The Challenges (and Freedom) of Getting a Mental Illness Diagnosis in Recovery

Advantages of a mental health diagnosis in recovery

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 | By Cooper Samp

Shannon was on the corner of Madison and 52nd in Manhattan on her lunch break, shouting and sobbing on the phone with my mother. About 5 minutes previously, she ‘d bounced out of her workplace in a relatively neutral mood. All of a sudden, she had snot and tears drowning her cheeks. Feeling like she couldn’t take it any longer wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling to her. Her state of mind would frequently swing from steady to intensely dark in a matter of minutes. But during this particular crisis, she experienced a moment of clarity. Shannon knew that she could no longer live under the tyranny of my unpredictable state of minds. She needed – and deserved – more help.

Since she was roughly two and a half years sober at the time, I say more help. Shannon was active in a 12-Step recovery program and had gone through trauma therapy. The idea of requiring even more assistance felt difficult, particularly given that she thought her life would improve through sobriety alone. Shannon had made strides in some areas, however the mood fluctuations she ‘d fought with since childhood was still a continuous fight.

Looking For Help

Eventually, she looked for the advice from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with bipolar II, a mood disorder defined by depression and hypomania (a moderate form of mania), and suggested a program of medication along with dietary modifications, amino acid treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy to help her cope.

Some people see major enhancements to their psychological health in recovery without the need for medication or specialized treatment. For others, like Shannon, the darkness doesn’t sustainably lift. Florida-based clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Debra Barnett shares that it’s always a good idea to look for expert assistance from the beginning as you get sober, which can make achieving clarity around your mental health an easier process.

“Our emotions and our thoughts in particular are impacted by drugs and alcohol, frequently slowing and removing color from the world,” she says. “When we stop using, it takes some time to rebuild our emotional life.” That’s an aggravating and slow process. But eventually, it’s worth it.” says Dr. Barnett

distressed woman with mental health

3 Signs You May Be Dealing with an Underlying Condition

For Shannon, her intense mood swings were a reliable indicator. She might feel great in the early morning, but wanted to jump off of a bridge by lunch, or, all of a sudden, she ‘d be short-fused for no recognizable reason. She became tired, sobbed a lot, and her self-esteem was at an all-time low. The ups-and-downs alone tipped her off that something more was going on beyond her history of substance abuse.

The signs can vary for everyone since the spectrum of mental health disorders is broad. Dr. Barnett suggests keeping a close watch on your sleep, psychological patterns, and relationships. These elements of your life will provide you insight into the state of your mental health.

Your Sleep

“Your sleep might be a little inadequate when you stop using or drinking due to the fact that it requires time to get our sleep cycles healthy,” Barnett states. “If your state of mind or your mind constantly interrupts your sleep – falling asleep, staying asleep, getting up early, or never wanting to get out of bed – that’s often an indication or symptom of underlying problems.

Your Relationships

When you’re in recovery, you might need to take time to reconstruct or repair ties to those closest to you. However if you’re having a hard time preserving any healthy relationships, that’s another red flag. Plus, Barnett states one of the most essential things is to not become isolated, even if you’re naturally introverted. Having a healthy support group, even if it’s small, is essential.

“If you have family or friends that have been around your substance abuse, it is a slow and typically psychological path back to healthy relationships.” However, those loved ones are frequently the most truthful sounding boards. If those close to you, or those in your current support group, think you’re still struggling, beware.

Your Emotions

Take note of the state of your feelings.

Dr. Barnett said, “When you’re in the midst of dependencies, you don’t really learn and grow from the details that emotions provide. You hardly ever manage them or address them in a way that helps them improve.”

In reality, if you’re at all feeling that your emotions are tough to manage, that’s enough of an indication that you may need the help of a specialist.

Are Mental Health Issues Just the “Growing Pains” of Getting Sober?

Unfortunately, there’s no specific answer to this question. Barnett states that heavy drug use can often mask underlying state of mind or anxiety symptoms. Only after these substances are out of your system can you get a more accurate picture of what’s actually going on.

“Only after these substances are out of your system can you get a more precise picture of what’s really going on.”

However the bottom line is this, according to Dr. Barnett: If you feel anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are keeping you from enjoying life in sobriety, go talk with somebody who can help you navigate a path to greater recovery.

