Remission

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Regular readers of this blog know that I suffer from PTSD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 15 – that was 33 years ago. The anxiety diagnosis is somewhat more recent, and the PTSD is the most recently diagnosed, but its onset actually predates the bipolar disorder. My point here is that I’ve been dealing with these illnesses for a long time, and I’ve been in therapy to deal with them for years on end.

My therapy has been successful to varying degrees through the years. My current therapist and I have been working together every other week for a little less than three years, and she’s seen me through a lot.

She’s helped me discover tools that mitigate the rough spots when they occur, and talked me through some dark times. Over the last year or so, I’ve been steadily improving, and over the last six months or so I’ve improved so much it’s been like someone flipped a switch. This most recent change I attribute to a change in medication, but my therapist is quick to downplay the effect the meds have had on me, and just as fast to remind me that an awful lot of my improvement has been through my own education and efforts.

Today we met and discussed the trip to California. I told her about all that I saw and did, and then concentrated on three aspects of the trip – the party on Saturday night, the driving I did on Sunday morning, and the traffic that we encountered in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon. Each of these instances were a prime opportunity for my anxiety to open the floodgates to a bad downswing. Dealing with strangers in a social setting is something that I’ve avoided for as long as I can remember, yet on Saturday night I was practically a social butterfly. It wasn’t very long ago that I was only driving if it was absolutely necessary, and even then on familiar surface roads, and on Sunday morning I was excited to be out driving highways I was barely familiar with. While I wasn’t driving, the traffic in San Francisco was the worst gridlock I’ve ever experienced, and bad traffic is usually a trigger for my anxiety regardless of where I’m sitting in the car – but I handled it like it was nothing.

In short, it’s the most “normal” I’ve felt in a very long time.

My therapist was very pleased to hear how well the trip went, and how well classes are going as well, and she made a point of telling me what a long way I’ve come since I started seeing her. At the end of the session, we discussed my options for a follow-up appointment, and we agreed that we can start seeing each other on a monthly basis rather than biweekly.

I have never before been on a monthly schedule with any therapist.

Like so many other diseases, my illnesses are lifelong, and can be managed with medication and psychotherapy, but not truly cured. Being a once-monthly client is an acknowledgment that my symptoms are well under control at the present time. It’s about as close to remission as mental illnesses get. It’s an odd feeling, but not in a bad way at all. I’m not apprehensive about cutting back to once a month, something I’d have been terrified to do as recent as the start of 2017.

My follow-up is October 26, and we agreed that if something should go wrong in the meantime that I’m always free to call and schedule an interim appointment. We also agreed that if something happened that was particularly good I could text her to fill her in on the news.

It’s a really good feeling.


Oh, for those who have been following my activities of the week in my classes, tonight was my first closed-book algebra test. I think I did fairly well on it. There was one question that I’m pretty sure I got wrong, and a couple more I think I figured out, but other than that I’m comfortable with my performance. Of course, we’ll see how that goes once the grades come back.

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Random Thoughts 5/30/2017

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Today is the last day of my wife’s staycation. She took Friday and Tuesday off because we were planning on going out of town for the weekend, but her strep kept us home. So we’ve been taking it easy for days, just hanging out at home.

It’s been fun having her home. I love her company and we have fun together. I prefer her company to anyone else’s. She gets me, and I get her. Tomorrow’s going to be lonely without her.


Went to go get an MRI done on my knee tonight. Results will go to my orthopedist and my general practitioner, and I’ll hear back from the orthopedist on the 6th during my follow-up visit. I’m a little nervous. I expected this to be a fairly simple case where I’d be sent home with exercises to do to strengthen the joint and the muscles in it. But now with my kneecap broken, there’s no telling what else could be wrong in there.


It’s been some time since I’ve reported anything to do with my mental illnesses and my progress on them. Doesn’t really feel like I’ve made any progress lately, but realistically I know that I can’t always be moving forward. It’s fine for me to be pretty stationary, mentally speaking. Feeling like I’m in a rut means that I’m not regressing, so that’s a good thing. Hopefully I can start making some headway soon. I feel like I’m stagnating.

