Eye Opener

Disclaimer: Uncharacteristic Serious Post 

Yesterday I put my father on a plane back home to Kansas City. I walked him to his terminal, bought him a burger and fries for lunch, and waited with him until it was time to board. As we said our goodbyes, while I knew things would be much less stressful at home, I was sad to see him go.

I have mentioned this in a previous post, but for those who don’t know my father has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It is in the very early stages, he still knows who we all are, and he can still take care of he basic daily needs, but there are many things he is no longer able to do. He can no longer drive himself, he has extreme difficulty reading, he can’t cook like he used to, and he is much slower than he used to be. His short term memory is pretty much nonexistent, he asks the same question over and over again, and he has picked up some habits that he never had before. But thankfully he is still the same dad I have always loved.

Since he lives at home with my mom and sister I decided that I would take him back to Chicago with me after my latest trip to KC. My sister and mom needed some time to relax and get things done around the house so I thought he would enjoy a few weeks with my husband and I. While I knew he had some difficulties and could tell his memory was getting worse, from our regular phone calls, it wasn’t really until he was living with us for a few weeks that I realized how much worse he really is. I think part of me never really accepted the Alzheimer’s diagnosis and just kept the facade that everything was still perfectly fine. As I said before he isn’t completely helpless, but he does need help with a lot of things.

First off, I am going to say that caregivers are fucking SAINTS. I was only with my dad a few weeks and I was completely exhausted. Before work each morning I had to make sure he ate and took his medicine and then make sure his lunch was made so that all he had to do was heat it up in the microwave. I can’t even count the number of conversations we had about how our Keurig works. He really wanted to work it, he just couldn’t get there. Luckily I work from home a couple days a week so I only had to worry a few days that he was alright at home while I was gone. Totally nerve wracking. At least he had our two dogs to keep him company and I think they enjoyed his daily naps as much as he did.

Since he doesn’t get to do too much back at home, we tried to show him a good time. We went out to eat a few times, he hung out with my father-in-law, whom he really enjoyed, and we even had a cookout with some of our friends.

While we had a good time, I am ashamed to say that at times I was extremely annoyed. I knew he couldn’t help it, but at night after working all day sometimes I just couldn’t hear the same question over and over. Thankfully I have a loving husband who was there to help me.

The scary thing for me is that unfortunately, he is going to get worse. I know this and I am terrified to death. Right now he still knows who I am, but there will come a day when he won’t and that is something I can’t even deal with right now. I never thought that I would be taking care of my parents, parents are suppose to take care of you. However, this is where we are at and it is something I will gladly do.

 

 

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The Power of Positive Thinking

With all of the new changes that have been going on in my life and all of the associated stress, I have been very anxious and completely exhausted. Many times, when I become overwhelmed with life I tend to be more pessimist about things in general and a little bit cranky.

This past week there was one night in which I was particularly cranky and was laying in bed whining to the fiance when I realized that there was no real reason for me to be so negative. Yes, I moving is a lot of work and yes, I work all week and it wears me out, but that is no reason to be so cranky. At this particular moment there is nothing horrible going on in my life and being negative does nothing for me. In fact, negative thinking can be quite destructive to your life. With all those negative thoughts floating around in your head there is no room for positive ones and who wants that?!?

With this realization I decided that I am going to make more of an attempt to be aware of my thoughts and try to focus on positive thinking. Speaking of positive thinking, I thought I would share a small article I wrote about how powerful positive thinking can be. Enjoy!

Can thinking positive really help you live longer? Many aging researchers think so. In fact, studies have found that individuals who have more positive perceptions of their own aging lived on average seven and a half years longer than others.(Seven and a half years!) Furthermore, having a positive attitude has been known to help improve interpersonal relationships, increase self-esteem, and lower a person’s risk for the development of heart disease. These individuals also tend to have less stress, are less likely to become depressed, have a stronger immune system, and better overall psychological health.

Clearly there are a large number of benefits that come along with positive thinking, but what exactly is it about thinking positively that has such a large impact on a person’s physical and mental health?

While no one knows that exact answer to this question, there are a few ideas that have developed. One of the most common theories is that positive people are not as affected by stress. When an individual is stressed they will experience more inflammation on the inside of the body, which has been known to speed up the aging process. Less stress means less inflammation on the inside of the body, promoting a longer life. Another theory is that those who are positive tend to lead healthier lives in general, meaning that they more likely exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and engage in less harmful behaviors such as smoking or drinking.

