A Much Needed Distraction

I am not a big movie, television, or cable watcher. I watch the news to get caught up on the headlines every day, but I am not a big fan of all the shows on Netflix or streaming service. When people talk about Breaking Bad, or The Crown, or Game of Thrones, I can not follow the conversation.

On Friday, my husband had the day off, and we started watching a series on Netflix, and we binged watched it all weekend. We just finished watching the last episode of season one. It was a suspenseful detective show.  It doesn’t matter what we watched. What matters is the realization I had after several hours of following the characters and story. I realized I hadn’t once thought about a loved one getting sick or any of the worst parts of this coronavirus outbreak. My mind got a break from the uncertainty and the fear that surround this health risk.

I highly recommend turning off the news and losing yourself in a book, movie, or series. You can spend some time lost on the Powells, Amazon, or the Barnes and Noble websites. The time you spend searching for a book to purchase will get your mind off of current events. If you want to buy used books, Powells has a used section, or you can go to the Goodwill Books site (I buy many of my books used).  What I love about the Amazon site is that you can read several of the pages of most books before you buy them. Please avoid movies or books that have to do with the apocalypse or widespread disease. The goal is to escape reality, not increase your anxiety.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t stay up to date on the latest information coming from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). I am saying that we all need mental breaks, especially those of us with anxiety disorders or those with a tendency to worry. By the looks of the shelves at grocery stores and all the reports I have read of people stealing hand sanitizer from offices and masks from hospitals, I think everyone, even those who are generally level headed, need to take a breath and relax and think of something besides COVID-19.

*For suggestions of things you can do with a partner, relative or friend, check out some of my earlier posts.

Remember to take care of both your mind and your body! To our health!

Trying to Stay Positive When There is So Much Negative

Thank you to the people who looked for hand sanitizer for my dad. I also read on social media that people were offering to run errands for people in the Seattle area who had to self-quarantine. Along with the healthcare professionals and first responders, everyday people are going to be the ones who get us through this time of fear and uncertainty.

I don’t know if you saw the recommendation from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), but they are recommending that people sixty and over stay in their homes as much as possible. We are not over sixty, but we seem to be at home more than usual. One thing we are doing less of is going out to eat.

The great thing about not going out to eat is baking and cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking since I came down with diverticulitis three years ago, but we are planning to do even more now. Today, we bought the ingredients for black bean burgers, and my husband is making them into patties and preheating the oven as I type this. We also bought the ingredients for oatmeal cookies and cinnamon rolls, and we plan to bake together tonight or tomorrow.

If you are someone with a health condition or over sixty (or your anxiety or fear are running high) and you want to stay at home more, maybe it would be possible to have a friend or relative come and visit, and you can cook, bake, play board games, put together puzzles or live like it is the 1970s again (the ‘70s had some high points!)

If you are a writer or artist, you could have one of your creative friends come, and the two of you could create a creative retreat together. I do this about once a year with one of my friends from West Virginia, and we get so much writing done. I haven’t even finished submitting all the essays and articles I wrote the last time she was here.

If you don’t have someone to keep you company, and your fear and anxiety are keeping you from social engagements, leave me a comment with your e-mail, and I will get you a link to join writers virtually four days a week. It isn’t the same as having someone next to you or being in a workshop, but you can check in with people and get some work done.

There is plenty of anxiety-producing and fear-producing information out there. We don’t have control over the fact that a new virus has been introduced into the human population worldwide, but we can look for ways to enjoy our lives despite the bad news.

Putting our phones down, spending time at home with people we care about, and doing creative, healthy, and fun things together are positive among so many negatives.

Stay healthy and try to help others!

Hand Sanitizer: Liquid Gold

As in most difficult or challenging times, we are about to see the best and worst of people. My husband, who is immunocompromised because he has sarcoidosis, had hand sanitizer on his desk. Someone he works with stole his hand sanitizer. I have no way of knowing if the person who took it was a healthy adult (so the impact of coronavirus would probably be mild), but even thinking that makes the theft worse.

My husband, a person at high risk for developing complications from COVID-19, tried to help his community avoid the virus by using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and someone stole it. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but we can’t replace the hand sanitizer. First, we can’t find a single store in our city or the cities of family and friends who have looked for it, that has any hand sanitizer on the shelves. All the online stores are either out or have raised the price to $50 for a small bottle.

