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Rosacea…When Bad Skin Is A Sign of Mental Illness

Rosacea…When Bad Skin Is A Sign of Mental Illness

“Do you have a good dermatologist? I mean a really good dermatologist?”

A female co-worker had pulled me aside, peered grimly at my face and waited for a response. Pride died quietly inside the caverns of my being.

My answer was short. “Yes, I do.”

I continued to work, hoping the subject would drop.

She pushed ahead. “I mean, how long is this going to go on?”

For a moment, I blinked in disbelief. A generous portion of tactless, insensitive gruel had been dropped on my plate.

This woman was unaware of the struggles I faced; antibiotics, gels, creams, and endless doctors’ visits. She assumed a horrendous case of acne was to blame.

It was Rosacea; the manifestation of a deeper, more serious condition…Complex-PTSD.

The National Rosacea Society states that “emotional stress is reported to be one of the most common rosacea triggers.” (emotional stress | Rosacea.org)

My psyche had raged against my dermis. I was shocked.

I had managed to hide the emotional turmoil for more than a year. Buried deep inside an internal, seemingly dormant volcano, lava had quite literally bubbled to the surface.  Eruption was imminent.

I remained polite, yet tight lipped, when my co-worker pushed the name and number of her “qualified” dermatologist into my hand. I saved the tears for later.

This was not the first uncomfortable and intrusive encounter involving the state of my skin.

A previous visit with my drycleaner had left me embarrassed and deflated. The clerk suggested numerous homemade remedies for my imperfect complexion.  I wanted clean clothes, not unsolicited medical advice.

Complex-PTSD is an illness that can have numerous physical side effects. While outwardly battling visible symptoms, I secretly fought impalpable demons.

Rosacea caused embarrassment. I felt conspicuous and unsightly, especially when my job brought me into public view. I found it difficult to socialize and concentrate as people indiscreetly stared at the lumps and bumps on my fiery red cheeks.

While my pores continued to burst forth one heinous creation after another, my employer prepared for a company-wide award ceremony.

Annual sales ratios had been calculated. My department head called to inform me that I ranked as a “top performer” in the Retail Division.

Forever the master of disguise, I excelled in the workplace. My personal life was an insufferable closet of secret skeletons.

Sales Representatives, belonging to this elite category, would be honored at dinner party in a function hall. An appointment had been scheduled for a head shot, so my photo could be projected on a jumbo screen while I was presented with an award from the CEO.

To quote Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”

Raw, red, covered in painful pustules, cysts, blotches and burst veins, I begged to be excused. I was mortified and refused all photographs. I looked like I had gone ten rounds with a meat grinder.

Although I was allowed to provide my own “pre-rosacea” photograph, the ceremony was obligatory. I showed up, faced my co-workers, gracefully smiled and accepted the award.

Years of denial along with unmanaged, untreated symptoms were finally catching up. Other health problems quickly presented and it became even harder to maintain normal daily routines.  Mentally and physically, I struggled to keep up the charade.

A month later, my doctors would not allow me to continue to work.

My face was sore, swollen and painful to touch but the emotional agony of mental illness was comparatively worse.

Eventually, I stopped caring about my appearance. Depression tightened its’ grip. I was numb to any concern about personal vanity.

I took steps to remedy my skin, but the rigorous undertaking of emotional healing was front and center.

Oftentimes, mental illness is an invisible disease…until it leaches out like infection from a wound. Disguised as other ailments, these maladies are warning signs of deeper, more complicated problems.

The mind/body connection is real. When you are mentally unwell, the physical wiring starts to short circuit.

Today, my rosacea has improved. Seeking mental wellness continues to be a bumpy and treacherous journey, much like an odyssey through a bubbling, cavernous lava field.

Once you accept the disturbance is there, navigating your internal volcano becomes clearer. Magma and ashes are part of the process.  Even after eruptions, the mountain is usually still standing.

And, it helps to have a therapist…I mean a “really good” therapist.

© thejitterbur.org 2018

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Excuse me, Porter?

Excuse me, Porter?

In 2005, my husband and I picked up a connecting flight in Puerto Rico on the way to our honeymoon destination, St. Lucia. I remember standing at the ticket counter when a porter kindly offered to help us with our bags. Being young and naïve we allowed him to do so…and he literally rolled them a few feet to the gate, a task we easily could have managed.

Feeling foolish and slightly taken advantage of, we paid up when the man held out his hand for a tip.

The Caribbean is replete with citizens in need of work and income. Lack of jobs creates competition and islanders have learned to become resourceful and assertive in their approach to make a living. We quickly realized our few dollars had helped not only a struggling economy but a human being, a man trying to put food on the table for himself and his family.

