Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hospital Stays - One Year Anniversary

Last year at this time, I was leaving the hospital after a cycle of severe depression. The symptoms of my bipolar became too difficult to manage, and I needed a team of mental health professionals to help me get back to functioning in society.

I strongly dislike hospital stays. For years, one of my main goals in managing my mental illness was staying out of the hospital. There are so many things about being hospitalized for a mental health issue that feels wrong—almost dehumanizing.

Of the wards I’ve been in, there are definitely some that are better than others.  I’ve been to a child and adolescent ward in Omaha, an acute psychiatric ward in Lincoln, a depression ward at the Mayo Clinic and a few different wards at the University of Minnesota (there are several wards, and they don't focus as much on one specific area. Instead they put you wherever they can find a bed). I’ve now been to University of Minnesota psych wards three times on two different floors, so the rest of my description will be based on those stays.

Getting checked into a mental health ward is not like a regular hospital. If you’re been transported in an ambulance, hospital policy requires that you be constrained—no matter if you’re compliant or not. For one of my trips in the ambulance, I was strapped down across my chest and both legs. For the other, I was restrained by a handcuff-like device around my leg.

When entering most mental health wards, you first go into a room with two employees—psych techs—where you go into a closet-sized room and take off all your clothes, then pass them to the psych tech on the other side of the door. All your possessions are surrendered and put into a locker, and all your clothing is checked for anything that could be dangerous. Your phone is locked away, and in most mental health wards, you are not allowed to use your phone for the duration of your stay.

The floors in the U. of M. pych wards are a faux hard wood and heavy, firm furniture sits in a semi-circle around a TV. Behind the TV are several tables surrounded by plastic chairs where meals are served and visitors are met.

The rooms are double occupancy with single beds and thin pillows. On one of my visits, one of the other patients had a softer pillow and gave it to me the day she checked out. I’ve been in some regular hospital beds in the ER for medical reasons, and those beds were definitely more comfortable.

The rooms have a small bathroom with a soft door—a sort of stuffed vinyl. There’s no shower in the room, and when you want to bathe you have to ask a psych tech to open one of the shower rooms.

Privileges on the floor are much different than a regular hospital. While you’re allowed to make phone calls, you have to make them on a phone in the hallway. Visitors are only allowed at certain times, and though exceptions are made, they’re generally only allowed during visiting hours—7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. during the week and an extra hour during the weekend from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Children are also not allowed, though they will sometimes arrange for a private area to see your children, especially if you’ve been in the hospital a long time.

The rhythm of the days are tedious. There’s a lot of waiting. Generally, the doctors make rounds in the mornings to check on how you’re doing and adjust medications. There’s usually a community meeting where staff talks about the rules—keeping things clean, keep conversations appropriate, respecting personal space, etc. There’s usually a question like, “what’s your favorite Flintstone?” and people go around and introduce themselves and say, “Bam Bam,” or whatever, and then say a goal they have for the day.

The rest of the day consists of a lot of killing time between group “therapy.” Sometimes the therapy is helpful—goals and plans for when the hospital stay is over, improving relationships, etc.—but sometimes there things like arts and crafts (which I’ll admit is better than nothing). Killing time generally consists of watching the TV, playing cards, reading, writing, and talking to other patients. The last few times I was in the hospital I met some patients that were helpful to talk to. One nice thing about being in the hospital is finding people to commiserate with.

The hospital is no fun, but at times it’s necessary. At my last stay, my doctor was excellent. He added a medication (lithium) to what I’d already been taking, and things have gone much better for me since then. In the past, I’d been hesitant to take lithium due to its potential side effects and blood draws to check lithium levels, but thankfully everything has gone OK. If I hadn’t been to the hospital, there’s a good chance I never would have been prescribed lithium, and that I wouldn’t have as good of a year as I’ve had.

This year hasn’t been perfect—I’ve had a couple of bipolar episodes that I’ll discuss in another post, but by and large things have been pretty smooth.

Though my last hospital visit brought about a necessary change in my medications, I’d still like to see some changes made to how some hospitals do things. For one thing, I don’t feel like it’s necessary to keep phones out of the hands from patients for their entire stay. Same goes for other electronics like laptops. These things are fine to use in other areas of the hospital. If the staff of the hospital believe they might be dangerous, they could only allow them at certain times in a supervised area.

It would also be nice if visiting hours were more flexible (though they do make exceptions) or extended, so patients could have visitors at more convenient times.. When patients are in other parts of the hospital, visiting hours are long and often visitors can come and go almost all day with close family even being able to spend the night.

