22 posts tagged “mental”

Talking brain donation with Dr. Deborah Mash

Posted September 1st, 2015 by

Dr. Deborah Mash is a professor of neurology and molecular/cellular pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She’s also the director of the university’s Brain Endowment Bank, and she recently spoke with PatientsLikeMe about her research and exactly what goes into donating your brain to science. As she says, “we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human” – read her Q&A interview below.

What led you to study diseases of the brain? 

The brain is the next biologic frontier. We have learned more about the human brain in the past twenty years than throughout all of human history. And, we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human – our brain. I was always very interested in the anatomy and the chemistry of the brain and in disease-related Neuroscience. I consider it a privilege to study the human brain in health and disease.

How would you explain the process of brain donation to PatientsLikeMe members who might be new or uncomfortable with the idea of donating this organ to science?

Brain donation is no different than donating other organs after death. Organ and tissue donations can give life or sight to another person. Transplanted tissues are used in surgeries to repair damaged bones and joints. And these donated tissues are also important for research studies to advance best practices that are used by doctors. The gift of a brain donation supports research studies that will bring about new treatments, better diagnosis and ultimately cures for disorders of the human brain like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, ALS, schizophrenia and depression, drug and alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder, and multiple sclerosis to name a few.

A brain donation does not interfere or delay a family’s plans for the funeral, burial or cremation. There is no cost to the family to make this final gift.

What brain bank research would you most like to share with the PatientsLikeMe community? Our ALS, MS, Parkinson’s and mental health members might be interested to hear about brain bank research for their conditions.

Studies of the human brain have led to seminal discoveries including the loss of dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease and the association of beta amyloid with Alzheimer’s disease. Without examining the human brain after death, these discoveries could not have happened. Medications for Parkinson’s disease were advanced because scientists identified the loss of dopamine that causes many of the symptoms.

We have new technology that provides an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly examine large-scale gene expression of human brain for the first time. This powerful approach can facilitate understanding the molecular pathogenesis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that is usually fatal in five years. Motor neurons in ALS undergo degeneration, causing secondary muscle atrophy and weakness. Studies of ALS in human brain are beginning to identify multiple processes involved in the pathogenesis of ALS.

We have yet to fully understand the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

This disease is different for everyone who has it. The symptoms it causes and when they flare up is different not only between people but also throughout one person’s life. This makes the diagnosis difficult and complicates treatment. The science behind MS is slowed because there are too few brains donated for research. We get many more requests for well-characterized MS cases and too few brain specimens are available to support the research. This lack of donated brains from MS patients is a barrier for MS research.

Examining the brain after death is important to understand how well experimental treatments are working in clinical trials to see if the drug did what it was supposed to do. An autopsy follow-up on 13 patients from a recent Alzheimer’s drug trial showed that although the drug had cleared the beta amyloid protein, it hadn’t changed the course of the disease — an incredibly important observation needed to advance the direction of Alzheimer’s disease research. The same is true for anyone who participates in clinical trials for any brain disorder.

When you ask people (or their family members) to consider donating their brain to UMBEB or another brain bank, what do you want them to know?

A brain donation is a final gift that contributes to the health and well being of the next generation – your children and grandchildren. It is a very special endowment that lives on by advancing research that can lead to the next scientific breakthrough.

People who want to be organ donors typically sign a card letting others know their wishes, but brain donations require an additional pledge card. This is not always well promoted. How can PatientsLikeMe members who are interested in brain donation obtain the special brain donation pledge cards?

It is important to make your wish known by registering in advance. We make it an easy process and provide donor registration cards for your wallet. You can share this information with your family and friends. You can request information or become a registered donor by visiting us online at http://brainbank.med.miami.edu or call 1-800-UM-Brain.

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“I can see that there actually is help here.” – JustinSingleton shares his experiences with PTS

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

JustinSingleton is an Army veteran who recently joined PatientsLikeMe back in June, and he’s been exploring the veteran’s community ever since. This month, he wrote about his experiences in an interview, and below, you can read what he had to say about getting diagnosed with PTS, managing his triggers and the importance of connecting and sharing with fellow service members. 

Can you give us a little background about your experience in the military?

In 1998, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard as an Indirect Fire Infantryman – the guy that shoots the mortars out of a big tube. For six years I trained on a mortar gun, but after being called back into the Army (I left in 2004), I was assigned to an Infantry Reconnaissance platoon, and I had no idea what I was doing. Before heading to Iraq, we trained together as a platoon for six months – learning not only the trade, but to trust each other with our lives.

It wasn’t until March 2006 that we arrived in Iraq, and I was assigned to the Anbar Province, which at the time was rated as the worst province of the nation. I was deployed in the time leading up to the need for “the surge.” As we drove the highways of the Anbar, we were shot at, mortared, and bombed. Intelligence even found “wanted” posters of one of our vehicles (we named it Chuck Norris).

When were you diagnosed with PTS?

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTS until many years after the war (I tried to “fix” myself), but the traumatic events are actually multiple, including receiving indirect fire on what was supposed to be my last mission – just a week or so after two good friends were evacuated after being maimed for life.

What have you done to manage your symptoms of PTS?

At the beginning, I refused medicines – I thought I was strong enough to beat it on my own. I worked with a VA counselor before moving for a semester. While there, I worked with a university student/counselor, but nothing was really helping. Finally, I went to my Primary Care Physician and told her that I needed more. The VA psychiatrist tested some medicines, but one needed to be changed (this is normal). Finally, the combination of medicine and individual therapy created within me a sense of “I might make it.”

