“I just can’t take this #^&* anymore!”

Caregiver CAREversations and Depression Seminars Next Week May Help with Your Anxiety and Stress

Whenever I can I like to offer up news about upcoming and/or recent events that educate and inform those interested concerning blood cancers, caregiving and all those related topics associated with them. I’m still right in the middle of dealing with these major topics so they are of significant concern and interest to me. I thought they would be for you, too.

Next week, at least here in the Houston, Texas area, are two different seminars dealing with caregiving concerns and depression from cancer treatment. Below is information highlighting each seminar.

AARP Careversations Graphic

If you’re caring for a family member, friend or neighbor in need, you understand the challenges involved. That’s why AARP created CAREversations, a free event coming to your area that brings together family caregivers just like you. Attend this lightly facilitated event to share ideas, local resources and more to help you better provide for your loved one’s health, finances and overall quality of life. Register now to get ready for what’s next in your caregiving journey.
Discover five key steps to help every caregiver
Share what’s worked for you
Explore local caregiving resources
Enjoy light refreshments

Those interested in attending the Houston area seminar, here are the specifics.

Event: AARP Careversations – Houston, TX 4/25/19, 6:00 PM

Time: 6:00 PM Date: Thursday, April 25, 2019

Location: Maggiano’s Little Italy At Memorial City
Address: 602 Memorial City Mall, Houston, Texas 77024, USA

Registration for this and any other dates/locations can be handled by calling the       AARP event registration line at 1-866-740-6947.


Those of you interested in the Depression seminar, also in Houston, here’s that information. Registration is required.

Managing Depression and Anxiety During and After Cancer Treatment

April 27, 2019

Westin Houston Memorial City

945 Gessner Rd
Houston, Texas , 77024

Registration: 9:30 am 

Program: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

This program will introduce ways to cope with the anxiety and depression
that often accompany cancer. Psychiatrist, Mary Hughes, Clinical Nurse Specialist,
Psychiatry Department, MD Anderson Cancer Center, will share
information on signs, symptoms, and treatment options for depression and anxiety.
The presentation will be followed by a question and answer period with the speaker.

We encourage you to invite your caregiver and family members.

Registration Link

 

If you have additional questions before completing your registration please contact Erika Pomares, Senior Patient Access Manager at 832.463.3613 or Erika.Pomares@LLS.org.

someday is today - LLS logo

 

 

Advertisements

Managing Stress and Other “Light” Readings

Whenever I attend a special seminar or workshop put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), I usually bring home the various literature they make available. Such was the case recently where they provided a presentation on Insomnia.

In addition to a paper handout about insomnia, their table folder included a booklet on Managing Stress. It’s a delightful little booklet with a bunch of useful info and some soon-to-be colored-in pages for relaxation. Numerous references and tips abound.

 

LLS_Managing_Stress

Alas, this is but one of many publications and resources available for download.

So, go browse, click, download and read the latest about what may be troubling you and your loved ones.

Cancer is a bitch. Time you do some ass-kickin’!

Methodists: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. Really?

When I was baptized years ago, it was done in the Presbyterian Church USA. Though it was later in life for me, as opposed to being a young child, I was cool with it. I liked the Presbyterians and their beliefs. They didn’t seem so stuck on what happened eons ago or who said what. And they were pretty accepting about who walked into the front door or who stood behind the podium.

That has changed, unfortunately.

Over the years I’ve seen some very nasty and mean-spirited happenings and accusations occur in the churches I’ve attended. Alas, these are probably not limited to the “Prez People.”

In recent years I’ve seen the church become more divided over what the heck to do about homosexuality. Last I heard, the Presbyterians (USA) are still divided about not believing gay marriage and gay clergy belong in the church.

This doesn’t sit well with me. I believe one has to change with the times and be more accepting of one’s fellow man. Hmmmm, sounds familiar; kinda like what Jesus was preaching back in the day.

Well, I move over to the United Methodist Church after some years and start to like how I’m treated and the atmosphere. There’s a lady minister who is terrific. She’s very personable and a wonderful storyteller.

Then, she gets canned. Official word was she got transferred to a smaller church. Amazingly, this didn’t bother some people. It was good riddance. These were women!

During this same time, the whole church body was debating about, you guessed it, homosexuality and how to deal with gay marriage and clergy. A chasm had begun to get wider and more divisive.

As it happened, earlier this week at their national conference, the United Methodist Church voted against gay marriage and gay clergy, although they would be welcomed with open arms in the church. You can read the CNN account here.

It seems to this individual that both denominations have been and are still talking out of both sides of their mouths. “We’re accepting to all, except, well, to a point,” the Methodists seem to be saying.

Alyss Swanson, a transgender United Methodist deacon from San Jose, California, speaks with Bishop Samuel Quire of Liberia during the conference Monday.

Alyss Swanson, a transgender United Methodist deacon from San Jose, California, speaks with Bishop Samuel Quire of Liberia during the conference Monday.

This is not some private country club wherein the membership rolls are controlled and folks are voted in. This is a christian church where everyone is indeed welcome. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s how Jesus set it up.

