Daily Archives: January 6, 2015

12 Deadly Sins: Secrets behind Self Harm

Warning: Some people may find this post triggering. For help with self harm please refer to resources such as Headspace, Helpguide, Lifeline, or call your local crisis helpline. 

When I was 15 I was diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder and an eating disorder. Because I wasn’t confused enough, later on I was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and numerous other unpleasant sounding things ending in “disorder”. Basically, no one knew what was going on.

It was a bit of a shithouse time really, culminating in a hospitalisation, threatened subsequent hospitalisations, and a fair amount of general chaos. Medication never worked because, obviously, I actually had Bipolar disorder, and prescribing anti-depressants without a mood stabiliser to someone with Bipolar disorder will usually just make things worse. But the doctors never picked up on that. So…one of my coping strategies was self harm.

I remember the first time I hurt myself. I had just come home from lunch at a cafe. I was freaking out over what I had eaten – not because I was afraid of becoming fat, but because I thought the kitchen staff were trying to poison me (and despite telling the doctors this concern every single frigging week, the professionals never picked up on my psychosis either. Probably because middle class, skinny, teenage, perfectionistic, high achieving, introverted girls don’t have psychosis. They have Anorexia.) Anyway, I tried to make myself puke. That was a fail. So out of pure frustration I grabbed a pair of scissors and scratched myself.

Immediately I felt relief. And about 10 seconds after that; shame.

Harming myself was like a weird drug. I started doing it more and more. I became addicted to it. I am not going to go into morbid detail because I know how triggering this kind of stuff can be. But hurting myself felt like the one control I had in my life. It felt like I was externalising all the pain inside and making it visible. It was my punishment. It was my reward. It was my secret.

This topic is not something I have ever really written about on here. To be honest with you, I don’t really like thinking about what I did to myself. But I think this is a topic worth discussing. There is so much controversy over self harm. And so much disrespect. Those who self harm are mocked, seen as attention seekers, and dismissed.

I can’t speak for others, but I never self harmed for attention. Attention was the last thing I wanted, even going to the extent of self harming in places only I would see, or wearing long sleeved tops on even the hottest of days. I self harmed because I didn’t know what else to do. I self harmed because it was a release. I self harmed because I was unwell.

That’s another thing: there is a myth that self harming is a kind of suicide attempt. I didn’t want to kill myself. Well, I did, at times. But my self harm wasn’t a symptom of suicidality. My self harming behaviour was a tool, a destructive tool, that got me through some of the most difficult days of my life. For me, it wasn’t a step towards ending it all.

Then one day I realised that I was running the risk of permanently scarring my body, in a way that would be eternally difficult to explain. I realised that I wanted to wear a bikini. That one day I would walk down the aisle and may want a sleeveless wedding dress. That I might have a kid who would ask what I did to myself. That it just wasn’t a healthy way of behaving. So I stopped. I say it like it was easy. It wasn’t. There was a long period after I self harmed regularly where it would be my “go-to” strategy if I was upset. It took a long time to change my behaviour. But I did it. And aside from the freak out I had in the locked ward last year, which I don’t tend to count as I was rampantly psychotic and actually set on killing myself as opposed to harming myself , I haven’t self harmed in years.

Luckily I don’t have many noticeable scars. But the ones I do remind me every day on how far I have come, and the path I have walked.

When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of poetry and songs. Today I came across this poem, and it stuck out to me. For me this explains perfectly the allure, horror and truth behind self harming.

12 deadly sins

Feels like fire

My opened flesh

Secrets exposed

How I like it best.

Razor sharp

Indulge my skin

But it’s never enough

To purge my sins

1 because I’m not good enough for you

2 for all the wrongs I do

3 for keeping back the truth

4 for the way that I treat you

5 for my ugly face

6 for this unwanted space

7 for the lies I’ve told

8 for this razor I hold

9 for the pain inside

10 for my hopes to die

11 because I can’t stop now

12 because I don’t know how.

12 purple scars

upon my thigh

I keep them well hidden

So you won’t ask why.