We have two small bottles at home for personal use, and we can’t put one of them on his desk because if they keep getting stolen, we will be without any for our use, and my husband takes public transportation and needs to use the sanitizer a few times daily.

I am also worried about my dad, another high-risk person not just because of his advanced age, but because he has damage to his lungs due to emphysema. My dad lives in a small town in Washington State (not too close to Seattle – the epicenter of the infections in the United States), but still in Washington, and I can’t get any hand sanitizer to him. I have called his local stores, and looked at Instacart to have some delivered, etc. but the stuff is like gold right now.

Although I am discouraged by the theft from my husband’s desk, I am encouraged by other people. My friend went to every store in her small West Virginian town, trying to find hand sanitizer to send to my dad. My mom (divorced from my dad for over forty years) wanted to help me find this new liquid gold at her local stores in Tucson. So, in my estimation, people are stepping up and doing more good things than bad things. People are trying to help more than they are thinking only of themselves and their needs.

Let’s try to make a pact here to be the kind of people who help out instead of the type of people who would put our interests above anyone else’s. Let’s lend a hand whenever and wherever we are able in these times of stress, fear, and uncertainty. Let’s show our better natures and not the worst of who we can be.

When the COVID-19 outbreak is over, and we look back at who we were and what we did to get by, let’s make sure we can tell stories that make us all the heroes I know we can be.

COVID-19 and the Vulnerable

I am concerned about the patients in psychiatric facilities, prisons, and on the street. It seems like if Covid-19 were to spread among these populations, the rate of transmission would be high, and in the case of those living without shelter, the death rate would likely be high because they might not have access to medical treatment.

We all know that more psychiatric facilities are a way to combat the crisis in mental health treatment and a way to see the numbers of those on the streets and in prisons go down. How can we work together to get more hospital beds in our communities?

I haven’t seen a single article written about this topic. Have you? I have seen dozens of articles about the mental health of medical staff (mostly nurses) and the general population (hello anxiety), but I haven’t seen anyone writing about the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable (except for the elderly and I’m glad to see that addressed).

For years I have felt like people who have psychosis (drug-related or otherwise) were the invisible population. Most of us living in the city know that many people on the streets are mentally ill, and we see them, but don’t know how to work toward a compassionate solution for them. It doesn’t take much to realize we need more services (I often hear people say that many people living unsheltered choose to live that way, that is not my experience).

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, 50% of people with schizophrenia and 40% of people living with bipolar disorder have anosognosia or lack of insight into their illness. Meaning these are the people who rarely accept treatment because they are unaware they are sick. It is cruel to leave the gravely disabled on the street just because they refuse medication. They are unaware they are ill!

I support a local nonprofit that feeds the homeless (unsheltered), but I think I am going to call my representatives and try to get handwashing stations to put all over the city so that people without access to public restrooms can wash their hands easily and help stop the spread of the virus. I know this is a small thing, but it could have a huge impact on thousands of people’s health.

Can you think of anything else we can do? I would pass out hand sanitizer to people on the street, but every store I have visited sold out.

How to Help Alleviate Fears During the Covid-19 Outbreak

I said I was going to write something every day while we are going through the Covid-19 situation in the country. I want people to see how it impacts someone with schizophrenia. Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, only my own. I hope it helps some of you feel less alone, less fearful, and more of a sense of community.

Although this isn’t what I most want to share with you, I do want to mention that today, I felt the first social impact of the virus. I had to cancel a much-needed coffee date with one of my best friends because I am sneezing and have a runny nose. I am afraid that these two symptoms of the common cold will scare people and possibly anger them because I am out in public, exposing others. My husband said he coughed at the bus stop today, but no one said anything. I’m glad people didn’t curse him out or something – fear in many people is running high. (Just so you know, I think that people who are sick should always stay home and not risk getting others sick, this is something I have practiced for a long time especially during the flu season).

The issue I want to write about today is how we support people who might already have issues with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness or concern. I am fortunate that my husband has compassion, empathy, and my fears are something he always responds to out of kindness, not shame, humor, or frustration. My husband doesn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” or “You are overreacting,” or “Don’t be ridiculous.” He never mentions any of those things. When I wanted to get a few extra things at the grocery store, he grabbed the keys and took me shopping. When I wanted to refill my prescription (just in case), he told me I was smart. There is no poo-pooing of my fears in my house, and I know that I am so lucky and fortunate to have that support.

