How are you? I genuinely want to know. My week has been busy.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Lightbox Edition!
How are you? Have you been getting some sun this week? How’s the weather holding up for you? How’s your mood been this week? What are you struggling with recently? What challenges have you been facing in parenting? Please let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know.
My week has been busy.
On Tuesday, I had an appointment with my primary care physician, who ordered blood tests to see if there are physical causes to my depression. I wasn’t fasting (I’d eaten snack at toddler group with my kiddo before the appointment), so I couldn’t take the blood tests until Wednesday, which I did.
On Thursday, I saw my psychiatrist. He boosted my dose of antidepressant (Wellbutrin), prescribed an anti-anxiety med (which starts with a B, but I can’t recall the name), and told me to get a lightbox, as I probably have seasonal affective disorder. He said the lightbox will probably cost $150-500 and may be reimbursed by insurance.
I told my husband about the lightbox, and his immediate response was, “Okay, I’ve ordered one on Amazon. It should be here tomorrow.” He told me that the one I needed (with 10,000 lux, or units of light) was on sale for $30. A second lightbox was on sale for $25, so he bought that one, too. So now I have two, one for my bedroom and one for my desk. I adore my husband.
On Friday, I walked to the store, pushing Toddler in the stroller, to pick up my prescriptions. Apparently the pharmacy only received orders for the antidepressant. I called my psych doc and left a message asking the office to re-fax the prescription order. I always play phone tag with them, which is extremely frustrating.
Taking care of my mental health is so difficult and expensive. There are multiple doctors involved, and our insurance has a high deductible which just reset this January. The antidepressant prescription was $51. So, with the addition of the lightboxes, that’s over $100 spent just this week, not to mention the cost of the doctor’s appointments.
I’ve also eaten out for lunch every day this week. Not because I couldn’t plan ahead and pack sandwiches, but because I’m depressed, and one of the ways I find myself trying to feel better is going to restaurants. It works in the moment, but afterwards I feel buyer’s remorse as each fast food meal is forgettable, unhealthy, and expensive.
Spending this much on myself makes me weak in the knees. My husband would say that I am worth the cost, and “it’s just money.” Having grown up below the poverty line, I am struggling with prioritizing my own wellbeing.
But I need to, if not for me, then at least for my kids. They deserve a mother who is sound in mind and body. I need to prioritize my own contentment. And stop going out to eat unless it’s a special treat, like our family Sunday brunch.
A stay in a mental hospital can be a frightening thought. Some patients may be a danger to themselves or others. People are hospitalized in psychiatric wards for a variety of reasons. Some may suffer from depression. And still others may endure anxiety disorders, mania, or any other number of mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or postpartum psychosis.
But what about you? How do you survive a stint in the mental hospital, if you need one? Let’s dig in.
Deal with Potential Anger
When starting out your stay in a psychiatric ward, you may find yourself angry. If you’ve been involuntarily committed, you may not believe that you deserve to be there. Even if you do believe you deserve to be there, anger is a common emotion to feel when hospitalized, especially in the first few days. The nurses should be aware of this and will prevent violent interactions between patients, but will largely ignore your outbursts otherwise.
Because the nurses are ignoring your potential anger, you will have to handle it yourself. So now that you know you might have some anger to process, how do you deal with it? Here are some steps that can help:
When you feel the first stirrings of anger, try breathing deeply through your nose. (For a technique for deep breathing, click here.)
Create a calming and positive mantra, and repeat it to yourself. Try something like, “chill,” “relax,” or “take it easy.” Repeat this to yourself until you feel the anger ebb.
Wait to express yourself until after the initial rush of adrenaline has passed, and do so in a calm and appropriate manner. Try to be assertive rather than angry.
Keep a journal of what makes you feel angry and why, and try to avoid those triggers.
Listen to those around you. Practicing good listening skills can help clear up disagreements before they start.
If another patient is trying to get your goat, then walk away, and alert the nurses. Disengage as quickly as you can.
Calm acceptance of your stay in the mental hospital will come in time, unless the anger is a deep-rooted issue. Handling conflict properly with other patients and the hospital nurses is very important. If you don’t deal with your anger, you’ll create problems for everyone involved.
In a mental hospital, you will may be bored and lonely. Some wards don’t allow internet access or phone use, so you might be completely cut off from the outside world. One of the best ways to cope with this problem is to make friends with the other patients. Try to be open to starting new friendly relationships with people. It may relieve you of your boredom and even speed your recovery, because having someone to cheer you on is always good. You’re all in this together.
