“Why Are You Walking On Eggshells?” How I Began To Recognise Manic Anger

image-2

 

I saw my parents today. They came over to my flat and I made them coffee. We had a catch up and giggled at my Mum attempting to play video games.

We moved on to how well I’ve been coping recently. They told me they were so happy to see me stable and well. Then they told me what they didn’t miss about me being ill. The mania and what it often leads to; anger. They don’t hold back my Mum and Dad. They tell me how it is. Although, it’s been a long road to get to this point.

My family and partner used to creep around me when I was manic. They didn’t want to say anything that would make me lose my temper and really, just about everything did.

I used to be fully aware that everyone around me was scared to call me out on my behaviour. The problem when I’m manic is that I’m delusional and believe that whatever I do and say is right and justified. No one can tell me otherwise. Knowing they were too worried to say anything to me riled me up even more. It made me feel like a freak, someone that needed fixing and I hated that idea.

I’ve learnt to recognise it. Here’s how:

One of the main ways I’ve done it is making sure my family and friends call me out on my behaviour. I don’t mean confront me, or make negative statements. They tell me my anger or behaviour isn’t normal for me (normal for me, because there’s no such thing as normal) and I should take a step back and think about how my actions are hurting others.

The problem with this is when I’m manic I can’t be reasoned with. Everyone is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with me. I can’t see through my behaviour. There’s no voice telling me to stop or behave. No usual voice of reason we all have that says,

“Should you really do/say that?”

I’ve learnt to rely on my partner and family to be that voice of reason.

When I’m in the midst of bipolar anger there’s no point telling me to calm down. Or to explain anything really, it just doesn’t get through to me. So I ask people to tell me when I’m more stable how out of control I was. Then I’m in the mindset to say I’m sorry and reflect.

They know I need help at those points. I won’t realise it, but my loved ones do. A support system is so important to have. They keep me grounded in reality when otherwise my world would unravel.

Mind Media Awards 2018 – Shortlisted, ME?!

Last night I was checking my emails and a message popped up. It said ‘Mind Media Award Shortlist’ I was fully expecting a resounding,

“Thank you, but unfortunately..” response, which is pretty much the story of my life.

Then I clicked in and it said,

“Congratulations!”

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 16.42.19

I screamed out loud. Jumped up and down in the middle of the lounge. Then I sat down and read the rest of the email.

“What the actual fuck!” That was all I could think. I could feel myself shaking. I could feel the tears coming, and I didn’t fight them.

I’ve felt like a failure for so long. I dropped out of Uni. I stormed out of college. I left a fantastic job that I adored and was genuinely good at. I reached my 30th birthday feeling utterly directionless. All because of my mental health issues. I’ve doubted myself countless times.

Now though having a mental illness and writing about it candidly and honestly has positively impacted my life. Knowing my words have been recognised and most importantly have reached and helped people has made me feel so proud. The proudest I’ve ever felt in my life.

Here’s a mega thank you to everyone who reads and follows this blog, I genuinely appreciate you all. Your likes and comments have inspired me to keep writing, when I doubted my blog was worth it.

So many with mental health issues can relate to feeling worthless, a failure. Always keep going, you never know what’s around the corner x

 

Writing Is My Therapy

wp-1517567098433..jpg

Writing has always been an important part of my life. I remember filling notebook after notebook with reams of ideas and stories as a kid. Writing was my escape. As I got older I continued to write and it became a release from the depression that had suddenly manifested into my life. I even decided to go to University to study creative writing.

As an adult, I’ve had many struggles with mental illness. The symptoms of bipolar ran my life and my attempts to control the highs and lows were in vain.

I began to write, but this time, it began as a journal. I’d never kept a diary before. I just started to write, and soon everything was laid out. How much I’d been struggling, how guilty, helpless and ashamed I felt. it helped me immensely. I felt a release to see all these thoughts that I’d bottled up committed to paper.

Writing became my own private therapy.

