Thursday, July 30, 2015

Helping Someone Who's Hurting

helping someone life's a polyp

In my darkest moments I realize I need help. The pit becomes too deep, too inviting and I am at risk of being lost. It isn't always easy to open the door and reach out to someone and ask for support through the darkness. Taking that step, feeling dependent on another, and the burden of verbalizing what is wrong when there is little energy left can be daunting and seem almost not worth the ordeal. When I grasp for someone's help there are some words and actions that push me further down into that pit, leaving me feeling hurt, angry, and more alone and the door shuts in my face as I no longer feel comfortable opening up to that person. When someone reaches out to you, that person is trusting you with their hurting soul. You never know when you may be the last person they reach out to, exhausted from the pain.

There are three things that I think we should never say in response to another when that person is hurting and seeking support. Such statements are very harmful and close the door to open communication and support as what is meant to help change someone's mood and thoughts instead dismisses and invalidates that person's experiences, feelings, and thoughts thereby creating the opposite intention and worsening the situation.

1. There Are People Worse Off
Sure, there's someone always going through something worse but that doesn't make the pain one is feeling any less deep. If such a statement is going to be productive and helpful for an individual, the individual needs to be the one to come to this realization. Coming to such a realization on one's own allows one to experience gratitude for their situation versus another, not necessarily increased happiness or reduced depression. Being told that others have it worse so be happy is just like telling someone be sad because others have it better than you. Regardless of the situation or the cause or expected length of it, it doesn't mean that person is going through any less of a deeply painful time. This ignores what the person is feeling and invalidates what they are experiencing as a bothersome, emotionally difficult moment.

2. You're Being Selfish
Selfishness is a subjective label. Actions that may be necessary can be bothersome to others resulting in others to feel that one is being selfish. For example, taking time for self care is absolutely necessary for everyone but does require limiting time for others and other activities which may be hurtful to another. Telling someone they are selfish for their feelings is not helpful, especially if that person is having suicidal ideation. It can be very difficult to appreciate the effects of one's actions on others when they are fighting depression. Labeling, judging, and insulting someone during such a difficult time is not what is going to get someone to change their mood. Listening, supporting, and helping find solutions is what will help an individual with emotional hurt. Try telling that person how you feel about him/her rather than calling that person selfish for their thoughts and feelings. If that person is talking to you about those thoughts and feelings, odds are that person isn't happy having those thoughts and feelings either but needs some help to get to a better, healthier, safer place emotionally.

3. That's a Cowards Way Out
When interacting with someone struggling with suicidal ideation, telling that person that their thoughts of suicide or death wish is cowardice isn't what is going to change their thoughts or decisions. Instead, it leaves the individual feeling judged and dismissed. No one likes to be judged and what is considered cowardice is subjective so that person may completely disagree. Such a statement sends a defeating, negative message to that individual, particularly including a message of decreased self worth and failure as a person - which only increases depressive feelings.

So what are some ways to help someone with depression or suicidal ideation?

1. Listen
Listen to what that person is telling you. Most of the time when someone seeks support that person is just wanting someone to listen to them, not fix all their problems. Talking about our feelings allows us to process our thoughts and feelings so that we may work through an issue. It's very difficult to complete this process without someone to listen to us and listen to us as many times as it takes. We typically require talking it out more than once as each time we are able to sort through the pieces a bit more and learn something new about ourselves or make a step closer to resolution.

2. Empathize
Try to understand what that person is feeling and going through in the moment. When we seek support, we want to be heard and understood. You don't have to agree with the person's feelings, just try to understand what they're experiencing. Empathizing also helps us feel a sense of belonging and in turn this helps us feel safer, less alone, and more apt to rediscover hope.

