Mental health, the internet, and conspiracy theorists

 

Last week Time to Change charity shared this blog post What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 2 on their social media channels. It was great to be able to reach a wider audience and to find new readers. In my foolishness, I decided to go on facebook, and read the comments section. This was a massive mistake. Although the majority of commenters were supportive and agreed with what I was conveying, I came across one poster that was vehemently against the recognised science behind mental illnesses. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this one poster was spamming the comments section and making what I believe to be harmful statements. This is how it began:

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The poster was referring to medication, and how it doesn’t work. Intrigued, I looked up Kelly Brogan, a ‘holistic psychiatrist’, who believes that mental illnesses, (and cancer) can be cured through healthy diet and exercise alone. I felt that it was important to engage with this poster, and try to explain how medication is vital to many people living with bipolar disorder.

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After this calm, polite and factual response they went on the defensive, quoting a psychologist (who would have no training in medication or psychiatry), showing me a photo of a course they attended but not the information about the college or school, and swearing at me.

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I wanted to get to the facts and decided to ask where all the evidence for these claims were. Many people that are against psychiatric medication in the UK often cite opinions and ideas that originated in the US. I thought it was important to make it clear the stark differences between the UK and US health systems.

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After my questioning I was sent a barrage of photos of healthy meals and how eating this way would cure mental illnesses. It was also insinuated that myself and other people posting were not eating healthily otherwise we would be cured. The response below shows that the person is living in a fantasy land, comparing themselves to Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It seems they believe the majority of mental health sufferers are in the wrong and are being lied to.

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I found her responses to be incredibly rude, patronising and downright strange. Again, I asked to see some evidence that wasn’t anecdotal, but a serious, long term study. At this point, I was struggling to keep my cool, this whole conversation was making my blood boil.

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I still feel my responses were needed and respectful. What this woman was spreading was dangerous stigmatising of mental illnesses. This was the end of the conversation, as I received no response beyond this. Obviously she wasn’t able to back up her claims with hard evidence, which was my main point. As I said in my last comment, someone reading these comments could be in a serious crisis and in desperate need of support. Lecturing them about their eating habits and how medication they have been given is toxic could push them over the edge. All of us should live a balanced lifestyle with healthy eating and exercise at its core, but it does not cure bipolar, or other chronic, serious mental health issues. Medication as I’ve said previously, saves lives. The right balance and combination gives people a chance to live and thrive. As a community, people with mental health problems need to look out for one another. When we can, we need to stand up for those that do not have a voice, or are too unwell to see past such dangerous claims.

So, What Is Bipolar Disorder?

 

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Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme lows, and extreme highs. What I mean by this is extreme mood swings. Lows can lead to suicidal depression, and highs resulting in mania. Bipolar is extremely difficult to diagnose, as it affects people differently. Not everyone has extreme mania, which can result in reckless behaviour and delusions and hallucinations.

Depressive Symptoms 

If you’re depressed, it often manifests as being tired all the time, crying over little things or for no reason at all. You’ll find yourself losing interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy and not wanting to socialise or leave your home. Depression can leave you feeling worthless, hopeless and fill you with dread. The most serious aspect of depression is having suicidal thoughts, planning and possibly acting on them.

Manic/Hypomanic Symptoms

Hypomania begins with accelerated speech, where you talk very fast and people find it difficult to keep up with what you’re saying. You’ll not need to sleep or eat as much as you used to. Thoughts are uncontrollable and constant. With mania, your judgement may become impaired and you start to act impulsively. The most serious aspects of mania are characterised by a complete lack of control and putting yourself in dangerous situations, as well as delusional thinking (believing wild ideas about yourself or others) or hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling things that are not really there).

According to the charity Bipolar UK;

  • More than one million people in the UK have bipolar.
  • It can take on average 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis.
  • Individuals with Bipolar are misdiagnosed, on average, 3.5 times.

Below is a mood scale that explains the extremes of Bipolar. Most people will usually find themselves between 4 and 6 on this scale. With Bipolar, mood swings could leave you falling anywhere on the scale.

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My Experience

As  I’ve already mentioned, Bipolar unfortunately can take a long time to diagnose. I first became very ill when I was 14 and was misdiagnosed with depression. It took until i was 27 to finally have a definitive diagnosis of Bipolar. The problem I have found is many people misunderstand it and only ask for help or are given support when they are depressed. Bipolar in young people can sometimes be misdiagnosed as ADHD, because of the manic symptoms they are showing.

