On Medication and Mental Health II

There are many other forms of mental illness out there, which I’ll eventually delve into, but for this post we will focus on depression treatment via medications known as antidepressants.

Well, it’s been a loaded few weeks for me, and I’m finally getting back into writingº. If you’ve been following the blog so far, last post we looked at a few reasons why people choose to go on medication to treat their mental illness, as well as a few reasons why people avoid the topic altogether. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post (On Medication and Mental Health I), feel free to check it out before or after this one.

In this post, we will look at a general, layman’s overview of medication for depression only.  If you’re a biology/chemistry buff or are otherwise educated in the specifics, I hope I don’t make you cringe from my over-simplifications.

There are many other forms of mental illness out there, which I’ll eventually delve into, but for this post we will focus on depression treatment via medications known as antidepressants. Some of this may be information you have seen before, and some of it may be new. In any case, I hope this post is informative and helpful.

How do antidepressants work?

If you’ve ever sat down and Googled “depression”, you’ve more than likely come across depression being described as a condition stemming from chemical imbalances, deficiencies, or both. The truth is, no one really knows for sure what causes depression, however many researchers tend to agree that treating depression should involve addressing the levels of certain chemicals (called “neurotransmitters”) in the brain. Neurotransmitters, in short, are chemicals that allow the passing of electrical signals between neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, and include dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.  Different types of antidepressants affect the levels of different neurotransmitters in different ways.

What are some of the different types of antidepressants?

For this section, we’ll take a look at some of the main types of antidepressants, including reuptake inhibitors, Tri/tetracyclics, and MAOIs.

The first step in understanding reuptake inhibitors is to understand reuptake. This process occurs in the brain, whereby neurotransmitters are reabsorbed back into neurons after being used. A reuptake inhibitor prevents this re-absorption from happening for a period of time. The theory with these medications is that the more neurotransmitters working outside of nerve cells, the more communication happens within the brain, thus regulating mood. Reuptake inhibitors include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Lexapro and Zoloft, which as the name suggests help prevent serotonin reuptake. Other examples include SNRIs (which help inhibit serotonin as well as norepinephrine reuptake) such as Effexor and Cymbalta and NDRIs (norepinephrine and domapine reuptake inhibitors) such as Wellbutrin.

Tetracyclics (such as Asendin and Remeron) help prevent reuptake in a different way. They are thought to stop neurotransmitters from binding with the nerves, causing them the neurotransmitters to build up outside of the nerve cells and effectively raising their levels.

Tricyclics (such as Elavil and Tofranil) block the reabsorption of serotonin and epinephrine. These medications can have more serious side effects, as elevated epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) levels have been known to affect people with certain heart conditions.

MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as Marplan and Nardil) work slightly differently, in that they block monoamine oxidase, a chemical in the body that breaks down neurotransmitters. Basically, the less chemicals that are around to break down neurotransmitters, the more neurotransmitters exist. A possible side effect of these medications however, is that MAOIs can also prevent the body from breaking down other medications and chemicals – raising risks for other complications.

How effective are they?

In doing my research, it seems the benefits of medication tend to depend on the severity of the illness. Medication seems to help more as depression becomes more serious. One of the drawbacks of depression medication, however, is that antidepressants can take a while to work (often several weeks) and initially can even make depression symptoms worse while introducing side effects.

Are there side effects/risks?

As mentioned in previous sections, there are side effects to consider when starting antidepressants. Some are mild such as dry mouth, headaches, low sex drive, etc. Some can be more serious including increased risk of suicide and organ issues such as heart and liver problems.

How long should I take one?

Some people see benefits from antidepressants after several weeks, some several months, and some may never see benefits from a certain medication and may try another form. For people that do see benefits, the time frame in which they take medication could range from several months to several years.

As with any and all medications, do your research, talk to your health care provider(s), and learn as much as you can. Ultimately, the decision to begin any kind of medication should not be taken lightly, and antidepressants should be no different.

xo,

Phil.

 

Continue reading “On Medication and Mental Health II”

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10 Things I (Sometimes) Hate About Me

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate.

