New Literary Works on Mental Illness and Beyond

 

The Collected Schizophrenias: essays is perhaps writer Esme Weijun Wang’s tour de force through life with schizoaffective disorder. This personal essay collection positions Wang into the world of literary nonfiction as she is the novelist of the Border of Paradise. Wang uses fashion motifs to talk about her high-functioning mental illness. She includes essays on schizophrenia in television and cinema. She talks about her experience volunteering at a camp for children with mental illness and how this affected her decision to have children of her own. This work is both a memoir narrative and a work of literary journalism. Wang weaves scientific studies and historical facts throughout her essays skillfully. Wang attended Yale and Stanford, has an MFA in Writing from the University of Michigan and includes an essay on her college experiences. Diagnosed with bipolar in her late teens, Wang was later re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She also writes about the connection between autoimmune disorders and mental illness as Wang has late-stage Lyme disease as well. Wang has held residencies at Hedgebrook, Yaddo and other artist colonies. She will be giving an Instagram talk in April for This is My Brave. Check out their web site and/or Instagram for more information. Her web site is www.esmewang.com.

 

 
Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir is Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s eloquent exploration into the treatment of her own anxiety and of other mental health conditions. Approaching her narrative from the vantage point as someone struggling with OCD, PTSD, and anxiety, she explores how gender, class, and history treats people with mental illness. She weaves journalistic studies and historical facts into her story to create a work that documents an epidemic of our age. She strongly critiques psychotherapy from all angles. She includes an interlude about her husband’s bipolar disorder and how she deals with it as a spouse. Through examining the history of mental illness treatment, she challenges the modern narrative about mental health. She makes an important statement about the dangers of diagnosis and the complicated nature of sanity. At times her narrative is a bit unwieldy and some parts of her own story might have been better edited for more cohesion. Overall, I enjoyed her take on mental health in America, especially her feminist slant. Her web site is www.sarahfawnmontgomery.com.

 

 
I was gifted with writer Dani Shapiro’s new memoir Inheritance. It came with a tote bag advertising her new podcast “Family Secrets” directly from the publisher. Apparently, I had signed up for a contest they were having on her web site. In this fifth memoir, Shapiro discovers her father is not her biological father through DNA testing. Shapiro is the author of four other memoirs Slow Motion, Devotion, Still Writing and Hourglass. She artfully conducts an investigation into her parent’s secret—that they went to a fertility clinic to have her. Her investigation in this is not unlike her journalistic exploration in her article “The Secret Wife” in the New Yorker in 1998. “The Secret Wife” was about her father’s first marriage before her mother that no one in her family talked about. Inheritance traces Dani’s journey through fertility clinics to the trauma of finding her biological father eloquently through storyteller form. Although, kind of heavy, I highly recommend this mysterious book as a good beach read. Shapiro’s web site is www.danishapiro.com.

Stigma Fighters Founder and CEO Sarah Fader Starts Publishing Company

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Sarah Fader grew up in the 90s when mental illness was heavily stigmatized. At 15, she began having panic attacks. She remembers that the Books of Magic comic book series gave her a fear of death. She wrote it off by saying it was existential dread. At her performing arts high school in New York, she felt different from everybody else, and hid her secret well. Her mom finally sent her to a therapist.

“I told the therapist I wish there was a magic pill to make everything go away,” Fader said. The therapist told her that it doesn’t work like that.

In her senior year of high school, she found herself throwing up each morning due to anxiety.

“My mom introduced me to mindfulness meditation with John Cabot-Zinn. I was able to be calm and eat afterward,” she said.

At 18, her mom let her see a psychiatrist and she started Prozac with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.

“I remember walking down the street and my mind would be clear,” she said.

When Fader transfered to NYU, she received a refund check for her student loan for $4,000 which she spent in three days. When she told her psychiatrist of her dissociative spending, he put her on Zyprexa with the Prozac. She eventually saw a new psychiatrist who gave her Seroquel.

At 24, she had focussing problems and test anxiety. She was diagnosed with ADHD. Fourteen years later, she tried medication for this but this was after jobs would fire her for her lack of a concept of time.

After she met her then husband, she went off meds for ten years and had her son.

“It was hard but I used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get by,” she said.

While she was nursing her son, her depression came back and she went back on them. She had a daughter by this time and she had a post-partum psychosis. She didn’t sleep and hallucinated that she saw a floating face. After a few rounds with condescending doctors, she was given medication for her symptoms.

She had been blogging for ten years by this time. She had come out about her panic disorder on the Huffington Post.

“I saw all the other mental health blogs and it was safe for me,” she said. “I don’t want to live with the shame and I want my children to live unashamed.”

“The first time I wrote on a blog I have panic disorder, it was freeing,” she said.

