Separation of Religion and Mental Illness

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2016 by chrissiehodges

I was nervous to interview my grandmother on my podcast, Mental Illness Matters Radio. Nerves were present not only because I want my grandmother to be proud of me, but because I knew the conversation would veer onto a topic I have grappled with for many years since my mental health diagnosis.

My grandmother is an admirable, dedicated Christian and knowledgeable in depth to boot. She is devout, charismatic in her faith, and an influential, thoughtful teacher.

I have wrestled with my faith in Christianity and religion as an institution, and have safely landed in a place of peace and resolve as a spiritual agnostic. I wondered despite our differing views if we could meet in the middle on our similar journeys of experiencing and battling mental illness, mainly depression.

In the interview, my grandmother spoke of a time she was faced with words from a trusted loved one which drove her into a closet of shame and guilt about her suffering. My heart cringed as she spoke them, but I knew all too well this is not an uncommon sentiment.

‘Betty, if you just had more faith and trust in Jesus. If you just pray harder and be a better Christian, you will be able to overcome this.’

It broke my heart to hear these words for her, especially because of the high esteem I hold her in for her undeniable faith and devotion.

Unfortunately, my grandmother is not the only one who experiences these ridiculous and misled statements in regards to treating mental illness. As an outspoken advocate and public speaker, I have come across this naivety way too often and it truly surprises and disgusts me for several reasons.

  • Depriving a person from treatment because of your beliefs is dangerous.

 

Regardless of your tenets, individuals have a right to receive treatment and a right to work toward recovery. Having a mental illness breeds shame, embarrassment, and guilt anyway, so adding the pressure of religion on top of emotions stacked against you is a recipe for disaster.

If you believe someone shouldn’t receive medical treatment for mental illness because your religion teaches you mental illness doesn’t exist, I suggest you find a more accepting and loving religion. Mental illness isn’t the problem, your beliefs are.

A common symptom and in many cases action with mental illness is suicidal thoughts and ideation. This isn’t a form of weakness or defiance of religion, this is a symptom of having a disorder in the brain. If left untreated or ignored, an individual may feel no choice than to take their life. If they are being told they are feeling this way because they lack faith and trust in a higher power, they may sadly and reluctantly take their life because they cannot control their symptoms through faith. This is a horrible way to die, and it isn’t necessary because treatment is available and recovery is possible for anyone.

If you are someone who shames people into believing their mental illness is a result of lacking faith, you may be inadvertently causing their death. That may sound harsh, but it is the truth. Instead of promoting health, acceptance, and wellness, you are increasing the shame and guilt one already experiences with mental illness. This is dangerous and unacceptable behavior from a human being, and moreso from someone claiming to be religious.

  • Your views on mental illness and treatment are archaic

Understandably, there have been many misconceptions about mental illness and how to treat sufferers. Only in the last several decades have we had major breakthroughs, shared lived experiences, and effective treatment choices/options in psychiatry. Prior, it was chocked up to bad luck, bad people, bad choices, or even demonic possession.

While I understand change can be hard for most humans, my message to the slow learners in the faith is to wake up already and learn the facts about successfully treating mental illness.

There are success stories for every mental illness. People have received treatment, recovered, and have normal, fulfilled lives with mental illness. These are facts. It baffles me in the face of concrete success and science, religious folks will still cry out about faith and devotion as actual options. This not only makes the religion you are following illegitimate, it makes you look foolish and ego-driven.

Changing beliefs about mental illness doesn’t mean you have to change your faith. It means you care about acceptance, love, and your fellow mankind.

Take the time to learn the facts about mental illness, treatment options, and success stories of individuals in recovery. Your influence may save a life.

  • You are giving religion a bad reputation.

 

I believe I am correct in assuming the true nature and foundation of religion is to help others, promote peace, and practice acceptance and love. If you are blaming the victim of mental illness on their shortcomings, it seems logical to me that you are doing the opposite of what religion stands for.

Many of my fellow advocates use their faith and support in the church in their recovery and to stay well and balanced. This is how religion is used for the greater good of humanity. I highly respect individuals who are faith-based in managing their life, coping with symptoms, and aide others as peers. It can be a comforting and powerful tool while battling major mental illness.

Individuals and churches who believe the archaic view that mental illness doesn’t exist, medication is bad for mental illness, and having more faith and Jesus will cure you are doing a disservice to those who practice religion for the right reasons. Power, control, and guilt are horrible tools to use for motivation, healing, and love. You are not a martyr if you actually believe these lies, you are promoting suffering, intolerance, and hatred.

If you are not using religion as a way to support, love, and accept others, you are doing it wrong.

Religion has nothing to do with mental illness, however it can influence the outcome.

As a sufferer of scrupulosity in addition to my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I was misguided by delusional thoughts of how and why religion influenced me. This was not the doing of my family, my environment, or my beliefs. This was just one of the symptoms I developed. I believed for 12 years if I prayed harder, became a better Christian, and had more faith, God would reward me by taking my horrible, intrusive obsessions away.

These false beliefs drove me to attempt suicide with the belief God wanted me to because He was disappointed in who I had become as a result of the illness. Luckily I survived to find out I had a treatable illness with therapy and medication. Luckily I survived to find out my beliefs, my religion, and my faith had nothing to do with the development, symptoms, or outcome of my illness. I have a brain that malfunctions and needs treatment. That is all.

My grandmother and I ended the interview with her inspiring words of hope and motivation for anyone suffering with mental illness. She encouraged diagnosis, treatment, and faith that beliefs can provide strength, hope, and encouragement. Luckily she was able to find the strength within herself, her supporters, and her church along the way to find out the truth about mental illness and religion. One does not cause or influence the other, but they can work together for the greater good, if done correctly.

This blog is dedicated to my Grandmother Hodges who will be turning 90 this month. She is one of my mentors, heroes, and lifelong supporters. She is a great woman in her faith, conviction, and practice of caring and loving others. Her desire to become a scholar in her interests and passions is an inspiration and motivator for me. Thank you for all you have done for me and for so many others who have had the pleasure of crossing your path. All my love and respect, Chrissie

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare/Ft.Logan Institute; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police and Sheriff Department

Pure O OCD’s Unique Challenges

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2016 by chrissiehodges

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is commonly known as the ‘hand washing’ or ‘organizing’ disorder. But there are many forms of OCD, including a lesser known type called Pure O. Pure O follows standard OCD patterns with the exception of compulsions taking place mentally. Examples of mental rituals include avoidance, reassurance seeking, ruminating, and many more. Inward compulsions make it difficult to recognize symptoms and identify an individual who may be suffering with Pure O.