12 deadly sins

my punishment kept

12 000 tears

my cruel hands have wept.

Is Depression A Kind Of Allergic Reaction? Caused By Inflammation?


Barely a week goes by without a celebrity “opening up” about their “battle with depression”. This, apparently, is a brave thing to do because, despite all efforts to get rid of the stigma around depression, it is still seen as some kind of mental and emotional weakness.

But what if was nothing of the sort? What if it was a physical illness that just happens to make people feel pretty lousy? Would that make it less of a big deal to admit to? Could it even put a final nail in the coffin of the idea that depression is all in the mind?
According to a growing number of scientists, this is exactly how we should be thinking about the condition. George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has spent years studying depression, and has come to the conclusion that it has as much to do with the body as the mind. “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”

The basis of this new view is blindingly obvious once it is pointed out: everyone feels miserable when they are ill. That feeling of being too tired, bored and fed up to move off the sofa and get on with life is known among psychologists as sickness behaviour. It happens for a good reason, helping us avoid doing more damage or spreading an infection any further.
It also looks a lot like depression. So if people with depression show classic sickness behaviour and sick people feel a lot like people with depression – might there be a common cause that accounts for both?

The answer to that seems to be yes, and the best candidate so far is inflammation – a part of the immune system that acts as a burglar alarm to close wounds and call other parts of the immune system into action. A family of proteins called cytokines sets off inflammation in the body, and switches the brain into sickness mode.

Both cytokines and inflammation have been shown to rocket during depressive episodes, and – in people with bipolar – to drop off in periods of remission. Healthy people can also be temporarily put into a depressed, anxious state when given a vaccine that causes a spike in inflammation. Brain imaging studies of people injected with a typhoid vaccine found that this might be down to changes in the parts of the brain that process reward and punishment.

There are other clues, too: people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis tend to suffer more than average with depression; cancer patients given a drug called interferon alpha, which boosts their inflammatory response to help fight the cancer, often become depressed as a side-effect.

As evidence like this continues to stack up, it’s not surprising that some people have shifted their attention to what might be causing the inflammation in the first place. Turhan Canli of Stony Brook University in New York thinks infections are the most likely culprit, and even goes as far as to say that we should rebrand depression as an infectious – but not contagious – disease.

Others aren’t willing to go that far, not least because infection is not the only way to set off inflammation. A diet rich in trans fats and sugar has been shown to promote inflammation, while a healthy one full of fruit, veg and oily fish helps keep it at bay. Obesity is another risk factor, probably because body fat, particularly around the belly, stores large quantities of cytokines.

Add this to the fact that stress, particularly the kind that follows social rejection or loneliness, also causes inflammation, and it starts to look as if depression is a kind of allergy to modern life – which might explain its spiralling prevalence all over the world as we increasingly eat, sloth and isolate ourselves into a state of chronic inflammation.

If that’s the case, prevention is probably the place to start. It’s not a great idea to turn off inflammation entirely, because we need it to fend off infections, says Slavich, but “lowering levels of systemic inflammation to manageable levels is a good goal to have”.

The good news is that the few clinical trials done so far have found that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants not only improves symptoms, it also increases the proportion of people who respond to treatment, although more trials will be needed to confirm this. There is also some evidence that omega 3 and curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, might have similar effects. Both are available over the counter and might be worth a try, although as an add-on to any prescribed treatment – there’s definitely not enough evidence to use them as a replacement.

In between five to 10 years, says Carmine Pariante, a psychiatrist at Kings College London, there may be a blood test that can measure inflammation in people with depression so that they can be treated accordingly. Researchers have already come up with a simple finger-prick test that reliably measures inflammation markers in a single drop of blood.

And as for the stigma – could it really be killed off by shifting the blame from the mind to the body? Time will tell. This is not the first time that depression has been linked to a physical phenomenon, after all. A recent survey found that despite wider awareness of the theory that “chemical imbalances” in the brain cause depression, this has done nothing to reduce stigma; in fact, it seemed to make matters worse.