I’ve had therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) a couple of times. The first time round it really helped. I went to the sessions to help me deal with panic attacks. I learnt some important techniques and a new way of thinking about the experience. I use them to help me deal with nighttime panic attacks . The panic attacks subsided afterwards, and now I very rarely have one, maybe only once a year.

My second experience of CBT was not so positive. It wasn’t long after I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was offered group therapy and wanting to know more about the condition, and share experiences with others, I said yes. The course didn’t help. It was basic, and didn’t teach me anything new about the condition. There was never any time to share our experiences. I still felt alone.

I continued to write, but now I wanted to share what I’d written. I started a blog, this blog. Although now I don’t always write about my personal experiences, writing still helps me.

It gives me focus and a sense of purpose when I’m depressed. It helps me to stay calm and concentrate when I’m manic. It drowns out the voices and helps me process the experience when I’m psychotic.

I’m not in therapy at moment. A lack of therapeutic styles on offer from the NHS means I’d have to seek private therapy. I can’t afford to do that, so my option is talking therapies; that didn’t go well last time

So for now writing will have to be my therapy. I’m sort of ok with that. I’m annoyed that I can’t access actual therapy, but at least I’ve found something in my life that helps me.

 

The Difference Between Being ‘A Bit Sad’ And Depression

ACS-0009

 

“I’m a bit sad”

“Fed up”

“In a mood”

“Can’t be bothered”

“Feeling sorry for myself”

These statements often lead to someone exclaiming, “I’m so depressed!”

There’s a massive difference between feeling fed up and being clinically depressed. It’s damaging to say you’re depressed, whether jokingly or through a lack of understanding.

For most the number one symptom of depression is tiredness. I mean the kind of tiredness that is always hanging over you, no matter how much sleep you’ve had the night before. All you want to do constantly is curl up in bed and sleep. You might suffer from insomnia on top of this.

Because we feel hopeless and no longer care during depression, we have trouble making decisions. We’ll have concentration problems and be forgetful.

Depression means zero motivation, for weeks or months on end. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t be bothered to get up on Monday morning. It’s not just having an ‘off’ day. Every ounce of motivation you once had disappears. You’ll hardly be able to get out of bed, cook a meal or look after your home. Going to  work feels you with dread and feels like an insurmountable task.

Depression can leave you feeling constantly hungry or the complete opposite; a total lack of interest in food. It can leave you with digestive problems that you’ve never suffered with before.

035fd3cf277a659e33e86de5f7396e59_validationType-1C!r864edb3c241c1dc63481488445bc0bad

 

Everything in life will feel like an effort, even things you usually enjoy. I don’t mean not be able to find anything good to watch on Netflix, but that all your passions and hobbies leave you feeling numb inside.

You’ll find yourself losing your temper over the most trivial of things. People will find it hard to be around you and you’ll feel guilty as to how short tempered you’ve become. You’ll snap at people and react differently to situations very differently to how you used to.

You’ll find yourself isolating yourself from your family and friends. The very idea of socialising can make you feel sick with worry. You’ll avoid messages and phone calls and make excuses not to go out.

It’s not feeling sorry for yourself. It’s feeling utterly hopeless and helpless. It’s feeling so desperate you may think about ending your own life.

Please don’t say “I’m depressed” when really you’re just having a rough day. Please don’t say “I’m just a bit sad” when really, you know you’re depressed. Most of all please don’t use the phrase we all use far too much, “I’m fine”. Don’t say you’re fine when you’re crumbling inside. Please be honest and ask for help.

If you think you may be depressed, share your feelings with the people closest to you and see your doctor.

 

 

Mental Illness has Made Me a Stronger Person

ACS-0008

It’s a bold statement and not everyone will agree with it but for me, it’s true. I wouldn’t have dealt with as much adversity if I didn’t have bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have had to fight my way through difficult times. Still being here after so many years of struggling, is my biggest achievement. One statement I don’t agree with is being labelled as ‘brave’ because I live with mental illness. The idea that I’m stronger despite it I see as a positive and an affirmation that I’m not weak.