Saying that gay couples are welcome to come into the church but not welcome to marry one another, let alone to become clergy is hypocritical to say the least.

The conservatives or traditionalists want the status quo to, well, remain the status quo. Unchanged. Unchallenged by today’s societal demands. That’s unrealistic. The fact that gay couples love one another may be revolting to some is, well, too bad. They do. Who are you to dictate who they can love and be with? Who are you to dictate who can be preaching on a Sunday as long as they are qualified to do so?

As some Methodist clergy have suggested, it would not surprise me to see the United Methodist Church break apart into more than one discipline. The Presbyterians seemed to be thinking the same way, although I don’t know about their current standing.

One thing is for sure, at least for a good number of United Methodist Church goers, their logo and tag line seem to now be brought into serious question:

graphic with "open hearts, open minds, open doors . . .

REALLY? Not so sure.

 

 

 

 

A Bump in the Day . . .

. . . Can come at any time. It can come when you least expect it and even when you feel it coming on.

It’s a gradual horror. A nightmarish feeling that won’t easily go away, especially since most times, you’re not asleep.

It peers at me through my window, lurking as though a burglar has lost his way. This is no burglar, at least not in the traditional sense. I know it’s here, gradually seeping into my domain, my private place. I don’t even have to look up at the window; I already sense it.

I’m doomed.

It envelops me, not just my entire body but my soul as well. It knows no mercy. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t care. The lower it can take me down, the better it likes it. If it could smile, it would be that of a smirky style.

I’m caught in its grasp. Oh, yes, I can move, but slowly and with no motivation, no interest, no curiosity, no feeling except somewhat numb.

My mind is experiencing an endless trail of memories, mostly unpleasant and some bittersweet. It’s beautiful outside, so why don’t I feel like going out and experiencing it?

I pause and think, “I have to do something, but what?” I nod off.

If only that were the cure. I think, “Is there a cure?” I think not.

But wait, the pills . . .

World Cancer Day is Today, Feb. 4!

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. Some days are worse than others. Some memories are more painful than others.

“It’s just as I suspected and we now have it confirmed from the latest tests. You have Leukemia. It’s a blood cancer, and it appears to be advanced,” he stated calmly.

“How the hell did I get it,” I responded, rather defiantly.

“We have no idea,” he intoned.

“Well, what the hell do we do about it,” I asked, relatively calmly.

“Well, here we have a few options,” he said. “You have CLL, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, the second most common type of blood cancer, and quite manageable,” he reassured me.

He was my first specialist. That was back in 2014. I and the fight against cancer have come a long way since then. I am now in Complete Remission but take specialized medication orally daily.

Today, Monday February 4, 2019 is World Cancer Day.

In its honor, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is shining a light on the visionary researchers they support worldwide, who work tirelessly toward cancer cures and saving lives.

Meet Liran Shlush, MD, PhD, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Dr. Shlush is focused on identifying preleukemic stem cells in acute myeloid leukemia, a rapidly progressing disease that remains one of the most pressing challenges in blood cancers.

“Our work is leading the way to help identify those individuals who might be at risk of developing blood cancer before it happens. We do this by using state-of-the-art methods to identify molecular changes in blood cells of otherwise normal individuals. Ultimately, our goal is to identify those people who might be at risk to develop blood cancer and treat them as early as possible to improve outcomes,” says Dr. Shlush.

wcd_img

Dr. Shlush is among the beneficiaries of an impactful collaboration between LLS and the Swiss organization Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research.

Along with supporting and staying in touch with the multitude of researchers around the globe, the LLS produces a series of regular podcasts on a variety of subjects pertaining to cancer and the survival of it.

Recently, I listened to one pertaining to my cancer, CLL. Join Alicia and Lizette from The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as they speak with Dr. Ann LaCasce, Program Director of the Dana-Farber/ Partners CancerCare Fellowship, the largest hematology/oncology training program in the country.

Ann Lacasce.

On this episode, CLL: Risk Factors, Resources and Research, Dr. LaCasce explains the difference between chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), CLL and its connection with Agent Orange exposure, resources available for Veterans, current and emerging therapies, clinical trials and the importance of medication adherence. Dr. LaCasce shares her excitement for what is to come for CLL treatment.

I participated in a three year clinical trial (a first for me) and took several of the meds Dr. LaCasce references in this podcast. I can relate!

In addition to this CLL podcast, the link gets you to various other bits of info about additional podcasts and resources. I suggest you subscribe to the series on whatever device you prefer. It will be worth your time. And possibly your life!

The Demons Within and Beyond: Opioids, Addiction, Depression – The Finale (for now)

Like it or not, this “mess” is a continuing saga. In the US. Around the world. This may be the fourth and “final” post in this Demon series, but the opioid and addiction menace  continues. I’m sure there will be various follow up posts dealing with this dilemma.

Some of us don’t like to read about it, while others suffer from it. Those supposedly not afflicted in some way, probably think the subject matter is boring. Illness and dependency of any kind are serious, sad, oft-times deadly, but never boring.

