Lessons Learned in the Wild West


Ok, so maybe Montana & Wyoming aren’t really the Wild West anymore.  But it’s definitely a whole different world out there!   I’ve always found it fascinating to study other cultures & learn how people live in places far & wide.  From an early age I found myself drawn to reading & learning about other nations & cultures.  As I’ve grown up I’ve realized that even within our own nation there are vast cultural differences.  So I thought it would be fun to compile a list of things I learned/observed on our recent vacation to Montana & Wyoming.  I wrote a similar post on my Facebook page after our honeymoon trip to Maine a few years ago, & people seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I’d try it again for this trip.

Note: this list isn’t going to state the obvious “Holy crap!  The mountains are beautiful & there really are bears out here!”  That stuff goes without saying.  These observations are meant to be more cultural in nature.

If any of my lovely readers grew up or currently reside in Montana or Wyoming or that general area, please feel free to contribute your own thoughts about life in the “Wild West.”

1. This ain’t a place for the faint of heart.  Much of the rest of this list will explain why.

2. Late September through mid May = COLD.  Very cold.  BITTERLY COLD.  So basically 75% of the year is winter.  And I don’t mean the quaint winter wonderland kind of winter.  I mean the FREEZING COLD, massive snow drifts, can’t-travel-except-by-snowmobile kind of winter.  Yikes.  Even in early September, it’s not uncommon to have a bit of snow, as you can see below from Yellowstone.

P1090222

3. This place is desolate.  I thought I grew up in the middle of nowhere & relative to much of the world (certainly the U.S.), I did.  But holy crap, Montana & Wyoming are seriously isolated!  Montana, the fourth largest state in geographical area, has just over 1 million residents . . . basically the same population as the COUNTY in which I currently reside.  Maybe I’m simple-minded, but that blows my mind!  Wyoming is also quite large geographically but has less than 600,000 residents, making it the least populated state in the whole country.  To give you an example of how isolated these states are, when we landed in Bozeman, MT we went to the local Wal-Mart to gather some supplies for our trip.  We then drove about 5 hrs north to a small town near Glacier National Park.  It was not until we were within 30 minutes of our final destination that we located another Wal-Mart or any other real grocery store.  Certainly we may have passed a few that were off the main roads (if you can call them that) so we didn’t see them, but it is not uncommon for people to live up to 2 hrs away from a real grocery store!  Considering the weather issues discussed in the above point, I think you can now fully comprehend my first point.  This is not a place for the faint of heart!

4. Cowboy boots & cowboy hats really are everywhere out West.  This was my first trip west of Chicago & I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  Sure, movies play up the cowboy image, but I always figured that was mostly exaggeration.  And I’m sure a good deal of it is.  But lots of men (& some women) really do dress like that on a regular basis.  I also noticed that it seems much more acceptable for men to wear hats indoors, even larger hats like cowboy hats.  In the South older people at least seem to find that rude (for no logical reason, in my mind).  But out West this seems to be common practice.

 

Note the 3 men in cowboys boots & hats.  This is Main Street (basically the ONLY street) of Cooke City, MT, just outside the NE entrance of Yellowstone NP.

Note the 3 men in cowboys boots & hats. This is Main Street (basically the ONLY street) of Cooke City, MT, just outside the NE entrance of Yellowstone NP.

5. Casinos are EVERYWHERE in Montana.  About every other convenience store has a casino attached to it.  (And there are a lot of convenience stores.)  Granted these are not major Vegas-style joints, but all the same gambling is clearly a much more accepted practice in this area.  We overheard a bartender explaining to a customer one night that most of these casinos are just machines that run automated poker, & of course there are slot machines.  Anything more than that requires special licensing apparently.

6. There is no sales tax in Montana.  Not even on prepared food.  Woohoo!

7. The above point may be influenced by the fact that a large portion of businesses in Montana (& possibly Wyoming too) are only open May through September . . . the short but frantic tourist season.  If you’re wondering why this is, see point # 2.  I’m not totally sure what these people do for income during the winter months.  It can’t be easy.  See point # 1.

