What to expect when reading bi-polar wife

Thoughts and feelings of living with bi-polar as a wife, mother, and person in the world.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

How you see yourself is the key

In the last year I have been on the receiving end of varying degrees of inquisitiveness, dismissiveness and judgement, and mostly in relation to the fact that I am currently not at work. But also what I realise is that the way people respond and react to me is mostly to do with their own world view, I can either join in with it, or, listen with love and walk off. I also have to be aware that society drip feeds ideas about what is or isn't acceptable for me to be in the 21st century. Apparently, if I read particular newspapers, websites, magazines or watch TV adverts I need to:

1) Be able to work full time earning a good wage and competing with everyone breathing or of remote threat; I also need to be very good at this job and do everything to show you how much I love it and makes me valuable.
2) I must parent with loving boundaries but also make a meal that consists of no dairy, gluten, meat, additives or whiff of fascism during the production process and I will drop down dead if you mention nuts.
3) I must also be able to do crafting, bake cakes and make bunting, grow my own veg preferably in a loving co-operative with other ethical growers and do all forms of DIY, car maintenance and understand basic plumbing
4) I must be pretty (But not look like a slut), be able to enlarge or shrink the size of my buttocks depending on the current trend, understand the intricate details of contouring, mind boggling skin cream regimes and have very white teeth.
5) I must be able to perform sexual gymnastics but again not be a slut, and wear clothes that make me look sexually available but not prone to rape as that would be my fault for being too sexy
6) I should drink lots of alcohol but not be affected by it either physically or mentally as that would show weakness (Prosecco is where it's at)
7) I must love all women, but secretly compete against them to be the best female, and only associate with people that make me look good as social acceptance is a passport to happiness and freedom
8) If you are fat you're fucked

So what has all of this got to do with how I feel mentally and emotionally on a daily basis, and why does it matter? The belief systems that people hold and live by, generally dictate how they feel and act towards you. This can either feel positive, neutral or incredibly judgemental and negative. Other peoples reactions to me, depending on what they say or do, means that I have a response and reaction. It usually makes me feel a certain way. My response can also be intrinsically linked to my mood. If I am feeling hideous and very depressed, it's likely that if you tell me I am a rubbish person of no value, I may well believe you. How beliefs are spurted out in the day to day world by others can massively impact on my mood. Things can stick in your head like a barbed seed. They embed themselves and grow toxic roots of shame and self hatred. They colour the way you see yourself in relation to others.

Building resilience to the onslaughts of the unacceptable drivel, wherever it might come from, needs to be built by me. I won't always have someone standing with me willing to call you out for being an idiot. Self esteem, sense of self, having an autonomous sense of significance, worth and value in the world is vital to maintaining a protective skin of self love and protection. Also, accepting that all people hold world views, prejudices, judgements and values that differ from mine is pivotal in the acceptance process.

So when somebody starts sprinkling me with the, "Oh, I elevate myself above you as I tick the acceptability boxes that make me happier and better than you", and the "Oh poor you for not being socially acceptable by my enormously more important standards" I can let go with love. I can flaunt my inner joy and freedom that comes from a wholeness generated by not measuring myself to anyone else. We don't need to fit, we can just be ourselves. We can practice kindness and acceptance, listen with love and if necessary tell someone to get stuffed if it's appropriate.

A great read is Maz Lucado's "You are special" It's a kids book about celebrating being unique. I totally recommend it.

So I shall sign off for now, and plough back into my funny little world, upholding my mental health and joy in the mild chaos of my own personally shaped universe. My buttocks of peculiar shape salute you all!