I’ve lived with mental illness since I was 14. I’ve had mental illness for longer than I’ve lived without it. It was my Dad that first told me how strong I was. I’d passed all my GCSE’s even though I’d missed six months of school. I had been severely depressed for months. I couldn’t concentrate, I hated myself and had no motivation. I hadn’t understood why I was living and didn’t want to exist any longer. I’d worked so hard to catch up and was determined to pass my GCSE’S. I’d never felt so proud when I got my results. I remember my Dad telling me,

“Katie, you don’t realise how strong you are. To have achieved what you have despite how ill you’ve been is incredible.” He was right, and that statement has stayed with me.

Dealing with stigma and discrimination has made me more thick skinned. I’m not easily ruffled by snide comments or abusive rants directed at me. I can laugh off a comment and I’m always armed with a number of comebacks, ready to go! I’ve been called ‘a nightmare’ and I’ll never find a boyfriend because I have bipolar. You can find my reaction to this and other experiences in the post, Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

I’m not as scared of being open about my feelings because of mental illness. It hurts when someone judges me, isn’t sympathetic, or simply doesn’t care. I’ve learnt this is going to happen. It’s unfortunate, but stigma exists and I will encounter it, especially as open as I am online. I’m able to brush it off now. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but you know what? I don’t really care. There will always be people that disagree and I’ll listen to their comments, as long as they’re constructive.

I know I’m not a weak minded person. I’m actually more resilient because of mental illness. I’ve battled my own mind countless times and won. Life happens, shit happens and I feel more than capable to deal with it all. Bipolar may scupper my efforts sometimes, but I’m strong enough to acknowledge when I need help.

To others struggling, I truly believe that you’re stronger than you know. You wake up everyday and keep going despite the traps and obstacles your mind sets for you. Every time you talk about mental illness, you’re educating others and fighting back against stigma. Each time you seek help and support, you’re making a huge leap that can often leave you feeling vulnerable and out of control. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Everything you’ve done in life so far you’ve made happen in defiance of your illness. Be proud and keep going.

 

Where to Start Talking About Mental Health

img_4925

 

Starting the conversation about mental health can feel overwhelming; but it doesn’t have to be. Someone struggling may need the smallest gesture to pull them through. You have  the tools to save someone’s life, even if you don’t realise it. Here are a few things that you can do to help someone in your life.

  • Ask someone how they’re doing. Simple right? If you have an inkling something isn’t right, really ask them if they’re ok, like you mean it. Like you’re not hoping and wishing for a simple “I’m fine.”
  • Ring or message someone you haven’t heard from for awhile. It could mean they’re  struggling and have isolated themselves. Knowing that someone is thinking of them could be what starts them talking.
  • Listen. So they’ve started talking to you, what do you do now? Listen attentively. Repeat back key phrases and sum up what they’ve told you in your own words. It will show that you’ve heard and understood.
  • Share. Maybe you or someone else in your life has gone through a difficult time? Share that experience so they feel less alone.
  • What can you do to help practically? Maybe they want someone to go with them to a doctors appointment. Maybe they want help cleaning their place or help making a meal.
  • You don’t need to fix them. Someone feeling like they’re in a desperate place doesn’t need to be told to “Take a bath.” “Go for a run.” or “Drink some camomile tea.” We as human beings want to fix problems and sometimes we can’t fix them completely.   If you’re not a medical professional then being there, talking to them and listening are the best things you can do.

It can also be draining to be there for someone struggling, so it’s important to look after yourself so you can be there for them. If you’re extremely worried about someone, it’s important you encourage them to find help. You can encourage them to ring their mental health team if they have one, make a doctor’s appointment, or go to A&E. There are also a number of helplines they can ring if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

UK Helplines 

Samaritans: 116 123

Mind Charity: 0300 123 3393

Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774

CALMzone: 0800 58 58 58

charitynopanic: 0844 967 4848

CharitySANE: 0300 304 7000

Papyrus: 0800 068 4141

Rethink: 0300 5000 927

 

What It’s Like To Have A Mixed Episode Of Bipolar

image

 

A couple of weeks ago I had what’s called a mixed episode of bipolar disorder. What this means is that I was experiencing mania (the highs) and depression in very short succession, to the point that I felt both at the same time. In this post I wanted to write an account of what it felt like at the time, to hopefully shed some light on this difficult to understand symptom of bipolar.

