Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero

Thanks to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ll never be a hero.

I want to. I’d like to think that I’m a person of action, and that if I witness a dangerous event I’ll jump right into rescue mode. I’m a nice woman, and I like helping.

But I can’t. Trauma keeps me from moving. Trauma keeps me frozen in place, dissociating myself from reality, stuck to the floor in cement boots.

I taught English for 11 years, so looking back, I’m glad the topic of “disaster response time” wasn’t a job interview question. I wouldn’t have passed to the next level of interviews, that’s for sure.

I remember once when I worked at a middle school, a substitute teacher passed out in a classroom down the hall from me. I heard students running down the hallway, calling for the nurse. I peeked my head out the door, knowing I needed to check and see what was going on, knowing I needed to respond. But everything started moving in slow motion. I heard cries, I heard the words “CPR,” I saw others in action. But I was frozen. I couldn’t move.

I was chained to the past.

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I was 9 years old again, listening to the cries of my mother and grandmother as they try to revive my dying grandfather. I hear my grandma shout “No Freeman!” I watch him falling out of the car to the sidewalk and onto my front lawn. I watch them get out an epi pen, perform CPR, yelling for help.

I watch his eyes roll back.

Continue reading “Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero”

An Integrative Approach to Mental Health – Interview with Dr. Noshene Ranjbar

The field of psychiatry is changing as new discoveries about the brain are made. There are many pioneers using evidence-based medicine to seek out different treatments beyond traditional methods and prescription medication. While meds are definitely helpful for some and are one helpful tool in the toolbox, according to Dr. Ranjbar, “we are asking them to do what they were not made to do.”

img_9005Dr. Noshene Ranjbar is Harvard trained and board certified in General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Integrative Medicine. She serves as medical director of the Integrative Psychiatry Clinic at Banner – University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson.

In this episode we discuss the changes in mental health approaches in the last 20 years, how integrative psychiatry is different, nervous system dysfunction, common underlying issues that impact mental wellness, as well as Dr Ranjbar’s work with refugee and American Indian communities.

Click here to listen on the show page or here on iTunes. Continue reading “An Integrative Approach to Mental Health – Interview with Dr. Noshene Ranjbar”

The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez

I’m so thrilled to share that we have surpassed the ONE MILLION download mark on the Sparking Wholeness podcast! So what better way to celebrate than with an episode featuring an integrative psychiatrist who discusses the mental health impact of COVID-19!?

Dr. Amelia Villagomez is an integrative psychiatrist at Progressive Psychiatry in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended medical school at Texas A&M, completed her training in General Psychiatry at Yale, and did a fellowship in Child/Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard. To further her education in holistic healing methods, she completed a fellowship for integrative medicine at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and is certified in mind-body techniques. In this interview, Dr. Villagomez addresses the top mental health concerns during this pandemic and its aftermath.

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Download the episode here or subscribe on iTunes here.

Topics addressed:

  • How children and adolescents may actually be seeing a decrease in mental health concerns during this time, which poses the question: is an international pandemic less stressful than going to school?
  • How the pandemic is forcing us to rethink current paradigms.
  • Managing uncertainties and expectations.
  • The increase in insomnia, its causes, and what to do about it.
  • How the abundance of information may be negatively impacting us, stages of disaster, and potential trauma resulting with the current season.
  • The importance of mindfulness and staying in the current moment with self compassion and self awareness.
  • Nutritional support for mental health and why your brain needs 7-9 different fruits and veggies a day.
  • Why the gut-brain connection is something we should all be talking about.
  • Why the concept of PLAY is so important for mental wellness and holistic health.

Continue reading “The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez”

Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle

When I was 21, I made a suicide pact with myself. I felt the weight of the world on a consistent basis, as I struggled with depression, mania, and the chaos of jumping from one failed medication to the next. My mind was not my friend, and I didn’t feel safe in my body. At the young age of 21, I was fatigued from fighting the swirling thoughts and the heavy waves. I was burdened by being the only one who suffers from such a debilitating disorder.

I didn’t want to be on this exhausting earth any longer than necessary.

I decided that by my 41st birthday, I would end it all.

Today I turn 39. I have been in a stable place mentally for over a decade. The giant roller coaster I used to ride with my moods is now just a soft swell, a gentle up and down of a kiddie coaster.

