Falling Through The Gap

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I’ve lived with mental illness for more than half my life. Even so, it’s only been in the past few years where I’ve felt able to talk openly about bipolar, psychosis and bulimia.

It’s everyones responsibility to help people like me find their voice. We shouldn’t have to feel brave for speaking up, we must simply feel able to, without fear of judgement.

Through my blog, I’ve hoped to be a small part of that change. To create a safe place where the difficult, often uncomfortable conversations can be had. Speaking about my experiences of psychosis has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, but in the end one of the most rewarding and freeing.

Even though I’m open and encourage others to be, there is a big problem. There’s a lack of support from mental health services. So many people are tirelessly working towards greater understanding of mental illnesses. We are doing our job, but the services are just not available. The government aren’t doing their job in making sure everyone that needs a hospital bed can get one. That everyone who needs therapy can receive it when they need it. Services are reactionary; people fall into crisis before they can get help. People who are suicidal are being turned away.

I’m immensely lucky to have a partner, family and friends who support me unconditionally. My partner and parents have been there when services have let me down. I talk about one such experience I had with mental health crisis care Without them, I would have fallen through the gap in services and with no safety net would’ve been in a desperate situation. There are people out there that don’t have that safety net. They don’t have a support network like I do. This is where services should come in, but at the moment they don’t.

It feels pretty hopeless right now, but there are things you can do. Write to your local MP about your concerns. Support or get involved with charities such as MIND that are trying hard to push through new and updated legislation. When the time comes, vote in the local and general elections, for a party that will support the NHS and mental health services in particular.

Breaking the Silence

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Too many people with mental illness are silent. Silent with friends and family, Silent at work. Silent from their doctors, silent with themselves. Breaking that silence can feel like the hardest thing in the world.

We worry about what others will think of us, and that they will judge us. Maybe they’ll think we’re attention seeking, exaggerating, or crazy. What if they recoil from us or decide they can’t deal with it. We worry breaking the silence will make work life difficult, or even cost us our job. Maybe our doctor won’t believe us, or won’t have any answers. We worry that being truly honest with ourselves will mean we will have to face the reality of our illness. All of this circles our minds and paralyses us from taking action to help ourselves and to reach out for help and support.

It all comes down to stigma and discrimination. It is such a huge issue for people with mental illness. We fear the repercussions of breaking our silence. If we start talking and sharing collectively, we can hold each other up and give ourselves the confidence to use our voices.

When you do break the silence it can be freeing and empowering. To finally share your story with someone, even if it’s just one person, can come as a huge relief. Sharing your struggles lifts a weight off your shoulders and has a positive affect that staying silent will never do. I do this here on this blog, and share my experiences of bipolar, psychosis and bulimia. I first started journalling my experiences in 2012, but only shared with family and friends. Last February, I made the decision to go further and set up this blog and to be more active about it on social media. Now I feel supported by a larger community, of people I have never even met. I have received messages from across the world of support, and others asking for advice.

In most situations, people are generally supportive. However, this isn’t always the case and we have to be prepared for this. It can be deeply hurtful when someone doesn’t understand, or refuses to make an effort to. If we feel capable, the best thing we can do is try and inform and educate. Stigma often comes from ignorance or a lack of information. We need to make sure we provide people with the right information so that they can make informed opinions. This can be from sharing your story, or from highlighting resources from charities such as MIND and Time To Change

Not everyone with mental illness feels capable of being open. We share our stories to varying degrees, and even if we tell only the one person closest to us, that we can confide in, that’s ok. We don’t all need to put ourselves ‘out there.’ We’re all different, despite our shared illnesses. Breaking the silence means talking as much or as little as you want to. It isn’t a competition and no-one should feel pressured to tell everyone they meet about their illness. Do what you can, and you’ll find it makes a difference to not only your life, but to the people you care about.

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My mental illness Q & A

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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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Body Confidence and Self – Esteem

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The confidence I have in my body and my self esteem are intrinsically linked. It’s always been this way, since I was a child. I can remember before I hit puberty that I was terrified of becoming a woman. The very idea of having breasts and curves filled me with dread. In a way, I wanted to be strong and capable, like my brothers and male friends. I’m not saying that I felt I was in the wrong body, but that it felt daunting to grow up and become a woman. I’ve since learnt that I didn’t have to lose my tomboy characteristics as I grew up; it’s ok to be a woman and enjoy sports and getting muddy, and more importantly to be fiercely competitive and ambitious.

