HELP!

This was a special week here in the United States as we remembered those servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Again I say thank you to all of those who paid that sacrifice and to their families. Memorial Day has come and gone but the loss of lives will continue. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a family member of someone who died trying to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others. It was a selfless decision they made to join the services. That coffee you drink every morning, this laptop I’m typing on, the job you have would not be what they are if not for men and women who are willing to risk their lives to give you those freedoms. We don’t know the stories of how each and every service member died but what we do know is there are more that are coming home after surviving their service and ending their lives because of a lack of help.

Every day this country loses more than one veteran per hour to suicide. A study of 21 states showed the number to be a total of 22 per day but the last study was completed in 2013 with not even half the states reporting. The fact that its even ONE an hour is startling. A person that sacrificed for you and for me can’t stand to live another minute. If you suffer from a mental illness chances are you’ve been at that same point. But staying with the veterans most fail to ever seek treatment. What is troubling is the disparity between female service members and civilians. In 2014 a study showed that suicide rate among service women was 18.9 per 100,000 compared to civilians who had a 7.2 per 100,000 rate. WE and I do mean WE as a country are failing these service members. Most who commit suicide never bother to seek treatment due to potential embarrassment. And those who do seek treatment could see a VA waiting time of 40 days or longer to see a psychiatrist. This is unacceptable. We have projects such as wounded warrior and others that do a tremendous job helping those injured but what about those with an injury that can’t be seen and most are afraid to ask for. We must do more!

Help is a funny thing. It’s one of the few guarantees I am willing to make in life. I can guarantee that we have all had help and we’ve all asked for help at some point in our life. Remember that night you had a flat tire and needed a ride from a friend? Remember when you lost your job and you needed some help from a friend for gas money? I’m sure everyone remembers moving at least once and asking friends to pitch in to help make the move go faster. It’s amazing how easily we can ask for help for certain things. But it’s also amazing how afraid we are to ask for help when suffering from a mental illness.
8164545-3d-man-looking-for-help-isolated-on-whiteVeterans aren’t the only ones that struggle with seeking help for a mental illness. More than 70% of men who commit suicide never sought professional help prior to doing so. In 2016 nearly 45,000 Americans died from suicide. The WHO estimates that nearly 1,000,000 people die from suicide each year. A rate of 16 per 100,000. That’s a rate of one person every 40 seconds with data suggesting that by 2020 it will be one person ever 20 seconds. Lets look at more startling facts. From 2007 to 2015 suicide rates doubled among teen girls and grew by more than 30 percent for teen boys. It’s estimated that 1 in every 12 teens has attempted suicide. One final figure to pound home my point. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among boys ages 15-25.

Angel's Stadium Panorama - 2003

45,000 is roughly how many people can be seated in the Los Angeles Angels stadium pictured above. Imagine if every person in this stadium died at the same time. Would we then see the action that is needed to address this epidemic?

Why?? Why are these numbers as high as they are. There are multiple factors. It’s the fear of those around you finding out. It’s the fear that your diagnosis is going to end your life as you know it. It’s not knowing who or where to turn to. And then there is the stigma. The negative impression the term mental illness gives. Every time you hear of a mass shooting the first thing discussed is how mentally disturbed this person must have been. Who wants to be lumped into that group? We have teens who enter their most important self-image time of their life and the last thing they want is their friends knowing they suffer from a mental illness. It’s hard enough getting through those school years as it is let alone dealing with a mental illness. We must do better with the education of our children. Expecting to turn the tide on the stigma surrounding mental illness by focusing on the parents isn’t going to work. We must start at the middle school age. Where kids are starting to develop self-awareness and self-worth. I compare the fear people have of those with a mental illness to the fear people had of those with AIDS/HIV in the 80’s. That fear existed out of a lack of knowledge, a lack of compassion, and a lack of interest of trying to understand. There is a huge difference between not understanding and doing nothing to try to understand. WE must ALL do our part to put an end to this nasty stigma.

I want to finish with the issue of help. We all have asked for it. We know we have the ability to ask for it. The problem when struggling with a mental illness is the belief that you are worth helping. I’m going to be here today and many more days to tell you that YOU ARE WORTH HELPING! You can always message me here or on twitter @TonyK10933. I’m a judgement free listener who will do what I can to help you.
And remember… YOU MATTER!