I have no intention of ending my life. Not now. Not ever.

img_7600My life is a gift. My illness is a gift. For so long I lived in shame about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to share about it, and I didn’t want to look “abnormal.” I knew I carried a stigma. Today I am learning that thanks to my moods, I get to see the world from a different lens. Colors are richer and brighter to me. The air is fresher. Sounds are more soothing and meaningful. Everything is vibrant and alive. And even when they are not, and I experience a drop in my mood, I see the dark side and feel more deeply than others… meaning I can empathize with others’ pain in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I know now that my pain has a purpose. My pain showed me who I can be in spite of a broken brain.

Continue reading “Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle”

Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis

No amount of sugar or substance can make my brain buzz the way a dose of hypomania can. The ideas, the thoughts, and the LIFE that course through my head – all those are amplified in a time of crisis or extreme change. Being thrown off my daily routine or sleep schedule is a risk to my mental health. So throwing me into a global pandemic and giving me access to information 24/7 can really shake things up.

I find myself hopping around from medical research sites to conspiracy theory groups to political commentaries and read over all the comments and opinions. I am an excellent mimic. In order to manage my symptoms early on, I found a way to adapt to acceptable behavior and commentary, so I wouldn’t have to stand out any more than my buzzing brain could allow. I know what I shouldn’t voice in public or on social media, at risk of anyone thinking I am “crazy,” the C word accusation being one of my biggest threats. I fear other people’s opinions of me more than the average person, because deep down inside I know that my brain functions differently from everyone else’s, and that is scary. So I turn inward, and obsess, and research some more, and head down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, at the expense of my sanity.

At first the racing thoughts and buzz are a high, and they fuel me and energize me. At some point though, my brain reaches breaking point and I have to make it stop. I’ve been down these roads long enough to know where they end – in verbal explosions or in heavy medication to shut it all off.

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The carousel ride that is bipolar disorder.

So I fight. I maintain my mind by shutting off my triggers. I stop researching, stop listening and reading to anything that will throw me into a black hole of information. I take naps, and I go to sleep early. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never struggled with sleep. I can always breathe myself to sleep. In for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, out for 8 seconds. I burn off the energy through heavy exercise. I write, I dig into my feelings and name what is going on instead of escaping through obsessive behaviors.

The thing about bipolar disorder, is that it manifests differently in everyone. Everyone struggles in a unique way, and everyone has different triggers.

*To hear more details from others who suffer and how they manage, click to listen to Episode 29 of the podcast on my show page or subscribe on iTunes.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tools for finding stability during times of major stress or life change. Before I list them, here is the caveat – these tools aren’t always effective in the middle of a full-fledged episode. It is really hard to tell someone who cannot physically get out of bed due to depression, “You should just lace up your shoes and go outside. Why are you just laying there?” Or telling someone who’s manic, “Slow down and go to sleep.” It doesn’t work like that. These are physical illnesses that affect the physical function of our bodies. Our brains aren’t capable of telling our bodies to do what our bodies need to do. This is why we have to be on the offense and employ these tools REGULARLY, during times of stability, so that they are habitual and instinctual. The sooner we can tighten up these strategies at the beginning of the roller coaster climb or at the beginning of the dip downward, the better off we will be. Continue reading “Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis”

Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health

I don’t have to remind anyone that the last few weeks of this pandemic and period of social distance have been unlike anything experienced or seen in our lifetime. My work schedule has been interrupted, my husband’s work schedule has been interrupted, our social life has disappeared, and my kids are completely thrown off. Field trips were cancelled, basketball season has been delayed, and school went online until…when? Do we even know? Dates spin in and out of my head, fighting for the return of normalcy. Is it April 9th? 21st? Or do we wait for the 30th to resume prior activities? I can’t even keep track.

This kind of disruption and uncertainty is difficult for me. Change of all kind is hard for me, especially as one who fights to stay mentally stable. I get the opportunity to verbalize that, share about it with my friends (via phone or text only, of course), and have long discussions with my husband.

