A peaceful, soul healing day at Lake Jocassee.

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Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park, Salem, SC

Nature is the best therapist, and is so much cheaper.

First, the backstory (and why I needed this day and others like it).

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I haven’t really discussed it much on this blog, but since her marriage in January, my daughter and her husband have been struggling with opioid/opiate addiction (at the moment, they are both in recovery),  but for my daughter, her addiction is complicated by out of control mood swings.  She has no official diagnosis, but her rapid and intense mood swings that range from deep and debilitating depressions that make her sleep for days, to manic episodes where she can’t sleep at all and flies into rages easily seems to indicate bipolar disorder (which does run in my family, and my son has it too, but his is more under control because of coping skills he’s learned, and his may be less severe than hers).

She lost her Medicaid when she turned twenty six in April, and now has no insurance until she can get on her husband’s insurance through his job.  As a result, the only mental “help” she has been able to receive is awful, really almost worse than getting no help at all.  Her current doctor is impatient with her, charges her way more than she can afford (forcing her to ration her psychiatric medications) and makes her come in every week for her scripts, even though that costs her more than if she came every two weeks, which would make so much more sense.  It’s also hard for her to get to the doctor because she has no car.    She hasn’t seen a talk therapist yet because of the money/car issue, and also because she has an aversion to talk therapy for some reason.  Even the prospect of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) puts her off.   Her husband is trying to get her to give it a chance, since it has helped him.

She was attending a 12 step meeting, but the man who was driving her to the meeting (also a member) started to take advantage of her sexually, so she stopped going.   I don’t blame her.  I would have too.

As for me, this year has been extremely stressful, and my daughter’s mental illness and addiction is breaking my heart.    I love my daughter dearly but since she started taking opioids, it’s as if something in her brain broke, and even though she is clean now, she seems to have lost any ability she once had had to regulate her emotions, and has become paranoid about her environment and the people around her.  Her episodes of rage seem always directed at me, although I know it’s not really about me at all.  Still, it’s hard not to take the attacks personally.

I know with the opioids, the recovery process takes a long time, but patience isn’t my strong point, and I’ve realized I have no choice but to distance myself from her.  I need to take care of myself.    There’s really nothing I can do for her except pray for her healing and I can’t be of any help to her at all if I’m crazy myself — and between her issues and the awful political situation (which hopefully may be nearing its end but I’m not holding my breath), I am almost there.

I’ve gone on longer about that than I intended about my daughter, but that’s the main reason I haven’t been blogging very much this year, in case any of you wondered.    I’m just preoccupied and worried to the point where it’s not healthy.   I’ve been attending Al Anon meetings when I can, although I haven’t found a group I really feel at home in yet.  I’ve been spending less time at home, because frankly, I never know what I’m coming home to (my daughter and hubby currently live with me).   I’m looking into downsizing and moving to a smaller apartment or even a room in someone else’s home.  I need to escape.  They are adults and can take care of themselves here.   I’m not going to kick them out.  I prefer to move out myself, but the prospect of a move is causing me a lot of stress too.  It all just seems overwhelming.

Get to the point already!  You said this was about your day trip to the Lake!  

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Oh, yes.  Of course.  Sorry I took so long to get to the point!

No matter what’s going on at home or in my personal life, I can always escape, and natural places always have a healing effect on me.   Bodies of water, in particular, soothe my soul and put me at peace, making it easier to cope with life for a while.

Back in June, I became interested in Scuba diving and had been researching places where I might go to get certification, and that’s how I found out about Lake Jocassee, which is located in Salem, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s the main attraction of Devils Fork State Park.  Jocassee is formed by the confluence of four rivers that flow into it from the Appalachians.   The lake actually has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. 

