October 21st: National Check Your Meds Day

Medication interactions are serious business. You could take two medications which counteract each other, which could make you sick enough to end up in the emergency room, or even die. October 21st is National Check Your Meds Day in the US. Making sure that you’re safely consuming the right combination of medications is important for everyone who takes them. This is true for any condition, but especially so for those who suffer from mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

On National Check Your Meds Day, you can take your medications–including prescription drugs, supplements, and over-the-counter medicines–into a pharmacy for a review. You can then ask a pharmacist for advice on medication combinations, and adverse reactions of side effects.

How Will Checking My Meds Help Me?

The purpose of this review is to check whether your medications are interacting properly. If your psychiatrist and rheumatologist both prescribe medications for you and don’t talk to each other, then you may end up with two different drugs that don’t interact safely. In addition, prescribing drugs in the mental health field is incredibly patchwork and subjective; two psychiatrists looking at the same patient might prescribe a completely different cocktail of medications. And people on your mental health team often don’t talk to each other either, unless you insist.

A Consumer Reports study found that, in 2014 alone, nearly 1.3 million people visited an emergency room due to prescription drug interactions or overdose issues, which cost over $200 billion to the people visiting the ER. The steep cost of ER visits is in addition to any costs incurred due to missed work and health insurance changes. The price of medication interactions is substantial.

There is also a human cost. In January of 2000, the Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 deaths occurred from medical errors on a yearly basis. Up to 7,000 of those deaths were due to adverse drug interactions. That doesn’t seem like much, but to put this in perspective, keep in mind that 6,000 Americans die annually from workplace injuries.

This problem is easy to mitigate. Any experienced pharmacist will be able to inform you about the side effects are of your medicines, especially if you’re taking two or more medications that might contradict each other.

History of National Check Your Meds Day

With the passage of the Durham Humphrey Bill in 1951, all drugs were classified as over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs.

After the Consumer Reports study found that so many people were ending up in the ER due to medication interactions, the study’s editors collaborated with the US Department of Health and Human Services to create a holiday where people could address this issue. Then, on October 17, 2017, National Check Your Meds Day was born.

Other Services the Pharmacist Can Offer You

Other services the pharmacist can offer when examining your medications include:

  • Sometimes, doctors prescribe drugs to manage your side effects when a lifestyle change will control those better or just as well. The pharmacist can suggest ways for you to talk to your doctor about reducing your reliance on prescription drugs.
  • Check if your dosages are potentially too high or too low. This advice will not replace a qualified doctor’s, but can give you a starting point to talk to your doctor about lowering or raising a dose, or stopping a medication.
  • Encourage you to talk to your doctor about refills lasting 30 to 90 days.

Final Thoughts

Getting your meds reviewed by a pharmacist on Check Your Meds Day is a good idea. If you have medications that don’t work with each other, addressing that will safeguard your physical and mental health, and save on costs. Your pharmacist can even advise you on whether you’re taking the right prescription drugs and give you ways to talk to your doctors if you want to change your meds. Your pharmacist is there to help you. Call your local pharmacy to see if the business is participating in National Check Your Meds Day, on October 21, 2019.

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How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting Fatalities

A version of this post first appeared here on the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

In 2015, the Washington Post conducted the first ongoing tally of officer-involved shooting deaths of the mentally ill. Nationwide, at least 25% of people who are shot and killed by police officers suffer from acute mental illness at the time of their death. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be fatally shot during an encounter with police than people with their mental illnesses under control.

According to the Post’s 2018 tally, 1,165 civilians were fatally shot by police. Of those, more than 200 were confirmed to be mentally ill. Someone needs to be paying attention.

How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting FatalitiesUnarguably, mental illness isn’t the only factor involved in fatal police encounters. Race is one that is often talked about. But the link of mental illness to police brutality doesn’t have the same publicity.

In 2015, the New York City Police Department responded to more than 400 mental health calls per day, more than 12,000 per month. But why do the police respond to mental health crises, and not EMTs? Historically and correctly, law enforcement has been paid to transport people suffering breakdowns to hospitals. And for many mental wards, police involvement is a requirement for involuntary admittance. In Washington state, for example, “under almost all circumstances police involvement is the primary factor in determining whether referral will result in commitment” (Carr, Durham, and Pierce 1984). This happens often enough that the state of Oklahoma’s mental health department includes a budget line item specifically for reimbursing police to transport patients.