3. Don't Give Up On Them
Depression is exhausting and draining on the individual with depression but is also on others who are around someone with depression. The answers always appear clearer and easier to someone without depression. With depression, the mind becomes clouded with doubt and hopelessness and it isn't something that can be snapped out of quickly. Depression takes its time and will hold on for years if we let it. The individual needs to process and cope with the issue causing depression. It is much easier to do this though with support and help from others. Try not to become frustrated with the many ups and downs a depressed individual will go through as they sort through and begin to recover from the depression. Take some time for yourself so you're taking care of yourself as well.

If you or someone you know is depressed or at risk of suicide, please reach out.
Life isn't always easy but together we can survive it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Deadly Duo

depression and anger life's a polyp

I lay on the cool, hard floor; resting my head upon my dog's shoulders, tears stream down my cheeks, and wrap my arms tightly around his neck. I cling to him for dear life as I contemplate my own life. I'm home alone and no one is due to come around for hours. Thoughts race through my mind consumed by depression.

I enter the kitchen and there he stands facing the window, his back to me. We stand in utter silence, not even able to hear the usual sounds a house tends to create. He makes no acknowledgement of my presence, perhaps he doesn't realize I'm standing behind him. My mind races in the mix of my depression and my anger.

We all have fleeting thoughts inspired by death, whether it's a mere moment of thinking "I'm done, just end it all" or brief anger inspired thoughts for harm to another as simple as "I'd like to hit your car with mine". These thoughts dissipate as quickly as they appear and in the flash of a moment they're forgotten as our mind shuffles around our thoughts, storing some, discarding others, entertaining a few. However, when our mind begins to fixate on such thoughts we know there is more going on within us. I recently shared my own battles - past and present - with depression and anger and the struggles of living with these friends.

Depression and anger are the perfect deadly duo. Depression isolates us from others and activity, burying us in pain and apathy, draining us of life. This is why there are precautionary statements for risk of suicide with antidepressants and as a warning sign for our depression lessens, our energy increases and we suddenly have the energy to carry out that suicidal intent and plan we've been mentally preparing but previously didn't have the energy to complete. Anger on the other hand tends to be a mask for deeper anguish, it behaves as a coping mechanism...creating barriers between ourselves and others and within ourselves. With anger we always have an excuse to push others away and to not tackle our underlying issues. Anger gives us the peace of displacing attention from what is really bothering us onto other issues, typically minuscule and fleeting.

Depression and anger, that blissful pair, remind me of a quote from the character Dr. Sidney Freedman from the TV series M*A*S*H  when he states "Anger turned inwards is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye." Interestingly, Hawkeye combats the Korean War in his own rebellious, authority defying, snarky style and at the end it becomes too much for him to bear and he is institutionalized. No matter how hard we fight, how much we rebel against the atrocities of life we witness and experience, at some point we will find our breaking point if we don't take the necessary self care precautions to protect ourselves from harm - physical or mental.

There are moments in our lives that serve as an alarm, a distress signal. If we ignore this alarm, we may face detrimental long lasting effects. Our alarms will vary from person to person, some need very loud alarms and others require little prompting.

I have endured bouts of depression over the last 20 years and it is triggered periodically, particularly after traumatizing experiences. As college classes resumed after spring break vacation, I returned to school and although my body was present, my mind wasn't. Being around others, away from the safety of my home, and the stimulation of a busy environment overwhelmed my psyche as it attempted to recover itself from a traumatic experience the week before. I was unable to function at work or school until my mind could recoup from my recent trauma and address the issues at play affecting me. Had my professors and myself ignored the distress signals of depression, crying episodes, hyper vigilance, and severe anxiety my acute stress disorder could easily have progressed into post traumatic stress disorder with long lasting negative effects. Instead, we heeded those alarms and with assistance I obtained the professional care and help I needed to resume a functioning daily life.

