Bipolar blog

Free Drug Samples – Do they Cost More in the Long-Run?

→ November 16, 2011 - 8 Comments

I was recently made aware of an article on MSNBC which alleges free drug samples provided by doctors actually end up costing the patient more money over time. This, of course, is completely counter-intuitive, and I, not in the habit of taking health information from news sources, looked it up.

And yes, it is, in fact, the case that some studies indicate that those who get free drug samples from their doctor actually end up paying more money in the long-run.

How can this possibly be?

Glad you asked.

Do Free Drug Samples Cost the Consumer More Money?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

First off, for some reason insured and higher-income folks tend to receive more drug samples than their uninsured and less-income counterparts. (Although not all research agrees on this point.) Why? Well, I’m not sure, but if I had to guess I’d say that rich (or insured) people go to nicer clinics where there are more free drug samples to pass around. Poorer (or uninsured) folks tend to go to less expensive clinics where more people are vying for the same number of free drug samples. But that is just a guess on my part.

And while it’s convenient not to go to the drugstore (and sometimes even necessary due to severity of illness) and additionally convenient to trial several drugs for free before settling on one for which to pay, really it’s those who can’t afford drugs that should be receiving the free samples (if you ask me).

Secondly, some studies report that by providing free drug samples, the patient’s out-of-pocket expenses for drugs actually increases.

Well, Maybe Free Drug Samples Don’t Cost More Money

Free Drug Samples and Prescribing Practices

Of course, depending on the study, some researchers have shown that free drug samples do, in fact, cost patients less, although the benefit may be marginal.

Free Drug Samples are Marketing Tools

And whether you believe free drug samples cost patients more money or not, make no mistake about it, “free” drug samples are, in fact, marketing tools. Pharmacology companies aren’t providing free samples out of the goodness of their heart (assuming they have one), they are providing free drug samples because they know that it increases the chance that their branded medication will be prescribed over their generic medication. And research definitely bears this last point out. (This may be even more true for psych meds.)

And naturally, while generics can be every bit as effective as brand medication, drug companies don’t make money on generics – only their brand. (Although generics are very good for the consumer, costing up to 80% less than the brand name in the United States. In case you were wondering, the difference is only about 20% in Canada because we don’t allow the kind of brand name prices seen in the US.)

Are Free Drug Samples Good or Bad?

Considering the conflicting information, I believe it comes down to the prescriber. Some doctors are quite capable of making good free drug sample providing decisions and this can lower the prescription cost, particularly for those who are needy. However, free drug samples can affect prescribing practices in negative ways and not only cost more money but stick you with a brand medication when a generic might be just as good.

So, me personally? I’m a fan of free drug samples. I think it’s the only way that many people could receive the medications they are currently on. But it comes down to the responsibility of the healthcare provider – as prescriptions always do.

Mental Illness Words You Can’t Say

→ November 14, 2011 - 52 Comments

Mental Illness Words You Can’t Say

As a writer I take claim to any and all words. They are mine and I do with them as I please. This includes mental illness / mental health terms. However, some people would argue that as a mental health writer and advocate, it is my responsibility to promote certain language and verbiage.

I did not agree to that.

I agreed to be a writer. I agreed to be opinionated. I agreed to be passionate. I agreed to be well-researched. I agreed to be intelligent. I did not agree to push a political agenda.

Mental Illness Words You Can’t Say

Nevertheless, people still insist that I not use the following words / phrases:

  • Whackjob
  • Nutjob
  • Nutbar
  • Crazy
  • Bonkers
  • Off his rocker
  • Mentally unstable
  • “The mentally ill”
  • Bipolars
  • “I’m bipolar”

And about a million other things. The politically correct people have told me I’m not allowed to refer to anyone’s mental capacity in anything but the most politically correct way. Which is, in case you were wondering, a person with a mental illness or a person with bipolar disorder, etc.

Again, not to flog a horse that happens to be dead, but I have poetic license which means I get to do whatever I want with words.

I’m Bipolar. I’m Crazy. Sue Me.