The perception of people suffering mental illness as violent and dangerous is another reason police are called. Officers are the only people often perceived by the public to be able to deescalate mental health crises. According to the American Psychiatric Association, most people with mental illness are not violent, but using the law enforcement as a blunt instrument contributes to the stigma that they are. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely than others to be victims of a crime, not perpetuate them.

A Call to Action for Governments

The December 2015 report from The Treatment Advocacy Center, “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” urges lawmakers to make sweeping changes to this broken system. The authors recommended that the lawmakers:

  • Restore the mental health system so that people who suffer from mental illnesses will be treated before they end up in encounters with law enforcement;
  • Accurately count and report all situations involving deadly force by police officers;
  • Identify the number of times those with mental illnesses are fatally shot in an official report, so lawmakers can’t ignore the impact of police fatalities related to mental illness.

Since that study, there has been marginal progress. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December 2016, mandated that data on the role of mental illness in fatal police encounters be collected and reported. Soon after, the Bureau of Justice Statistics started using a new methodology in reporting arrest-related death statistics. Using the new methodology, the number of arrest-related deaths that were verified and reported to the Department of Justice doubled.

But the act is not as robust as it could be. According to the Post’s tally, police killed about two dozen more people in 2017 than in 2016, and even more in 2018. The numbers don’t lie; things have not improved much, despite more accurate reporting.

What Can I Do?

Progress is slow, and this may feel like an insurmountable problem. But there are things you can do to help. Contact your House representative and let them know that you are concerned about fatal police shootings. Read books like Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry, which describes why psychotic patients need involuntary commitments. Champion police body cameras and mandated government reporting of the role of mental illness in shootings. Advocate for mental health funding at all levels of government. If you are a police officer, rely on your crisis training to deescalate crises involving the mentally ill.

Final Thoughts

Fatal police shootings, especially of when they involve people suffering from mental illness, are not new or rare. Nor are they going away. But there are things you can do to help. We’ve got to stop this trend. With consistent pressure on our lawmakers and law enforcement, we can fix this.

  1. Durham, Mary & Carr, Harold & Pierce, Glenn. (1984). Police Involvement and Influence in Involuntary Civil Commitment. Hospital & community psychiatry. 35. 580-4. 10.1176/ps.35.6.580.

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100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

Self-care is crucial to your functioning. It’s taking responsibility for your own health. When I called a warmline and told the operator my depression was overwhelming me, he told me I “needed a big dose of self-care.”

But taking care of yourself is so much more than bubble baths and painting your toenails. There are so many ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 100 doable self-care ideas for when you’re suffering from depression. Don’t feel that you need to do all of this list; one or two can contribute to a better mood.

