Archive for October, 2010

October 31, 2010

Therapy….or a Kate Spade bag?

I sometimes love to look at handbags. No, I don’t really own a bunch of bags, but it’s just so fun to browse by the bag section of a store and take a look at the color, the material, the design, the way it feels when you hold it, etc. In need of some stress release, I went online and spent a little time viewing bags on sale, particularly the ones on I don’t have a Kate Spade bag, so I don’t really know what attracted me to go to that specific site. But I do remember just how popular her square, black handbags were when I was in college. Now, her collection is quite colorful and fun, and there were quite a few on sale, though they were out of my price range.

Anyway, when I was at the nearby mall this weekend (for work), I somehow ended up taking a walk into the Kate Spade store—the first time I’ve ever been to the store, by the way. And I walked straight to the sale area, and there is was: the bag I was nearly drooling over on the web the night before. I held it in my hands and studied the material. I looked at the price tag (which they seem to hide rather well), and it was the same price as it had been on the web site. But something dawned on me: it’s pretty much the price of a single psychotherapy session.

I walked away, albeit somewhat hesitantly, from that kate spade bag but kept thinking about this cost issue. I kind of wondered to myself, what is a session of therapy worth? Could I trade in a few sessions on the couch for, say, a cute bag for my arm?

I know I cannot (or shouldn’t) compare what therapy gives me, which can be worth a lifetime, to what a handbag can give me. But man, do I want that bag….

October 29, 2010


SHOUT/New York Times

I have in my hand my evening pills, and I think to myself, was this all a mistake?

In the second semester of my junior year in college, a realization that I had depression and that I needed to get some sort of help finally clicked. I made an appointment with the student health center’s psychiatrist, and after talking to me for a few minutes, I remember the doctor asking me if I wanted to try an antidepressant. I sure didn’t refuse the offer, so he handed me a prescription. That was eight years ago.

Now, I sit here, halfway through the book “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America” by Robert Whitaker, and I am mortified. He actually mentions Dr. Frederick Goodwin—the guy that wrote “the bible” on Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness with Kay Jamison) and his and another colleague’s panel at the 2008 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting. They actually admit that only a small percentage of people “respond to these crummy treatments, like antidepressants,” and that those who are withdrawn from medication relapsed at high rates.  The data Whitaker presents basically concludes that once those diagnosed with a mental disorder ever tries to get off meds, the likelihood of relapse is high–much higher than those who go through non-drug therapies. One may argue that the cases of relapse proves that the meds work, but what research instead shows is that it’s because the meds alter the brain functioning to work abnormally, and not restore some normal order like we thought it did. In short, our brain pathways have been so changed that we can’t go without our meds.(The book is much more detailed in making this case.)

Eight years ago, did I make a choice that, in the long run, would never let me get better? Is this a doctor-approved addiction scheme? Had I decided to seek counseling first, where would I be now?

I shove those pills into my mouth, well aware of what the consequences would be if I stop taking them. But now I wonder, are the life-long consequences of taking medication worth the short-term relief?

Time for me to keep reading….

October 28, 2010

am I for real?

I’m taking an independent study class this semester structured around readings on mental illness. It’s been really interesting since I’m getting to read articles and books that are already of interest to me. While the readings have been of academic nature up to this point, I’m reading a mass-marketed book right now, titled “Anatomy of An Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America” by Robert Whitaker (I love this book cover), the same guy that previously wrote “Mad in America.”

I’ve only read through the first chapter of this book, but it’s already begun to make me question a lot of things about my medicated life… in, if I had never received antidepressants, would I even have been given the diagnosis of being bipolar? Am I labeling some of my own behaviors to be “a part of an illness” when it’s just being human? As I’ve continued on to taking more and more medications, have I come to see myself as chronically ill, and thus incapable of having a ‘normal’ life? The book’s starting to make me wonder what’s really legitimate. It kind of feels like I’m having to question my own existence, and I’m actually a little nervous about how I’ll feel and what kind of questions I’ll have after reading this book. But in a way, I am excited to get through this journey.

I still have ways to go in this book, but it has certainly given me much to think about. I hope to report back on how rest of the book goes.

