Contact NAMI Skagit at: 360-313-7080
Coping with Mental Illness: What Not to Do
By Katherine Ponte, BA, JD, MBA, NYCPS-P, CPRP | Jan. 25, 2019
I was recently discussing coping strategies for my bipolar disorder with my psychiatrist. I was pressing him for new ways to cope. He told me that most of his other patients also tend to look for what to do—a new medication or treatment method—but it is just as important to focus on what not to do.
I was interested in learning more about the experience of his other patients. After all, one of the most effective therapies has been learning I’m not alone, that other people have similar experiences. I wanted to know what he observed as the most common behaviors and habits that interfere with recovery and coping. Indeed, I learned that the obstacles I faced for years are actually fairly common: denial, ambivalence, ignorance and fear of stigma.
I could not help feeling regret as he listed them off. I realized that I had held myself back during all the years I denied the seriousness of my condition. In hindsight errors are obvious, but as I was experiencing the illness, I lacked the insight to make the right decisions. My doctor explained that these behaviors largely result from the “blind spots” that mental illness can create in our awareness. On top of that, stigma compounds the issue by limiting our perception of ourselves and the possibilities of living with mental illness.
Achieving recovery and coping with mental illness has required improvements to both my medical treatment and my interaction with my bipolar disorder. It has required increasing my awareness and coping by not doing behaviors created in response to stigma. Here are some of those harmful behaviors to avoid.
I stubbornly refused to accept my diagnosis of bipolar even though I knew something was wrong. That blind refusal took on many forms, including refusing all types of help. My treatment was needlessly delayed, which worsened my condition. I also refused to ask for help when it was clear that I needed it. The primary reason was fear of the consequences of being labeled as “mentally ill.”
I often dismissed my family’s input. I foolishly thought, “who are they to think they know better than me.” But during many critical times they did know better. For example, my spouse has always been better than me at spotting signs of my hypomania. My refusals and dismissiveness also lessened my family’s motivation to find me help. I didn’t fully appreciate their efforts to help me, but looking back I know they had my best interest at heart.
I remained uninformed about my condition as a form of denial. I was worried that my suspicions, my health care provider’s assessment and my family’s concern would be confirmed if I became more informed about my condition. Ignorance made me a poor patient. I lacked the knowledge and impartial perspective to effectively assess and influence my treatment. I was sometimes combative when my doctor suggested a medication adjustment. I didn’t know how to effectively express my treatment objectives and ask for medication alternatives. I wasn’t self-aware enough to recognize the signs that my condition was deteriorating, and I needed to adjust to stay on track.
I was non-adherent to my treatment plan a couple of times. I convinced myself that I was well and didn’t need my medications. When my symptoms became less pronounced, I immediately thought I’d been cured. Without proper medical advice, I reduced and stopped taking my medication, which led to a serious manic episode and hospitalization. I now understand the consequences of stopping my medication without consulting my doctor.
I was impulsive and ignored my safety on a few occasions. In one instance, I was furious with the rapid weight gain, which is a side effect of the medication. I insisted my doctor either reduce my dose or complete cessation. I got what I asked for, and I also got manic along with it. On another occasion, I hid my symptoms from my spouse because I was worried I might be hospitalized. My condition worsened, and I ended up being hospitalized. I have learned to trust those closest to me and accept the help when its offered.
Even after accepting my diagnosis, I remained ambivalent about my treatment for many years. This led me to accept subpar treatment. I didn’t ask if there were options, if things could be better. Due to my apathy, my spouse had to step in and make treatment decisions for me, which I ultimately resented. I would take my medication and attend therapy, but do little else. I’d take a fistful of anti-depressants and lie in bed all day waiting for some magical transformation. I didn’t give the treatment the support that it needed to be effective.
For many, these behaviors are deeply ingrained. Addressing them may involve facing your own insecurities and hopelessness that stigma instills in us. But if we don’t, we may limit our ability to fully adopt and benefit from new treatment strategies.
I learned the hard way that I was holding my recovery back. For over 15 years, I struggled. I had convinced myself that nothing would ever change, that nothing would ever work. I denied myself and my treatment the benefit of the doubt. Maybe things would have been different if the feeling of repeatedly losing hope wasn’t so painful. The last time I reached out for help might have been my last, but I grasped hope once more and never let go. I won’t ever let go again. It finally led me towards recovery and back to my family. I realized that not having hope was my greatest blind spot of all.
“Katherine’s candid description of times when she more than once “got in her own way,” possibly undermining her own treatment goals, is far from unusual and, I suspect, will sound familiar to many readers who struggle either first- or second-hand with chronic mental health conditions. By definition, it is awfully hard, if not almost impossible, to recognize blind spots. I applaud her candor and self-reflection.” – Dr. Goldberg
Katherine Ponte is a mental health advocate and entrepreneur. She is the founder of ForLikeMinds, the first online peer-based support community dedicated to people living with or supporting someone with mental illness illness and also offers Recovery Coaching. She is in recoveryfrom Bipolar I Disorder. She is also on the NAMI New York City Board of Directors.