Even though making friends is good, people can become too close. Nurses are instructed to break apart people who grow too chummy. For example, during my own stay in a mental hospital, I made a friend with whom I became quite codependent. Every time she left the room, I wondered if she was abandoning me. My doctors instructed me not to make my emotional health dependent on her.
That is why establishing healthy boundaries with others is so important. If you don’t want to lend out your personal items, then decline politely whenever someone asks. And don’t tolerate abuse from people either. If they don’t stop hurting you when you ask, be it emotional or physical harm, walk away and alert the nurses.
Note: While making friends is advised, starting a romantic relationship is not. Needless to say, a stay in the hospital is emotionally charged. You’re there to stabilize and recover, and you’re not at your best self. Neither is any other patient. You might find yourself in a whirlwind romance, which won’t benefit either of you. Your ultimate goal is to improve and be released, and a romantic attachment may hinder that.
Fall in Line
Psychiatric wards have a lot of rules. You may receive a tour of the hospital explaining what most of these guidelines are. Pay attention to what the nurses and doctors say with regard to your behaviors and treatments. Make sure you know what expectations are placed on you so you can be released, possibly earlier than expected.
In addition to general rules, there are basic steps you can take to get released. Comply with your individual treatment plan. Attend all the therapy and crafting sessions, and take your medication as prescribed. If you disagree with the treatment plan, talk to your doctors. A willingness to discuss things rationally is better than outright refusal.
You might think, like I did, that the doctors are out to get you or that they’re incompetent. You might believe that they want to keep you in the hospital forever, because it pads their bottom line. I can assure you that that’s not the case. They want you to recover. Talking with them will help both you and them.
You won’t recover until you’ve stabilized, which the medication and therapy is intended to help with. Your doctors have years of experience under their belts, treating all manner of mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. They know what they’re doing, and they really do have your best interests at heart. You don’t need to like them, just work with them.
Having your daily routine interrupted by a stay in the hospital will be very difficult. And without the challenges of work or school, you may end up facing extreme boredom. You will have a lot of time to think, and you might not want to get wrapped up in your thoughts. Try constructive ways to fill your time, such as:
Reading. Most psychiatric wards own books and magazines available for the patients. Mine had old copies of Reader’s Digest. If you have friends willing to come visit you, ask them to bring reading materials.
Crafting. You will likely be assigned a crafting or skill-learning class. Take notes and learn how to craft the presented item or perfect the taught skill. Why? It might sound stupid, but creating a handprint turkey is better than being bored.
Doing crossword puzzles or coloring pages. If possible, ask the nurses to print some of these out for you, or your friends to bring some.
A stay in the mental hospital doesn’t have to be a disaster. If you deal with your anger, handle interactions with others appropriately, comply with treatment, and fill your time with constructive activities, you can ensure that you’ll make the best of your stay.
Wow, what a headline! After reviewing 17 studies involving more than 331,000 patients, University of Washington (UW) researchers have linked bipolar disorder to a risk of early death from natural causes, such as medical illness. The risk of premature death is from 35 to 200 percent more than people without bipolar disorder, and is the same between men and women. The most common conditions leading to death were heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Before this study, the higher rate of death linked to bipolar disorder was attributed to suicides and accidents. While patients who suffer from mental illnesses do have a higher chance of accidents and suicides, the new evidence points to medical illnesses as the primary cause of premature deaths.
According to the UW report published in the journal Psychiatric Services, there are many reasons behind the poor health among bipolar disorder sufferers. Reasons such as unhealthy diet, added stress, lack of exercise, substance abuse, and biases among health professionals towards people with mental illnesses.
In addition to those reasons, bipolar disorder can also stress the immune system and the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, a system which handles many processes in the body. Mental illnesses also trigger the flight-or-fight response to stress.
Even more troubling, psychiatric medications that help treat bipolar disorders tend to cause weight gain, leading to obesity and other complications.
But there are attempts to try to reduce the risk of death in people with mental illnesses, such as providing guidelines to mental health professionals to monitor their patients’ physical health. Psychiatrists are also encouraged to teach their patients about how to quit smoking, how to exercise, and about healthy diets.
This study is a step forward in preventing premature deaths, despite its gloomy nature.