Identity Crisis

I am the father to one amazing boy and was the step dad to an extremely talented daughter. I was a husband to a loving wife. I was the owner of 2 dogs. I had 2 cars, a nice house, and annual vacations in Disney. I was a soccer coach. I was a cheerleader at any event my step daughter participated in. I was there for every parent teacher conference. I did what I thought every father and husband was supposed to do. I paid the bills, I took care of every material thing that anyone in the house wanted. Iphones, yep. Ipads, yep. Laptops, yep. Elliptical machine, yep. Summer membership to a local pool, yep. Any type of birthday party they wanted, yep. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do. I did the grocery shopping, cut the grass, shoveled the snow, took care of vehicle maintenance. I even pitched in with laundry and cooking when needed. I was showing my love through providing. I wasn’t a touchy feely type of husband or father. I never witnessed that type of affection growing up and I ended up mimicking what I saw.

I was a boss. I traveled 3 out of 4 weeks each month. I was what they called a coordinating region manager. If you can imagine a regional manager handling all the sales reps in his region then I managed all the regional managers and their sales reps. In January of 2014 my territory doubled in size. Went from a sales goal of roughly 160 million a year to over 300 million. It was stressful. I had only managed the 160 million for just over a year. I was eager and ready to tackle the job. I thought I was doing a great job. I believe I treated my team right. I was tougher on those who I expected more from but overall I think I was a fair manager. I loved this job. I thought I was built for this position. I finally felt in my comfort zone. I had worked for the company since 2004 and had more than tripled my salary in that time. I thought things were going in the right direction.

Shortly after returning from our last Disney vacation my ex wife cheated on me. It absolutely crushed me and was the tipping point for my mental health collapse. Everyone thinks that someone just loses control because of one issue and in some cases it may be but people don’t understand the other stress that was building up from work and a serious lunge operation I had just a few months earlier. All of these things coming together at the same time was a knock out punch. I couldn’t handle it. I lost it.
My ex and I split, I was no longer living in my home. I took a leave from work after my initial suicide attempt. I was wandering around from day to day not knowing what my identity was. Gone was me being the provider, the guy who cut the grass, the guy who helped wrap the Christmas gifts. The guy who read the night before Christmas to the kids on Christmas eve. The guy who helped hide the Elf on the Shelf. I returned to work after a few months and received a “memo” from my boss in which my credibility, my truthfulness, my integrity and other things were called into question and I was told I’d be monitored. I knew what this meant. This was the beginning of the paper trail for dismissal. I know this paper trail because I had started more than my fair share. I went from a valuable employee in early October to this memo in January when I had been on leave the whole time. The only thing that happened was my suicide attempts.
Upon returning to work I even offered to be a poster child for mental health and was brushed aside and never even received a response. I was losing more of my identity. I wasn’t going to be that boss any more, wasn’t going to be in that position I felt most comfortable. This was just as devastating to me as my ex cheating on me. The company I worked for I loved. I put everything I had into it and I was losing it.

who-am-i

This leads me to my lesson for today. DO NOT LET A DIAGNOSIS DEFINE YOU. You are YOU. You are not depression, you are not crazy, you are not insane or a whack job. You didn’t ask for this. It’s not your fault you ended up with this diagnosis. As a society we like to label people by what we consider their worse trait. Alcoholics are drunks, drug users are addicts, people in jail are criminals. Those with a mental illness are crazy. We must remember that if we want to end the stigma against mental illness we must clean up our own thoughts about those who suffer from different types of issues. You can still be who you are. There will be a learning curve. It will take time to figure out how to manage around your diagnosis and still be you. There may be changes that are needed. I never in a million years thought I’d write a blog but I’ve found a new identity that works with my diagnosis. I thrive trying to help people. People who are new to the mental health world. People that lost their identity and have no idea who they are or how to find out who they are. It won’t be overnight. Nothing ever does.

I’m TJ. I’m a 42 year old divorced male. I have a son who has just turned 9. Its been 761 days since I’ve last seen him. I and considered mentally disabled by the US government. I work part time at Walmart. I have a sister, a brother in law, 2 amazing friends I consider family and a nephew and great niece. I live with my sister and brother in law. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live on my own again. I suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, and PTSD. They don’t define who I am. I am me. I’ve lost everyone but those I’ve listed above. All I care about is doing the best I can to help others. I’m always available to help anyone that is struggling. YOUR DIAGNOSIS IS NOT A LIFE SENTENCE! DO NOT LET IT OR ALLOW OTHERS TO USE IT TO DEFINE YOU.