100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Be patient with yourself. Being patient with yourself is one of the best ways you can practice self-care. If you’re mindful and allow yourself to let your negative emotions wash off you like water off a duck’s back, then the depression won’t be able to impact you as badly. If you’re patient with yourself and allow yourself to roll with the punches, then you’ll feel better.
      2. Practice self-care in snippets. Ideally, you’d have more than an hour to spend on yourself. But the busy people and parents among us don’t have that luxury. If you can, practice some of these ideas in 5-minute bursts throughout the day.
      3. Talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. Depression makes you feel as if you can’t control your thoughts. But you can! You can talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. If you do that, then depression won’t make as much of a foothold in your life. You’ll still experience awful, overwhelming feelings, but you can control how you react to them.
      4. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Get mad and punch a pillow. Feel sad and cry. Feel happy, and smile. You are allowed.
      5. Drink water. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Take a day to focus on drinking a gallon of water. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
      6. Eat just enough nutritious food to feed your body. When I’m depressed, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I highly recommend pacing yourself, and eating just enough nutritious food to feed your body. For 22 easy meals to make while you’re depressed, click here.
      7. Indulge in some ice cream or another sweet treat. Depression is no time to stick to a diet. You’re in crisis mode. Give yourself permission to indulge once in a while.
      8. Set realistic expectations. I have a to do list that’s regularly 15-20 items per day. Even if I didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to complete the list. Don’t do what I do. Set realistic expectations for your day. If that’s only drinking water (tip #5) or eating a nutritious meal (#6), that’s fine.
      9. Try to think of 5 things that you are grateful for. If you pray, pray a prayer of gratitude. Try to think of 5 things that you are happy to have, like physical health, shelter, food, clean water, sick days at work, or whathaveyou.
      10. Text someone. If you have someone like a supportive friend or family member, text them and let them know that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member, then email me, and I promise that I will email you back.
      11. Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift.
      12. Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Studies show clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
      13. Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
      14. Say “yes” to things you normally enjoy. Saying “yes” to things you normally enjoy may help lift your mood.
      15. Take your medication and attend therapy sessions. Taking your medication daily is crucial for your mental health. Trust your treatment team to have your best interests at heart.
      16. Get enough sleep, but not too much. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we can sleep too little or too much. Making sure you have good sleep hygiene is so important to your daily functioning,
      17. Play. Playing is a fantastic way to lift your mood. When I’m consciously practicing self-care, I set some time aside to play my favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts. An operator on the warmline I called told me that if killing virtual monsters helps me feel better, “then slaughter away!”
      18. Avoid or reduce caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel wired and awful. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.
      19. Write down your to-dos, but don’t write too many. Setting yourself a few miniature goals during the day will help give you clarity and focus. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks, like I often do.
      20. Cull or avoid social media. Social media is a pit sometimes. People have nasty fights about political issues or curate their “perfect” lives. Try to avoid Facebook and Twitter while you’re depressed, and only friend people you personally know.
      21. Journal. Write down everything that comes to mind until you can’t write anymore. You don’t need to examine these feelings later, just work through them now.
      22. Take a shower or a bath. Hygiene is often neglected during depressive episodes. I know it’s the first thing that goes out the window when I’m depressed. Make sure to take time to shower or bathe and you’ll feel loads better.
      23. Brush your teeth. Similar to bathing, one of the things I struggle with when I’m feeling down is brushing my teeth. Take care of your mouth and it will take care of you.
      24. Read a book. Studies have shown that six minutes of reading a book lowers stress and anxiety. Feel free to indulge in one of the best pastimes.
      25. Write a list of compliments about yourself. Writing a list of compliments about yourself is probably one of the hardest ideas for self-care to put into practice when you’re depressed. But trashing yourself doesn’t help. Try to compliment your bouncy hair, your intelligence, or your ability to keep Fido alive.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Stroke a pet. Speaking of Fido, stroking a pet has been proven to increase dopamine and improve mood. If you don’t have a pet, curl up with a cuddly toy.
      2. Paint. You don’t have to be an artist to paint. Painting, like coloring, calms the soul, and is a cheap activity to start. All you need is some paint, some water, paper, and some brushes.
      3. Buy yourself flowers or a scented candle. Don’t wait for someone else to buy you flowers. Show yourself some love.
      4. Bake something delicious. Baking can be calming and meditative, and you’ll end up with a tasty product at the end of it.
      5. Declutter your clothes. Decluttering sounds like a chore, and an overwhelming one at that, but getting rid of excess items can be immensely freeing and satisfying.
      6. Dance. Put on some energetic music and dance like no one is watching. If you get your heart rate up, you’ll probably feel better.
      7. Fix a small annoyance. If something has been bugging you, just fix the problem, or make a plan to fix it.
      8. Listen to music. When I’m feeling down, music tends to lift me up again, or–in the case of energetic music played on my headphones–gets me going. Play your favorite pop songs, classical tunes, or hard rock music. Whatever you’re into, give relaxing by listening a try.
      9. Avoid the news. Take a break from all the negativity on the news. Most news is trying to sell you something, be it a product that will supposedly make you feel better, or a bad attitude which will cause you to turn to retail therapy. Depression and the news cycle don’t mix.
      10. Don some comfy clothes. Putting on comfortable clothes that usually make you feel like a million bucks may help you feel better when in the midst of depression.
      11. Paint your toenails. Yes, painting your toenails is the cliché, quintessential form of self-care, but it deserves to be mentioned because it’s what most people think of when they think self-care. Painting your toenails can be expressive, creative, and relaxing.