We all get older, there is nothing we can do to stop the aging process, but there are some things you can do to increase your positive thinking and increase your overall well-being. Consider the following tips that can help you identify your negative thinking and replace them with more positive thoughts:

  • Avoid negative self- talk or thinking critical thoughts about yourself.
  • Try using humor and learn to recognize the potential for humor in each situation.
  • Take a moment to analyze each event in your life and give yourself credit when it is due. Attribute the good things in your life to you own skill and do not blame yourself for the things that are out of your control in order to become more optimistic.
  • Continue to work on positive thinking, the more you practice it the better you will become about it.

Changing negative thinking can be extremely challenging and it can take practice to learn how to think positively. Positive thinking is more about taking a proactive approach to life instead of letting life’s challenges get in the way of your happiness. While transforming your thought process may not be easy the positive influence that it has on you emotional, mental, and physical health is well worth the effort. So while you can’t stop yourself from getting older you do have control over how you age. The key to living a longer, happy life may actually lie within positive thinking.

Would love to hear any other thoughts about positive thinking! Have a good rest of the week, it’s almost Friday!

Ooohhhmmm….

Once again life has been extremely crazy. Work is as busy as ever, I’m getting ready to move out of the city, and most recently I got engaged so wedding planning has been added to my never ending to do list. I am beyond thrilled, but I never realized how much went into planning a wedding. (Ecstatic in fact!)

Anyway, last week I was able to escape work to attend a meditation seminar and I thought I would share some information I learned about meditation and a little article I wrote about the seminar. Because why not? Everyone can use some relaxation and rejuvenation. I know I can!

Here are some things I learned from the session:

Life can be extremely stressful. Each day we are met with multiple responsibilities from work, family life, and even social engagements. Week after week we try to cram everything we can into our already jam-packed schedules; leaving us exhausted, worried, and honestly at times, completely overwhelmed. While you can’t quit your job or neglect your family obligations, there are some things you can do to help relieve some of your stress.

One thing that many people have found to be very helpful at stress reduction is meditation. Originally meant to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of life, today meditation is used for relaxation and stress reduction. In fact the practice of regular meditation is linked to many benefits including increased self-awareness, increased focus and discipline, stress and anxiety reduction, increased emotional stability, helps you think more clearly, and helps your overall physical health. When you take a little bit of time out of each day to meditate you can begin to clear your mind from the abundance of information that tends to build up each day and causes us stress.

Through techniques such as meditation,  you learn how to quiet your mind so that you can break free from overwhelming stress and get what you really want out of life.

On Monday February 16, 2015, I attended a meditation session at the Junior League of Chicago (JLC), where we learned about a few different types of meditation. These different types of meditation only take a few minutes of our day, but can do so much for our emotional health and overall well being. The four different types of meditation we covered included breath meditation, guided visualization, mantra or affirmation meditation, and finally yoga nidra, or sleep yoga. Each one is discussed in more detail below.

Breath meditation: The overall purpose of breath meditation is to calm the mind and develop a sense of inner peace. With some simple breathing we are able to change the chemistry of our minds, creating more space and making us think more clearly.

Guided visualization: Based on the concept that the mind and body are connected, this technique uses thoughts and suggestions that guide your mind toward a relaxed, focused state. When you imagine the details of a safe, comfortable place you are able to reach a state of complete relaxation. To help with the visualization it is common to use an instructor, tapes, or scripts.

Mantra or affirmation meditation: In this type of meditation you silently repeat a thought or phrase over and over in your mind to help prevent distracting thoughts. Mantra meditation is more challenging, but it is good for building strength and power in your thoughts.

Yoga Nidra: Also known as sleep yoga, this type of meditation brings about an incredible sense of calmness, quietness, and clarity. It is one of the deepest types of meditation where you go into a deep sleep, past the dreaming state, but still remain awake.

At first you may find that no matter what you do you are unable to keep your mind focus, but the idea is to start small and gradually add more time as you go. You will never be able to completely stop certain thoughts from entering your mind, but with practice you can create more space or focus, giving you more control over your mind.

So if you are looking for a way to focus better, stress less, get better sleep, and be a better partner meditation may just be the answer.

Today I Brushed My Hair

I’m a writer for a living, which means that on a typical day I sit at my computer (often in sweats) and write all day long. I don’t talk to any of my clients in person and other than an early morning yoga class the only other human contact I have each day is with the other members of my small content team and maybe the cashier at Starbucks. (Or Chipotle, one can never have too much Chipotle).