She looked around the internet and their was no place for people to share stories of mental illness back then so she decided to start one. Stigma Fighters was born. She found a friend and business partner Ali Burke, who has schizophrenia, to make the site a non-profit. Since then, they published three anthologies for it.

“I don’t care if people remember me as long as they remember Stigma Fighters,” Fader said.

She realized that her mental illness isn’t her identity, her doctor changed her diagnosis to bipolar 2, ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.

“Your diagnosis doesn’t matter. What matters is the treatment plan,” she said.

Fader also  podcasts the show This is What Anxiety  Feels  Like on her site www.sarahfader.com. She coined the hashtag #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike which has been mentioned in the New York Times.

After losing a child, she founded the Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company. She wanted people to share their stories of resilence. In addition to looking for completed manuscripts and book proposals, she does book coaching. Topics they look for are Near Death Experiences, mental health, anthologies, and poetry.

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Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. Her personal web site is www.sarahfader.com.

Interview with Stephen Smith, Founder of nOCD app for your phone

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stephenIn past weeks, I reviewed the nOCD app, available in the Apple Store and coming soon to Android. nOCD helps those with intrusive thoughts and OCD sufferers to analyze what’s really happening in the moment. It is a therapist away from a therapist. I interviewed Stephen Smith, Founder of nOCD, about his story and reasons behind developing this app, and future developments in the use of it.

Stephen was a sophomore in college when OCD began hitting him hard.

“One day it hit me like a train,” he said. “I had no understanding of what happened. I had these intrusive thoughts one after another and constant anxiety.”

He first sought help online, googling to figure out what was happening and where to turn to get help. The internet gave him direction and a name for what he was experiencing.

“A lot of clinicians said I specialize in OCD but really weren’t,” he said. “I ended up seeing 5 different clinicians before I found someone who helped me.”

He used Exposure Response Prevention ERP therapy, mindfulness, and acceptance-commitment therapy plus peer support to get better.

“I was tired of the problem. I only suffered 6 months to a year but others suffer decades,” he said. “Society has all this technology around us. I have a background in experience design and project management software. Here was a problem that needed to be solved.”

The problem was acquainting people with a resource to help those with OCD. It took a year of fundraising to get the money to make the app and 6 to 7 months of testing. Version 1 was released November 2016.

“There’s a giant need for this. Because of the pain I went through I have the motivation and passion to start it.”

The nOCD team all has some affiliation with this disorder either themselves or with members of their family.

The app has an anonymous peer support community where people can see themselves in what others write in.

“The best part about the app is if you are in the middle of an episode all you have to do is push a button on your phone for help, Stephen said. “OCD does not have to disrupt your day or cripple the moment if you can’t get to your therapist or don’t have one yet.”
The app is best used in tandem with therapy. It is like an electronic workbook or guide.

“If you don’t have a therapist yet, it can be a starting point for your treatment,” Stephen said.

Future developments of the app will address co-morbidity with other disorders but right now discussion of these things are top secret.

To get the nOCD app, click here.

 

New App for OCD Promising to help with Exposure Therapy

 

I discovered a new iPhone app for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD sufferers. The Android app is coming soon. Although, I do not have a diagnosis of OCD, I developed strange symptoms during my teen years. Founder Stephen Smith developed the app to help the 1 percent who struggle with this disorder, after he was diagnosed with OCD in college. nOCD allows one to use exposure therapy to work on their obsessions and track their compulsions. They even have a YBOCS test for you to rate how severe your OCD is manifesting.

 

I found this app helpful for someone who needs to track their symptoms in conjunction with traditional therapy and pen and paper journaling, although this could possibly replace pen and paper journaling as people get healthier. To download the nOCD app, click here.

More about the App

– nOCD is a fully customizable app which incorporates clinically proven OCD treatment techniques (we are not creating a revolutionary new therapy, instead, we are revolutionizing the DELIVERY of an existing form of therapy – ERP – which we already know to be highly effective for OCD).

– nOCD provides real-time tracking of a wide range of metrics, including time spent doing ERP exercises, anxiety levels during exercises and during general use of the app, location/time of day of OCD episodes, and much more. All your personal information is stored on a HIPPA compliant secure server

– nOCD allows you to export this objective data directly to your therapist if you choose to do so

– our SOS feature offers in-the-moment support when OCD strikes on the go

– we have a large community on social media (@treatmyocd), and we are in the process of building a community feature directly into the app – this will be released later this year!

– nOCD is available for FREE on the App Store (Android version coming soon!). We are determined to bring high-quality, affordable treatment to anyone who needs it

To download the nOCD app, click here.

You can’t Backpack through a Mental Hospital Or, Maybe, you can.