Still I find I must press myself to write on about these matters because I want to share my personal thoughts, trials, tribulations and fears, as well as that info gleaned from pertinent sources. In one way or another, all of us can relate.

These demons are persistent and sneaky. Depression can attack anyone. I know. Opioids prescribed by a physician can help. Again, I know. Addiction can easily take place in any of us. Fortunately, I don’t know first hand about this aspect, but I’ve walked that thin line. I do know how easy it is to become addicted to . . . whatever.

The AARP Bulletin ran a feature story by John Rosengren on the opioid mess and some of the startling highlights begin with:

  • Almost one-third of all Medicare patients — nearly 12 million people — were prescribed opioid painkillers by their physicians in 2015.
  • That same year, 2.7 million Americans over age 50 abused painkillers, meaning they took them for reasons or in amounts beyond what their doctors prescribed.
  • The hospitalization rate due to opioid abuse has quintupled for those 65 and older in the past two decades.
The Opioid Menace

Illustration by Gregory Reid

I don’t think I’ve taken as many pills in my life as I have these past four to five years. Even before my cancer treatment of specialized chemotherapy (not the old fashioned kind) – pills and IV – I took medicine to treat a weird outbreak of lymphoma on both legs. About the same time I had surgery for skin cancer on most of my nose.

In my mid-sixties, I was eventually diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL) and, via a three year clinical trial, took various treatments of experimental chemo medicine. That med saved my life: Venetoclax, which I still take.

I’m not trying to discuss my past medical history since nobody really cares about that, but I am admitting that I’ve been through a lot that I hadn’t previously experienced. Throw in my wife’s stroke and damaging my back when I tried to help her as she was having her stroke (I attempted to pick her up from the floor after she slipped from my grip, thus resulting in me fracturing a few vertebrae in my lower spine — oooooh, that really hurt, damn!), eventually led to me being on painkillers and subsequently a very good opioid.

Aside from the physical pain, there’s the mental aspect of dealing with cancer, being caregiver to my wife, living a lifestyle neither one of us wants and trying to still earn some kind of living when no one wants to hire someone over 50, let alone past 60.

You guessed it; that’s where depression, anger, frustration, anxiety and who-knows-what-else factors in. It would be too easy to say I’m going crazy. I’m not even sure how that would feel. Hey, as a writer, maybe I could sit down and interview my crazy self and compare how these two people coexist. That might be interesting; it may also be a potential script for a new Twilight Zone episode – for those of you of a certain age.

But with so many different things happening just involving Pam, my wife, that are bureaucratically stupid, my anger lashes out at Pam (not good or advisable) since I can’t fight what I can’t see. I’ve learned you can’t fight bureaucracy; you learn to deal with it. However, that doesn’t mean you accept it. I don’t.

In large part, this is where my opioid comes in. As I’ve mentioned before, I take Narco (Acetaminophen Hydrocodone 10-325) to help with the pain in my lower back but it also helps calm me. I’m also getting back on Duloxetine (Cymbalta) or Fluoxetine since these meds help keep a good balance in my brain to help keep me on a more even keel and less temperamental. I am not one for shouting matches but my circumstances these past few years have warranted medical help.

I sound like a potential addict, don’t I? I’m not, don’t worry, but it scares me as to how close one can come to becoming a statistic. According to the AARP report, nearly 14,000 people age 45-plus died from an opioid overdose in 2015 — 42 percent of all such deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The actual number is likely much higher. Overdoses in older people are often mislabeled as heart failure or falls.

Drug overdoses killed about 72,000 Americans last year, a record number that reflects a rise of around 10 percent, according to new preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control. The death toll is higher than the peak yearly death totals from H.I.V., car crashes or gun deaths.

Analysts pointed to two major reasons for the increase: A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and drugs are becoming more deadly. It’s the second factor that probably explains most of the increased number of overdoses last year.

1140-opioid-menace-drugs-chart-aarp

Credit: NICOLAS RAPP, AARP BULLETIN

Synthetic opioids are driving up overdose deaths. Strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues have become mixed into black-market supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the class of anti-anxiety medicines known as benzodiazepines. Unlike heroin, which is derived from poppy plants, fentanyl can be manufactured in a laboratory, and it is often easier to transport because it is more concentrated.

According to the C.D.C. estimates, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids rose sharply, while deaths from heroin, prescription opioid pills and methadone fell.

Where is treatment in all this? It has become increasingly difficult to quit “cold turkey” as in a smoking addiction. Talk therapy alone is not the answer. Medication and therapy? Could make for some odd bedfellows. But, hey, if it works . . .

In Oakland, CA, the Highland Hospital E.R. offers patients suffering from opioid addiction a dose of buprenorphine, a weak opioid that activates the same receptors in the brain that other opioids do, but doesn’t cause a high if taken as prescribed. It’s one of three medications approved in the United States to treat opioid addiction and works by easing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

ER Treats Opioid Addiction

Dr. Andrew Herring of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., left, gave a dose of buprenorphine – it eases the symptoms of opioid withdrawal – to a homeless man who collected cans to pay for bus fare to get to the hospital. Credit Brian L. Frank for The New York Times and reporter Abby Goodnough

Highland, a clattering big-city hospital where security wands constantly beep as new patients get scanned for weapons, is among a small group of institutions that have started initiating opioid addiction treatment in the E.R. Their aim is to plug a gaping hole in a medical system that consistently fails to provide treatment on demand, or any evidence-based treatment at all, even as more than two million Americans suffer from opioid addiction.