8. Drive around Montana for more than about 30 minutes & you will surely run across at least one white cross on the side of the road.  Drive a little longer & you’ll lose count of how many you’ve seen.  These crosses are markers for highway fatalities & they are placed by the American Legion of Montana.  The Legion started the program decades ago in hopes of combating Montana’s very high rate of highway fatalities.

montana highway cross

9. Having read # 8, you might not be shocked to learn that Montana has a very high DUI rate.  In fact this article

(http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/04/25/states-with-the-most-drunk-driving/3/) states that Montana is # 2 in the country for DUIs.  And Wyoming is # 4!  If you look at the article you may notice that North Dakota tops the list & South Dakota is also in this shameful top 10.  Notice a pattern?  All very cold, very rural states with what one can reasonably assume is nonexistent taxi service.  And being rural there isn’t a hell of a lot to do except drink.  And when it’s brutally cold 75% of the year, who can really blame them for wanting a good buzz?  All in all though, it’s a sad picture.

10. Though Montana & Wyoming are both traditionally Republican states (at least from a federal/presidential point of view), the religious conservatism that often goes hand-in-hand with Republican voters does not seem to be quite as strong, certainly not in comparison to the South.  We saw plenty of churches, & plenty of Baptist churches at that, but the overall feeling we gathered was that there is a much greater “live & let live” mentality out West.  I got the idea that a lot of people may be religious & more traditionally conservative, but I also got the feeling that they are less concerned with enticing everyone they meet to believe exactly the same things they do.   In other words there seems to be a greater understanding of the idea that if you want to have the freedom to do & believe as you choose, you have to be willing to grant that same freedom to others, even to those with whom you disagree.  Perhaps this is because traditionally people who moved out West did so partially for the idea of being left alone.  I could be completely off-base in my observations here, particularly as I have no real scientific way to measure them, but it’s just something I observed that I thought was worth mentioning.

11. In the South we don’t like to call bars bars.  We like to call them grills, diners, pubs, inns, or restaurants, or maybe we might stoop to “restaurant & bar.”  But out West there are no such qualms.  There are lots of bars.  Most of them, maybe all of them, serve food & plenty of it.  In fact, like the South, most of them are more accurately restaurants that happen to have a bar.  But I couldn’t help but notice that out West, unlike the South, there seems to be no shame in naming an institution “such & such bar or saloon.”  But then again the South is all about trying to seem all proper & dainty when really we’re just as dirty as everyone else, right?  (This is partially a joke, partially not.  If you’re offended, I’m sorry.  But the South does rate highest in a lot of rather bad things: obesity, smoking, teen pregnancy, heart disease/diabetes, poverty, etc.  Ok, sorry, I wandered from the real topic at hand.  Oops.)

P1090740

12. From what I observed, there isn’t a very distinctive accent out West, in Montana anyway.  I’ve always been very fascinated by linguistics, & I love listening to the way people talk & pronounce various words.  Despite being very rural, I did not observe any real “countrified accents” like you encounter in the South.  Indeed I was impressed with how clearly & eloquently most everyone spoke.  I don’t meant that everyone we encountered seemed like a real genius.  But they didn’t sound like your stereotypical hicks either.  In fact the only real accent I picked up at all was a bit Canadian if anything, which perhaps is logical as Montana does border Canada.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Southern accents & have a bit of one myself at times (certain words, that is).  But I also like people to speak clearly & actually enunciate their words, & I make a sincere effort to do so myself.  Sadly, this is something a fair amount of Southerners have not mastered.  It’s completely unfair that such folks are often judged negatively for such a superficial thing, & yet it is what it is.   Ok, I’m back on the South again.  Oops.

13. Out West you don’t see a lot of sports cars on the road.  Thanks to the winter weather discussed in # 2, massive trucks & SUVs are the law of the land.  However, it’s also not too uncommon to see some rather, uhh, interesting “trucks” on the road.  See below for an example.

montana truck

14. Montana (& probably Wyoming but we didn’t spend as much time there, at least not outside of Yellowstone) isn’t a good place to be a vegetarian.  Not only are there a lot of delightful temptations such as steak, bison burgers, & even elk burgers, but there don’t seem to be a whole lot of places that offer a large vegetarian selection.  If you’re a vegetarian & you decide to visit or move to Montana, plan to eat a lot of boring salads or do most of your own cooking.

15. A lot of people really do refer to sodas as “pop.”  One of our hotels even had a sign over the vending machine area that read “Pop/Ice.”

16. Considering how cold it is the vast majority of the year, it’s really quite shocking to note how many trailers/mobile homes there are in Montana.  Can you imagine how cold it must get in those homes during the brutal winters?  See point # 1.