I initially had a longer and more emotional post lined up for this week, but I’ve been having a rougher-than-usual last few days (even by my standards). That being said, I decided to post something with a bit of a lighter mood.

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate. I may make a “Part 2” sometime. Maybe.

  • Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Like…do you actually want to know about my day? Because I accidentally spread a mask on my toothbrush this morning instead of toothpaste…Clarins tastes like shit.
  • Are we still talking or can I, you know, just walk away now. No? OK cool I’ll just stand here. Wait, was I supposed to say “You too!” or just “Thank you.”? Fuck!
  • I really love dogs and every one I ever dog-sit becomes my child. Sorry my son peed on your hydrangeas Kathy.giphy[1]
  • Being a neat freak and caring for animals is an interesting mix. I love dog sitting but do not love cleaning enough hair out of my vacuum to stuff a decorative pillow. Wait, do people do that? *Googles ‘can I stuff a pillow with my dog’s hair’*
  • I used to be a morning person. Then I became a night person. Some days it’s debatable if I’m even a person at all and I need a coffee IV to function like a human being.
  • One of my fears in life is not having a future or making a terrible decision and ending up alone and homeless and never being able to make beautiful, emotionally-and-financially-supported mixed babies.
  • Sometimes the most anxious moment of my week doesn’t have anything to do with my future, but ma’am you are ringing in that guy’s groceries way too fast and I can’t pack mine fast enough aaaahhhhh…
  • Ma’am I really do have two dimes just give me a second *shuffles in pocket* – NO it’s not OK I have it I really do just give a second *awkwardly places condoms on counter* – What? Yes I have an optimum card.
  • I’m usually very good at eating healthy, but sometimes I have a setback emotionally, can’t be bothered, binge eat, and immediately hate myself. #OxfordComma
  • I quit drinking for 4 months earlier this year. I lost a bunch of weight and it really helped the pockets. Since then, I don’t drink heavily or regularly…but will have a beer or a rum here and there.
  • After an eight-month layoff due to various personal ills, I finally made it back to the gym last week. Now I just have to make it back.
  • As of late, most of my depressive days have been manageable. Some days though, I just want to go home and hop into bed for an eternity. Sometimes, instead of bed, I make a blanket fort in my kitchen by draping a duvet over the bar and hiding under it.
  • Managing my medication and activity have been pretty good as well. Some days though, I forget and I’m just a mess the next day…which is a struggle. The recently-increased dosage isn’t helping the cause either, I’m sure.
  • Sometimes I leave my mom’s voicemail messages on my phone longer than usual…just in case I ever need someone to tell me I’m handsome.
  • Sometimes I use my sister’s Instagram account to check up on people I no longer am in contact with. Not because I’m stuck in the past or am holding onto something I shouldn’t…sometimes I care more than I probably should and am always back and forth on how I feel about that.
  • Most of my closer friends are a significant distance (e.g. a plane ride) away and sometimes it sucks (Hi Hanna). 
  • I think it’s cool that more and more people are opening up about mental illness, especially men. I hope this trend continues.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my life, and the blog as a whole so far if you’ve been following.

Until next time,

xoxo (my love is very special),

Phil

 

How I Talk About Mental Illness

I’ve made it a mission to make talking about depression, anxiety, and other personal struggles the norm, so I make no apologies for being open and honest about my mental illness.

“Yeah…what did you get up to last night?”

“Oh, nothing too crazy. Cleaned up the house a bit, did some laundry, popped a pill, had my depression nap…you know, the usual shit.”

The last parts of my statement usually get a chuckle or a weird look, depending on who’s on the receiving end. It’s the transparency, the openness, the vulnerability of the statement that either puts people off or piques their interest. The words make some people uncomfortable, and others find it refreshing. Some people shy away from the topic, while others embrace it.

I never used to talk about my mental illness. Hell, I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling was even “real”. I was afraid, ashamed, and confused that I was going through something I didn’t understand. I’m not a big talker, but it wasn’t often that I had trouble putting anything into words. However, on my worst days, I could barely string enough words together to describe how I was feeling. The worst experiences, though, weren’t always what was going on inside of me…but what was going on when I tried to reach out.

