chronic pain, Lifestyle, Mental health, recovery

Ugly Truth 59: Chronic Pain Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know About Yourself

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” -Kahlil Gibran

Dear Readers,

At Deskraven we believe in the collaborative approach that connects those in need with meaningful content and the voice no one else will give them. For more information on how to write for the Deskraven blog or connect with resources on addiction, depression, and suicide prevention – please scroll to the bottom of this post. I encourage you all to participate in the comments section below so we can continue to dialogue on these very important topics.

The truth is I should be doing my homework right now, but I have so much to say. Last week marked the beginning of the end of a very long road. If you know me personally or have been a dedicated Deskraven reader, then you know I am not shy about sharing my diagnoses with my readers. This is because I believe in assigning pain a function so that our suffering may not be in vain. This, emboldened by the power of community, has offered me a great deal of meaningful processing and the subsequent healing that follows. The mission now is to return that information back to the masses.

That being said, I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder w/ Agoraphobia. I have many posts archived on all of these disorders if you care to learn more specifically about how these can impact your life. For now, I will be concise.

In short, Mixed Bipolar Disorder is characterized by disorienting mood swings and behavioral changes that often result in significant social and professional consequences. Mixed episodes are unique in that in contrast to Type 1 or Type 2 Bipolar Disorder, Mixed Bipolar Disorder consists of both highs (mania) and lows (depression) simultaneously. This is considered significant because people who experience mixed episodes are at a greater risk of suicide due to the impulsive energy mania provides while also being in a state of depression. This presents differently for each sufferer, but in general I experience a great deal of grief and agitation that can range anywhere from clinical sadness to full blown psychosis if I am not careful to force feed myself self-care and the power of saying, “No.”

Similarly, PTSD is characterized by mood instability, sleep disturbances, and a false sense of reality brought on by trauma. Trauma consists of experiencing something life threatening such as war, relationship abuse, addiction, mental illness, an auto accident, a chronic illness, medical trauma, an untimely death, a sexual assault, etc. – or watching someone we love experience these things. Trauma is relative so what may be traumatizing for you may not be for someone else, or vice versa. Most people who experience these types of life disturbances experience a period of profound grief. Often with the help of a professional counselor or spiritual teacher, we are able to move through, process, and release trauma in a way that both honors our suffering, and releases us from our entanglement to the traumatic event. This allows us to move forward with little to no lasting impact on our mental health. Individuals who become stuck or stagnant in this process develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Finally, Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks, the sensation that you will in fact die at any second, physical manifestations of fear including shaking and hyperventilation, and the fear of their inevitable return – usually in public. As you can see, this disorder is incredibly cyclic and self-perpetuating. The good news is this also makes it one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Agoraphobia is often the product of Panic Disorder in that this experience triggers pathologized avoidance of public, wide open spaces, crowds, and any location that may produce the inability to escape to the point that it becomes a clinical phobia that interferes with your quality of life or your ability to leave your home.

For some reason my soul decided that the above conditions resulting in two in-patient psychiatric hospitalizations would not suffice for one lifetime. So, in addition I also experienced a car accident in 2015 that ultimately lead to me developing physical chronic pain. Subsequently, I had several other injuries over the years, including a concussion, but believe this incident to be the most significant. What I should have done was seek treatment from the Orthopedic Surgeon and Physical Therapist I was referred to, and made the person who hit me pay for it. Instead, in my stubborn naiveté, I accepted a $1200 settlement and never went to the doctor. For the first couple of years I had aches and pains, but in general I remained very active and physically fit. Sometime in 2017 my injury worsened.

Suddenly, I found myself collapsing at the side of my bed when attempting to stand up. I found I could no longer tolerate my yoga practice because the nerve pain was excruciating. I could no longer enjoy being active in nature or playing with my son. I experienced neurological symptoms and nearly lost consciousness. My posture began to suffer and I developed difficulty walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, driving…existing. No matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable. The pain was constant, burning, and sharp; localized in my lower back, shooting into my hip joints, and down into my lower extremities. I experienced inflammation, pins and needles, numbness, muscle spasms and migraines. At the height of this I found myself completely unable to work, slowly losing everything I had worked so hard for, and applying for long-term disability before the age of 30. Countless ER visits, a bajillion CAT scans, innumerable blood draws, and one grueling in-patient hospitalization later we were able to rule out life threatening neurological conditions and auto-immune disorders.