You joined PatientsLikeMe in June 2015.  As a newer member, what do you think of the veteran’s and PTS communities?

I joined this community because although I feel better than before, I still need the help of others. I can see that there actually is help here.

You’ve mentioned in the forum that your triggers seem to be non-combat related – can you describe your triggers?

In one of the forums I mentioned my triggers. These, to me, are odd. Bridges, garbage on the side of the road, and even a midnight stroll have triggered panic attacks or anxiety. Often, simply being in a grocery store too long causes anxiety to the point that I take a quarter of Ativan, squeeze my fists or the cart, and head to the door or checkout (whether finished or not). While this has caused an impairment in life, it has never been “the end” of life. These are objects on my road to a healthy living – objectives to be conquered.

Although there is a prevalent idea in the Armed Forces that a man/woman should never ask for help or ever see a physician, I have found that to be a rather juvenile view on life. The greatest thing a veteran facing PTS or anxiety can do is not try to face it alone. We are a community, a brotherhood, and only together with a good doctor can we ever hope to survive.

What advice do you have for other military members who may be experiencing PTS and related conditions?

Twenty-three of our brothers and sisters quit every day. I refuse to be a part of that statistic.

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Compassion for All: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

Posted July 27th, 2015 by

From our partners and friends at the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare.

Our partners at Schwartz Center Compassionate Care recently published a paper about how people living with mental illness experience prejudice, and how their doctors can give them better care.

“Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness to Ensure Compassionate Care for Patients and Families.”

Read the full paper

-Lisa Halpern, director of recovery services at Vinfen

Over the years, we’ve heard from the PatientsLikeMe community that many living with mental illness experience stigma, so we thought you’d like to know what researchers have to say about how people with mental illness don’t always get the care they need:

“One of the ways people suffering from mental illness are discriminated against in healthcare settings is when patients’ symptoms are over-attributed to their mental illness. The result is that their other health problems can go undiagnosed and untreated.”

Our partnership:
Over the last 20 years, the Schwartz Center focused on providing compassionate care, while over the last 10 years, we’ve brought the patient voice and the patient story to the life sciences community. We’re excited about the alliance, which will help us better understand the patient’s perception of compassionate care. We can strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers, which leads to better health outcomes, lower costs and greater patient satisfaction.

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The Patient Voice- PTS member David shares his story

Posted June 27th, 2015 by

Today is PTS Awareness Day, so we wanted you to meet PatientsLikeMe community member Cpl. David Jurado, who lives with post-traumatic stress (PTS). David developed PTS while serving in the military. After he retired, he continued to deal with daily symptoms, and he encourages members to connect with others on PatientsLikeMe, because “if you want to make changes for yourself and the PTS community, you’ve got to share your story. The same thing may be happening to them.”

David is not alone – and neither are you. There are more than 1,000 vets living with PTS that are part of the community. We’ve heard members like David talk about how important it is for them to connect with people who ‘get it.’

Not a veteran living with PTS? You’re not alone either. With more than 8,000 PTS members, it’s easy for anyone with PTS to share their story and get support.

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Kitty

Posted June 18th, 2015 by

Kitty represents the mental health community on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, and she’s always ready to extend a helping hand. She’s a social worker who specializes in working with children in foster care, and below, she shares how her own journey with major depressive disorder (MDD) has helped her truly connect with and understand the needs of both her patients and others.

About Kitty (aka jackdzone):
Kitty has a master’s degree in marriage, family and child therapy and has worked extensively with abused, neglected and abandoned children in foster care as a social worker. She joined PatientsLikeMe and was thrilled to find people with the same condition who truly understand what she’s going through. She lost her job as a result of her MDD, which was a difficult time for her. Kitty is very attuned to the barriers those with mental health conditions might face, and has great perspective about how to be precise with language to help people feel safe and not trigger any bad feelings. Kitty is passionate about research being conducted with the patient’s well-being at the forefront, and believes patient centeredness means talking with patients from the very beginning by conducting patient surveys and finding out what patients’ unmet needs are.

Kitty on patient centeredness:
“To me, it means that it’s all about the patient from start to finish. In the beginning, it’s talking with patients, conducting patient surveys and reading any written material that would be helpful in order to find out what patients are most wanting and needing and not getting. In healthcare, this would translate to a doctor engaging with a patient in a way that is especially helpful for the patient. This may require asking a question a certain way in order for the patient to answer truthfully and to feel that their doctor really cares about them as a person. (I was fortunate enough to have had one primary doctor like this for many years and it makes a huge difference!) It puts the focus on that particular patient at that moment and requires empathy and understanding (and not just going through the motions) in determining what is best for that patient.

In the area of research, the same is true. Research of this kind is done to improve the client’s physical and/or mental life in some way. Any research should be done with the patient’s well being at the forefront. Questions should be asked in a way that will lead the client to be very open about their experiences. The client should be fully informed regarding any research in which they participate and be asked at the end if there is anything that has not been covered that they have questions about. They should be informed of the results of the research afterwards and perhaps be allowed to give their thoughts about the findings.”

Kitty on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“A year ago, when I read that PatientsLikeMe was putting together a Team of Advisors, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I wanted to be part of something that had helped me a great deal during a part of my life when I was the most depressed and struggling. When I was eventually chosen to be on the team, I was and have continued to be very honored. I feel such a strong affiliation with PatientsLikeMe and want to be able to help others in anyway that I can. During this past year, I’ve been able to participate in helping to compose a patients’ rights handbook and be interviewed by a researcher regarding how patients view clinical trials. Being on the Team of Advisors has given me the chance to become an advocate for myself and others. It is something that means a lot to me and something that I enjoy doing–and I think it’s something I will continue to do in whatever capacity I can throughout my life.”