The porter had been so eager to take our luggage. The task and weight of carrying bags for tourists added value to his day, his life, his wallet.  Our baggage was necessary for his survival.

Flash forward to 2017.  I am in the process of working through and living with the struggles of Complex-PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. My siblings and I were raised in a home by a mother with borderline personality/narcissistic personality disorder.  Each of us struggle with the trauma embedded in our sense of self.

Feelings of guilt, shame and not being “good enough” continue to dog us in our adult years. At a young age, our brains were wired to believe the standards my mother set were true and if we didn’t meet them we weren’t acceptable.

Now in our thirties, three decades of unhealthy behavior have been spent in the form of people pleasing, self-condemning, unjustified “answerability. ” We continue to struggle with learning healthy patterns

After a recent session with my therapist regarding “emotional and psychological baggage,” here is my take away…only porters should take on baggage. Let me say that again. Only porters should take on baggage.

This intangible burden, a weight I had picked up and carried for three decades, was not mine at all. I had been carrying my mother’s baggage, her standards, her insecurities and the last time I checked, I wasn’t a bellhop.

This weight was hurting my survival, not sustaining it, as it did for Caribbean porters in crowded airports.

I didn’t finish college, my sister wasn’t skinny enough, my brother married the wrong girl…hefty luggage that never had our tag on it.  But, we picked it up, dragged it around and rolled it from one metaphorical gateway to the next, making restitution for un-met standards. This behavior was not only limited to relations with our parents but over-arched the structure of our lives.

Each of us developed different coping mechanisms; we became excessive worriers, doers, helpers.  We spent money, bought gifts, became obsessed with perfection and sacrificed our mental and emotional health.

My siblings and I thought we were “getting paid” in a co-dependent way of compensating acts, trying to elicit positive feedback.  Any hint of accord was like a coin in our pocket, a tip, small compensation that never added up to much.

We had been lugging around my mother’s trunk of skeletons our whole lives, trying to carry a weight that didn’t belong to us to begin with.

I’m not upset I didn’t finish school, my sister is a beautiful and accomplished woman and my brother is happy with the partner he chose.  The suitcases full of expectations and standards can be left at the ticket counter.  The tags don’t have our names on them.  The contents are not ours to claim.

So, unless you are working for an airport, hotel or transportation service only take what you need for your journey.  Everything else will drag you down.  Leave the unclaimed baggage on the carousel.

 

copyright2017 thejitterbug

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I Prefer the Needle…Relief in Acupuncture

I Prefer the Needle…Relief in Acupuncture

The moment a precisely placed needle pricks my skin, I know relief and relaxation are just minutes away. I’m an addict and yes, it’s a something I will never quit…acupuncture.

Determined to fight a diagnosis of Complex-PTSD without the help of a pill, I choose a homeopathic approach.

In the past, I had tried medicine for depression and anxiety.  It offered little result and unpleasant side effects.  From this experience, I came to prefer natural remedies.

Meditation, yoga, exercise, talk-therapy, herbal teas, essential oils, hot baths…I tried them all. Nothing helped enough.  I began to feel hopeless and defeated.

Finally, at the sincere urging of my therapist and steps away from being hospitalized, I agreed to once again consider traditional medication.

Medication

Nothing worked. I tried medicine after medicine.  Every pill came with side effect after side effect.  Some drugs even caused life threatening allergic reactions to my highly sensitive system.

Rashes, headaches, extreme fatigue, brain fog, heightened anxiety, increased depression, restlessness, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, sexual side effects, hyperactive behavior…the list goes on.

A very small dose of sedative medication was the only drug that my body tolerated. It was the only medicine that took the edge off agonizing symptoms.

Months of trial and error with a psychiatric nurse practitioner yielded no results. My therapist eventually referred me to a highly recommended psycho-pharmacologist/psychiatrist.  Even she could do no better.

The psychiatrist prescribed a new drug which introduced sleepless nights, intense anxiety and finally, a fainting episode in my pharmacy parking lot.  I decided enough was enough.

Time for a New Approach

“Exquisitely sensitive” was the term my psychiatrist used. C-PTSD had put my body in a hyper-vigilant, fight or flight mode with no off switch.  My body over-reacted and attacked anything new that was introduced to its’ system.

This response was not limited to medication. Noises, lights, quick movements, pain or any external stimulation that overwhelmed my “exquisitely sensitive” nature caused extreme anxiety. (“Exquisitely sensitive” was a dressed up, but unique way of saying “living in terror.”) My brain deemed everything as “danger.”