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Jocassee Valley in the early 1970s, before it was flooded by the State of South Carolina and Duke Energy to create Lake Jocassee

The reason Lake Jocassee is so popular with Scuba divers is because of its clarity and depth.  It’s a large lake, which goes as deep as 300 feet and is not dark and murky like most lakes.  It also lacks that funky, swampy “lake” smell.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect.  It may be early fall, but the day felt like the middle of July: hot, sunny, and perfect for swimming.   The lake water was every bit as clear as I’d been told and had seen in pictures.   I was definitely not disappointed!

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You can get a good idea of the water’s clarity here.

The drive was very pleasant, only a little over one hour from my home, and it was just a short walk down to the small sandy beach.  When I waded out into the water, I was delighted that the bottom remained sandy, and wasn’t at all gunky with mud and the usual slimy stuff that’s usually found at the bottom of lakes. There were a few twigs, small rocks, and a little plant matter here and there, but it was definitely mostly sand, which I could dig my toes into and almost feel like I was at the ocean.   I could also still see the bottom even when I waded out so far the water was above my head!

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…and here.

There were also small waves!  The lake is pretty large (not so large you can’t see across it though), but I don’t think it’s large enough to have any real wave or tidal action like the Great Lakes do; the waves might have been caused by the breeze or the boats in the distance.  In any case, it was relaxing listening to them lap rhythmically onto the sand.

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Dog and kids having a romp in the lake.

For me, Lake Jocassee is a perfect merging of what I love about the Blue Ridge Mountains and love about the beach.   While the mountains in upstate South Carolina are not as high or impressive as the ones in North Carolina, they are less intimidating and still make for lovely views and are a perfect frame for this crystal clear lake.   But at the same time, I also got a real “beach” feel here, unlike any other lake I’ve ever been to.

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When I wasn’t in the water, I watched the view from my beach chair and just soaked in the sun, watched kids and dogs play in the water, and read.   I think I stayed about three hours, until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up a bit.  I decided then was a good time to head home.   I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the challenges I’ve been dealing with.

On the way home, I passed by Table Rock, also in the upstate of South Carolina, and pulled over on the side of the road to take a few quick pictures.

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Table Rock, Table Rock State Park, Pickens, SC

 

I also got a little color.

I’ll definitely be going back to Lake Jocassee.   It’s on my growing list of “happy places.”

Enjoy the photos!

 

Let’s Talk About Generalised Anxiety Disorder

I can relate to this article. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the medical term for my chronic “free floating” anxiety that I complain about so often. Believe me, it’s a lot worse than it sounds.

Please leave your comments on the original post.

The B Journal

If there is one thing that has been like my on-off toxic partner for the past 5 years (apologies to my boyfriend), it has been the complex condition known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Also known as GAD, in a very brief summary, is defined as exaggerated anxiety, and worry about everyday life, that may affects your day to day living.

In a world where mental health, and emotional stigmas are being more discussed, we often talk about how we are becoming more self aware about ourselves, and we are becoming more open to talk about how we are feeling. This may cause people to explore their mental health, and in particular in times of stress, and low moods- we are becoming more and more open as a society to look for a diagnosis, and try to find a remedy for how to combat this.

Unfortunately, as with everything in society…

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How Our Cultural Ignorance of Mental Health Helped Elect Donald Trump

This author has some interesting thoughts about our ignorance about mental health, and narcissistic personality disorder in particular. A short, but important read.

Please leave comments on the original post.

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mentally speaking trump flag

Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I repeatedly heard politicians, pundits and voters predict or at least express hope that, if elected, Donald Trump would “rise to the occasion” or “surround himself with good people.” It infuriated me. As a mental health practitioner, I knew this would not happen. More than his policy or populist rhetoric, it was Donald Trump’s instability I feared. Most disturbing to me was few people did.

People assume that psychiatric diagnosis is a subjective science open to interpretation, but this is far from the case. Human behavior operates on a continuum. In many cases (but certainly not all) it’s a matter of degree and frequency that separates abnormal from normal. When taking Abnormal Psychology in college, we were warned of psychiatry’s own version of “medical student syndrome.”