I’m thankful to have been out of the hospital for one year. For anyone with a mental illness, I hope that her or his treatment is effective and keeps her or him out of the hospital. My longest stretch since been diagnosed with a mental illness had been seven years, and with the support of family and friends, medications and the excellent caregivers I see on a regular basis, I hope to stay out of the hospital as long as possible.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Supporting a Loved One: A succinct resource

My blog posts tend to be a little wordy. Long sentences, etc. While some may have found my posts about supporting loved ones helpful, I realize they're not as accessible as some other resources.

Here is a link to an article from the University of Michigan:

The article is geared to college students, but the advice is useful for anyone:

A chart from the end of the above article gives some helpful advice:

I know you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
It’s all in your head.
I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
We all go through times like this.
You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
You have so much to live for-- why do you want to die?
Tell me what I can do now to help you.
What do you want me to do?
I can’t do anything about your situation.
You might not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
Just snap out of it.
Look on the bright side.
You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
Talk to me. I’m listening.
Here’s my advice…
I am here for you. We will get through this together.
What’s wrong with you?
Shouldn’t you be better by now?

If you have a loved one who you believe may commit suicide, you need to act immediately. Take them to the hospital, or if it's even more urgent, call 911. Also, have her or him put the phone number for a county crisis line (a quick Google search will find it) and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 in his or her phone.

My next post will be the last in this series. I'd love to include stories from others who have dealt with mental health issues. If you have a story you think would be helpful for others, message me or send me an email at leckbann@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Favorite Running Movies: Documentaries

A while back, I started what I thought would be a series of running movie posts. Unfortunately, my ambition was greater than my follow-through, so I never finished the series. I spent hours watching movies, but spending a little more time writing the actual posts about movies escaped me.

I set up three categories: drama/comedy, biopic, and documentaries, but I never got around to posting documentaries. There are so many good ones out there, so I'll send you to other places to find one to enjoy.

My favorites include, "The Spirit of the Marathon," and, "Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story."

On to the links:

Ten of the Best Running Movies, from the Guardian.

Get Motivated! Six Running Documentaries Guaranteed to Inspire from Runner's World.

All my movie posts can be found at this link: Movies

Do you have any favorite running movies?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Supporting Loved Ones: What about medications?

Most people are understanding and caring when they hear I have a mental illness, but there is definitely a level of discomfort as they consider their words. The goal of these posts is helping friends and family members become more comfortable in what they say and how they act around a loved one with mental illness. These post aren't perfect. Some of the "don't" items may actually be helpful for certain people, and some of the "do" items may be faux pas for others.

In doing research for these posts through talking with people with mental illness and reading articles and blog posts about responding to those with mental illness, I found some common things people don't like hearing, words to say instead, and other things you can say and do to support someone with their mental health.

Again, I'll start this post with a "what not to say." Unless you're a licensed medical health provider specializing in psychiatric medications, don't say to your friend or family member: "Have you tried X medication?" or, "You're probably on the wrong medication."

Amazingly, I've actually heard something like this when I was hospitalized. A nurse heard what medication I was taking, and she said, "Oh, that's not really a good one. You should try X." Now, a nurse may have more of an idea than some people about psychiatric medications, but she had literally just met me.

She went on for a solid minute about why a different medication would be better for me. Past medications, side effects from those medications, and how long I'd been on current medications were all unknown to her. For all she knew I had been on the medication she was suggesting, and it hadn't worked or had caused terrible side effects.

Considering the nurse example, remember what you do and do not know about psychiatric medications. You, a friend, or a family member may have quickly recovered from a mental illness when they were put on a new medication, but medication works differently on different people. Just because a medication worked for one person doesn't mean it will work for another.

If you have a family member or friend who tells you about her or his mental illness, resist the urge to question what medication he or she is taking. If she or he wants to talk about medications, fine, but I suggest avoiding the subject completely unless she or he brings it up. If your friend or family member does bring it up, allow her or him to direct the conversation. If you're curious, it's probably OK to ask about how the medication is working or if there are any side effects, but try not to do it in a way that may come off as judgmental.

I hope this is helpful. If there's something else you have a question about or would like covered in this series, feel free to comment, send me a message, or email me at leckbann@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Supporting Loved Ones: I Know How You Feel

As I've tossed around the idea of regular posts, I thought maybe I'd choose a couple of regular features and blog post series. There are some things I can keep going for a long time, but there are others I'd like to share that will have a finite amount of material.

I'm not sure how long this series will last, but I've had a handful of people ask about what they should do to offer help and support to those with mental illness. It's not easy, and honestly I could share more things that would be unhelpful than helpful, but I'll try to share a mix of both, usually starting with what not to say/do and then provide an alternative.

I've touched on some of these themes in previous posts, but I wanted to get more in depth for those who are struggling with offering help and support to a loved one facing mental health challenges.

One thing I hear often from people with mental illness is that they don't want to be told: "I understand what you're going through." If you take a minute to think about that phrase, you'll quickly realize the problem with saying you understand: you don't.