Let’s not sugarcoat anything. Talking about mental illness is exhausting. It’s extremely difficult, and it’s even harder when the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand or suggests various ways to cope that just don’t make sense (FYI: “Cheer up”, “Suck it up”, “Get over it”, and “Have you tried praying about it?” are usually bad things to say). So often as people, we listen to reply instead of listening to understand. Sometimes, the person reaching out doesn’t even want to hear your “solutions” or your opinions, they just want you to hear them out. Your job is to make it easy for them to talk to you, not force them away.

I think we all need to do a better job of providing an outlet for other people in our lives, especially loved ones. So often, people struggle with various ailments for so long without reaching out and getting help simply because the few times they’ve tried, they were met with resistance or negativity.

So, how exactly do I talk about mental illness? The answer is “In any way I can.” I may post to this blog, share a video or status on Facebook, talk to someone face-to-face, or simply send a “How are you doing emotionally?” text to a friend. The more I talk about it and bring it up, the more I hope others will. It is my dream that one day there will be no stigma attached to mental illness, and that everyone is able to talk about these topics as easily as others.

That being said, the next time you ask someone “How are you?”, I implore you to really mean it. I’ve made it a mission to make talking about depression, anxiety, and other personal struggles the norm, so I make no apologies for being open and honest about my mental illness. If you have any questions or comments, or just want to talk, feel free to reach out. I’m here for you.

 

Why I Took a Break from Social Media (Or Blocked You, Or Whatever…Sorry)

I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.

On or around March 30, 2017 I took an extended break from Facebook and various other social media outlets. After a short-winded post about me needing a leave of absence, I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter apps, and stopped posting to Snapchat. I had always toyed with the idea of taking a break, going offline for a while, and reconnecting with people, places, and activities that were important to me and my goals…but the circumstances I found myself in leading up to that day forced me over the edge (no pun intended).

Let’s be frank. I wasn’t in a good place. I was anxious and moody on good days, broken on the not-so-good days…and on the worse days, forgetting my medication (or taking too much) and drinking way more than I should have been. If depression, anxiety, and other darker things were all wrapped up in some sort of explosive package…the bomb had dropped, and I was at ground zero. It was my deepest, darkest depressive episode yet (I’ll save more on this for another time), and social media wasn’t helping.

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My Facebook post.

You see the thing about social media that hits home the most, especially for someone that’s struggling, is that no one ever really posts the bad stuff. The poster’s world – from someone looking in – is perfect, happy, and free from whatever might be ailing the other person in front of the screen. This “grass is greener” concept is especially harmful for users already experiencing depression and other forms of mental illness, and I was no different. I became tired of the happy couples posting engagement photos (congrats, though), expectant mothers posting pregnancy announcements (congrats again), and posts from friends and others at events I either wasn’t invited to or couldn’t gather enough energy and motivation to attend.  I ended up stuck in a debilitating cycle of comparing myself to others, beating myself down for not being in places I wanted to be, and struggling with a near-constant fear of missing out (FOMO). These things, combined with the daily battle with depression, were just too much for me to handle…and I opted outº.

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Bye social media!

Leaving social media – albeit difficult to do – was almost immediately relieving. With every press of those little X’s as I deleted apps, I felt more and more pressure lifted off of me. I didn’t have to check in anywhere, keep up-to-date on any news feeds, or browse any timelines. Better yet, I wasn’t bombarded by images of friends that never ever seemed to have problems, wasn’t tempted to lurk around other people’s pages (especially exes or mutual friends of exes), and was free to continue to focus on issues that were present in my actual, offline life. Not only that, but as time went on (I spent just over two months away), I began to experience other benefits that helped me deal with these issues. My sleep was better (probably because I wasn’t up at odd hours scrolling through my phone). My relationships with friends and family got better, as I had more time to spend working on communication and spent less time on the phone or tablet glued to an app. I had effectively put all my “online-only”, half-assed, and superficial relationships on hold and invested more time and energy into real, meaningful ones. I became way more productive at work. Better still, I put myself on a path for having a better quality of life by giving myself time to spend working on myself.