While Pure O is as tormenting as other types of OCD, unique challenges often make the journey toward recovery more difficult to navigate.

  • Pure O Doesn’t Exist

 

It is not uncommon to hear ‘Pure O doesn’t exist’ from clinicians. While semantically correct, this statement can be devastatingly triggering. The term ‘Pure O’ was originally used describing individuals who seemingly had obsessions but no compulsions as ‘Purely Obsessional’. Upon further study, visually non-detectable mental compulsions were discovered. However, the commonality of themes amongst the obsessions created a community relieved to discover the disturbing fears are not uncommon.

There continues to be a rift between community and clinicians about the inaccuracy of the term. While I understand the argument as an individual with Pure O, I was overjoyed to discover I was not alone in my obsessions. In my mind, the relief of a community overrides the need to be accurate with the terminology.

  • Pure O Obsessions are Disturbing in Nature

 

All obsessions associated with OCD are frightening and unwanted. However, the intrusive thoughts for Pure O are downright disturbing and tortuous. Pure O fears typically involve sexual, violent, and/or blasphemous thoughts. While majority of people have fleeting unwanted thoughts of this nature, Pure O sufferers latch onto the fear and possibly struggle for years with uncertainty.

Common obsessions include: Fear of becoming violent/murderer. Fear of physically hurting another person or animal. Fear of turning gay or straight. Fear of becoming incestuous. Fear of physically or sexually abusing a child. Fear of bestiality. Fear of worshipping Satan. Fear of wanting to have sex with a religious figure.

The individual neither wants to nor will commit these acts, but the inability to stop thinking about the fear leads one to doubt its validity. With Pure O, questioning one’s ethics and morality accompanying the thoughts will occur. It isn’t uncommon to think ‘What kind of monster am I to have these thoughts? I must be evil inside to have these thoughts?’

There is no reason why one develops a particular obsession. Factually, obsessions bear no reflection on the individuals’ character, morality, or ethics. While the explanation seems simple, an individual with Pure O often struggles with ‘why and how could I be capable of the thoughts’ on top of managing the illness. This added stress can hinder the treatment process and the internal stigma surrounding the obsession.

  • We are Afraid to Say Our Fears Out Loud

 

Many factors contribute to the silence about our Pure O fears. Despite knowing the fears are not real or a reflection of ourselves, we can still feel shame and guilt. It isn’t uncommon to wish we could have any other obsessions but our own. It doesn’t logically make sense, but OCD isn’t logical.

Common reasons we fear saying our fear out loud include: Fearing others will believe the obsessions is true. Fearing saying it out loud will make it a reality. Fearing saying it out loud will ‘prove’ it is true. Fearing others will judge us.

The Pure O cycle is perpetuated by the inability to validate or invalidate the obsession. If saying the obsession out loud creates doubt in ourselves or others, we will go to great lengths to keep it hidden. This fear adds another difficult layer in navigating symptoms and oftentimes causes us to suffer alone.

  • Pure O’s Secondary Fear

 

Outward compulsions indicate to the outside world help is needed. Mental compulsions can overwhelm and individual with Pure O and no one would know. This presents a unique fear. Because our compulsions are mental, we often cannot recognize their presence. We see them as part of our reality and perception, in turn making us doubt we have OCD at all.

Because our rituals aren’t visible, we may believe our thoughts aren’t a result of OCD and are real. We agonize over whether our mental actions are truly compulsions because they feel so real. It isn’t uncommon for someone to believe ‘If these fears aren’t real, I wouldn’t still be thinking about them after all this time? This secondary fear not only makes Pure O cycles hard to recognize, but they add to the shame and guilt and may prevent sufferers from seeking help.

Every type of OCD is difficult to live with and manage, however Pure O presents unique adding extra stress by way of shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Pure O’s unique ability to call one’s moral code, ethics, and character into question due to the disturbing obsessions is a vicious cycle. The good news is you are not alone in this struggle and treatment is highly effective for Pure O. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Exposure Response Prevention is a proven, successful treatment in treating Pure O.

If you are experiencing any symptoms from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please seek help immediately. Visit www.iocdf.org to find a specialist near you.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc & Ft. Logan Institute Denver; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sherriff Departments

5 OCD Reminders for 2016

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by chrissiehodges

You made it through the holidays. You made it through 2015. You are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and feeling overwhelmed. How can you think about anything other than managing OCD? You think about how challenging OCD was in 2015 at times. You don’t want it to be this way anymore. You think about 2016 and hope you will conquer OCD. That is what you want. That is the ultimate resolution. But you are afraid. It’s too entrenched into your every thought and action. You engage in the cycle. Can I? What if? Should I? Maybe? Is it possible to get better for good?

You aren’t alone. It seems possible. It seems scary. It seems impossible. It seems easy. You feel hopeful. You experience anxiety. You fall down again. It seems hopeless. But then, people share stories of triumph. You believe you can do it. But, don’t know if you deserve it. You feel like a bad person. But you want it to be better. What should you do? And the cycle continues.

It isn’t uncommon for OCD to dominate the triumphs and pitfalls in all aspects of our life. Our self-esteem can rise and fall by a symptomatic tug-of-war. We didn’t ask for this illness, but we can easily blame ourselves for the repercussions. It’s a vicious cycle making us feel down and alone. It’s agonizing and we feel vulnerable during times like New Years when people are filled with optimism and hope.

Because OCD makes us forget so easily, I want to remind you fighters of OCD what we always need to remember and celebrate.

Here are 5 truths to hold onto when OCD comes knocking at your door during 2016.

Symptoms don’t equal failure

Reprieve from overwhelming OCD symptoms is a breath of fresh air. In full swing, symptoms are tormenting and will make you extra appreciative when you’re better. Contrastingly, it’s easy to forget how difficult OCD is when you are feeling healthy. This makes relapse and reoccurring symptoms feel like a living hell.

