Physical illness when I’m mentally well – it’s not fair!

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It’s a regular occurrence, whenever I find myself mentally stable, I become physically ill. It seems so unfair. I have lived with this phenomenon for years. As my mind starts to heal, my body relaxes and I find I’m much more susceptible to becoming physically ill.

I have been stable for about four months. The first flare up was my back and I found myself in excruciating pain. I’ve been referred to a physiotherapist but I still wake up every morning in agony. It seems I’ve had this problem for a number of years, but my body has never fully relaxed. When I’m manic I’m full of energy and on the go. During depression I’m often extremely anxious. In both situations my body is tense, so my back pain hasn’t been so obvious. This week I’ve had a terrible cold. I haven’t had a full on cold like this for years, and it just so happens to coincide with me being stable. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

As a Bipolar sufferer, I have always suffered from what I call the comedown, or hangover from mania. Mania can be euphoric, but it is always exhausting. After an episode, I almost always become physically ill. I haven’t looked after myself properly for what can be months at a time; exercising till I nearly faint and hardly eating or sleeping. No wonder my body rebels when I finally relax.

I’m not sure what the answer is to this. My body is obviously reacting to how I have pushed it to extremes and how stress and anxiety has weakened my immune system. I’m hoping with longer bouts of stability, I find better physical health. I’m already finding that I’m eating more healthily and looking at finding a suitable exercise regimen.

What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 2

Continuing on from the first part, which you can read here I’ve explored conversations I’ve had regarding bipolar. As I mentioned in part 1, many of the questions or statements are meant to help, but are things I have heard many, many times before. Sometimes they can be insulting, which is difficult to deal with. I have been taken aback by how little people understand the condition and what they feel is acceptable to ask. It’s like when a woman is visibly pregnant, and people will touch her tummy without asking. It’s invasive and so are some of the questions I’m asked. Statements are made without thinking. If people stopped and thought to themselves “would I be alright if someone asked me that?” they may change their mind before speaking.

You can’t have bipolar, you seem so nice!

I’m always confused by this one. Having Bipolar is not a character flaw. Just because I suffer with intense mood swings it does not make me a bad person. I’m not going to suddenly attack you or go on some rampage. Mental illness for the vast majority of us doesn’t work like that. I find people that suffer with mental illness have a huge amount of empathy for others, and are willing to support friends and family even when they themselves are struggling.

A healthy diet and exercise will make you feel so much better.

I know this suggestion is supposed to be helpful, but honestly I have heard it a ridiculous number of times. As someone that wasn’t diagnosed for over a decade of suffering, I have tried everything I can possibly think of and that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise. Although I agree it helps with general well being, it cannot alone alleviate symptoms.

But you don’t look Bipolar.

I’m not sure exactly what people imagine a Bipolar sufferer to look like? I suppose they feel I should be wearing all black when I’m depressed, with my head in my hands, rocking back and forth. When I’m manic, maybe they believe I should have a crazed look in my eyes and act like a clown all the time? People don’t always present as being manic or depressed. I don’t look much different during these times, I just look like me. I might look more tired than usual when i’m depressed, but on good days I can still dress up and wear makeup.

Do you really need to take all of that medication?

Yes, yes I do. Medication has saved my life and giving me stability that would never have been possible without it. I talk at length about this in the post Psychiatric Drugs Saved My Life

I’ve watched Homeland/Silver Linings Playbook and you don’t act anything like that. 

Bipolar disorder is not the same for everyone. There are different forms of Bipolar such as Bipolar I (characterised by extreme manic symptoms and severe depression), Bipolar II (with a milder form of mania called hypomania and severe depression). Rapid cycling (where you switch from mania and depression in quick succession). A mixed episode (where you could be dealing with both extremes at the same time) and cyclothymic (a chronic but milder form of Bipolar disorder). Film and television will always show the extremes of mental illness. I have become astute at hiding how I’m feeling, after years of trying to fit in. So I may not always appear to be ill, but in fact inside I’m struggling.

It’s a shame that I’ve had to post this, but the reality is that many people still do not understand bipolar disorder, and mental illnesses in general. I’m sure there will be a part 3 of this somewhere in the future, but I hope not for a long time.

