Tag Archives: mental illness


So I’ve been gone FOREVER. And I’ve missed it.  I’ve been looking for a new job—working crazy hours with my old one…and trying to sleep in the process.  But, my last day at my job is FRIDAY! And then I’ll have a short break before starting the new one.  So I’m hoping I’m back!


Here’s my first blog back!

Have you seen the “Monuments” PSA videos by NAMI?  Here’s a link to them.  You might want to take the 45 seconds to watch them before you continue reading, as this blog focuses on my thoughts on them.


So when I heard that NAMI had new PSA videos out I was excited—anything to reduce the stereotype right? Well at the end I sat there and said “hmm…not sure how I feel about those”.  So I watched them again….and spent some time thinking about it. And I’ve decided—I’m pretty sure I hate them. 

Here’s why…

1. The depiction of mental illness is unrealistic: While I do not doubt these famous people struggled with mental illness, I don’t think it is fair to assume everyone with mental illness can achieve these “great” things. I know I cannot.  My brain needs lots of rest—and I doubt sleep was high on Churchill’s to-do list. My brain also over reacts to stress so I would not do well making decisions for the entire nation. I need time to go to yoga—meditate—and sometimes sit in the corner and suck my thumb. A huge part of my journey (that I have not yet achieved) is learning to accept my limitations, and not judge myself for them. So I don’t need PSA videos telling me that I can do “great” things. Also, I don’t want other people to say “well if they could do those things, I don’t understand why Tabitha can’t just stop crying today”.

2. They use the phrase “they won”:  What does the even mean?  What does it mean to “win” against mental illness. You don’t end up in the hospital? You don’t kill yourself? You stop spending time in your closet? You get off of your medication?  I don’t think there is a clear definition of “winning”. It’s different for everyone. Also, if you can “win” that means you can also “lose”.  And I think that’s bull s***. (excuse my French).  I wake up every day and have the same sick brain I had the day before. And I choose to live with it as best as I can.  Some days I live better than others, but on my bad days it doesn’t mean I lose. It just means my illness was particularly strong that day. 

Growing up my parents always told me I didn’t have a right to complain about something unless I had a better idea. So what would I like to see in PSAs? For me, maybe just normal people doing normal things. Or I always like the ones that show things/science talking about how the illness is real. Or maybe stats on the rate of mental illness—really showing that we are not alone.

What about you all?  Do you have any PSAs you really like?  Feel free to disagree with me on the NAMI ones—I’d like to hear other opinions—because clearly someone thought they were a good idea!!!

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HILARIOUS example of CBT


So in addition to this photo being HILARIOUS—I think it’s a great visual of CBT.  Hold on—I’ll explain.

Last post I discussed the importance of CBT, cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. By exploring patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive actions and the beliefs that direct these thoughts, people with mental illness can modify their patterns of thinking to improve coping (NAMI).

CBT is a great tool for many mental illness, for me it’s been particularily helpful for managing my anxiety and “getting rid of the garbage” I discussed several posts ago. For those of us “lucky” enough to deal with mental illness, anxiety in particular, we often have many scary thoughts predicting the worst possible outcomes—regardless of the likelihood of the predictions coming true. When ignored or improperly dealt with, they can begin to take on a life of their own. Similar to the child in the photo, we can see this huge ball coming straight at our heads, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It’s terrifying and dehabilitating….

BUT there’s hope!  With CBT, we can transfer ourselves to the second photo. One great tool is the “Dysfunctional Thought Record” I’ve attached below. It can help you identify a situation/thought, examine it for realism, and compose alternative responses. 

 When I’m feeling particularily anxious, I will do one of these to help me regain a sense of reality.  So I tend to do them at least three times a week.  While you can do them alone—sometimes you might need an outside perspective to help provide  the alternative responses. It’s great if you have someone you can trust to look at it, otherwise taking it with you to therapy is always a good option.