Kitty on helping others:
“From the very first day that I joined PatientsLikeMe several years ago, the website has meant a great deal to me. Most of the people in my life did not really understand what I was going through. At times, they thought I really could have done more, but that I was just being lazy. When you are suffering from MDD, this viewpoint from others only increases your depression. I didn’t know where to turn. What I found on PatientsLikeMe were others who were also suffering from MDD and were experiencing the same symptoms and challenges as myself. As I began posting on the site about what I was going through and how depressed I was feeling, I felt somewhat better just by being able to express myself and even more so when others with MDD began reaching out to me with advice and encouragement. I can really say that this made all the difference to me in the world.

After awhile, I made it a point to also reach out to encourage others. I noticed that some people seemed to be very depressed on a daily basis with very little hope and I felt I had to reach out to them in some way. I began responding to their posts. A lot of times I just said that I was sorry that they were feeling bad, as I didn’t know what else to say. I hoped that just this much would encourage them. I didn’t want to be overly upbeat if that wasn’t how they seemed to be feeling, because I felt this was a disservice to them. I felt that the more I could just be there for them right where they were and with how they were feeling the more I could be of help.”

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Edward shares about living with schizoaffective disorder

Posted May 19th, 2015 by

Meet Edward, a member of the PatientsLikeMe mental health community. He’s been living with schizoaffective disorder since the late 1970s, and over the past 35 years, he’s experienced many symptoms, everything from paranoia and euphoria to insomnia and deep depression. Below, he uses his own words to take you on a journey through his life with schizoaffective disorder, including a detailed account of what happened when he stopped taking his medications and how he has learned to love God through loving others.

How it all began:
In my early twenty’s in 1977, I was doing GREAT in college, double majoring in Mathematics and Electrical Electronic Engineering and in the top 1% of my class when I started having problems with mental illness. My first symptom was an intense mental anguish as if something broke inside of my head. Then my sleep started to suffer and I would fall asleep in my college classes, which was not at all like me. Then I started having strong mood swings and I became very delusional. I experienced all of this without the use of any drugs or alcohol; in fact I have never used any street drugs or alcohol. Life became HELL and I tried suicide. My parents then put me in a psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for about a year.

What schizoaffective disorder feels like:
When not on any antipsychotic medications, I feel like; others could hear my thoughts (broadcasting), that I could hear other people’s thoughts (mind reading), that I could communicate by thought with others without speaking a word (telepathic communication), not only could I communicate with other people in this way but I could communicate with other things as if they had human like qualities (anthropomorphic telepathic communication), believing that I am super important to the world (grandiose thinking), that others were out to kill me (paranoia), and I would become very delusional. But, now after taking the antipsychotic medications for some time, not only do I not believe that these things (powers) were never true for me, I also believe that no one else has these powers. Maybe some people may have others out to kill them, but this is not true for me. Also, for over 35 years (1977 – 2013) I believed that God would talk to me personally and would give me personal instructions, but now, I don’t believe this is/was ever true.

On top of having psychotic episodes, my mood has fluctuated from being euphoria, extremely joyful, super happy, with very little sleep, feeling like I didn’t need to sleep, etc. to suicidal lows, dysphoria, deep dark depression, and sleeping a lot with not being able to get out of bed, etc. My mood swings greatly in duration and intensity for reasons I am not fully aware of.

My quality of sleep is very poor. When I lay down in bed to go to sleep, my body/mind tortures me so much that if I haven’t gone to sleep within about five minutes I get up out of bed to relieve the torture like sensations. The torture sensations might be; restless legs, a general restlessness of my body or mind, a sensation in the back of my throat, an itch, or any thing that my mind can not stop focusing on. Once I have gone to sleep, I only sleep for about an hour before I awake. Once awake I go through all of the problems of falling back to sleep again. The sleep I do get is not refreshing. My mood and sleep go hand in hand, when my sleep is bad, my mood swings are bad and when my mood swings are bad, my sleep is bad and vise-a-versa. I have had a recent improvement my mood/sleep problem. It may be due to my new medication, Latuda that I am taking. Only time will tell if Latuda will continue to help.

What happened when I tried to stop taking my meds:
I stopped taking all my medications because I wanted to see if they were doing anything for me. Everyone told me that this was a bad idea, but I did it anyways.

As time progressed I could tell that my wife, Audrey, wanted to confess something to me, but was scared that I would not be able to handle it. I could also tell that Audrey talked to my counselor about this, and that my counselor agreed with her not to tell me. They were keeping something a secret from me. We danced around the issue, as if there was a white elephant in the room that no one was willing to talk about.

I figured that Audrey was having an affair with the senior pastor of a local mega church that she belongs to. It appeared to me that Audrey was willing to break off the affair and go public with it, but the pastor was not. To keep it from going public, I figured that the pastor hired a hit man to kill me. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure of it.

One day after Audrey left for work, I panicked. I started running. The first thing I did was try to get a hotel room without showing ID. However, all the hotels that I tried required ID. The way the hotel staff acted made me all the more sure that the pastor was getting help in finding where I was. At this point, I went into a Jack in the Box to get something to eat, and I could tell by the way people were acting that they had received the reverse 911 call on me. I figured the senior pastor that was having an affair with my wife knew that I knew about the affair and that I was running, so he convinced the police that I was either a danger to myself or to others, and that they should put out a reverse 911 call to find me.