Last week I met with a Spine Specialist and received the MRI I have been seeking for years. Finally, I got some answers: L5/S1 central disc herniation and a narrowing of the spine, sometimes referred to as Spinal Stenosis. In light of these results my doctor referred me for various types of treatment including chiropractic adjustments, a 20-session spinal decompression program, and pain management including spinal steroid injections with the end goal being complete physical rehabilitation. Fortunately, he believes I am not a candidate for surgery at this time. He is also considering additional MRIs as he has seen in his practice a neck injury masquerading as lumbar pain.

After some discourse and the types of answers that only yield more questions, we decided the best course of action would be to get a second opinion before we commit to a decision and begin pain management. Currently, I am spending 2-3 days a week in doctor’s offices, receiving chiropractic treatment, alternating between hot showers and ice packs, consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, altering my lifestyle as much as I can tolerate, and spending 30-40 minutes a day hooked up to a TENS unit at home with the help of my beautiful wife.

The more doctors you meet the more you realize why medicine is considered a practice. No one really has all the answers. It becomes paramount to advocate for yourself in the medical setting, and to work together to find the best course of treatment for you. Finding a good doctor or therapist is a lot like dating. Chronic pain is not that different from psychological anguish. The outcome is the same, and sometimes it takes time to find the right provider.

Somewhere I read that ruin is a gift life gives us because it is only in the dismantling that we are able to transcend our suffering. In this light, I have come to appreciate my white-knuckling desperation as an indication of teaching, as well as the not so gentle push from my loving wife to seek treatment. Perhaps the key to becoming a true patient is to simply not engage in resistance, the same way mental health recovery means not resisting the good that is being offered to you even though you’ve been told your whole life that you don’t deserve it. It’s okay to feel how you feel, so long as you’re willing to do something about it. The truth is I am as stubborn as they come, however, this trait will never serve me unless I learn how to shift resistance into determination.

Humility has been my calling to self-development and recovery my calling to life. Similar to the way a flower manages to bloom between the cracks in a sidewalk, at some point you learn that overcoming suffering is a choice. I know this experience is going to teach me exactly what I’m made of because the only way out is through. This resilience is revelatory coming from someone who previously held no sense of self-preservation. I say that to say this: Do not ignore your pain in whatever form it takes. Address it.

Healing is not only for you, but for those who love you, and refuse to stand idly by while you concede to what your life has become. The truth is that despite every obstacle you have faced, you do not have to accept victimization or enabling on your path to wellness. The truth is you can decide to take accountability, to change, and to do whatever it takes to reclaim your quality of life. I know there will be days of purposeful set-backs. Sometimes I make progress. Sometimes I cry and the chores don’t get done. Still, I can see myself on the other side of this, and I can’t wait to give my wife the partner she deserves.

Discuss: How has chronic pain impacted your life and mental health?

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Blogging, Mental health

Provider Tales: Deskraven Welcomes Special Guest Randy Withers, LCMHC!

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view.”
– Henry Ford

Dear Readers,

Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog where I tackle the ugly truths of mental health as it relates to parenting and relationships – and what you can do about them. If you’ve been a reader for some time, then you know my writing style consists of pairing comprehensive mental health articles with personal insight and resources. Having held the spotlight for two years to find my own healing, I am now more eager then ever to offer up the Deskraven platform to hear your stories, as well as those of mental health providers. My hope is that we can continue to serve each other and our mental health community by sharing our stories and normalizing mental health language.

In this new series I will be sharing Reader Tales and Provider Tales on behalf of anyone who wants to participate. If you’re interested in sharing your mental health story in confidence, or know someone who is, please email me at contact@deskraven.com to find out how it works! As we move forward together, you will notice an interview template with the intention of readability. These questions may change or evolve over time.

