Self-Care: It’s Not What You Might Think It Is.

33482305094_af8982f72a_k

By Darin Barry

 

There is a misconception surrounding the meaning of the words self-care. It is not just about taking time out for ourselves, such as taking a day off, or going to the spa.  Self-care is a multi-faceted necessity conjoining mind, body and spirit that insures we are focusing on our own well-being, so that we can thrive, and be successful, and be the best we can be for others.

The public notion of self-care is widely focused on physical health, over our psychological health. We go to doctors if we break our bones, but we neglect the most important organ our bodies, and that is our brains; our emotional well-being. We let people tell us that our depression, and other diagnosis is all in our heads, that we can shake it off and “get over it.” Sometimes, we aren’t really good friends to ourselves, and we tell ourselves to just get over it, and to shake it off.   Would we tell a friend with a broken leg, or diabetes to shake it off and just get over it?

Psychological well-being should not be on the back burner.  Poor psychological health can lead to physical illness. Depression can create physical symptoms like joint pain, back pain, weight changes, psychomotor activity changes, extreme fatigue, immune deficiencies, and other maladies. [1] Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, of course, can lead people to take their own lives. With bipolar 1, my diagnosis, the suicide rate is around 15%. And a whopping quarter, to half of bipolar individuals will attempt suicide over the course of their lives.[2] I have to be on top of my game. Every person with mental illness needs to pay particular attention to self-care, or as renowned psychologist, and author, Guy Winch refers to it, “psychological hygiene.”

Grief, failure, rejection, fear, loss, rumination, and trauma are all examples of psychological injuries. And the injuries can get worse if we don’t treat them. We must practice good psychological hygiene to heal ourselves of these injuries.

My psychologist, Tom Seibel, LCSW, in Auburn, California educated me on the importance of all elements making up good self-care. At the start of each session Tom will ask me if I’m sleeping well, am I eating well, am I exercising, am I taking my meds as prescribed, am I writing, am I creating music, am I attending twelve step meetings? These questions are basically covering all the elements of my particular self-care prescription. If these things are out of balance, it could lead to bipolar episodes. I do not get the dubious luxury of putting any of my self-care on the back burner.

Self-care should not be confused with indulgence. Sure we all need, and deserve some sort of reward when we are satisfied with ourselves, but reward/indulgence is but a small part of the self-care components.

When I am in public, I observe so many people who could benefit from psychological intervention. Usually pride, vanity, and ego stand in their way of true happiness, and success through good psychological hygiene. Instead, they choose to hold on to their psychological injuries, causing prolonged unhappiness in the individual who is also most likely to be a tornado in the lives of their loved ones. That is trickle down pain.  No one should be ashamed to get help. The stigma of having emotional problems, or mental illness needs to be shut down.  We are meant to be happy, joyous, and free.

 

 

 

 

[1] An international study of the relation between somatic symptoms and depression.

Simon GE, VonKorff M, Piccinelli M, Fullerton C, Ormel J

N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 28; 341(18):1329-35.

 

[1] Suicide and bipolar disorder.

Jamison KR.

J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61 Suppl 9:47-51. Review.

PMID:10826661

 

 

 

A Front Row Seat to Watch God Work; My Path from Hopeless Alcoholic to Recovery and Happiness.

9325301570_b4950065bf_b

I used to be homeless. Now I’m not. 

I used to be a practicing alcoholic. Now I’m not.

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. That doesn’t mean I am cured of my alcoholism. It means exactly as I have declared; that I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I have hope, clarity, and a body on the mend. I stay sober by helping other alcoholics to find hope – showing them the way out of misery, insanity, and some from the brink of jails, institutions, and death. I give away what has been so freely given to me. This is how I stay sober.

Five months ago, I was hopeless. I was absolutely shipwrecked on the island of despair. I was in a deep depression, drinking around the clock, and had lost everything. The tattered remains of my life, my soul, and dignity had landed on the bed in a hospital room, with nowhere for me to go. What remained of my life had nearly fizzled out on the floor of a convenience store where I had collapsed unconscious on the floor, bringing frenzied paramedics, and an ambulance days before. For seven days I was treated for extremely high blood pressure, alcohol poisoning and withdrawal, severe dehydration, and monitored for what physicians thought might be an eminent cardiac event. My once shapely, extremely fit body, had deteriorated to a sucked up mess.