This time, though, the target is not any kind of brain or mind-based weakness but a basic feature of everyone’s body that could strike anyone down given the right – or wrong – turn of events. And if that doesn’t inspire a greater sympathy and understanding, then nothing will.

How the CLINT MALARCHUK interview came to be :-)

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Now I am not resting on my laurels, nobody can seriously accuse me of that, however this is the story behind the story, the bloopers so to speak, and it is a really interesting story, so I’d like to share it with you.

How, you might ask yourself, did Samina Raza come to interview Clint Malarchuk? How did that come to be? Well Clint Malarchuk’s book called “A Matter Of Inches” had just come out. My brother, who is very literary and keeps on top of everything sent me an email with the link to Clint’s book and a message saying “You should interview him for your blog.” I read the book reviews and a bit of the book’s preview and thought to my self that Clint Malarchuk is not going to want me to interview him. And there the issue stood for a few days.

Why was it important to interview Clint? Well my family had been living in Buffalo NY since 1972. My brother and my sister were born there. Just like anyone living in Buffalo. we were huge Buffalo Sabres’ fans. Clint Malarchuk had been the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie and we watched and loved him. When the goriest accident in sports happened, when his throat got injured by the skate of another player, there was a collective scream in Buffalo. He was taken to the Buffalo General Hospital where my step dad worked as a cardiovascular surgeon. And although he did not work on Clint, he was there the night the accident happened. So we “knew” Clint in a manner of speaking. And when his book came out, and we found out about his battles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and alcohol abuse as well as major anxiety and depression disorders, and I had a blog about bipolar 1, it made sense to try and interview him.

But, at first, I was too nervous to even think about it. Then I went from Louisville to Buffalo to visit my son. My brother also came to Buffalo at the same time to visit my son. He asked me what was going on about possibly doing the interview. I said basically nothing. My brother gave me a little push. And then somehow I started to believe that it could be done! My son had posted, on his Facebook page, about Clint’s book and that post also showed that Clint Malarchuk had a Facebook page. So that very night, on December 12th, 2014, I friend requested Clint Malarchuk and he accepted, as he has accepted almost 3000 people! There was a lot of excitement in my son’s apartment that night because Clint had accepted my friend request! Most of the excitement was from me! Then later that night, 12:34 am to be exact, I sent Clint a message telling him about how I was a huge Sabres fan. How I’d heard of his book and intended to read it pronto. Also, I said I had bipolar d/o and I’d started a blog about my illness. I also told him I would love to interview him for my blog. The next morning I told my brother what had happened. I waited one day, nothing. Two days, nothing. I told my brother, “He’s not interested.”

Then later on Dec. 15th, Clint wrote back saying he would like to help! There was a lot of hooting and hollering after getting that message. I got his book “A Matter Of Inches” on my Macbook Air immediately. I started reading the book at about 8 pm. And I finished the book at 6 am the next morning. As I’ve said before, I sobbed, I laughed, I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked from the first word of the Prologue to the very last word of the book.

Then I emailed him a list of my questions which I’d formulated. I had about 22 questions.

And he answered all of my questions, over the phone, graciously, patiently, and sweetly. Even encouraging me to keep up the good work of my blog. The interview lasted 40 minutes and I recorded it on two devices because I was so afraid that I might accidentally erase the whole interview.

It took me two days to transcribe it. And I posted it on my blog on Dec. 22nd. And immediately after I posted it, I sent Clint a link to the post. After about half an hour, he messaged me saying “Great job Samina!” After I read that, I was dancing! And smiling and laughing! And I texted my brother, my son, my nephew, all the people who were actually present when this all started, to say that the interview was done and posted. I also emailed them a copy of the interview.

This was the most fun post I’ve ever posted. Not only did it mean a lot, it was with someone who we had a connection with. It was important information to disseminate. And Clint Malarchuk was a delight to interview. Thank you again Clint!

Not So Nice Surprise

Today it was snowing and our car is not that great in that kind of weather so hubby decided to work from home. I was thrilled he was here. Then around 1:00pm hubby found out that he had a flight out to Denver and had to leave by 5pm. Needless to say he is fairly close to landing in another city and I have to sleep alone for the next two nights while he is on his business trip.

