Is Mental Illness Your BFF?

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Mental illness can overwhelm us at times. It can dictate our decisions, affect our relationships and stop us from doing the things we enjoy. Sometimes mental illness becomes more than just an illness, it becomes our life. Or to put it another way, our best friend.

It’s an obsession we don’t want. An obsession with our own self loathing. Depression makes you fixate on the worst aspects of yourself. Its like you’re laying in bed at night trying to get to sleep and you find yourself revisiting everything you’ve done that day. Depression does this to me constantly except, it recounts every single thing I have ever done wrong, every embarrassing situation I’ve found myself in. I’ll find myself sitting blankly as these thoughts intrude into my life, scuppering my plans as they paralyse me with fear and sadness.

The obsession continues. The self hate urges me to dredge up all the worst aspects of my personality and fixate on them. That I have a temper, that I take out on authority figures and family. That I can be quiet and intense, which alienates strangers and new people in my life. That I can never finish anything I start, which in turn fulfils the self fulfilling prophecy that I’m a failure. Then my only thoughts are negative;

“I’m worthless”  

“I’m pathetic.”

“I’m a nobody.”

It’s weird how mental illness distorts are thinking, how it morphs into something that becomes so central to our lives. It becomes our friend. A constant companion that we take with us everywhere we go. It comes along to parties, family events, school or work. It’s not silent either; it whispers in our ears and tells us we’re not loved, we’re not capable. It wants to be our best friend, our only friend.

The problem when mental illness is your BFF is how much control it has over us. It will distract us from what we want to do. It will distance us from our family and friends. It wants us to be alone, that’s its goal. So now all we have is them, the illness. It can completely take over our life if we allow it.

It’s important to recognise when this is happening. I talk about mental illness, a lot. I do so because I want to be open about it, and make subjects like psychosis no longer a taboo thing to talk about. When I talk about how I’m feeling in a negative, inward looking way, I need to think about my actions. Am I overthinking, becoming paranoid and fixating on how I’m feeling? Is this encouraging my mental illness to become more central in my life? When this happens I have to stop myself and gain some self awareness.

No-one really wants to be mentally ill. We want to be healthy and stable, but sometimes our mental illness plays tricks on us. It makes us believe we’re deserving of it, and this feeds our relationship with it. We’re all worthy of a best friend. A real one, that supports and encourages us, and one that can tell us we’re loved when mental illness is telling us the opposite.

 

Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

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For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.

 

Unhealthy Obsession

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

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

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

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

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

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