October 26, 2010

Happiness and sisterhood

Two sisters by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

There’s an essay by Deborah Tannen in the New York Times titled “Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier.”

The basic gist of this essay is that having sisters make people happier most simply because they talk, and not related to the subject of the talks. I do wonder if those with brothers feel similarly as well, even if this particular study says otherwise. I couldn’t quite gather from this essay why there’d be such a difference between the feelings of those with sisters v. those with brothers. If the gender of the sibling matters in one’s level of happiness, then do the genders of one’s circle of friends matter, too?

Speaking of ‘sisters,’ maybe someone should study whether those who joined sororities in college rate themselves as happier than non-Greek women.


October 24, 2010

Mark Vonnegut chronicles life with bipolar disorder

Kurt Vonnegut’s son, Mark Vonnegut, has written a new memoir, “Just like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So.” It chronicles his life intertwined with his experiences with bipolar disorder. NPR has put up a short excerpt from the book on their site.

Here’s the review from Publishers Weekly:

Two not unrelated challenges–being novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s son and suffering episodes of schizophrenia–shape, but don’t confine, this mordantly witty, slightly subversive memoir. Vonnegut (The Eden Express) weathered a scruffy childhood with his as yet obscure dad (“I’ll always remember my father as the world’s worst car salesman”) and was hospitalized for three bouts of psychosis in his 20s. He recovered and went on to Harvard Medical School and a successful career in pediatrics–then a fourth psychotic break upended him 14 years after the first one. (Taken to the hospital where he worked, he found himself greeting colleagues while tied to a gurney.) Vonnegut vividly conveys the bizarre logic of the voices and delusions that occasionally plagued him, which he finds not much nuttier than what passes for normalcy. (He’s especially incensed by the insurance bureaucracies he thinks are ruining medicine.) His father’s son, he writes with a matter-of-fact absurdism–“The patient who just died lies there quietly and everyone else stops rushing around trying to do something about it”–champions misfits, and attacks the system. All his own are Vonnegut’s hard-won insights into the value of a humble, useful life picked up from pieces.

Seems like a really interesting book.

October 23, 2010

sweeping away depression

A snapshot of the area by my laptop. Though there’s stuff everywhere, this area is the least of my problems.


I sit of the floor of my living room with my laptop in front of me and a baseball game playing on television. Books and magazines are scattered about as well as punched-out circles that flew out of the hole-puncher. My luggage from the trip I took last week are still sitting in the hallway, with laundry hanging out and also starting to pile up since the trip. Evidently, I have neglected to pick up pieces of trash since they, too, are hanging out about the room.  To put it more concisely, it is a mess. And it’s not just messy; it’s getting to that point of becoming dirty. And it’s starting to remind me of those people on “Hoarders” on A&E.

Ok. It hasn’t gotten to that extent, but I must admit that I think the state of my house must reveal to someone the makings of a hoarder’s home. I am terrible at throwing things away. For example, I’ve been saving all my pill bottles for a few years because I have in my mind that I’ll be making something out of them in the future (I would save the cardboard sleeves off Starbucks cups if I could). Everything looks so re-purposeful.  But this inclination to save stuff is really beside the point.  I’m sure we’ve heard the saying that your home reflects what you are, and if that’s the case, I’m a mess, inside and out.

Maybe it finally clicked in my mind that the state of this home really isn’t good, so for the first time, I brought up this situation to Dr. L, my therapist. She basically thought that keeping my house in a less-than-desirable condition is one way that I use to keep people from coming into the place. The messy house, therefore, represents the way I try to keep people at arms-length in real life. I tend to agree with this view. I’m not comfortable letting people in, and the clutter certainly holds me back from inviting anyone in, including family. Likewise, that clutter present in my mind also allows to keep me from getting closer to people. This makes me wonder if I am, not necessarily intentionally, but subconsciously putting up these road blocks to slow down my progress. Am I keeping myself from allowing for all the medical treatments to work in the most effective manner? If these things are all related, will cleaning my house eventually lead to the clearing of the mind?

According to a post on titled, “Keeping a Clean House: Easing Depression,” it tells me that “those prone to any form of depression should make a constant effort to stay on top of untidy habits. Living in a constant mess can bring down self-esteem and motivation, making it even more difficult to make the decision to finally tackle the burden. Keep a basic level of cleanliness in mind at all times to avoid the inevitable stress that will otherwise ensue.” If this is the case, I really need to get started.