Growing up I was never skinny, but never overweight, until I became severely depressed during my mid teens. I turned to food as a comfort, as so many do with depression and I gained weight. I was mercilessly teased and bullied by a group of boys and the experience shattered my self image. As a result of my fear of having curves and the bullying, I began to despise my body and felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I lost weight slowly and steadily, but never felt it was enough. I still saw that overweight depressed girl in the mirror. The two became one and the same, and in my mind being overweight could only be seen as a negative. I created a warped sense of self value that has evolved and taken over my life, infecting my relationships and self esteem.

As an adult my weight has fluctuated in tune with my moods. Manic me doesn’t eat and exercises furiously, depressed me is lethargic and eats excessively. There has been one constant though throughout my adult life; that I hate my body, whatever size I am. I can’t stand to look at full body photos of myself. I will walk passed windows or mirrors and catch sight of my image and feel horrendous for the rest of the day. My self image is distorted to the point I think I am too fat and ugly to be loved, to be appreciated or cared for. My paranoia is always in full force. I feel constantly judged and ridiculed by strangers as I walk down the street. Some days I can’t leave the house on my own in fear that people are staring at me. If I do go out on these days I will feel so panicked my chest will begin to tighten.

One of my greatest fears is exercising in public. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been going to the gym, which is a huge achievement for me. Even the idea of walking there in my gym clothes was filling with me dread and I have had to talk myself into walking out the door a number of times. What I’ve realised that for the most part, people at the gym are focused on themselves and rarely show me a passing glance. To them, I’m just another gym member. I’m not this freakishly huge monster my mind is always telling me I am.

I have been speaking to my psychiatrist about all of this, and we have discussed therapy a few times. I never thought I was ready, but now I think it’s time to stand up to the invasive and negative thoughts in my mind. I need to relearn how to think about my body and how I value myself. It will be tremendously difficult and I’m sure many ideas I have about myself will be challenged, but it will be worth it in the end.

My Eating Disorder Recovery Tools

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I have started on my journey to recovery from bulimia, and I’m determined to conquer this dreadful disorder. I talk about it in more depth in the post I have an Eating Disorder. It has taken over my life and that is the hard part; what do I do to fill my time when I would otherwise have been thinking about food or bingeing/purging?

The first thing I did was to write out some distraction techniques and stick them on my fridge. I wrote them out on cute, donut post it notes, because I need to laugh at myself and the situation I’m in or I’d just cry! Dreaming up ideas to distract from the constant urges was easy enough. They are simple everyday activities I can do that won’t cost me anything, and I can do from home:

  1. Have a bath – My go to reaction. I feel safe in the warm water and surrounded by bubbles.
  2. Sketch/Colour  – I can lose myself in a drawing of my own design, or in an adult colouring book.
  3. Listen to music -Singing along to an album that suits my current mood lifts me and can fill me with confidence and willpower.
  4. Play with the cat – A self explanatory endorphin releasing activity!
  5. Phone a friend – Not necessarily to talk about why I called in the first place, but to hear their voice and have a catch up.
  6.  Write a blog post – This blog is my therapy right now. Writing down how I’m feeling in the moment can feel like a great release.
  7. Clean the house – I always feel more positive when the house is clean and tidy. Cleaning all the things that have been niggling at me will distract me.
  8. Read a book – Snuggling up on the sofa under a blanket with a good book is comforting and pleasurable for me.
  9. Go for a walk – Fresh air and natural light always lifts my mood and gets me away from temptation in the house.
  10. Go on a support forum – I find the beat message boards very helpful. I can anonymously lay out my emotions without judgement.

I see these distraction techniques as Step 1. They are for when I’m first beginning to think about bingeing, but have no concrete plans to do so. If I can catch these thoughts early on, maybe I can stop them manifesting into action.