Symptoms feel more intense after relief. They are frightening because you will worry they are here to stay, forever. You will believe it is impossible to feel relief again. While it feels this way, it isn’t likely. If you’ve worked through an episode once, you can do it again. Remember what worked for you before and reapply it. Make the effort. Dedicate the time. Don’t pitfall into believing because its back, the obsession must be real or true. Don’t believe being symptomatic means you failed treatment. Don’t believe being symptomatic means you have failed as a person. You have OCD. Symptoms are part of the illness.

I’m not sugarcoating how miserable symptoms are, trust me. It sucks to relapse and feel trapped in the idea it will never get better. But what I know as fact is you are not a failure because of OCD symptoms. You are a survivor. You are resilient. You are intelligent enough to understand it and how to fight it. Fighting OCD everyday makes you the opposite of a failure. It makes you stronger. It makes you compassionate and empathetic. It makes you intuitive. It makes you understand a deeper and lesser known side of humanity.

Reframe your experience with symptoms remembering you have triumphed before, so you will triumph again. Put the idea you are a failure to rest. You are strong and resilient.

OCD Isn’t Your Fault

OCD will make us feel we are responsible for obsessions and compulsions. It will make us feel weak and stupid to not be able to control it. Our obsessions will make us feel we are bad people. My violent/sexual obsessions make me believe I am a monster to be capable of thinking these horrible things. OCD wants you to feel this way. It keeps you trapped. It keeps the cycle intact.

But, there is nothing farther from the truth. You didn’t cause OCD to manifest. You didn’t choose your obsessions. Many of us think if only I had another obsession than my own, it would be so much easier! This is a common thought, but obsessions are all the same once it becomes part of the cycle. There is no one obsession easier than the other. You don’t choose your obsessions, but you can choose to believe the truth. OCD is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong to deserve it. You didn’t do anything bad to make it happen.

Never forget OCD is a brain disorder requiring treatment and dedication to manage it. Despite how badly you want to blame yourself for the obsessions, fight the urge to go down that road. Self-blame and loathing will add layers to an already tough battle. Focus on what treatment works for you, not what caused OCD or why you have it.

Obsessions Aren’t a Reflection of your Character

Obsessions can take root in our insecurities regarding why and how they manifested. This is OCD trickery.

We will waste time and energy preoccupied why we obsess about the things we do. There is no rhyme or reason why we develop specific obsessions. OCD is a bully. It will dangle obsessions in your face until you hook onto one. Once it has you hooked, you get trapped. The misconception is there must be some truth behind the obsessions if we are spending so much time worrying about them, right? Wrong. You reacted to a thought, it got stuck, and you perform outward or mental compulsions to avoid the anxiety. That is what happened. The end.

Violent, sexual, and blasphemous obsessions will make us question our character or morality. What kind of person thinks these things? Answer: The kind of person that has OCD. It is a waste of energy giving life to these questions. It is hard not to engage in them, but that rabbit hole is deep and complicated. Stop it before it starts.

Who you are as an individual has nothing to do with OCD. Your character, morality, and ethics are separate. OCD wants you to believe otherwise, but do not give it satisfaction. Your obsessions are not a reflection of who you are or who you may fear you want to be. They are a result of a brain disorder. That is all.

Don’t Stop Loving Yourself

OCD will make you feel unlovable. OCD will make you believe you aren’t worthy or deserve a good life. OCD will make you wish you were anyone other than yourself. It will make you loathe yourself.

I am suggesting the opposite of what OCD tells you. Wonderful things can happen because of your experience with OCD. Learning to successfully manage OCD builds strength and resilience. Living daily with OCD strengthens empathy and compassion for others. Overcoming OCD gives us the opportunity to help other sufferers. Understanding the nature of brain disorders helps us to see and accept the world differently. We learn everything isn’t black or white. We experience and understand complexities on a deeper level. And the list goes on.

You do not have to love OCD, but it is possible to love who you become because of it. Choose to see the positive instead of focusing on the difficult times. Triumph over adversity builds character. It breeds love and acceptance if you let it. By working at and through OCD, you are a stronger person. You have experienced and conquered more challenges than most people you meet in your life because of OCD. The success of learning to manage OCD is something to celebrate, not to mourn.

Find the beauty in yourself because of your life with OCD. Find the strength based characteristics and make them shine. Focus on them. Make your triumphs with OCD the reason to love yourself even more.

Never Stop Fighting

You made it this far. You conquered times you weren’t sure you could make it. YOU did it. OCD isn’t a phase. For many of us, we work at managing everyday of our life. The fight is worth it.

Time and experience help you recognize and manage it. A support plan and system help keep you from hitting rock bottom every time. Hearing success stories and sharing our experiences help us feel less alone.

I was able to find treatment for Pure O in 1998 via phone therapy when I feared no one could help me. I feared I was alone in my obsessions. But, I was determined. I kept fighting. I never stopped searching for relief. Today, OCD can drive my decisions. It can overwhelm me. It can hold me in fear. But, I keep fighting. I will never stop. Because I know treatment works. I know I am stronger than OCD. You are too. You have to want it. You have to take the risk. You have to believe you deserve it. You have to believe you are worth it.

If at any time you cannot find a way to believe, here is your reason:

Do not believe the lies OCD tells you about who you are and what you deserve. You are not a failure because you have OCD. You did nothing wrong or bad to deserve OCD. Your obsessions are not a reflection of who you are as an individual. There are so many things to love about you despite and because of OCD. Your life is worth fighting the OCD battle every single day. Never give up.

Let’s reframe our journey with OCD in 2016. Now, that is a resolution I know I can keep.

Happy New Year, my friends,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc/Ft. Logan Institute; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; Denver Police & Sheriff Department Crisis Intervention Team Presenter

 

5 Holiday Tips for Mental Health

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by chrissiehodges

I grew up believing everyone loved the Christmas holiday, so I always felt guilty for dreading and despising it. It wasn’t until later in my life, when I learned the holidays aren’t joyous for everyone. As I began my journey as a mental health advocate, I learned the holidays can be especially hard for those of us who live with mental illness.

Why is that?

It is common knowledge that downtime may be dangerous for brain disorders. I cannot speak for other brain disorders, but I know having a routine is crucial for managing my OCD. In school, we would get weeks off at Christmas. This was torture for me. In my adolescent and teenage years, I was hanging on by a thread managing my illness, and having to fill time on holidays and in the summer with no set schedule cause a major imbalance. As I have gotten older, I recognize that latent anxiety still looms and consumes me as the holidays begin to approach. Losing my routine around the holidays can be a massive trigger for my mental illness.