I’ve talked about saying I’m bipolar before. I do not consider this to be belittling or stigmatizing and I’m sorry that you do, but that’s really not my problem. It’s a proper English statement with actual English words and if you don’t like it, feel free to take it up with Funk and Wagnells.

This is similar to the statement of I’m crazy. I am. It’s just the way it is. It’s reality. I’m using the words in a proper English fashion. Sue me.

Creative Terms for Crazy

And given all the political correctness in the world I certainly can’t use a term like whackjob or nutbar. Except, of course, that I do. I don’t use the terms liberally, I don’t apply them to the mentally ill, but I do use them. Because they’re words and I need words in order to express what I’m trying to say.

(In the case of something like bonkers I’m referring to someone with a tenuous grasp on logic, reason and sanity, which is not to say mentally ill. The most mentally well person can be nutbar – trust me.)

Words You Aren't Allowed to Say Mental Illness

But I’m Offended!

Sorry to hear that. But perhaps you could respect a writer’s right to actually use words for self-expression. When I start using actual mental health terminology in a degrading way you can call me on it. Until then, I’m not terribly interested.

I’m Passionate. I Eschew Political Correctness.

One of the things people like (or perhaps loathe) about me is that I am passionate. That I am insanely (yes) attached to ideas and concepts and am willing to say so in a way that makes sense for me. And that doesn’t fall within the bounds of political correctness. Art never does. Poetry never does. Shakespeare never did. Political correctness forces tepidity. I have no intention of being tepid.

Fine Then, I Don’t Respect You

I’m sorry to hear that. But that’s OK by me. If you read more than a smattering of my work then you’ll know who I am – virulently defendant of me and my kind. And if that isn’t enough for you to respect, because you don’t approve of the letters that make up a sentence, that’s your prerogative. But I’m not going to stop because the political winds blow. I have no desire to offend but I do have desire to describe. And I’m going to do that in the best ways I know how.

The Daily Athenaeum Response Regarding the Depression Article

→ November 10, 2011 - 6 Comments

Last night I received a response from John Terry, the managing editor at The Daily Athenaeum. While I am rather disappointed to its content as it seems to have missed my points, I do appreciate someone from the paper taking the time to answer my email.

Objection to the Depression Article and Abusive Comments

Depression Article Response

One of the points John makes is that they cut off comments because the comments became “abusive, attacking.” While I don’t agree, the comments seem pretty tame to me, I will say that I do agree with his point that it isn’t acceptable to abuse or attack the author of the article or other commenters. In my opinion, the issue with The Daily Athenaeum’s piece has more to do with editorial permission to publish and less to do with the individual author. Any one person can be ignorant and uninformed but that’s when it’s up to the editor to step up and make sure that such content does not get published.

Moreover, my objection is around the content and the effect it has on others. This takes precedence over even editoral judgement. That multiple people that such stigmatizing and minimizing remarks were acceptable to print at all is the problem, not the individuals, per se.

Response from The Daily Athenaeum

I will be replying to John later in the day, but until then, here is his response:

Hi Natasha,

Thanks for the email.

We would be happy to work with you on running a Letter to the Editor in an edition of our newspaper. Letters must include your name, and a title for the letter. Please keep it between 350-400 words. While you must refrain from attacking the author of the piece, please feel free to state your point.

Also – please note that we close comments when they become abusive, attacking, or veer off point. Our site management software sometimes catches inappropriate comments, but when comments start to slip through that are inappropriate it is our policy to close off comments. Our commenting policy can be found here.

Our writer is entitled to her opinion and no opinion is ever intended to offend, but to instead present a viewpoint. All of the columns in our opinion section are not necessarily representative of the entire staff of The Daily Athenaeum. For many of the columns that are run, this one being no exception, there are many different opinions of our staff. We have young writers on our staff, and it’s a constant learning process; this is no exception. While the writer of this piece did use a study, this is a situation where it would have been better to name the study in the article itself. We’ve talked with the writer and she feels bad about offending people when she had no intention to do so. It’s just an example of another learning opportunity for a member of the staff.

We always encourage a lively dialogue with the community, and I hope you do submit a letter to the editor. You can send it to me and I will pass it on to our opinion editor.