After delusion brought about by alcohol withdrawal, and a body loaded with sedatives, had subsided, I had no longer believed I staying at a hotel. I had rising clarity, and clarity had been one of the things that eluded me for several months. The reality that I was hooked up to machines, and an I.V., laying ill at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, California hit me like a ton of bricks.

About a month earlier, I had decided I wanted to die. I had reached out on social media, FaceBook, and specifically a group within the site dedicated to serving the locals of the county I live in Northern California, asking for someone to care for my cat, Isabella, should I spontaneously go through with carrying out the act of suicide.

Laying in the hospital bed, I decided to reach out to loved ones, on the same site I had posted that grim plea, that call for help, to let them know where I was. I had become such a tornado in my loved ones lives, and all who were around me during the last year of my drinking, I wasn’t sure if I was still loved by anyone.

A day later, still mentally cloudy, but experiencing more clarity than I had for a long time, a man walked into my hospital room who would become to be known as my guardian angel. He was a complete stranger. He only knew me through my posts on Facebook, in a group called Nevada County Peeps which has a membership great in numbers. He was warm and friendly. He offered up his own story of struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. He said there was hope if I had the desire to stop drinking, and wanted a new life. I did. And I once again felt hope. He became active at once, hooking me up with aid provided by the county’s behavioral health programs, and a drug and alcohol treatment program, and provided me with guidance with the skills he gained through his education in peer support counseling; ironically a certification I had been in school with, and graduated from. I just didn’t know how to help myself with those same skills. Clearly he knew how to help me.

After spending a few days in a mental health facility for evaluation and treatment, and a medication adjustment to treat my bipolar 1 disorder, I found myself in a drug and alcohol program in Marysville, California called Pathways. There, I learned about addiction, and was supported by caring counselors and peers. It was then, through outside meetings, I was introduced to a twelve step program, and it’s accompanying text that outlined the steps I needed to follow in order to achieve continued sobriety. The book mirrored every aspect of my experience that I knew as an alcoholic. It spoke to me – I could relate. It was a blue print for a new way of life I was about to be rocketed into. It outlined a solution that had eluded me.

My guardian angel, the man who came to visit me during my hospital stay, had remained in contact during my 30 day treatment in Pathways. When I had successfully completed the program, he found me at a temporary shelter for those going through mental illness crises, or those suddenly homeless, called the Insight Respite House in Grass Valley. There another miracle, the first being getting sober, occurred. He offered me housing in a clean and sober house, and a job. I couldn’t believe the kindness of this man who showed me that there was hope in a new life.

While at that house, I was able to undergo surgery to repair a shoulder injury I sustained while drinking months before I got sober. I was laid up for ten weeks, and in a device that kept my arm stationary. I also had to sleep upright. I was cared for by members of the house I lived in as well as good friends in the community. Weeks later I would move.

I became a manager for a new clean and sober house in Nevada City, California, owned by the same organization of the house I had lived in after my treatment, The Co-Living Network. Today, I help others who are homeless, addicted, and going through mental health issues. I am a peer counselor, coach, and mentor in the house, and I love every minute of it. Helping others provides me some of the greatest joy I have ever known.

I have also worked the steps in the twelve step program that brings me continued sobriety, and secretary a young people meeting of that program in Grass Valley. I speak often about what keeps me sober as the chair person in meetings outside my homegrown, and at institutions. I have been interviewed on radios shows, and soon to be interviewed by a television news station where I will talk about the model for living I am a part of forming with the Co-Living Network.

A lot of people in the midst of their addictions express a yearning for their life back. For me, that notion is crazy. Who would want to return to a life that brought them to the very misery they seek to escape from? I enjoy a new, bigger, better way of living today. I get to bring my experience, strength and hope to those who are suffering, and want to achieve sobriety and continued sobriety. I get to work with those seemingly hopeless individuals and watch the light return to their eyes. I get to have a front row seat to watch God work.