Friday, 17 March 2017

The power of sensory triggers (One swear word)

Rumour has it you can hear whilst still in the womb, therefore, when you finally enter the world you can recognise significant people straight away. (http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/fetal-hearing/ ) It's real science and everything! And your senses can play a massive role in your emotional memory in a positive as well as negative way. This is an interesting read. (http://www.livescience.com/8426-brain-link-sounds-smells-memory-revealed.html)

So why am I talking about this today? Well it was parents evening at school. I am a grown up. I don't go to school anymore. Education in England no longer practices violence against children if they speak out of turn. Bullying, although still happening, is dealt with in a much more dynamic and useful way. I know all of this, but as soon as I set foot in the building and smell the floor detergent, the waft of shared toilets, school dinners and sweaty teenagers and I immediately feel anxious and distressed. In my mind I regress to a place of powerlessness and fear, and even when I speak to the teachers about my son, I will feel as though I have been caught out doing something I shouldn't and experience non specific guilt. For all of you out there who say, "School days were the best days of my life" quite frankly, in my personal experience, if all schools were fire bombed it would be a blessing.

It isn't only smell that does it. Sounds and taste do it too. Songs, animal sounds, mashed potatoes and swede to name a few. These sounds, smells and tastes can also generate happy memories and whip you up into a joyous frenzy. Just give me the edge of a silky blanket and I'll love you for ever. But I suppose what I am saying is that the mind is a very powerful thing and memory for me plays a great part in my wellness. How I respond to those triggers is essential to managing my mood. Some things are really manageable for me now as they are quite common to hear. They no longer trigger fear or hideous discomfort that comes, but it brings no pictorial memory with it, just a sense of fear and total powerlessness. Those sounds now register, pass through, and I float above them on a wave of acceptance. Others catch me out.

Recently we went to the Black Country museum. There was a garage area and a man was restoring and polishing old cars. The smell was incredibly strong and distinctive, and out of nowhere I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and couldn't breathe. I had to walk off and let it move through me. I had been jettisoned temporarily back to the large garage at the house where my parents used to work. As a grown up, I am able to hold the inner child as the terror passes through. I am grateful for this skill, as if I cannot do that, I will be in constant fear and my mood will drop off a cliff. Also, what I need to remember is that the past has gone, and unless I give my permission for it to hang around, it does not need to have a grip on me. It does not need to take me hostage with fear and it does not define who I am as an adult. I am a grown up and I am safe.

Also the things that terrify you as a child are not necessarily actually scary in adult reality. Spiders is one of those. My childhood home and the shed used to have massive Victorian house spiders. When I was 4 they looked like dinosaurs that moved with lightening speed and had a monstrous quality that put the fear of God in me. Dark cupboards, dust, the smell of damp, cobwebs..... That's me in full jitters. In this country spiders cannot do anything monstrous; well other than accidentally fall in your mouth whilst asleep! The fear is in my head.

And that is the point of this for me. Although there are genuinely things that are scary and you ought to have a healthy fear of, in my mental illness journey, some of my fears have been projections of my mind. They have no basis in truth and reality. Some of my fears, of things no longer happening to me, I need to let go of and dissolve their power over me. The recovery journey shows me the nuances of the volume of fear, what triggers it, when it is more noisy. I need to be aware that I am a physical person, with senses, but also a mind that are intrinsically linked. Sometimes, they gang up up and try to fool me into thinking I am a victim of my past and circumstance, that I am powerless and have no choice.

That's bollocks. Yes I have a mental illness, over that I have no control. Yes, I have experience all kinds of weirdness and distress in my life. But what I do have is a choice about my response to all of those things. On a day to day basis, I can show up to the game of life, and live in the solution, work on being emotionally and spiritually free and embrace the challenge of living. Sometimes, out of what you think is a mistake, or slightly broken or not good enough, can change the world. I think there is always a greater good at work even in the darkest moments when we think there is no way.

A case in point:

"Often described as a careless lab technician, Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find that a mold had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate."


Monday, 13 March 2017

Try and be quiet - It actually helps you to be present

From the moment I wake up, throughout my entire day and onward to the evening and bed, I am assaulted by noise. People noise, radio and TV noise, mobile phone notifications, washing machine and tumble dryer noise, food mixer noise, car, bus, plane and moped noise, birds, dogs, cats, my own voice and the non-stop inner dialogue of my mind that quite frankly, very rarely shuts up. 

It's a racket. Let's face it. 