17. Huckleberries are huge in Montana.  Everywhere you go there is huckleberry pie, huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry chocolate/candy, huckleberry-scented lotion/candles/soap/etc.  You name it, they’ve got it in huckleberry.  The only things I tried were the huckleberry pie & ice cream.  But they were both DELICIOUS!

huckleberry

Overall, our vacation to Montana & Wyoming was AWESOME.  We hiked over 30 miles in total, & yes, I have 4 (healing) blisters on my feet to show for that.  But they were well worth it!  The mountains & wildlife were gorgeous, the air was clean, the people were friendly [though less likely to tell you their whole life story the minute you say hello, as some Southerners are wont to do ;)], & the food was delicious.  It was exactly the type of break I needed from the hum-drum of daily life.  Part of me wishes I could live out there in those beautiful mountains, but sadly I don’t think I’m cut out for the cold or the isolation of such rural life.  But I shall certainly be looking forward to my next opportunity to visit this majestic, fascinating, & challenging land of the Wild West.

Girls Who Read


I found this video maybe a year ago, probably from something someone posted on Facebook.  I honestly don’t remember.  All I know is I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it because I felt like it was written for me!  I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve shared it on this blog.  The video shows the British poet Mark Grist reciting this poem with the story it tells portrayed in the background, so to speak.  In a world where women are praised, admired, & renowned for physical beauty above all else, it’s so refreshing to be reminded that our brains are beautiful too.  Mr. Grist, you’re a genius.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmEbF2uhsZk

mark grist

Here is the poem itself.

So, what do you go for in a girl?”
He crows, lifting a lager to his lips
Gestures where his mate sits
Downs his glass
“He prefers tits
I prefer ass.
What do you go for in a girl?”

I don’t feel comfortable
The air left the room a long time ago
All eyes are on me
Well, if you must know

I want a girl who reads
Yeah. Reads.
I’m not trying to call you a chauvinist
‘Cause I know you’re not alone in this
but…

I want a girl who reads
Who needs the written word
And uses the added vocabulary
She gleans from novels & poetry
To hold lively conversation
In a range of social situations

I want a girl who reads
Whose heart bleeds at the words of Graham Greene
Or even Heat magazine
Who’ll tie back her hair while reading Jane Eyre
And goes cover to cover with each waterstones three-for two offer
but I want a girl who doesn’t stop there

I want a girl who reads
Who feeds her addiction for fiction
With unusual poems & plays
That she hunts out in crooked bookshops for days & days & days
She’ll sit addicted at breakfast, soaking up the back of the cornflakes box
And the information she gets from what she reads makes her a total fox
‘Cause she’s interesting & unique
And her theories make me go weak at the knees

I want a girl who reads

A girl whose eyes will analyse
The menu over dinner
Who’ll use what she learns to kick my ass in arguments
So she always ends the winner
But she’ll still be sweet & she’ll still be flirty
‘Cause she loves the classics & the classics are dirty
So late at night she’d always have me in a stupor
As she paraphrases the raunchier moments from the works of Jilly Cooper

See, some guys prefer asses
Some prefer tits
And I’m not saying that I don’t like those bits
But what’s more important
What supersedes
Is a girl a with passion, wit, & dreams
So I’d like a girl who reads

pride & prejudice book

I’m so glad my mom instilled in me a passion for reading at a very young age.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of browsing used bookstores with her.  To this day I find something magical about searching for & reading used books.  Buying a brand new book just doesn’t hold the same thrill as buying an older book that I know someone else has read before me.  I truly believe that both men & women who read on a regular basis are indeed more interesting, & thus sexier.  I believe there’s a quote out there that goes something like this & it could not be more true for me: A lifetime is not long enough to devour all the books I want to read.

Reality Bites


I don’t usually do movie reviews on here, but last night I watched a movie called Reality Bites that resonated so strongly with me that I feel I must share it.  I actually saw the movie for the first time probably a year or two ago, but I came across it again recently & was disappointed to find that it is no longer on instant on Netflix.  However, I also stumbled across a copy of the DVD at Wal-Mart this past weekend for only $5, so naturally I jumped on it.  If you’re not familiar with the film, it was directed by Ben Stiller & stars Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, & Stiller himself.  Though it is now 20 years old (I KNOW, HOW THE HELL IS 1994 20 YEARS AGO?!!!), I find the film is just as relevant now as it was the day it was released.

