Mental Health App Review: Pacifica

The Pacifica app is a new find with a bit of everything to track and treat your mental health on the go. There are some great aspects of this well rounded app and some things I’d like to see improved. If you want the condensed version, Yes. I would recommend this to a friend.

What you’ll see first is the “Mood” screen. You can log your mood between “great” and “awful”. If you’d like, you have the availability to write in details associated with the logged mood. From this page you can also quickly navigate to a journal/thought log which you can do a minimalist version of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which is recorded and can be referred back to.

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This feature allows you to write a distressing thought, highlight the inaccurate or negative parts of the thought/feeling and recognize the cognitive distortions. What I appreciate about this bit of the app is that while it’s on my phone, I can conveniently plug in my negative or obsessive thoughts without having to scribble them down elsewhere and then transfer them to a journal I keep specifically for CBT. Seeing as how it’s usually too much of a hassle to keep my CBT logs together I don’t do them, this allows me to have them in some form. Cool, right? What I don’t like is that if you want to go back to edit the thought later, there is no option to.

There is also a Goals section. You can choose a long term goal (mine is “feel less stress or anxiety in social situations”) and choose daily goals. Write your own or pick from a large selection of pre-made challenges such as ‘sit in the front during class or a meeting’. There’s a tab that logs your completed challenges. Though this is nice in concept,

The Health section allows you to decide what goals you’d like to meet for yourself every day to stay well. Hours of sleep, minutes exercising, etc. If midnight rolls around and you forgot to check in, you can tap back a day and fill out the information (this feature is unavailable on the website). This is great for folks like me who tend to neglect remembering to fill it out until 12:02am and then have to back up.

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Social aspects of the app include Groups (“Groups are private chats centered around peer support”), and Community, which is more of a forum than a chat room. Again these are great concepts. I feel that Groups lacks the depth it could have. With hundreds of members in a 1 section chat room it’s hard to lose focus or let everyone have a turn like you can in a forum setting. However, in Community, which offers some more of that depth, it lacks in the availability of mental health support groups. I love that it has forum space for things like books and general community, but I would prefer to be in a forum about Bipolar Disorder (and OCD) rather than a chat room about it with people that tend to dominate the conversation and a lack of back to back chatter that makes a chat room a great place to communicate (you’ll see people responding every few hours or so instead of seconds).

For $3.99 a month you can unlock all of the meditations (“Relax Now”). There are 15 altogether. You get the first 4 free. I took the bait and gave them my money for a month and was able to review all of the meditations for you guys. I mean the only way to tell if they’re worth it for you personally is to try it, and I believe that they ought to give you a one month free trial option to begin with. I also think that one thing that would make a subscription worth it is if they were to give a different meditation every month or two. Even if they switched it out and gave a different one to replace it, I feel like I’d be on board for that subscription. For all the searching I’ve done for guided meditations, I find these pretty good. They’ve made fitting 5-20 minutes of meditation a day into my routine very easy. 1-5 a day is my goal, but the meditations don’t drag and are to the point which allows for the option of multiple before bedtime.

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Breathing is largely practiced across all meditations. Each meditation also has the opportunity to have either “No Soundscape” or any of these options to accompany the meditation: Ocean Waves, Thunderstorm, Summer Night, Rooftop Rain, Forest Morning, Bach Cello Suite #1, Underwater, White Noise. When the meditation is finished you can “return” or continue sounds. Minor interrupts are noticeable in some soundscapes when sound loop ends. They are most noticeable in the “unguided meditation” which I’ve found soothing to fall asleep to.