Perhaps this is why it’s easy to justify Trump’s deviances. It’s when you take into account the…

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Why is depression more tolerable than anxiety?

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I haven’t been at my best.   My anxiety has really been acting up.   I’m finding it hard to stay mindful and have a positive outlook.   All the tools I learned to stay mindful and avoid the worst of Complex PTSD are almost useless.

I can never relax.  I’ve been filled with a free floating sense of awful, black dread.  I can’t take naps in the middle of the day like I used to, or even sleep in late because at some point I feel like my heart is slamming in my throat and I’m jumping out of my skin.    Often I wake up early in the morning with a jolt, all that oppressive black anxiety weighing down on me like a lead blanket, and I almost feel like I can’t breathe.   Sometimes it’s so intense it borders on full blown panic.

Some of my anxiety is very specific:

  • Worry about the future of our country under the current president;
  • Worry about my personal freedom and rights as I get older, especially since I’m what most would consider poor and under this horrific regime, I will be VERY vulnerable to exploitation or early death from lack of social security, Medicare or other old age benefits that older generations took for granted;
  • Worry about what will happen to my children (or any children they have) should we become a real dictatorship;
  • Worry that the payout from my insurance company won’t be enough to allow me to buy any kind of decent vehicle, which I need for work;
  • Worry about my daughter’s new husband not being capable of providing sufficiently for her or any children they have.
  • Worry about a likely move in the future: will I be able to afford it?
  • Worry that one of my adult children will be in a terrible accident and possibly die;
  • Worry that my own family is using me financially and talking badly about me behind my back (this is probably the most irrational fear I have).    I know this is due to my past as a victim of narcissistic abuse.  When I’m very anxious and triggered, I have a hard time trusting people, even people I know aren’t out to hurt me.

There’s also the free floating, nameless anxiety I’ve lived with all my life, magnified by my specific (and possibly even rational) fears.   It’s this overwhelming feeling that something awful is about to happen, though I have no idea what.

All that anxiety is debilitating, and yes, it’s painful.   It’s hard to function properly or maintain healthy relationships when you’re constantly fretting or ruminating about something that might happen in the future — or might not.    I irritate my family because of my constant need for reassurance that I’m not being used or they are not going to be doing something dangerous that will get them hurt or killed.   I get annoyed easily at work and just in general.   I snap at others, not because I’m angry, but because I’m so anxious all the time.

There have even been days I’ve contemplated suicide (though I know I won’t actually do it) just to escape from the oppressiveness of all this anxiety and dread.

Every so often though, my anxiety gives way to depression.    I know that depression is actually worse than anxiety because it means you have given up.   You’re no longer fighting (anxiety definitely feels like you’re fighting for your life sometimes).  Oddly enough it feels almost…comforting.    When I’m depressed, I can just lie in bed or in front of the TV and not feel like my heart’s about to slam right out of my chest.   I feel no guilt about being so slothful.   When I’m depressed, I can actually sleep and escape my emotional hell through dreams, or just the oblivion of featureless slumber.   I can find food comforting even though I can barely taste it.    Though tears come rarely, when they do, it feels cathartic.

But mostly, when I’m depressed, it’s like boredom turned up to 11.    Depression is very, very boring.   There are elements of sadness and sometimes grief, but more than anything else, depression is boring.   Yet, I have no urge to do anything to relieve the boredom, except maybe sleep or eat.   The boredom is there, and while it’s intense, it isn’t painful or intolerable the way normal boredom is, the kind of boredom that makes you have to go DO something about it immediately.   It’s just there, like gray wallpaper.

When I’m depressed, I don’t suffer much (or any) anxiety or dread, because in my mind, the bad thing has already happened.  Even though my belief it already happened may be irrational, I’ve emotionally succumbed and accepted it.