I can’t believe how unprofessional his business was that they didn’t bother to call him his entire week off to see he was available to travel, they did it all by email and he didn’t find out until a few hours before his flight yet the other people knew because they were at work. I call bullshit.

I’m not happy but really he had no choice if he wants to stay in good standing with work.

I don’t have to like it though! FUCK THEM!

100 ( and you know who you are!)

100Well, this kind of snuck in under the wire. We have officially hit one hundred followers!

When I started this blog, I think I had a vague idea of what a “follower” was…after all, I had been following a couple of blogs myself. And I remember getting my first follower or two. That was darned exciting. But I don’t think I envisioned myself with 100 followers. And certainly not within five months. (Should we count the first month? It really sucked!)

I am not crazy enough to believe that 100 people are out there anxiously awaiting my next entry. Some of my followers have probably drifted far, far away and either don’t read blogs anymore or don’t read mine. But just to have 100 folks hit the follow button is a big deal.

I follow about 20 blogs. I do read most of the stuff they put out. I will say that many of them have become inactive. It doesn’t take me long to go through my twenty blogs because many of them also don’t publish too often. One blog I follow publishes photos about once a month. That doesn’t take to long to check out. Other blogs write very short entries. So that makes it go pretty quickly. There are only one or two that I am addicted to and I always aggressively check to see if they’ve written anything. I am sort of following their story as it unfolds.

I don’t know how I feel about the number of followers I have. I’d be glad to have more, but that isn’t the reason I go on. I think a hundred followers is a really good base. The reason I started this whole thing was to shut up my docs and friends about journaling. I just never liked to journal because it seemed like a big dead end. I mean a) my handwriting is so shaky a regular journal would not look good b) I wouldn’t really want my friends and family reading all this crap. But there is something about a blog. I have been VERY honest on this blog. There’s something about it being semi-anonymous that lets me feel free to write.

My women’s support group (which is Christian based) knows that I blog. They recommend some sort of journaling and they accept my blogging as totally acceptable. My bipolar group also knows I blog and they are impressed and all want to read it. But with the exception of one friend, I have kept this anonymous as best I can. I do use the one friend who reads this as a good person to bounce things off of.

One goal my blog has sort of weaseled into in helping with mental health awareness. I’m not saying I am your average bipolar person, but I might be close. You know, the person who is pretty functional a lot of the time but has trouble holding a job. The person who responds well to meds. The person who has solid long term relationships. The person who has had lots of days in bed or on the couch but can also run holiday parties and get to social activities.

As I am browsing around the blogging world I see blogs with 300K followers. Now that’s a bit much. I don’t know what the ideal amount would be. One reason I would like to increase my followers is to increase my comments. I can’t tell you how nice it is to get a comment or some feedback on an entry. I don’t even care if people say “my God that was dull.” I just like to hear from both old and new readers and hear what you are thinking. I like to feel that I am on this journey with others. To practice what I preach, I do try to leave comments at my other favorite blogs, just to let them know I am out there. And I feel like I have I have made some anonymous blog friends. I love it.

I have had a few nice comments lately. I am paraphrasing here but someone said “I like your blog. It is just like you are sitting down and talking to me.” I think that’s a pretty high compliment. I want this blog to feel like we are all in this together. Especially if you have MI, young adult children, weight problems, or anything else going on in your life. My life is definitely more than just mental illness. And I think this has come about in a big way because of the encouragement of the people reading.

It’s kind of interesting that we are hitting the number 100 followers right at the beginning of the year. I suppose I should be ambitious like many of my fellow bloggers and set some sort of goals for next year. I don’t know if followers pick up as the ball gets rolling, or if they keep just coming in at the same regular rate.

So whether you are an “official” follower or not, I thank you for being here. I feel like I have created a tiny community here on mental illness and the joy of bipolar. And more important, on the recovery from bipolar. Through me, you have learned that it is one step forward and three steps back.

