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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wellness is up to ME







May 1st kicks off National Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition, I thought I would share my experience in the area of mental health to demystify some of the fears many have regarding getting help when you find yourself having trouble coping with life and the struggles that impact us all at one time or another. Today, all are realizing that medical and mental health are intertwined so learning how to balance both is important if we are going to be well.

First, we all need to know that we are not alone in our fears and feelings. Statistics show that about 42.5 million Americans (or 18.2 percent of the population (adults and children) suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

In general, most of us function and get by in our day to day activities despite feeling blue, tired, afraid or worried. Usually, something good will happen, or a friend or family member will send us a card, and it helps us to get back on an ‘even keel’. These bouts are individual to each of us, so we need to be mindful of this and try not to compare ourselves to others.

Data compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), indicates that approximately 9.3 million adults, or about 4 percent of those Americans ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental illness”. That is, their condition impedes day-to-day activities, such as going to work or caring for their families.

The message I hope you take away from this post is that wherever you find yourself, know there is hope, and help is available. Seeking the help might not be easy to find, but it is out there!

Here is my story.

When I was going through my treatment for a central nervous system brain tumor last year, I was scared, worry and fatigued. The chemo kicked my butt and caused me to sleep too much, not eat right, made me dependent on my husband and forced me to quit my job that was an important part of my life. Many times I felt that I was not in control, and I was not sure what the future held.

When I was an inpatient at Sylvester Cancer Center for my inpatient treatments, the doctors always asked me how I was doing when they made rounds.  I usually gave them the expected answer and said that I was ok but one time, I told my doctor that I was worried and scared. I told him I was afraid the tumor would come back and scared that the life I had led up until them was going to change drastically and what would that mean to me, to my husband and our life. He did not sit down and talk to me but rather told someone on the team to order a psych consult. He told me that someone would come in and talk to me and left the room.  As a nurse, I knew this was how the scenario usually played out, but as a patient, I just wanted him to sit down on my bed, and talk to me, maybe hold my hand and tell me it was going to be ok. This did not happen – so I went back to sleep.

A few hours later, a doctor came into my room and introduced herself. She was a psychiatrist from the Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology at Sylvester. I said hello and thanked her for coming to see me so soon. She said that she had a cancellation in her schedule, so she wanted to come up and see me as requested by my doctors. She asked if she could sit down and talk. My husband was in the room so she asked if I wanted to be alone or could my husband stay. I said yes, I wanted him to stay.

We started talking in a relaxed way that made me feel good. I felt instantly comfortable with her and found myself opening up to her about the things that were on my mind. My husband also shared his thoughts and fears. As we talked, the doctor listened and asked follow-up questions. Once we finished,  she said that she thought I was handling things as well as could be expected. She explained that what I was going through was difficult, but in my conversations with her, she saw that I had hopes and dreams. The fear and anxiety that I felt were ‘normal.' She said she did not think I needed any medication at this time but did want to see me again. She told me she was going to make an appointment for me to see her in a few weeks at the Courtelis Center. She gave us her card and said to call if we needed anything. I thanked her for coming and that I appreciated her insights. My husband said we would see her in a few weeks and would call if anything came up. After she had left, my husband and I talked about the visit and that we were grateful that we had the opportunity to meet this doctor and share our thoughts. We both agreed it helped. Shortly after, I was able to be discharged. I felt more in control of my emotions as I realized that the feelings I had were ok.

My next experience with a mental health professional occurred when I was in rehabilitation as a patient at Health South. In this case, I saw a psychologist as part of the treatment team caring for me. One day, a women stopped by my room, introduced herself and explained that she wanted to evaluate me. I said ok, and we proceeded to talk about my rehab, how I felt about things and my concerns. I shared I felt I was making progress in rehab and getting stronger, but was worried about the complications from the chemo and the fact that I was having trouble walking and did not have a clear understanding if this would resolve or become a lifelong disability. The doctor gave me some insights that made sense to me and helped me see things in a different light. She told me she would update the team in the next staffing and that she would see me again. She left her card so I could follow-up as needed.

Both experiences were positives steps in my treatment. Both sessions gave me confidence and hope for moving forward. I only saw each doctor a few times, but knowing they were there for me, gave me a secure feeling.

Today, I am one-year post chemotherapy and rehabilitation. As I have shared previously, my tumor remains in remission, and I am getting involved in more and more activities, but my life is not the same. I remain hopeful, but realistic as far as the nerve damage and chemo induced neuropathy and realize that these may be permanent.  I am adjusting to my life and trying to stay active in spite of my challenges. I try to focus on what I can do versus what I can't do.

I realize that as I am still adjusting and reaching out to a mental health professional is a good idea. I realize this as they are trained to listen and are objective. They can listen in a way many of the other professionals don't and share ideas and insights that can help you think in a more positive manner.

I realize more and more that maintaining my health and wellness are up to ME, and I have to be proactive in searching out members of the team who can assist me.  In addition to the visits with the psychologists, some of the other things I have found helpful is in improving wellness is to participate in a Water Aerobics class at ‘my happy place’ Central Park Pool.  I also walk with my friends at the Sawgrass Mills. We walk about 2 miles a day. I have found these things as a good way to share time with others while exercising. I know that these activities are helping me both physically and mentally.

I also try to get a good night sleep and eat better as I know it is important. Recently I have been introduced to a series of wellness classes at one of the Satellite centers of the University of Miami, Sylvester Cancer Center near my home. The programs are just starting, but they are very interesting and another way I can improve my health and well-being.

As I ease back to my ‘professional life’ I am looking for projects that are important to me and allow me to contribute in areas that are important to me. I try to minimize the stress in my life. I also try to avoid people who are negative as it is not healthy for me.  I have a good circle of family, friends, and colleagues that I keep in touch. Am I 100%, no, but I am working one day at a time at it.

In closing, if you are feeling low, overwhelmed, or depressed talk to a friend or family member you trust Also, please think about getting professional help. It is important, and you are worth it!

Here are some resources that have helped me on my journey. Take some time to explore them and share with others who might benefit. To access a website to learn more about the topic, place your cursor over the bolded text to get the URL.

A Proclamation from our President, Barak ObamaMental Health Awareness Month

National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Wellness Coaching: Margaret Moore. Margaret has been a leader and mentor in the area of wellness coaching. If you are interested in this growing field, check out this site.

Exercise, Yoga, and Relaxation Exercise: fun ways to achieve Well-being either in a group, with a friend or alone. Click here to access the site and learn about the wellness classes offered through the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center. See if you have something similar in your community.

The Heroines Choir: this is another group I have gotten involved with recently that has had a positive impact on my life since becoming a cancer patient. The Heroines Choir is a group of Breast Cancer Survivors who come together and sing at local community and sporting events. It is well researched that signing is very healing to the mind and body. The choir has been very welcoming to me. Click here to check out their website. If you would like to start a choir in your area email me for some ideas.

Lets Talk About Suicide: Language Matters  An interesting article from the Journal of Social Work on Suicide.

Social Media: Facebook and other social media sites provide a way to share your thoughts and information that you have found helpful. It reminds you we are all in this together!  

Jesus Calling by Sarah YoungAn inspirational book given to me by a good friend. I have found solace and comfort from reading the passages each day.

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I also invite you to leave a comment below. Your comments help me know that what I am sharing is relevant and useful to you, the patient, the caregiver or member of the healthcare team. Any suggestions are also appreciated.

Have a good week!