Thanks for reading,

John Terry

Managing Editor

Letters to the West Virginia University Regarding Depression Article Feedback

→ November 8, 2011 - 2 Comments

The following is a copy of the two letters I have sent to the West Virginia University (see why I’m fighting their stigma here). I have yet to receive a reply. You are welcome to copy and paste any parts that you like and send them yourself. The most voices the better.

Send Your Email to the Newspaper and Other University Staff

I sent this letter to everyone at the paper as well as psychology and journalism heads at the school:

To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’

CC: ‘’; ‘’; ‘DAA&’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’

To the Editors and Management of the Daily Athenaeum as well as the psychology and journalism professionals at West Virginia University,

After a lack of response regarding my prior feedback on the Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes article, I’m forced to again express my extreme disappointment in the handling of this situation.

I would like to encourage the editorial team to take this as an opportunity not only to acknowledge the questionable reporting, but also to help remove stigma from the mental health community. I strongly ask for:

  1. A retraction and correction of the published piece posted online, on Facebook and Twitte
  2. A series of education-focused articles on the mental health services available for WVU students and mental illness stigma
  3. A guest column on mental illness to be published (I would be happy to contribute this)

I am asking for professional journalism behavior as are the hundreds of other people who have read my articles on this subject. I look forward to your reply.

Natasha Tracy

Mental Health Advocate and Writer

My Original Email to The Daily Athenaeum (no reponse)

To the Editors and Management of the Daily Athenaeum,

I am writing this letter to inform you as to my disappointment in a recent Opinion column and your actions around said column.

The column in question is: Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes by Danielle Faipler.

This column shows a variety of inaccuracies and in spreading these inaccuracies, increases the stigma of the mentally ill.

As an example,

Antidepressants are good for short-term treatment, but they do not facilitate with the long-term changes needed to treat the illness, and they add to the growing prescription drug abuse problem in the U.S.

In no way are these statements accurate and moreover, the reporter cites no references to backup these faulty statements. From what I can tell, they are simply made up and completely contrary to journalistic ethics not to mention the practices of an institution of learning.

Antidepressants do benefit people short-term as well as long-term as I’ve discussed with regard to a scientific study here. Additionally, there is no evidence that antidepressants are abused nor are they shown to be addictive as I’ve discussed here. And unlike your reporter, I refer to actual studies and references in regards to my comments.

Which brings me to your paper’s actions around this criticism.

A number of people left comments on this article expressing concern over its inaccuracies and its further stigmatization of people with a mental illness. And instead of addressing these concerns, you removed all comments and disallowed further discussion.

This isn’t acceptable.

Just because you don’t like criticism, that doesn’t give you the right to ignore it or sweep it under the run. If your paper is to be considered a journalistic outlet of any sort then you must support free speech and you have done anything but. We, the mental illness community, will not sit idly by and allow you to silence our very real and reasonable concerns.

I encouraged you to write a retraction or a clarification in an article I wrote on October 31st. I now again ask that you correct these factual errors in the hopes that the mentally ill reading this column do not feel further stigmatized by a very serious, life-threatening illness. If your paper stops one person from reaching out and getting real medical help – it is far too many. I suggest you think of the one-in-eight people with bipolar disorder who commit suicide the next time you consider publishing material that trivializes a serious medical condition.

Natasha Tracy

Mental Health Activist and Writer


The Daily Athenaeum has bowed to pressure and reinstated comments on their article. I will continue to push to have them address our concerns.

Thanks to everyone for your help with this. Keep it up!

Disallowing Depression Misconceptions – Newspaper Response

→ November 6, 2011 - 24 Comments

Disallowing Depression MisconceptionsLast week many people read my article Disallowing Depression Misconceptions containing critical remarks about a piece in West Virginia University’s school paper, The Daily Athenaeum. The piece was entitled Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes and suggested, among other inaccuracies, that all people needed to help depression was, “a walk in the park.”

I found Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes to be stigmatizing and just plain inaccurate and I said so both here at the Bipolar Burble and in the comments on The Daily Athenaeum’s website as well. I’m pleased to say many of my readers also stopped by to express rather notable disapproval of the article.

The Daily Athenaeum’s Response to Criticism

And so what did The Daily Athenaeum do?

