7th September 2018 43. Being Busy – part 2

I have been busy of late.  I now have a job coach (through HertsMindNetwork) for people with disabilities.  He’s helping me reinvent myself as a freelance writer and together we have created a separate website with a portfolio of all my writing work  – sharonrosswrites.com.  He’s also funded me to go on some courses.  One of them was called ‘Writing for pleasure and profit’ – the tutor was amazing and said that to get an article published all you have to do was pitch your idea to an editor in a couple of sentences and then say a couple of sentences about yourself.  I had, for some time been thinking about writing an article about a Jewish approach to mental health but the course really gave me the impetus and confidence to share my ideas.  I wrote an email to the Jewish Chronicle pitching my idea and hey presto a few weeks later ‘How Judaism could do more to acknowledge mental health’ was published. I’ve also gone on a course about how to get a book published through an agent (ie not self-publishing) in the hope that one day I can publish this blog.  The conclusion of the course – writing a book is one task but getting a book published is a quite separate activity that takes a lot of hard work and even if you do get published you probably won’t be able to earn a living from it.

I’ve also found someone who is trying to help me organise myself and my family.  To be honest, it seems like a lost cause.  I now have a laminated meal planner on my kitchen cupboard with pictures of all the meals that we are supposed to eat on each day of the week – but I never ‘see’ the planner.  I know theoretically it is there, but I just am not aware of it when I’m standing in the kitchen trying to work out what we should have for dinner. Nevertheless, the two of us are persevering, in the hope that we find one strategy that will make a difference.

It’s also been the summer holidays and I’ve had three growing children to occupy.  We’ve got through it and that is some sort of achievement. Still with all this and making bespoke meals for myself every day on the ketogenic diet (I celebrate my one year on the diet in a couple of weeks!), and with the up and coming Jewish festival season, I don’t feel busy.  After analyzing what other people say they think about when they feel busy I have concluded that feeling busy involves proactively thinking ahead at the tasks that you need to do to achieve your goals; problem solving when difficulties arise; breaking down large tasks into smaller ones and also getting anxious as to whether you can meet your targets.  But I live I live in a fog. I don’t think these things – I just do exactly what I need to do when I need to do it and I get stuff done.  Although, some people crave for a world with little anxiety, in practice it’s no fun at all. However, despite my internal lack of busy thoughts I do realise that slowly, slowly I am making progress.  My life is somehow moving on.

On the medical front things are also moving forward – although not in the direction that I expected.  I tried the CBD oil for three months (in the end not from the naturopath but from a well-known brand that has a reputation for treating epilepsy). I had not noticed any differences in my cognitive function but I was still hopeful.  ‘What if,’ I thought to myself ‘the CBD oil was changing the electrical activity in my brain but because I am taking the anti-epileptic drugs, which in some way disinhibit my brain functioning, I don’t notice any improvement the oil was making.’  So, I had an EEG and the results – no change in my epileptiform activity after being on the CBD oil.  No change at all.

I spoke to my neurologist after reading the EEG report.  ‘Is there anything else you could do for me?’ I asked.  ‘No’, she replied honestly.  ‘What about medical marijuana?’ I asked.  ‘As you know the UK government has now set up a special panel, where on a case-by-case basis they will consider giving a licence to prescribe this drug.  Do you think that this panel would consider that I have a good case for a licence?’  ‘It is unlikely,’ she said.  ‘There is evidence that medical marijuana can treat ethe epilepsies Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome[1] but there is not enough evidence to say it will treat your type of epilepsy.  I think it is unlikely that they will grant you a licence.  However, if you would like I can refer you to the professor at the hospital who specialises in medical marijuana to get a second opinion.’  ‘Ok,’ I said. But I realised that she was probably right in what she was saying.  The panel would probably not grant me a licence – there just isn’t enough evidence that it would work for me at the moment (see endourpain.org for details of the process of granting licenses).

But as you might have realised, I’m not one to give up easily.  My motto has been – if something doesn’t work – try something else.  But I am slowly getting to the very bottom of the list of available alternative treatments.  Nevertheless, it’s still worth continuing to see if I can find a solution to my problems.  So – my next treatment is neurofeedback.  I found out about it on a website about alternative treatments for epilepsy. There is some research evidence to say that it works but the reason why this modern gal knows that I am really hitting the bottom treatments available is because there are very few Facebook groups about neurofeedback, and the ones that are there are not very active.