Some noises are more soothing than others. The sea with its ebb and flow; the swish/crush noise of the sandy pebbles being sucked backwards into the foam. Pebbles plopping in the pond. The odd bleat of the sheep in an isolated field. Ralph Vaughn Williams. 

What I find is that noise and sound, although intrinsic to everyday living, can be a vehicle of emotional avoidance and denial. It shuts up the quiet inner voice of truth and blots out the inner reality of your soul. Sometimes you need to shut things out, shut things up and not register what you are feeling or thinking. Noise in this instance is the handmaiden of busyness.

But for me I need to have a balance of loudness and quietness. Having insight, monitoring mood and thought and generally having a handle on stress are critical to my recovery process. The only way I can do that effectively is by shutting the hell up! It doesn't even need to be for a long and arduous time either. I am not a monk. And quietness is not my natural way of being. I'm a talker, to myself and others, and I play my music incredibly loud. I encourage my kids to talk and sing and play instruments. My husband plays guitar well and sings like a gurgling drain. We celebrate his lack of self obsession and joy of the moment! The house is rarely silent. 

However, making time to be quiet is essential for me, and takes commitment. It also takes a bit of planning, especially if you have a busy family life and a job etc. It also means being prepared to sit with feeling uncomfortable at times too. Mindfulness is a great way of slowing down and being still. If you do it with a speaking guide, it isn't silent but it's definitely a way of massively reducing the inner and outer noise. It is brilliant for refreshing, uplifting and easing the spirit and mind.

Total silence is quite tricky. There is always the possibility of interruption but you can achieve mostly silent quite easily by turning everything off, including your mobile phone (Don't have a total meltdown), and just sitting still for 5 minutes. Breathe, absorb the environment, the smells, the temperature, the feel of your body in the seat. Some noises may drift in but let them pass. How do you feel? Are their any emotions floating about? Is there a primary thought popping to the front of your mind? How does your body feel? And for me in this moment I also scan whether or not God is saying anything or guiding me to anything. Please feel free to ignore the God bit! If you want to, you can build up your length of time by increments of 5 minutes. You may find yourself at it for hours as it feels fantastic! I go off every now and then to Launde Abbey or Mount St. Bernard's to get away from it all and shut up. It's weird as when I go, the closer I get to the building the more self aware I become. It's like the lack of noise is deafening, and all I can feel is my inner being in its absolute truth. This is both wonderful and terrifying. It's much easier to pretend I am alright by shouting "I'm fine" at the top of my voice whilst bashing saucepans. 

Many a spiritual community have based their daily practice on being silent, working and praying. Silence is a rare commodity in our 24/7 world. Sometimes, tapping in to something ancient and simple can really nourish you. It might not be trendy or fashionable, but being quiet is actually a beautiful thing to do for yourself in a world that demands so much.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Kindness as a way of living

"It is simple, it takes only  a moment, and the opportunities are endless.
It is kindness in action, and while kindness inwardly benefits the giver, the ripple effect of compassion for others is boundless. The world is blessed with acts of kindness that have their origin in two simple words, Thank You.
Detach. Be an observer of your own life, and see yourself seeking out, and eagerly setting in motion opportunities for kindness. Share your gratitude as the beauty of kindness grows, and your chances to touch the lives of others unfold more and more every day.
In a difficult world kindness has great power. It is not simply a tool for transformation, it is a way of life." Brother Lawrence