I quickly left the Jack in the Box and got back in my car. I drove to a Rite Aid store and bought some bottled water, because I was planning to hide in the desert. The employees at the Rite Aid seemed to be acting strange around me, as if they, too, received the reverse 911 call on me. I quickly got in my car and drove into the desert, trying to find a safe place, but I saw a helicopter in the distance, and I knew I was not safe there either. I got on the freeway and headed north.

I had not been sleeping well for weeks and was getting very tired. Having a bottle of 200-milligram caffeine tablets with me, I took one. It helped only a little. I was also taking them to help me feel better, and I already had a lot of caffeine in my system. After driving for about fifteen minutes, I felt sleepy again, so I took another caffeine tablet. This sequence of events continued. I was taking a caffeine tablet about every five to fifteen minutes.

After driving for about two hours, I was scared that I might be a danger to myself or, worse, to someone else, because I could easy fall asleep behind the wheel. I pulled off the freeway into the parking lot of an old run down hotel. I figured that these people would be willing to hide me.

I booked a room, even though I had to show my ID. They too appeared to be acting strange. I figured that my picture must be on TV, so that people could be on the lookout for me. Everywhere I went people were looking at me funny. At the hotel I tried to lie down on the bed to get some rest, but I could not rest. I was wired. I got back in my car and drove north again.

After driving for about another hour, I came to the conclusion that I could not hide, and that they would eventually find me and kill me no matter where I went, so I stopped running. I called Audrey and told her I was coming home. Still very tired, I got back in my car and took another caffeine tablet or two.

I do not remember if my son called me or if I called him, but my son and I talked. I told him that I thought his mother was having an affair. Talking to him did help me stay awake while driving. After talking to my son, I called a friend to have him talk to me to help me stay awake. I was still taking a caffeine tablet about every five to fifteen minutes.

Half a bottle of caffeine tablets later, and with the help of everyone, I finally made it home that night. My wife and I got ready for bed, but I could not get any rest.

I got up and started playing on my computer. This was no help, for I started to worry about the Internet crashing, which would cause havoc to our society. Not only was I worried that the Internet could fail, but I believed that I could make it crash, if I wished. This really bothered me a lot.

The way I figured it was, if I did not make it crash, myself, it would someday crash by itself. The more I thought about this, the more I was sure of it. The problem was that if it crashed later we would be worse off and our society would not be able to recover.

I figured that the Internet could not handle human emotions, so I decide to make it crash that night by causing it to be jealous of my other computer—that was not connected to the Internet. I told my computer that was connected to the internet, that I loved my other computer more.

In the morning, Audrey took me to the emergency room at a hospital where there was a behavioral health unit.

Now, I was really afraid of just about everything and everybody. I thought that the internet was out to get me. I believed that the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security were called in because I was viewed as a national threat. I also believed that the hospital needed time to get agents into the locked ward to act as patients.

After spending most of the day in the emergency room, I was all the more sure that these things were true. I thought they would put me in the behavioral health locked ward, but they did not. Instead, they put me on the surgical floor.

Now, I really believed something was up. Why would they do that? This scared me even more.

On the surgical floor, they had a nurse sit by my bed. I thought she was working for the government to find out if I was a national threat or not. I told her everything about my relationship with my computers and how I caused the Internet to crash. At this point, I thought the Internet had already crashed and it was all over the news, because the hospital staff would not let me watch TV.

To make matters worse, I was craving sex, badly. I was hoping the nurse would be willing to do something with me, if Audrey gave her okay. It seemed to me that Audrey did not want to have sex with me, and she might be willing to let me play with someone else. So, if she was willing, I was willing. But this never happened.

I was scared out of my wits. I wanted the hospital staff to put me in lock-up. Believe it or not, I felt more comfortable in the lock-up ward than I did on the surgical floor.

Later they put me in the mental health lock ward and placed me on a three-day hold, and then on a two-week hold. They stated that I overdosed on caffeine, that I was a danger to myself and others, and that I could not care for myself.

At first I refused to take the medication they wanted me to take, but later I did take it and I got better.

Now I can see that I was very delusional.

Where I’m at today:
My life has been full of ups and downs, twists and turns, which have taught me an important fact, keep the main thing the main thing, which is to love God with everything I got by loving others as I would have them love me with forgiveness, compassion, endurance, patience, mercy, grace, charity, tenderness, strength, wisdom, kindness, and with all that causes good to happen. The way I see God is He is more of a Spirit than a being, like Santa Clause is more of the spirit of giving at Christmas time than a actual being. Different psychiatrists have given me different diagnoses and prescribed different medications at different times in my life. When I am not suffering with my symptoms of mental illness, I enjoy working with my robot, studying and doing math, writing books, writing computer programs, and thinking about God stuff. If you have any questions either about myself or my fight with this illness, please ask me.

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Schizophrenia: Living well and working towards a cure

Posted May 18th, 2015 by

Today marks the start of Schizophrenia Awareness Week, and what better way to begin than with the story of an inspiring woman who is living with schizophrenia and advocating for better treatments.

Dr. Elyn Saks was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a college student. At first she struggled with her diagnosis, and it took a while before she found treatments that worked for her. Ultimately she excelled in her studies and became the Chair Professor of Law at USC’s Gould School of Law. She even won a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work in mental health research and advocacy. Recently, she sat down with Brian Staglin of Brain Waves, a video program sponsored by the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO). Dr. Saks talked about her experience with schizophrenia and her work for the empathic treatment of people with mental illness.