You may have gone through something similar, you might know someone who's gone through something similar, you may have read about something similar, but you don't know what exactly that person is going through.

Hearing, "I know what you're going through," is usually not helpful to someone with a mental illness. It doesn't bother me for the most part, mainly because I realize people have good intentions when they say it. Hearing stories from others with mental illness, many also say they are not overly bothered, again because they understand the person saying it is trying to be helpful.

Still, remember, on its face saying, "I know what you're going through," is not true. You are not that person. Regardless of how well you may know her or him, you have not experienced the events, thoughts, or emotions that she or he has experienced.

You may now be asking yourself, "what can I say?" Throughout this series I'll offer some advice on other things to say to someone who is struggling with mental health, but if you're feeling like saying, "I understand what you're going through," there are other more helpful, but similar things you can say.

First, I'd start with focusing on the person and her or his feelings. A simple, "Tell me more about that," will lead you to better understand what the person is going through rather than assuming you understand.

Also, it may be helpful to bring up an experience you or a friend went through that was similar, but don't make it seem like you're doing it to "fix" the person. You could certainly explain that situation and end with, "is that similar to what you're going through?"

If you have more questions and would like to see something answered in this series feel free to comment, message me, or email me at leckbann@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Regular Posts

I’d like to start posting blogs regularly. I have some ideas for regular features, and one of them is brief, life updates -- like this one.

A couple of weeks ago, the wife, the little one and I went down to visit Laura’s parents in Pensacola Beach, Florida. We thought it’d be nice to see them and get out of the Minnesota winter for a while.

While we were down there we got to do some fun things. The little one, grandpa and I got to go to a Naval Aerospace Museum, we all went to the zoo, Laura, the little one, and I visited some family and we had lots of great seafood.

Besides that, I got some nice runs in, and Laura and I ran the Pensacola Beach Half Marathon. The weather was chilly down there for quite a few days, but it was definitely warmer than Minnesota.

Recently, we celebrated our son’s second birthday at the aquarium in Mall of America. He had a blast.

In other life news, I’ve been dealing with a couple running injuries, and finally after seeing an orthopedist, I have some answers and a treatment plan. I’m hoping the injuries clear up in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’m doing very little running and mostly cross training.

That’s it for life updates. I’m not sure if I have enough material to make them a regular feature, but maybe.

Here are some ideas I’m tossing around for regular features. I’m thinking once a month or so for each.
  • Race reviews
  • Books about running 
  • Articles about running
  • Books not about running 
  • Favorite places to run
  • Mental health 
  • Life updates 
  • Running Tips
Some of those are more interesting to me than others, but I’m wondering what readers think. Are any of those interesting or not interesting to you? Do you have another idea for a regular feature?

I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment, message me, or email me at leckbann@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mental Health Q & A: Early Signs of Bipolar

The following question is specific to me, but it may also be helpful  to recognize signs of mental illness or mental health difficulties in a loved one.

Did you have warning signs of mental illness before your diagnosis of bipolar one?

The short answer to this question is: "yes, but." There were numerous signs of a mental illness before I was officially diagnosed at age 19, including a hospitalization at age 15 and a hypomanic episode at age 18. The "but" of this answer is that these signs were mainly in retrospect. All the signs I'll list below come with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps I could have been better prepared if I had been working with a mental healthcare provider, and knowing these signs now, as a parent, I hope to be more proactive with my child's mental health.

 While I experienced signs of mental illness, a hard bipolar I diagnosis doesn't come until there is a full-blown manic episode. I definitely had bipolar-like symptoms in my teens, but I didn't have a major manic episode until the fall of my sophomore year of college.

Many of the signs of bipolar were present throughout my middle and high school years. The biggest thing I can always point back to is poor sleep and/or decreased need for sleep. Before high school, staying up late and listening to the radio or reading seemed completely normal. I functioned fine on less sleep than would be considered normal, and never worried about it too much.

In high school, sleep did become an issue. Partly it was due to the fact that I worried I should be getting more sleep, and that worry actually made it harder to fall asleep. Anxiety in general also made falling asleep more difficult, and right around age 30 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder have been around since I was a child, and even when I'm doing well they still affect me. As a child I tended to worry a lot, and much of my worry would be about things I had no control over. The excessive worry and its detrimental effects on my life were big red flags of potential mental illness.

It's surprising to me that it took until I was 30 to receive a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, but the reason why it took so long is probably the fact that anxiety is also one of the symptoms of bipolar. I've gone through around a dozen bipolar cycles at this point, and in many of those cycles anxiety has been one of the symptoms.

However, after being evaluated by a psychologist, it became clear to me that my anxiety is always hanging around, and it's something to manage beyond the cycles of bipolar.

I hope this information is helpful. This is the last of the questions I've received about mental illness, but if you have another question, feel free to comment, message me, or send me an email at: leckbann@gmail.com.