Now that I fully realize I need to put some effort into doing what I can to get myself to maintain good mental health, I made a promise to Dr. L that I would clean the kitchen and sort through two boxes of stuff by the time I see her this coming week. Finally, a plan that would start me on a path to a clean home and (hopefully) a clear mind.

Btw, I found some web posts on how to get started cleaning:
-Declutter 101: Where do I start? (
-Baby Steps for Organization (

October 22, 2010

scientific explanation to being suicidal

Scientific American has an intriguing post by Jesse Bering, titled “Being suicidal: what it feels like to want to kill yourself.”

Like you might expect from a science magazine, it attributes suicidality to the escape theory and points to six steps in the theory that make up someone’s desire to want to kill him/herself. Those steps are:

  • Falling short of standards
  • Attributions to self
  • High Self-Awareness
  • Negative Affect
  • Cognitive Deconstruction
  • Disinhibition

For an actual explanation of all these steps, visit the article here.

Thanks to my friend, Tom, for sending me this link.

October 21, 2010

open wide—for your therapist

It’s been about one-year and ten months since I first started the blog. I think I really have opened up in the process of writing this journal. But have I opened up enough to my therapist, whom I’ve been seeing since February? It’s been pretty easy to open up to her, but I can always do better.

In this week, Dr. Grohol writes out several strategies to help us ‘open up’ and be able to talk more freely in psychotherapy. Below are his tips:

1. Write it down. Jot it down on a piece of paper, or keep a “therapy journal” even of topics or areas of your life that you want to talk about, you just find it difficult. Bring it to session, open it up, and pick a topic for that session.

2. Let the therapist guide you They are not there to necessarily give you all the answers, but help you find your own way to those answers (often with specific skills and techniques they can teach to help you better understand your interconnected moods and thoughts).

3. Reset your expectations. Remember, you’re not there to entertain your therapist, or to tell stories to maintain their interest. You’re there to do real work, some of which is going to involve talking about the past week in your life, but not to such an extent or in so much detail it overshadows the reason you’re in therapy to begin with.

4. Prepare for each session. Sometimes people put off preparing for each therapy session. Either it becomes too unwieldy, or it becomes too much like real work. Well, psychotherapy is real work and is often hard. If you prepare for each session beforehand, you’re more likely to be ready to have a topic to talk about.

Not preparing for a therapy session or waiting until the last minute may inadvertently make it more difficult to talk. Imagine going to a conference or big meeting where are you the main speaker, and you only prepare your speech minutes beforehand. Naturally you’re going to be more flustered and less likely to speak well. Preparation is key. Not just for speeches or meetings, but for anything worthwhile in life.

5. Think of your therapist as the closest confidante you can ever share anything with. Therapists are your adult equivalent of someone you can share almost anything with (except for some things that are illegal, like murder, or suicide). That is a part of the special joy of a psychotherapy relationship. Here is a person who can tell them anything you want about yourself, and they won’t judge, they won’t insult or berate, and they won’t just leave you unexpectedly (within their abilities, anyway). It’s such a valuable and unique relationship that’s to your benefit to take advantage of as much as possible.

6. Ask your therapist to read your online blog entry, Facebook page, or support group posting. I would do this very rarely indeed, but it’s okay to share the occasional blog entry or support group posting, if you feel like it indeed puts into words you can’t bring yourself to verbalize in session. Keep in mind that most psychotherapists are fairly busy — as is anyone in a full-time job — so they’re not going to have time to read all of your blog entries dating back from 5 years ago. However, if you pick out one entry or one posting that really expresses how you feel or what you’re grappling with at that moment, that’s fine. Most therapists appreciate that additional insight into their patient, especially for one who may be having trouble talking or opening up in therapy.

Dr. Grohol says in closing that some silence during the session could be productive.

October 21, 2010

brain function boosters

Dr. Matthew Edlund makes a list of eight ways to get your brain to work better and therefore function better. I think I was intrigued by the article because a good, functioning brain is what I and many others want. And if other things aside from stuff given by doctors could work to improve my brain function, I’ll take it.