Dr. Saks’ story is just one of many. Schizophrenia affects 2.5 million adults in the United States alone, and thousands more have not been officially diagnosed.1 Schizophrenia can be difficult to recognize, as some of the symptoms, like mood swings, impulsive behavior and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), are common in other mental health conditions. Schizophrenia may also be mistaken for depression, since some people with schizophrenia have a flat mood and slowed speech, or they withdraw from friends and family.2

Stay tuned for a special “In My Own Words” entry from a PatientsLikeMe member.  And if you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, join more than 700 others in the online community.

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“I am slowly building my self-esteem “ – PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick shares about her journey with PTSD

Posted March 4th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick is a veteran living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her story is one of learning to cope with emotions and frustrations. She’s living proof that things can get better – she’s a loving mother of two, has a great husband and is managing several other mental health conditions. Below, she shared about the sexual abuse she experienced while serving in the military and explained how her previous husband physically assaulted her. Superchick also describes the symptoms of her PTSD and how the community on PatientsLikeMe has been “a huge help” to her. Read about her journey below.

Note: SuperChick shares about her story of abuse, which may be triggering.

Can you speak a little about your PTSD and what led to your diagnosis in 1986?

I was originally diagnosed with PTSD after being raped while I was in the military. I believe I was more susceptible because I had been molested as a child and didn’t have good family support or dynamics. I worked through it, but was diagnosed again in 2007 after leaving a severely abusive marriage, where I was raped multiple times and choked at least twice. I was emotionally abused and didn’t even realize it was abuse. I stayed for fourteen years trying to change myself because my ex-husband had convinced me I was the problem and couldn’t do anything right. It destroyed my self-esteem and any healthy coping skills I had.

What are some of the symptoms you experience because of your PTSD?

Since being diagnosed with PTSD the second time, I have numbed my emotions, I experience anxiety, and I have trouble falling and staying asleep even though I may be thoroughly exhausted and am taking medications for sleep. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep. I sometimes have nightmares, although not nearly as often as I used to. I have difficulty fully trusting my current husband, or people in general for that matter, even though I know he would never harm me and treats me with tremendous respect. I have suffered from a very low self-esteem and for a long time felt responsible for the trauma. I react more intensely to triggering situations than other people would. I am slowly building my self-esteem, but that is still a struggle for me.

You’ve got two wonderful children – how does PTSD affect your family life?

Because my children spend half their time with their father, I worry about them when they’re with him because I know how abusive he can be. I worry about them being sexually abused or harmed and am very protective of them around anyone I don’t know very well. I’m afraid of my daughter becoming involved in abusive relationships when she grows older and my son becoming an abuser. In a positive sense, I am very affectionate and make time to listen to them and engage in activities I know they enjoy because I want them to experience healthy love. I am remarried to a man who truly loves and respects me. My husband and I try to model a healthy relationship for them.

It’s hard for my husband and me, though. The fact that I still have to be involved with my ex-husband and am told over and over again by the court system, child protective services, and all the mediators we’ve worked with that I have to get along with him makes things very difficult. It minimizes or completely dismisses the trauma I’ve experienced. My husband wants to protect me, and this makes him feel frustrated and powerless. There is no way to get along with a narcissist and abuser. I want to move on and not have him as the focus of our lives, but then something happens and it starts all over again. Sometimes my husband feels shut down when he suggests something I have already tried and found to be futile.

I’ve come to realize that while I have been dealing with all of this for over seven years, he came into this halfway through and is in a different place than I am, having to deal with emotions and frustrations I’ve already experienced and dealt with. He is beginning to understand that his approach can sometimes trigger my symptoms, so when he feels like I’m shutting him down I am actually trying not to go back to that pain. It’s hard in that respect for me to be there for him. We plan to go back to family therapy to help develop a healthier focus for our lives. We’ve been dealing with adversity that has out of necessity been the major focus of our lives, but now we need to move on.

How have you learned to live and cope with your PTSD?

I’ve been in therapy since before I left my marriage, and finally found a therapist who has helped me overcome many of the symptoms of PTSD through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which helps change the way I react to the memories. For the most part, I am able to remember the trauma without it bothering me. I still experience triggers, but am able to process the emotions using cognitive behavioral therapy skills and journaling. When I am triggered, I make sure I take care of myself through prayer, talking with my husband and therapist, and doing things that help me relax, ground me, and fully engage my mind, like playing my flute and piano.

The community on PatientsLikeMe has been a huge help. I’ve been able to get support from people all over who have been through what I was going through, and that has helped me cope and make better decisions about my health. I was able to see what my main issues were through the mood map and monitor the effectiveness of my medications. There were many times the PatientsLikeMe community were far more helpful than my doctor.

You’re also living with bipolar II, depression and a few others conditions – how do these affect each other?

I believe the PTSD triggered the bipolar, because I never had symptoms until after I left my marriage and had symptoms of severe PTSD. As I look at symptoms of PTSD, it explains a lot of behaviors I didn’t fully understand, like self-harm, which began as I started to talk about and process the trauma of long-term sexual abuse in my previous marriage. As I’ve worked through many of the issues causing the PTSD, I’ve found that I no longer experience the symptoms of bipolar and have been able to decrease my medications. If I do experience depression now, it is short-lived and related to a specific experience.

As a veteran, what is one special message you’d send to your fellow veterans also living with PTSD?

I think veterans have experiences that only people who have been in the military can understand. Military units are like family, and I find I miss that sense of community now that I’m retired. Meeting with other veterans, especially those with shared experiences of PTSD, may be helpful because those people are more likely to relate well.