 

 

 

 

Stability

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I’ve found myself in a a strange situation. It’s one I haven’t experienced for years. It’s called stability. My life has been full of desperate lows and extreme highs and not much in between. It’s been like this for over a decade. It’s true I have had periods of stability, but usually they only last up to a month. This time it’s different. This time I’ve experienced stability for nearly four months.

It feels strange and alien to me. I’m used to living an intense life, full of drama, fear, anger and emotional heights and depths. The euphoria I feel during a manic episode is unparalleled to any other I have experienced. I’ve experimented with drugs but nothing comes close to a full on bout of mania. I always say I don’t need to take hallucinagens because psychosis has that covered.

Back to life being surreal right now. I’m not used to this. I’m not used to feeling calm and organised, feeling happiness without worrying it will morph into something toxic. Or days when I wake up and I feel slightly on the down side, but being able to carry on without depression creeping up on me. I feel like I can accomplish things, without obsessing over a task and becoming completely absorbed by it. I’m wondering if this is normality, or if there is such a thing. Is this how healthy people live?

I’m lucky that I have finally found a combination of medication that works for me, and hasn’t given me extreme side effects. I’ve put on some weight, but now I feel stable, I’m less likely to drink and crave junk food. It’s something I could change if I wanted to.

I’m not always sure I like this feeling. Life feels quite bland and monotonous. It’s like my world is slightly overcast and grey, instead of full of darkness or bright sunlight. I don’t know how to act or to live like this. Sometimes I daydream about the fun side of mania and how if I stopped taking my medication I could get back to that. However, I then remember all the negatives that come along with it. The delusional thinking, the intense anger, obsessive and dangerous behaviour. There’s also that air of foreboding surrounding me that at any time I could become seriously ill again. If I push myself too much I’ll trigger an episode of mania or depression.

It’s a bit cliched to say but I’m taking each day as it comes. Life I know shouldn’t be full of extremes constantly and should be quieter. Sometimes yes, even boring. I’m grateful that I’m in this position and I’m trying not to take it for granted.

Time to Change Story Camp 2017

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Filled with excitement and trepidation on Friday morning I woke early – about two hours earlier than I needed to, ready for Time for Changes’ Story Camp. Fighting off the nerves I made all the important decisions; are those glittery shoes too much? Did I really need to coordinate my stationery with my bag and phone? How the hell was I going to navigate London with my complete lack of directional sense? I made it out the house and found my way to the venue only managing to lose my way twice, a massive achievement!

So what is Story Camp? 

Story camp is a day dedicated to all things mental health, and how to get your story out there. Whether it’s through blogging, vlogging, illustration, (even crafts), or becoming a media volunteer. Although I’m already writing here on this blog, I’m still relatively new to the idea of sharing my story and getting my voice heard. I wanted to broaden my knowledge and learn from others and this seemed like the ideal opportunity. Time to Change set up the day and work tirelessly to reduce mental health stigma in the UK. Their focus is on the general public, and providing them with real life stories, awareness days, (such as Time for Talk Day) and educational tools to combat harmful and sensationalist ideas surrounding mental illnesses.

The Day

One of the most inspiring aspects of the day was that three of the speakers had attended Story Camp just a year before. They had taken the experience and ran with it – using their passion and creativity to spread awareness across the country and on a number of media platforms. The first speaker of the day was Shea whose motivational words and assured yet warming presence set up the day perfectly. Shea spoke about storytelling and its power and how telling our stories helps to humanise mental health.

Next up was Jodie, who led us through blogging and social media. Although I realised I was already doing many of the things she mentioned, it gave me the belief that I was on the right track and that I could make a few tweaks here and there. It felt important to know this and that I should have some self belief! I came away from this segment with a ton of new blog ideas that I can share with you all in the upcoming months.

Then Andrea spoke passionately about vlogging. This is something I’ve begun but rejected earlier this year. It felt too daunting and emotionally draining a task. After hearing Andrea speak however, and the important message that it doesn’t have to be polished and perfect has renewed my interest. Making shorter videos that are more focused should help them feel less tiring to make.

The final speaker of the day was Lucy who, like the others, spoke so inspiringly. Her segment was about the media and how to work with and share your story with them. This is definitely something that sounds scary but could be ever so rewarding. I had a upsetting experience working with BBC three last year. I was unhappy with the final edit, but it was put on the website without any of the participants having a say beforehand. What I hadn’t realised until story camp was that Time to Change can support you if you are contacted by the media to share your mental health story. It’s given the confidence to know they’ve got my back if I ever have the opportunity to participate in something again.