We are supposed to some up with one word for the year for our women’s support group. Some other girls are using hope, or balance. You’re supposed to pray about it. I haven’t prayed much, but I have come up with either “acceptance” or “recovery”. I don’t really want to accept myself as is but I don’t think I can be in full recovery. I need a word between those two.

So whether you are one of the 100 or just a casual reader, thanks for being here. You’re needed and wanted.

hugs, lily

Where I’ve Been

Dearest Readers,

Yup, you’re right, I haven’t been posting lately.

There are a number of factors that I hold responsible–of course, I cannot possibly be held responsible for my own shortcomings as a blogger  ;-).

I’ve been having a bout of the flu, and it seems endless.  I came down with it a week before my trip to Israel–I don’t remember telling you about the trip to Israel, so now you know–and it let up a couple of days before I left, so I thought I was out of danger.

The flight was magical.  I happened to be seated next to an adorable Jewish fellow, not too far from my age, and it seems that we have lived parallel lives.  We yakked for about twelve hours, sprinkled with power naps.  We exchanged communication details at the baggage claim, and I went to my usual Hotel R. in Jerusalem (actually the apartment of a good friend) and I am told that I hit the rack and slept for a week.  I believe that’s true, in retrospect.

I had all sorts of icky business-type things to do in Jerusalem.  My passport had expired, so I went to the Ministry of the Interior, took a number, and waited for two hours among the wheezing toddlers and Muslim women covered head to toe while their husbands sported bare heads, muscle shirts, and cutoff jean shorts.  Shoulder-to-shoulder, Orthodox Jewish couples all in black, National Religious couples in headscarves and colorful knitted kippas. Everyone jostled for baby buggy space.  Everyone looked vaguely worried.  Government offices make everyone worried, because your fate is in the hands of some clerk who might or might not be having a bad day.

At the bank, things were really bad.  I had a bill with the National Insurance agency that was normally directly debited, but having been in America for almost four years, I had lost my bank password, and could not obtain another without passing my debit card through their own ATM, so I was screwed there.  No possibility of doing it over the phone, either, since that also requires a password.  Oh, and they force you to change your password every six months, because they got hacked a few years back and are more stringent now.  That’s probably a good thing, but it trashed my bank account and all the other accounts connected with it.

So, when I finally was able to present myself to a bank officer, I found that my account was not only frozen, but had accrued more than four times the original debt in fees and interest.

I heard that one could get those fees taken off by hiring certain lawyers who specialize in such matters, but their fee was more than what I owed, so I decided to just pay it and cut my losses.

But whom to pay?  The bank officers said not at the bank.  The original source of the debt said not with them.  Who, then?  I did what every Israeli does when having banking issues: I went to a different bank.

Used to be that you could do that, just open another account, and then deal with the other bank in your own time, or not at all.  But now they have a centralized system for catching bounders like myself, who only want to pay their bills, past and present.

The new bank was ready to open me a new account, but wait!  My other frozen account came up on their computer like a zombie rising from its grave.  This new bank was eager for my business, though, so they were kind enough to tell me the name of the government office where I could pay my dept.  But they didn’t know where it was.

Frustrated as hell, and fuck if it wasn’t too cold and damp for ice cream (which usually soothes my inner savage beast), I trudged back up the hill (did I tell you that Jerusalem, and most of Israel, for that matter, is bristling with hills?) and fell back into bed.

After a reasonable nap I turned my energies toward finding that damn office.  First I searched for its English transliteration, which usually lands you on the Hebrew site of government offices, but no dice,  This must be a really elite office for people who have been out of country so long that their bank accounts have frozen.

So I hitched up my britches and switched my keyboard over to Hebrew, and voila!  Found it.  Turned out to be about four blocks from where I was staying.  And it looked like it would be open the next day!  You must understand, dear readers, that Israeli government offices, as well as banks and other official places, are not open according to what Westerners consider to be “normal business hours.”  For instance, most banks are open Sunday and Monday from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, Tuesday 8:30 am to 12 pm and again from 4 pm to 6 pm.  Wednesday we’re back to 8:30 to 1:30, but Thursday mixes it up by only being open from 4-6.  Got it?  Me neither.