Down the Rabbit Hole

3022058024_b898bdd26e_b

I cannot move. I don’t want to move. I certainly don’t have the energy to move. This crazy guy, crazier than me, just introduced himself then started moving furniture around. I’m just sitting here looking at him with stoic indifference probably resembling a carved, stone face on Mount Rushmore. I open up my laptop and start pounding out these few sentences. I’ve checked myself into the Crisis Stabilization Unit, a mental health facility next to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in California, knowing I need help. I know the faces behind the desk. They know me. I feel safe here. There won’t be any wrist cutting, or window ledges to jump from. Not that I’m considering those possibilities because, for one, it would take too much effort. I just want to sleep.

Crazy guy has gotten on my nerves. I didn’t think that was possible because I don’t care about anything. I go smoke outside. Cigarettes are wonderful when I’m down and I’m grateful to have the privilege to smoke at this facility. Halfway finished with a cigarette, crazy guy runs past me. Back inside, they are calling the cops. Later I would watch the poor chap being handcuffed from my hospital window, and taken somewhere out of my view. He’s completely oblivious of his butt showing through the open back of his blue hospital gown. If I could feel anything right now, I would be sad for him.

I laid down on my bed and slept for hours.

There came a knock on my door, and through it’s glass panels I could see the smiling face of a strange woman holding a clipboard.

“Darin, your friend Sara is here” she announced. Then, “I told her I could neither confirm or deny you are here so its up to you if you want to talk to her or not.”

“I’d be happy to.”

Sara is an older classmate who I love dearly. We are training to be peer support specialists, ironically, in the behavioral health field. I am lead to a room off to the side. She has to be buzzed in. When the door unlocks, she enters and gives me a big, warm hug.

“Honey, you look tired. Are you sleeping?”

“It’s all I’ve been doing. After class on Thursday, I came home and went right to sleep. I slept for nearly 24 hours. I have bouts of time where I’m not asleep.” I half smile, not entirely comfortable looking her in the eyes.

We sit down on the leather sofa.

“Are you taking your meds?”

“No”.

“Darin, you’re bipolar. You have an illness. You know better. Why aren’t you talking your medications?”

“Well, I’m still taking Lamictal, but Ability is making my face do weird things, like causing my jaw to lock, and draw back causing a weird underbite and..”

“Tardive dyskinesia.” Sara interrupts. “You were wise to stop taking it immediately.” I could see that she was thinking as she looked off to the side, then says “and it’s a weekend so there’s no-one to prescribe for you until Monday…”

“And so I’m here.” I say.

“You haven’t thought about hurting yourself? You’re just being pro-active or what? How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I’m walking through three feet of sand. I’ve lost interest in everything I do. I haven’t written any music in like two weeks. Every movement is an effort. I’m not interested in socializing or hanging out with any of my friends for any reason.” I let it flow out of me with little effort. I trust Sara.

I shifted in my seat then added more to enlighten her. She was listening.

“Sara, I AM my illness right now. I am depression. It’s taken me over. I’m here because I don’t trust myself. I’m here because I need a safe place to be alone.”

“Let me see your arms.” She says as she reaches out to grab my hands. I roll my arms around exposing the underbellies of them.

“I told you I”m not hurting myself, I’m way beyond that now. The physical part, and so many people don’t get that depression is also physical, is really kicking my ass. Every movement is an effort, everything is hard. I can’t even yield a mop.”

“Well, Darin, you’re having shoulder surgery next week. You’re in pain in many ways. What’s going on in your head? You know, my husband couldn’t get out of bed for a week at a time – he’d call into work sick a lot.  My son did the same.” She gets sidetracked and smiles. “You remind me a lot of my son, that’s why I think I love you so much.”

“What’s going on in my head…you’re asking maybe what I might be making a big deal of that isn’t so big in reality because I’m a messed up bipolar guy, right?” I nudge her, referring to our professional training.

“Yeah, what’s going on? Things ok at home?”