They removed all comments from the piece and disallowed new ones.

What a disappointing reaction. Instead of admitting to a mistake, instead of printing a clarification or reaction, instead of responding to all the concerns, the newspaper did the most dishonest thing I can think of doing – they covered it up.

This is unacceptable.

How dare a newspaper conceal legitimate concerns and silence criticism? That is the very antithesis of journalistic ethics. I don’t know what this newspaper thinks it’s teaching its staff, but it certainly isn’t how to be a good reporter or writer.

I will be writing The Daily Athenaeum a letter detailing why I feel this is unacceptable and I encourage others to do the same. We, the mental illness community cannot let stigma-spreading inaccuracies to be swept under the rug. We cannot allow our voices to be silenced.

Is a Newspaper Article on Depression in Some University Newspaper a Little Thing?

Maybe. But it’s the principle. This newspaper doesn’t have the right to silence feedback just because they don’t like what we have to say. We have voices. And we will keep exercising them.

Contact the Daily Athenaeum

For anyone who would like to contact the Opinion columns editor you can email or call (304) 293-5092 ex 4.

The Daily Athenaeum is also on Twitter and on Facebook.

For anyone who may be interested, here is a list of every email address they have on their website, I sent my email to all of them:;;; DAA&;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

See the letters I have written to the West Virginia University here. Feel free to copy and paste and send them yourself. We have power in numbers.

As a Side Note

Athenaeum is defined as:

an institution for the promotion of literary or scientific learning.

Apparently their name is to be taken with a grain of salt.


The Daily Athenaeum has bowed to pressure and reinstated comments on their article. I will continue to push to have them address our concerns.

Why Aren’t Lifestyle Changes Frontline Treatment for Depression?

→ November 3, 2011 - 13 Comments

Many people complain about overmedication. They lament that the first thing doctors do is prescribe a medication for depression or another mental illness rather than suggest lifestyle changes like exercise and meditation.

This is often true. Doctors, including psychiatrists, often prescribe medication over suggesting lifestyle changes when a mental illness like depression is diagnosed.

And that’s a completely reasonable thing to do.

Mental Illness Diagnosis

When someone gets a mental illness diagnosis, it’s because they are very ill. No one goes to the doctor when they’re not ill. No one goes to the doctor because they’re having a bad day. People go to the doctor because they need help. Not need-help-in-a-little-while, but need help now.

And what do we know helps? Medication.* Antidepressants.**

Yup, I know people don’t want to believe that, but for a severe mental illness, we know that’s what works. Or, at least, we know it works better than anything else of which we know.

The Mentally Ill and Major Lifestyle Changes

Typically when people are mentally ill, they are not capable of making major life changes. People with severe depression can’t even get themselves out of bed to take a shower let alone ensure a quality diet and exercise program – if that could even help, were they capable of doing it. In fact, going to the doctor, getting a prescription filled and taking medication is enough of a battle for severely ill people.

It’s not reasonable for them to leave a doctor’s office with a “prescription” for kale, sunshine and park-walking. Because it just won’t happen. And it probably won’t work.

And then that severely ill person? They could die. Yes. Die.

In fact, most people who attempt suicide have seen their doctor within seven days of their suicide attempt. Many people within 24 hours of their suicide attempt. Doctors are aware of these statistics. They know the dangers of letting a severely ill person out of their office without offering them real help.

And how would you like death on your hands after suggesting a person take up jogging?

Exercise as Antidepressants Treatment for DepressionAlternative Treatments Alongside Medication

This is why I recommend that people try alternative treatment with medication (and therapy). Because if the person successfully stabilizes, they can taper off the medication if they so choose. If they feel whatever lifestyle changes they’ve made have helped their illness to the point where they no longer need the medication, they can get off of it. It’s not really rocket science.

American College of Physicians Recommendations

And for the record, the American College of Physicians (ACP)recommends the use of antidepressants in the treatment of depressive disorders. The ACP then recommends the treatment be altered if the patient does not show a positive response to therapy in 6-8 weeks. Further, once the patient shows an adequate response to antidepressants, the ACP recommends continuing the therapy for 4-9 months if it is the first episode of depression.