Taking Steps to Get the Professional Help You Need

There are a few choices in regards to getting mental health help in recovery. Doctors are qualified to help you understand whether what you’re experiencing is regular, or if you need to get treatment. Doctors aren’t the only individuals who can assist, however Barnett states that seeing a healthcare expert – particularly one who focuses on addiction – can be particularly rewarding.

The best way to get going is with some standard, preliminary research. Trustworthy websites, like the National Institute of Mental Health, can help you acquire a better understanding of the symptoms of psychological health disorders. It’s crucial to withstand the temptation to self-diagnose. Instead, use sites like this as a starting point to direct you towards handy resources and experts. There are screening tools on sites like Mental Health America, and more thorough details about specific medical diagnosis can be important in the process of getting a much better personal understanding of your psychological health.

Obviously, we provide a variety of services here at Coalition Recovery, amongst them being a medical diagnosis and treatment of psychological health by quad-board-certified Dr. Barnett who specialized in dependency and mental health treatment.

If You Get a Diagnosis, what’s Next

Mental illness is still a thorny subject, just like addiction and recovery itself. Even the language used to explain psychological and mental patterns as being “off” or in some way irregular can be upsetting. When Shannon told individuals about her bipolar II medical diagnosis, most of them were baffled by it. As a result, she doesn’t typically discuss her diagnosis. Instead, she likes to think she simply works differently than other individuals.

We ‘d be lying if we stated that being diagnosed in sobriety is a simple process. Shannon still hasn’t found a cure-all for her wellness, even now that she’s been at it for a while. Resolving your psychological health– specifically in sobriety– can be frustrating, and expensive. Plus, you might need to try several techniques before you discover what works for you. But a medical diagnosis is a fantastic place to begin. Knowing that her sensations had a name ultimately made it easier to understand how to care for herself. It’s also felt validating. What she feels may remain in her head– but it’s not just in her head, so to speak.

Post Diagnosis for Shannon

So, she continues to explore the very best, most productive, and even most enjoyable treatments for her emotional and psychological health. She perseveres even when doing so is rough on the checking account, or the method seems kind of “out there.” She has kept an actually open mind towards more standard remedies, like talk treatment. While her therapist and I definitely continue to wade through the trauma of my youth and young adulthood, she focuses on teaching her actionable tools through cognitive behavioral therapy.

She also does nutricetal amino acid therapy and dietary guidance, which was something she wished to try prior to going the pharmaceutical path. However when her moods continued to cause a great deal of suffering after a year, her doctor motivated her to find a psychiatrist. After seeing a couple that didn’t fit, she now works with one she likes a lot. Her psychiatrist also takes a very holistic method to using medication.

Professional Help

Additionally, Shannon’s psychiatrist does a lot of energy healing and body work. Shannon has had really effective experiences working with reiki professionals on things like negative self-talk, sensations of self-loathing, and anxiety. Shannon even began a reiki certification procedure herself. She additionally exercises a lot. Her favorite is a dance-based workout since, in addition to the endorphin kick, the meaningful aspect adds an appreciated aspect of catharsis for her. And keeping a routine sleep regimen is quite critical, and she discovered a real shift in her moods and ability to cope when she’s had a few late nights in a row.

On top of all that, she also makes a lot of art. She goes to recovery meetings. She gets massages and works on her relationships with family and friends. Some days, she simply rests and sleeps. Shannon will often just go home when she needs to go home, even if she’s supposed to be somewhere. She can’t say she’s perfect with her psychological health. Shannon says she does little things like drink massive amounts of caffeine, consume lots of sugar, stay up late some nights, speak cruelly to herself, and forgets to get her medications; amongst a variety of other things.

Shannon says she doesn’t feel good everyday; or full of life. Taking care of herself is a practice, and she’s becoming more proficient at it as time goes on. Shannon feels grateful she has access to care that a lot of people don’t get. And she also feels a lot less shame about it.

Dual Diagnosis – Treating Addiction & Mental Health

We are not saying it is necessarily easy to battle both substance use disorder with another mental health disorder; but it is a necessary hurdle to get better. The road to recovery is always under construction, but you can make it more manageable when you can understand you mental state clearer. 

For this reason, we have employed dual-diagnosis treatment from the start. From your first day here at Coalition Recovery, you will go through various assessments with our doctor and therapists to gain an understanding of your history and a plan to effectively treat and heal the various elements of your condition; whether incorporating mental health treatments, stress management, or simply developing healthy and productive life skills. 

Learn More About Our Dual Diagnosis Program Here

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