And it’s not homogenous among the various official offices.  You have to go to their sites and make a note of their hours.

So: having identified the location and opening hours of the office for bad debt payment, I dragged myself down there the next day and found it packed.  I guess there are a lot of debtors around, and you can’t tell by looking at them who they are.  I mean, I think I look fairly respectable.  If you met me on the street, you’d never know that I was a person who had her bank account frozen because she was a debtor.

But that’s in the past.  I paid my bill, received the usual sheaf of paperwork that I never look at no matter what language it’s in (dear readers, one thing you should know about me is that I never read instructions unless I have pieces left over, or get an alarming string of numbers on my computer screen, or have my bank account frozen).

The important part is that they gave me a piece of paper with official signatures, seals, and stamps on it, and declared my debt to be “mevutal,” cancelled.

I marched into my (former) bank with the papers, and the officer set busily about reinstating my account.  She looked quite downcast when I told her that I intended to close that account.  She looked so downcast, that I settled for putting the account on hold, but in good standing.  I made her PROMISE that my account would not accrue any fees, because bank fees accompany every transaction, even depositing money.  At my bank it costs 6.5 shekels just to make a deposit.  That’s about $1.25, depending on the exchange rate.

Well, then I had to go back through all those government offices and make sure they had received all the information on their computers.

That done, I went on to have a spectacular flirtation with the man from the plane, which ended with both of us fleeing in terror.  Luckily he has a cooler head than I, and prevailed upon me to stay friends.  OK, I really like him.  He is a magnificent guitarist, and we had a lot of fun playing together, he playing and I singing, in an empty underground parking lot.  Then we went to a dangerous park and smooched for a couple of hours.

“How long does it take to get to the Dead Sea from here?”

I thought he was asking just because he wanted to know, so I said “45 minutes, depending on traffic.”  It was 11 at night by this time, not much traffic, I suppose, although rock throwers are always a hazard, everywhere in Israel now.

“Let’s go,” he said in earnest.  “Come on, let’s go.  I want to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea.”

I have in fact seen the sun rise over the Dead Sea, and it is spectacular.  The Dead Sea is full of bromium, which combines with other chemicals to make bromide salts that are lighter than water but heavier than most air, so they hang in a pearlescent haze over the sea.  When the sun comes up over the desert hills, the bromide cloud refracts it and shatters it into thousands of sparks of pinks, purples, and golds.  Just gorgeous.  And bromide salts are a natural antidepressant!

Unfortunately, my health prevents me from staying up all night anymore, so I had to decline.  Rats.

So, as the old-time song goes, we “kissed, shook hands, and parted.”  Not for the last time, I am quite sure.  I hope.

A couple of days later, the remnants of the flu raised their heads and turned into bronchitis.  Luckily, I happened to be visiting a couple with whom I am particularly close, and alarmed at the dreadful cough I had developed, they dragged me to their doctor, and the husband braved the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh (which has historically been friendly, but in these times you just never know).  Thankfully he did not get rocked or firebombed the way so many of my friends have, and the antibiotic worked wonders, and I felt better in a couple of days.

Comes the trip back to the US, and I was blessed with a whole row of empty seats, with no fascinating man to keep me awake.  So I slept until all the babies simultaneously woke up and began campaigning for their breakfasts.

On American soil again, I hit the ground running (driving, really), went and picked up my dog, and slogged home through the haze of jet lag.

Over the next few days I thought I was having a protracted case of jet lag.  I usually don’t get much in the way of jet lag, because I think my body has given up on the idea, having been schlepped through so many time zones, and it doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

Unfortunately the “jet lag” turned out to be: either a relapse of the flu, or some other new, different, and wonderful virus.  I spend my days and especially nights alternating between racking chills and burning sweats.  I have threatened my body that if it doesn’t straighten up and fly right I will drag its sorry ass to the doctor.  It seems unimpressed.

Wishing all of you a healthier New Year than I’ve been having so far,