“Yes and no. It’s a clean and sober living environment, and I feel supported in that way, but the head of our household has told me he doesn’t believe in diagnoses and buys into this airy-faerie belief system that we can pull ourselves out of mental illness by shear will power or some shit.”

“Not good. I’m glad you’re here. But you know, that just doesn’t sound like William. Do you think that maybe your disease is talking and not William? Everything can be greatly exaggerated when you’re going through these mood swings Darin. You know this. Things aren’t as big as they seem, and sometimes things aren’t even what you think they are at all.”

We talked off topic for quite some time. She told me she lived close and would be there for anything I needed. But then she could tell I was fading and let me be. I knocked on the door and was buzzed back into the facility. I found myself barely picking up my feet as I walked to the couch were I collapsed and just sort of stared at nothing for a bit. Kitty-corner to me was this kid, probably early twenties, half naked holding his legs, shivering. I watched the hands of a clock move and didn’t say anything to the guy. His head was buried in his legs anyway. I pressured myself to speak to him, after all I was in training to be a peer support specialist, I SHOULD talk to this guy. I took off my hoodie and offered it to him.

“Dude, you are making me cold. Go ahead, put this on.” I said.

He looked up, then stood up, eyeballing the wadded up hoodie in my hands. He didn’t say anything and couldn’t look at me.

“Really, go ahead. I’m just going to crawl back into bed anyway.”

From the front desk; “Darin, he’s got some issue with wearing a shirt, it’s been going on all day. Nice of you though”

The still silent kid walked up to the front desk.

“Can I help you with anything Sam?” the therapist asked.

He remained silent. Then pressed against the door leading to the hallway. He found it unlocked, and then he bolted. The therapist called the police. I went to my window were I could see him running down the road and make a left on the intersecting road. “He’s running towards Presley!” I shouted. From my window I could see a smattering of hapless people on their way into the emergency room. An arriving ambulance filled my crazy-room with dancing blue and red lights. In moments, the Grass Valley police department had arrived in several cars. Soon an officer would be asking me where I saw Sam last.

No drama was elevating me, in fact, I was sleeper than ever. Then another strange woman walked up to me and said; “I told him I could neither confirm or deny you were here, but there’s a man here who said you would know him as  “the guardian angel”. If you want to talk to him, I’ll let him in the side room over here.” She pointed.

“Yeah, sure.” I answered. Oh God, it’s William. I was thankful that he saved my life easier this year, but now I thought it was all different and just maybe he might be asking me to live somewhere else. That was the worst case scenario I had in my head. The door buzzer sounded, and with a click it unlocked, and William walked into the room.

“Buddy, what’s going on?” He asked softly and with kindness. He took a seat and I did too.

“It’s just that super dangerous bipolar depression. I am my illness right now. I am just really down, lower than low, and I needed some professional help.” I laid it out.

“You haven’t been yourself for a week now. You haven’t spoken much to me, I thought you might be avoiding me in fact.” His big blues looked desperate, and kind of sad, much like his old yellow Labrador Retrievers’.

I met his eyes, “Frankly I have.”

“Why?”

“Because why would I talk to someone who doesn’t believe what I’m going through?”

“Wait, are you talking about the conversation we had about labeling? By that I meant that you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by the label of mental illness, or alcoholic. I certainly believe in diagnosis. You’re living proof, I’m living proof. I meant I didn’t believe in labeling, not that I didn’t believe in mental illnesses – you get me?”

I took some time without responding. Then he said, “I apologize up and down if it wasn’t clear, and that I had inadvertently created an unsafe living environment for you by my anti-labeling words, that wasn’t my intention. You can talk to me anytime. You are a dear friend. I’m glad you are here, and had the spirit to get here. You are smart and way ahead of the game. I do think you need a break from some of the volunteerism, and some of the other things you have taken on. You are only 65 days sober, and you have dove head first into all this activity. Slow down.”

“I don’t have much of a choice, my body won’t let me be anything but slow. And apparently my mind is thinking things are much worse, and bigger than the problem, if any,  are. That’s bipolar delusion right there.” I said, voice quivering a bit.