Also during Christmas breaks and work holidays, we are surrounded by people who are excited and counting down until they have the time off. Time off from school or work can be great, but time off doesn’t mean time off from our disorders. Being symptomatic can feel like a full time job to manage. While everyone else is relaxing and having fun, we may be putting in overtime to keep our sanity. This can make us feel overwhelmed and depressed. We can be surrounded by many people and family members and still feel incredibly lonely because of our illness. Time off of our daily life doesn’t mean time off from our mental illness.

Being diagnosed with a brain disorder not only comes with a treatment plan and a lot of work, it also comes with stigma. This stigma can infect our self-esteem and can wreak havoc within our relationships. Having a mental illness can cause us to feel less than, unworthy, and undeserving of a perceived ‘normal’ life. Even being aware, open, and accepting of the stigma doesn’t necessarily help it dissipate. Many of us feel like the ‘black sheep’ or the disappointment in our families because of the illness, regardless of whether or not that message is conveyed to us. In that regard, Christmas can be very hard on us carrying the burden of stigma, shame, and guilt under the guise of a happy and put-together face. Stigma can cause enormous anxiety leading into the holidays.

In order to deal with these feelings I experience, I’ve adopted a few tips over the years on how to help stay in control of my illness through the holidays.

Establish a Routine

Even though your daily routine may be snatched out from under you, that doesn’t mean you cannot create an alternate one and stick to it. A routine does not have to mean elaborate feats, it can simply mean scheduling blocks of time to do things that you love to do. Schedule specific times to read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, or something that helps you relax.

When I have a full day of nothing ahead of me, my OCD sees it as a breeding ground to lure me into intrusive thoughts. How I beat OCD is I schedule my day in hourly blocks including times I will eat, watch movies, exercise, and even surf the internet. This way I feel busy and structured. During the holidays, I find this especially important. It may seem silly to have a schedule for menial tasks like showering and drinking coffee, but it successfully keeps your mind focused on the next task instead of a free-for-all for your illness to infiltrate your thoughts.

Try it and see!

Be Health Conscious

Unfortunately, the holidays are not the best time to think about health. We are surrounded by too much food, sugar, booze, and butter. What we feed our bodies directly effects how our mind is functioning, so Christmas food can be disastrous for managing our brain disorders! Think about what you normally eat when managing your illness successfully. How can you stay within a healthy range of that by indulging in the Christmas treats that you don’t want to miss out on?

What is too much sugar for you? How much is too much alcohol for you? Most of us know that healthy range of consumption that won’t affect our illness negatively, so be aware of what it is and honor that amount. I realize how difficult this task is when there is food everywhere. But, with our brains, we have to know that what is good for the now may not be good for the later. Set limits on how much and how often. Make sure to eat the healthy side of holiday foods as well. Stay hydrated. Eat with your brain and not your stomach.

Exercising can help immensely during the holidays. If you aren’t into hard exercise, take daily walks to get fresh air and clear your head. If you are going out of town, find a gym nearby where you are staying and schedule that time every day to go. This is not only a great release, but it gives you some time to be alone and regroup. Make physical activity a priority during the holidays.

Schedule Downtime for Yourself

There are so many people to catch up with over the holidays that sometimes you feel like there’s not enough time. But, constant socialization is more tiring and taxing than we realize. Even though it is tempting to want to spend every moment talking to people we may not see for another year, it is imperative to take care of ourselves first.

Schedule time every day for yourself, by yourself. No matter how much or how little time you think you need, just do it. This will give you time to reflect and recharge. We can get pulled into a thousand directions without being able to settle our minds to regroup. This can be dangerous for a brain disorder and anxiety. Down time allows time to rest our mind, remember our coping skills, and reset.

Make time to yourself a priority and not an exception. Schedule it into your day and do not deviate from it.

Stay Away from Drama!

Drama is as common to the holidays as egg nog. But, here’s the great news, you don’t have to get involved! Everyone packing a full year (or sometimes more) of their life and opinions into 1 week of vacation is impossible, but some people sure do make a go of it. It’s easy to forget that it the holidays are temporary when you are in the middle of them. But here’s the deal, you don’t have to be, say, or do anything that you don’t want to. Inevitably, the holiday will end and everyone will go back to their respective lives.

Try not to engage in conversations that may lead to negative outcomes such as politics or religion. Try not to engage in conversation where your disorder or mental illness is targeted. This could breed the empty feelings of stigma. If you are like me, sometimes heated debates can seem entertaining, but oftentimes can go very wrong very quickly in a pressured setting such as a holiday.

Understand that drama is normal and disagreements can happen. But, for the sake of your mind and potential ruminating, try to keep away from conversations that could potentially spin you into a negative space. In the end, it is not worth it to engage.

Solicit Support from Your Loved Ones

The best way to set up for success during the holidays is to create an atmosphere of support ahead of time. Talk to your family/friends about what you need during the holidays. If your family is not supportive, set up outside support such as scheduled phone calls to friends, therapist appointments, or support group check in’s. Explain the priority of your needs and the support you will require to achieve them. Planning ahead with support in place can relieve anxiety before the holiday even begins. Do not be afraid to ask for help. It is likely people you least expect will be empathetic and supportive if they are given the chance.

You do not have to face the holidays feeling alone. There are many of us that feel anxious and nervous about the season. It is important for us to acknowledge and validate those feelings, but equally as important to take action in taking care of ourselves. You are the one that has to take your brain into 2016, so make sure it stays as healthy as possible through 2015.

If all else fails, remember that January 1st, 2016 is just around the corner. The holidays will be over, you will be back in your routine, and a brand new year is on the horizon.

My wish for this holiday season is that you will take care of YOU!

In 2016 we will keep attacking and eliminating stigma. We will keep breaking down the misconceptions of mental illness. We will keep sharing our stories so that others do not feel so alone. And we will do everything we can to make mental health a priority and something to not feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

Until then, much love to you my friends and fellow advocates! You are brave, resilient, and beautiful!

For a video version of this blog, click on the link below!