I had to be taught what kindness is, and learn ways of being kind to myself. I can only speak from personal experience, but if I extrapolate away from that experience, I can only imagine that there are many people, like me, who have experienced judgement, violence and aggression, lack of care and concern, criticism, cruelty and humiliation. For what felt like a very long time, the world to me did not feel like a place of kindness. Also, my illness can generate very derogatory thoughts that constantly belittle me or fill me full of guilt and shame. I am really good at giving myself a hard time.
Kindness in action is gentleness, affection, warmth, tenderness, concern and care. It means taking the time to behave in a way that expresses Agape; spiritual love that transcends and serves regardless of circumstance. Therefore if you feel that you yourself, or someone else feels undeserving of love and kindness, you treat them with love and kindness anyway. And this action had to begin with me. 
Kindness towards myself takes many forms. Whether it is allowing myself to rest, to eat a wholesome meal, to have a bubble bath, detach from damaging people or places of work, or to seek out help from others, I actively make a choice to behave in a way towards myself that expresses love. I have accepted my humanness and need for being held. I let go of the old blueprint of self punishment and become willing to be healed.  Although this makes me vulnerable in a hostile world, it also opens up the possibility of inviting kindness from others and an opportunity for sharing goodness. By practising kindness towards myself, I also begin to see the need for kindness towards you. I am no longer isolated in my pain, I am able to look further and see your struggle too. It's no longer just about me. I am connected to your humanness and have a genuine desire for you to experience the beauty and wholeness that can result from an act of kindness. 
Whether you sit and listen to somebody without prejudice for half an hour, or take someone some flowers, or send them a text to remind them they are not alone, offer a hug, share your baking with the next door neighbour, smile, say hello, or more recently for me, offer prayer and gentleness in a situation of horror when nothing seems like it's going to be OK ever again, just do it. Send it out into the universe. Because when you do it, somebody else will very likely do it too. Kindness is catching. 
Living this way does not mean I am exempt from experiencing hideous behaviour from others. But it changes my world view and how I fit in to it, and by acting in kindness, it may well change your perceptions too. One act of kindness does not change the world, but if we all do small acts of kindness, it spreads. I become grateful, thankful, and see the expression of God's love in so many more places. I totally love being a part of that dynamic. 
It also improves my mental health and sense of well being. It shows other people that through simple acts of self love, much can be achieved in my mental health recovery and the hope that it fosters in myself and others. Brother Lawrence of the 17th Century had it right, whilst he prepared food and washed the dishes. It's not about the massive crash, bang, wallop, and falling into the trap of selfish ambition and power. One act of love towards myself and towards you can build a glorious community of wholeness and peace. That gift is priceless. 
So I will keep practising kindness, in the hope that you will treat me with kindness, and the cycle of selfless love can continue to spread and shine a light of hope for a gentle way of living. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mood monitoring

One of the blessings of being in secondary care is that you can pick up some amazing tips in self management. I did a CBT course around self esteem, inner dialogue, unhelpful thinking styles and mood monitoring. In my case when I first came into services I had zero self esteem, my brain never shut up, I didn't understand about skewed thinking and it's impact on mood and I had never thought of actually trying to get a handle on my mood spectrum or understanding it's natural rhythms and explosions. Also, it helped me to identify that these mood patterns had been in my life since I was about 16 and it took another 20 years to get a diagnosis!

In a mood/mental health context, I oscillate on a very different frequency to most normal folk. Mood disorders are generally identified by the list below:

Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, Feeling hopeless or helpless Having low self-esteem Feeling inadequate or worthless, Excessive guilt, Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide, Loss of interest in usual activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including sex Relationship problems, Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much,
 Changes in appetite and/or weight Decreased energy, Trouble concentrating, A decrease in the ability to make decisions, Frequent physical complaints (for example, headache, stomach ache, or tiredness) that don’t get better with treatment, Running away or threats of running away from home, Very sensitive to failure or rejection Irritability, hostility, or aggression. (www.hopkinsmedicine.org). Add to that the mania mood of elevated joy and excitable thoughts and actions, excessive energy, grandiosity, agitation, racing thoughts, hyper sexuality and the desire to encourage the whole world to be as excessively mental as you are, in a creative speed freak style! Oh yeah and 20 years ago, add into the mixing bowl a large dose of 90's love biscuits and a litre of whisky. I'm such a catch!

Chaos aside, keeping all of this stuff contained is hard going. Also, there is a huge spectrum of day to day thoughts and feelings that knock around alongside the challenging stuff, and also the more difficult thoughts and feeling during periods of genuine distress, joy or sadness that are appropriate and necessary for processing life events. 

