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.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The importance of friendship

Think of yourself in an old fashioned sweet shop. Scanning the shelves and the counter, you realise the choice is many and varied. Some sweets suit you better than others. I'm not a lemon sour type of girl, cough candies make me heave but a mint humbug always goes down well. Cola cubes are a bit nice too!

Personality types are varied in the same kind of way. Some people I have a natural affinity with, some I can take or leave and others set my teeth on edge. The world of friendships for me work in a similar way in that after I meet you, a friendship might develop or I might avoid you at all costs! Some people I have met are as a result of being thrown together at work, clubs or on the school run. Some were when I was at school or university. The little islands of experience where you connect with others are hugely diverse. And my friendships have developed past the initial island of identification, by discovering new islands and creating little bridges in between where we relate to each other. You hold hands and hop between islands, getting to know the other person, building trust and a shared history.

The attitude toward friendships can also be a sprawling map of complicated ideas and opinions depending on who you meet. The spectrum of behaviours and belief systems can fall anywhere between never wanting to upset anyone and people pleasing to be approved of, to thinking it's fair to scream at your so called mate in the face, all kinds of abuse when you've copped the hump. Some people are loyal and trustworthy, some are helpful until they reach a limit of which they cannot pass; some lie about you or gossip and sleep with your partner, and some are amazingly selfless, lovingly honest and incredibly funny. There is also this weird system of "by bestie" or BFF stuff that quite frankly I am not quite up to speed with either intellectually or practically.

Navigating this zone of friendship is tricky if, like me, anxiety and being self conscious and lacking in self esteem are on the menu. Trust for me is also an huge issue. I am also hideously sensitive which is a double edged sword. In history, a very long time ago, I had been a shit friend. I put that down to being ill, out of my face and not having a clue about what a good friend actually is. Also, not having a decent sense of self means you think you are something you are not, and are unsure of how and where you fit or relate. Thankfully my head, which was firmly up my backside, has now mercifully been removed. I sorted myself out and adjusted to a new framework of what I wanted to be in a friendship and what kind of people I wanted to spend my time with.

In writing this, I realise that it sounds like I thought about this stuff in an over analytical way, when really it's not rocket science. It's easy to fix a car if you already had the manual and someone telling you where to shove your spanner. I was late to the class. I had to work it out on my own as my manual was written in a language I couldn't read. Also, my car essentially has running issues. It needs more regular servicing and every now and then the solenoid misfires and I cannot get off the drive.

So why is my friendship circle so important in relation to maintaining my mental health. My illness wants to isolate me, take me hostage and tell me nasty lies about myself. Being in fellowship, relating to others, exposing myself to support and kinship mean that the darkness can be held at bay. It's a strong part of my recovery as others can sometimes see things that I can't. I begin to trust, have fun, laugh, share my secrets and my fears and tell people about the real me. It reinforces my sense of self, helps me to feel that I am not journeying alone and that I am heard and understood. More importantly, it means I can ask for help and share my vulnerabilities hopefully without the fear of rejection. Whilst I am defunct on the drive, you don't walk off and get a taxi. You help me call the AA  (The irony is not lost on me!) and eat chocolate whilst we wait. Eventually we begin driving again with the windows down blasting out extremely loud music.

Sometimes it goes wrong. In these instances I feel wounded, angry and sometimes confused. I have learned to recognise toxic people, liars and people who seek power and control. I am selective and careful about who I spend my time with. There are lots of people I know, people I am friendly with, people I see occasionally who I get on with, people I really do not like but tolerate and am always polite to, and there are a small handful with whom I trust my life. It is these people who see the inner workings of my life, the struggles and the terror. It is to them I reveal the spiritual reality of my God given essence, the most precious parts of who I am. The quote below tells you why, and this is why I value them so highly. You know who you are xx

Image result for quotes about deep friendship

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Riding out some tricky weeks

When difficult life events happen our emotional barometre wavers. This happens to all of us, and if we are tired, intellectually challenged and stressed already, it gets exacerbated. None of us are exempt. Imagine standing in front of a punch ball, you know the ones that stick on the ground with a bendy pole with the ball on top. You hit it, and it boings back and forth in little arcs depending on the force you hit it with. That's kind of how our emotions reverberate. They have an immediate expansion where the reactions are large, then they ease down in little, gradually reducing to a normal level where it all feels manageable.