reality bites

Yes, it’s amazing how much the world has changed just since 1994.  Pay-phones are now obsolete & have been replaced with cell phones that are basically miniature computers.  We’ve also gone from bulky VHS tapes to DVDs & Blu-ray, while clothing & hair styles have of course changed tremendously as well.  And yet the core issues that the characters face are the exact same issues that 20-somethings are facing today.  It’s funny how much the world changes & yet how much it stays the same.  If you’re a 20-something & you haven’t seen this movie, you really must add it to your list because this film is basically the story of our generation: college graduates trying to enter the workforce in a crappy economy & to navigate the real world with all the treachery, disappointment, excitement, fear, & joy that entails.  I also appreciate that the film asserts that friendship really is the best foundation for romance & that a person’s career is only as satisfying as the rest of his or her life outside of work.  To me this is a film in which the characters & the lessons they learn about life, & in turn can teach us, are more important than the plot.  I for one find such films are usually the best.  Additionally, there are a lot of really touching lines.  In the spirit of such, I’m going to share some of my favorite quotes from the movie.  Some are full of intense meaning while others are strictly humorous.  Indeed, reality bites.  But it isn’t all bad.

reality bites 3

  • Troy answering the phone: “Hello, you’ve reached the winter of our discontent.”
  • Troy: “I am not under any orders to make the world a better place.”
  • Lelaina: “All right, fine. You wanna be in a band?    Go ahead.  Play every night.  Play three times a night!  Don’t just dick around the same coffee house for five years.  Don’t dick around with her or with me.  I mean, try at something for once in your life.  Do something about it, but you know what?  You better do it now, & you better do it fast, because the world doesn’t owe you any favors.”
  • Vickie: “He’s weird, he’s strange, he’s sloppy, he’s a total nightmare for women. I can’t believe I haven’t slept with him yet.”

nightmare for women reality bites

  • Lelaina: “I’d like to somehow make a difference in people’s lives.”

Troy: “And I . . . I would like to buy them all a Coke.”

Lelaina: “And you wonder why we never got involved?”

  • Troy on the answering machine: “At the beep, please leave your name, number, & a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, & we’ll get back to you.”
  • Troy upon seeing Lelaina in what is supposed to be a stylish white dress: “You look like a doily.”
  • Lelaina: “I just don’t understand why things just can’t go back to normal at the end of the half hour like on the Brady Bunch or something.”

Troy: “Well, ’cause Mr. Brady died of AIDS.  Things don’t turn out like that.”

brady bunch quote in reality bites

  • Troy: “You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, & I may hurt you, & I may run away without your permission, & you may hate me forever, & I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.”
  • Lelaina: “I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.”

Troy: “Honey, all you have to be by the time you’re 23 is yourself.”

Lelaina: “I don’t know who that is anymore.”

Troy: “I do.  And we all love her.”

reality bites 4

 

  • Troy: “There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy & a series of near escapes.  So I take pleasure in the details.  You know . . . a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good; the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain; the moment where your laughter become a cackle . . . And I, I sit back & I smoke my Camel Straights & I ride my own melt.”

This is a film that reminds us that life isn’t easy & we all have to make compromises sometimes.  We all become hypocrites at one point or another, we all make mistakes, & we all “sell out” on some dreams to accomplish others.  As the characters are forced to face in the film, making our dreams a reality is sometimes much harder than we anticipated (partially due to a bad economy), but there is no exact timeline we have to follow in life either.  And perhaps the most important thing we can take away from this film (aside from some great laughs) is that making your dreams a reality, no matter how grand they are, is worth very little without taking pleasure in the small, every-day joys of life & without a few good friends to share them with.

 

Murphy’s Law of Nursing


This post is meant to be entirely humorous & should not be taken to mean I hate my job.  Anyone who has been a nurse for more than a few weeks or months will smile & nod because you know these are all so true.

1. If you run out of alcohol swabs, saline flushes, tape, or any such thing it will always be while fully garbed in an isolation room.

2. If you bring more than one IV start kit, you will get it on the first try.  If you bring only one IV start kit, you’ll miss it & have to go back for more supplies.

nurse-cartoons-relevant-experience

3. Insulin drips, PD (peritoneal dialysis), & other such patients who require a reduced nurse to patient ratio will always come in 2’s & 3’s which will invariably screw with staffing.

4. Management’s idea of fully staffed will always mean no one ever takes vacation, gets sick or injured, requires surgery, has a family emergency, has a baby, or calls out due to fatigue & exhaustion.