The other side of getting support happened during a phone call with a family member today. There is a belief I am holding onto that is keeping me from being too frightened about the novel coronavirus, and that belief is something someone in my family tried to undermine today. I hope no one takes what makes you feel the most secure and tries to convince you that you are wrong somehow. It is a cruel way to deal with anyone, and it is an especially cruel way to treat someone with an anxiety disorder or brain illness.

My family member told me the belief I am holding is “unlikely,” and went on to tell me how unlikely or wrong my holding on to this belief is. The belief I am holding is neither irrational or delusional. I find it to be quite possible. I believe it is about ninety percent probable. It is also something I need to continue to believe so I can go on with my daily life without being overcome by anxiety, worries, fears, and concerns.

These two examples of responses (my husband’s and a family member’s) are ways in which you can either help or hurt someone who may be more prone to anxiety or fear than you are. If I can recommend something to you, please, for the sake of kindness, compassion, and love, be like my husband and help address fears and not try to undermine a safety net of beliefs that might be the only thing holding someone together.

 

Wishing you a healthy and peaceful body and mind.

Protecting Your Physical and Mental Health From the Coronavirus

Knowing that the virus is spreading and trying to stay healthy, not only physically, but mentally can be difficult. There are only a so many steps we can take to make sure that we are physically healthy: wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face, buying a few extra supplies at the store and getting some backup medications, avoid going out if sick, cough into your sleeve or a tissue, avoid places where there are large crowds of people close together.  These things are fairly easy to accomplish (except maybe not touching your face! Have you noticed how often you do it without thinking?)

Ways to take care of our mental health are more difficult to monitor and figure out, even though they are equally important. Everyone is saying not to panic, and then you see that post on your friend’s social media from a “doctor” writing to her family and claiming we are all going to know someone who dies from this virus. Wait, wait, slow down, that IS NOT what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or the doctors on television are saying. The last I heard is that eighty percent of cases are mild and don’t cause serious illness. The first thing to do to protect your mental health is not to believe anything you read about this evolving situation on social media. Listen to reports from health officials, like your local health department, or the CDC.

The second way to protect your mental health is to do things that you enjoy that can distract you from thinking about all the possibilities (anxious thoughts or thinking). Now would be a good time to start a journal, begin to paint or draw. For a few dollars, you can buy a sketch notebook or lined notebook. If you can’t afford one of those, you can use computer paper and draw or write on that. If you have a little extra cash, spend some time on Amazon choosing a cool notebook to start with, one that will make you feel like writing or drawing. If you really can’t get any paper, consider taking up photography (you can use your phone for this). I like to take pictures of things in my house. You can stage all kinds of photos.

Another way to distract yourself is to find recipes on the Internet for bread, or cookies, or easy meals and try to make them. You can try a new recipe every couple of days and document them on your social media. You can learn new skills, create something tasty and comforting, and possibly beautiful.

Now would be a good time to take up walking as a hobby. The endorphins will make you feel better, you don’t have to walk in crowded places, and the movement will be good for you in so many ways both physically and psychologically. It will also boost your immune system making it less likely for you to fall ill.

There are so many ways to protect our mental health during this stressful time. I am making sure to give myself one comforting thing every day. Today, instead of milk, I had half and half in my coffee (a real treat).  Tomorrow, I plan to start a new book.

Please share with me things that you can treat yourself with or ways you are protecting your mental health.

We really are all in this together.

 

 

Schizophrenia, Anxiety and the Coronavirus: Blogs From the Edge of Mental Health

So how does someone with chronic paranoid schizophrenia and generalized anxiety disorder cope with the possibility of a pandemic? I am going to write at least a little bit every day during the outbreak of the Covid-19 (the latest coronavirus infecting people across the globe). I am going to blog about this, so people will understand what I am thinking and what actions I am taking.

The type of paranoia associated with schizophrenia is, for me, different than a real threat presented by the spread of a virus. If I thought, which I don’t, that this was a conspiracy to impact the world, that might be a symptom of schizophrenia. However, that is not what I think. I think it is like any other illness that spreads in the human population for the first time and results in widespread infection because we don’t have defenses against it. In other words, I trust science.