My own mental health

Although I do struggle with Bipolar disorder and sharing my story does dredge up painful emotions and experiences, I feel it is vital to educate others and provide a voice for those that aren’t able to. I do have periods of stability and even during depressive or manic episodes I can still write. When depression strikes I’m not constantly in a state of numbness or deep emotional pain, and have good days. Sometimes I can even feel positive!

The mental health community

It was wonderful to meet people at story camp and everyone sat and chatted immediately because we all had a common interest; helping others and reducing the stigma of mental illness. I truly feel there is a community online that suffer with mental health problems that support one another. Just as importantly we want to create change in our society and I believe we can. I’m excited and full of motivation to continue my journey with you all, and to really make an impact surrounding mental health.

 

 

 

 

We Need to Stop Apologising for Being Ill

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This is something I find myself doing often. I have lived with mental illness for over a decade and I still find myself uttering that one word; sorry. Sorry I let you down. Sorry I couldn’t make it. Sorry for being ill.

An example of this is my partner and I recently went on holiday. Due to a mix up, I was left without one of my medications, and in the end went for three days without it. Including the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, I also started to feel very low and tearful. We didn’t leave our lodge for two days because I was convinced I would break down or have a panic attack. The one thing I kept saying again and again was sorry. I felt I had ruined our holiday and it was all my fault.

When it comes to my mental health It’s so ingrained in me to apologise that I do it without really noticing. I find myself saying it before I’ve realised what I’ve said, and what it implies. Apologising implies it’s your fault. Mental illness is not your fault, it isn’t anyone’s fault for being ill. We are blameless. We didn’t cause ourselves to be ill, and we certainly didn’t ask for it.

So why do we do it? I think the stigma that lives in our society is mostly to blame. Mental illness by many is seen as a sign of weakness. The ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘cheer up’ brigade often think this way. We’re told by them we need to be stronger and to just get on with life. By others it’s a character flaw. There is something wrong in how we think and live and that it can be easily fixed. We’re lazy, so exercising regularly and working hard will cure all our problems. If we’re constantly being told we’re weak, flawed and lazy, no wonder we’re always apologising.

Another major reason we find ourselves apologising is guilt. We often find ourselves feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons. Our room or our house is a mess, we can’t get out of bed, we cancel plans with family and friends. But is this guilt an ordinary part of mental health problems, or does the pressure of being happy and normal cause it? I think maybe the guilt is always there, but the demands put on us by society exacerbate this feeling.

Back to the holiday I took with my partner. I kept saying sorry. Through tears and sobs I was still apologising. However, my partner would say to me, until it finally made sense, “Don’t apologise, you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not angry or upset, you can’t help being ill.” That’s the key to all of this; to surround yourself with accepting individuals. Keep hold of those friends that understand and really mean it when they tell you it’s ok. Ignore  those that demean your mental illness and cut them out of your life if necessary. Educate the rest.

It can feel very lonely living with a mental illness. We want others to love us and not to frighten them away. We fear that we have made them angry or upset. So we say sorry, hoping they will stay. We need to show ourselves some compassion and to truly believe that we are not at fault for being ill. We shouldn’t apologising even if some people think we should. Even if we don’t always realise it, to go through what we do everyday, we are far stronger then them.

What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 1

I’ve compiled a list of what not to say to someone about Bipolar. I have heard variations of all of these at some point and they either make me sigh, make me angry, or I just burst out into laughter. Sometimes what people say seems helpful from their side, but actually they are pointing something out I have tried before, or already doing. I often get the same advice time and time again, when what I really need is a listening ear or a normal chat to take my mind of things. We’re all guilty of making assumptions about mental illnesses, so it’s vital we educate ourselves and understand the illness from the sufferers point of view.

“Cheer up”

I’ve heard all of these; “Snap out of it!” “Look on the bright side!” “People have it worse then you.” “What have you got to be upset about?” It’s one of those cliches people come up with when they don’t know what to say. They feel like they have to say something to make you feel better but they’re just making it worse. It’s like telling someone having an asthma attack to pull themselves together and just breathe normally. They can’t and all they need is help.