  1. Deep Breathing: (FREE) Text tells you when to inhale/exhale. There’s a visual that also widens/becomes smaller as inhaling and exhaling is prompted. You have the option to ‘play breathing sounds’. You can pick your breath length as well in 1 second increments (between 5-25 seconds – holy lord if you can do 25 second inhale/exhales).
  2. Unguided Meditation: (FREE) Just soundscapes here. Length between 5 and 30 minutes, increments of 1 minute. I tend to throw on 15 minutes of Ocean Waves and go to bed without anxiety of having not turned off the sounds. I love the timer option.
  3. Muscle Relaxation: (FREE) Tense up and release all over your body. One of the best ones.
  4. Mindful: Senses: (FREE) Grounding through the five senses. Guided attention from one sense to another. Good meditation.
  5. Mindful: Breathe: Awareness of body sensations while breathing. Attention to the fact your mind may wander and that it’s okay. What I like about THIS meditation in particular is that at the end you get some closure. It says when you’re ready to return to the space around you. They need this in more of them. The lack of ‘closure’ in some of these meditations is a big turn off for me.
  6. Mindful: Observe: Find a small physical object to hold in your hand during meditation. Focus on this item, guided examination of it, an open and closed eyes exercise. This would be a good soothing meditation in a public place with headphones if you were anxious.
  7. Mindful: Body Scan: Grounding through attention to your body in it’s environment. Virtually the same as the sleep meditation.
  8. Anxiety Emergency: Whereas other meditations start with breathing, this jumps first to tell you you’re going to be okay and these are just sensations that are real. “Trust you’re getting all the air you need in this moment.” Grounding using 5 senses. Good meditation. Then affirmations putting logic and control over anxious thoughts/sensations. I’m not a huge fan of all affirmations such as, “I am safe”. I mean I get it, but what if you’re not?! I think something like, “These thoughts can’t hurt me” would be better.
  9. Visualization: Pick your breath length before you start. It’s hard to navigate if you want to record your own mantra with the lack of instructions. They do have ones to choose from though if you’d prefer like, “This too shall pass” and, “I love myself”. Personally, not a fan of this one.
  10. Sleep: Focus on the body. Guided awareness of bodily sensations. I find muscle relaxation a superior meditation to achieve same end to sleep, personally.
  11. Gratitude: Focus on something you’re grateful for. ‘Analyze’ the goodness. Affirmations after. More generalizable than ‘cheesy’ self compassion mantras in later listed meditation. Nice relaxing exercise.
  12. Becoming the Tree: Visualize a tree you’re seen before with some significance. Attention to the environment that has an affect on the tree and how it stands strong regardless of environment. Tree goes through changes, so do you, blah blah blah. It’s decent.
  13. Difficult Experience: Visualize experience that brought up difficult emotions. Examples to help. Allow yourself not to suppress details and physical sensations. Label what you feel. Make it a physical item. I like this one a LOT, but the ending of it doesn’t make me feel super awesome. Perhaps I need more practice.
  14. Self Compassion: Environmental and inner state mindfulness. There’s a prompt to bring to mind something you’re self-critical about and bring attention to sensations in your body triggered by these thoughts then compassionate mantras.
  15. Intense Emotions: Focus’ on bringing attention to thoughts and feeling and to label them as being just that, while stressing that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. For someone feeling intense emotions, I’d recommend the anxiety or difficult experience meditations before this one, but it’s still a good listen.

Thanks for reading folks. Go on now, give it a try.

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Obsessions, Compulsions, Intrusive Thoughts & Deep-Dark-Fears

When I get a new notebook or discover an old one that’s blank or only partially used it’s like the 4th of July in my brain. My neurons must be shooting in every which way spazzing out and if they added THAT scene into a Pixar movie, audiences would be like, “The hell?”. I’ve been dealing with this as far back as I can remember. THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE AT A TIME! And it has to be completely filled, there can’t be any nonsense stuff like to do lists or anything. That’ll go on separate throw away paper. Recently I went through the ritual of spazzing out and finding places to more or less hide other notebooks from myself that I’ll just use later. It’s like this huge trauma to have to decide which one I’m going to use and what’ll go in it. Some years it’s very serious diary stuff, others it’s just listing every single thing that happened during a day or accomplishments, other times it’s lists. Right now it’s lists primarily. This is nothing out of the ordinary, but probably less depressing to read about then my fear of my house setting on fire and losing everything or people I love falling down the stairs and cracking their heads open. The fire obsession has been a reoccurring intrusive thought which also spans as far back as I can remember and in times of stress just dominates my cranium.

I want to touch base on intrusive thoughts tonight because it’s something that’s had a starring role in my OCD/mental health stigma research for the past year and almost a half (and absolutely nothing I want to talk about further at the moment because I just got feedback from an anonymous committee member saying in order to approve my experiment he/she wanted me to revise a section of my analysis section which made me enraged and super sad). Since I’m done citing empirical research for the evening and finding where an ampersand needed to go in 21 pages of citations that I had forgotten, Wikipedia’s description of “intrusive thoughts” will have to do.

“An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. When such thoughts are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and sometimes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the thoughts may become paralyzing, anxiety-provoking, or persistent. Intrusive thoughts may also be associated with episodic memory, unwanted worries or memories from OCD,  posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or psychosis. Intrusive thoughts, urges, and images are of inappropriate things at inappropriate times, and generally have aggressive, sexual, or blasphemous themes.” 

A great medium to express intrusive thoughts is to draw them. That wasn’t exactly the intention of artist Fran Kraus, but he is the #1 artist I know whose art captures examples of them. His work is described as being a dark, humorous visualization of irrational fears we have. I wanted to share with you a few comics he’s drawn that I feel capture the essence of fears that for some will pass quickly and for others will play on a loop…unfortunately. For more Fran Kraus, visit his tumblr or check out his book!