      12. Take a multi-vitamin. Taking a multi-vitamin may not seem like it will do much for immediate self-care. It’s true that vitamins require a cumulative effect in order to work well, but even taking one can help your body operate better.
      13. Go to bed at the same time every night.
      14. And then rise at the same time every morning. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for getting good sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and subsequently rising at the same time every morning are excellent ways to ensure that you sleep well.
      15. Plan out your day the night before. Part of planning your day out the night before is setting to do lists (tip #19). This is a great aspect of self-care. If you set yourself reasonable expectations of yourself the night before, you’re more likely to get the things done on the day of. You won’t flounder without a plan.
      16. Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast is colloquially known as the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating breakfast daily can lower our chances of obesity and high blood pressure.
      17. Put some lotion all over your body.
      18. Groom yourself. Shave your legs if you’re into that, pluck your eyebrows, brush your hair for a longer period of time than usual. If you’re freshly-groomed, you may feel better.
      19. Learn something new.
      20. Try breathing in some essential oils. Some essential oils, like lavender and cinnamon, have a calming effect on the mind and body.
      21. Blow yourself a kiss in the mirror. You might feel silly showing yourself some love, but just try it.
      22. Watch your favorite movie.
      23. Find a way to give. Being generous to others inspires an attitude of gratitude, and helps you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.
      24. Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Go to the library. Taking a few moments to be among books can be rejuvinating, especially if it’s in total silence and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
      2. Go dig in the dirt. Digging in the dirt can raise your heartrate and help you indulge your connection to nature.
      3. Play a game of solitaire.
      4. Play a cooperative board game with friends and family.
      5. Stretch. Stretching your shoulders can help relieve tension.
      6. Try adult coloring books. Coloring relaxes many people. Adult coloring books have more complicated pictures to delight the senses.
      7. Double recipes. When you have the energy to cook, try doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the excess for another meal on another day. If you meal prep ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about cooking on days when you just can’t do anything productive.
      8. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that soothes you.
      9. Take a cat nap.
      10. Make a craft. Engaging in your creative side is one of the best ways to relax.
      11. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” is, overall, a negative word, which places a lot of undue expectations on yourself. Take “should” out of your vocabulary.
      12. Listen to a podcast or TED talk.
      13. Watch a comedian on YouTube.
      14. Educate yourself on a problem you have. If you are facing an illness or a problem, do some research on what the issue is so you can make a plan of attack. Learn about what you’re facing so you can know what to expect and where to get support.
      15. Browse your favorite blog.
      16. Write a good review of a place or restaurant you actually enjoy going to.
      17. Attend a group or individual therapy session. Therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, provided you have a good therapist. Online support groups can help as well.
      18. Make a Spotify playlist.
      19. Ask a good friend to name three things he or she loves about you.
      20. If you can’t give up social media, dedicate a week to saying only positive things on your favorite platform. Not allowing yourself to engage in negativity will help your mood.
      21. Name your emotions without judging them. Naming your emotions without judging them is similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings (tip #4), but this time, you identify what you’re feeling. Putting a name to your emotions helps you control them.
      22. Tell your pet your darkest secrets. Your pet will still love you, even if you tell them your darkest secrets.
      23. Take 15 minutes to write down everything bothering you, and your feelings about them. Then burn the paper.
      24. Get a massage.
      25. Walk barefoot on the grass.
      26. Build something with LEGOs.
      27. Play with playdough. You may feel like a kid again by playing with playdough, but that’s not a bad thing. Playdough engages both your hands and your creative side. So do LEGOs (tip #75).
      28. Eat your favorite comfort foods.
      29. Go see a movie at the theater all by yourself.
      30. Plan an extravagant vacation for fun. You don’t need to actually go on a vacation in order to plan out what you’d do. Planning is part of the fun.
      31. Make a homemade facemask. Readers’ Digest has some great facemask recipes for you to use here.
      32. Sing at the top of your lungs. You might feel silly singing at the top of your lungs, but doing so will force you to breathe deeply, which brings oxygen to your brain.
      33. Light candles around the house. Bonus points if the candles you light are scented and the scents are pleasing to you.
      34. Watch old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood videos online.
      35. Wrap yourself up in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.
      36. Turn down thte lights and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing.
      37. Ask for help. If you have friends or family or a treatment team, ask them for help. Don’t be shy about getting support during a depressive episode; we all need help sometimes.
      38. Read inspirational stories.
      39. Read positive quotes.
      40. Take your dog or a friend’s dog out for a walk. Not only will walking a dog get you moving, it’s good for the dog, too.
      41. Do a 10-minute body scan technique to check in with every part of your body. Start scanning your body with your feet. How are they feeling? Move up to your legs, knees, hips, belly, and so on, checking in with each part of your body. What is your body telling you? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Is it time for a nap? Listen to your body.
      42. Intentionally find five beautiful things around the house or on the way to work.
      43. Make a gift for someone.
      44. Pray. If you’re religious–or even if you’re not–praying can help you center yourself. If you don’t pray, try meditation.
      45. Focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
      46. Soften your expectations of yourself and of others.
      47. What are you good at? Try to use your talents.
      48. “Turn the other cheek.” Be the better person when someone has wronged you. Try to forgive someone who has hurt you personally, whether or not they’ve apologized.
      49. Go on a walk and take pictures of anything that catches your eye.
      50. Listen to meditative sounds, like monks chanting.
      51. Give yourself permission to only do one self-care activity per day. When you’re depressed, the last thing you want is a list of things to do. Give yourself permission to only try one self-care activity per day.