What am I doing that others may not be doing? I can’t gauge how worried other people are, so I’m not even going to try to say that I am within a normal range of concern/worry/anxiety. I can tell you what I have done so far and what I will continue to do.

I watch the news every day to keep up with the statistics. Uncertainty makes me more anxious than facts. If the virus is spreading (and it is), I want to know this. I don’t want to ignore what is happening. That won’t alleviate my concerns. I want to know the percentage of mild cases versus the percentage of people who require hospitalization or die.

Just so you know, I keep a backpack at my door with cash, radio, extra medications, and other items my husband and I might need in an emergency. We live in Southern California, where it is possible to have an earthquake at any time. There is no way to be ready for an earthquake, but we are as prepared as we can be. With the knowledge that I am already a person who prepares for possible emergencies, you can imagine that I have taken steps to avoid what problems that I can anticipate the virus might cause.

I have prepared for possible supply disruptions from China and the possibility of a quarantine. Meaning, I ordered an extra thirty days of my antipsychotic drugs (I had to pay out of pocket for this, but the pharmacy saved me over two hundred dollars by suggesting I use GoodRX. That was serious, must know tip! The cost without the coupon was almost four hundred dollars. There were some coupons for pharmacies that offered the drug for twenty-five. I didn’t want to change pharmacies, but you can bet if I didn’t have a few extra bucks, I would have changed pharmacies to get the added discount).

For health reasons (to try and avoid some of the side effects of antipsychotic medications and because I have issues with diverticulitis), I eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables every day. I was worried about fresh food getting in low supply or not being allowed to go grocery shopping, so I bought some canned green beans, canned peas, applesauce, frozen cauliflower, packaged beets, and frozen yams. I didn’t stockpile any of these things. I bought a few of them to get me by in case we are required to stay in our houses (which I doubt will happen but it is happening in other countries).

I bought two medium-sized containers of hand sanitizers before the shelves were empty (I went to buy one more today and couldn’t find them anywhere, so planning paid off in this case). I also bought two bottles of Tylenol (actually, I bought a generic fever reducer) in case my husband or I get a fever, and can’t get to a store or the stores are sold out. We have a prescription for Ibuprofen (for back pain), which I checked on because I heard about ninety percent of it is made in China.

So, this is how someone with chronic paranoid schizophrenia is reacting in the early days of the community-based spread of the virus. I worry deeply about people with schizophrenia who are on the streets and don’t have access or a way to prepare. I read a quote recently that said something like we are only as healthy as our most vulnerable. Of course, this means that the poor and homeless will be less likely to seek medical attention and continue to spread the virus. Beyond empathy and compassion, this is a great reason to provide all people with adequate care.

Do what is right for you. Try to stay in the present because that is all we have. Take care of each other, and I will keep you posted on my mental health in the time of fear.

 

 

The Wrap up of 2019

In December of 2018, I wrote to my friend. I told her my goals for the upcoming year. My goals included writing articles and essays that are not about schizophrenia. Also to get my work in more mainstream magazines. I have written some of my reasons why I want to write about other issues outside of schizophrenia here before, and the most important reason is that I want to be known as a writer who happens to have schizophrenia and not someone with schizophrenia who happens to write.

Well, as the year comes to a close, I am happy to report that significant changes came about in my writing life in 2019. I broke into the Christian market, which is something I wanted to do for a long time. I ended up writing fifteen devotionals for a magazine called Grace and Strength. It is a devotional magazine for caregivers. I also have a feature story coming up in a spiritual magazine.

The other goals that I achieved this year are that I was able to break into the business and financial markets. I wrote for both The Financial Diet and Business Insider. I was assigned more articles in this market, so look for more work from me in this area in 2020. In these articles, I write about suburbia vs. urban living, life insurance, and the two upcoming pieces are about other financial products like credit cards and wills.

In 2019 I had essays come out in Glamour and Good Housekeeping about living with schizophrenia, so although I continue to write about living with my diagnosis, I am reaching mainstream audiences and adding new bylines to my resume.