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach Effective OCD Treatment; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters Radio’; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc & Ft. Logan Institute; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sheriff Department

Why You are Wrong about Mental Illness and Violence

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2015 by chrissiehodges

After every mass shooting, I brace myself to hear the uninformed, fear-baiting opinions about how America needs to take a serious look into our mental health system to stop these horrible occurrences.

I will agree with one thing. Yes, America needs to take a serious look into the lack of mental health services for individuals who suffer daily without proper care. But, you would be severely disappointed changing things only to realize the mass shootings will still happen. Why? Because believing all mass shootings are caused by mental illness is ridiculous and untrue.

My mental illness is not your political scapegoat, so stop using it as an excuse to drive your political agenda.

I woke up today to Chris Christie on ‘Face the Nation’ saying ‘We need to be able to involuntarily commit mentally ill people who refuse to take their medications’. I almost spewed my coffee all over the television screen when I heard this. Is Chris Christie experiencing psychosis and perhaps needing medication for saying something so delusional?

I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘Do these candidates not have advisors? How could someone say something that is so clearly out of line?’

He begrudgingly answered, ‘His advisors are probably just as uninformed of the truth as well’

My question is when are we going to start stepping out and demanding that the mentally ill violence rhetoric needs to stop? What is it going to take to make these false statements about mental illness halt? It is not only irresponsible to spread lies about individuals with mental illness, but it is devastating to the cause of eliminating stigma.

When you connect violence to mental illness, you are accusing 25% Americans of being dangerous and violent. This is biased and unfair.

I don’t take it lightly when I hear people callously using poor mental health as an excuse for mass shootings. Do you realize when you regurgitate this false information you are insulting your colleagues, your friends, and your family. 25% of individuals have a diagnosable mental illness, and I’m sorry but your precious family is not immune. You are also driving people who experience extreme amounts of shame and guilt farther into the mental illness closet. You are narrowing a path of acceptance and support for people. You are shutting off communication, causing people to stay silent and struggle in a battle with their brain disorder alone. You are reinforcing that people should be afraid to disclose their illness to others. You are doing all this so you can believe you have the answers to a very complex and complicated problem in our country.

Do you sleep easier at night believing that if it weren’t for those mentally ill people, everyone would be safer? Well, you are wrong. Dead. Wrong.

If this is how you excuse mass shootings, I’d like to inform you of how hard you make it for us to sleep at night thanks to the overwhelming shame, embarrassment, and guilt that comes with our disorders. You are making it worse for us.

When I argue this point, people often ask, ‘well doesn’t someone really have to have something mentally wrong to be able to do something so horrific?’ Truthfully, I have no idea. I’m not a killer. I’m not violent. And, ironically my disorder manifests with violent and sexually inappropriate obsessions. However in my state of mental instability, I can understand the difference and fear more that I am capable of those intrusive thoughts verses fearing I will play them out. What I do know is that people with mental illness are no more capable of hurting anyone than a ‘normal’ person without mental illness. In fact statistically, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be perpetrated against with violence than to commit violence against someone else. Violence is committed for many reasons including emotional crimes, greed, religion, jealousy, etc. You will more likely find an individual with mental illness in danger of harming themselves verses another person.IMG_0493

Courtesy of ‘Mental Illness Isn’t a Trend’ on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mental-Illness-Isnt-A-Trend-449110371947563/?fref=ts

I often hear people comment that an individual would have to be ‘psychotic’ to be able to go through a mass murder. My response is always with the same question. Have you ever seen anyone experiencing psychosis? If you have, you understand that calculating, premeditating, and executing this type of organized crime is virtually impossible for someone in psychosis. End of story.

Understand that I am not saying people with mental illness are incapable of violence or murder. I am merely stating that having a brain disorder does not render you more likely to be violent as the general public likes to believe. The importance in understanding this distinction is that when we paint mental illness as ‘violent’, we are labeling a large portion of the population as erratic, unstable, and not to be trusted. This is the opposite of individuals with mental illness. It is your responsibility to understand the facts and stop spreading false claims because you need something to blame your fear on.

I believe that people are unable to make the distinction between a symptomatic brain disorder and someone who may be deemed as ‘disturbed’. This terminology is crucial in understanding violence and mental illness. A brain exhibiting symptoms of their disorder will typically not produce intentional violence against others, especially calculated violence. Comparing brain disorders and ‘disturbed behavior’ can get lost in translation and seen as one in the same. Do people have disturbing behaviors when they are symptomatic with mental illness? Yes, including myself. Does that mean the disturbing behavior will likely be violence or murder? No. It is important to understand the distinction between being ‘disturbed’ and having ‘a brain disorder’.

It is imperative for society to get the facts straight about mental illness as we progress toward the movement of change for mental health. Change happens when we speak up, share our stories, and unite for a cause. By spreading false information about mental illness, the change is being hindered. Blaming violent acts on mental illness perpetuates stigma and causing pain and suffering to those living in silence and shame of their diagnosis.

The discrimination and stigma associated with mental illnesses stem in part, from the link between mental illness and violence in the minds of the general public (DHHS, 1999, Corrigan, et al., 2002).

Please take the time to learn the facts before shifting the blame on individuals with mental illness as a kneejerk reaction. This quick judgment hurts people.

If you really believe and want change nationally and internationally for better mental health, advocate for us everyday. Advocate for us because it is the right thing to do. Advocate for us because so many of us suffer in silence. Advocate for us because if we have better access to mental health care we will have better quality of life, better management of our symptoms, and will be better able to advocate for those that are undiagnosed.

Please do your part to stop the political uninformed rhetoric about mental illness. We are not to blame. We are not the ones making America unsafe. If we don’t stop the lies, America will become more unsafe for us and we will stop speaking out for fear of judgment and stigma.

Do not support claims that mental illness is to blame for mass shootings. Support the people around you who need your acceptance and advocacy for the truth.

Want the facts? Here are a few links to find out more on mental illness and violence:

http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_violence.php

http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/04/mental-illness-crime.aspx

Thank you for reading,

 

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT,ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; Peer Support Specialist/BHI and Ft. Logan Institute; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter; Denver Police and Sheriff Department.

Suicidal Thoughts: A Symptom of…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by chrissiehodges

It was 18 years ago this month that I decided that my family, friends, and I would be better off if I was no longer alive. Suicide had taken over my thoughts for almost 6 weeks non-stop. I was symptomatic 24/7 with undiagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and clinical depression. I could barely move. It was painful to breathe.