I have one final piece of advicethat is not covered on the DTR I attached, write down the alternative response you identify. Unfortunately, completing the DTR will rarely eliminate the anxious thoughts for good, instead they might intermittedly continue to bother you. Use the alterenative response you identify to combat the thoughts as they continue to pop into your head.

So like that baby now realizes, when that ball starts coming towards your head—remind yourself, that it can’t hit you. And if you can—laugh at the ridiculousness of the thought!

Anyone else use this tool?  If so, what’s your experience with it?

Try it—and let me know if you  have any questions or need an outside perspective—maybe we can muddle through the waters together.


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Intervention Matters

Intervention Matters.

If I wasn’t so partial to “One Wave at a Time”, I might change my motto to “Intervention Matters”.

And by ‘intervention’ I mean diagnose and treat. And by ‘matters’ I mean is life changing (or as a comedian would say “a BIG F****** deal”).

My personal adventure with mental illness demonstrates this, as well as a study from the child mind institute I heard recently regarding the progression of anxiety disorders in children.  I will be simplifying and summarizing this study, but I realize you all have other things to do then read my blog all day!

Part One: Child Mind Institute Study

Stage One: Between the ages of 5-9, anxiety disorders in children often manifest themselves first in the form of obsessive thoughts and compulsions.  

Stage Two: Around middle school, if the disease has been left untreated the stress of the disorder on the brain progresses, results in other anxiety disorders, most commonly generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Stage Three: Again, if left untreated, the stress on the brain results in bipolar 2 in high school and early college. This is when depression is most likely to show as well.

Stage Four: If left untreated, the individual might progress to bipolar 1 or experience some other form of emotional breakdown that results in a hospitalization.

You might have noticed that I continually used the phrase “if left untreated”. This was intentional, not just a lack of vocabulary on my part.  See, the key part of the finding was that if diagnosed and treated the child is 30-50% less likely to progress to the next stage.

Note: I apologize I cannot find the link to this podcast…my professors would give me an “F” for plagiarizing since I do not have the source, but I’m hoping you’ll cut me a bit more slack!)

Part Two: My Story

You’ve read about a lot of my different symptoms and experiences, so I’m not going to rehash them here.  Long (15 year long!) story short; my symptoms got progressively worse until the age of 21 when I was diagnosed.

I’m blessed that I don’t have a dramatic breaking story. Instead, the summer after graduating from undergrad I was living at home before I started a graduate program at IU. I spent abnormal amount of time crying and my mom asked me if I wanted to go talk to someone. I have no doubt I would likely have a much uglier story if I had not lived at home that summer and had her intervene.

I began a medication regime and started therapy.  Neither of which I was particularly happy about at the time, but really who is? 

As you all know, I still have bad days (and unfortunately bad weeks), but  I also have seen a tremendous amount of improvement and progress.

So as you can see—in my life a diagnosis and treatment (intervention) changed my life (matters).

Now that I’ve convinced you intervention matters—the question becomes, “What is intervention?” but more importantly “What is SUCCESSFUL intervention?” 

As an adult, we notice the girl in our class is more moody than most, the boy on our soccer team is more aggressive than expected, we suspect our daughter is struggling with more than teenage angst—now what?  As the adult and often times decision maker—what treatment options do we pursue? What type of intervention do we seek?

That is the question is nearly impossible to answer—but research is trying.  I found a great study I’m going to address in the next few posts.  But what are your opinions? Either as a consumer or advocate—what is the first course of treatment you suggest or encourage?

Oh and by the way

Hope you all had a 

Merry Christmas!

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Get out of your own way!

NCAA Div 1 Soccer Championship

NCAA Div 1 Soccer Championship

My husband and I took a spontaneous road trip to Alabama last weekend. By no means are we groupies (I unfortunately realized this year that college boys are too young for me…I’m getting so old!). But we do like watching soccer. On Friday, IU our Alma Mater, won a semi-final game qualifying them for the National Championship on Sunday. Around two on Saturday, while doing some work and I texted my husband, “Hey–let’s go to Alabama”.  He writes back “Is this you procrastinating from work?” Me: “Um…yes?  But I’m serious”  So an hour later we found ourselves pulling out of our parking lot headed to Birmingham, Alabama–heartland of America.

