Will A Haircut Transform My Life?

Anyone for a haircut? "Image courtesy of [franky242] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".
Anyone for a haircut?
“Image courtesy of [franky242] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.
 Among other things, it has been on my mind this week that I need to get a haircut.  Badly.  I hate getting my haircut.  It’s worse than going to the dentist for me, so even thinking about it is difficult.  Actually I hate it so much that while I know a haircut would improve my appearance, I’m sure it does nothing else for me than raise my anxiety levels, not to mention the trauma of putting myself through the ordeal.  I even wonder if Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a possibility.

So I was curious when I saw this story was the ‘most shared‘ on Facebook on Veterans Day this past week.  This You Tube clip has been viewed almost 14 million times.  A haircut has gone viral on social media.

Here’s a homeless veteran with a history of alcoholism. He was given a makeover back in September, and the results were scheduled to be released on social media on Veterans Day. It was timed to fit with a campaign to raise funds for veterans (by getting a haircut).  The social agency (Dégagé Ministries) involved happened to also make a substantial amount from donations from the social media activity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m really pleased for the man.  He got his haircut, some new clothes including a leather jacker apparently, and he finally got listed for some housing  And he’s started going to AA meetings.  That’s great.  Except I’ve got this nagging sense of ‘there’s something not quite right here‘.  I’m wondering was it the haircut that meant this man finally got some help?

Why does he have to change his appearance in order to hit the big time on social media? He’s still the same person inside.  Why does a trimmed beard and highlighted hair enter him into the great social media hall of fame?  I just don’t get it.  14 million people watched this particular clip but there are plenty of other news sites also carrying the story, and particularly the haircut.

In my mind what matters is the person inside.  His appearance doesn’t count for anything.  Somehow because he put on a tie, he has become acceptable and maybe even ‘one of us’.  I wonder though, how he feels.  Social media are raving about the haircut (as I am, ironically) but who cares about the obviously broken man inside?  That’s what matters, surely.

I could go on about this but really I just wonder, am I the only one who thinks we’ve got something wrong here?  What do you think? Is it necessary to get a haircut, in order to access welfare services that should be available regardless of how he looks?

Social media is really good for lots of things, but I really wonder whether we’ve lost sight of what matters.  In my mind the haircut means nothing.  It’s healing the wounds inside and meeting the basic needs of life that will really make this man’s life live-able for him.  If the rest of us want a makeover show then there’s plenty on reality television.

As for me, I guess I’ll eventually get that haircut, but I doubt it will go viral.  I won’t be putting it on YouTube.  I know you’re disappointed, but I’m relieved.

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” 

― Aesop

World Mental Health Day 2013 (Kiwi Time)

Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day.  Yes, I accept that for some of you I am a day early. That thing called time zones always has me a day ahead of everything, but maybe that just means we can have two World Mental Health Day’s.  What do you think?  Twice the coverage?  It would have to be good.

My first task on this day was to go look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) have set for the theme of the year.  This year’s theme is the elderly and mental health.  Personally I think this is a great theme, not simply because we are all getting older, but because I have an 85 year mother for who I have some responsibility to help as she copes with what old age throws at her.  Old age ain’t pretty (and I’m not talking looks) but it’s actually not what I have on my heart today, so I’m deviating from the theme.  Apparently that’s allowed.

I am worried about what is happening about the mental health needs of those on our planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live in first world countries.  From where I’m looking it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of support for people with mental illnesses in the third world, and perhaps war-torn countries, let alone for those who are simply trying to maintain a good level of mental health.

Look at the globe depicted in the hand in the image above, and that says a lot to me.  Because it seems that all the world’s focus is on the countries who actually probably have the resources to handle their needs, if they just managed them properly.  But where are the poorer, less resourced countries?  They are the ones that need to be targeted.

I like the focus there is on veteran mental health, and the need identified for post traumatic stress support and treatment for those who have served in war zones.  But what about the people who live in those lands as their home?  What are we doing to treat their post traumatic stress?  They experience trauma too.

A few weeks back there was a major (7.7 magnitude earthquake in Balochistan, Pakistan).  Having lived through a number of catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I admit my ears prick up when I hear there has been another major quake somewhere in the world.  While this doesn’t directly relate to World Mental Health Day, what struck me then was the scant media coverage of the tragedy.  For some reason the people of Pakistan suffering and being killed was of seeming little importance to the world media, and so it sadly becomes of little importance to the world.

And that’s where I get back to World Mental Health Day.  When world media decide for themselves what they class as important, people miss out on the aid and treatment they need.  The survivors of that quake will be in all sorts of need for mental health support right now, but what’s the bet that half of us didn’t even know it happened?