My family and friends joke about my temper and the subsequent venting meltdowns that occur until my anger becomes smoldering rather than fiery. I have experienced extreme anger beginning after my first round of surgeries and complications. I was angry about my health, ostomy, and life changes. I developed post traumatic stress disorder and depression, I coped with these diagnoses through anger. I was surprised when a co-worker chased me down a hallway shaking a small bag of tortilla chips offering them to me as consolation and to calm my fiery temper down after a meltdown. Being chased with chips served as an alarm to me and I realized that I needed to work on my temper again.

When depression and anger combine forces, we are left fighting against ourselves and the world. Depression and anger work together in magnificent synchrony to isolate us through withdrawal and creation of barriers in an effort to destroy us from the inside out, feeding off of each other and our experiences of trauma, pain, and heartache. We begin to lose ourselves amidst the battlefield of depression and anger, we begin to say and act in ways that are not like us as we are pulled harder and fought over between this duo. This is a wake up call to pull back harder and break the grasp of depression and anger so that you may escape and return to yourself. If we don't, we are pulled closer and closer to death whether by our own hands, worsened health complicated by the depression, anger and stress that is evoked, or through risky situations we may place ourselves within due to reckless behavior. Breaking free is not easy but it is doable.

Your psyche wants to protect you, pay attention to the alarms. Take it a moment at a time, seek out counseling and reach out to friends and family. Also check out these other free support resources.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Relief vs Eating Disorder

pain of eating life's a polyp

A while ago, I randomly came across an article discussing the common risk of eating disorders among those with chronic illness and although not a novel idea, I find myself often thinking back upon this as a new revelation in my life. I hadn't given much thought to the link between chronic illness and eating disorders even in spite of my own previous diagnosis of 'relative anorexia'.

When I was in grade school after my first year of surgeries, my body became accustomed to not eating and so I ate very little even when I was allowed to eat freely. A consulting doctor wanted to provide me with a feeding tube and thankfully, my pediatric GI doctor stepped in and realized that my limited food intake wasn't because I refused to eat or had a desire to lose weight but rather a habit that formed as a result of my chronic ill health. I was placed upon a weight gaining diet and gained from the 80s to 100 pounds.

Through the years, particularly after my second round of surgeries, I have endured a very strong love/hate relationship with food. Food causes me great pain and inconvenience at times yet food is a necessity for survival and typically I enjoy the pleasure of eating. In spite of the pleasures of food, I still feel my very best when I fast for long periods. There are many days that I can easily fast for 2-3 days with little complaint. Not eating isn't a body image ordeal for me; the relief of not eating sometimes outweighs the pain and discomfort of eating. I feel my very best when I don't eat and when I'm underweight. I actually feel lighter, healthier, and more free without the heaviness of food and the digestion process weighing me down. And yet I realize this is unhealthy - one needs regular food intake to sustain proper health and nourishment.

The feeling of severe bloating and fullness, toxicity, and pain after eating has at times led me to finding relief through the use of agents with laxative properties, such as milk of magnesia or foods with laxative effects, or vomiting - although with seldom invocation and never with a premeditated intent such as in bulimia. Last night was such a night. I stood over the toilet and I want to vomit to relieve some of the pressure and pain or do I want choose the healthier choice and let my body complete digestion on its own. Once again, I realize this is unhealthy behavior but at times I find the possibility for relief overpowering.

Understanding the desire and need for relief from pain resulting from eating leads to understanding the fine line between relief and an eating disorder. Habits are easy to form, especially when they are positively rewarded, such as pain relief. These habits can become compulsive and obsessive in a short time as the cycle is continued. The line between relief and eating disorders becomes smaller and smaller and we can be left with greater issues than those with which we started.

It's been 20 years since the way I look at food changed and during that time my body's reactions to food have changed multiple times and each time a new set of trial and error learning commences. I don't easily accept change and often must undergo several backfire events from resisting adaptation before I will begin to alter my behavior and adjust to a new set of rules.