It’s like that moment you know you are going to die.   You go through your whole life fearing death, but when you’re finally face to face with it, staring into its infinite maw, knowing there’s nothing you can do, your fear disappears and you just accept you’re going to die at this moment, right here and now.  I know this is true because when I was 18 I got raped.  The man had a knife, and I thought he was going to kill me.   At one point, I was sure I was a goner, and at that moment a strange calm took over and I just accepted this was how I was going to leave this earth.  Obviously it didn’t happen, but I remember that sense of peaceful calm and acceptance.

That’s what happens when I’m depressed.  It’s like I’ve already accepted something that might not even have happened and may never happen.    No, of course it isn’t healthy, but it’s oddly comforting and far more tolerable to me than the almost constant high level of anxiety I’m forever doing battle with.

 

Guest Post #8 : Abusers break you–and then HATE you for being broken.

Linda Lee’s wonderful guest post about Complex PTSD is definitely worth another day in the sun.

Lucky Otters Haven

My dear friend and active participant on this site, Linda Lee, has written a wonderful and OMG SO TRUE post, which describes a lifetime of abuse, including incarceration in a state mental hospital, and being faced with unethical doctors and caregivers, including one who raped her. She was sent back home to a rejecting family–who had put her there in the first place! Linda Lee has Complex PTSD, a form of PTSD that’s often the result of chronic abuse during childhood, rather than an isolated traumatic incident later on in life. After describing the insane house of mirrors she had been thrusted into that seemed to have no way out, Linda lifts the reader out of the darkness with an uplifting message about Easter and the resurrection.

Linda Lee also has a blog about her Complex PTSD caused by prolonged, severe trauma called Surviving Trauma (formerly Heal My Complex PTSD)

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What is moral injury?

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Moral injury (also known as soul injury), is a serious mental condition similar to PTSD that many Americans are suffering from right now under Trump’s increasingly threatening and authoritarian administration.   This condition is also very common among soldiers who are forced to commit acts that go against their conscience or violate their understanding of right from wrong.

According to Wikipedia, moral injury

refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional shame. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event.  The concept is currently used in literature about the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs. Moral injury can also be experienced by those who have been transgressed against. For example, when one goes to war thinking that the purpose of the war is to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, but finds that not to be the case, the warrior can experience moral injury. Those who have seen and experienced death, mayhem, destruction, and violence have had their worldviews shattered – the sanctity of life, safety, love, health, peace, etc. – can suffer moral injury as well. This injury can also occur in the medical space – among physicians and other emergency or first responder care providers who engage in traumatic high impact work environments which can affect their mental health and well-being.

Moral injury or soul injury is quite common, and can affect entire populations.   It tends to separate people with a conscience and empathy from sociopaths, the latter of which are likely to be drawn to the very person or situation that is causing moral injury and PTSD to the normal population.

Since moral injury is closely related to PTSD, the symptoms are very similar.    Depression, sadness, and even suicidal ideation is common, especially if the victim sees no escape from the threatening situation or tyrannical leader/ government.

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It is under the spiritual perspective of moral injury that Lindsay Carey (Australia), John Swinton (UK) and Daniel Grossoehme (USA), provided a comprehensive holistic defintion of moral injury based on the systematic reviews of Jinkerson plus Hodgson and Carey. [30]

Moral injury is a trauma related syndrome caused by the lasting physical, psychological, social and spiritual impact of grievous moral transgressions or violations of an individual’s deeply held moral beliefs and/or ethical standards due to (i) the betrayal of what is right by trusted individuals who hold legitimate authority and/or (ii) by an individual perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about inhumane acts which result in the pain, suffering or death of others and which fundamentally challenges the moral integrity of an individual, organisation or community.

