First off, I want to acknowledge that I recently took an unanticipated lengthy gap from blogging and submitting my writing for a monthly review. I’m well aware that apologies are completely unnecessary as each of us go through a lengthy litany of trials, tests, and tribulations in our individualized lives, if you’re blessed to live long enough to experience a great deal. For those of you who have read any of my previous blogs, you should know that I write honestly, from a direct NYC perspective with definite CA influences, and hopefully in an non-condescending way regarding my prior work experience and education. I am relying on that background to try to make a difference, for certain, but I also spent half of my life learning about mental illness and how to both help my older brother, as best as I possibly could, while simultaneously coping within myself.
I was struggling in late autumn with a relentless head and chest cold that hung on for a few months and led to a some bronchitis and a fully clogged right ear. Subsequent to my feeling better overall from the terrible state I was in, and about a month later, an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor) examined my clogged ear that still had not cleared. He told me that it was resolving well on its own. However, in the process of his full exam (he’s an ENT right?), the doctor discovered a tissue growth on my left tonsil area where they had been removed at the age of 8. A quick check to be sure it wasn’t cancerous gave me positive news although he still recommended that I have the entire thing surgically removed for my overall long-term health. He also didn’t want to take any chances for future growth and potential complications. He was completely successful on January 23rd. However, my recovery period was almost a month when it was presumed to be 3 to 5 days with, sadly, a great deal of it with me in varying degrees of pain, distress, and discomfort. Finally, and recovering just in time from that ordeal, I left for a planned 3-week trip back to NYC, NJ, and skiing in VT. That was emotionally and spiritually healing to say the least, plus after 3 meniscus surgeries between both knees, I showed myself that I could rehabilitate my way, once again, back up to the top of a mountain peak and ski for hours (wearing solid flexible braces on both knees, of course!). But, I DID IT!
My sole reason for sharing this synopsis of my past personal few months is to point out that life can truly hand anyone and everyone twists, turns, and corkscrews, similar to that of a roller coaster, and that each of us has a choice as to whether we are going to apply our coping skills and strategies. And, ultimately, are we going to choose skills that are effective, functional in our lives, that honor our values and personal truths and which resonate with our convictions? Are we going to take good care of ourselves? This includes asking for the help we need to heal effectively, managing our medication, getting adequate rest and sleep, following doctor’s orders, and being patient with ourselves. I consider this process to be a test of both my love for myself and my willingness to accept assistance from outside of myself. I encourage and gently challenge, any and all, living with or without a mental illness, to explore and examine their own coping skills, strategies for managing stressors, and to be totally honest with yourself in your evaluation of your plan, so it maximizes its effectiveness.
When I last blogged, I spent time describing what a formal relapse prevention plan is and its critical purpose in assisting those managing any type of serious illness to avoid the slippery slopes of severe depression, intense anxiety and hypomania, paranoid thinking, homicidal and / or suicidal thoughts, addiction issues, etcetera that can plague someone when they are being tested or tried, on life’s terms. I last also wrote that I would begin to explore more specifically how any individual dealing with significant warning signs of their respective illnesses cropping up can better identify these as early symptoms. I further stated I would explore what they can do for themselves at those moments, in order to maintain mental clarity and / or regulate their mood away from an intense swing in either direction; high or low.
In giving thought to how I best can express this, I’ve decided to write these future pieces by providing real-life scenarios and events which I have personally experienced with the adults I worked with throughout my 25 year career at Napa State Hospital. These are the same adults whom I worked with diligently and closely in their development of their respective relapse plans. Based on one’s diagnoses, the plans were personalized for best results. They knew that I planned to blog in my proactive efforts to bring the dialogue of mental illness / health into the national conversation with the hope that many tragedies can and would be prevented by virtue of this sharing. They encouraged me to share their stories while completely preserving their confidentiality without question. I will assuredly not provide any real names and will often alter some content without diminishing the meaning of its sharing. Preserving confidentiality is a paramount value of mine and within the ethical guidelines of my license to practice clinical social work (NASW-National Association of Social Workers).