    100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips for taking care of yourself when you're suffering.

    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve made it through the entire list, that’s awesome. You don’t have to do all of these self-care ideas, especially not all at once. You don’t even have to do any of them. If you’ve eaten, drank water, and taken a shower, you’ve won the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can engage in self-care a little at a time.

    I wish you well in your journey.

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7 Types of Self-Care for Mental Health

What are the 7 types of Self-Care for Mental Health? Take a look!

Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But self-care is so much more than that.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your own well-being. That’s it. If that sounds intimidating or difficult, I understand.

September is Self-Care Awareness Month in the US. With that in mind, I’d like to devote this post to examining what self-care is, and a future post to 100 Self-Care Ideas When You’re Depressed.

Read on to discover the 7 vital types of self-care for your mental health, and you may find that self-care is not so intimidating after all.

7 Vital Types of Self-Care

    1. Physical self-care. Physical self-care is the most common form of self-care. It’s simply taking care of your physical needs, such as food, water, sleep, and exercise. It’s taking yourself to the doctor when you get sick. Showering is definitely part of this self-care.
    2. Emotional self-care. Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Check in with a therapist if you find expressing yourself difficult.
    3. Intellectual self-care. Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits.
    4. Spiritual self-care. Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and ing expressing our values.
    5. Relational self-care. Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported.
    6. Social self-care. Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid.
      Safety and security self-care. Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans.

Final Thoughts

All of these types of self-care are vital to your well-being. First, take care of the physical and emotional self-care, then work on the spiritual, intellectual, and relational self-care. Finally, make sure you’re also doing the social and safety self-care, and you’ll be a well-rounded, healthy individual.

But how do you actually accomplish these seven? In future posts, we’ll be looking at self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. Stay tuned.

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How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Are you depressed? Here’s how to find motivation to clean your house, in this post by The Bipolar Parent!

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Neglecting your environment–along with yourself–goes hand in hand with depression. When you’re suffering from overwhelming feelings and low energy, picking up around the house can rank last on your list. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, as I am now, I want to load the dishwasher about as much as I want to put my hand into a box of tarantulas.

But a messy house can prolong and deepen feelings of depression. Overwhelming feelings breed messes, and messes bring overwhelming feelings. The depression-messy house cycle is real, and vicious.

So how do you overcome your paralysis and start cleaning up? Read on for some tips that have helped me conquer my inactivity during my current episode and others.

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

Crank Up the Tunes

Listening to some fast or inspiring music is a psychological trick that encourages you to move more quickly. You may end up dancing your way through your chores. I blast a Pandora Radio station based on bands like Pendulum, an energetic electronic rock band, in headphones to really get going. The Pandora app is free, and there are several other free options, like Spotify and I Heart Radio.

Commit to Nine Minutes

Set a timer for nine minutes to clean. Just nine. Nine minutes is easier to commit to than a longer period. You’re not going to clean your whole house. You’re not even going to get the entire kitchen clean. But nine minutes, even if you’re working slowly, is enough time to:

  • Make your bed.Your bed, even if the mattress is small, takes up a huge percentage of floor space. All you need to do is pull up the sheets and covers. The action takes two minutes, tops, and will instantly elevate the rest of the room.
  • Throw away a bag of trash. Picking up one bag of trash from the floor will improve the room immensely. Throwing away big items, like last night’s pizza boxes and soda bottles, will have the most visible impact.
  • Unload the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher will take up to three minutes to complete, or five if you’re working slowly. But once you’ve started to conquer Dish Mountain, the kitchen will look a whole lot better, and you’ll have clean dishes to eat off. If you have an empty dishwasher, load it. If you don’t have a dishwasher at all, wash as many dishes as you can in the time you have left.

Take Breaks

After you’ve completed your nine minutes of cleaning, you can sit down on the couch. The feeling of accomplishment you get might spur you on to more cleaning. That’s great, but take a break first. In the long run, this actually keeps your house cleaner by avoiding bad associations and burn out.