In other words, in those without a longstanding mental illness, antidepressants are a temporary treatment. And many people have had depression and used antidepressants in just this way.

A Note on Exercise for Depression

There was a study not too long ago that showed that an exercise program for depression could be as effective as an antidepressant in some cases of depression. This is still a questionable finding. It’s worth noting, however, that no long-term benefit was noted in exercise study participants upon follow-up.

It is for these reasons that exercise is not considered a treatment of depression.

Frontline Treatment of Depression is Medication for a Reason

So while lifestyle factors can impact depression, sometimes dramatically, they are not a frontline treatment because medication works better, overall, in the treatment of mental illness.

By erring on the side of medication, you run the risk of overmedicating people. By erring on the side of non-medication you run the risk of killing people. One of these things can be corrected, the other cannot.

*Technically, electroconvulsive therapy is the most effective treatment for depression; however, it is not a frontline treatment for a host of reasons.

**And psychotherapy but that is not the focus of this article. Therapy is also a frontline treatment but is often not chosen due to cost to the patient.

Is There a Cure for Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness?

→ November 2, 2011 - 15 Comments

Is There a Cure for Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness?

In the world of mental illness we talk about “response” and “remission” and not cure for mental illness. The reason is very simple – we don’t know of a cure for mental illness. One may exist, but we don’t know of any such cure for bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other mental illness.

What are Treatment, Response, Remission and Relapse?

The words we use most often are treatment, as in I’m in treatment for bipolar disorder; response, as in I’m responding to treatment for schizophrenia; and remission, as in I’m in remission from depression.

  • Treatment – treatment is whatever is applied to make an illness better such as therapy, medication, mindfulness and so on.
  • Response – response is generally positive or negative and indicates whether a treatment is working. A positive response means you have shown improvement on a given course of treatment, it does not necessarily mean that all your symptoms have disappeared, only that there has been positive movement in some way.
  • Remissionremission is the state in which all or most of your symptoms have “remitted” or gone away. People have remissions from cancer, and many other illnesses as well as mental illness.
  • Relapse – relapse is a state in which the symptoms reassert themselves after a period of successful treatment or remission.

Is There  a Cure for Bipolar Disorder?What is a Cure for Mental Illness?

A cure for bipolar, depression, schizophrenia or other mental illness would be a state of recovery where no more symptoms were present and you were returned to health permanently. This is the one that is contentious in mental illness. Most doctors believe that even once a mental illness goes into remission, relapse is possible, and in some cases, even likely. It is thought that the mental illness – the fundamental neurobiological causes – never go away, but they may be successfully treated for a period of time. This amount of time could be forever, but it most often is not.

So if a disease goes into remission forever, isn’t that a cure?

I guess that depends on who you ask. If you have to be treated for the rest of your life, even if you’re in remission I’d say it’s hard to argue that you’re “cured.” On the other hand, if you get better, taper off treatment, and remain better, then maybe you would consider that a cure. I’d be hesitant to use the word “cure,” personally, but that’s me.

Who Goes Into Long-Term Remission? Who’s Cured of Mental Illness?

That’s a toughie. I’d start out by saying that it’s impossible to know who will go into long-term remission or get “cured” of mental illness, but that isn’t exactly true. We know that people with milder forms of the disease have a much better chance of full remission. We know that you have a better chance at a mental illness “cure” if:

  • You don’t have a family history of mental illness
  • You have a more mild form of mental illness
  • You have a good support system
  • You have access to quality medical (including mental health) care
  • You have had fewer episodes of mental illness in the past

Unfortunately, most of us reading this right now do not fit into this category. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find long-term remission; it just means that you’re not in the most likely group.

Is a Cure for Mental Illness Possible?

Mental illness is not one thing and all mental illnesses are not created equal. Depression isn’t the same as bipolar disorder which isn’t the same as schizophrenia. And with different severity levels, these diseases become, yet again, different.

But in the case of severe mental illness, is there a cure?


Not if you ask me.