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The Odd Couple

I’ll be the first to say that when you wake up in the middle of the night having to pee like your life depends on it and your Asperger’s sister who has no sense of time or urgency is sitting in the bathroom and you can hear her ripping a square of toilet paper at a time after BEGGING to get into the bathroom “just to pee less than a minute!!!” it really makes you mad. Then you hear the toilet paper ripping stop, and you knock on the door hurriedly again, she starts up again…after a little while, you’re in the hallway doing a dramatic pee dance and she EVENTUALLY finishes. You run into the bathroom, pee, wash hands and when you come out she’s in the kitchen STILL washing her hands. I don’t care how insensitive it sounds, when it’s YOUR sister, and you know how high functioning she is, how spoiled she acts and how much you work to take care of her and the rest of your family she still rolls her eyes and won’t even look at you, in the middle of the night…it REALLY makes you mad.

Since there are no anti-PO’d medications (waka waka), I just asked my brand new psychiatrist this past Monday to refill my prescriptions for Luvox and Lamictal and asked him to put me back on ADHD medication. He had a file in hand from the hospital I used to see my doctor at before she moved to Colorado which specifically listed ADHD as a diagnosis and wrote about how we had talked about my very expensive time-consuming ADHD testing and how she was going to try me on Strattera, and he still acted like he wanted to ask me to get ADHD testing before he gave me any medicine. I was ready to swing at him, particularly because he had the attitude of one of those “I really give no F’s about you whatsoever” attitudes. He’s the kind of guy that made me jump into the psych field out of the business field and blow the last several years of my life working toward my bachelors. Mind you, I haven’t seen a psychiatrist in a little over a year and my GP had been refilling my OCD/Bipolar cocktail and had finally gotten sick of it, but I’d been off Ritalin most of the past year and my ADHD wreaked havoc on most of my life. I was determined to get back on it, and I have, and I’m thankful. I kind of wish the guy tweaked my Luvox prescription, because my intrusive thoughts have been getting out of control the past several months, but we’ll see what happens in the future med wise. I literally have no time for myself, let alone therapy by the way. I’m hoping that session 2 with this guy is a lot better than session 1. I’ll see him in another twenty-some days.

My current struggle since I last blogged has been that the stress at work has triggered a major depressive episode. The doctor asked how many manic episodes I’ve had in my life and I replied that I get one every year or two, but I have a worse problem with depression. He asked if I’d tried Latuda or another antidepressant. I said no, and was expecting him to prescribe one, but he didn’t. I was too anxious at the time to speak up about it, but next month I plan on it. AFTER a little research on Latuda, in particular.

I stumbled upon an article the other day, the full text here, which is entitled, “Bipolar patients’ brain cells predict response to Lithium”. The sample size for the study wasn’t very large, which lowers validity, but it was an interesting read. The scientists collected skin samples from clinically diagnosed BP patients and turned the cells into neurons (don’t ask me how the heck they did THAT) and compared them to the neurons from “healthy people”‘. They tested the cells’ response to a Lithium bath, and found a diversity in excitability of the cells. Lithium didn’t do much for me, because like I said, I have a larger problem with depression than I do mania, which is why I’m on Lamictal, which I highly recommend trying if you’ve got the same problem. Our body chemistries are all different, but it’s got a high success rate among people with my kind of problem. On that note, my own research is driving me insane, because I work overtime all week at the CILA, then cram my efforts into lit reviews and test preparation just to find out that I need to re-do something or add more to my paper before I can run my tests. I’m doing a capstone right now, which is the last thing I need to graduate. The stress between that and work has taken me back to the mindset where I really just wish I could live off disability comfortably. I’m sure that the way American economy is going, disability funds are going to quickly evaporate, so even if I were to get on it, I doubt it’d be something I could benefit from the rest of my life. It’s frustrating enough to be a late twenties adult (eh, just being an adult in general), let alone a Bipolar one with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and ADHD.

Besides the obsessive skin picking that’s super embarrassing to admit I’m succumbing to again lately, my house is benefiting from my re-decorating and cleaning of the place (as much as is tolerated by the rest of my family). I think back to when I was a kid, undiagnosed with all this junk, and how on a monthly basis I’d spend an entire day ripping my bedroom to shreds in order to re-organize the whole thing. Scrubbing the walls, re-lining up my stuffed animals in a different order, dusting…Now, with my sister having grown into her Asperger’s and us still sharing a room in the same house since she was born, I can’t touch half the stuff in the room, and it drives me insane, but I still mess with what I can. (Insert the “Odd Couple” theme song here). Boy oh boy does it feel good to even move one or two things around every other night. Now onward to my last work day into a weekend where I plan on suffering through more paper editing, and lecturing myself on how I need to stop isolating myself and spend physical time with my friends if I want to keep them. Then there’s supporting my long time boyfriend who is having a bigger problem with depression than I am, and handles it WAY worse than I do…

“I can’t take it anymore, Felix, I’m cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can’t stand little notes on my pillow. “We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.” Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!” -Oscar Madison, 1968 film, The Odd Couple.

