More Than A Label: LGBT+ Mental Health

Everyone is made differently- looks, personality, likes, dislikes and even sexuality.

Some of us are attracted to men and women, some are attracted to those of the same sex. Some don’t have romantic attraction towards anyone. There are even people that are attracted to men, women, non-binary people and others.

This is okay. We can’t help who we fall in love with.

I haven’t written a lot about sexuality, but it’s Pride Month. It’s somewhat out of my scope but I’m willing to discuss it.

I previously wrote a post about this topic –Talking About Pride

However, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community can lead to some issues that aren’t always given a lot of attention.

This is My Scope of Knowledge

Mental health issues are common in today’s world, and being seen as “different” can add to an existing condition or even lead to symptoms of a new diagnosis.

Anxiety

Those that identify as non-heterosexual are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than others – this is the same for adults and teens. This can be a result of issues in home life, school/career and other areas of life. Anxiety is hard enough to handle without questioning your sexuality. Anxiety, of course can lead to other issues, as in depression, drug use and even suicidal ideations.

Coming out to friends and family can be a cause of stress alone. A person might be fully ready to live their life but the idea of telling those they are close to can be difficult. This isn’t to say coming out makes these issues disappear, but it helps.

Depression

Depression is very common in the community. Having to keep your sexuality a secret can be devasting, and so can having to pretend to be someone else. It eats away at your soul and can lead to some very dark thoughts. Not being able to share the person you love is also painful.

Sometimes people become depressed or it worsens after coming out. This can be a result of a negative response to the announcement. There are still many people who don’t agree with the “lifestyle” and can be very judgemental towards people who aren’t heterosexual, even if it is their own child. These thoughts of not being loved/accepted can spiral into actions that endanger lives- substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, etc.

For the record, I do not care if my kids are gay, bisexual, or anything else on the spectrum. As long as they find someone who they are happy with and they’re treated well, then I am good.

For some reason, those who identify as bisexual are diagnosed with depression more than those who identify as a different sexuality. One in four bisexual people in a study have been diagnosed with depression at some point. Other sexualities have lower rates. Some of this has to do with support, or lack thereof, especially at school and/or at home.

This is why it’s so importatnt to support the LGBT+ people in your life, no matter how old they are. It’s hard to reach out for the help you need when you feel as if a therapist will judge you or even not see you because of your sexuality.

Teens go through a lot of changes as it is, and figuring this out can be difficult. Teens struggle more if their school is not a supportive place for them, because they may feel they have nowhere to turn.

Bullying is already a topic that many are familiar with. This can be excruciating for teens that identify as LGBTQ+. It just adds to the feelings of not being good enough, or shame at being “different”. It also makes a teen feel unsafe in a place that they should feel safe. Having to defend yourself 5 days a week can be physically and emotionally draining.

The Importance of Community

I can’t stress this enough- if you are reading this and you need LGBTQ+ support, in any way, please reach out. There will be resources at the end of this post.

It’s not healthy to feel like or even try to go through life alone. Everyone needs someone they can tell about really good or even really bad dates. People need to belong. It’s a basic need.

The feeling you get when you are around others that understand you is wonderful. It’s nice to know you are not the only one.

Resources:

LGBTQ Information on Addiction and Suicide

HRC

LGBTQ Youth Hopkins Medicine

MHA

LGBT Community Mental Health

Pictures courtesy of Unsplash

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and behavior health technician, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What?

This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like.

I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it.

Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure.

My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Humor from Gordon Ramsay

Many of us are harder on ourselves than we are on others.

I’m guilty of this. If someone I know is anxious, sad, whatever, I’m gentle and encouraging. I might even give a pep talk.

(Thanks, Granddad.)

When it comes to being that way towards myself…nope, not so much. Isn’t this weird?

I’m working on self-talk and changing negative thoughts in therapy. The meds also help.

Are you hard on yourself but gentle with others? Let’s discuss.

How Do Co-Morbid Disorders Operate?

It can feel draining, to say the least, to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This can feel even more so if you have more than one. Sometimes these disorders operate independently of the other OR you can show symptoms of both regularly.

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Stay with me..

The term co-morbid (according to Lexico/OED) means that a person has two or more conditions simultaneously. In my terms, it means that a person has two diagnoses at the same time- for example, many people with addiction (of any kind) also have anxiety, depression or another mental health diagnosis. That diagnosis can lead to addiction. Some people aren’t aware of this until being seen for a substance abuse issue, like going into a rehabilitation program. This can also apply to medical terms – for example, I have rheumatoid arthritis and migraines. Both are chronic conditions and on bad days, I’m in pain and have a migraine. (This is no fun at all, but thankfully, it doesn’t happen much, it’s usually one or the other.)

In fact, many of those diagnosed with depression also have another mental health diagnosis, usually an anxiety-related disorder. It’s thought that both disorders have similar mechanisms in the brain so that they appear together. Some co-morbid disorders can be harder to treat because they do show up at the same time. The symptoms can be more severe than they would be in a single diagnosis. More information can be found at NAMI

Things can get a bit complicated with multiple diagnoses. When you are seeing a roster of specialists, sometimes things can slip through the cracks- medication refill issues, remaining compliant with medications and other treatment, etc. All prescribing doctors need to know all of the medications you are taking so that there are no interactions. Some interactions can be serious or deadly.

Example: Cameron had a severe migraine for two days. I called his headache doctor and she was hesitant to prescribe steroids (which are commonly used) because he has SVT. She didn’t want to take the chance of the steroids causing an episode. I appreciated her concern about this- nobody wants to go to the ER for an episode.