[push]I think suggesting there is a cure for mental illness overall just isn’t true. We don’t yet have a cure for mental illness. [/push]

I have no doubt that some people with a mental illness can experience long-term remission and some may even consider themselves “cured.” But I have yet to see a person with schizophrenia make that claim. I have yet to see anyone who suffers from psychosis make that claim. I have yet to see anyone with severe, long-standing symptoms make that claim. So it is possible? Maybe. In some cases. But maybe in those cases the disease just isn’t like the other cases. Maybe they are in a category by themselves. Maybe (undoubtedly) we just can’t recognize who is in that category.

So I wouldn’t want anyone to think that a cure absolutely is or absolutely is not possible for any given person, because I don’t know. But I think suggesting there is a cure for mental illness overall just isn’t true. We don’t yet have a cure for mental illness. We’re just going to have to live with that fact. But that’s OK. It puts us in good company with epileptics, Parkinsonians, diabetics and many, many others.

A Sidenote

As an aside, the closest thing we currently have to a cure seems to be deep brain stimulation. For those who get it, and for whom it works, it seems to “cure” depression. But this treatment is still in its very early research stages.

Disallowing Depression Misconceptions

→ October 31, 2011 - 26 Comments

Depression MythsI despise bad reporting and I don’t care if you write for a newspaper with a circulation of 3 people or the New York Times – there is no excuse to report badly on mental illness, there is quality information available everywhere.

Point in case is Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes by Danielle Faipler in West Virginia University’s student paper, The Daily Athenaeum.

Comments on Depression can be treated through lifestyle changes

This article contains some of the most widely-spread mistruths about depression and mental illness and is inexcusable. It doesn’t even pass a sanity check (even by an insane person).

Antidepressants are good for short-term treatment, but they do not facilitate with the long-term changes needed to treat the illness, and they add to the growing prescription drug abuse problem in the U.S.

That is absolutely false and I would enjoy seeing any research that indicates otherwise. As I have shown, depressed people who take antidepressants do better long-term and antidepressants are not addictive. Stating otherwise is ignorant or untruthful.

A side effect of antidepressants is hallucinations, and most of the time, different medication is prescribed to the patient.

If the number of people who experienced hallucinations from taking antidepressants alone were to get together for a party, they could fit in my freaking apartment. Yes, it can happen with some antidepressants, but it’s far from common. (And what was the second half of the sentence? What different medication?)

Further Stigmatizing Depression and Mental Illness

A walk in the park may be all it takes for someone with depression to get out of their funk.

If that isn’t one of the most stigmatizing statements, I don’t know what is. Depression is a medical illness and not a bad mood that can be cured by a stroll.

This type of reporting, even if by a student, is unacceptable. It spread lies and does so without scientific backing of any kind. This particular writer and editor should be ashamed of themselves and write a public apology for such nonsense.

It is not acceptable for a newspaper to spread mistruths and further stigma of depression and mental illness. Period.

Please view The Daily Athenaeum’s shameful response to this criticism.

Sleep and Bipolar Disorder – How I Cured My Insomnia – Guest Post

→ October 27, 2011 - 15 Comments

The Bipolar Burble welcomes Leslie Smile for today’s piece on how she recognized that sleep was affecting her bipolar disorder and how she worked to cure her insomnia.

I’ve lost many hours holding the wall up with my glazed stare. Unable to calm my mind yet unable to focus my thoughts clearly, I’ve been sleepless for days on end. I would go on through my days like a zombie. “Just keep going,” I’d tell myself. Some days I would come home from work and collapse on my bed until the next morning. I would wake grouchy, confused and still tired. Insomnia doesn’t keep you awake permanently… just until you crash.

Insomnia’s Effects on My Life

[push]I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. ~ David Benioff[/push]

The tired feeling morphed into a bone deep lethargy; an energy sucking, crippling fatigue drained me. I began to feel like I could barely survive. I had begun the dip into major depression and bipolar behaviors. I don’t blame my mental illness on my poor sleep nor do I blame my sleeplessness entirely on my mental illness but as I’ve come to learn bipolar disorder and insomnia affect each other in such a way both deserve the attention and respect of proper self-care and good sleep hygiene.