I didn’t know how to ask for help.

The suicidal warning signs were blaring my family and me in the face. My grades had dropped that semester, I had lost significant body weight, I was isolating, and had no desire to do my normal social activities. I was riddled with thoughts on how to end my life day in and day out. I didn’t want to die, but I believed that I had no other choice. I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted to torture in my brain to end. I also believed I did not deserve to live. My delusional scrupulosity told me that God wanted me to die as well. I believed that if God didn’t think I should live, there was no hope. I knew it was inevitable.

The shame and guilt accompanying the suicidal thoughts was crippling enough to keep my mouth shut. My family would be disappointed if they knew I had these thoughts. I had always heard how selfish people who committed suicide were, which fueled the guilt and shame. I couldn’t stop the thoughts. I couldn’t control this looming depression. How does that make me selfish? I didn’t ask for all this? I had heard growing up from certain preachers (not my father) that people who commit suicide go to Hell. I didn’t want to go to hell, but my life had become a living, breathing nightmare of obsessions, compulsions, and tormenting anxiety. I couldn’t imagine Hell being worse than how I was already living. My life was so miserable, I was willing to take my chances.

I survived near hypothermia from lying in a freezing cold creek after a self-inflicted stab wound to my stomach. It was miraculous that I was able to crawl and find help when I decided that night was not the night my life would end.

Oftentimes, I think about how different things could have turned out if I had been able to talk about how I was feeling suicidal without the embarrassment and guilt. What if I had been able to bring up the symptom of suicidal ideation the way that I explain symptoms of the flu to a doctor? What if I could feel confident talking to my friends or family when it started? What if friends and family were able to hear the words and feel confident that we would be able to get help and feel better? What if the feeling of panic, fear, and anxiety could be eliminated when the word ‘suicide’ is said out loud?

It can. But, it starts with ME and YOU.

Just as people over-react with fear and panic when they find out they are labeled with a brain disorder, suicidal thoughts can send sufferers and their loved ones into a tizzy when it is mentioned. And it is THIS very reaction that keeps people from sharing with others when they are feeling suicidal.

No one wants or likes to be suicidal, unfortunately it can be par for the course when living with a brain disorder. The more aware you and your support system are about suicidal thoughts, the more likely when they happen, you will be able to act accordingly to stay safe and get help and relief as soon as possible. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to wait out suicidal thoughts hoping they will magically disappear so no one has to know. This is dangerous and risky. No one should have to endure being suicidal because they fear the repercussions of speaking out. And you should not make anyone suffer repercussions if they confront you with their suicidal thoughts.

Often when I work with people with OCD or as a peer support for mental illness, they are surprised when I make the inference in planning relapse prevention with ‘when you feel suicidal again’. There is a look of sheer terror and panic about the possibility of it happening again. The reality is if they have happened once, chances are they will happen again if you relapse. This doesn’t have to be a source of fear or panic. It is a symptom that can gauge severity or indication that you may need to seek help. I look at it as a tool for recovery. When I communicate this to individuals, I have often watched a wave of relief overcome them. It is as if I have given them permission to have suicidal thoughts and not feel like a horrible, shameful and guilty person.

A common symptom of mental illness is suicidal ideation. If you understand this, you understand that it doesn’t have to be something to be afraid of. Please understand that I am not indicating someone being suicidal should not be taken seriously. If this is what you are getting out of this blog, please take a breath, clear your mind, and start over from the beginning. Suicidal thoughts can be anticipated in a way that can identify a brain disorder, validate severity, and be an indicator of relapse or med-complications.

Suicidal Thoughts can Lead to Proper Diagnosis and Treatment

It is statistically unfortunate that many people live for years with undiagnosed mental illness until it is so unmanageable they are forced to seek help. This has mostly to do with stigma and lack of education. Before proper diagnosis, people will manage their symptoms as best they can, but as I mentioned previously, suicidal ideation is often a common symptom of brain disorders. When individuals experience suicidal thoughts, they are likely to become afraid, ashamed, and guilt-ridden. However, the fear and urgency tied to the thoughts can also be an urgent driver to seeking help. It is not uncommon for individuals to finally seek help and receive a diagnosis because they began experiencing suicidal ideation.

Suicidal Thoughts can Validate Severity:

I’d love to say that most people ask for help with mental illness before experiencing the symptom of suicidal thoughts. Sadly, that isn’t always the case. Ignoring certain symptoms of your brain disorder can be manageable but when suicide enters the picture, it’s time to stop waiting. If you know that suicidal ideation is one of your symptoms, then you should know when it happens, it’s definitely time to seek treatment. We don’t want to mess around with ‘riding the thoughts out’ or ‘hoping they get better’. So, when you find yourself feeling suicidal, you can bet that what you have been doing to manage your mental illness isn’t cutting it anymore. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom indicating that your illness is becoming increasingly unmanageable and severe enough to seek treatment.

Suicidal Thoughts can be an Indicator of Relapse or Med-Complication

How do I know I am experiencing a relapse? Suicidal thoughts, always. Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize a relapse because of reality perception. If symptomatic, we cannot always tell there is something wrong. We may believe because we perceive our world a certain way, it has to be real. This can keep us in denial of symptoms and relapse. However, it is hard to deny suicidal thoughts and this can be a positive thing when we need to be snapped into reality. When they appear, they can be scary. But, they can be the blaring alarm clock that we need to wake up and get help.

Suicidal thoughts may also be an indication that you are in need of a medication adjustment. Again, you may not realize you are experiencing symptoms of your disorder if you’ve been managing fine on medication. When suicidal thoughts appear, it is the wake-up call that something needs to be changed and done quickly. Your psychiatrist can help figure out if a dosage needs to be adjusted or meds need to be changed to help get you back on track.

So, how do you tell someone you are experiencing these symptoms?

You tell the person you have designated who will not freak out, panic, and make you feel bad for having them. This designated person will be someone who can handle hearing you are suicidal and can help you take action to get help without worrying every second you will end your life if they aren’t looking. The point of asking for help when needed is that you are being proactive instead of desperate. This is what the designated person will understand. This will be the person that you know you can talk to and they will not judge, react negatively, or brush you off. This is someone you trust and will talk to in advance about what to say and what to do if you experience suicidal thoughts. You can have as many designated supporters as you want! They will be your rock when you need them.