Without further adieu, I give you Randy Withers, LCMHC! Earlier this year my good friend and colleague reached out to tell me the Deskraven Blog wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. He gave me the opportunity to write for his project, Blunt-Therapy, a blog about mental health, addiction, counseling, and relationships – edited by a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. I could think of no greater advisor in the same vein of mental health writing so I jumped at the offer. You can check out our first collaboration, “5 Ways You Can Help the LGBTQ+ Community Fight Stigma”, available on Blunt-Therapy.com.

This time, the tables have turned and Mr. Withers has graced the Deskraven audience with his invaluable wisdom! In addition to being the Managing Editor for Blunt-Therapy.com, Randy boasts a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Education. He is recognized as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). Furthermore, he is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) who has done extensive work with LGBTQ+ clients and survivors of various types of abuse.

THE INTERVIEW

Provide a little backstory. Who are you? Where are you from? What inspired you to enter the mental health profession?

My name is Randy Withers, LCMHC. I’m a licensed therapist in North Carolina, where I work at a state psychiatric facility and see clients in private practice. I am also the managing editor of Blunt Therapy, a blog about mental health. I am originally from Florida, where I worked as an educator for over a decade. For most of that career, I was an academic advisor and counselor, which is where I learned that mental health counseling was my true passion. I went back to school in 2011 and have been in the field ever since. I went to Florida State and I have a dog named Daisy, who is smarter than I am.

Have you ever experienced mental health struggles in your personal life?

I have battled depression and anxiety for more than 25 years. If I’m honest, probably since I was a small child. I’ve never felt comfortable around other people. I’ve always felt different. The problem grew worse as I got older. It led to a severe case of depression about 12 years ago, which almost killed me. So yes, you could say that I have experienced mental health struggles.

As a provider, what do you consider to be the most important aspect of mental health treatment?

I’m a big advocate of a holistic approach to mental health. I don’t really believe that any one thing is most important. Having said that, for obvious reasons I’m a huge proponent of good therapy. Often, people have no idea where to start the process of managing their mental illness. A good therapist provides direction, accountability, and most importantly – hope.

Mental health treatment usually requires a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Most importantly, it requires that the client accept responsibility for their situation and for them to be willing to do whatever it takes to tackle it.

As a provider, what challenges have you faced?

Graduate school was intense. It was a three-year program and quite demanding. But I was well-trained, so it was worth it. My biggest challenge personally has been working at various agencies with people in charge who have no business making clinical decisions. In North Carolina, you don’t have to be a doctor or a therapist to own a mental health agency. Most of these places are profit-driven and run by incompetent fools. Thankfully, I work at a hospital now that is well-run and well-managed by talented clinicians. And so is my private practice. It is, quite simply, the difference between night and day.

Many therapists struggle with issues related to boundaries. They get too emotionally invested in their clients, or they work too much, or they get burnt out. Thankfully, I’ve never really struggled with that. At least, not for a while. Good boundaries are essential for mental health.

As a provider, what would you consider your greatest accomplishment?

This is a hard question. Often, you don’t really know how effective you are. Therapy is like pouring wet concrete. It takes a long time to dry, and often you’re not there to see the finished product. I suppose if I had to focus on specific accomplishments – I have prevented a handful of suicides and even homicides by talking some clients off the proverbial ledge. One time I even took a handgun from someone. I used to work at agencies that liaised with Child Protective Services, so I can also say that I was able to protect a number of children from abuse and neglect.

Have you ever experienced stigma as a direct result of being a mental health provider? How did you react?

I wouldn’t say stigma. It’s not exactly that. But being a therapist is an inherently isolating field. You are a keeper of secrets and a witness to extreme trauma. It’s hard to shut that off sometimes. Truthfully, the biggest problem I’ve faced is in the dating world. I’d say about half of the women I’ve dated simply could not separate my career from me as a person. In fact, several months ago while on a first date, my date spent the better part of 90 minutes telling me all about her childhood trauma and her awful mother. Not exactly first date material. I have a policy of politeness and compliance, so I listened and tried to be helpful. But you can’t really move forward after something like that.