“I’m a bit Bipolar sometimes.”

Mood swings are not the same as experiencing Bipolar episodes. Mania and severe depression are totally self destructive and debilitating. You’re probably just in a bit of a bad mood, a bit tired from a night out and then drunk loads of coffee and energy drinks that made you kind of hyper. Mania and depression can last for weeks or months, or cycle rapidly from one to another.

“Are you a creative genius?”

I definitely believe that when I’m manic! I say to myself, “I’m amazing!” “I can do anything!” “I’m the best at everything!” But really we’re all just normal people. We don’t have a predisposition to being creative. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Personally I am creative, but I’m pretty average. I like to write and sketch but I don’t believe it’s anything special.

“Are you sure you have Bipolar?”

I am very very sure. It took over ten years for me to be diagnosed. I had to write a journal for my psychiatrist and I looked at it and go “Oh yeah, it makes sense.” I can see the pattern. Bipolar has caused massive upheavals in my life. Everyone thinks they are an expert. When someone asks this question it’s not ignorance, but a lack of information and education. Before my diagnosis, I never thought it would be me with Bipolar. It never even registered it could be a possibility.

“You don’t seem like you have a Bipolar.” 

I’ve become very good at hiding it. I’m not sure what people mean when they ask this question. Do they think I should be running around screaming and shouting and being ‘wacky’ and ‘crazy’? Or huddled in the corner clutching my head swaying backwards and forwards? Maybe I need a tattoo on my forehead to make it easier for you?

“Is this the Bipolar talking?” 

I have my own thoughts, feelings and personality that aren’t governed by my Bipolar. Everyone has mood swings to a degree, everyone has good days and bad days and it’s the same with having Bipolar. It’s extremely difficult when people are constantly second guessing or trying to interpret what you are saying or how you’re acting.

“Have you taken your meds?”

I find this very insulting. It’s a way of saying my feelings aren’t valid and any emotions I feel must be connected to my illness.

“Have you tried to commit suicide?”

It’s not ok to ask if you hardly know me! It always seems to be people I don’t know very well and they sort of blurt it out. Why would you ask someone that? Would you ask a person who didn’t ask who didn’t have a mental illness this question? No you wouldn’t. If you’re already depressed this can be very triggering and make you further spiral down. It triggers ideas, plans and previous thoughts. It’s like if you have Bipolar you are a curiosity, or people think it’s a faze, or a fad.

 

There are many more things that shouldn’t be said to someone with Bipolar and I will explore them in part 2.

 

The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode

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I’ve separated them into two sections, for mania and depression. This is in no way an exhaustive list for every person with Bipolar, as people have varying signs and symptoms. This is a list specific to me, and what I have become aware of over the last four and a half years.

  • Sleeping less than four hours a night, or not sleeping at all for more than three days in a row. I will simply not feel the urge to sleep, or feel tired. I will have too much to do, too much to focus on. Sleep becomes unimportant and low on my list of priorities.

 

  • Becoming more talkative, usually talking endlessly about everything and anything. I will often speak at a faster pace and my mind will rush ahead to my next point, so my speech can come across as frenzied, as I stumble over or miss out words. This leads to me sometimes speaking complete gibberish.

 

  • A surge in confidence. I will feel like I can do anything and no one can stop me. I will feel more important than everyone else and that my opinions and ideas are always right and any other opinion is wrong.

 

  • Impulsive behaviour. Buying ridiculous shoes that I’m never going to wear! My partner will notice random packages turning up filled with items I’m never going to use, or don’t need. I will start a new business and decide I want to leave my job, for instance.

 

  • Overspending. My spending habits will change and I will buy whatever I want, whether I can afford it or not. I’ll start buying things that are completely out of character that I would never dream of buying when I’m stable, like designer bags/shoes/clothes.

 

  • Starting new projects. This is a regular sign for me that a manic episode is imminent. It may be painting the entire house, being more active on social media, creating reams of artwork or notes for a book.

 

  • No appetite. I won’t feel the need to eat or feel hungry. I will eat for the sake of eating but not because I want to or need to.

 

  • Risk taking. In the past my driving has become more reckless and dangerous. I’ll think less about my own safety and not worry about the consequences of my actions.