During college, while all my friends were backpacking through Europe or studying abroad, I spent my time in and out of psych hospitals. Sure I missed out on some terrific college experiences but I gained an education in a population who are discriminated against and marginalized. I decided I wanted to use my journalism skills and background to end stigma one story at at time. But I want to talk about what you can learn from being in a psych hospital.

You will meet all kinds of people with different diagnosis of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds and sexualities. Your mind will be opened to what others have experienced but you are all united by mental illness. These illnesses don’t discriminate. Everybody can get them and many will over the course of a lifetime.

If you go to a place where art, writing, drama, music therapy are encouraged and funded, you will learn new tools for self-care. You will learn that creating art is a practice and you don’t have to start off good to tell your story. Your story matters in this fight to end discrimination. Find your medium and begin.

Medication is one way but not the only way. Electroshock, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, talk therapy are helpful too.

A low dose of medication is preferable, always. High doses can cause zombie-like feelings as well as health problems long-term.

You’re insurance will run out before you are ready to go home. Mental health care is expensive at the critical care level. It is important to follow closely an outpatient care plan such as taking prescribed medications regularly and seeing a therapist. These tools are less expensive than a stay in a mental hospital.

Medication can be expensive. Pharmaceutical companies have scholarships for people who can’t afford their meds. If you are low-income, look into your state’s Medicaid program. You can also buy meds by mail-order through Canada. I’ll talk about this one in a later post. There are also pharmacy discount cards like GoodRX and Walmart is a lot cheaper on some brands.

You will be able to wear your own clothes, except shoes. They will give you very comfortable slipper socks to wear. If you come in with clothes in bad repair from an episode, they will give you gowns to wear temporarily and later they’ll let you find sweats in the lost and found, a collection of things patients left behind or people donated.

You have rights. You can refuse any treatment they want to subject on you. You many want to have an advanced directive on file with treatments and medications listed you do and do not want. An advanced directive also has emergency contacts as well as who you want to visit you and who you don’t.

If your state has a legal aid clinic to help people with mental health conditions, ask them about a Patient Bill of Rights. In Connecticut, CLRP is a legal clinic that helps people from housing to discrimination.

You are allowed to keep a private journal in the hospital. If you need paper and something to write with, just ask.

The Obsessions of My Compulsions

There’s something lucky about air tracing certain numbers over and over on the exact day they appear on the calendar. There’s something not cool about being seen on video at a town meeting you’re reporting on for a newspaper fingering your eyebrows as if their static gives you a cosmic high, an infinite orgasm. You’ve never been one to judge people unless they do something rude to you but in tenth grade at an arts camp you rub your hands up against a wall every time you have an encounter with the camp cook. He’s actually a nice man who let you play his guitar it’s just there’s something weird/gross about him you just can’t name. Actually, it’s not about him at all. It’s about me.

Around the same time in my youth that my bipolar symptoms were surfacing, I was privy to strange, obsessive thoughts that might have been obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve never spoken to anyone about these thoughts until now on this blog. The OCD symptoms comes and goes with me and it’s never been completely disabling. But when I experience a periodic onset, I have trouble getting the thoughts to stop.

I don’t see the need to bring this up with my psychiatrist. I have learned cognitive behavioral techniques from many therapists that I also use to combat my obsessive brain. I also find meditation and yoga work well for me in calming my mind down in one of these states. It’s not about controlling my thoughts; it’s about letting them go. If I am in the middle of a repeticious cycle of pen twirling or air writing, I put the pen down and lean into meditation. I chant let it go while my eyes are closed over and over until the original compulsion passes. Once I open my eyes again, I am free of those thoughts. Sometimes I do this activity a few times over the course of a day.

In high school, I thought I had AIDS. I didn’t actually have the disease but my mind became obsessed that I would blurt out to someone “I have AIDS.” This became an endless obsession to protect my reputation at school that I would say the wrong thing to people. Public speaking became a nightmare. I dealt by turning inward and to my close circle of friends. It inhibited me from truly particpating in school activities because I was afraid of what my mind would blurt out. It’s almost an internal Tourrette’s.

Writing helps me sort out the truth between the thoughts in my head and what’s really happening, what I am experiencing. Keeping a journal of freewriting that no one will read in a composition book helps me self-diagnose when these onsets are occuring. Just like when I keep a mood chart and journal for my bipolar symptoms, this allows me to see when these thoughts are occuring and their duration. It also forces me to see what is real and what isn’t. Stress triggers them as much as idleness when I have been periodically unemployed. However, they’ve been most pervasive when I was working full-time.

This is not to say that my job is the trigger. I like what I do and do it well. I have found ways to minimize these thoughts when they come up and make their occurance very infrequent. These thoughts have forced me to slow my manic brain down and focus on one thing at a time. I pay detailed attention to copy editing and it has forced me to see how the details make up the larger picture.