I’m sitting at a table outside a restaurant, waiting to be served. I’m with my husband who is attempting to start a conversation. The air is warm and the sun is out and canal boats are drifting along the canal next to where we’re sitting. It should be an idyllic setting, leaving me feeling happy and contented, but I’m not. My head is abuzz with uncontrollable thoughts. The world around me feels very surreal right now, like I’m seeing it through a kaleidoscope. The images keep flicking backwards and forwards, never staying still. I’m restless and on edge, my whole body feels on high alert. Everything and everyone is irritating me. The chair I’m sitting on is way too uncomfortable. My husband is talking and right now I can’t stand his voice. The laughter from the table behind us is grating on me and I feel like screaming until my throat is hoarse,

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

My head is full of pressure, it literally hurts from all the thoughts racing in my mind. It feels like my head is going to explode. I can feel my hands and body trembling. It feels like I’m on the edge of a cliff  with a safety net below. I know I need to jump and if I do they’ll be a release from the ceaseless, building pressure. I can’t make myself jump. It’s like my legs are stuck and I can’t move forward.

Now, suddenly, I have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It feels like all the energy has been drained from my body and I feel utterly useless and completely broken. The pressure in my head is still there, and my mind is still racing away. The thoughts are negative and intrusive, telling me I’m worthless,  pathetic and don’t deserve to live. Ten minutes later our food has arrived and I can’t stop talking. My head is full of thoughts, mostly gibberish that I can’t decipher. I’m laughing but I feel like crying at the same time. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I’m losing grip on who I am and the world around me. i can’t concentrate because I’m trying so hard to grip hold of some type of stability.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads and which ever way I go something terrible is going to happen, but I don’t know what. I maybe at the crossroads but some other force beyond my power is going to choose the direction I turn. Will it be mania? Or depression? Its a terrifying feeling to have seemingly no control over your own mind.

This had been going on all weekend and now it was Monday and I was mentally exhausted. We went home and I cried on the sofa, not knowing what to do with myself, as my body and mind continued to hum along with a relentless energy.

The mixed episode broke, eventually, but not to my relief. I found myself severely depressed, a depression I’m still trying to ride out. I hope my story helps others going through these experiences and shows people what it’s really like when someone says they’re in a mixed episode. if you want to help someone, listen and above all be patient with them.

 

The Problem With The Term ‘Mental Health’

ACS-0006

I’ve lost my connection to the term ‘Mental Health.’ It means different things to different people, and that’s a problem. I consider myself a mental health blogger, but I’m thinking of changing that. To be honest I’m a mental illness blogger. I’ll explain why.

For some people, myself included, mental health equals mental illness. It’s a term we use to write about our illnesses, to explain and engage with others about what we go through day to day. For others, mental health covers everything to do with the way we think and act. People proclaim,

“We all have mental health!” Which is true, and I have no problem with people discussing their individual experiences. My problem is that vital voices are being drowned out. ‘Mental Health’ has become this huge umbrella of different meanings. The ideas that are more accessible and easier to digest for the general public will undoubtedly receive more attention.

It feels that mental health is becoming more and more synonymous with wellbeing, mindfulness and self care. Again, all great if you struggle occasionally with the stresses of life or have mild mental illness. It’s not for everyone and it certainly isn’t a magic cure. I’m growing more and more concerned that these subjects will shift the idea of what mental illness is, and trivialise it. I don’t need to read anymore articles about mindfulness, I get it, I know what it’s about. I don’t want people to start preaching to me about how if I practised self care and had a hot bubble bath with some aromatherapy candles, I could break out of a manic episode. No, what would do that is a review of my medication and the support of my psychiatrist.