Eventually, I returned to social media – but with a different mindset. Now I try to remember that not everyone is perfect, and while the images and content people post may suggest otherwise, everyone has their ups and downs. While I still struggle with issues I’ve already mentioned, it’s getting easier and easier to pull back and focus on myself. I know I may have to leave again or make some other changes (sorry for blocking or unfollowing you), and I hope this post helps myself and others understand why it’s needed.

Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media and go on a deleting spree. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.

 

º Side note. Just wanted to shout out everyone that took the time to reach out back then and now. I hope everyone could take the time out to check on people they care about, especially your friends that seem like they have everything going for them. More often than not, your “strong” friend is the one hurting the most.

Until next time,

Phil xo

A Letter to Myself

Remember in those hard times, though, no matter how far you fall or how bad it gets, you’ll always have this letter to remind yourself just how far you’ve come, and how great you are.

Dear future you,

I’ve tried not to make this letter too boastful or bombastic (your head is big enough as it is), but I wanted to shoot you a letter for you to read in times where your future self (or maybe others) may need it. I truly hope time has treated you well, and I pray the rest of your days are better than today – regardless of how today is going. This is going to sometimes be an awkward, embarrassing, and painful read…but sometimes – most times, I hope – it will give you that little push you may need to get yourself going.

First, I hope you never stop cherishing experiences – especially the first ones. Remember that time you went on your first road trip in Canada and instead of the weather being warm, it snowed? You spent your first snowfall sprinting around the cottage, outside, in a wife-beater.  You wouldn’t have known then that what followed would be a harsh, cold, and unrelenting winter…but I’m glad you took it in stride.

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Engineering Group, 2006
You wrote all of your midterms that semester either sick with the cold or a stomach flu, and instead of giving up, you excelled. Even when the material seemed too complicated, too detailed, or too overwhelming to understand, you put your mind to it and got it done. Despite going through a huge family loss before your finals, you pulled it together and finished university with the engineering degree you told yourself you would get. Then, you interviewed for and got the job you wanted on your first try. That’s something to be proud of, and I hope you continue to take this approach in anything you endeavor to accomplish – never give up, no matter how daunting it may seem initially.

Next, I hope you continue to only see the good in others and bad situations. Sometimes, you haven’t been treated the way you deserved to be. On more than a few occasions, you weren’t shown the respect you gave to others without question. Sometimes, it will be you that offends or otherwise hurts someone. I hope that it is always unintentional, and I hope you are always the first to apologize, whether they accept it or not.

Remember that sometimes people won’t behave the way you may expect them to. They will be selfish, rude, or ignorant. I hope this never turns you off from loving, but instead pushes you to continue to be the kind, caring, and compassionate person you are…the world probably needs it.

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Mid-Reno, 2016

You’ve gone through your fair share of heartbreaks, but you continue to push forward. Remember when you were weeks out from signing a new lease, dejected from a recent breakup, and said “Next year, this time, I’ll be sitting on the front porch of a house I own”? What happened? You stuck to your budget and financial plan, got a realtor, and a year later wrote a check (for a shit ton of money, might I add) for your first deposit. Fresh-faced and twenty-six, you became a home owner. Now, two years later (with the help of a little sweat and YouTube videos), you’ve renovated it all on your own…and it feels like home.

Continue to remember that money isn’t everything. Remember that time you thought money would make you happy? You set another goal, started tutoring and opened your dog-sitting business, worked way too many on-call shifts, and grossed over $100,000 the year after.

Twenty-seven years old. One hundred thousand dollars.

You deserved to celebrate reaching your target, because – as you said – making “a hunnid thou'” wasn’t easy. However, even though the money was great and your bills were paid, you were exhausted, burnt-out, and hurting. That’s when you decided that you were happier seeing new places, doing new things, making new friends, and spending time with your family.

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Amsterdam, 2014

That being said, I hope you continue to travel – both alone and with people you care about. Continue to make friends in different places, and continue to keep in touch with them. You’ve been to fourteen countries and counting, and I hope in the years to come you can add to that number immensely. Travel far, eat well, and take care of your physical self along the way.