The violation of deeply-held moral beliefs and ethical standards—irrespective of the actual context of trauma—can lead to considerable moral dissonance, which if unresolved, leads to the development of core and secondary symptoms that often occur concurrently.  The core symptoms commonly identifiable are: (a) shame, (b) guilt, (c) a loss of trust in self, others, and/or transcendental/ultimate beings, and (d) spiritual/existential conflict including an ontological loss of meaning in life.  These core symptomatic features, influence the development of secondary indicators such as (a) depression, (b) anxiety, (c) anger, (d) re-experiencing the moral conflict, (e) social problems (e.g., social alienation) and (f) relationship issues (e.g., collegial, spousal, family), and ultimately (g) self-harm (i.e., self-sabotage, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and death).

Moral injury can be treated with CBT and other psychotherapies, but not everyone has access to professional help.  Self care is of vital importance.  If the news is disturbing or upsetting to you, and is causing you PTSD-like symptoms, take breaks from it, or even ban it from your life altogether.   While it’s important to stay informed, if there’s a real emergency, you will find out about it.  Your mental health is more important than knowing every detail of what’s going on in the world or in the country.

Try to break the hypervigilance habit.  Many people feel more “in control” if they stay on top of current events, even following the slightest detail, but the reality is, outside of practical activities like voting, signing petitions, writing letters, or protesting, there isn’t much you can do to change things.   SItting around being depressed or worrying about what might happen in a week, or a few months, or a year can drive you crazy and make you miserable.   It will drain all the joy our of your life.  Keep in mind that even in the most undemocratic regimes, most people can still find moments of joy and love in the people and the world around them.  Anne Frank was such a person who remained hopeful even while interned in a concentration camp.   Obviously not everyone has the emotional makeup to remain that upbeat and brave, but her story has brought hope to millions.

Spend time with friends and family that you trust, obviously those who feel the same way as you do (things have become so polarized that you might have to avoid friends and family on the opposite side of the political spectrum, at least temporarily).   Be sure to spend time doing fun, nonpolitical things with your friends and family members, not just talking about politics and the news.   Of course there’s a place for that too.  If you want to feel like you’re making a difference, you can plan to attend protests as a group or have letter writing or phone call “parties.”

One way you can follow the news in a more lighthearted way is to watch the late night TV comedy shows, such as Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Kimmel, instead of cable or network news.     You will still get your news (in fact, these shows are often more accurate in reporting than actual news programs) but in a way that can make you laugh and see the lighter side of a very serious situation.    Gallows humor has its place, and can make an unpleasant or unbearable situation seem more tolerable.

Remember that if you are suffering from moral injury, there is nothing wrong with you.  In fact, it means you are functioning human being with a conscience, and you are merely reacting in a normal way to an abnormal situation.  Still, if the suffering becomes intolerable or you find it hard to function, it can’t hurt to seek counseling to learn coping skills.

Almost Sunrise is a documentary film about moral injury.  It focuses on returning soldiers, but should also be of interest to anyone suffering from this form of PTSD.    You can watch a short video and read an article about the film here:

Almost Sunrise / Moral Injury

According to their site, these are the most common symptoms of moral injury:

  • Overwhelming depression
  • Guilt or shame
  • Loss of meaning in life
  • Feelings of worthlessness, despair and remorse
  • Feeling like “I’ve lost a part of myself”
  • Feeling like “I do not know who I am anymore”
  • Feeling intense distrust

3 questions to ask yourself if you raised kids in a dysfunctional home.

I’m giving this post another day in the sun. This is for anyone with children at home who thinks their own issues might be negatively affecting the way they raise their kids. I hope this helps.

Lucky Otters Haven

Nobody’s perfect, and that goes for parents too.  There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. There’s something called a “good enough” parent though, which means that you are going to make mistakes raising your kids, no matter how much talent you have for the task or how well adjusted you are.  Children don’t come with instruction manuals, and some of the mistakes you make might even be pretty bad ones.    But overall, you’re “good enough” if your kids know you love them no matter what mistakes you made, and they turn out to be functioning, reasonably happy adults.