I’ve realised that when these fail, I need a backup plan. At the moment I don’t trust myself when I’m alone. I’m much more likely to binge and purge during the day when no-one is around. I currently work from home, so I find myself alone often. The is not ideal, but I have found a solution. On days when I don’t need to go out anywhere, I will give my debit and credit card to my husband, so I physically can’t go to the shops and buy food to binge on. On days when I want to work elsewhere, or spend the day in town, I can have my cards. This may sound extreme, but it’s necessary in my current mind set. This won’t be forever, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can trust myself again.

I have decided to plan my meals in my daily planner. Having my meals written down will make me accountable. If I binge on food I have to add that, and if I purge, I will add that to. Along side this, I’m writing down my schedule for the day and the moods I’m experiencing. I’m hoping this will keep me on track and make me more aware of when and why I am bingeing and purging. If I can highlight these times, I can make changes to my routine to combat it.

As a final tool to recovery, I’m taking the plunge and asking my psychiatrist to refer me for therapy. I know that my eating disorder is more than just about food, and that I have some deep rooted beliefs about my body image and my self worth. The beginnings of my eating disorder If I can work on these, hopefully I will have the strength to begin to love my body and believe in myself.

 

The beginnings of my eating disorder

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I have been thinking about this recently. Where did it come from? I suppose as a child I was always a tomboy, and didn’t look forward to the idea of being an adult and having curves. I was almost scared of the idea of becoming a woman with breasts and big hips. I became overweight in my mid teens during my first bout of depression. The chasm I found myself in overwhelmed me. I needed something, anything in my life to pull myself out of this hole. So I resorted to eating. I’d always enjoyed food, but chocolate and crisps had been a treat, not a way of escaping. But escapism is what I was in desperate need of. During those couple of minutes of eating I could forget the penetrating emotional pain I was experiencing, and concentrate on the smells, texture and taste of the food I was eating. I would hide crisps and chocolate wrappers around the house, because although for an instant I felt better, the guilt I felt afterwards compelled me to hide the evidence. I became more and more aware that I was gaining weight, and so did others around me. I started eating bigger portions at dinner and was forever picking at food. I would become incredibly upset when someone told me I had eaten enough, and that I should stop now. It made me feel like my obsession with food had been discovered, and I had been caught out, that made me feel horribly embarrassed and defensive.

I was bullied at school because of my weight. A group of boys would laugh at me and tell me I was disgusting. One day this group were walking behind me, talking about a rumour that a girl in our year was pregnant. They shouted over at me,

“Is it you, you fat bitch!”

I tried to ignore them , but I couldn’t. These boys would oink and bark in my face as they walked past in corridors. It shattered my self esteem, that I had been gradually building up whilst recovering from severe depression. What they had said and did stayed with me for years. I lost the weight over a few years slowly and healthily. Ever since my weight has fluctuated and I have never once felt comfortable in my own body. I look in the mirror and I see something awful and grotesque staring back. My husband, family and friends say there is nothing wrong with the way I look, but I find it difficult to believe. I analyse every word said about my appearance, and every look that comes my way. I walk down the street and obsessively compare myself with other people, and say to whoever I’m with,

“Do I look like that? Am I that fat?”

I’ll see my reflection in a mirror and feel like I’m going to burst into tears with how incredibly huge I am. I’ll exclaim,

“Fucking hell I’m huge! I’m a whale!”

I’m in a constant battle with my own mind. There is a part of my mind that never stops torturing me, that never lets me fully relax in my own body.

Everything started to unravel during a period of time when I had lost a significant amount of weight. I felt good, still not liking what I saw in the mirror, but saw it as an improvement. Then I decided to have the contraceptive implant. Bad choice. My GP didn’t mention the side effect of serious weight gain and I put back on all the weight I had lost and more in just six months. I felt disgusting and felt physically sick living in my own skin. Wanting to tear out all the fat I could feel from my body, I began to binge. As I’ve already said, bingeing was how I initially put on weight as a teenager. Eating a chocolate bar, a bag of crisps; it was emotional eating and I felt better for a couple of hours until the regret and guilt crept in. I never purged though. I had a phobia of vomiting so would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. As an adult though, life was different. I had grown out of the phobia but the guilt and regret of bingeing remained. So I began to purge, in secret. It was a horrible ordeal to begin with and I often wondered why I was bothering to cause so much damage to myself. But then the threat of more and more weight gain loomed and I continued the ritual.  It began to take over my life, and I started to purge regular meals, in a desperate attempt to be able to live within my own skin. I lost weight drastically, but was still deeply uncomfortable.