So what is the solution? I needed to understand my scale of oscillation and its nuances. I needed to monitor it, get a grip of what happens when, and then figure out how I can handle the situations and the thoughts and feelings that go on when I am in particularly challenging periods. The only way I can describe it is that "you lot" walk through the woods, at a gentle pace, looking at leaves and weaving in and out of the trunks with a direct and purposeful manner. You know where you are going and understand your surroundings. Sometimes a conker lands on you, or you trip over some roots, but you seems to manage that just fine. I however, enter the woods on a mountain bike, cannoning around trunks, vaulting over rocks and whizzing past other folk, then crash unceremoniously in a heap and pace around confused for a bit, then drag my bike around looking for signposts that everyone else apparently already knows but forgot to tell me. Sometimes I just sit in a heap and cry into my helmet until the season changes, or, imagine setting fire to the whole fucking forest just because. Sometimes I actually walk along with you. You think I am matching you for stride and pace, but actually I am just copying you to look normal! I am practising. 

So I did the dreaded mood diary. I took a mood snap shot every half an hour throughout the day, all day, until I went to sleep. I did it for about a month. For every mood snap shot, I also correlated what had been happening, with whom and how I was acting out. So, 7.30, kids screaming and I am tired. Mood snapshot, irritable, angry, self pitying. I am shouting a lot and feeling excessive guilt. Also you can scale the strength of what your mood is doing from 1-10 or 1-100 if that suits better. 1 being manageable and 10/100 being out of control. What it showed me is that depending on where I am in my illness, my mood unpredictability and intensity can vary wildly. I am generally more reactive and sensitive than most on any given day. My spectrum of mood movement is far greater than yours. That doesn't necessarily mean I am suicidal or manic but what I do recognise is that I need to implement strategies and techniques to live in the day to help me manage the fallout of that. Also, if some moods persist much longer than others or start impacting on my day to day functioning, my family and my ability to live normally then I need to get some kind of help, input or review to see what's going on. 

I still employ mood monitoring on a daily basis. I don't stand still every 30 minutes and write it all down. I do however, mindfully check in with myself throughout the day to see where I am at. People who know me really well will pull me if I am "Off" or being a little odd. My mum is great at noticing if I am speedy or fractious. My husband is good at noticing if I am getting easily distracted as I cannot concentrate as my mind is in 80 different directions,  or if I need to ease down on the pathological anger rant about something that isn't even important. I am also much better at knowing when I need to step back as my mood is not helpful and is running rampant and unbridled and I may well act out on it. Also, asking a sensible person if you are feeling the right things in the right situation is also a good practice. I have a few specially selected grown ups who I can ask for emotional accountability. I don't always trust the barometre in extreme circumstances. 

It is hard. Thankfully I am getting to grips with it. Lithium has really helped to reduce the variance of the mood barometre spectrum. I feel more manageable now than I have done for 25 years. Scary I know! Thank God I have great friends and family who are willing to love and accept me as I am. Acceptance is the key. Finding the way through it is up to me, with or without my mountain bike x

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Having no words or strategies

Sometimes things happen that really shouldn't. They have little rhyme or reason. The toolkit of emotional responses and coping strategies that you carry as an adult suddenly look rather useless and pathetic. You look to others to maybe help out, but they too are woefully under prepared. I feel like a fish, flapping on the dirt, after being rudely thrown out of the stream onto the river bank. There is nobody willing or able to chuck me back in, as they too are further down the bank flapping away, gasping in anxiety and dread.

Something terrible happened. Thankfully my family and kids are OK, and we live to tell the tale. Someone else didn't. And it's funny because normally I can be quite forthright and vocal if I am experiencing justified anger. However in this instance, my anger in particular, has been quiet and measured. My personal and geographical landscape is forever changed and making loads of noise seems like a self obsessed luxury that I do not wish to indulge in.

Coming from a background of some difficulty gives you things, like coping behaviours. Some of my behaviours are unhelpful and skewed. But some, as I learned very recently, are actually quite helpful. Like recognising danger and unpredictability, pushing through fear to do something that is positive and right, not judging others in fear but practising compassion, support and love.