As I understand it in a neurofeedback session the clinician firstly takes an advanced type of EEG to understand the brain’s electrical activity.  The patient is then set ‘training targets’  – ie areas of my brain that could do with improvement. The treatment will involve watching a computer game or continuous movie stream and, just like Pavlov’s dog, when my brain’s activity is meeting those targets, the patient will start winning the game or will watch the movie continuously.  When the brain activity drifts from these targets the patient will lose the game or the movie will be disrupted.  Over many sessions (which can be 2-3 per week), the theory is, the brain will begin to regulate itself (The centre I am going to also offers biofeedback and non-invasive brain stimulation and I will let you know more about these if I am given these treatments). Does all this sound a bit whacky?  No more whacky than putting a chemical pill in your mouth or getting a stranger to open up your brain and fiddle around with its insides.  No-one really knows how the brain works – and sometimes you just have to do things a little ‘outside the box’ to get the desired result.

So just after the Jewish New Year, I will start a new journey, of I hope (and pray) renewal.  It will keep me busy.  I will let you know what happens.

Happy new year and well over the fast to all those who celebrate.

[1] https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/other-treatment-approaches/medical-marijuana-and-epilepsy

15. 25th September 2016 – Equality for Mental Health and I have a diagnosis

There has been a lot of good work done to get mental health on an equal footing with physical health – for example those who have are mentally ill can now claim benefits and are covered under the Equality Act. However, there is work that the general public can do without the need of the likes of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  Today I present three ways that everyone can help achieving equality in mental health – through talking about it, through prayer (or thinking about those in distress) and through funding research.

Firstly – by talking about it.  And by this I don’t mean having a heart-to-heart about your problems – although just talking about your difficulties to someone else is obviously very important.  I mean just normalising talking about mental health.  I’m an experienced mental healthite so I was happy to ‘come out’ but if it’s your first time you just hide under a bush in embarrassment because you feel that no-one else could possibly understand (It’s easier to come out as gay).  And that’s a bit silly because one in four people have a mental health problem every year. So you know lots of people  with a mental health problem – they just haven’t told you about it.  In the 22nd century I pray it will be normal for a colleague who you don’t know that well to say ‘How are you?’ and you will feel quite safe to reply ‘I went to the GP yesterday because I was a depressed and he gave me some tablets’. ‘I am sorry,’ your colleague will reply. ‘I was depressed last year – I started exercising and it really helped.  I’ll be thinking of you.  Get well.’

Which brings me very nicely onto the second  piece of work that the public can do – pray/ think about/ send good wishes to people with mental health difficulties in the same way that you would people with physical symptoms.   As I have tried to describe mental health difficulties can reduce the quality of a person’s life just as much as physical ones – and you can also die or be physically harmed by them.  If a friend has a serious physical illness you might say ‘I’ll be thinking of you’ or ‘I’ll pray for you’.  Why can’t the same wishes be sent to someone with a mental health difficulty?  On online support groups for depression and epilepsy often a member will write a message telling the group of their distress and there is a beautiful tendency of other complete strangers to say that they are thinking or praying for them.  And thus we would know if there was equality in mental health if it became common place for those nearer to home sent these type of wishes to their loved ones in distress.

And lastly – donating money to mental health research charities would do a lot to get mental health on an footing with physical health.  I have now been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder (which I will talk about next).  This is after nearly twenty years of being in the mental health system and having been diagnosed with all sorts of weird and wonderful things before.  And I know that I am not alone with misdiagnosis – People can come into a psychiatrist’s office with generalised anxiety disorder and go out with bipolar or come in with depression and go out with social phobia.  It takes a long time to achieve the correct diagnosis and without the correct diagnosis the illness is difficult to treat.  Research into achieving the correct diagnosis is one of three research priorities put forward by the charity https://www.mqmentalhealth.org. The second one is understanding the effectiveness of therapies for each condition – because there is little point in correct diagnosis if there is not effective treatment.  Finally in the knowledge that 75%of mental health conditions start before the age of 18 there needs to be more understanding of what makes children ‘at risk’.  The charity also state that at the moment mental health only receives 5.8% of the health research spend (in the UK). And although there are charities like MQ for every £1 spent by government on mental health research the general public donates 0.3p. The equivalent for cancer is £2.75.  Therefore, a sign of equality for mental and physical health would be that charities like MQ research became ones that the general public were aware of and gave to generously.

