My mental illness Q & A – Mental Health Tag 2017

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1. What is your mental health issue?

I suffer from Bipolar Affective disorder. It first manifested as depression, but I was later diagnosed with Bipolar. As part of Bipolar, I also have psychosis, where I have times when I experience auditory hallucinations. I also suffer with panic attacks and bulimia.

2. Do you have medication and/or therapy?

Currently, I am only receiving medication for Bipolar. I take lamotrigine a mood stabiliser, aripiprazole, an anti psychotic and sertraline, an anti depressant. I am hoping to receive some form of therapy organised through my psychiatrist.

3. What therapy/medication have you tried and has any worked for you?

The combination of medications I listed in the last question are undoubtedly the most effective of all the medications for Bipolar I have been on. The side effects are minimal; they make me extremely tired, but I take them before I got to bed so they help me to sleep. Before this I was on quetiapine, which I can only describe as making me zombified. I was constantly tired and lived in a haze of forgetfulness and had a complete lack of concentration. I was then on respiridone, which initially worked well, but because of a hormonal balance I had to stop taking it.

For panic attacks, I found CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) to be helpful. It helped because the panic attacks I was experiencing at the time were environmental. After stressful periods of time I would have an intense and painful panic attack. It taught me how to change my thinking when I was stressed.

4. How long have you had problems for?

I was first severely depressed when I was fourteen. I became a school refuser, and was referred to a psychologist. I had multiple bouts of mania (which I didn’t realise was mania at the time) during my late teens and twenties. I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar aged twenty seven.

I started experiencing panic attacks when I was twenty, and developed bulimia during my early twenties.

5. Do your family/friends know?

My family and friends are all aware of my mental health problems. I encourage them to talk to me and read my blog if they are unsure or confused about my illness.

6. Does this affect your work and daily living?

In a word, yes. I am currently unable to work a full time job, with my income coming from sporadic freelance writing jobs, selling my artwork on Etsy and DLA (disability living allowance), now known as PIP (personal independence payments). Daily life can be a struggle if I’m in a depressive episode, where I’m unable to do anything, let alone work or socialise with friends. Relationships can become strained when I’m unwell. I’m difficult to be around, because I either shut down completely, or become angry and rude.

7. What makes you feel calm?

Listening to music, especially alternative eighties and nineties songs, as they remind me of happier times. Bubble baths are my absolute calming, safe space to be in. Snuggled up reading a good book, especially an old favourite.

8. What do you do in crisis?

The number one thing is to tell someone I’m in crisis. Being alone during these moments can be unbearable. I need someone to give me a hug and talk to me, even if it is innocuous and dull.  If I’m alone I’ll ring or message my husband or my mum. I try and distract myself from the intense feelings I’m experiencing.; whether that’s listening to music, having a bath, or playing a video game. Sometimes this isn’t enough and I have to ring the local crisis team, or my psychiatrist, who is awesome at organising emergency appointments when I’m in crisis.

9. What advice would you give to others suffering?

My advice is to find support as soon as possible. At appointments sometimes you need to be confident and assertive to be taken seriously and to be given a diagnosis or support you need. I know it’s incredibly difficult to do that when you’re ill, so take someone close to you that understands what you’re going through.

Become an expert on your mental illness. The more you know, the more you will understand and find solutions to combat your mental illness.

10. What makes you smile?

My husband, my family and friends. My hyperactive cat, Matilda. Animals, especially ducks, bears and otters. Nature, hot summer days, music and art.

11. Describe your mental health issue in 5 words –

Debilitating. Bewildering. Complicated. Painful. Terrifying.

12. Insert a picture to make people smile –

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‘I thought the voices were normal.’ Realising I had Psychosis

 

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I suffer from Bipolar disorder, well known for it’s symptoms of mania and
depression, but what many people don’t realise is that some sufferers also
experience psychosis. These could include delusions, auditory and visual
hallucinations. For me, I hear voices. This happens during periods of extreme
moods, so when I’m manic or severely depressed. I may hear voices that are
comforting or spur on my mania. Sometimes the voices are just a jumble. When
I’m depressed, it becomes disturbing. Voices will scream and shout at me,
or sneer vindictive threats. I write about one such experience here: Doubting Myself – Hearing Voices

When I was younger I thought having someone talk to me in my head was normal.
Then, as I grew older, I believe I was in denial. Something like this
couldn’t happen to me, it just didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t until I
stumbled upon an article that explained the symptoms that I began to truly
except this wasn’t right. I sat reading, with tears welling up as the
realisation dawned on me; I had been experiencing psychosis. I cried for a
long time. The idea of telling anyone I had psychosis terrified me. What if
they were afraid of me? What if they thought I was dangerous? My fear of
being labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ stopped me from being honest with
the people closest to me. I didn’t want to lose friends or have family
treat me any differently.

Even as a sufferer my view of psychosis had been skewed by pop culture
representations. You were a disturbed, dangerous individual that didn’t fit
into society if you heard voices. It couldn’t be further from the truth in
my case. I was just an ordinary woman; I was in a long term relationship, I
worked, I went out with friends. Yet I felt stigmatised before I even reached
out to anybody. I stayed silent for years, only telling my psychiatrist after
a year of treatment for Bipolar.