Remember… YOU MATTER!

Give BS Get BS

I woke up in an emergency room again. No idea where I was or what day I was. It was 2014 and I clearly remember it was the day before the election for the Governor. I had been out of the hospital after my first attempt for 10 days and things were rapidly getting worse. My marriage had been destroyed, I wasn’t allowed near my home or my son. Every comfort that I had relied on in the past was gone so I began turning to another comfort. I turned to alcohol and a lot of it. I was staying at a hotel and had planned to check myself in on a Monday morning. I can remember sending my ex wife pictures of me sitting outside the hospital waiting to go in. Despite her affair and lies that followed I was throwing myself at my ex trying to salvage my marriage. Finally I can recall telling her that I would take myself into the hospital as long as she promised I could come home when I was let out. I told her that walking myself in would likely mean I would only be kept a few days. I will never forget her response. “You need to be in there for more than a few days.” Then communication went silent. The emails and text message stopped.  We weren’t to be communicating in the first place.  It was like I was given orders and I needed to do what ever necessary to complete the mission she had given me. The only way I knew to get myself kept in the hospital for more than a few days was to harm myself. And unfortunately for me the mission I was given was to keep me away from a court hearing and never got to back to my home. I was played but so far deep in the fog I couldn’t see it or accept it.

 

 I stopped at a local grocery store and picked up some roasting bags and proceeded to the hotel closest to the hospital I ended up in after my first attempt. I got to the hotel and took the time to order a pizza and I can remember thinking this is a crappy pizza. I kept trying to communicate with my ex but no response.  It was like I was begging for an alternative method.  Another way to show I was serious about my recovery.  But nothing ever came.  I knew what I had to do. I swallowed roughly 100 klonopin pills and other meds and put the roasting bag over my head and secured it. As I began to doze off I ripped a hole in the bag. I was so beside myself that I staged a suicide attempt just to get into the hospital for more than a few days because I felt that my ex would allow me back home once released. I was found the next day still alive. I can still feel the death rub first responders do when they find someone unconscious.  The next thing I remember was waking up the day after the election in the ER. I had to hide from my family and friends that I staged this.

 

Unfortunately the hospital did not have a bed for me so I was transferred to a hospital with a larger unit. When I first arrived the psychiatrist on call placed me in an observation room. I was in there alone in what I would say was more like a prison cell. If I wanted to go anywhere like meals, or therapy I had to have a staff member with me. If I went to the bathroom I had to leave the door cracked. I created this mess and I couldn’t tell anyone. I lied to the psychiatrist and therapists on the unit. They had no clue the real reason why I did what I did. This all leads me to the lesson I have for today.

 

 We are quick to dismiss a therapist or psychiatrist because we don’t agree with what they tell us. But as one therapist told me, if you feed me bullshit I will feed you what sounds like bullshit. How can you expect anyone to be able to help you if you are not being honest with them. You go in and sit and talk with a therapist and tell them what they wanted to hear. I was good enough to talk my way through sessions.  At the time I wasn’t putting stock in the therapy sessions.  All I cared about was seeing the psychiatrist to get my medication refills.  I was getting zero help from what they were providing me because it was based on lies I just told them.

 

 You must remember that your relationship with your therapist/psychiatrist and you is like any other you have. You will get out what you put in. We often talk about being fake around friends and family but the people we have a chance to be real with we end up being just as fake with. Your relationship is vital in your recovery journey. Not all relationships last and the therapist/patient relationship is no different. If it’s not working for you then try another. You are not bound via contract. And remember YOU are paying the bills for the visits. 

 

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WARNING: DO NOT STOP SEEING YOUR THERAPIST AND/OR PSYHICATRIST UNTIL YOU ARE ABLE TO SECURE APPOINTMENTS WITH OTHERS

 

Therapists take different approaches. Some will try to push buttons to get you to talk while others will just listen and offer no insight. I can remember one therapist that looked at me and said people only attempt suicide because they want everyone else to come in and clean up their mess. That was the last session I had with that person. Why continue a relationship if the person you are dealing with thinks you are fake. I walked myself into a hospital for help and the unit nurse told me to go home. She said if you are going to talk about committing suicide then man up and do it. I was shocked. In disbelief. This was a person who just told me that if I was going to talk about suicide to man up and do it. 