Highland has provided buprenorphine to roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites, with Latinos, Asians and other ethnic groups filling out the rest. Many of those patients are homeless and most are on Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor that, crucially for Dr. Herring’s program, California expanded under the Affordable Care Act. Buprenorphine can cost more than $500 a month, putting it out of reach for many of the uninsured.

Since February 2017, Highland’s E.R. has offered buprenorphine to more than 375 emergency room patients. Two-thirds of them accepted it, along with an initial appointment for ongoing treatment at the hospital’s addiction clinic.

The demons within are relentless. They never give up in their zealous attempts to get us hooked. What’s more, we can become hooked without even being fully aware of it.  Let’s face it, we humans are great at denial.

I hope this series of posts, or at least one of them, has gotten your attention and made you aware that these demons are everywhere. Depression, opioids and addiction of any sort are not to be messed with. Each one on its own can be deadly if not treated. More often than not, we usually experience more than one of them at a time. This makes it even more serious and mandatory to get help before someone plans a funeral.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a confidential help line that can connect you with treatment services in your state. Call 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357).

 

9/11: Let Us Never Forget

I personally hope this date stays in our memory banks. I fear, though, that as each year passes, so, too, will the memories of that horrendous day. Here is a piece I wrote back then simply because I had so much going on in my head that writing it down was the only viable therapy I could think of doing.

 

Madness

 

The word itself hardly seems to even come close to describe what has happened to America. What may appear to be a disease by some is for others a way of life.

The English language does not contain enough descriptive phrases to do justice to what took place this past Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Some have equated the terror to what Japan did in their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Others feel that Japan’s attack does not even come close to the horror wreaked upon the American psyche in this the 21stCentury.

Utter madness.

Like many Americans last week, I gazed into television screens almost everywhere I went. I looked upon horror and destruction in stunned amazement. I was numb. I am numb. I can not believe what I have heard, seen and still read about. It is absolutely unconscionable to me that other human beings would perform this type of horror. It also scares the hell out of me that these kind of people do, in fact, perform these acts of terror and not think anything of it.

A lovely, calm morning in autumn with beautiful blue sky all around serves as a backdrop to one of the most picturesque skylines in all the world. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center standing tall. Standing proud.

Unbelievably, our world is rocked beyond comprehension when an unannounced commercial airliner slams into the side of the North Tower. This, we find out later, is no accident. If this was not enough to test New York’s mental mettle, let alone America’s, a second commercial airliner flies into the South Tower of the Trade Center.

Flames spew. Balls of fire erupt. Twin towers ablaze with smoke. My God, this is real. This is not Hollywood. Yet, it is so surreal to me.

Time and again I see in utter amazement the different angles of the planes flying into the buildings and erupting in flames. Lives lost. God help us all.

Why am I writing this? I guess it’s medicinal in some respect. I feel like most Americans a need to try and put this horror into some kind of perspective. But how can one think in rational terms about totally irrational acts? Simple: one can’t.

Is this a wake up call for America? In many ways it is. Terrorism, unfortunately, will probably always be with us in some form of perverted fashion. Wherever there is a disturbed mind to attract money and followers to perform unspeakable acts against mankind, there will be terror in our lands.

Society must deal with horror and terrorists. We must so that order and normalcy will be restored. However, society itself must change. How? The jury may be out on that for some time.

As terrified a sight as the Twin Towers engulfed in flames, what would we feel or think if Lady Liberty would have been hit and destroyed? Our symbol of Freedom, herself.

What if?

They hit the Pentagon. They may have been headed to the White House and Capitol. What about Air Force One? A flying target of power.

Thoughts and questions like these and others are crossing minds at warp speed everyday. At least mine. As often as I see television reports on the tragedy and read newspaper accounts of it all, I still find everything somewhat of a blur. It’s still almost incomprehensible to me that this type of terror can be inflicted on the most powerful and resourceful nation this world has known.

As one day turns into two and then into five, one can hardly get a grip on what is happening with recovery efforts in New York, the Pentagon, and outside Pittsburgh without being distracted about what else may be going on with other so-called cells of terrorists.

I hear that people are not flying at all now or far fewer folks want to fly the friendly skies because of uncertainty about the friendliness of those skies. We’re still frightened. Hell, we’re still numb and unnerved. We used to take for granted so many things when it comes to travel. Now, everything has changed. The rules are being rewritten as we speak. The price we must pay for Freedom and Liberty – again?

In this country, we pride ourselves on democracy and freedom of choice. Other nations not enjoying this way of life are jealous and bitter that they don’t have the type of life that America boasts. I fear that society will always have extremists among us, and people who are not in a right frame of mind.