So generally speaking, I don’t put too much effort into getting ready in the morning. I may or may not wear makeup, if I do it’s very minimal, there have been multiples times when I will just rock a sweatshirt with leggings, and most of the time I just put my hair up in a bun without bothering to blow dry it. On the days I work from home I make no effort at all to look even somewhat presentable. If I want to sit around all day in a robe with a mess of hair tied up on top of my head, that’s not a problem.

While in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter what I wear to work in, something can be said for taking a few extra minutes in the morning to look nice each day. I’ve noticed that how you look can have a pretty large impact on how you feel. Sometimes on those extra lazy days, when I feel like I would much rather sleep an extra 30 minutes and go sans makeup, I find that I am not in as good a mood as I could be. Honestly sometimes I feel down right dumpy. When I take time to do my hair and makeup and put on a nice outfit (even if it’s just jeans and a t-shirt) I am in such a better mood.

As I said in a previous post 2015 is all about being a happier person and in the spirit of sticking to New Years resolutions I am going to make it a point to get dressed each morning, even if I am working from home. However, this doesn’t include Sundays. Sundays are meant to be lazy and fully intend to keep wearing my pajamas all day.

Here’s to Better Mental Health

Most of you have already been going strong with your New Year’s resolutions and while we are already halfway into January, it’s never to late to come up with some additional goals for the new year. After all, there are always ways in which we can improve ourselves.

It has been a little while since I have posted anything mental health related so, with the start of a new year,  I thought it was the perfect time to take a minute and talk about improving our mental health. More specifically, what can you do this year to improve your overall mental health? Well, I’m going to tell you…

With the commencement of 2014, it is a good time to step back and take a look at the past year and identify some areas of your life that you would like to improve over the next year. No matter if you are suffering from a pre-existing mental health condition or not, everyone can benefit from a resolution to improve one’s overall mental health. Many individuals think that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time because most people will end up failing to keep them anyway. However, even if you were unable to keep them for the whole year you still made some sort of progress toward bettering yourself and that in itself should be praise worthy. Transition and reaching new goals isn’t going to happen overnight, but when you put your mind to it and keep a positive attitude it can be done.

Examples of resolutions for mental health

When you actually sit down to write your new year’s resolutions identify some specific goals you have about improving your overall mental health. This can be anything that is important to you, there are no resolutions that are better than others. In order to get you started here are some ideas that you could include in your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Make a commitment to develop better sleeping patterns: When you don’t get enough sleep it can exacerbate many health problems, which includes mental health issues. Getting higher quality sleep will have a more positive effect on your mood.
  • Consider eliminating toxic people from your life: Surround yourself with good friends who are going to be supportive and not bring you down. Identify those who are beneficial to your happiness and are not going to bring about constant negativity or any type of physical or emotional harm.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself: We are the strongest cause for our own unhappiness due to our own thoughts and beliefs that we have about ourselves and the world around us. Changing the way in which you think about yourself and view the world can do wonders for your overall emotional well-being.
  • Identify ways to reduce stress: Daily life can bring about a lot of stress, which can exacerbate the symptoms of a mental health condition. Write down some ways that can help you relax and when you find yourself becoming overwhelmed take a break from the day to relieve some of that stress.
  • Make peace with the past: Many individuals have things in their past that are keeping them from living the happy life that you want to live. Make it a priority to move past those old issues so that they are not able to hold you back anymore. In some instances it may be a good idea to go see a therapist, if you don’t already, to help you work through any issues that may be getting in the way of achieve overall good mental health. A therapist can help you develop a plan that to work through all of these issues and to allow you to take on 2015 as a happier and healthier individual.

Remember that a new year is a chance to start over and to reach personal goals that we have set for ourselves. It is a time for personal growth where we can independently work on our overall well-being, it should not be a stressful time filled with guilt.

RIP Robin

With the death of Robin Williams I thought I would share a press release I wrote today about his battle with addiction and depression and how important it is for those who are struggling with mental health issues to get the help they need in order to prevent tragedies such as this one.

Robin Williams’s Apparent Suicide and its Relation to Depression & Addiction

Our hearts go out to one of the great comedians of the era

Aug. 12 – Yesterday, Robin Williams passed away of an apparent suicide. As we remember the many amazing ways in which he enriched media and culture with his comedy and acting, we should also take a look at what drove Robin’s actions to his untimely death.