On the other side of bipolar disorder, manic episodes strike. Marathon cleaning can contribute to mania. This kind of marathon cleaning may be great for your house, but it’s terrible for your mental health. Then you’re exhausted. And your brain begins to associate cleaning with illness. Don’t fall into that trap. Take breaks.

Reward Yourself

Rewards aren’t just for potty-training toddlers. You need to reward yourself. Teens and adults can be driven by the pleasure centers of the brain just as effectively. After a morning of cleaning, I often go out to lunch. The association of pleasure with resting after work is a powerful one for me.

Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning

Why do the dishes or make your bed? They’re just going to get dirty again, right? If you’re thinking of chores as pointless, you’re looking at them all wrong. Think of cleaning as being kind to yourself.

I know, I know, you don’t want to be kind to yourself when you’re crippled by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But think of it this way: would you let your friend live in filth? You deserve a clean house, because you are a worthy human being.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your house won’t cure your depression. But it can help. Crank up the music, clean for nine minutes, take breaks, reward yourself, and tell yourself why you’re cleaning, and you’ll have a clean house (or cleaner) in no time. And you might even feel better, too.

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Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder

Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Bipolar Diagnosis - CassandraStout.comTrigger warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

May is self-discovery month. One of the most crucial ways to encourage self-discovery is to reflect on what you’ve been through. If you have bipolar disorder, examining the contrast between the pre-diagnosis version of you and the post-diagnosis version of you can be helpful, because looking back on how you got here helps orient you to the future.

The time surrounding my diagnosis was fraught; I suffered a postpartum psychotic manic episode, and committed myself to a mental hospital. I spent a week there, and, unwilling to miss any more of my infant’s first days, I checked out against medical advice. I covered all of this in my upcoming book, Committed.

My marriage was in flux. I alienated people from my church by my wild, unreasonable behavior. I was considered a danger to my infant by those people, and was threatened with a call to the Child Protective Services. I suffered a horrible postpartum depressive episode, during which I was suicidal. I was often suicidal from the age of fifteen, when I likely developed bipolar disorder, to the age of twenty-four, when I was prescribed lithium.

Prior to my diagnosis at twenty-two, ever since I was a teen, I suffered from intense depressive episodes interspersed with hypomania. I spent almost all of my time that wasn’t taken up with school on the internet, chatting with online friends, even at all hours of the night. I didn’t sleep, which worsened my bipolar symptoms–symptoms which I didn’t recognize as being those of mental illness. I was clearly addicted to the internet, an addiction which took many years to break. I worked two to three jobs at a time during the summers because I was running on manic energy and was described by my supervisors being difficult to control. I ate copious amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, which worsened my symptoms.

One of the biggest obstacles to adequate treatment for bipolar disorder is stigma–especially self-stigma, where you absorb the inaccurate, negative messages around you about your mental illness. This leads you to limit yourself and limit the impact of therapy and medication, because you may decide not to take steps towards getting treatment.

My self-stigma was difficult to handle; everyday post-diagnosis, I faced the hard decision to take my medication. Every week, I faced the hard decision to drag myself to therapy. But I succeeded at working on myself. When I was first diagnosed, I fought self-stigma by recognizing that I was accepting medication not just for myself, but for the benefit of my newborn son. I realized that I needed to be my best self for him, regardless of what others might say about my needing medication for life. Now, I can proudly say that I am stable, as I haven’t experienced a mood episode for years. The medication and therapy literally saved my life.

The post-diagnosis version of me is much healthier. I am no longer driven by frenetic, difficult-to-control energy, or suffer long-lasting depression. I sleep well, and am able to dedicate myself to my writing and mothering my children. I have advised other mothers about the postpartum period, and advocated against their self-stigma for their mental health. I have a few friends, and I’m looking for more. Because of my medication and years of therapy, I actually have the mental stamina and energy to handle pursuing new friends at a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. I now have an extremely strong marriage, tested and proven in the fires of mental illness.

You, too, can fight self-stigma. You, too, can succeed in getting treatment like I have. You, too, can minimize the effect that bipolar disorder has on your life. I wish you luck in your journey.

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Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

Are you bipolar? There is a day on the calendar to celebrate your struggles with the disorder.

World Bipolar Day (WBD) is celebrated each year on March 30th, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, as he was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.

The day–an initiative of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD)–means to combat stigma and raise awareness of bipolar disorders.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is marked by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and executive function–the ability to accomplish tasks on a daily basis.

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

Bipolar disorder comes in several forms.