Quit that Pickin’!

This is my third full week at the women’s CILA (Community Integrated Living Arrangement). I work with 3 (soon to be 4) adult women of varying ages with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I fought for the position for months and finally got the main full-time position which has been the focal point of my life right now. This is after nearly a year working at the larger group home that houses 100 individuals with these disabilities at the workshop where we teach life skills.

If you follow the BBQ blog, you know how frustrated I was with the laziness and unjustness of the job, and Lord let me tell you how much better it is to be at the CILA. I’m good at my job, I care very much about the women, and I rock at paperwork. Most importantly I’ve lasered off the incompetence of the workshop staff, and finally feel like I have some control. I’ve been calling myself the “house-mother” because, well, I am! (We spent over an hour on our first big grocery shopping trip today and remembering I’m teaching people how to live and behave in the community from scratch can be pretty rough.)

If you were to ask me if I had kids I’d have to say yes my oldest is 58 and my youngest is going to be 3. Remember for 4 years I was a nanny before all this, and if I never have kids of my own I can say I’ve been able to put my motherly personality to work. I’m proud of that. I’ve always had a big heart and a lot of love to give. I’ve also for the longest time felt bad complimenting myself. It’s a tremendously rewarding job and equally as tremendously difficult. I’ve been keeping my spirits up through the rough spots, and the amount of love the girls give me makes me beam. Anyway, on the side I’m carving out my research for my last semester of my undergrad and trying to take care of the family and maintain some semblance of a social life. Take that 3 and a half years of severe agoraphobia that ruined my mid twenties! You can suck a ****. Look at me now! (No worries life, I’m still kinda miserable and that should be reason enough not to need to jinx me).

I’d have to say the hardest part of life right now is waking up. I feel all the little Lyme Disease critter bacteria I’ve been host to for 14+ years crawling under my skin and traveling to work to make me achy and tired and hypersensitive and itchy and all around miserable. Learning to live with chronic physical illness has been a long process but if I can learn to handle living with my chronic mental illnesses as eloquently, I’ll be in good shape to live out the many more decades I hope to be able to.

On that note, I’m at that point in my life where I need a new man…maybe a woman, I mean don’t judge me here…I’m desperate. I need someone kind and understanding who I can laugh with and most importantly who is a psychiatrist who can up my dosage of Luvox. My OCB’s (Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors) have been out of control and my intrusive thoughts have been throwing frat parties on the regular. My skin picking and fear of my house burning down in particular are REALLY bad right now. I’ve also been off of Ritalin way too long.

If I get one thing done tomorrow before my shift, I’m going to try to make it find a doctor who will take my insurance and my hours and get myself there ASAP. I can do this. I can do this…I can do this. Right?

Anxiety: 89/100, Mood: Marvin the Depressed Robot from HHG2G

“Why did the chicken cross the road? Because his therapist told him to do more things that scare him.” I’m not surprised I ended up in the E.R. a couple of weeks ago with dire abdominal pain (Turns out I have gastritis, sudden onset). I swallow my anxiety and anger about things instead of working through my feelings in a healthy way. Like blogging! Whenever there’s a significant lull in my posts or general communication with friends and family I’m likely gorging on negative thoughts and thereafter gagging on my hangover from them. There’s unnecessary  guilt involved in self isolating too, which makes me isolate even more intently because suddenly the thought of anything else is so horrifying it affects me physically. “Want to come over? I miss you.” “Sorry, I’ve just had my legs gnawed off by a koala and won’t be able to make it until they grow back.”

Of course my job requires extreme social interaction, but it’s with a developmentally disabled population and I’m comfortable with them. I turn on the jolly when I get to work even if I’m convinced I won’t open my mouth or smile once that day. I’m also moving up in the ranks, I was hired for the first female CILA! Charmingly enough though, they’ve pushed back my start date three times, and my god. Showing back up to work after having said goodbye twice is one of the most humiliating, anger inducing, depressing feelings in the whole world. I was told I start this Tuesday instead of Monday (today) on Friday after work. Tomorrow I’ll be making the walk of shame one last day before switching, unless my boss who is my boss for one more day, will let me take a day off unpaid. Going to have to wait another 3.5 hours to find out about if I should be so lucky. I can’t see myself opening my mouth or smiling at all at work today. Seriously.