I was on antidepressants on and off for years. Initially I was given counselling as a teenager, and took antidepressants in my twenties. They didn’t help me, but made my mood what I would call hyper. I couldn’t stop talking, I did reckless things, drank too much, took drugs. I would feel amazing and full of confidence on anti depressants. I would often become very angry and upset people and get into arguments and fights.

Now I’m doing really well, I’m stable and I’ve found the right combination of medication that helps me manage Bipolar. It’s taken four years to find the right combination of drugs that help me stay relatively stable. I need to be very strict with myself and take them everyday and limit how much I drink, or they won’t work how they are supposed to. I’ve been told by my psychiatrist that it is a life long condition, and I need to learn how to manage it.

So where did your bipolar come from? 

To be honest i have no idea what the cause of it was. I came from a happy family, although we struggled with money and had arguments, nothing traumatic happened to me during my childhood. My Dad believes that my Grandmother had it, but she was never diagnosed that we know of, and we think I may of inherited it from her. As a child I was quite quiet and would bottle up my emotions, and then I became very depressed as a teenager. It wasn’t until I was about 16/17 when my behaviour changed and now I realise it was probably mania. It was like my whole personality changed overnight and I became very loud, talkative and hyperactive.

Advice on what to do next

I think it’s important to be careful before diagnosing someone with Bipolar. It is a severe and life long condition and the medication is serious stuff. Doctors I understand want to be careful before referring patients. To be diagnosed, you have to have a psychiatric assessment with a psychiatrist, but you first have to be referred by a GP or counsellor. Often it helps to take someone with you to an appointment. Sometimes a doctor needs to see supporting evidence from family or a partner before you are taken seriously.

My advice if you are worried that you or someone you know may have Bipolar is to keep a mood diary. Track how you are feeling everyday over a period of a few months and take it with you to see a doctor. I know that seems like a long time but it’s better than waiting years to be heard. It might also help to sit down and write a chronology of your problems from when they started up until the present day. Both of these can then be evidence to show a doctor, and will show if there is a pattern of depression and mania.

 

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.

 

A Family Perspective of Caring for Someone with Bipolar Disorder Part 1

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I wanted to add something a bit different to the blog today.  I’m very close with my family and wanted to show their perspectives of my struggles living with Bipolar.

My Husband’s Perspective:

“I had been in the hills of Scotland on a mate’s stag do, and I’d had no signal since we had left behind the last town a couple of days before. We’d driven back towards civilisation to visit a nice looking pub we’d passed on the way. Looking forward to catching up with my girlfriend, I turned my phone on. It got signal, then the texts started to arrive. They started out asking how I was getting on, but then descended into ranting about I didn’t care and how she was sitting on the floor on her own drinking whiskey. The messaged said that if I cared I’d have messaged back by now. Uh-oh! I didn’t know at the time that this was a low. I didn’t understand what had gone wrong. I hadn’t warned that I’d be out of contact but hadn’t realised that I wouldn’t have signal where we were staying.

This sort of thing is fortunately kept in check by meds now, but I still have to bear it in mind. The main change that living with someone with Bipolar has made to my life is that I need to make sure there is somebody nearby who can help on a crisis. If I go away, we plan who is going to be near to make sure there is someone to call if needed. Having caring family around helps a lot with this! The other side to this of course is coming back home to discover that it’s spotless because ENERGY! It make it more interesting; you don’t know exactly how each day’s going to pan out. Well OK, maybe that’s not a good thing. However, I think it makes us stronger too. If we can cope with this, we can cope with a lot more that life has to throw at us!

I suppose I’m well placed to have married someone with Bipolar, having already lived with a close friend who also has it. Living with someone before and after diagnosis also gives an interesting point of view. I like to think of it as a wave, like a sine wave in maths. The centre of the graph, the X axis, is where most people live their lives emotionally. The peaks and troughs are where I see people with Bipolar living – always in highs and lows.

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The thing about a sine wave is that it always cancels out. The time spent below the line is the same as the time spent above the line. It’s just that following someone with Bipolar means that the lows are that much lower, and difficult to deal with. However, that means the highs are much more extreme (and potentially fun) to be around. I think what I’m trying to say is that although ‘normal’ people seem to live on a straight line, we all follow that up and down curve to an extent. It doesn’t matter whether we look like we’re on a straight line of a graph or a curve going up and down all the time, we all average out to ‘normal’ people. Although with pre and post diagnosis things are quite different, I wouldn’t change a thing about my friend or my wife. They’re just as important to me wherever they are on my graph, however high or low their peaks and troughs are.”