I eventually opened up to my partner. It was an awkward conversation, with
many pauses and silences as I struggled to explain myself. Although he
initially found it difficult to understand, he was supportive and caring. He
could see how upset I was becoming and how much of an internal ordeal I had
been through keeping this bottled up inside, and knew all I needed from him
was a hug. Later, I told my family and they excepted it with an ease I
wasn’t expecting. I have begun to be open about my experiences on social
media and the outpouring of support from friends has been incredible. I am
truly lucky to have such open minded family and friends.

I know there are people out there who don’t understand and some that are
scared of psychosis. If these people opened themselves up and had a genuine
discussion with someone like me they wouldn’t be afraid. I have met people
who believe it is edgy or cool, or use it as fashion statement. It is none of
those things and  is not something you should ever wish on yourself. It is
debilitating, bewildering and terribly frightening, but with support can be
tackled.

Stigma on the internet: Psychosis is not a fashion statement.

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I enjoy trawling through pinterest. It’s usually a safe place for me, where I go to look for tattoo ideas, new fashions and recipes. However, this week it turned me into an angry ball of rage and indignation.

I came across the above image, an outfit labelled as psychotic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; why would you think to come up with an idea like this?! From someone that suffers  from psychosis, I don’t choose a look when I’m hearing voices. Eyeliner, denim shorts and pretty rings are not high on my list of priorities at that particular moment. Severe mental health problems are not fashionable or something to aspire to.

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I found that this pin originally came from the site Polyvore, where users can create ‘sets’ and name them how they see fit. Once on the site, I then found the set above, ‘I am psychotic’ Where does this idea that being psychotic is cute come from? It is far from cute. It is terrifying, bewildering, confusing. When voices are screaming and shouting at you to the point where you can’t concentrate on anything else and you feel so desperate you would do anything to get away from them, tell me then how cute it is.

This proves that much more has to be done to raise awareness of mental health problems. People are slowly beginning to understand more about depression and anxiety, but there are disorders such as psychosis that need to be brought to the forefront.

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Doubting Myself – Hearing Voices

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A symptom of my Bipolar disorder is hearing voices. Sometimes the voices can be engaging, comforting and dynamic. These are the times I enjoy the most, when the voices spur on my mania and lead me to experiences I would never have attempted before. There is a darker side. Sometimes the voices can be terrifying. Hearing voices doesn’t sound like an internal monologue, but feel completely separate from my own mind. They are so clear and concise I often don’t realise they are coming from the inside of my own head.

The scariest moment for me has to have been from February last year. I was working in the town centre and would walk to and from work everyday. It was a fifteen minute walk along a bustling, vibrant street. I live near this busy street, full of shops and people walking to and fro. I walk down this street nearly everyday and rarely feel intimidated. I enjoyed putting in my headphones, putting my head down and marching home. It gave me a chance to breathe and relax after a busy shift. I remember that for some reason my music had stopped and I was busy fiddling with my phone trying to fix the problem. At the time I was depressed. It was the beginning of an episode that would culminate into a severe depression that would leave me bereft of happiness and not being able to function for over a month. It was dark and the road was busy with traffic. I heard a voice from behind me, that said in a vindictive, sneering tone,

“I’m going to strap you down and rape you bitch.”

I turned around but there was nobody there. It was horrific. I looked around again, but the nearest people to me would not have been audible. I carried on walking, hurriedly now, jumping out of my skin when a woman walked past me. I had forgotten all about the music I had wanted to listen to. I could feel my heart rapidly beating in my chest. I was on the verge of tears; the two options to what had happened were both unthinkable. I was so certain someone had uttered such a vile statement. I convinced myself somebody must have been behind me. I imagined a hooded figure walking past me after the incident, so I could tell my partner that there had been someone behind me. I didn’t want to be crazy. I didn’t want to feel out of control, unable to do anything about what I was hearing. I didn’t want my partner to think I was insane, to look at me in a different light, to be afraid of me, or afraid of what the voices might tell me to do. It’s a horribly intrusive feeling to think your own mind is sabotaging and scaring you. I carried on walking home for the next ten minutes with this all circling my mind. I felt more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life. Scared of both the outside and my own internal world. When I arrived home I told my partner what had happened and he convinced me to ring the police. I was reticent to do so as I was still in two minds as to whether what had happened was real; but it was real to me. Something cruel and vicious had invaded my mind, like my mind had been robbed. I felt violated, but my own mind was the culprit.

The police arrived and I gave an awkward, embarrassed statement. I explained what I had heard and gave a vague description of a figure that had quickly walked past me. I wasn’t lying about the voice. I had heard it, but by now I had convinced myself it wasn’t real. I felt ashamed that I had lied about seeing someone behind me and that I had wasted police time in making this statement. One of the police officers looked confused and commented that it was an odd situation to happen on such a busy street. I could feel myself turning red, my ears becoming hot. I didn’t know what to say in return. I felt too ashamed to admit what had really happened, that I suffered from Bipolar and occasionally heard voices. I didn’t admit to my partner for a long time that I definitely believed I had been hearing voices. I eventually did and remarkable as ever, he took it in his stride. He hugged me and didn’t say a word. That was all I needed.

I’ve also made a video about hearing voices and you can watch it here

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