However, when you hand over some of that power and skills to people who profess to be professional, in a position of trust and power or security, you hope that they will honour your truth and experience and carry it to a place where goodness and safety will be achieved. In this instance, that didn't happen. For whatever reason, my 11 years of experience did not win out, versus 24 hours of snapshots of people who could make decisions that would affect so many lives.

I did my best, or so I have been told by many people. But I feel let down, incredibly sad and dis-empowered. So I will keep it very simple. Keep it in the day, rest and take it easy. I will be gentle with me and my community and maybe eventually we will adjust to what is.

I am grateful.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka's Gregor actually returns to "normal". Only 1 swear word.

OK so in "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka, Gregor, the salesman, wakes up one day and has turned into some weird kind of bug. Just go with it..... His family cannot adjust or accept his change; what it means for their relationships, the impact on their home and the embarrassment they experience of other people in their circle of friends and life in general. Although it was written in 1915, it's an amazing parallel of mental illness arriving uninvited into a family setting and ruining the gentle world in which everyone was just getting on, blissfully unaware of any potential chaos and fear. Sadly in this scenario, Gregor gives up, and for what he feels is the greater good, goes into his room and dies. Sound familiar anyone?

So why am I going on about this? I had a lovely chat with someone yesterday about transformation, letting go and moving into newness. Metamorphosis, transformation or change, involves a process of fear and letting go. Even if you don't believe in God, in changing you have to step out into the unknown with a degree of "faith" in the hope and expectation that something good may come of your exercise in positive risk taking. It's either that, or fester in the rut of comfortable suffering.

We talked about tadpole to frog. The tadpole may never believe that it could live without water or a tail. But, as it forces its way upward to the meniscus, new legs popping out of its side, tail diminishing, there is a beautiful resistance between old an new; friction as it presses its face towards sunshine and fresh air and explodes through an invisible barrier. And in its arrival into the new universe, surprisingly it finds it can breathe, jump on lily pads, eat flies with a very long and exciting tongue and generally have a whole new experience.  The struggle was real, but it was worth it. And our frog can still dip into the water, know it's depths and challenges, but it no longer needs to spend its whole life there. He has been transformed.

For me, living with a debilitating mental illness makes me feel like I have been cloaked in otherness. I wear the insect like exoskeleton. Although I am me, it's not the uninhibited real me. Whilst poorly and attempting recovery, I push against the invisible film surrounding me and fight to break out of the constraints to reconnect and to breathe effortlessly. In this space, I am Kafka's constricting, life limiting insect. Whilst suicidal, I am the tadpole, sitting on the algae in the bottom of the pond, wholly believing that I will never reach the surface again. I consider going to my bedroom and not returning.

However, I find myself more recently, throwing off the shackles that have held me back and am spending more time on the lily pad. The things I believed were helpful or necessary have been discarded in order for me to grow skills for the world of the well. And although this process is uncomfortable, fear provoking and throws everyone I know into mild disarray, it has been worthwhile. I am beginning to feel "normal".
Normal- noun
  1. 1.
    the usual, typical, or expected state or condition.   Or maybe not the whole 9 yards eh?

The biggest indicator of this transformation is when my Mum and sister recently saw me (In the real flesh sense and by photo) and both commented, "Oh, you actually look like you!". A sentence of 6 words, encompassing 10 years of hard work, struggle, terror and a "Fuck you mental illness" attitude.

Struggling with the invisible monster is a daily occurrence.  The degree of struggle varies, but it doesn't disappear. Wellness, recovery and happiness are achievable. I know it isn't that way for everyone, but for me, giving it a go is everything. The desire to really live is strong. Existing for me is not enough. SO I will keep showing up, and if you think I don't really look like me, I am still there. Maybe I just need you to recognise my struggle and walk with me patiently whilst I readjust between pond and pad, exoskeleton and the glorious nakedness and freedom of wellness.

Image result for franz kafka metamorphosis