People with bipolar I suffer from manic episodes–periods of increased energy, euphoric mood, and decreased need for sleep–depressive episodes–periods of intense, pervasive sadness–as well as weeks of relative stability. People who suffer from bipolar II deal with even more severe and lengthy depressive episodes and hypomania, a lesser form of mania. There’s also cyclothymia, or bipolar III, where people have lesser forms of depression and hypomania, but cycle more rapidly between the two.

Episodes of bipolar disorder are not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through. This is a lifelong condition which interferes with day-to-day functioning. The prevalence of bipolar disorder has been estimated to be as high as 5% of people around the world.

There are several causes to bipolar disorder, including genetic components, environmental stresses, childhood trauma, and other factors.

International groups like IBPF, ISBD, and ANBD support global efforts from scientists and advocates to investigate causes of bipolar disorder, methods of diagnosis, coping strategies, and medications to successfully treat the mental illness. World Bipolar Day was created to celebrate these efforts, acknowledge the struggles of people with the disorder, and raise awareness and sensitivity.

You can celebrate World Bipolar Day by taking care of yourself. But if you have bipolar disorder, how do you cope with the day-to-day challenges the mental illness brings? There are several strategies:

Take Your Medications

Your medications are there to help you. If you don’t take them on a regular basis, you won’t know if they work. Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.

But there is hope. Bipolar disorder is one of the most manageable and treatable disorders. You can find a correct combination of medications or electroconvulsive therapies to treat you. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

Attend Therapy

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn coping skills to handle the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns. Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Practice Self-care

Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. Self-care involves sleeping enough (but not too much), eating a healthy diet, spending time outside and with other people, exercising, and drinking plenty of water.

Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all six everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

Final Thoughts

World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently. Make the effort to treat your mental illness on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

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Ring in the New Year By Writing Yourself a Mental Health Vision Statement

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Ring in the New Year by Setting a Mental Health Vision Statement – CassandraStout.com

What do you want to accomplish in the next week? The next month? The next year?

A vision statement is usually reserved for businesses. It’s a purpose-driven overview of what the business owner wants to accomplish with their company. It should leave nothing to interpretation. You want to set this goal and contribute to the end result of the vision statement with little steps you can take during everyday life.

Most vision statements are an overarching goal of the company. For example, Disney’s is “make people happy.” There’s no reason you can’t write a personal, mental-health oriented vision statement. And yours doesn’t have to be nearly as ambitious, and you may want to center it on improving your own station rather than making other people happy, sometimes an impossible feat.

So how do you write a mental-health oriented vision statement to ring in the new year?

Basic Guidelines for Vision Statements

Here are the basic guidelines for vision statements. Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow all of these guidelines, but they’re good starting points.

  1. A vision statement should be short. A vision statement is a brief outline of your goals. It should be one-to-two sentences, max.
  2. A vision statement should be specific. What are you hoping to accomplish with your goal? Try to be as specific as possible. Disney’s vision statement, “make people happy,” is too general and too other-people focused for the vision statement you want to make.
  3. A vision statement should be simple. Everyone who hears or reads your vision statement should be able to understand it. The less complex you make your end goal, the more likely it is that you are to follow it.
  4. A vision statement should be ambitious, but achievable. When setting goals for yourself, you want to challenge yourself to accomplish great things. If you’re suffering from depression, such a challenge seems impossible to complete. That’s okay. You can adjust the level of ambition based on how you’re feeling. Like, “I will take a shower, feed myself, and make my bed everyday for six months.” These lofty goals are challenging for a depressed person, right? But definitely achievable.

Following these guidelines will help you write a compelling vision statement.

Vision Statement Examples

Using the above guidelines, set a goal for yourself which is mental-health oriented. Try to make the vision statement short, simple, specific, and ambitious but achievable.

For example:

  • “I will focus on self-care three days a week for eight weeks, which should improve my mood.”
  • “I will lose 11 pounds in three months by eating a Mediterranean diet, which may help treat my depression.”
  • “I will find a competent therapist and attend therapy as often as I can afford, but preferably once a month, for the next year.”

Try to stay true to yourself, and focus on the types of goals that you can achieve.

Final Thoughts

If you can, do some thinking about what kinds of overarching, mental-health oriented vision statements you want to set for the next six months to a year. Setting yourself an ambitious but achievable goal may encourage you to meet it, and hopefully take care of yourself in the new year.

Happy New Year!

What vision statement do you think you’ll set for yourself this year? Let me know in the comments!

