools.  That's what it takes.

I have a mental illness.  I have good mental health.

Look at your own feelings, actions, and thoughts.  Are you aware?  Do you have the tools to improve your coping abilities?

You may not have a mental illness, but you may discover a Mental Health Wellness checkup will help you survive and thrive as I do. It's worth it.  Try starting with some of the resources below.  You may be amazed.

Psychcentral is as old as the public internet.  The quizzes there are nearly identical to those used in doctor's offices and emergency rooms.

National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) has a ton of information about different mental illnesses

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a project called "In Our Own Voice."  Those with mental illness share their stories to help fight the stigma.  Maybe you have a local group that would sponsor a presentation.

Read The Other Depression by Robert Grieco.  Even I, treated for mental illness for 30 years, learned things about treatment and management of bipolar II that I did not know before.

Learn.  Just Learn.  You could save a life.  That life could be your own.

Meanwhile, In Scotland

funny pictures - Richard couldn't afford a bagpipe,  but that  didn't stop a man with a  dream.

see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

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