My adrenaline had me running through the hour of getting ready, but as we get into the car I started panicking   “WHAT AM I DOING? WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?”  Here’s a list of the things I was worried about:

  1. I had work that needed to be done
  2. I wanted to clean the bathroom
  3. I wanted to cook and freeze some food for the week

Now…these were all legit concerns, but I had weighed them (albeit briefly) before I sent my husband the text about going. But know what my largest concern was? BEING ANXIOUS! Yep, I was worried about triggering a mood swing because we would be getting completely off my schedule. I’d be up late, sleeping in a different place, and traveling–all which can cause anxiety for me.  And wait, does this idea mean I’m going into a manic swing? Should I not go??

But you know what!


Sure, keeping a schedule is good for me. But know what else is good? Spending time with the hubby. Building good memories. Feeling like a “normal” person. AND HAVING FUN!

The ACTUAL trophy--can't believe they let me get that close...I didn't break it though!

The ACTUAL trophy–can’t believe they let me get that close…I didn’t break it though!

Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way and let ourselves cut loose. Having a mental illness is alot of work and sometimes to stay healthy you do miss out on stuff–so give yourself some space to have fun. This spontaneous trip was great and it reminded me how much better I can feel when I let myself have a good time.

So tonight–in honor of this post I am going to make myself a peppermint milkshake. And I give all of you permission to do so as well!  Screw calories and do something fun!

Yes, I am drinking it out of a wine glass.  Got a problem with that?!

Yes, I am drinking it out of a wine glass. Got a problem with that?!


Eyewitness to the EIGHTH National Soccer Championship

Eyewitness to the EIGHTH National Soccer Championship


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Wednesday Wishes: Number Twenty-Two

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Twenty-Two: I wish you how phrases like “you’re crazy” “he must be insane” “I’m going to end up in the pysch ward” make me feel. This is actually a very personal one. I feel like each consumer will have different words that bother them and some they actually laugh about and find funny. For example, the only one that really makes me uncomfortable is joking about a “pysch ward” because having to be taken to one unwillingly was a fear of mine for a long time and it increases stigma about needing to go to an inpatient treatment center.  Most of the other stuff, I joke about myself. So start the conversation, find out what bothers them and what they can joke about.  Here’s a picture below to get the conversation going.  Funny or offensive?


Funny? Or Offensive?

Funny? Or Offensive?


Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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BREAKING NEWS!!!!!! A Benefit of Mental Illness Uncovered

I tend to think of mental illness as that ugly sweater you get from your great aunt at Christmas. You know what I’m talking about, the itchy wool one that doesn’t come with a gift receipt. Yet, there is a good thing or two about the gift—your aunt was thinking about you and in the case of being robbed, you’re guaranteed to have at least one article of clothing left!

So recently I’ve been looking to identify and appreciate aspects of my personality and life that are positively affected by my mental illness. One of the first things to come to mind is my natural tendency toward empathy.

I teach a class of K-2nd graders at church on Wednesday nights and they are AWESOME.  There’s nothing better than playing freeze tag with a bunch of munchkins to remind you of the good in life. After getting pushed down last Wednesday, a little boy came up to me crying and told me, “My elbow needs some love”.  How can anyone resist that?  I clearly couldn’t. So I let him curl up in my lap till it felt better.  Nobody can resist giving love and sympathy in a situation like that.

But what about other situations? Like say if an adult told you their elbow needed some love?

During a party my parents hosted for my dad’s college students, a girl was complaining to my mom about a high level of school stress. My mom looked at her and goes, “Yeah, go complain to Tabitha. She’s way better at the sympathy than I am.” So she came to me, vented a while. I did what I do and at the end she goes “Wow—you are good at this”.