In other news

I went to my expert neuropsychiatrist and he said something like – ‘ I am diagnosing you with a dissociative disorder.  You are distant from the world.  Although you have epilepsy what you are experiencing are not epileptic seizures. You are having pseudo-epileptic seizures.  You are depressed.  You have had some trauma in your life that needs to be unearthed.  Take some anti-depressants, exercise, eat well, plan to do something exciting and come back in three months’ time when you have figured out what’s wrong with you.  I will put you on a waiting list to see a therapist in six to nine months’ time’.  As I said – I believe that the diagnosis is correct – I am dissociative.  It’s just I don’t believe the cause.  I believe that my illness is neurological and not psychological, as he suggested. So I am still on my search down the crumbling dirty track road, looking for my pot of gold.  However, as I have said, diagnosis is key, and now that I have been correctly diagnosed I have been recommended the name of an expert in dissociative disorders and I am trying to track him down.

 

11. 12th August 2016 On Miracles

On miracles

So the miracle that I wanted to happen didn’t happen – I didn’t get to see the doctor I wanted to see  and, rather grudgingly, I have to accept that G-d works in mysterious ways, of which I am never going to understand.

However,  another very important miracle did happen to me this week and whilst thinking about miracles I have concluded that there are three reactions that people, including myself,  have towards them (I calls these ‘attitudes to gratitude’).  The first is the Ferrari type reaction. And this was the reaction I had to my miracle this week. My miracle was this – my daughter got potty trained.  Let’s face it with my organisational skills and the memory of a goldfish potty training was never going to happen.  But my daughter was ready and all she really needed was a little bit of help.  So piff puff poof – the miracle happened and someone I didn’t know well (and not someone who knew my problems) , but who was looking after her,  was offered to train her.  Now miracles don’t just happen by themselves – the sea would not have split unless Moses had actually got there – I had to find this person and this person and this person had to offer.  So I thank G-d, from the bottom of my heart, that together Her help, my help and the stranger’s help my daughter has now  been potty trained.

The second attitude to gratitude is this:- thanking without thinking.  A lot of people do this – whether they are religious or not eg they say ‘My father recovered from his operation, thank G-d’ ‘My daughter is going to get married, thank G-d’ ‘It’s a miracle that you ever got here considering the traffic was so bad’.  In Judaism there are plenty of opportunities to thank without thinking – you can say a prayer before and after you eat food, a prayer after seeing a rainbow, a prayer when you wake up and before you go to sleep and another most excruciatingly after you go to the toilet (NB – you are not allowed to say it in the toilet – you have to come outside and then tell everyone, by the fact that you are whispering the rather long prayer , that you have done a number one or number two). But for me most of the time (and I’m sure for a lot of other people) these types of thank yous are superficial – they are just a tone of phrase. It’s like saying thank you to your mum for making you a cup of tea – you don’t really mean ‘Thank you mum. You have gone to an awful lot of effort – firstly you thought to ask me if I was thirsty then you switched on the kettle and got out the mug that I like, the teabag, the milk and the sugar  etc etc’ .Thanking without thinking is often just being polite.

And then there is the third attitude to gratitude – Nothing. It’s as if I didn’t say thank you for the tea my mum made or I didn’t think how ‘lucky’ I was that my daughter got potty trained. Even if I didn’t believe in G-d, surely it is polite just to be thankful for something inconsequential or very important, to give me a sense that I am not in control of everything and something else has given me a good turn.

In noticing these three attitudes I realise that the preferred option is Ferrari – to be genuinely grateful for seemingly inconsequential (ie to come out of the toilet and to be genuinely grateful for the ability to function as you have and to meaningful say a prayer or a little thank you to the Power that Exists in the World) and larger acts (that my daughter has been potty trained).  However, thanking without thinking, to some extent does the trick but not being grateful ever for absolutely anything is probably going to make you miserable your whole life. So even in my wholly unpleasant situation, I am trying to have the Ferrari attitude to gratitude.  It keeps me going in difficult times.

In other news – there isn’t much I am afraid.  I was hopeful that the ‘It isn’t what you know but who you know’ approach might work, since someone I knew, knew someone else who knew someone else who was very important in the world of epilepsy.  However all that person can do is refer me to the person that I already have an appointment with in mid-October.  This October doctor is apparently the only person in the country that can help me (if anyone knows anyone who knows anyone who knows someone who knows about cognition/ executive functioning and epilepsy/ neurological diseases in this country or abroad please let me know).  So whilst I am waiting for my appointment and if I get my act together I am going to go to a naturopathic pharmacy and get the ‘medication’ that the naturopathic doctor has prescribed for me and see if that helps me.

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And for those observing Tisha B’av a little story – My son wants to be a builder when he grows up.  His biggest ambition is to repair the Western Wall because it has holes in it, where people put their ‘wishes’. He is very sad about the fact that it is broken.  My son is hoping that with his skills, and G-d’s help it will be rebuilt speedily within his days.

https://knightstemplarinternational.com/2017/10/miracles/