I’m managing and trying to recover now. I’m hoping to see a psychologist when I can pluck up the courage. I’m still in a place where I don’t believe I’m deserving of help. Hopefully this will change, but I’m not putting pressure on myself for my thoughts to magically switch.

I have an Eating Disorder

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I have bulimia. Believe me, I hate talking about it. To me it’s an embarrassing secret I keep hidden from others. For years I wanted no one to know about it. I’m ashamed that as a grown woman I do this to myself. It’s not just a teenage illness; I developed bulimia in my early twenties and have struggled to escape it ever since.

It’s a daily internal struggle. I’m constantly in a battle with my own mind. I feel paralysed by the need to binge and purge. I sit stuck for hours, unable to think about anything else. If I go to a supermarket I’ll be there twice as long as I’d planned, agonising over what to buy. Once trapped in the cycle of binging and purging it’s very difficult to break and can feel impossible. After purging, I feel a great release afterwards. It’s an adrenaline rush that becomes addictive. There is also the thrill that I’ve managed to eat and now I won’t gain weight.

Often when I’m depressed, I binge without thinking. All I want is to just do something to draw my mind away from all the negativity in my head. When I have finished and realised the extent of what I have eaten I feel angry at myself and physically uncomfortable. So, I will purge to counteract that feeling. The swell of anxiety after eating can be unbearable. My stomach is full and it feels ready to burst like a balloon that’s been overfilled with air. The tension inside continues to swell and I find it difficult to regulate my breathing, taking short sharp breaths. My head is dizzy with worry and the nausea is there in the background. All of this is coaxing me, fuelling the compulsion to purge. I can’t think straight, my mind is bogged down with the stress and all I can think is,

“Get rid of it, you’re a disgusting pig. Get rid of it, get rid of it now.”

The anguish I feel is all consuming. I’m trapped and claustrophobia envelops me with the walls around me folding into smaller and smaller pieces, until my world is miniscule. Then the only thing left is the temptation to binge and purge. The guilt I feel is tremendous and I promise myself this is the last time, every time.

I’m currently trying to recover from bulimia. It’s been a monumental task. The daily ritual had become ingrained into my thinking, to the point that I couldn’t picture my life without it. I have had slip ups. I know there will be more, but I will never make it an excuse to give up trying.

 