 

In Response to the House

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Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 217-213 in favor of H.R. 1628, otherwise known as the American Health Care Act. Here’s a bullet list of what NPR is reporting will be changing from current coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

  • The tax penalty for not being insured is being done away with. This will be a benefit to some people; however, since our income was deemed too low to assess the penalty, we will see no change in this from the ACA.
  • The bill encourages people to maintain their coverage by prohibiting insurance companies to charge premiums for pre-existing conditions if they stay insured. A lapse of more than 63 days, however, would allow the new insurance company to charge a 30% penalty over their premium over the first year of the policy. This means that if either of us has a lapse in insurance for a little over two months, due to a period of unemployment, perhaps, insurance will be significantly higher once reacquired, perhaps prohibitively so in our case.
  • “Both (the) Kaiser (Family Foundation) and the Congressional Budget Office found that, on average, older people with lower incomes would be worse off under the Republican plan than under the Affordable Care Act.” I’ll be 48 later this month. Kaiser’s interactive map shows that my premiums would increase by a little less than $1,000. That’s money that we can’t spare in our budget. In practice, I believe that the premium would increase more than that, since the map would only allow for 27-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 60-year-olds, and I went with the lower 40-year-old threshold since it was closer to my actual age.
  • The AHCA maintains protections for people with pre-existing conditions, with some important exceptions, the most notable of these being the state waiver. The AHCA allows for a full repeal of the ACA on a state-by-state basis, meaning that “States could apply for waivers that would allow insurance companies in their states to do three things: 1. Charge older people more than five times what they charge young people for the same policy; 2. Eliminate required coverage, called essential health benefits, including maternity care, mental health and prescription drugs, that were required under the Affordable Care Act; and 3. Charge more for or deny coverage to people who have pre-existing health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or arthritis.” I live in Texas. I am almost certain that Texas will be one of the very first states to apply for this waiver should this bill become law. I am older and would be gouged for that. My necessary mental health and prescription drugs coverage would be eliminated. And my (at least) ten pre-existing conditions (according to one of the multitude of lists being passed around social media) would likely cause me to be denied for coverage outright.

Now to the part of this that I wrote on Facebook earlier today, the part that really matters, in my eyes. If you’ve already read that post, you can stop here, but I really hope you’ll continue reading in order to see my words in the context of what is happening.

“I am on disability and Medicare. My disability states that a condition of me remaining on disability is that I maintain a working relationship with healthcare providers for my particular disability. If the AHCA passes, with all its pre-existing conditions, my Medicare premium will price itself out of the realm of me being able to afford it, which means that I’ll eventually disqualify myself for disability before I’m ready to return to the workforce, which means that the very little bit that I bring in financially will go away, which means that we won’t be able to make rent, which means we will eventually become homeless.

“All because it’s important for the insurance companies to make better profits.

“The people that voted for this legislation don’t care about stories like mine. But I’m not alone. There are thousands and thousands of people just like me, with the same concerns about keeping a roof over their head, because of the AHCA.

“And what if I do return to the workforce before I lose my eligibility? I’m working hard towards that goal, but it’ll be a year or more before I’m trained. What happens if the AHCA passes and I’m looking for work? One of the things that I’ll need to look at in a job is whether they offer healthcare coverage, because I’m on medications that if I don’t take them, I can very easily end up in the hospital, and medication isn’t affordable even now without insurance.

“Except I have no less than ten pre-existing conditions that I could find on what I’m sure is not a comprehensive list of all pre-existing conditions the AHCA includes. That means that my insurance would be far too costly for me to afford – which puts me right back into the situation of not taking the medications I need to keep me out of the hospital.

“Any way I look at this, if the AHCA passes intact, I’m not entirely certain I’ll live much longer.

“This is literally a life-and-death issue for me and so many others. And I’m angry that this is the situation that our elected officials have chosen for us to be in.

“I have the words to describe what this means to me, but I cannot adequately put into words just how I feel about this bill. Or how scared I am for the future because of it.”