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9 Things I Learned in the Mental Hospital

9 Things I learned in the mental hospital - Cassandrastout.comAfter the birth of my son eleven years ago, I suffered a postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. I later wrote a book detailing the experience, and how I reacted at the time. I learned many things during my five-day stay, and I’d like to share some of them with you today. Here are 9 things I learned at the psych ward:

  1. Anger is common. The most surprising lesson I learned during my stay at the mental hospital was that anger is shockingly common for patients at first. While there, the doctors seem to be your enemies who want to keep you there. It’s not true. Your doctors want to help you exit the facility successfully. Couple the us vs. them mentality with emotional and mental distress, and it’s not suprising that patients tend to respond with anger. But the heightened emotion tends to dissipate over the length of the stay, as the medication starts working.
  2. Inpatient treatment is a stopgap. A stay in a mental hospital is similar to a stay in the physical hospital for surgery: you don’t fully recover while you’re there. A mental break or depressive episode can’t be solved in a day, no matter how good the meds are.
  3. The patients are human. One of my main mistakes during my stay in the mental hospital in the mental hospital was dismissing the other patients as “crazy.” But the patients in a mental hospital are human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths. Everyone has a story. Everyone is suffering more than you know. I learned that I shouldn’t dehumanize or dismiss people because they’re suffering from mental illnesses–including myself.
  4. The staff is human, too. Learning that the patients were human was hard, but what was even harder was recognizing that the staff were human, too. At first, I believed the doctors and nurses were out to get me. But the staff are all individuals, and human. Some of them are kind and compassionate, while others are just working a shift. I learned to accept the flaws and foibles of all the nurses and psychiatrists, and that made the stay more bearable.
  5. Boredom reigns supreme. After my anger diminished, I was bored out of my skull. I was manic and depressed–suffering from a mixed episode–and restless. The only distractions available were coloring sheets, an ancient, derelict computer, reading old issues of Reader’s Digest, and (gasp!) talking to the other patients. I was far too revved up to engage in coloring or sloooow web surfing or reading, so I talked the ears off of my roommate.
  6. Even while psychotic, I was aware of how people treated me. Even during my psychotic break, I was able to pick up on other people’s moods. I don’t know if that’s just a “me thing,” or if everyone psychotic is that in tune with others, but I knew when people were mistreating me. Be careful when dealing with psychotic people, and treat them with respect.
  7. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. During my stay in the mental hospital, I grew close to my roommate. Too close. I struggled to separate myself from her, even feeling shocked and betrayed that she would vote for a different presidential candidate than I would. I genuinely believed we shared the same thoughts. Learning boundaries was extremely difficult for me, but everyone benefited.
  8. The nurses draw your blood after every meal. The other patients and I were required to sit in a garish, orange chair after every meal and “donate” blood. The nurses drew our blood thrice daily, and it wasn’t until the middle of my stay that I realized they were checking to see if the medication was up to acceptable levels.
  9. If you commit yourself, the doctors cannot legally hold you.  Missing the first few weeks of my infant’s life was devastating. I was desperate to go home and take care of him. It wasn’t until my fifth day that I learned, through a slip of the tongue from a nurse, that, since I committed myself, I was able to go home anytime. I left against medical advice the day after that–potentially a mistake, as my recovery time from my mixed episode was probably longer than it would have been because I didn’t allow the doctors to do their jobs. Thankfully, God was with me and I did, eventually, recover (see lesson #2).9 Things I learned in the mental hospital - CassandraStout,cin

Final Thoughts

My stay in the mental hospital was literally life-saving. I learned more about myself there in six days than I learned in a year’s worth of therapy prior to that. I learned how to manage myself, other people, and my expectations of those people. I managed my surprising anger. I learned that dehumanizing others is easy and a bad habit to slip into. I learned that mental hospitals sound like scary places, but they’re actually really boring. Above all, I learned that I can handle anything life throws at me.

If you’ve dealt with a stay in a mental hospital, what have you learned?

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Mental Health Check-in: Mother-In-Law Edition

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

Hello!

How are you? How’s your day going? How’s your week? Do you have any holiday plans? If you have kids or a partner, how are they? Let’s chat!

How I’m Doing

My week has been a good one. My mother-in-law was here, and we all adore her. The toddler especially loves her Grandma. We made cookies on Sunday, and hung out the rest of the week. My family’s holiday plan is to fly across the country in mid-December to visit her where she lives. We’re all looking forward to it!

So please let me know how you’re doing. I do genuinely want to get to know you all.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

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