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2014 recap – a year of sharing in the PatientsLikeMe community

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Another year has come and gone here at PatientsLikeMe, and as we started to look back at who’s shared their experiences, we were quite simply amazed. More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions opened up for a blog interview in 2014. But that’s just the start. Others have shared about their health journeys in short videos and even posted about their favorite food recipes.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their experiences this year – the PatientsLikeMe community is continuing to change healthcare for good, and together, we can help each other live better as we move into 2015.

Team of Advisors
In September, we announced the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a group of 14 members that will work with us this year on research-related initiatives. They’ve been giving regular feedback about how PatientsLikeMe research can be even more helpful, including creating a “guide” that highlights new standards for researchers to better engage with patients. We introduced everyone to three so far, and look forward to highlighting the rest of team in 2015.

  • Meet Becky – Becky is a former family nurse practitioner, and she’s a medically retired flight nurse who is living with epilepsy and three years out of treatment for breast cancer.
  • Meet Lisa – Lisa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full-time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime insomnolence. Her daughter was just married in June.
  • Meet Dana – Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey and a very active member of the mental health and behavior forum. She’s living with bipolar II, and she’s very passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness.

The Patient Voice
Five members shared about their health journeys in short video vignettes.

  • Garth – After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.
  • Letitia – has been experiencing seizures since she was ten years old, and she turned to others living with epilepsy on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Bryan – Bryan passed away earlier in 2014, but his memory lives on through the data he shared about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was also an inaugural member of the Team of Advisors.
  • Becca – Becca shared her experiences with fibromyalgia and how she appreciates her support on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Ed – Ed spoke about his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and why he thinks it’s all a group effort.

Patient interviews
More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions shared their stories in blog interviews.

Members living with PTSD:

  • David Jurado spoke in a Veteran’s podcast about returning home and life after serving
  • Lucas shared about recurring nightmares, insomnia and quitting alcohol
  • Jess talked about living with TBI and her invisible symptoms
  • Jennifer shared about coping with triggers and leaning on her PatientsLikeMe community

Member living with Bipolar:

  • Eleanor wrote a three-part series about her life with Bipolar II – part 1, part 2, part 3

Members living with MS:

  • Fred takes you on a visual journey through his daily life with MS
  • Anna shared about the benefits of a motorized scooter, and a personal poem
  • Ajcoia, Special1, and CKBeagle shared how they raise awareness through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Nola and Gary spoke in a Podcast on how a PatientsLikeMe connection led to a new bathroom
  • Tam takes you into a day with the private, invisible pain of MS
  • Debbie shared what it’s like to be a mom and blogger living with MS
  • Shep spoke about keeping his sense of humor through his journey with MS
  • Kim shared about her fundraising efforts through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Jazz1982 shared how she eliminates the stigma surrounding MS
  • Starla talked about MS awareness and the simple pleasure of riding a motorcycle

Members living with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis:

Members living with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Dropsies shared about her frustrating Parkinson’s diagnosis experience and how diabetes might impact her future eating habits

Members living with ALS:

  • Steve shared the story behind his film, “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier”
  • Steven shared how technology allows him to participate in many events
  • Steve shared about creating the Steve Saling ALS residence and dealing with paramedics
  • Steve told why he participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge
  • Dee revealed her tough decision to insert a feeding tube
  • John shared about his cross-country road trip with his dog, Molly

Members living with lung cancer:

  • Vickie shared about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety-filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation
  • Phil shared the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis, her treatment options and her son’s new tattoo

Members living with multiple myeloma:

  • AbeSapien shared about his diagnosis experience with myeloma, the economic effects of his condition and his passion for horseback riding

Caregiver for a son living with AKU:

  • Alycia and Nate shared Alycia’s role and philosophy as caregiver to young Nate, who is living with AKU

Food for Thought
Many members shared their recipes and diet-related advice on the forums in 2014.

  • April – first edition, and what you’re making for dinner
  • May – nutrition questions and the primal blueprint
  • June – getting sleepy after steak and managing diet
  • July – chocolate edition
  • August – losing weight and subbing carbs
  • September – fall weather and autumn recipes
  • Dropsies – shared her special diabetes recipes for Diabetes Awareness Month

Patients as Partners
More than 6,000 members answered questions about their health and gave feedback on the PatientsLikeMe Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. ORE gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their opinion about each question in a researcher’s health measure. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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Depression Awareness Month- What does it feel like?

Posted October 26th, 2014 by

Here at PatientsLikeMe, there are thousands of people sharing their experiences with more than a dozen mental health conditions, including 15,000 patients who report major depressive disorder and 1,700 patients who report postpartum depression. What do they have to say? This word cloud has some of the most commonly used phrases on our mental health forum.

It gives you a feel of the many emotions, concerns and thoughts that surround the topic of mental health. But the best way to increase awareness and knowledge, we believe, is to learn from real patients. To help show what it’s like to live with depression, we thought we’d share some of our members’ candid answers to the question, “What does your depression feel like?”