My Mum’s Perspective:

“You were always strong willed, determined, and sometimes a raving tyrant of anger! You were quiet at school, in primary and early secondary, but not shy. Always creative, especially with reading and writing. You were a tomboy who never wore dresses and a typical teenager; you wanted to shock everyone with your clothes. In your teenage years, you became reclusive and spent hours in your room. Then the next thing you wouldn’t stop talking and rant for hours. I noticed this when you started work, some nights it was like verbal diarrhoea! It was like someone had turned the on switch but there was no off switch.

It is hard, difficult to deal with. I didn’t want to accept anything was wrong with you. The year you moved out things became very difficult. You wouldn’t eat, you were very thin. Then you became very depressed. But you do have long periods when you’re stable; a normal young woman. You can go for long periods of time with just a few small dips and highs. But when you go down that’s really down, that’s it. I find the lows worse to deal with than the highs.”

After this chat I received this text message from my Mum:

“There are times when you are speaking to a friend who is struggling and to trying to encourage them and being normal and speaking to your dad and interacting with normal conversations. Then when I saw you tonight just phasing out during our meal and so focused. Your face and eyes it scared me and your mood has changed so dramatically it was as if you were no longer with us! I want to cry now. So poorly, so poorly I want to help so much what can I do as a mother it is heartbreaking. Do I let my daughter read this or am I being selfish and looking at my needs as well, but I love her so much and want to mend her but what do I do and how do I do it? I want to make the right decisions when she is poorly. What do you do? What is best? What do you say? I’m scared of saying something wrong. Scared of doing something that will make things worse it’s like a balancing act or walking on a tightrope.”

Our relationship has changed for the better since this conversation. Speaking to my Mum recently she had this to say:

“I don’t think like that anymore. It doesn’t help either of us for me to be walking on a tightrope with you. Now if you upset me, I tell you and treat you and talk to you the same as I do with your brothers’. I’ve learnt that there is not much I can do to help. Material things, taking you out doesn’t help you. What I need to do is listen to you and be there. I can do practical things like helping you clean the house and taking you food shopping. It’s taken me a long time to learn this, but I can’t change your illness or take it away.”

 

My Triggers for a Bipolar Episode and How I Manage Them

Bipolar can be triggered in a number of ways and it can be different for each person. It has taken me years to correlate certain situations and experiences with the onset of a Bipolar episode, depressive or manic. Here are the triggers I’ve identified that effect me;

Stress – I don’t deal with stress very well, tending to unhealthily bottle up how I’m feeling and how much I’m struggling. A build up of stress sets off an episode of depression or mania. I am slowly learning to recognise when I’m stressed and deal with it head on. I am more aware of stressful situations and plan ahead if I know an event, social situation or work will cause me stress. Looking at a stressful situation from a logical and objective point of view helps me to minimise it’s impact. I ask myself simple, logical questions such as, “What’s the worse possible outcome?” “How likely is that outcome?” “What practical steps can I take to reduce the stress in this situation?” If I can find an answer to this last question I’ll ask others for help. I think this is key; knowing when to ask for help. It’s too easy to keep pushing ourselves and forcing ourselves to deal with situations alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, a notion that I still struggle with, but I am working on. I’ve blogged about how stress effects me in the post Why I gave up my full time job

Sleep – If I sleep less than fours hours a night for three or more days I often find myself in a hypomanic or more serious manic state. During the week I have to be strict with myself and go to bed between ten and eleven every night. On the weekends I stay up later, but by Sunday again I need to turn back to my routine before bed. What I need to work on here is a more concrete bedtime routine. What usually traps me is not being able to fall asleep and then giving up, and staying awake for most of the night. A routine will help me to relax and making falling asleep that much easier.

Alcohol and other drugs – Too much alcohol and other substances have a negative impact on my mental health. They often make me depressed, and alcohol especially stops my medication working the way it should. Alcohol in itself is a depressant, and teamed up with other substances I take causes me to behave erratically for days afterwards and can lead to depression or mania. I still drink, but not to the excesses I used to. At one point I was drinking everyday, which was extremely detrimental to my mental health. I go into more detail in the post How much is too much: Alcohol and Bipolar  

If these three are all combined together it can be dangerous. I am much more likely to become very ill if all three are in the mix. Stress often leads to me not being able to sleep, and in turn I will drink to help me sleep and to relax after a stressful day. Having identified these three main triggers has had a positive impact. It’s not always possible to avoid stress, but I know in theses situations that I have to watch out for warning signs for a Bipolar episode. I’ll make family and friends aware that I’m stressed, and rely on their support; whether it be a listening ear or helping with the practicalities of the stressful situation.

Awareness and understanding of these triggers is empowering. I am more capable of dealing with Bipolar than I was a couple of years ago and that can only lead to positive outcomes and stability.