What Didn’t Help My Insomnia and Bipolar Disorder

I had no concept of proper sleep hygiene. First I tried over-the-counter sleep aids, then doctor prescribed sleep aids. Some worked briefly but didn’t give me any sense of being in control of my mental health as their reliability was sketchy at best. Band-Aid solutions were not enough. What could I do?

How I Changed to Help Cure My Insomnia

I rarely gave myself the time for all the things my morning contained. This meant I constantly woke feeling rushed (a very anxiety inducing way to start the day). Focused on getting past insomnia, I started by taking my medications at the same time every day. I made my mornings peaceful waking experiences without coffee. (No coffee?! This was initially a cruel form of torture advised by my doctor, naturopath, and various sleep information rich websites alike.)

Mental Health and Sleeping ProblemsI Had to Want to Cure My Insomnia

At bed time, calming a worrying mind takes practice and effort. Quieting a busy, synapse-firing brain is tricky and left me feeling hopeless at times. Staring at the wall, numb and dissociated from wakefulness and sleep alike is dangerous. I had to want to change before my sleep habits started to improve. Maybe out of desperation or out of new found knowledge I wanted to change.

Training my brain to shut down and wake up at the same time every day is hard. Setting an unwind time alarm and a bedtime alarm felt a little silly at first. I didn’t want to go to bed at 10:30 pm when House was only half over. But I do want to be able to sleep well most nights. My health is more important than House.

More Ways I Cured My Insomnia

I added more artillery to my sleep war chest over time building a stronger defense against insomnia:

  • I removed the clock and any direct light from my sleep area. So many gadgets to hide with their tempestuous glow. No more looking at the clock and being exasperated at the hour I find myself *still* awake.
  • I take my relaxation techniques to bed. Deep breathing, and deep muscle relaxation exercises help put me in the sleep zone.
  • I eat breakfast. It helps keep me from going back to bed and helps my mood too.
  • I start my day with a big glass of cool water instead of fake fuelling myself with sugar and caffeine (did I mention that really sucked at first?).
  • I get out of bed after nine hours. Many people operate fine on seven hours of sleep. Good for those people. If I get up before the ninth hour I’ll take a cursed nap. These are terrible things that I love.
  • I don’t nap. Or I try not to. If I’m tired I try to be aware of that as I continue through my day/evening but it’s good to finish the day tired. That’s an almost guaranteed good night’s sleep. I skip the nap when I can.

Insomnia, Sleep and Me Now

I fall asleep a little easier these days. With the addition of the help of a new medication I’m on for my other mental health issues, I find myself drowsy near the same time nightly.

I still have to force myself many days to get to the kitchen and drink that glass of water. It takes time to make habitual changes. For me, insomnia really is a result of the culmination of habits surrounding my sleep (known as sleep hygiene). I’m sleeping more often than not these past couple weeks and that is an accomplishment. I’m finding the will to start doing the things I love again. I’m learning to follow my bliss in life. It’s the simple things that make the difference, like a good night’s sleep.

Leslie is a mental health patient in Atlantic Canada. She voices her experience getting healthy on Twitter, @SaltySmile. She is passionate about social justice issues, reading, writing, learning and sharing. Contact her at


More Personal Experiences and Stories of Mental Health

→ October 24, 2011 - 4 Comments

Some of you may recall I did a reader survey a while back on the Bipolar Burble. The vast majority of the feedback was incredibly generous and positive. I appreciate all the feedback.

However, one of the things that came up multiple times was the desire to have more personal mental health stories represented here. People valued the in-depth information but wanted it balanced with life stories of real people with mental illness.

OK. I can do that.

Calling Guest Authors

To that end I’ve been soliciting guest authors and we’ll be seeing subjects like:

Writers Wanted for the Bipolar BlogPersonal Experiences of Mental Illness

I think it’s important people hear from others with mental illness because it puts a real face on the disease. And as much as people can relate to what I write, more people can relate to more kinds of stories.  After all, not everyone is me. And that’s a good thing.

Do You Have a Personal Mental Health Story You’d Like to Share?

Would you like to guest post here? Do you have a personal story of mental illness involving yourself or a loved one? I’d love to hear from friends, family members and significant others as well. They too have invaluable stories to share.

If you’d like to get in touch, leave a comment or find me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or contact me here.