While this is a minor example, I feel like I can be a comfort in more serious situations as well. While I cannot say, I “know how you feel” to everyone I comfort, I can say I understand pain. From my depression I understand hopelessness and despair. From my anxiety I understand fear and worry. From my bipolar I understand irritability and mood swings. And those feelings are never too far removed that I forget how painful they can be.

I like that about myself. I like that I can offer comfort and support to a wide variety of people. So while it might suck to have such intense emotions, in those times of comforting others I can honestly say I’m glad I have experienced them.

I write this to thank you all as well. This is a quality that is so pervasive in the mental health blogging community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been uplifted by a reader’s comments. Or how many times I’ve read about a blogger struggling, just to see them give hope and encouragement on a fellow blogger’s site. You all are amazing!  Love and appreciate that about yourselves alright?!

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Preparing for Stressful Situations




My friend recently texted me this picture and I literally laughed out loud.  People at work would have looked at me strangely, except they are used to me being doing weird things. It was fitting in her life at the time as she was coming up on final class papers and assignments…always stressful!  But it is also perfect for me right now. I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress at work right now—and it is only going to get worse for the next three weeks.  Just like that wave, I can see it coming.  So the question then becomes—how do you prepare!?

Here is a great tool that I learned in therapy—a list of questions to ask and answer BEFORE the stressful event occurs (with a few random self-affirmations thrown in there). Then post the questions and your answers in a place you can see them as the event is taking place.  If your mind is overwhelmed and freaking out, like mine is right now, it’s probably a good idea to have someone you trust work through this with you.

Self-Statements for Coping With Stress:

  1. What is it that I have to do?
  2. I can develop a plan to deal with this. (Form a plan or mental outline)
  3. Just think about what I have to do, not anything else. (Focus on the needs of the task at hand)
  4. Think of things that I can use to help cope. (Review the strategies that you know can be of help)
  5. The situation is not impossible—I can handle this.
  6. What’s the worst possible outcome? Can I live with that?
  7. Remember: I can shift my attention and control my reactions.

I’ve found this to be very helpful. It breaks the situation down into parts, and gives your mind a grounding point when it starts to stray.  So instead of waiting for that wave to crash over you, think of this tool as your surfboard to ride it!

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Dad…Pilot…USAF Col…Medication Nazi….

It takes all types of people to make a successful support team. I think I have mentioned before that my dad is a retired Air Force colonel. So as you can imagine he is not the “emotional breakdown” support team member. However, I am incredibly thankful to have in my life because he is the person I would credit most with my medication compliance.

His favorite costume...guess you can see where I got my weird side of my personality!

His favorite costume…guess you can see where I got my weird side of my personality!

I’ll never forget the first day of my first mental illness medication. I had been refusing each time my mom had tried to get me to take it for several hours. So later that night, I had some friends over and went out to the garage to get an “adult beverage”. I grabbed the drink and turned back around to head back inside and BAM! ran smack into my dad…..holing (drum roll now) the dreaded box of pills. Guess that military trains g wasn’t for nothing because after stealthily sneaking up on me he had strategically placed himself between me and the house. Using the element of surprise he removed the drink from my hand. Well Damn. Looking around and realizing there was no way out I used my next weapon, confusion.

Nicole: [wide eyed and innocent] Hi daddy! What are you doing? Would you like a Miller Lite–here let me get you one.
Dad: [hold out single, deception-ally harmless, white pill] I’m not letting you back inside till you take it.
Nicole: [Plant feet, lift chin]
Dad:  You’re friends are going to wonder what took you so long.

And checkmate…well played dad, well played.

And so, I took my first lexapro with a raspberry flavored Smirnoff   Not exactly what the doctor recommended  but it did the trick.