Hugs were exchanged, and see ya later’s were said, and I was buzzed back into the crazy ward.

I sat down on the chair were Sam had been before he went awol. I reflected on real and unreal things that were causing me anxiety and bringing me down further. I was still left with the feeling of dread. My body still ached. I still feel like I just ran a marathon when I had not. I was still feeling like I was walking through three feet of sand and anxious over nothing. A change of meds was in store for me first thing Monday morning, but for now, a mild tranquilizer had calmed my nerves.

The kindly therapist who had talked to me on arrival sat on the sofa next to it. She laid her hand on me knee and said, “You look better.”

“I feel a hundred pounds lighter. That was hugely constructive. It’s like you said, my head is just making things up, or at the very least exponentially exaggerating.”

“You know this will pass, you have been through it before. Your strength in all this is your insight.” She smiled.

“They find Sam?”

“He’s over at the ER receiving some care.”

“I was like that once. I’d get off my rocker manic, thinking I didn’t need a place like this; a walking danger.”

“Experience gives you empathy, but in you, I think it’s also innate.” She looks at me with kind eyes.

“That’s two that went awol since I’ve been here.”

“Three total today. There was one that blew out of here before you got here.”

“It’s been a long day for everyone here. I have the luxury of going to sleep. I hope you are off soon. Goodnight.” And with that I laid down for the night.

Morning came. At some point Sam was brought back in, and now he’s sleeping in his room, still shirtless. I wonder if I will get to talk with him today. I’m glad I’m curious because I have been lackluster in that department lately. I just haven’t cared enough to be curious about anything or anyone. Nothing interests me. I could very well just go home, lock myself in my room and listen to songs by The Smiths. I’m living in shear despair about nothing, maybe Morrissey would give me something to cry about.

The nurse will be in soon, and I will know what they recommend I do, and I will follow it. A young friend texted me this morning suggesting I go play with kittens with him at a local animal shelter called Sammies Friends as a way to cheer me up. Really. He means well.

As this day unfolds, I find I have no expectations, wants, or needs. I am just riding on a tide of willingness, and for now that will have to do.

Suicide Is Not For Me

6879929620_043245072d_o

Before I got sober, I contemplated suicide. It was crazy. I was crazy. Now, I can’t believe I ever actually tried to end my life, but I did. As it’s said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I don’t want the permanent solution these days. I’m in my right head. The idea brings a rightfully so terror in my mind theses days, and it took some counseling, sobriety, and a great deal of inward reflection to rid myself of suicidal ideation.

While going through deep bipolar depression, and in the midst of my alcohol addiction, is when the ideas were strongest in my troubled mind. The ideas were potent and powerful. They were overwhelming. They led me to the edge, quite literally.

I was in my mid twenties and distraught over a relationship gone south. The end of the relationship was to me at the time, infinitely too big for me to handle on life’s terms. And so I sat, on the edge of the window of my San Francisco apartment looking down onto O’Farrell Street eleven stories below. The thoughts of unworthiness, hopelessness, and loneliness raced through my mind, and were in a collision course with my residual sanity. My legs dangled out the window, and I had pretty much worked up the nerve to jump out. The situation reminded me when I was a teenager at the edge of a high rock at the South Yuba River in my hometown in California, feeling the peer pressure to jump off into the water one hot summers day. When I worked up the nerve, the spontaneity of it surprised even me, I just suddenly jumped, seemingly without self will, and found myself submerged in cool water before I knew it. I told myself to just do the same thing on that ledge of my San Francisco high rise that day – just find the courage to jump, and soon all my pain would be over. I thought spontaneity would take my life at any moment. I would be free.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small puff ball was ambling towards me. It was the new kitten I had rescued on Haight Street from an animal rescue group. “Alice GET DOWN!” Alice was unsteady on the ledge. I crawled back into the apartment and coaxed her back down. I shut the window, sat on the floor cuddling the kitten, and just wept for a really long time. Then I could hear keys jingling and the door unlocking. I collected myself.