Your piece can be anonymous if you choose. This is about what you want to talk about and in the way you want to talk about it.

Dealing with Grief with Mental Illness

The first personal experience story is about dealing with the grief of death while dealing with a mental illness coming up later this week.

Stop Trying To Stigmatize Me – Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health

→ October 23, 2011 - 47 Comments

Stop Trying To Stigmatize Me – Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health

It seems it’s more politically correct these days to say “behavioral health” rather than “mental health.” Hospitals and governments are changing their programs from mental health programs to behavioral health problems. And somehow this is progress. Somehow this is less stigmatizing.

How’s that again?

Did my behavior suddenly become a problem while I wasn’t watching? Because, quite frankly, I found the notion there was something wrong with my mind to be insulting enough, to find out that now, my behavior is the problem has pushed me over the insultant edge.

Read more

Beating Insomnia – How to Sleep Better – Part 2

→ October 19, 2011 - 1 Comment

Last time we discussed the routines involved around sleep, part of sleep hygiene, and how to train your brain to get a better night’s sleep. This time I’ll be sharing additional tips and information on how to beat insomnia and sleep better every night.

Daytime Lifestyle and Sleeping Well

What you do in the day can make a big difference to how to sleep at night. As some of the commenters pointed out after the last sleep better post, sunlight is key in getting your body’s rhythm set. If you can get up in the morning and stick your head into the sunshine for half-an-hour that would be ideal. That would trigger the signal in your brain that it was “time to be awake.”

[push]If you can get up in the morning and stick your head into the sunshine for a half-an-hour that would be ideal.[/push]

This though, isn’t the most practical thing for most people. While I dream of a time in life when I can wake up, get a coffee and croissant and enjoy them in the sun on my balcony, that time has not yet arrived. An alternative would be using a light box in the morning (more on light boxes in part 3).

You can also change the light bulbs in your house to full-spectrum lights (like a light box) so that when you turn on the lights, it’s like getting a little bit of sun. That way you can flood your apartment in light even on the darkest winter days.

Other daytime habits to help beat insomnia include:

  • Don’t drink coffee after noon
  • Exercise
  • Don’t eat or drink two hours before bed
  • Don’t nap (yes, I know I said it, but it’s particularly true)

Alcohol and Sleep Don’t Mix

Many people think alcohol will help them sleep. This is not true. Alcohol will make your sleep worse, not better.

How to Beat Insomnia

What alcohol does is induce sleep, which people think is a good thing, but in actual fact, alcohol will decrease the quality of the sleep to the point where getting to sleep sooner will be the least of your worries. Alcohol affects the brain in ways that prevent it from going into stage 3 sleep (or deep sleep) which means you never feel fully rested. This will also negatively effect your mood.

People who drink alcohol also tend to toss and turn all night as they drift in and out of sleep, but they may not remember this in the morning. If alcohol alone disrupts sleep, imagine what mixing alcohol and other drugs could do to your sleeping patterns.

Alcohol and quality sleep don’t mix. Really.

Other Bits of Good Sleep Hygiene

Make sure it’s dark at night. No, not just where you’re sleeping, but for the hour before that as well. Turn off lights and try to signal to your brain that it’s “sleepy time.” Ideally, do something quiet before bed like reading a book using a book light.

This includes not using electronics (yes, the TV and computer) at night. Electronics emit the type of light that makes your brain think it’s time to wake up, not go to sleep, so by staring at them right before bed, you are doing yourself (and your brain) a disservice.

Other tips on sleeping better:

  • Cover the time on the alarm clock – clock-watching leads to anxiety and stress which hampers sleep
  • Keep a worry book by your bed to write down your anxieties should they arise when you’re trying to go to sleep. This way it’s easier to let them go.
  • Sleep on a firm mattress
  • Stop doing mental work one hour before bed
  • Learn relaxation or meditation techniques

More on Beating Insomnia, Getting Better Sleep and Improving Mood

In part 3, I’ll discuss how important light and darkness is to your brain and how it might just help your mood. (Link to part one of the sleeping better series.)

(Yes, that’s my cat Oliver. Yes, he’s adorable.)

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