Fortunately, my current girlfriend is a psychiatric nurse and couldn’t care less about what I do for a living. It’s really nice.

What piece of advice would give to those suffering from a dual diagnosis?

That you can’t treat one without the other. Does an alcoholic drink because they are depressed or are they depressed because they drink? Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to stop drinking and treat the depression. You have to conceptualize the problem as an actual medical illness, because it is. It is chronic, unforgiving, and requires a lifetime of support and management. But I’d also say that you can have hope. I’m dually diagnosed and my quality of life is pretty high.

What piece of advice would you give to friends and family who want to support someone with a mental health condition?

The problem with friends and family is that they want to fix things that they don’t understand. I remember, for example, my mom telling me to look on the bright side of things when I was clinically depressed. That’s just not helpful. My advice? If you want to be helpful, start by learning all you can about whatever disorder it is that your loved one struggles with.

What are your favorite mental health resources?

I’m a huge proponent of two seemingly different things. The first is CBT. The second is 12-Step programs. Both of which share the same goal, which is to help people change the way they think about things. So, for me, the recovery community is a huge resource. For the CBT, I really like worksheets. You can get these on sites like TherapistAid.com or you can order workbooks off Amazon. However, these really should be done under the supervision of a mental health professional.

I also believe in online counseling, but it depends on the issue. Severe mental illness? No. Relationships, self-esteem, goal setting, etc. Absolutely, yes.

I would encourage you all to visit Blunt Therapy, which is my blog. I and about two dozen other writers focus on topics related to mental health, therapy, addictions, and parenting. We’ve got some good stuff.

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium.

Discuss: Did Randy’s words resonate with you? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

Ugly Truth 43: May is Mental Health Month!

“Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.”
-Jasmine Warga, My Heart and Other Black Holes

Good Morning Readers,

Have I told you lately how much I love this community?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. How have you been feeling lately?

As for me, I would say I’m in the solid yellow phase.

If you or someone you know has questions or comments about living with mental illness, please feel free to share in the comments below or contact me at contact@deskraven.com.

So, how are you feeling? Don’t be silent.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Lifestyle, Mental health

Ugly Truth 42: Why I Quit Drinking for 12 Days

Artist: Leonid Afremov

Good Morning Forum,

Lately there has been so much on my mind, and yet I found myself unable to lift pen to paper. More than that, I found myself falling further away from the small things – those little endeavors that make me an individual. My self awareness has taught me that my inability to create or be cognizant is a sure-fire sign that a change is needed. The devil is in the details, and maybe that is our greatest tragedy.

I come from a deep genetic pool of trauma, alcoholism, mental illness and addiction. In general, I have an addictive personality. Drugs, alcohol, self-injury, and disordered eating have all been on my list of poor coping skills over the years. Anyone who knows me personally knows not to mess with my cigarettes or coffee before 8am, but I would be remiss if I did not confess that while I may not be a textbook alcoholic, I do have a spotted history of problem drinking.

I live with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Panic Disorder and Chronic Pain. I was properly medicated for two years. After two hospitalizations and ten years of therapy, it didn’t take long for me to learn how to self medicate. I have always done my best to balance my poor choices with moderation, mindfulness, yoga, and creative outcomes such as writing, painting and knitting. However, in light of this quarantine and the way the month of April always seems to dig its claws into me, I soon found myself drinking more and coping less.

Since quitting three days ago (again), I have found that each day feels better than the last, although it has not been without its setbacks. I have experienced mood swings, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, blood pressure changes, and extremely vivid dreams and nightmares. As a seasoned scary dreamer, I have learned how to keep myself calm in these scenarios, mostly as a result of PTSD, however these dreams have been visceral even for me.