5. The patients who are the sickest &/or in the most pain are often the least vocal about it, sometimes because they are truly too sick to waste energy complaining & sometimes because they “just don’t want to bother you.”  On the other hand, the least sick patients are often the ones with the longest list of demands, many of which are far from reasonable.

disatisffied patient

6. The most popular time to admit or transfer a patient will always be at the very beginning or end of the shift.  And they will always come in 2’s & 3’s & 4’s.

7. The doctors who are the most difficult to get up with in the middle of the night will always be the ones who never order any prn meds or anything that would help save you from having to wake them up at 0300.

8. The patients whose family members are really close to them & truly take good care of them are often the most reasonable & even downright helpful to the nurses.  On the other hand, the patients whose family has ignored them or cared for them poorly will often be the most rude, demanding, & generally impossible to deal with.  A lot of this probably stems from guilt & embarrassment of course, but it’s nonetheless a frustrating paradox to observe someone who has clearly ignored their sick mother for a decade suddenly  watch you like a hawk & quite literally TRY to find a problem with every single thing you do.

demanding patient

9. If you need to perform a STAT glucose check, that will be the exact moment that the glucometer needs to be QC’d.

10. The patient who needs 3 different IV antibiotics, blood transfusions, IVF, & Dilaudid/Phenergan on a regular basis will be an impossible IV stick.

iv cartoon

If you’re a nurse or anything medical, feel free to comment & share your own Murphy’s Law stories.  I’m sure there are tons more.  We really do have the best job in the world, but we have to be able to laugh at the absurdity of it all or we won’t survive.

 

 

 

America’s Mental Health Crisis


I’ve had several different topics up for consideration on the blog this week, but in the wake of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams I’ve decided to continue my focus on mental illness.  As our country, indeed our world, tries to come to terms with the paradox that a comedian as brilliantly talented as Robin Williams could suffer from depression so severe that he would end his own life, I hope that we will each open our minds to understanding the true gravity of mental illness.

Every few years when a celebrity commits suicide or dies of a drug overdose, our society gives a cursory nod to mental illness & the same old platitudes are rolled out over & over: “Anyone can suffer from depression.”  “Get help.”  “Don’t suffer alone.”  While all of these things are true, the sad reality is that true change never happens.  The same old stigmas against mental illness persist which only contribute to the negative cycle of these diseases, making it difficult for people to even seek treatment.  For those who overcome the stigma & do seek treatment, the lack of adequate resources continues to make finding & continuing treatment a true challenge.

robin williams

To understand the gravity of mental illness, one must first understand the prevalence of the problem.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, some 18.6% of adults in the US suffer from some form of mental illness.  Read that figure again: 18.6%.  That is almost 20% of the population!  (Please note this does not even include substance or alcohol abuse.)  Anxiety & depression make up the largest percentage of this figure with schizophrenia representing about 1% of the US adult population & bipolar disorder about 2.6% of the US adult population.  While these figures may seem low, consider that out of every 100 people you know, at least one or two of them are probably suffering from one of these serious disorders.  Regarding anxiety & depression, the NIMH reports that almost 7% of the adult population in the US has suffered at least one major depressive episode in the past year & that about 18% of the adult population has suffered a major anxiety episode in the past year with a life-time prevalence as high as almost 29%.  Furthermore, it is estimated that as much as 25% of homeless people are suffering from a severe mental illness.  Shockingly, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death for adults in the US, according to the CDC.

I do not mean to overwhelm you with numbers & statistics, but my point here is that mental illness is extremely common.  It does not discriminate against age, race, gender, religion, wealth, intelligence, or talent.  ANYONE can suffer from mental illness & many do.  For some people mental illness is transient & with proper treatment they may never suffer from it again (this is more common with SOME cases of anxiety or depression).  But for others it is a chronic condition that will persist throughout their lifetime (for example, bipolar & schizophrenia are rarely, if ever, transient conditions).

bipolar-quote

Sadly very little is understood about the causes of mental illness.  Certainly most doctors & scientists would agree that mental illnesses are affected by both nature (genetics) & nurture (environmental factors).  But for the most part we are just treating the symptoms with mental illness because we really don’t know the exact cause.  There is little research in this field so sadly there are not as many advances in treatment as one would hope.