What else matters to me?  I’ve been thinking about the situation in Russia with the open abuse and restrictions on those people who identify with LGBTQ.  I wonder if you are a transexual, Russian woman how you access good and safe psychiatric care for your Bipolar Disorder?  The gay, Russian man with suicidal depression?  I’m wondering whether they are of any priority to the people and services who have the skills and resources to treat these people?  They need and deserve the same standard of care as the heterosexuals in that country.

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I damn well hope someone does.  I hope someone has these peoples needs on their priority lists.

World Mental Health Day is a wonderful tool if we use it to ensure that mental health services stretch right around the globe.  If World Mental Health Day is just for the first world countries then I think we are all letting down our fellow human beings.  We are one planet and we are all worthy of quality mental health.

“I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy” 

― Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American

It’s All In Your Head!

What are we so afraid of?  Why does being told ‘it’s all in your head’ fill us with terror and completely write off any sense of being validated as a patient in need of help?

My view is that it’s all about the stigma of mental illness.  Somehow we’ve interpreted the message ‘it’s all in your head’ to mean ‘it’s not real’.  And we’ve done that for very good reasons.

I recently read an article about some work being done in understanding Gulf War Syndrome, which has many symptoms similar to fibromyalgia.  They have found that there is clear evidence of brain damage in sufferers, and one of the hopes is that in developing a test (a fMRI) to diagnosis the illness, it will lead onto the more accurate diagnosis of Fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Here’s a quote from that article:

“Many veterans have had difficulties getting benefits and treatment for a service-connected condition because doctors assumed they were either faking it or suffering from post-traumatic stress. “That’s a problem with all physicians — VA, military or civilian,” Baraniuk said. “If it doesn’t fall within their small world of known diseases, then the patient is nuts.”

It’s actually the same with Fibro (and I assume, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), that patients are sometimes thought to be faking their symptoms, or somehow worse still, thought to be psychologically based… and therefore assumed to be somehow not real.

Maybe I have an advantage because I have both mental illnesses and physical illnesses.  I haven’t seen it as an advantage until now but it must be because I know that mental illnesses are real.  That means that I also know that if a doctor sees fit to tell me my physical illness is psychologically based, then I know that their opinion doesn’t remove my symptoms, and therefore my suffering, being real.

My Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is real.  The Anorexia I struggled with for years was real.  The Depression was real.  The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was even real.

They were also ‘all in my head’.  They were all psychologically based, although some of them also affected me physically too.  No one could realistically deny that I was suffering, or that I needed real help to either fight, or manage these conditions.

To add to that, there were very real physical consequences to some of those illnesses.  For example, it is difficult not to accept that Anorexia, as well as being a mental illness, has profound effects on the body which need to be medically treated.  The fact that it is a mental illness does not take away the doctor’s need to treat the patient medically.

If those conditions that I have had or currently still live with, can be identified as psychological but still be treated, then does it really matter whether my fibro is seen as a psychological or a physical illness?  Personally, I don’t think so.  The symptoms are still there, as is my suffering.  Is it ‘all in my head’, or in some other part of my body?  In terms of how it is treated there maybe a considerable difference, but there isn’t a difference in terms of my very real need for help.

My opinion is that the problem with issues addressed by the quote above does not lie with the veterans who are suffering.  The problem is with the medical professional who deem it fit to view that something isn’t real if it is psychological.  Either way the patients with symptoms need help, but it seems too easy for doctors to cast someone aside because their symptoms are from a particular basis.

Even if the doctor wishes to put symptoms down to ‘attention seeking’, my view is that there is still a need for that person to be treated.  Maybe treated differently, but the person still needs help.  Right now it seems that a seeming psychological cause, let alone fake, is simply dismissed often.  That is so wrong.

I actually had a similar issue to this problem a few weeks back with the medical specialist who monitors the auto-immune condition I have called Graves’ Disease.  Graves’ Disease affects a number of parts of the body but primarily the thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism and eventually something called thyrotoxicosis (when levels get toxic and life threatening).

My endocrinologist examined my blood results which indicated that my thyroid levels are currently in a safe range.  The problem for me (and I’d like to think it had been for her too) is that sitting in front of her, I had many of the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis. I can tell you that those symptoms were not pleasant and I was hoping that she would help me to address some of them.  I could accept that the blood tests suggested I wasn’t dying, but I was definitely suffering.

Interestingly she was seemingly interested in helping me to alleviate the symptoms until she went to check my case with her supervisor.  Then she came back and told me that because the blood results were fine, there was nothing that needed to be done.  I was shown the door, and actually later I found she had then formally discharged from the Thyroid specialist service I had been under for several years.