The truth is I haven’t read an actual physical book in years, something I typically have a passion for and take great pleasure in. I strayed far from my yoga practice, and have felt a general sense of imbalance and unease as a result. I was feeling run down, and had become complacent toward my loss of previously held enjoyment. I became disinterested in my intellectual pursuits, and my education began to suffer a little more than usual. Perhaps in juggling being gentle with myself, I let my personal accountability slide, too.

The good news is I know exactly how to get it all back. I am not a sobriety preacher or twelve-stepper, but I look forward to reclaiming my wellness, restoring my energy, and reconnecting with my loved ones. I look forward to being slightly less cerebral, sleeping a little better, crying a little less, and reading more books.

So often the trouble is just in starting something new to promote a positive change. Certainly, one can not achieve self development without stumbling along the way. We are hardwired to self-sabotage and make excuses for ourselves, even surrounding the things we want most out of life. Perhaps our greatest triumph is learning how to set meaningful boundaries in order to return to ourselves over and over again.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Blogging, Mental health

Ugly Truth 003: Distraction Posts Work

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” [The Guardian, 25 February 2010]
Hilary Mantel
Dear Readers, The fact is, human beings are not great multitaskers. When we attempt to achieve more by doing more, our ability and efficacy actually suffer. We do indeed thrive best during single task activities in terms of both long and short term goals. It is no secret that distraction is one of the most common coping skills among those with mental health diagnoses, or even common every day stressors. While in the whirlwinds of anxiety or the uncertainty of a mood swing, it becomes so very easy to become lost in a movie, our favorite song, or a soothing task. The trouble is, in an age of information and technology, we are more susceptible to overstimulation, misinformation, and the fluctuations of brain chemistry. I want you to imagine, if you will, just how much information you take in each and every day from billboards, radio, television, news apps, and social media. Try to imagine what that number might be, and then compare it to that number ten years ago. Advertisement was always on the rise, sure, but when compared with today’s breadth and depth of information processing – I find it all a bit staggering. Surely this has to take a toll on our brain health and personal psychology. The truth is, the world wide web connects us to others around the globe minimizing the isolation mental illness can create. Likewise, distraction is a viable coping skill allowing a time frame for symptoms to pass or stress to cease. However, the tools bestowed upon us might also be contributing to the problem. You know that old saying about having too much of a good thing? Well, I do believe we’ve found it. Naturally curious, I embraced this pattern of thought and used my fingertips to research the topic of a social media detox. I was sold on the concept in less than five minutes. Neuroplasticity suggests that our brains are somewhat malleable. It teaches us that we are quite capable of breaking old habits, developing new ones, and recovering from damage. This is great news in the face of an endless supply of blue lit screens and voice-activated convenience. What fascinates me further is that we as a society have given room where previously there was none. We have accepted new social norms that were once blatantly disrespectful. We gently ignore the unprofessional cashier or lack of eye-contact from our peers because it affords us our own indulgences. Not only that, but social media makes our personal lives vulnerable to speculation by friends, family, employers and strangers. At the very least it begs the question, how much is too much? Experts suggest no more than two hours daily of screen time, but we all know we have received leagues more than that ever since the unveiling of Microsoft. Here we are – the same kids from the AOL boom – with handheld computers we couldn’t even imagine, fully equipped with the social media that allows us to compare, delude, debate and depress ourselves. As you can see, this really got me thinking about the person I was, and the person I’ve become as a child of a generation at the center of an age of access. Not only that, but how that influences my mental health. So, I have challenged myself to eliminate social media from my screen diet for 100 days in attempt to reset my dopamine production, and glean some wisdom along the way. My hope is that I will find more time to return to the things I love, and perhaps even find no desire to return to social media at all. I say, this is too much of a good thing. I say, hang up the internet and walk outside! Allow your mind to recalibrate and quiet. What is this incessant need for stimulation? What would you be doing right now if you weren’t staring at your phone? How many fewer books do you read each year? How many fewer hobbies do you pursue? How much time is lost or wasted? How many evenings are spent turned away from family members, lovers, and dinner tables? **If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!** For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide! In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!