Every so often, it seems, these people and their misguided mindset collide with society’s norms and tragedy strikes. Terror and evil play as if there is no tomorrow. For them, tomorrow will dawn with other “brethren” ready to continue the fight. We dawn with tomorrow as well, but to bury our dead and grieve and mourn.

The fight will continue. Our cause, humanity, is just. We will not rest. We can not. Our future generations depend on us as we have depended on our forefathers in paving justice and some form of normalcy in which to live and enjoy what God has wrought.

The planes. The planes.

Twin Towers.

Lives lost.

Madness. Mankind grieves.

The horror. The horror.

Tomorrow?

Tomorrow!

 

Let us never forget! Amen!

©2001, J. Fournet

The Demons Within and Beyond: Opioids, Addiction, Depression – Part 3

There’s not a day that goes by wherein I’m both surprised and not surprised about how far-reaching opioid use and depression is, both in the US and abroad. When you add addiction into the lethal mix, the impact on society is horrific.

As I have written about in both parts one and two of this series, I can relate directly to using opioids and being depressed. Thankfully, I am not addicted to anything but I can understand how easy it is to become addicted.

Taking an opioid (Narco or Hydrocodone Acetaminophen, in my case) helps me deal much better with both the pain I have in my lower back and my overall feeling of depression and, at times, lack of motivation and hope. I also take something else for the anxiety and depression (Fluoxetine). It helps my brain’s circuitry play nice with one another. I guess that’s what I get for having so much bad crap going on in my life these past few years.

Those of you not knowing my recent background should be aware that in 2014 I was diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL) and late that same year my wife suffered a stroke. Presently, I’ve attained Complete Remission status and my wife is still rehabbing. Life has not been fun and remains so.

Serving, in part, as a counter balance to this “bad” is why I develop and write these blog posts. They help me keep my creative juices flowing, and I feel a responsibility to share information on certain topics with those who may find them useful, perhaps even entertaining. I have another blog dealing with creativity and innovation.

One thing I have learned these past few years is this: Addiction and depression do not discriminate. They don’t care who they attack or whose bodies they overtake. They don’t care about one’s celebrity or lack thereof.

Going back in time to the small screen and a “little” franchise known as Star Trek, there came to be a new generation: Star Trek-The Next Generation. Onboard that starship Enterprise was a young doctor’s son, Wesley Crusher. The actor who portrayed him is Wil Wheaton.

startrekwesley7

Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Depression knows Wil well. Too well. His story is remarkable and probably relatable to many of us around the globe. Here is some of his story, excerpted from Medium.

Wil Wheaton

Photo by Kaelen Barowsky

Hi, I’m Wil Wheaton. I’m 45 years-old, I have a wonderful wife, two adult children who make me proud every day, and a daughter in-law who I love like she’s my own child. I work on the most popular comedy series in the world, I’ve been a New York Times Number One Bestselling Audiobook narrator, I have run out of space in my office for the awards I’ve received for my work, and as a white, heterosexual, cisgender man in America, I live life on the lowest difficulty setting — with the Celebrity cheat enabled.

I struggle every day with my self esteem, my self worth, and my value not only as an actor and writer, but as a human being.

That’s because I live with Depression and Anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation.

And I’m not ashamed to stand here, in front of six hundred people in this room, and millions more online, and proudly say that I live with mental illness, and that’s okay. I say “with” because even though my mental illness tries its best, it doesn’t control me, it doesn’t define me, and I refuse to be stigmatized by it.

So. My name is Wil Wheaton, and I have Chronic Depression.

When I was a little kid, probably seven or eight years old, I started having panic attacks. Back then, we didn’t know that’s what they were, and because they usually happened when I was asleep, the adults in my life just thought I had nightmares. Well, I did have nightmares, but they were so much worse than just bad dreams. Night after night, I’d wake up in absolute terror, and night after night, I’d drag my blankets off my bed, to go to sleep on the floor in my sister’s bedroom, because I was so afraid to be alone.

When I was around twelve or thirteen, my anxiety began to express itself in all sorts of delightful ways. When I was thirteen, I was in an internationally-beloved film called Stand by Me, and I was famous. Like, really famous, like, can’t-go-to-the-mall-with-my-friends-without-getting-mobbed famous, and that meant that all of my actions were scrutinized by my parents, my peers, my fans, and the press.

All the weird, anxious feelings I had all the time? I’d been raised to believe that they were shameful. That they reflected poorly on my parents and my family. That they should be crammed down deep inside me, shared with nobody, and kept secret.

When I tried to reach out to the adults in my life for help, they didn’t take me seriously. When I was on the set of a tv show or commercial, and I was having a hard time breathing because I was so anxious about making a mistake and getting fired? The directors and producers complained to my parents that I was being difficult to work with.

When I was so uncomfortable with my haircut or my crooked teeth and didn’t want to pose for teen magazine photos, the publicists told me that I was being ungrateful and trying to sabotage my success. When I couldn’t remember my lines, because I was so anxious about things I can’t even remember now, directors would accuse me of being unprofessional and unprepared. And that’s when my anxiety turned into depression.