It’s important to pay attention to your symptoms so that if things change, you can get help as soon as possible to lessen the impact on your body and life.

Some of this information can be found on Very Well Mind

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There isn’t a lot of research out there on co-morbid disorders, most research is based on a single disorder. This leaves a lot of room for more research and understanding how disorders go together.

It’s 2020. I’m sure this is coming for us and will allow those with co-morbid disorders to live happier lives.

 

 

The Road to Authenticity

I have written a lot about being yourself and being vulnerable, no matter how hard it may be. I’ve struggled a lot with accepting myself, flaws and all. It wasn’t until I met Jake that I realized that being me is the best thing to be. It took knowing him to realize that Being You is a SuperPower.

There is No Carbon Copy

The definitions of authenticity vary by who you ask and what you read, but the official definition from Webster’s is: real or genuine: not copied or false. : true and accurate. : made to be or look just like an original.

I’ll take that. I’m definitely an original, there isn’t another person who looks like me, except for maybe Julian. He comes pretty close. My personality can’t be copied, and I don’t have the ability to be false or “fake”.

I spent a few years hiding my true feelings pain, anger, sadness and hiding my personality. I felt it was necessary because it wasn’t helping the situation I was in. I wasn’t being appreciated for who I was- I was being torn down no matter what I did, no matter what I said.

I felt like I wasn’t the person I was supposed to be anymore. I simply stopped being me, but I wasn’t happy that way. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be. Instead, I became guarded, anxious, and quiet. Anyone who knows me at all knows that is not in my DNA.

I’ve been loud since I was able to talk, except for a very bad strep throat/laryngitis episode in eighth grade and post-thyroid surgery in 2017. I was unable to talk above a whisper for a couple of weeks during both times and that was not fun. I felt as if I was sinking to the bottom of the ocean without a lifesaver. I was drowning with no one to save me.

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I was saved- and I am forever grateful to Jake. I don’t think he ever realized what he did for me. I was told he died knowing how much I cared for him, and that has helped me immensely.

He once told me that he wanted me to be myself as much as possible around him and that opened the floodgates. I needed to be myself again, in a safe space, with someone who cared about me.

I can’t say this was the right way to do it. He understood me in a way few people have. Slowly, I allowed him to see my feelings and thoughts, and not once did he use them against me. He knew what it was like to be hurt deeply, and while other things occurred between us that wasn’t so great, he didn’t go too far in this way.

Carefully Stepping Forward

After Jake’s death, I re-examined my life in a lot of ways. One of those ways was whether to stay with Matthew. In that decision, I also had to think about letting him back in again. I would have to be vulnerable with him, let him see the strong person I had become.

He would have to see that I had regained my self-respect, and was working on regaining my self-esteem and self-worth. This meant that things would have to change between us and if he couldn’t accept it, our marriage was done. I wouldn’t stay for him to hurt me as he had in the past.

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I had to also admit where I had been wrong. I’d broken a few rules of marriage- it’s somewhat of a miracle that Matthew still speaks to me, much less stayed.

I’m sure that this was a hard decision for him, but it was his to make, and I am delighted that he did. We had to do a lot of work to stay together and even now it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a lot better than where we were before 2013.

This process set off an intense internal battle. I didn’t want to try this- what if I stayed, let him see me this way and I got hurt all over again? There was no way I could handle this. There was no way I wanted to see how that would end.

I didn’t even want to take the chance. I had already decided to stay, but I was still very guarded. I talked to my therapist extensively about this fear- it was a justified fear, considering Matthew’s past abuse. I made a list of the things that I was afraid of Matthew seeing from me:

  • Crying
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness/that he had said or done something to hurt me
  • Being overwhelmed (this was one of the biggest issues in the past)
  • Being open about my feelings, then him using them against me

I had changed and I wasn’t about to go backward. I was happy being myself again.

The Turtle-Like Process

With the help of my therapist, I did let Matthew see who I had become. I figured that if I stayed, I may as well let him see who I had become. It was a slow process because I still had terrible memories in my mind. I’m well aware of the fact that they will be with me for a long time. I took small steps because that’s all I could handle.

I think Matthew got a bit frustrated, but I was dealing with a lot. In a way, it was his own fault- he was the one who hurt me, so he would have to wait for me to heal. I reminded him more than once that it wasn’t an overnight process and that I needed time. I did have slips, in which I would shut down entirely, stopped talking to him when I should have talked more. This caused arguments and didn’t go well.

Being honest with yourself is not always pretty. You have to look really deep inside, at all the things you’ve done, good or bad. At that point, it’s time to hold yourself accountable for the screwups, apologize to those you’ve hurt (or at least try), and try to move forward.

Most importantly, try to forgive yourself. This part can be hard- it was very hard for me to forgive myself for hurting Matthew and the damage that I caused to our marriage.

It’s not easy to become authentic, especially around the person who broke you. It takes a lot of adjustment on both sides. The changes are real- it may not turn out the way you hope. Many hide behind fear of not being liked or loved like I did. That fear does fade away. I can’t say when it does, but it will as you change. I am much happier being me and not hiding.

I do have times in which I tend to hide my sadness a bit, but many others do so. That is something to be worked on. It is refreshing to just be myself- even my sense of humor has improved, and I’ve always been funny. I don’t hold a lot back, and most of the people around me appreciate this. I know I do.

Have you tried being more authentic? Do you think it would make you happier? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pic courtesy of Pinterest