And then…I found acupuncture.

Acupuncture

I had previously researched this treatment with regards to anxiety and depression.  My sister gave me positive feedback as she had undergone acupuncture therapy for her own health issues. I decided to try it.

Skeptical? Sure, but at this point (no pun intended), what did I have to lose?

After the first treatment, I was hooked.  A relief I had never felt washed over my body.  The experience is hard to describe. I laid there for an hour, floating in a dreamlike state.

My doctors encouraged me to keep going and I faithfully agreed to keep every appointment.

Now, once a week, I arrive, ready for the little needles, the heated table, the soft music and the hour of relaxation. Every visit is different and each treatment is based on what symptom I am struggling with the most. This list is long, but includes Gastrointestinal Issues, Migraines, Low BMI, Severe Anxiety, Fatigue, Depression, Rosacea Flare-Ups, Loss of Menstrual Cycle, etc.

Due to low BMI, my menstrual cycle had stopped for over 7 months! After two specialized acupuncture treatments pertaining to this issue…voila!  The “curse” returned!  This was a huge step in getting my hormones back on track and feeling better.  Yes, I was a woman jumping for joy to get her period!

I didn’t need any more convincing that there was something very real in this ancient, Eastern technique.

Herbal Therapy, Benefits, Time

My acupuncturist eventually started me on an herbal therapy to reduce anxiety. Dietary recommendations were made to help me gain weight and clear my skin.

It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly, with time, I noticed a loosening of misery, a slight dialing back of anxiety, and more restful sleeping.

The benefits of each visit started to extend beyond my hour on the table and carry gently over into everyday life.

My psychiatrist explained that it can take years to begin healing from an illness like C-PTSD.  It’s a slow process and sometimes I feel deflated at the long term prospect of this journey. I try to remember I’m the tortoise in this race and not the hare.  One day, one breath, one precise little needle at a time.

Symptom Management

This treatment has NOT been a cure. Acupuncture helps to better manage my symptoms in a way that SSRIs, mood stabilizers and certain benzodiazepines have not.  I am a believer in Western AND Alternative medicine. In fact, I am still on the small dose of sedatives, but now they seem to work more effectively in conjunction with regular acupuncture treatments. I go to therapy twice a week, continue light exercise, practice meditation and no longer work. There are many factors contributing to my path of healing.

Cost

Acupuncture is expensive.  I pay out-of-pocket as my insurance company does not cover any cost for this type of treatment. That’s a soapbox rant for another blog post.

Currently, I spend $70 a treatment for a once a week visit. This price includes a discount for buying a 10 visit package rather than paying per visit.

I am fortunate to be able to cover this expense, in part, because I live a frugal life-style and make intentional decisions on where to spend my money.  Manicures, shopping sprees or expensive restaurant dinners do not make the budget.

At this time, acupuncture adds more value than cash accumulating in my bank account.  As a frugalist, it’s a tough spend but I’ve realized health comes first.  I want to gain financial freedom, however, there is no point in achieving this goal if I’m not well enough to enjoy it.

Do Your Research

Make sure you work with an acupuncturist who maintains proper licensing and credentials. Check out this link to better understand how you can find the best practitioner for you.  http://www.wikihow.com/Find-a-Licensed-Acupuncturist

A good acupuncturist will begin your first visit with a health consultation or questionnaire.  They will ask about current medications, primary complaints and work with you in creating a treatment plan.

When starting acupuncture, consistent visits over a period of time are suggested.  As symptoms improve, your acupuncturist will recommend “maintenance visits,” are are less often.

Consulting with doctors about new treatment, herbs and diet changes is an important step in preventing possible interactions with other medications.  Remember to tell your doctor before you try anything new.

I am certainly not telling anyone to stop their medication or disregard traditional Western treatment. I am encouraging people to keep looking for answers, keep having discussions with your doctor and keep trying things you may not have considered.

Little Needle, Big Possibilities

A non-invasive form of therapy, acupuncture is a holistic approach to health and well-being.  Believers and dis-believers in the medical field debate over the authenticity of acupuncture’s healing claims.  However, emerging research is beginning to prove the benefits behind this ancient Eastern technique.

Consequently, this approach is another tool in my toolkit, another arrow in my quiver, against a battle I fight from the moment I open my eyes each morning.

Combined with other life-style changes, acupuncture has augmented my path to healing.

Who knows…the needle could be your healthy addiction too.

©thejitterbug 2017

**Check out my post about medication and irritable bowel syndrome.

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