101 Things Nobody Tells you about Bipolar

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  1. It is more than just happy or sad
  2. Bipolar is a complex long term condition
  3. Sufferers all have slightly different periods of depression, hypomania, mania and stability
  4. Depression will be severe and unrelenting
  5. A depressive episode could last months
  6. A hypomanic or manic episode could last months
  7. Mania is not always fun
  8. Mania makes you feel irritable and restless to a point where you can no longer sleep
  9. Sometimes mania will make you scratch and pick at your skin
  10. Sleep deprivation is agony
  11. Mania is dangerous, for you and those trying to help you
  12. You will have no fear
  13. Fights will start with random people because you have no filter to what you say
  14. You will get run over because you believe cars should stop for you
  15. Driving will be reckless and you will crash your car many times
  16. When manic, you’ll drink and take other drugs excessively
  17. You will drink a bottle of whisky in your flat alone just because you want to
  18. When you’re manic you’ll want sex all the time.
  19. You will wake your partner up at four in the morning because you want sex
  20. You will begin wild and whimsical projects that will take over your life
  21. These projects will be left unfinished when mania turns to depression
  22. You will be able to concentrate on projects for hours on end
  23. Projects will be so important you’ll stay up all night – and then the next night
  24. You will forget to eat for days at a time
  25. You will not eat because you have more important things to do
  26. You will lose the ability to understand the concept of money when you’re manic
  27. You will constantly be in debt
  28. You will spend hundreds of pounds on a pair of shoes anyway because you’re manic
  29. Mania comes with it’s own special variety of intense anger that can’t be satiated
  30. You will punch holes in the wall so you don’t punch someone you love
  31. You will trash your possessions because the anger is too much
  32. Relationships will end because of your Bipolar
  33. The anger will cause you to lash out and hurt the people closest to you
  34. Anger will cost you many opportunities; in education and your career
  35. Bipolar is accompanied by other disorders
  36. Anxiety will cause panic attacks that come out of nowhere
  37. Panic attacks will cause you so much pain you’ll end up in hospital
  38. You may develop an eating disorder alongside bipolar
  39. The combination of bulimia and bipolar sees your weight fluctuate dramatically over the years
  40. Psychosis can happen when you’re manic or depressed
  41. Psychosis when you’re manic can spur you on to do even more dangerous things
  42. Hearing noises that you search for and can’t find is beyond frustrating
  43. You will spend hours looking for a meowing cat that doesn’t exist
  44. Psychosis when you’re depressed is terrifying
  45. You will ask yourself ‘is this behaviour normal?’ ten times a day when you’re stable
  46. When stable you will doubt yourself everyday
  47. Sometimes you will secretly wish to be manic again
  48. The come down from mania to depression will make you suicidal
  49. After a manic episode ends, you will be completely and utterly exhausted
  50. This exhaustion will lead to physical illnesses
  51. You will take more time off school/work than any of your classmates/colleagues
  52. You will be constantly trying to stabilise and stay that way
  53. Depression will be all consuming
  54. You will spend days at a time in bed
  55. You will spend days, weeks, or months in a haze
  56. Your memory and concentration will be impaired
  57. There will be whole swathes of time you don’t remember
  58. Suicide will feel like the only way out
  59. You won’t wash for days on end
  60. You won’t brush your teeth for days on end
  61. Your hair will be matted and greasy
  62. You won’t be able to complete the most basic of tasks
  63. Your home will become dirty and untidy but you won’t be able to clean
  64. You will feel incredibly guilty that your home is a mess
  65. Sometimes you will feel so empty you won’t be able to cry
  66. Sometimes you will feel too much and won’t be able to stop crying
  67. When you’re alone you’ll want someone to be by your side
  68. When you’re with someone all you want is to be alone
  69. You will recall an relive every mistake you have ever made
  70. All your negative memories will resurface and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them
  71. You will need twelve hours sleep every night and will still feel tired when you wake up
  72. You will be desperately tired but won’t be able to sleep
  73. Medication is not a magic wand
  74. Therapy is not a magic wand
  75. You cannot escape side effects
  76. You will encounter side effects that cause weight gain
  77. You will encounter side effects that make you feel like a zombie
  78. You will encounter side effects that make your hands tremor
  79. There will come a time when you will choose between two disruptive side effects – the lesser of two evils
  80. There will be times when you will stop taking medication because you can’t stand the side effects
  81. Withdrawal symptoms are worse than the flu
  82. Your condition will make you feel isolated and alone
  83. Hearing people say ‘I’m so Bipolar!’ will set your teeth on edge
  84. People will compare you to characters from tv and film depicted with Bipolar
  85. You will answer ‘I’m fine’ when you feel desolate inside
  86. You will answer ‘I’m fine’ so as not to cause a fuss
  87. You will worry about people finding out and thinking you’re mad
  88. You will worry about telling friends and family for fear they won’t understand
  89. Some people, who might be family or friends, will never understand
  90. The acknowledgement you will never be able to change their opinions of the disorder is heartbreaking
  91. You will worry about disclosing at interview or when you start a job, because they may find an excuse not to employ you
  92. At one point you may end up on long term sick or having to leave a job entirely
  93. You will lie about why you are off sick
  94. You will worry about telling your employer in case they don’t understand
  95. You will feel deeply ashamed the first time you claim benefits
  96. Relying on your partner for money will tear your pride apart
  97. It will take years for you to be diagnosed
  98. You will be tested for every physical ailment linked to depression and tiredness, except for Bipolar
  99. Mental health professionals will have differing opinions about your care
  100. When feeling stable you will feel like a fraud and believe there was never anything wrong with you
  101. You will have to adjust to the idea of living with the disorder for the rest of your life

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