 

If you are new to the mental health world be aware of the differences between a therapist and psychiatrist. If you believe you are going to go in and see a psychiatrist and lay on a comfy couch and talk for an hour you are mistaken. Psychiatrists are their to manage your medications. They want to know if there are any side effects, or if your symptoms are worsening or if new ones have come to the surface. Your time with your therapist is when you will be able to sit and discuss what is going on in your life. This should be your safe place. The place you feel comfortable discussing anything.  

 

Do you continue going to a mechanic after they did bad work on your car? Continue to go to the same accountant after they mess up your tax return? See a lawyer after he gave bad legal advice? Then why continue to see the same therapist if things aren’t working for you?

 

You must be diligent in finding a relationship you feel is best for your recovery journey. I will caution this; we all know their is a shortage of psychiatrists in the US. I just began seeing a new therapist 2 months ago and they don’t yet have an open appointment to see a psychiatrist. You might want to continue seeing your therapist and psychiatrist until you can find a new one unless you can get commitment to see your personal doctor. Keep in mind that a lot of private practices take on what I’ve heard called “easy fix” patients.  Someone who is upset because their son or daughter didn’t get into Stanford etc.  Other practices are bias to what type of insurance they will accept.  The table is tilted to the side of the provider.  They know there is an abundance of patients so they can afford to be picky over what patients they accept but DO NOT GIVE UP.  If you are new to mental health and doctors; know that if you live in the US., most health care providers will allow you to see either your therapist or psychiatrist in any given week but not both. So if you have an appointment with your psychiatrist that week be aware that you likely won’t see your therapist. It was one of those lessons I learned along the way that made zero sense. Much like the law that requires your right to own a gun be taken away if you attempt suicide in the states and given a 302 status;  but you are not required by law to see a therapist once released. I’ve never owned or wanted to own a gun but it does baffle me why they are concerned about your gun ownership but not your recovery.

 

There are many paths on your recovery journey and the relationship between you and your therapist/psychiatrist is like a compass that can help point you to which path to take. Don’t accept the same old same old when it comes to your recovery; because all you will likely ever be is the same old same old. 

 

Remember… YOU MATTER!

 

The Fog Rolls In

 

I slowly open my eyes as an older gentleman begins to shine his little light to check my pupils. I am drowsy, and confused. The gentleman asked me if I knew what hospital I was in and I replied “Jefferson”. He said no you are in Sewickley. This might seem minor but for those that do not know where these 2 hospitals are located, they are an hour away from each other. I looked at the foot of the bed and saw my sister and brother in law watching on. I had attempted suicide the night before and failed. This began a 2 year period which I call the fog. A period in which I struggled to find a direction and didn’t even know who to trust to ask. I’d end up back in the hospital for suicide attempts 4 more times in the next 5 months and a total of 6 attempts in 2 years. That’s when the process began. I want to discuss the things I wish I knew then that I know now and how important it is for anyone newly diagnosed with a mental illness to know this same information.

After my family left I was assigned a sitter in my inpatient room until a room on the psychiatric unit became available. As I laid their in the bed I became angry. I was angry that I failed. Angry that I’d have to face family and friends. Angry that I’d have to explain this to my employer. I had no desire to be in that hospital. I just attempted suicide the night before and I wanted to walk out the next day as if nothing had happened. But I couldn’t, fortunately I wasn’t allowed by law to leave the hospital. It wasn’t very long before they were able to find me an open bed in the psychiatric unit and I was moved to a bed on that floor. Gone was the sitter but I’m now locked on a unit with 19 other patients with varying types of mental health issues. There were those with a drug addiction, alcoholics, and other much harsher diagnosis. I was the biggest misfit in what was like the island of misfit toys. I tried to end my life. Everyone else was trying to clean their life up or because they needed special treatment. I didn’t know who to talk to. Went to meals and sat alone for the first few days. And as the days went by the more the resentment grew. I was being held against my will, no one will tell me what the plan is and how I’m going to be helped.