Resistance to medication is so common, and we fight it for so many individual reasons. The largest feeling I remember preventing me from taking it was fear. I was terrified what it was going to do. If it could affect my brain and my emotions positively….it could be just as negative.  I had heard the horror stories about what anti-depressants can do! I spent the first couple of weeks obsessing about it forever altering my brain and me going crazier than I already was. Symptoms of anxiety include catastrophic and obsessive thinking–I sure applied that to my medication!

I’m not going to lie and say those thoughts don’t still plague me from time to time. There are mornings when I stare at my medication for a few minutes trying to remind myself that it’s suppose to help me. There are times where random thoughts of it sabotaging my brain pop into my mind. And it has been a factor in a few of my medication “protests” (Like “hunger protests”…but with medication).

If you have the same problem, or are the medication Nazi on a support team, here are a few things that Rick did to help me manage this fear.

  1. Identify the truth: Specifically address the fears with your doctor. I trust my psychiatrist and I have specific memories of her describing numerous studies that show no long term effects. Have your team provide you with these studies….leading to my next point.
  2. AVOID THE INTERNET and even some books/magazines: The horror stories are out there–you HAVE to avoid them. I have never researched a new medication. I trust my sister and my mom to do that. No way would I take any medications if I read some of the scary stuff out there.
  3. Journal: Track how the medication makes you feel–that way you’ll be confident that if it’s “destroying your brain” you’ll notice. And if it’s helping, then you can see that too!

I’m so lucky to have such a wide variety of people on my support team–I owe a significant amount to my dad getting me to take that medication.  I hate to admit it, but it does make a huge difference in my life. and like in everything in his life, my dad illustrated the three core values of the Air Force.

  • Integrity first: While the blackmail and threats were questionable, he didn’t sneak it in my food!
  • Service before Self: Made me take it BEFORE getting himself a beer…clearly a sacrifice
  • Excellence in all you do: He succeeded right?

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Twenty

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Twenty: Following in line with Monday’s post….I wish I could express to you how I feel.

To help with that!  I’ve uploaded pictures of the feelings list I discussed!

Let me know–do these helps? Do any particular words resonate with you?


Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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I feel scared…concerned….insecure…startled…restless…fearful…panicky….shaken…

As I’ve begun learning about my mental illness and how it affects my life, I’ve started to look back through journals I’ve written in the past.  It’s interesting to see what I wrote in a different light and to see how far I’ve come. Also, it’s pretty hilarious to read about my past crushes—glad I ended up with Sidney.

Another huge benefit for me is that it sheds a bit of light on one of the questions I identified my previous post. “Why do children not share the extreme of their emotions with adults?” One reason for me was an inability to express my emotions.  Two phrases I see over and over in my journals are “It feels so dark in my body” and “I am losing control of my mind”.

I was never able to describe that feeling better—but instead wrote it over and over. I knew I was feeling awful, but I didn’t know how to express it. I would tell my parents, “I’m stressed” or “I’m sad”.  Or I’d cry and scream but was not able to explain why I was doing it. Or I’d give a reason I was crying, but it did not convey the intensity of the feeling.

One friend of mine tells a story of sitting on her front porch crying uncontrollably before school. Her dad promised her she wouldn’t have to go if she would only tell him what was wrong.  But she couldn’t. All she could say was “I’m sad”.

In therapy one of the first skills Rick and I worked on was learning to identify my emotions. Rick claims this was to help me, but I’m pretty sure that he was bored listening to the same conversation.

Rick: “How are you today?”

Nicole: “Anxious”
Rick: “Anything else?”
Nicole: “Sad”

After about three weeks of that, Rick introduced me to my feelings list.  I have a sheet of 100 feeling words that I am can use to identify in various situations. There are 30 words alone that go under the “anxious” category.  If they would put these words on the GRE I’d knock that out of the water! Instead there’s words like noxious.

We teach kids to write descriptive paragraphs about scenery, explain how to perform mathematical operations, support a thesis with detailed evidence…yet do we teach them to identify feelings? I’m not even sure how we would start to do this—after all, many adults are not good at it.  But I think it would be a big step towards helping kids manage their emotions!

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