I was miserable a lot of the time, and it didn’t make any sense. I was living a childhood dream, working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and getting paid to do what I loved. I had all the video games and board games I ever wanted, and did I mention that I was famous?

I think it was then, at about 34 years-old, that I realized that Mental Illness is not weakness. It’s just an illness. I mean, it’s right there in the name “Mental ILLNESS” so it shouldn’t have been the revelation that it was, but when the part of our bodies that is responsible for how we perceive the world and ourselves is the same part of our body that is sick, it can be difficult to find objectivity or perspective.

And that’s the thing about Depression: we can’t force it to go away. As I’ve said, if I could just “stop feeling sad” I WOULD. (And, also, Depression isn’t just feeling sad, right? It’s a lot of things together than can manifest themselves into something that is most easily simplified into “I feel sad.”)

People who reach out to get help for their mental illness are brave. I’m not brave. I’m just a writer and occasional actor who wants to share his privilege and good fortune with the world, who hopes to speak out about mental health so much that one day, it will be wholly unremarkable to stand up and say fifteen words:

My name is Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression, and I am not ashamed.

Wil’s complete remarks are available through Medium.

The United States of Worry

Though Mr. Wheaton is but one individual, albeit a famous one, millions of others around the world suffer. Remember the citizens of Nigeria discussed in Part Two? In a recent study by Good Rx and Tori Marsh of its research team, domestic use of anxiety and depression prescriptions is on the increase.

Anxiety and depression are closely related but distinct conditions; people coping with these conditions are often prescribed several medications before finding an effective therapy that helps them. These medications include commonly prescribed drugs like diazepam (brand name Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) for anxiety and sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).

United States of Worry

Of all depression and anxiety medications, sertraline (Zoloft) is the most widely prescribed, accounting for over 1.5% of all prescriptions in some regions. Zoloft is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) used to treat depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety.

Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania)

Of all regions, fills for anxiety and depression medications are the highest in Northeastern states, accounting for almost 10% of total prescription fills. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island fill the highest amount of depression and anxiety medications.

This trend resembles recent data from the CDC  revealing that suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate especially in Vermont and New Hampshire. 

Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota & South Dakota)

Just like the northeast, the Midwest has also seen high fill rates for depression and anxiety medications. In April, fills accounted for 9% of all fills in the midwest, and that number has only continued to increase.

According to prescription fills, midwestern states like North Dakota and Iowa cope with the highest rates of anxiety in depression. What’s more, compared to all regions, the Midwest has seen the highest increase of fills for depression and anxiety medications; in just four years, fills increased by 17%.

This data aligns closely with CDC data indicating that people in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky experienced a higher number of mentally unhealthy days characterized by feelings of stress or depression. 

South (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma & Texas)

In the south, fills for depression and anxiety medications accounted for 8% of all prescription fills, a rate that has been steadily increasing since 2016. Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia saw the highest fill rates, while fills for anxiety and depression medications accounted for only 6% in Georgia.

These results are supported by research done by the American Psychological Association.  The survey also found that people in the south understood the impacts of stress and how to manage their stress more than participants in other regions. 

West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon & Washington)

States in the west fill the fewest amount of depression and anxiety medications, about 6% of total prescriptions. Unlike the other three regions, where fills have been steadily increasing, prescriptions for depression and anxiety medications have remained relatively consistent in the west coast, hovering around 6% over the past four years. Of all states on the west coast, Montana fills the highest amount of prescriptions for depression and anxiety. Not surprisingly, Hawaii seems to be a relatively happy state, as only 4% of prescription fills are for anxiety and depression medications.

NOTE:  If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

Previous posts in this series can be found in Demons: Part 1 and Demons: Part 2.

To be continued . . .

The Demons Within and Beyond: Opioids, Addiction, Depression – Part 2

This is always a particularly difficult week for me. I lost my Dad forty years ago, August 20, 1978. This Wednesday, I go see my oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center for the first time in several months, but my first time since he moved to Anderson.

I feel trepidation every time I go to the Texas Medical Center. And I’ve never even been inside MD Anderson. It’s a major complex within a very major community, the largest medical center in the world.

GULP!

I know depression fairly well and as I write this, I’m experiencing very mixed feelings about every word in the title of this post. Yet, I’ve decided to tackle part of this problem in a three-part series, knowing that there will still be much to talk and write about. Alas, it is never-ending.

Opioid use, addiction and depression is, I’m afraid, getting even worse; it’s like a terminal societal disease with no known cure. However, what it is not is just an American epidemic!

In an amazing story out of Nigeria, opioids are rampant. Thanks to BuzzFeed News and Monica Mark, West Africa Correspondent, for doing a special report on this crisis. Some excerpts follow. What was amazing and interesting to me when I first read about the epidemic, is the drug of choice: Tramadol.

I’ve taken Tramadol, as has my wife. It’s a relatively mild pain pill. But when taken in excess or in combination with other drugs or “questionable substances,” it can be a lethal cocktail.

******************

Millions of Nigerians are dealing with an addiction to tramadol — a number that’s set to soar as Africa’s most populous nation becomes increasingly hooked on the painkiller.