Finally, and most importantly, I pray you continue to have the strength to walk away when you’ve exhausted all other options, especially if you deserve better. Even though you regularly experience bouts of depression, anxiety, and pain, do not let what you suffer from become all that you are. Always take each setback as an opportunity to bounce back even better than before. Sometimes it’ll hurt more than you think you can bear, but more often than not, the end result will be more joyous than you can imagine.

Remember in those hard times, though, no matter how far you fall or how bad it gets, you’ll always have this letter to remind yourself just how far you’ve come, and how great you are.

Yours,

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Phil.

P.S. Call your grandmother.

 

 

 

Somewhere I Belong: Music, Mental Health, and Me

I wasn’t sure who I was or was becoming, but I was sure that whatever it is I was going through, whoever wrote this music understood.

Your teenage years can be some of the most difficult yet rewarding times of your life. A time of huge physical and mental transition, you begin to question yourself, think abstractly, compare yourself to others, and otherwise try to find your place within the rest of the world.

One of the most difficult parts of developing during this time is the angst and paranoia of “fitting in”, of becoming part of a larger whole – something I’ve always struggled with even in my adult years. That, coupled with the challenges of developing and realizing one’s own self-identity, makes for a very interesting decade-plus in the life of any young person. Let’s not even get into puberty and body issues!

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Creed – Weathered (2001)

One of the traits that develops during adolescence is musical preference and taste. According to Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise (McGill University), the age of fourteen is a “sort of magic age” for the development of these tastes. The music a fourteen-year-old listens to will help shape and guide the boundaries of themselves and their peer groups. There have even been studies that attempt to quantify and anticipate an individual’s musical preferences based solely on personality traits. Nuts, right?

Growing up in a Caribbean society, I was exposed to many forms of urban music including Rap, R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca – all forms of music I still love today. I’ve always felt at-home listening to these genres of music, and even had a short stint (in my late teens) producing Hip-Hop beats and Dancehall tracks for local artists. However, it wasn’t until a chance meeting with another set of genres that I began to experience a shift in musical taste. It became a pivotal point in my life, as it was really a shift in how I understood, approached, and appreciated life in general.

 

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Linkin Park – Meteora (2003)

It was March of 2003, and coincidentally enough, I had just turned fourteen years old the February before. I don’t recall if it was MTV or another music outlet, but after flipping through channels I stopped on a music video being played on the station. The song started with four eerie chords, undoubtedly reversed and processed electronically in some way for effect. My hair stood on end, and a chill swept its way across my body. Before I could process what was happening, the chorus of electric guitars hit, and I – for lack of better words – lost my shit. The song – “Somewhere I Belong” by Linkin Park.

I’d heard of the band a few times before (I had sheet music for “In The End” – another great song), but it wasn’t until Meteora was released that I really began to appreciate alternative and progressive metal/rock music. I would later expand my interests to include electric guitar (a guitar you can plug in? What?!), rock drumming, and learning more about rock music. Bands like Audioslave, Blink-182, Coheed, Creed, and Fuel started to replace some of the edgier, more gangster music previously cluttering my Zune (bet you haven’t heard that in a while). More importantly, the music I was into became less about partying and having a good time and more about angst, feelings, and questioning yourself. It was about struggles with faith, fitting in, spirituality, sexuality, and even conflicts in relationships – themes that matched exactly what I was going through as a fourteen-year-old male. I wasn’t sure who I was or was becoming, but I was sure that whatever it is I was going through, whoever wrote this music understood.

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Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave)

My teenage years would pass, and my adult life would begin.  I still keep many of the same bands and music in my playlists (now you can stream the stuff – thanks Spotify), and I routinely go back to those times, through music, where I was figuring myself out. I still struggle with self-identity and my mental health in a lot of ways, however it’s this music that really helps to get me through. Whenever I have a rough day (trust me, it happens a lot), I always go back to that collection of music that really captures how I’m feeling in that exact moment.

Sadly, though, too many of the artists I listened to then and now are dyingº, becoming victims of substance abuse and/or mental illness leading to overdose and suicide – preventable issues if only we reach out, if only we recognize the signs in others. If you or someone you know is suffering, even silently, please make the effort. If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. If you know someone who really needs it, reach out and show them that you’re there for them. Show them that life is worth living. Show them this life is somewhere they belong.

 

 

 

 

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