  • “My last depressive state felt like I was in a well with no way to get out. I would be near the top, but oops….down I go. I truly felt that I would not be able to pull myself out of this one. I felt hopeless, worthless and so damn stupid, because I could not be like other people, or should say what I think are normal people.”
  • “It feels like living in a glass box. You can see the rest of the world going about life, laughing, bustling about, doing things, but they can’t see you or hear you, or touch you, or notice you at all, and you cannot remember how to do the things that they are doing, like laughing, and just being ordinary and satisfied with it. You are totally alone although surrounded by people.”
  • “It feels like walking in a dimly lit hallway (or totally black, depending on the severity) with no exit in sight and no one else around.  You keep walking hoping to come to the end, trying to feel along the walls for some sort of door that will take you out of this tunnel, but to no success. At the beginning you feel like there has to be an end or a door of some sort – something to get you out, but as you keep walking, your hopes damper by each step. You try yelling for help, but no one hears you.”
  • “Depression is very much like feeling as if I have no arms nor legs and (what’s left of) my body is upright in the middle of a road on a cold, dark, foggy morning. I can’t run. I can’t walk or crawl. In fact, I have no options. I have no memory of how I came to be there. I know I’m going to die, I don’t know when or exactly how. There’s nobody around who sees me or understands my situation. If somebody gets close by and I scream, they’ll run away in fear. My family has no idea where I am and I’m alone… except for the headlights down the road.”

Can you relate to any of these descriptions? If you’ve battled depression, we encourage you to join our growing mental health community and connect with patients just like you.

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It’s time to recognize mental illness in October

Posted October 6th, 2014 by

Think about this for a second; according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 4 people, or 25% of American adults, will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. On top of that, 20 percent of American children (1 in 5) will also be diagnosed. And so for 7 days, October 5th to 11th, we’ll be spreading the word for Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW).

What exactly is a mental illness? According to NAMI, A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. [They] are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”

There are many types of mental illnesses. The list includes conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar II, depression, schizophrenia and more. MIAW is about recognizing the effects of every condition and learning what it’s like to live day-to-day with a mental illness.

This week, you can get involved by reading and sharing NAMI’s fact sheet on mental illness and using NAMI’s social media badges and images on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #MIAW14 if you are sharing your story online. And if you’re living with a mental illness, reach out to the mental health community on PatientsLikeMe – there, you’ll find others who know exactly what you’re going through.

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Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors – Dana

Posted October 3rd, 2014 by

Just last month, we announced the coming together of our first-ever, patient-only Team of Advisors – a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members that will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions. Over the coming months, we’d like to introduce you to each and every one of them in a new blog series: Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors. First up, Dana.

About Dana (aka roulette67)

Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey. She is very active in the Mental Health and Behavior forum. She is open to discussing the ups and downs of living with bipolar II and helping others through their journey. She has been through weight loss surgery three times and is very interested in the connectivity of diet to mental health—she believes that psychiatrist’s need to be aware of the whole person, and have an understanding about diet, physical health and mental health, not just focus on medication.

Dana is passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness, which causes people to self-medicate. She believes there needs to be more positive examples on television. Here’s a fun fact about Dana: she won the people’s choice (top voted by peers) award in the PatientsLikeMe video contest for her video, I am not alone.

Dana on being part of the Team of Advisors 

It’s really quite an honor, considering the amount of people on the site. I’ve discovered what a wonderful group the advisor’s are and have had some meaningful conversations with a few of them online. I appreciate the opportunity in helping others in anyway I can to understand what we go thru on a daily basis. By getting a glimpse into the life of someone with an illness, I feel that I am educating them and helping them understand a person they might love or know or have dealings with in their own lives. And hopefully open their eyes a bit. 

Dana’s view on patient centeredness

Like those commercials for the Cancer Institute, where there are more than one doctor or professional to treat the whole patient instead of just the symptoms of one illness. Many times when you are mentally ill, it seems your body also suffers in physical ways, your diet also becomes poor. Patient-centered to me means that the doctor should look at your diet, your physical and your mental health. Just asking if you are taking your meds is not enough. Psychiatrist seem like pill dispensers and then dismiss you from their office and therapists talk, but really have no interest in the meds. More of a team effort is needed.

Dana’s contribution to researchers at the University of Maryland

PatientsLikeMe recently invited the University of Maryland (UMD) to our Cambridge office for a three day consortium that kicked off a partnership funded by their PATIENTS program, which aims to collect patient input and feedback on all phases of research, from ideas to published results. As one of the working sessions we invited Dana to join us remotely, to discuss her journey with bipolar II and share her perspective and expertise as a patient. Here’s what she experienced:

I was a little nervous at first, hoping I was able to answer their questions and provide them with what they needed to know. The questions were pretty specific at times and I found that to be interesting. Because it showed me that they really wanted to know and understand my views. I enjoyed the experience and hope that my interview helped them in some way.

I was very honest. Explained what it is like to suddenly become bipolar when you had no reference point in your life to prepare you for the physical and mental storm it brings. I stressed how it’s a 24/7 – 365 a day battle, even when the meds are working. At least in my experience it has been. I feel this was an important point to make and that they should consider this when dealing with participants in their research.

I would tell researchers moving forward to always remember the patient is more than a test subject. That what you are researching addresses them on a daily basis and some days, the best they can do is just get out of bed. That some type of break should be considered and might even work to their advantage.

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Food for Thought: September weather and autumn recipes

Posted September 30th, 2014 by

Around the PatientsLikeMe office in Boston, the leaves are beginning to turn red, yellow, orange and gold, and everyone is starting to bundle up as the weather gets colder. In turn, PatientsLikeMe members have been sharing their favorite fall recipes and some thoughts about how the weather impacts the conditions they live with. Here’s what some have been saying:

 

I love fall. Cooler temps, brisk breezes, my favorite earth colors and long-sleeved tops with soft vests. The more clothes I put on, the better I feel. [I made] creamed chicken and peas with garlic toast. One of my favorites I only make when the husband is off visiting family.”
-Fibromyalgia member

I love recipes from Real Simple because they tend to be very…ah…simple. This is a crock pot one (yay!) and the potatoes are totally unnecessary if you are avoiding them.
-Mood member

“I will be making sautéed Kobach squash w/ onions, broccoli and some Jasmine rice. Spices turmeric, paprika, salt and pepper. Maybe a little scrambled eggs added.”
-Fibromyalgia member

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And don’t forget to check out our other Food for Thought posts if you missed them.