Anyway, Below are the eight tips:

  • Walk it. Even a 20- to 30-minute walk can grow you new brain cells, in sleep, in memory areas.
  • Sleep it. You need REM sleep and deep sleep to learn, and perhaps around seven to eight hours total to prevent heart disease, stroke, depression, and infections, all of which can really mess up brain function. Like food, rest is required for your survival. Every sleep-deprived animal eventually dies. If you know what you’re doing, like adding predreaming to your presleep rest time, you can improve brain function and make sleep fun.
  • Get it out in nature. Getting out in nature improves mood, resets immunity and increases vitamin D. And natural settings provide huge amounts of unconscious information the brain can then use to make better decisions.
  • Make it more creative. New ideas often arrive by adding different experiences to the old ideas in our storehouse of memories. So stroll out of your comfort zone: writers can read children’s books; teachers and parents can watch a group of playground kids handed a new toy; any cook can visit an Asian or Latin grocery and try new vegetables and sauces.
  • Use quick, active rest techniques. Very few know that spiritual rest techniques can, in under a minute, provoke senses of awe and transcendence. Then again, most people don’t know that there are four different kinds of active rest — physical, mental, social, and spiritual — and that they can be played together through the day like music, really cutting back on stress.
  • Use your body clocks. Your computer doesn’t care if it’s 4 p.m. or 4 a.m., but your brain does. Short-term memory is best in the morning, long-term memory in the evening. Lots of people feel most creative in the morning, though overall alertness often peaks in the evening, a great time to visit with family and friends, asking them all kinds of sometimes far-out questions, which can boost your creativity.
  • Pay attention to attention. All your brain really has is attention, your ability to focus, concentrate, and think. The brain only does one thing at a time. Distract it, overload it, do too many things at once, and your productivity, mood, and creativity will suffer. Take breaks or you’ll make mistakes.
  • Enjoy sex. Walks can grow brain cells, but in rats, so does sex. What better way to grow new memory cells than to be with someone you love, who cares about you, who you feel understands you? (Sex is also a great way to obtain social rest, with its many benefits for heart, brain arteries, and mood.)

As I read this list, I realize I’m not doing something on the list that’s supposed to help cognitive function. That is, I haven’t been able to go to sleep yet, and it’s 7am!  Well, I guess I can try to start following the list tomorrow….

October 21, 2010

hop, skip, and not renewing meds

As if we needed someone to do actual research on this topic. Anyway…

So, I haven’t been too good about taking my medication lately. I haven’t missed everything, but I let one of the meds run out and haven’t made a trip to the pharmacy to go pick them up. I know this is not a good thing to do, and I’m counteracting whatever help the ECT has given me in the last few days. The amount of regret from skipping doses is already mounting. Before the actual effect starts to mount as well,  I really better go get these meds tomorrow.

I’m quite sure this is a scenario that many others have faced. Apparently, someone needed more confirmation than (lots of ) anecdotal stories. According to the story on, “Many antidepressant users miss doses, study shows,” the study conducted by Medco showed that1 in 3 of those who switched to higher doses didn’t refill prescriptions as often as they should. They only looked at antidepressant use, but I wonder if this behavior is also common among other medications not related to one’s mental health.

It’s really stupidity on my part to be skipping my drugs when I know what has happened in the past. If I had to make an excuse for my behavior, it’s partly because my drug coverage is about run out soon, and this particular medication costs a lot. I called an insurance agent today to see if I can get new insurance, and she told me bluntly that I may not be able to get coverage from anyone else. If an insurance agent already thinks that, is it going to worth spending my time looking for new insurance? I’ve resigned myself to not being able to get any mental health treatments covered, but I at least want prescription drug coverage. Even with the health care rule changes, am I still going to be left behind?I think the fact that my current health coverage is about to run out is starting to get to me.

October 20, 2010

homeopathic means to an end of depression?

There’s an article in the Huffington Post written by Dana Ullman, a leading spokesperson for homeopathy, titled “Homeopathy: A Healthier way to treat depression?”