Adaptation is necessary to prevent further complications such as the risk and side effects of eating disorder like behaviors. It is an ongoing learning process as we gain understanding through trial and error and in discussion with others to learn from their experiences and insights as well. It's necessary to discover how our body reacts to certain foods and in what quantities as well as taking into consideration our altered digestion that presents with challenges to absorption and digestive processes. Such discovery will allow us to make better eating choices while reducing negative side effects. Yes, easier said than done. 20 years later and I still strongly resist what I know is in my best interest when it comes to eating and my food choices as I often cycle between healthy eating and overindulgence and poor food choices. Recognizing our harmful choices and behaviors is a start to changing harmful to healthy, as without recognition there is little room for change. Recognizing and understanding the struggle of one evil - pain - against another evil - unhealthy behaviors - helps us to make better decisions and realize the consequences of both choices.

Finding the balance between health issues and diets can be tricky as some diets for different conditions contradict one another, such as renal and diabetic diets yet renal failure and diabetes are often seen together. For healthy food choices and information view the following guides for ostomates and those with short bowel syndrome. Encourage and support one another among the struggle. If you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder, seek help.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Celebrating Birthdays and Survival

survival and birthdays life's a polyp

Today I am 30 years old. Most people fret over reaching 30, leaving their 20s and "younger days" behind. My mind is elsewhere today as I survey my life in awe. I've miraculously reached an age I never believed I would reach. I have surpassed ages I shouldn't have passed. Like many with chronic health issues, being told that I shouldn't have survived a situation or I'm not likely to live past a certain age isn't new to me. I've heard such statements since I was 9 due to complications and medical negligence and again throughout high school and into college during a several year recovery period from my reversal and subsequent complications.

I recall lying my head on my mother's lap as she sat on the couch stroking my hair and I told her how I loved her and said my farewells. I could feel the life draining from me, peace beginning to surround my spirit. I was uncertain how many more moments I had remaining but I knew they were coming to a close. I watched her tears run down her cheeks as she gazed upon and told me how she loved me. I had never felt such peace and have never again since this time.

I was back in the hospital soon after, veins being pumped with electrolytes and blood coursing life back into me for another day. If this had been delayed in its delivery by a few more days, I wouldn't have survived. There were many weeks my doctors weren't sure if I'd live to see them the following week due to risk of heart attack or brain seizures. Over the following years my health would gradually improve and become stable again.

Due to my ongoing health crises, I came to fervently believe that I would not live past the age of 21. I held this belief so firmly that I completed all of the end of life documents and arranged the details of my funeral according to my wishes and distributed copies of this information to my executors of my will. This belief was further cemented as I began to develop precancerous polyps within my stomach and my pediatric GI doctor predicted I would develop stomach cancer by the age of 30. The treatment of which I was still unsure I would be willing to subject upon myself.

My conviction was so strong that I was left amazed when the clock struck midnight on my 22nd birthday and I was still breathing. How could I still be living? I have wondered this many times throughout my life. I have been prepared for death for 2 decades and at times I feel as though I have been teased with death and the chance for peace from my health issues, particularly on the most difficult days. I remain ready for the day of death, waiting for the day that I was told would come so long ago.

And yet I continue to survive. And survive quite well in my opinion. I had many years of struggles and presently I am battling chronic nausea, pain, and difficulty eating after a recent hospitalization. I remain standing amidst the battle. Cancer free. Precancerous polyps free.

I have learned a lot over the course of my disease and I have gained a unique understanding of myself, life, death, the world, and what Familial Polyposis (FAP) means for it all. FAP isn't a death sentence to me. It doesn't guarantee to shorten my life simply complicates my life. I won't know how it affects me otherwise until the progression of developments occur. FAP affects each person differently to a drastic degree. My grandfather had very little problems after he received his ileostomy until his death at age 81 from stomach and esophageal cancer due to the FAP. Others are not so fortunate and children are presenting with symptoms and precancerous polyps at younger and younger ages. Each person's story and battlefield is different though in the position of landmines. I refuse to believe I have no choice in my footing amongst the landmines though.

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