As I mentioned earlier, the accessibility to treatment for mental illness is sorely lacking in this country.  Not only are there far too few psychiatric facilities for the seriously ill, but access to outpatient therapy is far from adequate.  For example, without insurance my therapist would cost almost $200 a session, a price I could not afford to pay more than a few times a year & a price that would be absolutely prohibitive for many Americans.  Prior to the 2008 passing of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, more commonly known as the mental health parity act, insurance companies were not required to provide equal access to mental health treatments.  Even after this, many insurance companies provided minimal access to mental health treatment.  With the passing of the ACA, we can only hope that mental health services will finally begin to expand & that greater accessibility will finally take shape.  The sad reality is that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness, are more likely to have difficulty holding down a steady job which translates into being uninsured & unable to afford the treatment they so desperately need.  It’s a vicious cycle that often never ends.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness, Americans have been slow to understand the gravity of these disorders.  The stigma against mental illness is real.  Far too often those suffering from anxiety or depression are accused of “just not being thankful enough for God’s blessings in their lives,” showing a clear misunderstanding of these disorders.  Or how often have you heard someone casually scoff that a person who is a bit moody or difficult to handle “must be bipolar”?  Indeed the lack of knowledge of mental illness has led a great deal of the population to confuse schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder, the latter of which is actually an extremely rare condition.  I for one grew up thinking schizophrenia was the same as “split personality” when in reality schizophrenia is a completely different, though just as serious, disorder.  Again a lack of understanding of mental illness leads to a great deal of fear surrounding these conditions.  How many times have you read a novel or seen a movie in which a serial killer or some other heinous villain is depicted as being schizophrenic, psychotic, or otherwise mentally ill?  Indeed, after almost every mass shooting or bombing, the accusations of bipolar, schizophrenia, & general mental illness are thrown out by every media outlet.  Once again this feeds into the fear of mental illness.

mental illnes quote

The reality is that research has consistently shown that those suffering from mental illness, particularly severe mental illness such as bipolar & schizophrenia, are actually far more likely to be the VICTIMS of violence, be it abuse, rape, or murder, than to be the perpetrators of such violence.  But this is NOT the picture depicted by the media, whether in response to real-life tragedies or in books & films.  Tragically, even within the healthcare field, there is a great deal of prejudice against mental illness.  Far too often the moment a nurse or doctor sees a mental health diagnosis, an eye-roll ensues & the patient is viewed though a considerably different lens than someone without such a diagnosis.  What I’ve found in my own practice as a nurse is that patients who are actually mentally ill, if treated properly, are in fact no more difficult to care for than anyone else.  While I’ll be the first to admit that I feel ill-prepared to handle patients in acute psychosis, in general I’ve found that mentally ill patients do not deserve the negative stereotypes so unfortunately assigned to them.

My point in writing all of this today is to help people understand that mental illness is extremely common, but it’s not something of which we should be afraid or ashamed.  Though the treatments available are far from perfect, they can & do make a tremendous difference.  If you’re looking for a personal perspective, I am happy to report that I am already feeling significantly better since starting my own anti-anxiety medication just a week ago.  With a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy with my therapist, regular saturation in music & other such relaxing activities, & now Prozac, I can honestly say my anxiety is becoming more & more controlled.  While I have no idea what it’s like to suffer from a severe mental illness, I do know that having my anxiety better-controlled is greatly contributing to my quality of life.  But I couldn’t say that if I hadn’t sought treatment last year (first through therapy & now additionally with medication).

Furthermore my hope is that after reading this you will become more aware of your own prejudices against mental illness.  We’re all guilty of them at times.  Having a dear friend who is bipolar has radically changed how I view mental illness, as have my own struggles with anxiety.  What I’ve learned is that mental illness is just one aspect of a person; it doesn’t define them.  No one chooses to be mentally ill just as no one would choose to have diabetes or heart disease or cancer.  I’ve also learned that sometimes just being a friend & lending a supportive hand & a listening ear is one of the greatest things you can do for someone suffering from mental illness.

I am not my mental illness

 

As former NJ governor Richard Codey stated, “For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet…and hoped that they would go away.”  But the reality is that these problems are not going away & probably never will.  But if our society can decrease the stigma against mental illness & increase our understanding of these conditions, we can offer more hope to those suffering.  Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Be an advocate for proper understanding & treatment of mental illness.  Stand up to those around you who propagate negative, harmful stereotypes against the mentally ill.  The grim situation of the mentally ill in this country will never change until our attitudes about mental illness change.