It is always unsettling as a Peer Support to hear that someone is suicidal. It can be jarring and scary. But, I also know their level of comfort and outcome in getting help can be affected by my reaction. If I panic, they will panic. If I don’t take them seriously, they will think no one takes them seriously. If I trap them with ultimatums, they will likely retract the threat and not reach out again. If I remind them of all the people who will miss them, they will add that to their burden.

As a designated person to help, I will empathize with them and remain calm. I will take their symptoms seriously. I will treat them with dignity. I will ask them what we need to do to find relief for them. I will let them have power in their decisions on what to do next. I will believe them that these symptoms are real. I will treat these symptoms in the same manner I would treat severe physical illness symptoms, with calm and reassuring urgency. I will do what I can to keep them safe until I can recruit more appropriate help at a crisis center or hospital.

I will respect these symptoms. I will respect their humanity.

It is a misguided myth that talking about suicide will put the idea into people’s heads and they may be more likely to attempt or commit suicide. It is unfortunate that in our society, there is not more of an open dialogue of acceptance for those that need to speak out and receive empathetic response when needing help with suicidal thoughts.

Ignoring the epidemic of suicide, refusing to say the word out loud, and missing the opportunity to educate about the realities of suicide will only make it harder and more shameful for people to ask for help.

When I attempted suicide, I didn’t ask for help because I was afraid. I didn’t ask for help because I was ashamed. I didn’t ask for help because I believed I was a bad person for having the thoughts. I believed I would let everyone down if they knew I was experiencing the thoughts. I believed people would perceive me as weak. I believed I did not deserve to live because of these thoughts I couldn’t control.

I now value the symptom of suicidal ideation in my life. When I experience them, I know it is imperative to get help. I don’t enjoy them any more than anyone enjoys having a high fever with the flu. But, I know that they are an indicator that I need help. I know they are a warning sign for me that I am slipping into a relapse. They are a gauge for me on knowing when to let go of denial and take charge. My symptoms of suicidal ideation now essentially save my life.

My hope is that through my advocacy and your advocacy, we will begin to use the term ‘suicide’ in our language that makes people comfortable to ask and receive help. My hope is that we will not have to look at suicidal thoughts as a reason to shame individuals, make them feel less human, or weaker than they already feel. My hope is that by talking more about suicide we will save people from dying by suicide.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach Effective OCD Treatment; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters Radio’; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sheriff Department; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc. & Ft. Logan Institute of Denver

Do Not Deny Mental Illness Relapse, Prepare for it!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 23, 2015 by chrissiehodges

I checked out of the inpatient psychiatric facility facing the world with a bag full of medication and a new label called mental illness. I thought I had gotten through the worst of it. Now that I know what this horrible disorder is, I should be able to ‘outthink it’. I believed I was stronger than my disorder. I believed that the torture and misery was in the past, perhaps just the result of ignorance. I believed that knowing I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder meant it would no longer affect me.

I was gravely mistaken.

“The meds are great, but I don’t need them anymore. I will just know if I start to feel sick again.” And like clockwork, a couple months after my last dose of the antidepressant, I began to unwind at a rapid pace. The obsessions crept up on me, and like shadows overtaking my mind with the setting sun, everything was dark again. Suicidal thoughts plagued my mind around every corner. I couldn’t escape the anxiety, the depression, and the tormenting obsessions that had been dormant for almost a full year.

The logical explanation was because I stopped my meds, the disorder became unmanageable. But, mental illness isn’t logical. Understanding symptoms in the midst of a relapse does not include rationale. To speak or communicate with someone in a mental relapse expecting logical reason is asinine. It is not a reflection of the human-being; it is a reflection of how the individual perceives the world through the eyes of mental illness.

I have been suffering with OCD and depression for 30 years. You would think that I could quickly point out, understand, and ask for help eagerly when I began to slide into a relapse, right? Wrong. There is still part of me that naively believes I can control OCD anytime, anywhere, and anyhow without outside help. Why? Because I don’t want to believe I am mentally ill. I don’t want to believe with my level of intelligence, I cannot harness power over my brain. It scares me to think that I could be out of control tomorrow. It terrifies me to believe that my perception of the world through my senses can be wrong. It frightens me that my thoughts can be so powerful and convoluted that I may want to die because of them.

But, it is my reality. As scary as it feels, I have to accept it.

The Reality of Relapse

Relapse is a given in most cases of mental illness, no matter how much we will and want to deny it. There is no amount of positive thinking and optimism that can stave off a relapse without vigilance. This can take many years for a sufferer to understand and accept. It is in the phase before this acceptance that the individual is in the most danger.

The element of denial will wreak havoc on one’s life and their loved ones in this phase. If someone believes they are incapable of relapsing, they will be incapable of recognizing when a relapse is occurring. This is not uncommon. The sufferer may recognize symptoms of their illness, but will not want to accept that they are real. This denial can be fueled by many emotions including fear, shame, or guilt.

Fear is the most common denominator when faced with an impending relapse. If one has fallen to rock bottom with their illness, the idea of relapse will associate that individual with the emotions felt at said rock bottom. This feels terrifying. The reality is far different, but fear is a powerful enemy. The sufferer may imagine the relapse as a short freefall back to the lonely and miserable bottom. If unaware how to handle a relapse appropriately, fear may drive a sufferer to embrace denial ultimately expediting the freefall process as a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Shame and guilt inevitably accompany relapse. Most individuals who have hit rock bottom with mental illness understand the pain and suffering they have caused their loved ones. Stigma can riddle an individual on a societal and a personal level as well. Typically before an individual accepts and understands their disorder is life-long and can be managed, it is common to attempt to create distance from it to avoid those negative feelings. When faced with a possible relapse, one may begin to feel the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt they believe they caused their loved ones at one time. The distance from the disorder starts to shrink. Panic can ensue as the feelings create the reality one has tried so hard to distance themselves from. These negative feelings can blanket one’s view of their own life as well as their disorder and exacerbate their symptoms making relapse inevitable.

Another commonality in relapse is individuals may not even realize they are experiencing symptoms. While this may seem bizarre to the average person, it is common for a sufferer. Understanding perception plays a large part in recognizing relapse. If I walk outside and my brain processes the weather as cold, I will put on a coat. If I walk outside and my brain tells me that I should worry about an irrational fear, why would I not believe that? I just put a coat on because it’s cold? Why wouldn’t any of my other thoughts be valid?