“Woha. Are you ok?”, Lisa, my roommate asked.

“Yeah.”, I weakly replied while getting up from the floor to run to the bathroom. My stomach was tight. “Just a little sick.” I wasn’t lying. I threw up in the bathroom. Nerves.

I had been up all night. I was weak and tired. I grabbed Alice, went to bed, and slept soundly for many hours.

It wasn’t the first time. My Father drove me to the hospital, racing through red lights of busy intersections after he found me in a bloody pool when I had slashed my wrists the I-mean-business way; up and down, and sideways. I was in my early twenties. I don’t even remember what was the triggering point of that attempt. The horror of a hospital stay, many psychiatric interviews, a five day stay at a mental ward in Placerville, California, and dealing with the tattered remains of my self esteem are indelibly stamped in my head.

February of 2017, I found myself once again thinking my life wasn’t worth living. I sat in a fifth wheel trailer, drinking alone. I lived with friends, who owned a bar and restaurant, and lived upstairs from it. I started drinking in the bar one night, Burgee Dave’s at the Mayo in Camptonville, California, when my friend Sandy, one of the owners, asked if there was something wrong with me, and added that she was concerned about my drinking. So, I had retreated to the fifth wheel where I could drink alone, undisturbed, without judgement. I drank a liter of vodka on top of my antidepressant and mood stabilization medications. I was then out of vodka. I decided to run to the  neighboring community to get more. I was going to take more of my medication and add a bottle of valium to get some permanent sleep. While on the way there, I ran my car into a ditch and totaled it. The CHP arrived, gave me a field test for alcohol, which I failed. I was handcuffed, fingerprinted, thrown in the drunk tank, and slapped with a D.U.I. As terrible as a D.U.I, and the wrecking of my car sounds, I am lucky to be alive. For that I am grateful.

People are trained to look for warning signs in those about to carry out the act of suicide, but those who really are planing to do it, are pretty clever. I tried to put on a much different face amongst my friends and the community I lived in. Nobody, not even my therapist, could have known that I was planning such a thing. I hid it well.

Bipolar depression, and hardcore alcoholism were once again the monkeys on my back, pulling at my hair, while pounding on my back trying to end my life.

I got help, but if was purely by accident. If left to my own devices, I’d probably be dead. I was pretty downtrodden that I was homeless for months, couch surfing from place to place, spending a few nights in my car, all the while telling people I had a permanent place of residence. I thought about these things as I laid in my hospital bed. Days before I found myself in the hospital, I had stayed with my former roommate, Jen in Grass Valley, California and then collapsed at a service station before I could say “help.” I had alcohol poisoning after drinking 1.75 liters of vodka for days on end prior. I had to be detoxed over a period of five days.

During my hospital stay, with and IV in my arm, and oxygen under my nose, I had moments of clarity. I realized how much alcohol had played a part in my suicidal ideations. It had to go. I opened up my laptop and shared with friends and the community that I had bad thoughts in my head and I had a problem with drinking. A stranger who found me on Facebook, came to my aid with a powerful message. He shared his story. It was not unlike mine. He went out and took care of things I was worried about, arranged for a county social service worker, alerted  behavioral health, and had arranged for my stay at a drug and alcohol treatment center. The stranger had done all that. I dubbed him my guardian angel.

Today, I am 42 days sober and happier than I have been in a long time. Me and my cat, Isabella, have a permanent place to live, I have a job, a huge support network, in a twelve step program, and live happily, joyously, and free. I have a newfound spirituality. The monkeys are off my back, but as I have said before, they lurk in the shadows waiting for me to let my guard down. I must remain forever vigilant. I have to think about those I love; those I would leave grieving for their lifetimes should I choose to exit this plane in such a horrific manner. I’ve seen what suicide does to those who are left behind, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone; especially my little brother Gordon. As long as I can keep the plug in the jug, me, those who love me, and Isabella can live happily ever after.

(About the photo: I shot this using 20 year old Chinese made film. The numbers are the film back of the camera that have been burned into the film by decaying chemicals. Shot with a Diana at F11. )