However, it’s not like I’ve been unproductive in my mental unease. I’ve been on a fantastic cleaning and re-organizing everything my family owns spree. “Today perhaps I’ll move all of my art supplies to another area in the room!” “I think the decor on the TV stand needs a complete revamping!” “Oh no, I’ve finished washing ALL the clothes in the house. WHAT DO I DO WITH MYSELF NOW!?” It’s relaxing for a half a moment following an accomplishment, until something else to obsess over pops up. Usually it surrounds my ongoing intrusive thought that something will spark from an outlet and my home will burn down and I’ll lose everything and my life will be ruined.

There’s also a few new developments in life that are kind of devastating…to me, and I’m masticating those at the moment because they’re fresh meat. Like…I just found out that even though I’ll be OFFICIALLY done with EVERYTHING this semester and able to graduate, I’m 4 months past the due date for graduating in December, and 2 days away from missing the deadline to graduate in May of NEXT YEAR. Wow how great it feels. I think if I can make it through today, I should be able to cope a little better by breaking things down, but this whole going to work thing today is pretty much a big glue ball of stress that’s grabbing with it all other things I need to deal with and making it slightly impossible NOT to want to hide in my head. CBT and all that are just too energy consuming right now and I’m probably not going to get more than an hour or two of sleep as is.

If We Can Change the Lens…

This was passed on to me by someone near and dear who thought I would take interest in it. Now I’m passing it on to you. I thought it was fabulous, funny, smart and inspiring. Normally I lay around with the volume off on the computer. It took me over a week to get my lazy ears clicked into the e-mail this was linked to and actually watch the video. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that those of us with mental illness CAN change our brains, as well as the rest of the average folk who struggle daily too. Aside from being something I can personally relate to, it’s a perfect picture of the person I want to be while I’m speaking in the realm of academia one day after all the years of study I’ve put into my psychology major.

The best of luck to all of us who take the plunge to change,

Bipolar Barbie (Q)

Carve Your Heart Out Yourself

My dad was vacuuming the stairs when I told him I wanted to switch majors from marketing to psychology. He made a joke of it at the time and I felt miserable. Now I wonder of its the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.

This isn’t the first night I’ve lost sleep over how long it’s taken me to finish my undergraduate degree, but it is the first which I’ve posed that particular thought. I spent the past five-ish years just destroying my life, not doing well in school because of ADHD or Bipolar episodes or that HORRIBLE year long agoraphobia which kicked it all off. I basked in hiding and avoiding and got really good at it. When it came out that I completely SCREWED myself no one was happy, but I was forgiven by my immediate family (The extended family is still wondering wtf my problem is). Watching my GPA fall for no good goddamn reason other than I’m a complete mentally ill screw-up (Chris likes to point out how bad I am at life which doesn’t help my self-hatred) the past few years has been heartbreaking.

I just worked up the courage to do something I’ve been avoiding for nearly a year: e-mailing my school councilor in the department to see if I can make an appointment and see what I have left to graduate. I did it a couple times over a year ago and then ended up getting too terrified to go to those appointments. I’m PRETTY SURE it’s just the Capstone project and the senior lab class…but they both give me insane anxiety. Firstly, I wasn’t properly trained for the SPSS program that gets used in the lab class and I’m terrified it’ll screw me over and secondly I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do for my Capstone. I looked into what classes I would need to finish my undergrad in Anthropology (my minor) or Marketing, but I seem to have several classes left to complete for either. Shit, I was amazing at History in community college, I should have gone into that. I wouldn’t have a Capstone to complete in any of those fields. This fucking Capstone is eating at my insides. Just the IDEA of it has been haunting me the past couple years.

I spent this semester off looking for a job. Well, I’m still unemployed. I have a phone interview coming up for a position as a Behavioral Therapist at an entry level which is INSANELY AWESOME but I’m so run down from being shot down from all the jobs I’ve had interviews with that I feel like there’s no reason to get my hopes up. It won’t stop me from doing my best to get the job though. Being a therapist for autistic children or troubled youth has been something I’ve felt would be rewarding and I’ve been trying to get into. I figured with my degree I’d work my way into being a high school psychologist.

I think maybe I should be able to sleep now getting all that out. All I want to do is win the lottery and never have to think about all this pressure to graduate and make a legitimate living for myself as soon as possible. Some days it feels like I just want to be dead so I don’t have those problems, but I’ve learned that I really don’t want to die, so by default I’m screwed…