When I am symptomatic, I do not only think irrationally, I physically feel things that are not there. Symptoms of anxiety are physical. If my body is reacting to a thought, it absolutely appears real to me. Why would I not believe it? In order to understand my symptoms and my disorder, I have to understand how I perceive things and react to them. I have to figure out the physical sensations accompanied by my thoughts and make an actual decision on whether to perceive them as real or not. This is a very difficult process. It has taken me years to understand, and I still doubt my perception when I am experiencing symptoms. I still need help understanding and convincing me that I am actually experiencing OCD and it is not normal reality. I receive this help from my support system.

How to make a possible relapse easier?

Relapse is never easy. To think one day it will be is setting yourself or your loved one up for failure. A possible relapse should be taken very seriously.

For the sufferer: The best way to preemptively cope with relapse is to understand that relapse is possible and likely. This can eliminate that unwanted fear that it may or may not happen. To understand the likelihood and plan for it puts you ahead of the game.

If and when relapse happens, make a plan on what to do and how to manage it. When relapse does occur, you may be too saturated in your symptoms to know what to do and how to do it. There are many resources you can find to help structure a plan before it happens. (Please see below for recommended sites and plans). Also, educate your support system on what to expect and what to do if you are experiencing a relapse. Often your support system will recognize that something is different about your behavior before you do. Do NOT be afraid to ask for help. Do NOT be afraid to articulate exactly what will or will not help you. Individuals in your support system want you to succeed, so they will want to know how to make things easier for you.

In regards to shame and guilt, understanding that they may be present during a relapse may help lessen their effect. There may not be a possibility of resolving them in the moment, but knowing these feelings are common may ease their impact on your symptoms. It is important to recognize that mental illness relapse and symptoms are NOT your fault. As you progress through recovery and acceptance, it is likely the guilt and shame feelings will diminish. Until then, do not give them power by becoming overtaken by them.

For the Support System: It can feel painful and helpless to watch someone during a mental disorder relapse. But, there are many things you can do during and after to help make the best of it for the sufferer.

Understand that relapse is almost inevitable. If you understand and accept that relapse is part of having a mental illness and expect that it will happen, you are not only preparing yourself, but you are showing immense support to your loved one. This takes the fear out of the potential occurrence. It also gives you an opportunity to plan and prepare your support role when it happens. When you know what to do when a relapse happens, you will feel less panicked and helpless. This will help the sufferer with their feelings of guilt and shame if you are calm and prepared.

As a support, find out how the sufferer wants to be communicated to in regards to symptoms. It is extremely important to know how to talk about symptoms and behaviors with individuals with mental illness. Poor communication can result in exacerbated guilt and embarrassment which may contribute negatively to a relapse. When symptomatic, sufferers may try to shut you out or make you angry. It is important to recognize that their actions and behaviors may be fueled by symptoms as well as fear and stigma. The sufferer feels guilty and ashamed. They may not want you to have to experience the pain. They also may feel as if they have let you down by having the mental illness.

As a support, it is important to practice empathy without verbal validation. If the sufferer is driven by fear, guilt, or shame entering a relapse, it is okay to reassure your understanding of those feelings. It is okay to verbalize these emotions may play a factor. Make it clear that you understand beyond the symptoms the difficulty and suffering relapse can cause. Open communication and acceptance, regardless of the absurd logic will help the sufferer feel less ashamed and validated in their experience.

Most importantly as a support, it is imperative to believe that what the sufferer is experiencing is their perceived reality. To deny what they perceive as real damages trust and may drive them further into the realm of guilt and shame. Even if their symptoms defy all logic and rationale, to them it appears real and sometimes frightening. If they know you believe them, they will be more likely to accept your help and trust your support.

To Sufferers and Supporters Together: Relapse is disappointing and painful, but it can be managed successfully if planned for and executed properly. A few important points to remember about relapse:

  • It is important to stay calm and level-headed as a support.
  • It is important to remind yourself that you have gotten through an episode before, and you can do it again as a sufferer.
  • Just because you have hit rock bottom once, doesn’t mean you will fall that far down again.
  • It is difficult to remember what it is like outside a relapse when you are in it. It is also difficult to remember what relapse feels like when you are out of it.
  • It feels like things will never be okay again when you are experiencing a relapse. It can. It will. Hang on and follow your relapse plan. You will get through it.
  • Your mental illness is NOT your fault. This relapse is NOT your fault. Do NOT blame yourself for this illness.
  • Relapsing feels very lonely. You are not alone, though. Reach out to your support system.
  • Being hospitalized is not a death sentence. It is a necessary place sometimes to find baseline in a safe and controlled environment. If you need hospitalization, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed.
  • Although relapse is oftentimes inevitable, you can be proactive and successful in managing it and avoiding it.
  • There is no shame in asking for help. Don’t wait. Do it immediately.

 

Even though I experienced all of the negative emotions associated with relapsing, I survived my first bout. Afterwards, the possibility of occurrence was embedded within me. It took me a few months to get back on my feet after the first relapse, but it helped me understand the process and plan for the next time.

Since my first relapse, many weeks have been carved off my relapse timeline. The last episode took roughly 3 weeks to get back to baseline. Even though it was painful and I didn’t believe it was a relapse in the moment because of my perception, I went through the motions of my proactive plan. It worked. It will always work as long as I understand that relapse is possible, I accept the fear associated with it, and I don’t allow the shame and guilt to dictate the outcome.

I can choose to live in fear of my illness or I can choose to actively manage it. I can choose to live blanketed with the stigma surrounding mental illness or I can choose to fight it for myself and others. I can choose to deny that relapse is part of my journey, or I can accept and prepare for it.

You can too. Never give up.

If you would like more information on creating a wellness plan for relapse prevention or management, please visit the following websites:

http://peerassistanceservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Relapse-Prevention-Plan-Form-Mental-Health_1.pdf

http://www.recovery.org/topics/relapse-prevention/

http://mentalhealthrecovery.com/

Thank you for taking the time to read,

 

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters Radio’; CBT/ERP Coach Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc; Crisis Intervention Team Trainer/Denver Police and Sheriff Department

 

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