Homeopathic medicines are not prescribed based on the person’s diagnosed disease but on the unique way the person experiences his or her disease. In other words, homeopathic medicines are prescribed based on the SYNDROME of various physical and psychological symptoms, not just a single symptom or disease label. Although the selection of the correct homeopathic prescribing is more complex than the use of conventional drugs or even many herbal preparations, the system of prescribing that is individualized to the whole person is intellectually sound… and its results are often significant if not substantial.

The premise behind homeopathy is that symptoms of illness are not just something “wrong” with the person but are actually efforts of their bodymind to fight infection and/or to adapt to stress. Instead of using large doses of pharmacological agents to inhibit or suppress symptoms, very small and specially prepared doses of medicinal substances are individually prescribed to a person for their unique ability to cause in overdose the similar symptoms that the sick person is having. By finding a medicine that matches the symptoms of the sick person, the medicine supports and augments the body’s defenses. Ultimately, homeopathy is what Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, called “medical aikido” because it goes with, rather than against, the force of the disease. It is also a type of “medical biomimicry.”

There is, indeed, much more that could be said about the sophisticated system of healing that homeopathy embodies and on the historical and scientific evidence that verifies its safety and efficacy, but the above information and insights provide a good introduction to why people with mild to moderate depression might be consider seeking professional homeopathic care.

October 20, 2010

Pop music and mental institutions


My friend Tom sent me this link and thought I should share. It’s a music video by a K-Pop (Korean pop music) band named Co-Ed (I think). He believes the video takes place in a “sexy cotton candy mental institute.”It’s quite colorful.




October 19, 2010

speaking of ECT

Last week, I attended the Mid-South Sociological Association’s annual conference  in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This year’s theme was “Sociological perspectives: essential science to understand health and eliminate health disabilities.” I went to this sociologist convention because I was to present a paper on my experience with ECT in one of the sessions this past Friday. The session only had an intimate gathering of people, but nonetheless, it was my first time talking about ECT in front of people I don’t know at all.

My overall estimate of Friday’s presentation is that it went okay. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would become, and I am glad that I did get to bring up the truth about electroconvulsive therapy, something I’ve never really done aside from doing a presentation in front of a class. I was kind of surprised by how few papers were presented regarding any mental health.

This paper is going to be the basis for my masters thesis, so I hope to be able to share that with others when it is done.

October 19, 2010

ECT #34 (my 19th maintenance treatment)

The last two days have been the designated fall break from school, so what do I get to do? Have ECT.

Before going up to the treatment area, I had to stop by the business office. It so turns out that my insurance is going to expire at the end of this month, which I’m certainly glad that the insurance company even bothered to tell me about earlier.

Today must have not been a popular day to have ECT because there wasn’t that many people in the treatment room today. My usual anesthesiologist was on vacation, so another anesthesiologist introduced himself to me as I waited for my psychiatrist to get to the treatment room. I found him to be really cute, and I was so tempted to tell him—but I contained myself from making those comments.

My psychiatrist soon came to my bedside, and we talked about how it’s been going the last few weeks. I was supposed to have ECT two weeks ago, so as that date passed, I’ve started to feel increasingly tired. We agreed to have the next ECT in five weeks.

I’d like to write a little more, but I’m still nauseous from today’s treatment. I’m not sure if it’s because of the lortab or just from the ECT itself, but I guess I’ll save my other comments til later.

October 11, 2010

Mental health stories on NYTimes

Recently, there’s been several interesting mental health stories and features that’s popped up on the New York Times.

“Despite Army’s Prevention Efforts, Soldier Suicides Continue,” by James C. McKinley Jr., gives a vivid picture of this issue. It’s worth the read to gain further understanding and awareness.

“Medical student distress and the risk of doctor suicide,” by Dr. Pauline Chen

“Side effects may include lawsuits,” by Duff Wilson, is about pharmaceutical companies who make anti-psychotics and the prevalence of lawsuits against those drugs.

An Op-ed by Nick Kristof, “At risk from the womb,” discusses how we are shaped even before we’re born.

“Patient Voices” is an interactive section featuring videos of personal accounts of living with various illnesses, e.g. fibromyalgia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc. (more than 3,000 topics described, illustrated and investigated)


Their entire health section is at

For mental health news from other sources, check out





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