This guest article from YourTango was written by Michelle Maliniak.
As a mental health professional who also has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after spending over 22 years in the fire service, I have tried many “alternative” methods to treat my own anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Alternative treatment methods I’ve tried include acupuncture, meditation, herbal remedies, hot yoga and massage, just to name a few.
I still use some of these methods, along with daily exercise, healthy diet, positive social support, and a low dose of an antidepressant, to manage my PTSD.
Here, I’m going to relate my experience with the two methods I have found particularly helpful: bibliotherapy (reading!) and spiritual healing.
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It would seem that the subject of mental illness has, at long last, captured the attention of the American public. Why, you may ask, is this so?
Perhaps it is the fact that when mind-boggling mass murders occur in such ordinary towns as Newtown, Conn. or Aurora, Colo., we are inundated with stories about the suspected mental state of the perpetrators.
Although the aforementioned individuals may suffer, or may have suffered, from any number of debilitating mental illnesses, the vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent. Unfortunately, their stories, and their daily struggles merely to survive, rarely make the 6 o’clock news.
‘Vacation’ is a funny word for a single mother of young children.
Before having children, the term ‘vacation’ would invoke a feeling of relaxation, but it doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
Now it means I will move my exhausted self and young children to a different place, so I can do the same activities with the same unrealistic schedule. Nonetheless, we go to the beach every year.
I pick the beach because it is the least painful of the options. I live within a few hours of numerous beaches so there are no long trips or plane tickets. I don’t have to drag them (and more importantly their stuff) all over a city while trying to keep their attention at tourist attractions that may or may not be age-appropriate. And to be fair, they love the beach. They start to jump up and down the minute they see the ocean and the sand.
I know this will sound un-American, but I don’t like the beach.
We went to the dentist yesterday. This wasn’t the kind of dentist appointment with a cleaning and a sticker. This was the kind of dentist appointment with sedatives and drills.
Unfortunately, my daughter was blessed with my tooth genes, and that means she will be forever traumatized by the world of floss and fluoride. As a parent, there is nothing worse than knowingly putting your child in a position where she will feel pain, and not having a choice.
Until now, I have always been in the room when a doctor was with my children. It never occurred to me there would be another alternative.
I have been in recovery for a while now. Most days, I feel pretty good. Most days, I can keep my anxiety from paralyzing me. Most days, I function well.
However, I don’t have to look far to see my pain. All I have to do is think about my parents.
Last night, I was watching a TV show, and a woman was grieving the loss of her mother to cancer. It had been about nine months since her death, but since the woman was planning her wedding, she was particularly upset. I could feel the intolerance building up inside of me. I may have even rolled my eyes.
I thought to myself, “at least you had a mother.” This doesn’t happen every time. My compassion has come a long way. But last night, the feelings were there.
Most of us don’t need science to tell us that sleep and emotion are closely linked. Spend a couple nights with interrupted sleep or talk to any parent of a newborn and the connection is quite clear.
The connection appears not just in everyday life. In certain physical and mental disorders sleep disturbance and emotion dysregulation are hallmark symptoms. Symptoms of one rare disorder, cataplexy, which often co-occurs with the sleep disorder, narcolepsy for example, include sudden muscle weakness when a person experiences strong emotion, such as anger or fear, or exhilaration.
Lack of adequate sleep also is commonly linked with emotional or psychological problems. Examples include depression and PTSD, while sleep disturbances combined with emotional reactivity are key dimensions of bipolar disorder.
And even when lack of sleep isn’t connected to rare disorders or affective psychological problems, it is linked to increased emotionality.
Parenting is hard. Single parenting is extremely difficult. Single parenting with family-based trauma is borderline impossible.
There are so many times I have wanted to stop a parenting moment in mid-stream, so I could research possible approaches on the Internet. I don’t know what I would have done without the countless books, articles and Google searches that have taught me how to be a parent.
I have come a long way in the past seven years. I’m much more patient. I am willing to apologize and admit when I am wrong (sometimes). I don’t spank. I yell significantly less. My children are not exposed to my dangerous biological family. They live a safe life.
So safe that it might be too safe.
Yes, I am one of those helicopter parents.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a result of severe trauma. The trauma experienced is usually one that has threatened a person’s safety. PTSD is seen in people returning from fighting in a war, or people who have been victims of violence or a natural disaster.
It’s normal to feel traumatized by significant life events such as surviving a severe car accident. It becomes pathological when the feelings of trauma, anxiety, panic, or sadness don’t fade with time. People who experience PTSD may feel like they are forever changed and suffer constant panic attacks, loss of sleep and social isolation.
Trauma and prolonged stress inevitably has a negative impact on overall health. PTSD has been linked to more physician visits in veteran populations.
There are many big moments in scientific discovery. Humans have explored our world and learned incredible things. We’ve discovered a giant asteroid belt circling a star 25 light-years from earth. We determined that disease comes from microorganisms.
We’ve explored the structure of an atom. And we can see bones inside our bodies as well as bombs inside suitcases.
Yet the human brain still remains very much a mystery. Recent advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have led to great gains in our understanding of the brain and how it functions.
But even so, scientists have not yet discovered all the types of cells that make up the brain and don’t yet know how they all function together.
There was a fascinating article that recently showed up on NBC News.com on June 2. It dealt with the overarching concept of resiliency possibly being rooted in childhood, and featured some survivor stories of recent tragedies of natural disasters. It presented that some people did well; others less so.
The article nicely brought a mental health issue with the potential to affect us all one step closer to the general public. As well, though, it pointed toward something fascinating — that in terms of causalities of mental health and illness, there is “nature and nurture” and then there is something else.
“Nature” widely has been understood to be our genetics; “nurture” our early life experiences. Human behavior has been catchphrased as shaped by these two for centuries.
But then there is brain chemistry. The genetics category, you say? Not so fast. Apparently it can be altered by early formative experience.
As I write this, our thoughts are with those in Boston who were affected by the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
In my 20 years living in the Boston area, I cheered on the runners on many occasions and now, even from far way, these events feel close to home.
Experiencing trauma can have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our minds. And although it’s a different experience to witness a trauma on television, it still can affect us.
When you perceive a threat, the body activates the stress response. The stress response occurs in both your body and brain.
The body’s response to acute stress is a preparation for emergency. Adrenaline and other hormones are released. The body shuts down processes associated with long-term care. When under immediate threat, digestion, reproduction, cell repair and other body tasks related to long-term functioning are unimportant.