 

  • More energy. I’ll wake up in the morning and I’m extremely awake, like someone has flicked a switch and I’m ready for anything. I’ll run around the house doing everything, go to the gym, but nothing dampens my energy.

 

  • Irritability. The little things in life will start to annoy me, like people eating loudly. I will snap at people and be generally grouchy.

It’s critical during these times to have people close to you who can spot the signs of a manic episode. Personally, I’m not always aware of changes to my behaviour and need someone to point them out to me. Share with them what the warning signs are for you, so they are better equipped to help you. Being made aware that your behaviour is showing signs of mania can help you to stop it in it’s tracks. If that’s not possible, it enables you to see a doctor before it becomes any worse.

 

 

 

 

 

Unhealthy Obsession

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When I’m manic I become obsessive. Obsessions range from problems at work, to business and creative ideas, to exercise. They appear out of nowhere, and I’m not aware of how irrational I have become.

There will be someone in my life who annoys me, frustrates me, or I simply have a dislike to, that my world will then revolve around. This happens without my noticing, but has as much subtlety as a sledgehammer to those around me. The obsession will last for months and there have been two or three noticeable incidents of this in my life. One of which I have touched on, with my college lecturer in this post A Story of Self Sabotage Another was with a work colleague. Both took on different guises, as the dynamic in the relationship differed. The work colleague I took an instant dislike to. I thought this person was a smarmy git, who got their own way by talking over others, who lived there life by the oath of a sales person. So, a dishonest, sly cockroach. Because we worked together five days a week, I watched what he was doing and analysed every decision he made. I disagreed with every decision, either to his face or to others. I would spend hours every week bitching to another work colleague about how unprofessional he was, or how wrong his ideas were. I would stride in front of her desk, walking this way and that as I spoke. Or sit next to her at her desk, rapping my knuckles. I misconstrued every comment he made to be a jibe against me, to be combative and threatening. I became paranoid. When he would talk to our Manager alone I was convinced it was about me. He had a vendetta against me and was trying to get me fired, telling our manager that I was incompetent.

To counteract this I wrote reams of notes about his behaviour toward me and presented them to my manager. I did this numerous times, each time hand writing each point in my notebook that was now brimming with page upon page of my paranoid ranting. I would type it up, finding every opportunity to add to it. One of the longest became four pages of bullet points long. My manager suggested we sit down together and speak about my grievances, but I suspected a conspiracy. The two of them had worked together before as colleagues and were friends. During the meeting I would not speak up about what was bothering me, convinced if I said anything they would find a way to fire me.
So my anger and frustration turned to family and friends. It was incessant: every night there was a new gripe, an unbelievably awful crime he had committed against me, such as not answering his phone when it rang. It would be the first thing I said as I walked through the door

“Guess what he’s done this time!” or “I can’t fucking believe what he did today!” I would walk them through the day, step by step. “So I get to work on time and he hasn’t arrived as usual. Late again and I have to put all the toys and outdoor equipment out for the children. It’s always me. He doesn’t care, he just comes swanning in just before the families do. Fucking unbelievable!” Whoever I was talking to, usually my boyfriend or my mum before we moved in together would try and interject, but I would steamroll over them seemingly with no ability to stop once I had started. Luckily my obsession didn’t cost me my job. The colleague moved away and I celebrated. But, I would still rant about the lack of work he had done before he had left, or how he hadn’t left adequate instructions for his caseload.

It’s not just people I become obsessed with. I will feel the need to exercise everyday. It will be an incessant need, to the point where my world turns grey and I can hardly stand. After exercising at the gym I once drove home, my vision blurry. I managed the journey home where I took a shower. As I stepped out, everything went black and I passed out onto the floor. This obsessive behaviour finds it’s way to all aspects of my life. I won’t be able to stop thinking about a new business idea I’ve had and will convince myself it will work and be determined to leave my job. I’ll either be obsessed with eating and won’t be able to stop thinking about food, or will dive into a diet or healthy eating plan that isn’t healthy for me in the slightest. I’ll become obsessed that my relationship will fail or that my partner will be in a dreadful accident and I’ll be left alone.

I’m stable at the moment and haven’t had a manic episode in months. When mania hits, these obsessions inevitably follow. They wreak havoc with my day to day life and effect my relationships, my health and my job.