We need voices that talk about bipolar, psychosis, personality disorders and schizophrenia. Voices that have the right platform and are listened to, because these aren’t easy subjects to open up about. It feels terrifying to begin, the real fear of being judged and ridiculed, stigmatised for something you have very little control over. By using the term mental health, these important discussions are being lumped in with articles about adult colouring books and how to meditate. Self help articles in my opinion should not be compared with articles educating about severe mental illness. There is a vast difference in the two.

As an example I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend. He asked about blogging and I replied that I was a mental health blogger. He instantly started talking to me about how he is sometimes anxious whilst travelling and how he’s managed it through thinking positively. That’s great and I was genuinely pleased for him. When I started talking about what I blog about and how I’ve recently started a series about psychosis I could see his eyes widen. He quickly changed the subject. This is the problem. Anything beyond being anxious on the train was too much for him to handle. By his response, that was what he was expecting and it was because I used the term ‘mental health.’ If I’d said I wrote about mental illness, I think his expectations would have been different.

We need conversations about the underfunding of mental health services in the NHS and to create that link to the general public of why so many people are struggling and ending their lives. We need conversations about how those with severe mental illness are not all dangerous, but are more likely to be the victims of crime. We need conversations about how poverty, housing, being an ethnic minority or part of the LGBT community can have a negative impact on mental health.

Maybe it’s time for a new term, or a shift in how people use them. If you’re writing about general well being, say that. If you’re writing about mental illness, then say that too. Don’t jumble up the two, it’s causing more harm than good.

A Life Lived Vividly Series – The Voices Are My Friends; Mania And Psychosis

A Life Lived Vividly

 

Not everyone realizes that some sufferers of Bipolar Disorder also have psychotic symptoms. 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. 

During mania, the voices can be comforting. I have many ideas racing through my head during a manic phase, and the voices I hear add to the jumble. They give me ideas and fill me with confidence that then elevates my mood further. I often speak out loud to them and they reply very audibly, as if they were in the room with me. I remember instances when I’d been in my bedroom alone and I would run downstairs extremely excited, like I had just spoken to a friend on the telephone who I hadn’t seen for a while. I’ve had conversations with people where I’ve become distracted or ‘zoned out’ because there is a voice speaking to me. Sometimes I might make a joke that no one understands but myself and the voices, or laughed out loud for seemingly no reason. Over the years the voices have become my friends and I think I would miss them if they were gone. If my mood becomes very elevated I know they will be there and I look forward to hearing them.

When I’m severely depressed I have heard screaming and shouting in my head. It’s often incoherent with a few words and sentences scattered about and all of it incredibly loud. The loudness of it all makes it an extremely intense experience, like being at the cinema with the sound booming all around you. Sometimes if feels directed at me and at other times the shouting feels intrusive, like somebody is ranting and raving at nothing or no one in particular. The worst part of this is not knowing how long it will go on for, and knowing I can’t escape it. It often happens when I’m in bed and can’t sleep, but it has happened during the day too. I’m sat or lying in the dark when the screaming starts. The screaming is constant and then there is a voice shouting “Everyone hates you”, “You’re worthless”. It frightens me immensely. I’ve found myself covering my ears to escape the noise. I’ve curled into a ball and cried on the floor or in bed as the screaming continues. Very occasionally, I hear tapping. It usually happens when I’m extremely irritable, which can happen when I’m depressed or manic. 

When I was younger I thought having someone who talked to me in my head was normal. I know people have conversations out loud to think through a problem, but the difference is they know exactly what the next sentence is going to be. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that my experiences are not the same. Now I find it embarrassing and I don’t like discussing it with anyone.

I have been caught out a couple of times; I was on a train with my partner when I answered a question out loud. He said to me looking confused “Who are you talking to?” I remember turning red and saying “Oh sorry, I thought you asked me a question.” and left it at that. I also felt that if I told anyone about the screaming and shouting they would think I was disturbed and crazy. I’ve tried a few times to reach out to people but I can never seem to articulate exactly how it feels, or even to admit to the problem. I find writing and blogging to be therapeutic and it’s an easier way to explain how I feel. 