“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor writes about her journey with bipolar II: Part 3

Posted July 7th, 2014 by

Eleanor (right), her daughter Kalea (left) and granddaughter Malia.

Over the past few months, Eleanor (redblack) has been sharing about her bipolar II on the blog, and today, we’re posting the final part of her series (thank you Eleanor for being so open and taking the time to share with everyone)!

Eleanor talks about her relationship with her psychiatrist Jon and how they recently sealed “nearly four decades of struggle, pain and healing.” Read on for the final chapter, and if you missed Eleanor’s two previous entries, check them out here.

 

 

 

My Psychiatrist of Thirty-Seven Years: Jon Betwee

What can I possibly say? Jon Betwee became my psychiatrist thirty-seven years ago, a month after we moved to Maui from western New York. He retired February 1st, but not before personally placing a few of his patients with one of the very limited number of therapists here. I was fortunate to be in that group. I am seeing a female nurse practitioner, licensed to write prescriptions and well-versed in bipolar disorder. As my PatientsLikeMe friend, Kitty, said to me last week, “She’s no Jon, but she just might turn out OK yet.”

Jon is very reserved outwardly, but extremely discerning and compassionate inside. He became the best friend I’ve ever had and the rock to which I clung whenever I was drowning. Jon was available 24/7, at home as well as the office. He treated me for years for severe clinical depression. Twice during the thirty-seven years I was bedridden because of severe weight loss and inability to eat in the depths of my despair. Both times, Jon came to our home for sessions until I was strong enough to go back to his office.

I was hospitalized once in Honolulu and given – it was discovered later – a series of medically incorrect electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. Jon later sent me to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, where I received excellent therapy with my individual doctor, attended classes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Art Therapy, and received a thorough examination of my diagnosis, etc. I was also given ECT treatments, which I stopped. I consider ECT to be extremely inhumane.

About ten years ago Jon changed my diagnosis to bipolar II. He saw me through two suicide attempts. Frequently he communicated with experts on the mainland concerning my symptoms and medication. I was welcome to call him during the night when violent nightmares drove me to sit in the living room and ponder the value of ever leaving again, a darkness which had become my home. I seldom actually called. I would say to myself, “If it gets worse, I’ll call.” Then it would get worse and I’d say, “Well, if it gets worse than this, I’ll call.” Eventually the sun would begin to rise, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. I had made it through another night. The important thing was not that I called, but that I knew I could call.

In my frequent cycling, it has taken years to accept his constant observations that when I am hypomanic, I think I am “cured” and ignore any and all red flags. When I am depressed, I cannot remember the healthy periods and feel it would be better for myself and my family to die. Having worked in a settlement house and been active in the Civil Rights Movement, I found a strong, liberal ally in Jon. Over the years we exchanged many books. He introduced me to Kay Redfield Jamison whose bipolar caused her to frequently change her hair color, re-arrange furniture and spend money she didn’t have on things, often for others, which seemed unbelievably desirable, rivaling “the rings of Saturn” in their beauty. Just – like – me. He gave me “Darkness Visible” by William Styron. It was like looking in a mirror. Jon studied my extended family and explained that I had come by bipolar disorder honestly through genetics. This relieved much of my guilt over an illness that frightened my children and challenged my husband.

Over the years, I have been on just about every medication that applies to depression and bipolar II. Some were ineffective; some had side effects severe enough to make me stop them. For two years my main medication has been Selegiline. Jon expressed caution about continuing it just before my therapy ended. Since then I have discontinued it with my therapist’s approval because of nightmares, weight gain and possibility of liver damage.

Two years ago, Jon gave me a detailed printed sheet for recording daily my mood levels, hours slept, and my place on a scale that went from deep depression to extreme mania. I also would write in any event that caused cycling. At each session he checked it, asking questions and pointing out how items I recorded affected my bipolar.

When he changed offices a few years ago, he gave me a painting of a depressed woman which had hung in his former office that I’d admired for years. It dominates my living room. I mention this to show how tuned in Jon was to his patients and how he looked for ways to be kind. There was a time when I couldn’t pay, but he assured me it could be made up whenever we could afford it. All this is vital to treating bipolar. Our lives are spent on a rollercoaster. Our loved ones are pained and don’t understand. A therapist who respects you, isn’t puzzled by your rapidly changing behavior, is never judgemental or impatient makes us feel we do have value and maybe continuing the struggle to live with bipolar is worthwhile. That’s why I am here, able to answer this survey.

Last August Jon told me he was retiring. I cried. For forty-five minutes. He said it would take some time, but he would help me make the transition. During the ensuing months we decided to meet twice a week, sifted through possible therapists until zeroing in on one, and tidied up a major issue that had plagued me on and off for years. I wished my last visit would be cheerful, showing my gratitude for all he had done, but that seemed impossible since every session now ended in tears. Before the last session I spent time preparing for it. I gained the realization that 1) my husband had become my main support 2) my friend, Kitty, on PatientsLikeMe – and other members – would continue to give me help and strength and 3) I reviewed what I’d learned from Jon over the years.

I was able to come to the last session in peace with a smile. We laughed about things that happened over the years. He said he would always be available by phone and we parted with a warm hug, sealing nearly four decades of struggle, pain and healing. I will always have what he’s given me. It is enough.

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