My point is that I was still suffering, but she wasn’t interested.  There’s something wrong when doctors dismiss patients when there is clear evidence of suffering.  Just like the Gulf War veterans.  There is suffering, and whether it is faked, ‘all in the head’, Post-Traumatic stress, or clear sign of physical brain damage (as the fMRI will detect)…  there is a patient who is suffering, who has lost quality of life…  and needs help.

I think it’s sad that the general view is that if something is ‘all in your head’ that somehow the pain and suffering is not real and does not need treatment.  Somehow we need to move away from that view because while it remains, it increases the stigma of mental illness because that too, is seen as not real.  It also increases the likelihood that people won’t seek help when they need it.

But as well as the general population view on this, I am convinced that it is medical professionals that need to lead the way in change.  What they have in front of them is a patient who needs help.  That’s actually what matters.

PS.   There is evidence that the situation with my Graves’ Disease is actually quite common, where the blood results indicate everything is ‘normal’ but the patient reports a very different reality in terms of symptoms.  I’m not aware of a substantiated reason for this though.  Unfortunately many health professionals choose to deny the existence of such an anomaly and so patients end up going without the help they may need.

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” 

―    Norman Cousins,    Anatomy Of An Illness

“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist. This means that in order to be a good doctor a man must also have a good character, that is to say, whatever weaknesses and foibles he may have, he must love his fellow human beings in the concrete and desire their good before his own.”

Auden, W. H.

Blog For Mental Health 2013

blogformentalhealth20131

I am joining the project to Blog for Mental Health 2013, a project speared-headed by the wonderful  A Canvas Of The Minds, where some good friends of mine hang out and come up with brilliant material on mental health issues.  I realise this is the second campaign I’ve joined in a week (the other one you can check out on Still Standing Up To Stigma), but I see them as both being important and want to be part of both.  Also when my good friend Ruby pledged me, I just knew I wanted to get involved.

Blog for Mental Health 2013 is catching on like wildfire.  Everyone wants to be part of it and that’s fantastic to see so many bloggers committed to talking about mental health.  So here’s what you need to know:  This is not an award, but rather an exciting project to get a community of mental health bloggers to show that they are proud of their lives, that they are writing for themselves as well as for those who have not yet found their voices, that they are ensuring no one ever has to feel alone when dealing with mental illness. For me, those are some excellent reasons to be a part of this.

The badge that goes with this project, is designed by Lulu and you’ll see that repeated over on the right of this screen.

The next task is to take the pledge, and therefore:

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Step two is to link back to the person who pledged me, Ruby Tuesday of I Was Just Thinking. . . and also co-owner of A Canvas Of The Minds.

Step three is a short biography about my mental health and what it means to me.

My mental health tends to revolve around labels such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Depression with frequent visits of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders.  That said, labels don’t actually mean much to me apart from a way for me to identify reasons for some of my behaviours, thoughts and feelings.  I am me, I have a mental illness, and to me, that’s what matters.

Mental illness makes achieving mental health harder than usual.  There are extra bridges to cross, there is stigma to face, and there are battles to win.  But it is possible. 

The mental illnesses that I have are with me for life (BPD is part of my personality) but I view myself as having mental health when I can manage the symptoms and live the life that is important to me.  Right now, I’m doing that and it makes me happy.  It doesn’t mean that there are no struggles, but it does mean I can enjoy mental health just as much as the next person down the street.

Am I crazy?  Probably.  Is it ‘all in my head’?  Absolutely, that’s where my brain resides.  Is it easy?  No, it’s damn hard but living this way is so much more fulfilling than the life I barely existed in over years past.

Being part of this project is important to me, because I know how hard it is to live in this society where mental illness is not seen as okay.  I want to do my bit to spread the word that it is totally okay.  I not only want to make life easier for other people who have mental illness, but I also want to contribute a message that prepares our world to be more accepting of mental illness in the future.  May the next generation not have to fight with stigma.  May they be able to find the acceptance and peace they deserve.

Was that short?  Probably not.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself.  The final step is to pledge five bloggers who have “proven their mettle in my eyes as mental health bloggers”.  Hmm.  Actually this is a bit that I find hard.  I know that it is a way to get other bloggers involved, but personally I don’t want bloggers I could pledge to feel somewhat obligated.  I know obligation is not the intention, but I also know how easy it is for some of us to feel obligated.

So I’m not going to pledge any, except to say that if you write about mental health, even just some of the time (like me) then please consider getting on board with this project.  I honestly believe the more we all speak out about mental health, then the better place we create for ourselves and others to live with mental illness.  So check out the initial post – Blog for Mental Health 2013 and get involved.