Most importantly, if you’re reading this & you feel like you might be suffering from a mental illness of any sort, I hope you’ll have the courage to get help.  The world can be a cruel place for the mentally ill, but nothing is worse than suffering in silence when help really is available.  To those who are lucky enough to not suffer from mental illness, open your eyes & your mind to those hurting around you.  Don’t diminish their disease by telling them it’s not real or they’re just looking for pity.  Encourage them to seek proper treatment & be that listening ear when they need it.  You never know when you might save a life by doing something so simple.

mental illness not contagious

 

Statistics & other information found at:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/index.shtml

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf

Slaying the Anxiety Monster


Yesterday I did something I’ve been pondering for years . . . literally years.  I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication & started taking it.  I’ve considered doing this for YEARS now but every time prior to yesterday I’ve backed out due to fear: fear of what others might think, fear of how my opinion of myself might change, fear of side effects, fear of “giving up,” & just basic fear of the unknown.  Growing up in a society that quite literally tells people with anxiety, depression, & other mental health issues that they “just aren’t thankful enough for God’s blessings” & other such nonsense coupled with my own perfectionist personality makes admitting that I might need medication for my anxiety incredibly hard to accept.  But yesterday I finally said “Screw you!” to the fear & admitted that, for right now anyway, I need more help than I’ve been able to give myself.

anxiety meds

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while or if you know me in real life, then you probably know that I’ve been struggling with anxiety issues practically since birth.  I can be pretty good at hiding it because outwardly I am so “put-together.”  In reality my life really IS quite together.  It’s just that my brain is always on “overdrive” which makes it very difficult for me to truly relax because my mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking about a million things.  It’s a blessing & a curse as I’ve detailed on this blog in various posts from time to time (see: http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/07/28/shut-up-brain-part-2/ & http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/06/shut-up-brain/ & http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/08/17/inexplicable-anxiety/).  But lately due to a variety of external factors in my life, it’s been more of a curse than a blessing, & my usual coping mechanisms have not been enough to keep my head fully above water.  I’ve been drowning myself in music & essential oils & all the other things that normally help me . . . and they just haven’t been enough.  It’s not that these things haven’t been helpful at all . . . but the anxiety has not receded significantly like it normally does in response to these coping mechanisms.  If anything my anxiety has continued to grow steadily over the past month or so.

I really can’t describe to you how hard it is to admit this.  I’ve been seeing a therapist for just over a year now & this is honestly the first time in that year that I’ve felt like my anxiety has truly taken a turn for the worse.  I’ve had a few bad weeks here & there but nothing like this.  Until the past month I’ve felt like I’ve been steadily climbing upwards, steadily improving.  But somewhere around the end of June I feel like I hit a brick wall, tripped over a boulder, & slid all the way down the mountain.  After all the progress I’ve made over the past year, having my anxiety overwhelm me again is incredibly devastating.  I really felt like for a while I’d slayed the beast that is my anxiety.  But I guess the reality is that I had just put it to rest for a while.  And the truth of the matter is I should be rejoicing over how well I did for so long.  Instead of berating myself for struggling with this issue, I need to remember that like most chronic health conditions, either mental or physical, unfortunately anxiety rarely goes away forever, despite preventative measures & the best treatment.  The sad reality is that no matter how many times you fight the anxiety monster, every new battle is still frightening &  sometimes overwhelming.  

hello-my-name-is-anxiety

I know there are some people who will say I’m “giving up & taking the easy way out” by taking medication for my anxiety.  But the truth of the matter is I’ve tried everything in my power to control this on my own for YEARS now . . . basically my whole life.  I also REALLY don’t want people to think that I’m saying therapy isn’t helpful because I literally cannot express to you how incredibly helpful it has been for me.  Finding my current therapist was one of the greatest decisions of my life.  And the essential oils I’ve been using are also amazingly useful & have helped me tremendously as well.  And music has been my lifeline for most of my life; there is no question about that.  There is no doubt in my mind that for many people these kinds of coping mechanisms are more than enough to manage their anxiety or other mental health concerns.  But unfortunately I’ve just reached a point where these things aren’t enough for me anymore.  I sincerely hope to get back to the point at which these normal coping mechanisms are sufficient for me.  But the fact of the matter is I’m not there right now, & I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize or explain myself for that.  If I had any other type of health condition, almost no one would question my need to take medication for it.  But if you have mental health concerns, far too many people, even well-meaning people, expect you to just “get over it.”  Would that it were that easy!  Trust me, if I could just will myself out of my anxiety, I’d have done it a long, long time ago!!

katy perry

I’m going to end today’s post with the incredibly eloquent words of a very dear friend of mine who has provided so much encouragement to me over the past few years.  In fact she is the person who encouraged me to find my therapist last year.  I have so much to thank her for.  This message she sent me yesterday describes her own experiences with mental health over the past few years & was a courageous (& very effective) effort to assuage the guilt & fear I had regarding “giving up & taking medication” for my anxiety.