I can’t tell you how much it means to my well-being to be productive and to accomplish things on an almost daily basis. I know I can’t keep the routine of other writers, or work five hours a day, or keep a fast-paced schedule. However, I am still meeting my goals. My goals don’t have to look the same as anyone else’s. Meeting them, though, is significant and essential to my self-esteem and my ability to participate in the activities others enjoy (like work).

Because it was so helpful and fruitful to write down and share my goals for 2019, I want to share a little about my plans for 2020. The biggest news right now is that I will join SARDAA (Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America) as an advocate. Much of SARDAA’s work has to do with getting better treatment for people with schizophrenia and reclassifying schizophrenia from mental illness to a brain disorder. Because I am onboard with SARDAA’s philosophy and mission, you will see me switch my language from the use of mental illness to the use of neurological disorder, a brain disorder, or brain disease. SARDAA also stresses that schizophrenia is a spectrum disorder and that no two people experience the illness the same way.

In 2020 I intend to write about schizophrenia whenever the opportunity arises, but I plan to try and move away from my personal story and open my writing up to other experiences to include the very most vulnerable, those living in psychiatric facilities, in prison, and on the streets. I feel like those of us who have a voice and a platform need to work at pulling the people who are hardest hit by the brain disorder we live with up and helping them on the road to a more comfortable and rewarding life.

Lastly, I want to continue to broaden the topics I write about and also focus some energy on creative essays. Some of the themes I am working on are my childhood, my marriage, college, and life before schizophrenia ever entered the landscape of my mind.

I hope in 2020 those that want a clean slate and fresh start get one. I hope if you are like me and building on something from 2019, that your success is beyond your wildest dreams. Here is a toast to all of our hopes, our dreams, and our health.

 

 

A New Approach to Living with Schizophrenia

I haven’t written a blog in a while, and the fact that I haven’t makes me feel like I have so much to unpack and say. For example, one of my Facebook friends posted about her husband with a “mental illness” yesterday, and there were dozens of comments about how “horrible,” “awful,” “painful,” etc. mental illness is, and she received loads of sympathy.

I get it. Psychosis is hands down the worst and most terrifying thing I have experienced. I get it that there are things that I have to figure out or forego or do in a different way than other people. I get that listening to someone talk about things that you know are delusions is difficult. I get that distorted thinking, anger, or whatever symptom a person might be displaying is hard. Yes, I’ve been there, done that, and no, I don’t want the t-shirt.

The thing is, I don’t like reading how “awful” mental illness is when schizophrenia is a part of my identity. When I came out five years ago and told family and friends about my diagnosis, I completely owned it. I started writing this blog, I started writing for mainstream publications, and I can’t think of a way that I could have put myself more “out there” and what I tried to say more often than not is, “Look, I have this illness and this is what someone with this illness goes through, looks like, experiences, etc.” And the thing I tried to say over and over again, is “I’m not that much different from anyone else.”

I wrote about my marriage of over twenty years. I wrote about being a friend, a daughter, a social worker, traveling, being a sister, etc. I tried to tell people that outside of schizophrenia, I am an average person with hopes, dreams, and desires. But the thing is, I never got past or around or away from the fact that I have schizophrenia, and it is every bit as much a part of me as my eyes, my feet, and my hands.

Is schizophrenia hard? Is cancer hard? Is diabetes hard? Is any disease hard? YES. They are all hard, but we never make them part of someone’s identity. And that is what I need to learn and tell myself. Schizophrenia is an illness like any illness. It impacts me, Rebecca, every day of my life. I have it. I feel it. I have to make hundreds of choices in my daily life to keep it from ruining me, but it isn’t me just like cancer isn’t my mom or stepdad who both have it.

I need to stop accepting schizophrenia as an identity that I own. It isn’t an identity. It is a disease. There is something abnormal about my brain. The brain of someone with schizophrenia looks different than a healthy brain scanned by an MRI. If I was someone who lied frequently, you could say, I have a character fault, but schizophrenia isn’t that either. There is nothing wrong with my character. It is my brain and the way it functions that is faulty, just like cancer cells don’t respond the same way healthy cells do.

I don’t know who I’m writing this to, you or me, or all of us.

If you think mental illness is awful or horrible or sad, that’s fine. Those words are true of almost every disease. Please don’t use those words to define or say something about me, though. I’m not awful, horrible, or sad, and I’m telling the world that at the same time I am telling myself.