One final note from A Canvas of the Minds, if you are getting on board…

“we are launching a Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll!  So, in addition to linking back to the person who pledged you, please include the link to the original post in your piece.  As this gets passed along, link back or click here and leave a comment containing the link to your pledge, and we will put you on our Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll page!”

Show the world our strength, show them our solidarity, show them what we are made of.  Take the Blog for Mental Health pledge and proudly display the badge on your blog!

“Sometimes the world is so much sicker than the inmates
of its institutions.” 

―    Joanne Greenberg,    I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I’m Just Plain Weird

The Butterfly Emerges                         Image credit: imgpress.com

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist.  My last one, who I hadn’t seen for two years, had flown the nest and because I needed some advice on medication I was referred to this new one.  Now I don’t have a lot of faith in psychiatrists (no offence intended to my friend who used to be one) because in my experience they leap to the wrong conclusions about me.

I have never been a textbook case of anything, so I guess I make it difficult for them.  And then they are always pressed for time so don’t have the time to really find out what it is that makes me who I am.  So I was a little hesitant and stress levels were rising in advance.  That said, I was also curious because I know I have come a long way in my recovery and I wondered what a psychiatrist would make of it.

What I wanted to do (and got the okay to do) is to come off lithium (gradually), which I have been on for about 10 years.  I want to come off it because it is standing in the way of getting some reasonable medication to treat fibromyalgia, which was diagnosed earlier this year.  I talked about this in To Earn Trust After Past Mistakes.  While lithium has created some real problems for my physical health, it has been great for my mental health and my concern was for what might happen if I came off it.  Would my level of mental health go downhill?  Time will tell.

But of course seeing a new psychiatrist involved the full psychiatric assessment. One and a half hours later this new psychiatrist, who seemed to know his stuff, and I felt comfortable with, told me his conclusions.

I’m weird.  I actually already knew that, but it’s interesting to be told that by a psychiatrist.  Next time I’m asked for my diagnosis, do I say ‘weird’?

He also told me that while he could see I was severely depressed in the past and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he didn’t see that there was any label he would give me now other than having some serious attachment issues.  As for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) he could see that there were aspects of this in me but he didn’t accept that it was ‘the issue’ for me now, as diagnosed two years ago by the last psychiatrist.  We talked about the eating disorder but he didn’t seem too interested in that, accepting that I seemed to have it pretty much under control now.  One thing that he did say is that there were perhaps five or six labels that could be assigned to me, but he didn’t think they are necessary now.  I’m just weird. 🙂

Wow!  It’s nearly nineteen years to the day since I was first diagnosed with a mental illness.  I have been collecting numerous labels ever since, although struggling a bit because no label ever seemed to fit me perfectly.  When I was given the dreaded BPD label two years ago it actually felt a bit of a relief, because I could finally see something that actually fit.

Now it seems I don’t have any labels.  This is very odd.  I’m sure ‘weird’ is not in the DSM-IV, although I prefer it to some other labels I’ve had.  Maybe it is in the DSM-V, which is on it’s way.  Obviously (as he said) I still have some issues, that I’m working on in therapy.  And while he was happy for me to wean off lithium he wanted me to stay on the anti-depressant I have also taken for 10 years as a precaution against the depression returning.

This has completely blown my mind.  I think he expected me to dance for joy and I can see that element, but my first statement to him was “so you’re saying I’m nothing“.  Of course he hastened to assure me that wasn’t the case, and then wanted to understand why I would think that.  He then suggested I shouldn’t think too hard about it, and in that he summed me up perfectly.  It was exactly what I was inclined to do.

I am only too well aware that BPD is a personality disorder and is such part of who I am.  My understanding of that has always been that it is not something that one recovers from.  Yet perhaps I have.  I don’t know, and part of me wants to race to another psychiatrist and check that the first one is right.  But as I paid NZ$345.00 for this information today, I won’t be rushing to another any time soon.  At that price once in two years is quite enough.

This information is still sinking in and weird is exactly how I feel.  One on hand it is great news to not have those labels and to know my hard work has paid off, yet for nearly 20 years I have been labelled a psychiatric patient.  And believe me, I did it in style.  If one can call it that.

So what am I now?  Other than weird?  I’m not sure.  Time will tell.  Life is far from perfect, but it is so much better and the butterfly is finally emerging.

I am spinning the silk threads of my story, weaving the fabric of my world…I spun out of control. Eating was hard. Breathing was hard. Living was hardest.

I wanted to swallow the bitter seeds of forgetfulness…Somehow, I dragged myself out of the dark and asked for help.

I spin and weave and knit my words and visions until a life starts to take shape.

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever.  There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

I am thawing.” 

―    Laurie Halse Anderson,    Wintergirls