What I have learnt over the last six years of this bullshit is that it matters less & less what people think or what box you fit into: bipolar, depression, anxiety . . . We are all damaged in one way or another.  We just have to survive.  And maybe that sounds cynical, but to me it makes me want to find balance even more, because I’m determined to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.  And all this is just part of getting there.

My anxiety might make my life a bit harder at times, but it also means that I appreciate the good times all the more because I know how it feels to be really down.  I may never truly slay the anxiety monster, but I CAN find ways to keep it in hibernation for as long as possible.  And as my friend expressed in her message yesterday, fighting the anxiety monster makes me all the more determined to enjoy every second of this precious life, “to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.”    And if taking a medication is part of getting there, so be it . . . Hopefully it won’t be forever, but for right now it’s worth a try.  

Shut Up, Brain! Part 2


**Today’s post is a follow-up to this post from about 6 months ago.  It will make more sense if you read that one first:  http://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/06/shut-up-brain/

When I was in second grade, maybe first, a magician came to perform at my school.  I remember sitting in the back row with my best friend trying to figure out how he did all of his tricks.  We couldn’t just sit back & enjoy the show like all the other kids.  No, we had to analyze every trick & try to figure out how this “magic” worked.  Weird, I know.

But that’s just the way my brain has always worked.

brainI rarely take anything at face value.  I’m always analyzing things & trying to figure out the WHY behind everything.  This includes both scientific & philosophical matters.  Even as a kid, as I’ve said, I was like this.  I guess that is why the “magic” of childhood has never been very nostalgic for me . . . because I never really experienced life that way.  I’ve always been logical, practical, & inquisitive.  I was the kid who figured out Santa Claus wasn’t real & probably told as many people as would listen.  I’m sure this made me a real pain in the ass at times . . . and probably still does on occasion.

Sometimes I wish I could just forget about all of the hard things I see in life.  Part of being analytical is feeling things very deeply, even things that don’t directly affect me.  I like to think this makes me a good, compassionate nurse (& friend, wife, etc), but it also means I go home & worry about my patients more than perhaps is healthy.  When I see people my own age who are really sick, I can’t just go home & drink some wine & forget about it.  Trust me, I wish I could.  But instead I find myself thinking about how unfair life is & running through all the philosophical ramifications behind the difficult scenarios I witness every day of my life.

I’ve talked to my therapist about these things & she says the key to managing my anxiety about all these things is in finding balance.  Finding that balance between caring for people & trying to makes sense of life but being able to let go.  But letting go isn’t easy for me.  When I see problems, I want to fix them.  When I see someone struggling, I want to comfort them.  I constantly feel the need to be useful & accomplish something with my life.  As you might imagine,  this makes relaxing very difficult.  Is it any wonder I have almost 200 hours of vacation time saved up?  (Don’t worry, I’m using quite a lot of that time for our vacation this Fall, & I’ve even requested a day off here & there for some concerts I’m attending over the next few months.)

Anxiety mental health symbol isolated on white. Mental disorder icon design

I have no idea why I’m writing all of this.  It feels very disjointed & illogical, frankly.  (Ironic, I know.)  It probably sounds pathetic & ridiculous & possibly even a little arrogant.  I just know that my mind is a flurry of activity right now, & it’s really hard not to compare myself to others who seem to be so much more at ease about life.  Between my own bouts with sickness over the past month (nothing serious but unpleasant & physically exhausting just the same), some difficult situations at work on top of  finishing up my clinical ladder project, & worrying about one of my best friends who has been fighting her own demons lately, it’s just been a rough month.  For the first time in at least six months, I really feel like my anxiety has gotten the better of me at times.  I guess it’s an accomplishment to have kept it controlled for so long.

But every time it raises its ugly head it’s just a reminder that this brain I’ve been given isn’t an easy one to calm.

And sometimes I just wish I didn’t think so damn much.

*Ok, this last cartoon is purely for laughs.  It made me smile because it’s so perfect for me.  social anxiety party