NAMI’s Signature Program, Family to Family, is Starting February 26th
If you are a family member of someone living with a mental illness, this is the program for you. It will provide information on the various mental illnesses, treatments, medications, the system, empathy, and then go on to give you skills you can use to regain your balance and the harmony for your family, all the while helping your loved one to get into treatment, and/or to sustain their recovery. You will share “aha” moments with other families just like yours, make friends, and walk away with a new sense of love and appreciation for your loved one and the courage they need to face their illness on a daily basis. This program works!
This course session starts Tues, Feb 26th and goes each Tues and Thurs night through April 4th from 6:30 – 9pm, and will be meeting in Burlington. The course is FREE and taught by two trained NAMI family member volunteers who are on the same life’s journey.
Limited to 20 individuals, so please register as soon as possible, but no later than Feb. 22nd. Call Marti at 360.770.5666 or the NAMI Skagit line at 360.313.7080.
Public Education Evenings – 2nd Wednesdays of the month, 6:30 – 8pm
February 13th will feature Dr Alethea Fleming on “Eating and Sleeping your way to Mental Health”, discussing all the things that each individual can do to help themselves feel better, get healthier, and strengthen recovery in order to enjoy their lives. Essentially, she will be giving control back to you over things you may have let go – giving you control over managing your life by managing your health. Free of charge and all are invited.
March 13th will feature Brandon Foister from CPIT. (No, it’s not about learning to spit.) Learn about the Community Prevention
Intervention and Treatment program from its local Director. These are often the first people we call when we know a loved one needs help, but it doesn’t seem like an emergency, and for some reason they are resistant to seeking help.
Location for these monthly education sessions is at the First United Methodist Church’s Rees Room, at 1607 E Division in MV.
Enter the doors at the far end of the parking lot, which is nearest the meeting room.
April and May’s topics and speakers will be announced soon.
Worthwhile and Fun! Anyone Up For a Trip to Olympia on Lobby Day?!?
Registration is now open for NAMI’s Lobby Day in Olympia on Monday, Feb. 18th. Go to namiwa.org/advocacy to find the link to registration. This is an opportunity for each of us to tell/write our stories to share the impact of mental illness on our lives. The Mental Health system in Washington is still sadly not up to par, not just the low priority funding, and not just the lack of trained mental health workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, but also the outdated laws and restrictions on treatment when it is sorely needed. The legislature needs to hear from those living it – the peers and the families. NAMI Washington’s legislative priorities for 2019 are:
1. Protect and Increase Access to Quality Mental Health Services
2. Decriminalize Behavioral Health Conditions
3. Prioritize Prevention and Early Intervention
4. Insure the Financial Stability of a Quality Mental Healthcare System
We will be arranging carpools for those who would like to go, so please get registered as soon as possible, then call us at
360.313.7080 and let us know you are planning to go and your contact information. We can also help you register.
Our Movement, Our Moment
2019 NAMI National Convention
Join the nation’s largest gathering of mental health advocates as we share,
learn and network around important mental health issues.
NAMI Skagit’s Board of Directors just approved giving out six (6) one-day scholarships to those members living with a mental
Illness. Not a member? See the membership application on the address page! Don’t delay . . .Call Marti at 360.770.5666
June 19 – 22 are the dates that the NAMI National Convention will be in Seattle at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Early bird registration is on now through Feb 28th at www.nami.org It is important to register first, then receive your hotel codes for reserving a room.
Speakers from all over the country will be coming and offering a myriad of topics. The convention changes location each year and may not be back in Seattle for quite some time, so please consider taking advantage of this opportunity. Scholarships have not yet been determined, but if you are interested, please keep track on the national and state websites, as well as namiskagit.org.
Early bird registrations are: member $195, non-member $260, young adult (16-30) $160, peers $160. You may also register for just one or two days. Let’s have a NAMI Skagit crowd!
NAMI Skagit Support Groups
OPEN SUPPORT GROUP meets in Mount Vernon at the Skagit Valley Hospital in the Sauk Conference room (just south of the cafeteria on the same hallway), each 4th Tues of every month (next is Feb 26), 7 – 8:30pm. We welcome family members, partners, and supportive friends as well as those living with mental illness. Just come. Questions? Call Marti Wall at 360.770.5666
PEER SUPPORT GROUP meets on the 4th Thurs of each month, 7 – 8:30pm (Feb 28) in the Library of the Anacortes United Methodist Church, 2201 H Ave. (Park in back, enter through the downstairs doors). Primarily for those who have a mental illness but family members and supportive friends are welcome. No need to sign up; just come. Questions? Call Diana Dodds at 360.424.8224
FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP of Stanwood/Camano Island meets the 1st Monday each month from 7 – 8:30pm (Mar 4) at the Camano Island Library, 848 N. Sunrise Blvd, Camano Island. This group is only for the family members/partners of those who live with a mental illness. No registration required. Julie Melville at 360.941.0996 or Julie Bell at 360.420.7422.
Click on one of the following links and you will be taken to the corresponding newsletter for that month.
December 2018 – Click Here
January 2019 – Click Here
February 2019 – Click Here