But for survivors of narcissistic abuse, things are a little more dire.   Because many of us suffer from mental disorders caused by abuse–C-PTSD, BPD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental maladies–we probably entered parenthood with less of a sense of ourselves and our place in the…

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Jessica’s last words

I was so touched by this story I am reblogging it.

Her mission is our mission

On March 10, 2015,  my daughter Jessica took out a piece of paper and wrote out one last letter to me. She used a pink marker (her favorite color) as she jotted down her last thoughts. It was her last attempt to explain to me that life had gotten to much for her. That all the bullying and pain that she had endured from the previous year and a half had finally taken over her mind. Helpless and hopeless she ended the pain that she fought so hard to be free of. I know she didn’t do this to hurt me. She was ending her pain and what she thought was a life that couldn’t get better.img_8924-2

I carried a copy of that note in my purse for  3 years. I thought  about what the words meant to me and I decided to have her last thoughts      …

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Ask the Question. Ask the Direct Question.

I was heartbroken to hear of the suicide death of Anthony Bourdain.   I loved his shows about exotic cultures, food, and everyday life in faraway countries.  He always seemed so happy and had a life anyone would envy — traveling all over the world and writing about it for a living is my idea of heaven!  Many people would say the same thing about fashion designer Kate Spade, who also committed suicide earlier this week.

Depression and suicide doesn’t discriminate and can affect even those who seem to have great lives. We just don’t know what sort of inner demons Bourdain (and Kate Spade) struggled with.

If you struggle with depression or have suicidal thoughts or ideation, please reach out and talk to someone you trust. Don’t keep your depression a secret — it’s a medical illness, not something to be ashamed of.

Peace from Panic

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

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This morning I woke up to the tragic news about chef and travel host, Anthony Bourdain. Death by suicide.

Heartbreaking. And after the shock earlier this week, the suicide death of designer Kate Spade.

My husband and I love to watch Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, “Parts Unknown.” He was an amazing storyteller. He traveled to both popular and remote places around the world to get his stories. My favorite episodes were when he visited unknown villages, and I learned about another culture’s cuisine and way of life.

In his interesting, quirky, and cool way, Anthony would sit with locals and have in-depth conversations over a meal. People opened up to him. He had a special way of delving…

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Anxiety spiraling into major depression?

Last week I wrote about my son’s dissociation episodes and panic attacks.   He got some anti-anxiety medication there, but they put him to sleep so they haven’t been useful to him, and the panic has not gone away.  He’s been able to manage it a little better, using some mindfulness tricks, but has not been able to see a doctor yet (he will tomorrow).  His two trips to the emergency room just told him what he already knew and gave him a few pills for the panic.

Since last Monday, he says he has had 14 panic attacks.  Today he tweeted this:

the last 2 weeks ive been in a very dark place. im constantly afraid, never happy. ive lost all hope and happiness. i feel broken. I’m only able to focus on my faults. making choices triggers panic attacks. im so fucking scared of life itself. help me.

This rose alarm bells so I called him right away.  He sounded alright but sad/down.   I asked him if he was having suicidal thoughts.  He said no, but he thinks about death a lot (suicidal ideation).   He also said it feels like someone else has taken over his mind and this isn’t him.   He can’t think of a specific trigger that would have set off the panic attacks.  It seems to me the attacks were and are part of a depressive disorder, possibly major depression, which is what it sounds like.

I made him promise not to do anything crazy.  He said he wouldn’t.   He did say he appreciates me calling him so much (it used to annoy him) and staying on top of the situation.   I’m glad he tells me everything, but I’m still really scared.   I can’t be near him right now, and that makes it worse.

At least he’s opening up and being honest instead of keeping everything inside.   I think opening up and talking about it is a good first step.   He also said he’s been thinking about checking himself into the hospital for a week or a few days.  I think that is probably a good idea, even though he will lose pay.

I’m asking everyone to send your prayers his way (or positive thoughts, if you aren’t religious).     I hate seeing him like this.