Less than a decade ago, beds at certain treatment facilities were filled almost exclusively with working-class people struggling to wean themselves off locally brewed alcohol, heroin, and cannabis. Those using tramadol — a synthetic opioid and cousin of powerful prescription painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl — were rare cases, almost entirely confined to young men doing hard labor or people who’d become addicted through medical prescriptions.

“Eight years ago, I’d be surprised to see a few tramadol cases [a year],” said Audu Moses, a psychiatrist and one of a handful of addiction specialists in Nigeria. “Now, I’ll see around 10 patients in a month, and every year it’s going up.”

Today, Nigeria stands on the brink of a catastrophic epidemic. BuzzFeed News has found Nigerians of all ages are popping millions of pills daily, washing them down with codeine, another drug based on opium poppies, or as part of a cocktail that includes “purple lean” and Rohypnol, the date-rape drug.

Senior military officials told BuzzFeed News that stashes of tramadol recovered from Islamist militants often outnumber bullets found in their hideouts. College students use it as an aphrodisiac. Subsistence farmers say it keeps them going for hours on end, a phrase echoed by sex workers in southern urban centers.

Unlike heroin or morphine, tramadol isn’t eye-wateringly powerful, nor does it give extreme highs. I’ve taken tramadol, I know. Indeed, it is relatively mild compared to say, Norco or Hydrocodone Acetaminophen, which I’ve also taken. Tramadol is like certain candy, but with a little bit of a kick.

Nigeria’s epidemic is being driven by its ready availability — the result of an international loophole that means manufacturers can legally produce vast, unregulated quantities in Southeast Asia, from where it’s imported to Nigeria.

Tramadol-Nigeria

Tramadol packets on sale in the streets of Nigeria.    Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos for BuzzFeed News

For medics in Nigeria struggling to fill a gap in pain management medication, in particular for cancer and post-surgery patients, tramadol is an obvious choice. Doctors Without Borders classifies the drug an “essential medicine,” arguing that pain relief shouldn’t be a luxury in developing countries.

The world’s second-biggest importer of tramadol, behind only the US, is Nigeria’s tiny neighbor, Benin, whose entire population numbers less than that of the state of New York. Why? Benin is a notorious smuggling hub — its porous borders mean drugs can flow freely into Africa’s most populous country.

Yet another strange irony about tramadol: It’s precisely the drug’s lack of potency that makes it so ubiquitous. “Tramadol will relieve pain, but what you feel is a certain calmness, like a numbness. No one exclusively abuses tramadol — they won’t get enough out of it. They throw tramadol in as something to spice up the mix,” said a former pharmaceutical executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

 

Drug Dealers-Nigeria
Drug dealers in Apo Park in Abuja. Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos for BuzzFeed News

Just like in the US, where a lack of insurance leaves millions of impoverished people with addiction lacking access to care, most people with addiction in Nigeria’s 190-million strong population struggle to find the kind of ongoing support addiction requires amid the country’s bare-bones health care system. For those dealing with chronic mental illnesses, the consequences can be disastrous.

It takes around two years for the brain to adjust to coming off opioids, but those coming out of detox have a lowered tolerance, meaning relapses are potentially fatal. Instead, the US federal government recommends medication-assisted treatment over detox. In Nigeria, with the state unable to provide a support network, it’s falling on local communities to pick up the pieces.

Moses, the psychiatrist, said that the country’s few clinics weren’t capable of stemming the tide of addiction. “Tramadol affects memory. So [these kids] can’t continue work, they can’t go back to school. And even when they learn some skills, they can’t concentrate, so they give up on contributing to society. Some of them will die.”

Making matters worse is when the drug lords are busted, one prosecutor noted, “The frightening aspect is that most of these hard drugs found in the accused’s possession are expired drugs, which when [they] found their ways into the market would have posed serious danger to the lives of innocent people of Nigeria.”

Furthermore, when busts are made, rather than the 50 milligrams typically sold in pharmacies, wraps often contain 225-milligram pills. That’s close to what’s considered a safe upper limit in the US for severe pain — in a single pill.

Street peddlers of drugs
A drug market in Lagos where street sellers provide all kinds of drugs from wholesale dealers. Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos for BuzzFeed News

And yet, stop and ask your average Nigerian in the street what they think of addiction, and odds are they’ll label it a moral failing, or an affliction of criminals or “lunatics.” That outlook characterizes the official approach, too. Struggling to shake off the “lunatic asylums” label slapped on psychiatric wards until the 1960s, mental health patients are still routinely classified as “inmates” who are “detained” until they can be “released” back into the general population.

“I saw this driver smoking,” said a recovering addict. “I just looked at him. I won’t lie — I had cravings.” He felt bewildered once again at how easily three months of work had seemed to come undone.

“I’m not a bad person; I just made bad choices. This is a controlled environment,” he said. “But outside? There’s everything that you left. Everything will come back at once, and the world doesn’t really wait for you to get your shit together.”

As I mentioned in Demons: Part 1 of this series, I’ve come to realize these past few years how easy it is to become addicted to opioids if one is not careful. At times, everything around us contributes to stress, depression and an over-abundance of anxiety. Hence the need for calmness or some numbness.