My kids, however, don’t know how to express their fear or anxiety as well. For them, it comes out in misbehavior, aggression, moodiness, hyperactivity, tearfulness, or even closed off apathy. That is developmentally understandable. As their prefrontal cortexes are still developing, it is difficult for them to access emotions or positive decision-making when they are in fight or flight mode. A stressful trigger, like being told they can no longer see their friends or go to school, is going to take a toll on their bodies. Stress hormones get ramped up, contributing to more fear and anxiety that is difficult to process. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system and its function.

This is true for adults as well. Even though we have the luxury of developed brains, it is still difficult to access our frontal lobe and respond appropriately to hardship when we are faced with extreme stressors.

So what is the solution?

It starts with us.

Continue reading “Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health”

The Age of Outrage

I try to be very intentional about what I choose to speak out on. I am a woman with a LOT of opinions on a lot of things, but I prize relationships over my opinions so I don’t speak up if I fear it will hinder authentic relationship-building.

That being said, I have spent the last 5 days silently observing the frenzy taking over my newsfeeds. It has deeply disturbed me, though maybe not for reasons you would think. I’m ready to speak up now.

We are currently caught up in a viral response system. We are tangled up in an age of outrage, and nobody is immune.

As a result of this age of outrage, everyone is REACTING to everything, and nobody is RESPONDING to anything. And there’s a physiological reason this is occurring.

But before I explain that, here is what I mean by the age of outrage:

After a skillful performance that was a dazzling and empowering celebration of Latin American culture at the Super Bowl halftime show, my newsfeed blew up in criticism. I’m not surprised by much anymore, but that caught me off guard. I didn’t expect anything different from performers like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, so I didn’t understand the outrage and shock. (Side note – I also spent most of the show dancing along and trying to do whatever they were doing, so I didn’t scrutinize every movement either.) Did it bother me that a 50 year old has to strive to look like a 25 year old to stay relevant and desirable? Maybe. But again, I didn’t expect anything different from the entertainment industry.

What affected me the most and what caused me to silently observe, hesitant to say anything at all, is that everyone seemed to be REACTING based on their own perception of the show, based on their own life stage and season, based on their own personal triggers. And so many of these reactions and post fed MORE posts, and shares, and back and forth commentaries.

For this reason, I am NOT going to share any more of my personal views, as they are multi-layered and will cause division and have nothing to do with the reason I am writing this. Now, I could talk about clothing choices and unfortunate camera angles (seriously – was J Lo’s gynecologist filming???) but that’s not what I want to get at here. Continue reading “The Age of Outrage”

Top Reasons to Try Dry January

I know you probably woke up wondering: how does our casual alcohol habit impact blood sugar, hormones, and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder?

Okay, maybe you didn’t wake up wondering that. That was just me. Either way, let’s go there today.

First off, what we consider an occasional drink here and there may actually be more than we realize. Female alcohol use disorder increased by 83.7% from 2002 to 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. High-risk drinking (which is only 3 drinks in a 2 hour time period or over 8 drinks per week) increased by 58%, and alcohol related deaths increased by 85%! Continue reading “Top Reasons to Try Dry January”

Green Lentil Curry

I’ve been in a pantry cleaning mood lately. I didn’t say organizing. You can ask my husband – organization is NOT my skill set. But I’m trying to make use of ingredients we have hanging out in the back of the pantry. You know those things you need for a recipe, you use a tiny bit of, then you forget about them? Those things.

So when I found green lentils that, for the life of me I can’t remember what we used them for, I decided to go searching for a way to cook them.

I found the original recipe here, and apart from the green curry paste, I had all the ingredients I needed on hand – total win. I added a few different things to the recipe, took away some others, and the result is a flavorful, hearty dish that is thicker than soup but just as warming. Continue reading “Green Lentil Curry”

New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay

The biggest transformation that happened for me this last year had nothing to do with my body and had EVERYTHING to do with how I see my body.

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January 2019 compared to January 2020 – same me, but transformed perspective!

If you want to lose weight this year, great. If you want to take a different approach to health by balancing things from the inside out, that’s something I will continue to share about in 2020.

Just remember – someone else’s before and after doesn’t tell the full story. What looks like “discipline” may actually be disordered eating. What looks like gaining weight or hitting a plateau may actually be a year of grief and stress. We can’t measure success or failure from a picture.

What’s always missing in these before and after pictures is the DURING.

Continue reading “New Year, Same Me: And That’s Okay”