At the moment I am taking Lamotrigine a mood stabilizer, and Aripiprazole, an anti psychotic. They have helped balance my moods, giving me stability. It’s not perfect, and I still have manic and depressed phases where I sometimes hear voices. I’m learning more about how to deal with these episodes, such as trying to rationalise what is happening and ignoring it when I feel able to.

Managing Bipolar Disorder can be daunting at first, but there are many tools you can utilise:

  • Find support as soon as possible.  At appointments with your Doctor, try to be confident and assertive, to ensure you receive the support you need. This can be incredibly difficult when you’re ill, so take a family member or close friend with you who understands your illness. 
  • If you have psychotic symptoms, it’s important to be able to stabilize your moods. When stable, the symptoms should subside. 
  • Become an expert on your illness. The more you know, the more you will understand and find solutions to combat Bipolar. 
  • Find a Bipolar support group near you, or online. Hearing other people’s experiences and struggles, and how they have overcome them can be inspiring and informative. They are often a great resource to find advice. 

 

A Life Lived Vividly Series – I Can Do Anything! Delusional Thinking And Me

A Life Lived Vividly

I live with bipolar disorder, but also have symptoms of psychosis, which includes delusional thinking. I describe what delusions are in the post A Life Lived Vividly Series – What Is Psychosis?

When I’m manic I experience delusions. I think I can do anything. I have what’s called delusions of grandeur, where I believe I’m better than everyone else. I will think that I can do no wrong, that I’m always the smartest person in the room. Actually it’s more than that. I’ll truly believe that only I have all the answers, that I’m the smartest person that ever existed. This type of thinking causes me to react to people irrationally and often aggressively.

“How dare they think they’re better than me!” I will say to myself.

“How can they possibly question me when I have all the answers!”

“Everyone around me is ignorant and stupid. They should all listen to me.”

This isn’t arrogance, or an inflated ego. I don’t believe these things about myself most of the time. In fact, I’m pretty insecure. I’ve written an example of this type of thinking in the post A Story of Self Sabotage

What mania makes me is incredibly confident. Sometimes this confidence turns into delusion. I believe that everything I am creating is like gold dust, and must be seen and shared. I have written reams and reams of notes of ideas for a book, at the time believing them to be the best ideas I’ve ever had. When I look back on them at a later time all I see is scribbled nonsense, a stream of consciousness, misspelled and a jumble of words. It’s like the pages of these notebooks are a reflection of my manic mind. My mind is constantly darting from one idea to another, and never finishing my original point. My mind is distracted by the smallest spark of an idea, and every thought that comes to mind grips my attention. I show everyone what I’ve been working on, with a pride that verges on narcissism. 

Other times when I’m manic, the delusions I encounter put me in danger. A recurring belief is that I can stop traffic. I believe that if I step into a road, every car, bus and lorry will immediately stop and I can walk safely across. I also think that even if this power  becomes faulty in some way, I will not be hurt. I don’t believe there is some greater power watching over me, but instead that I’m so important that I have become invincible. I live in Reading, a busy town with it’s fair share of traffic, so you can imagine the danger I have put myself through. I’ve had many near misses as I’ve walked along busy roads and have stepped out with no fear and no thought for the repercussions. I’ve been run over twice, and had a near miss with a double decker bus. On both occasions of being knocked over, I was extremely lucky not to be seriously hurt and came away with just a few cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, not being hurt on both occasions fuelled my belief that I was invincible.

Everyone experiences delusions in a different way, and no two experiences are the same.  I have learnt to recognise when I’m beginning to show signs of mania, that I’ve written about in the post The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode

Even though I can recognise what’s happening, I’m not always able to stop it and I still have episodes of mania that can lead to me experiencing delusions. Luckily I have a supportive husband and family that can keep a close eye on me and stop me from putting myself in dangerous situations.

Any questions about delusions or want to share your own experience? Then comment below!