The Senate says they’re going to introduce their own version of this bill. I can only hope that the Senate has more compassion than the House of Representatives’ version. The House’s version of this bill expects people to die earlier in order to reduce expenses for the insurance companies. That shows an exceptionally callous, uncaring attitude towards their constituents – one Congressman from Virginia went so far as to say that the people that he saw protesting this bill probably didn’t vote for him, and he saw nothing wrong with discounting what they had to say.

A friend of mine said it best. When did we start becoming voters and stop being constituents?

Then again, we are in an election cycle. Trump has already kicked off his re-election campaign, within days of being inaugurated. That makes us voters again, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to feel that the party in power doesn’t have my best interest in mind. But with the passing of the House bill, I feel like they’d prefer I just died and decreased the surplus population.

 

A Point of Pride

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Today kicks off National Mental Health Awareness Month. Four years ago today, I was fortunate to have a show on the radio and I gave it the theme of mental health and illness. Not only did all the songs fit the theme (Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” for instance) but I also very intimately discussed my own struggles with mental health and hospitalization. Because I knew the struggles that I would have with them, I took the extra step of scripting my talk breaks, something I hadn’t done before or since. It’s the hardest show I’ve ever done, emotionally speaking. The podcast of the show is still the only one of mine in five and a half years of broadcasting that I’ve made publicly available. It’s my proudest moment as a DJ.

The show had some unexpected results. In the years since, I’ve found out that a few of my  listeners that day found the courage within themselves to seek treatment for their own situations, and credit that show with giving them the strength to help themselves. To the best of my knowledge, all of them made a long-term commitment to their own mental health and all of them are still sticking with it years later.

When I get down on myself, my wife likes to remind me about that show and its benefits to others, to show me that I do make a difference in other people’s lives. It almost always helps to turn me around and get me back to a better place mentally.

So to those people that I helped that day – thank you for helping me in return. I am extraordinarily proud of the steps you’ve taken to find your own wellness. I know that sometimes the struggle is still there, but I’m very, very glad to know that you’re still fighting the good fight.

A Spark of Inspiration

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Today is my 46th birthday.

I spent last night in somewhat anguished contemplation and spirited debate with my wife about my role in society and whether I’m actually done, effectively retired.

After we kissed and made up (the spirited debate took the form of a shouting match, like it usually does whenever my symptoms are getting the better of me) I sat and thought some more about what I would want to do if education and money were no object.

I’d want to write, sure, but that’s more of a hobby right now. I mean something that will make a difference in the world.

For many years, I’ve had the idea of starting a non-profit organization that would help others with what became a growing list of causes – last-chance financial assistance to keep the lights on, the roof over their heads, food on the table, etc.; granting wishes to deserving people (i.e. getting someone who’s overcome a disability to rejoin the workforce a car to get them back and forth to work); and so on. The list at one point was five long and I knew that while I may want to help other people with a non-profit, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.

Then I read this blog post about the lack of scholarships that are available to people who suffer from mental illnesses. This was always something that was on the list of things that I wanted my charity to do, but never was the primary objective.

I read that blog post and realized that I need to start my charity, and it needs to be a scholarship fund for those with mental health issues.

To sum up one of the points the blog post makes, people with mental illnesses oftentimes find the linear progression of education a difficult thing. There are often interruptions due to what we often call a “bad day” but what it actually a flare-up of our symptoms. It’s hard to focus on that midterm when you can barely drag yourself out of bed to feed yourself. And a lot of times, scholarships and grants aren’t so accommodating when the results that perpetuate the funding are sidetracked by a mental health issue.

My charity would take that into consideration when granting scholarships. It would understand if there were struggles and really celebrate a student overcoming them and achieving academically.

I also found an article from Forbes about the basics of starting a charity. It’s obviously not in depth, but it gives me hope that I can start something despite not having the funding for it in my own pocket. That’s what’s kept me from starting this all this time (okay, that and the wandering mission statement).

So happy birthday to me. I think I might have discovered that my purpose in life is attainable.

And that’s the best birthday gift I could hope for.