Robin identified as an alcoholic early in life, all the way back to his days in his hometown. As he gained celebrity status, he also came to battle with cocaine addiction. His drug and alcohol abuse ran rampant until the death of John Belushi – also from drug addiction – in 1982, after which Robin said he remained sober for 20 years. In 2006, Robin entered rehab for drinking, and sought treatment again as recently as June of this year. Questions that come to mind to all of us:

Why did this happen, especially to someone who seems to have had everything? Alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as mood issues such as depression have genetic, physical, and environmental triggers. There is no one single cause. A core precept of alcohol recovery is that alcoholism is a disease; you are always in recovery, never cured.

Did no one see the kind of place Robin was in? He did go into treatment multiple times. This highlights the importance not only of communicating regularly and deeply with our loved ones, but being able to identify signs and symptoms that indicate the need for care. Related to this, it is critical to have a full continuum of care: from 24 / 7 help in inpatient or residential treatment environments for crises and acute situations and aftercare programs that offer ongoing support and maintain recovery.

How did the addiction and depression issues interrelate? There is concept in mental health treatment of “co-occurring disorders”. A person can have depression or anxiety issues from a young age, or develop them later in life as a result of a traumatic event. Some men and women then turn to drug abuse as a coping mechanism. That is why modern treatment focuses on addressing all elements of a person’s mental health, to get at the root of the original issues. Treating only the addiction without the mental health component leads to higher rates of relapse. Robin himself, in a 2009 interview, said he had previously failed to confront the core issues at the root of his addictions, contributing to his own return to rehab.

All mental health and addiction treatment programs offer free, confidential screenings that you should take advantage of if you feel even the slightest need, and will help you find the most appropriate care for yourself or your loved one. Inpatient programs also offer immediate services for those battling with suicidal ideations.

Our hearts go out to Robin’s family. This is a reminder to all of us to remember to communicate with our loved ones regularly, and seek professional care and support when it may be needed.

On a Serious Note: Blood Test for Suicide Risk?

Since it has been a little while since I have done a mental health post, I thought I would bring up a topic that has been receiving some media attention lately. Blood test that will be able to determine an individuals risk for suicide. Yep, you heard me right a Blood Test!

So here’s the deal:

There was a recent study done, which compared brain tissue samples from people who have died by suicide to those who have died from other causes. This test has identified a genetic mutation in the SKA2 gene, found to be common among those who died by suicide. Additionally, a chemical change, called an epigenetic change, was found on the same gene that was more common among people who committed suicide than those who died of other causes. Further research confirmed that these genetic changes correctly identified 80 percent to 96 percent of people who experienced suicidal thoughts or made suicide attempts. If these findings are confirmed, then it could lead to a test specifically designed to look for suicide risk.

The idea here is that with the possible development of this blood test it may be used to screen people in psychiatric emergency rooms or determine how closely an individual need to be monitored for suicide risk.

However, while this new approach sounds promising, it has me wondering if the test is going to add more value in being able to medically identify the risk of suicide versus using traditional mental health evaluations. I could be totally off here, but I have a few concerns.

Is this test really a good idea when dealing with an issue as serious as suicide? What if this test in unable to accurately predict everyone who is having thoughts of suicide? Will it prevent individuals from seeking therapeutic methods that are needed to address the underlying cause for suicidal thoughts and behaviors? Could it cause unnecessary worry and anxiety?

One concern I thought of is that, instead of seeking appropriate mental health interventions, individuals will go for the quickest fix and opt for medication. While medication is effective at reducing symptoms of mental health disorders that can lead to the development of suicidal ideation and behaviors, it does not fix the problem in the long run. Without taking the time to get at the underlying cause for why an individual has begun having suicidal thoughts, or has made suicide attempts, then an individual is not going to fully recover. This can lead to the return of suicidal thoughts further down the road.

Another concern that came to mind is whether or not the test can accurately predict the chance that an individual is going to be at an increased risk for suicide. To my knowledge this current study does not take into consideration if those individuals who died by suicide were born with this genetic mutation or if it developed as the result of something that happened in their life, such as exposure to trauma or substance use. This is an important factor because it would determine if this test only needs to be given once or if it needs to be periodically administered throughout a person’s life.

Finally, having the option to take this test can cause high amounts of stress in individuals who would otherwise have no reason to believe that the risk even exists. Additionally, testing positive for an increased risk of suicide does not mean that a suicide attempt is inevitable.

Like I said before I could be wrong, but it’s something to think about. Anyone else have any concerns or even positive things to say about this potential blood test?