I learned quickly that the doctors want to see you out and participating and not sheltering in your room. So I attending group meetings, NA and AA sessions and anything else that was a group activity. I wanted to put on a show for the doctors so I could get out quicker. I’d see the doctor for maybe 5 min per day. There wasn’t a discussion of how I’m adapting or if there was anything I wanted to discuss. The therapists on the unit while trained were overwhelmed by the ratio of patient to staff. The most I would get from a staff therapist each day was do you want to hurt yourself, do you have plans to hurt yourself or anyone else, are you taking your meds and are you attending groups. Then each morning we’d be asked what our goal was for the day and rate our mood. At the end of each night we’d be asked to report on progress toward our goal and our mood. It was the same day after day. Therapy sessions were generalized because the differences in diagnosis and often were read straight from a book. I couldn’t grasp how this was going to benefit anyone.

The unit itself was what I call a typical psychiatric unit with no carpeting any where but the tv room. You were given one pillow, a thin single mattress, a sheet and an blanket. I’m 6’4 and it wasn’t pleasant or easy to sleep on those beds. You’d get your door opened every few hours during the night for a bed check. Then around 4am you’d be awoken for vitals to be taken. I’m not sure how they expected anyone to get real quality sleep. The meals were bland and small. You were given a snack at night which consisted of a sandwich with one piece of meat, a piece of cheese and a bag of chips. No caffeine, no chocolate and for those who smoked no cigarettes. This is what I was facing every day for 10 days.

Looking back on this stay I now understand why things are done the way they are and some of the things I should have asked and in my opinion shouldn’t have had to ask about. I understand why they strip you down when it comes to food. They don’t want anything like chocolate or beverages with caffeine interfering with your sleep or even your medications. They want your body to be at baseline when they begin to introduce new medications.

Therapy sessions are generalized because there is a difference between the needs of each person as well as their learning capacity. Things need to be simplified. Staff therapists don’t have the time to spend more than 10 min with you because there are so few of them to deal with the needs of 20 patients. I couldn’t explain why doctors only manage to talk with patients for 5 min or so each day. I could only assume they were helping patients that may have just come into the hospital like I had or they had their own practice.

Steps

Faith is the Radar that sees through the Fog.  — Claire tenBoom

There are so many things that as a new person to a mental health diagnosis that you need to prepare yourself to ask even if its after you leave the hospital. While I was in the hospital I was never educated on how to talk to people about my suicide attempt. I was never taught that it may take in some cases 4-6 weeks for psych meds to reach full therapeutic levels. I was never even educated on what my medications were designed to do for me. I never knew I could speak up for myself if something didn’t feel right. I was given an appointment date for my first therapy session, not a session with a psychiatrist. The therapy session was weeks away and I was handed a card with a number on it to call if I was having problems before I was able to see the therapist. Another thing to keep in mind is that while someone with a more severe mental illness is in the same unit as you they may actually go home sooner than you because it all depends on the insurance you have. I sat in with the psychiatrist and case worker and the psychiatrist said he wanted to keep me one more night. The case worker informed the psychiatrist that he would have to call the insurance company to get approval for one more night. The psychiatrist looked at me and said he can go home today then. It’s not just the severity of your illness but also the ugly side of things like insurance that will determine the length of treatment you receive.

Having said all this let me say that Hospitals do a tremendous job with what they have to work with. They are understaffed and underfunded. Their teaching methods are archaic. But the Hospital is not their to CURE you. The hospital is a triage unit. They are there to get you stabilized. People go into the hospital because they believe that when you go to the hospital your going to be treated and cured. That’s not the case with a mental illness. The hospital stay isn’t the beginning of the end of this journey it’s the end of the beginning. You’ve started your journey. The medications you are prescribed in the hospital may not be the same medications your taking 3 months from now.
The only thing that can be controlled in this process is your participation. The only way you are going to make progress is by talking openly and honestly with your therapist. The only way through the mental health fog is by taking control. You must do the research, you must ask questions, you must advocate for yourself and you must not be afraid to find a new therapist or psychiatrist if the ones you have are not meshing with your needs.

You will be your greatest ally in this journey. There will be plenty of online groups that will be there to support you. But ultimately success is determined by your willingness to go the extra mile. You can’t be more than you are today if your not willing to do more than you already are. There will be frustration, their will be a feeling of being lost. You will see things work for others but not you. We are all unique in our diagnosis and we will all be unique in our recoveries. Your desire is the gasoline that keeps the car moving forward. Just remember no matter how frustrated you may get and no matter how alone you may feel; you are NEVER alone. YOU MATTER!