Yet, we still may need legitimate pain relievers like Tramadol or Norco or some other, doctor-prescribed medicine. It can be a fine line we walk in getting relief.

 

To be continued . . .

 

Note: Apologies for the formatting screw-ups above. And, no, I’m not on Tramadol!

The Demons Within and Beyond: Opioids, Addiction, Depression – Part 1

I’m not suicidal, I’m depressed. Or is it the other way around? Okay, now I’m confused. I always get those mixed up.

Yeah, right!

Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal; I don’t need a rubber room or padded cell (and, no, the freight elevator doesn’t count). Alas, I have been fighting depression for several years now. Longer, probably, but it’s only been within the past few years that I’ve been taking some medicine for it. Unfortunately, it seems there is a majority of us out there.

I prefer to write about positive and creative things; however, this blog is about my personal journey through life and my “enjoyment” of all the potholes I have traversed. There are times when I feel it necessary to write about troubling issues and aspects of survival that are, well, not too prideful.

This is one of those times.

It has taken me awhile to actually get these words on paper, so to speak. I realize that some folks who know me may be surprised while some may take pity or even be appalled that I’m admitting this type of stuff.

Too bad!

Who knows, maybe this and subsequent posts will help someone get a better perspective on their “Hell.” Maybe this will help them get a better grip, especially when Hope and Faith seem to be all but dried up.

pamelasvoice-NightGallery

“Pamela’s Voice” from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery

It has also taken me quite a long time to get my head around how I want to approach this topic of depression, and the various meds to help deal with it. The problem is complicated with not just one solution.

Personally, it’s not merely depression; I’m also putting up with back pain I suffered a few years ago when my wife suffered her stroke. I fractured a couple of vertebrae and messed up portions of my lower back. Since then, I’ve been taking pain meds – opioids.

I can easily see how people can and do get hooked on some of this stuff.

I am not, however. I am, though, probably taking more prescription meds than at any time in my life. Can’t be helped, I guess. The pain med, the lone opioid, is hydrocodone or Narco for short. The “anti-depressant/anxiety” med is, currently, Fluoxetine. It’s less expensive than the first one I was prescribed.

The nice thing about Narco, for me, is the overall relaxed state it gives, allowing me to de-stress and be almost pain free. Yet, I’m no longer taking them at present. I’ve run out and don’t know how soon I can get another Rx.

I’ve never liked being dependent on one thing like a drug to get by on a daily basis. As I’ve gotten older and, unfortunately, contracted Leukemia (CLL) several years ago, I am taking a special drug specifically for Leukemia, Venetoclax, every day. However, I’m in complete remission and want to stay that way, so my taking of this miracle drug may continue for some time to come.

Pain meds are another matter and this country, along with others, has its fair share of addicts, not to mention those folks who legitimately need these drugs to help them through their days.

Because of a variety of reasons and personal conflicts this past year, including my wife’s continued but difficult rehabilitation, there have been days that I literally don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t care to do anything.

It scares me when I don’t care or am not interested in some aspect of creativity. That’s what drives me. That’s why I try and keep writing, keep thinking, keep the creative juices flowing. When I would take a Narco in the morning, it would relax me and help me maneuver. It improved my attitude and, yes, lessened my back pain.

There are still days I miss not having any to take. There were days that I thought, “Geez, am I on the way to becoming an addict?” It is so very easy. But, I’m a far cry from an addict looking for his nearby needle for a fix.

Others, however, are not so lucky.

Gut-punching ad campaign

According to an article in a recent issue of AdAge/Creativity, there’s a long-running anti-smoking campaign, Truth, which is now combatting another epidemic of addiction: opioids–and it’s not pulling any punches in a new series of ads that go to painful extremes to illustrate the severity of the problem.

The “Truth About Opioids” campaign doesn’t shy away from scenes of brutality, in these cases self-inflicted.

The campaign features four true stories of young people who fell into opioid abuse. Each of the protagonists find themselves caught in a cycle of addiction to painkillers, and the only way to get more of the prescription drugs is to end up in the hospital. Those who can’t wait for an injury manufacture one instead. There’s Amy and Chris, who are addicted to Vicodin and Kyle, whose weakness is Oxy.

Truth_KnowthetruthAmysStory18

Careful, this series of ads will make you flinch.

The campaign was created in partnership with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Ad Council, along with creative agency Haymaker. Amazon, Facebook, Google and YouTube, NBCUniversal, Turner and Vice have already agreed to run the spots.

“We understand that opioid misuse is a complex issue that needs to be tackled from many angles,” says Robin Koval, President and CEO of Truth Initiative. “We are deeply grateful to the young men and women featured in the launch effort for sharing their painful and powerful truths about opioids misuse to educate others about the risks.”

Whether or not we want to admit it, we all have demons, within and beyond. The more we can hone up to that, and talk about it, at least to some degree, the better. I’m at a stage in my life where I feel I’m undergoing another transition. As before, this time has its dark sides but with various little sprinklings of hope.

To be continued . . .