The last few weeks have felt like my punch ball of emotions has taken quite a few knocks and has been (not so) merrily bouncing back and forth with abandon. What I have to be mindful of is whether or not my arcs of flux are within the normal remit of emotional response in relation to the situations at hand, or, am I sailing off into over emotionalism or unbridled fluctuations resulting in a depressed mood or mania. Sometimes I wish I could just let it all cascade out with total abandon and not give a monkeys whether I'll be OK or not. Sadly, it's a luxury I cannot afford. I'm a finely tuned organism don't you know.

Being a responsible mentally ill person can be a hideous drag. I feel like the grey local government officer of my mind, implementing rules and regulations for the greater good. It's all very regimented and dull but makes things run smoothly and with little drama.

Sleep hygiene ✔ 
Meds taken 
No alcohol or drugs 
Financial spending control 
Mood monitoring 
Letting go of resentment 
Letting go of anger 
Quite time 
Avoiding conflict 
Understanding triggers 
Reducing stress 
Reducing caffeine 
Taking positive risks 
Asking for help 

Really what I want to do sometimes is set fire to everything and joyfully dance around whilst it burns to the ground, smashing plates and doing a massive moony at all the arseholes who've totally pissed me off. I'd also love to do all the things I know are really bad for me just because. Ignorance is bliss I tell you. The thought of running around doing anything you want, denying responsibility and feeling emancipated afterwards is deceptively alluring.

Sadly for me I would experience hideous guilt, major mood chaos and then have to pay up for the damage I'd caused and spend months apologising! The naughtiest thing I do these days is eat dry crackers at 2 a.m in the morning, use sarcasm and occasionally use the C word. God I'm boring!

But my point is this. The last 6 weeks some pretty tough stuff has happened. A major incident in my street, 2 funerals, a trip to London involving intellectual work and lots of driving, the possibility of having to appear in court as a witness, my husband travelling away for work a few times and going away for cycling fun, a football tournament weekend away. And although it probably sounds not overly challenging, for me this stuff has a major impact. I do feel well but the last few days I have felt very tired. Tired in my bones tired. I have also felt rather emotional and yelled at my husband at the services on the A34 whilst standing in the road refusing to enter the car. We were both tired. It was ridiculous.

I am grateful for the level of insight I have, the tools I have been given by recovery college, psychiatric services and church, the support and love of family and friends and the ability to manage my illness in all circumstances. It's incredibly hard work. I wish there was an easier softer way.  (Wry smile).  There isn't. I either do the work or give in to being ill all the time and live in chaos. I am aiming for more of a balance where I am less rigid in my policing of self, and able to relax a bit more and enjoy being well. It's a tricky balance to strike. I imagine that my local government officer of mental wellness would still be boring, but be able to act out a little without fear of relapse. I'll get there in the end! I'd like to think he'd be like Sam Lowry from Brazil!

Image result for brazil film images

Sleep hygiene
Meds taken

Friday, 31 March 2017

The very real shock of feeling well

My recovery journey, quite bluntly, has been a rather hideous uphill struggle. I have juggled work and kids, the demands of a marriage, church commitments, a huge variety of medications, psychiatrists, side effects and patches of suicidal thinking. I had my driving licence taken off of me for 6 months. I have had brief moments where I have considered giving up completely, but by grace and some very deep seated will to live, I have carried on. And yes someone did explain to me how to pop your eye out with a spoon.

Thankfully, I am made of grit and determination, (So not sugar and spice and all things nice I can tell you!) and to be truthful, I'll be damned if I let the rapacious nature of my illness get the better of me. I won't give it the smug satisfaction.

And then, Like Mr. Benn, something magical happens and you pass through the back door of the mental illness shop, and find yourself in the garden of wellness. You do recognise the garden, it has a very familiar feel but you haven't been in it for such a long time you wonder if you are dreaming. It is bitter sweet moment as you fondly remember this place where everything is so perfect and simple, but the sense of loss and grief at the amount of time you have been away takes your breath away.

The place of wellness is precarious. I often feel that I am standing on the mountain peak and I can see the entirety of my recovery journey. I have to preserve this moment at all costs. You cannot comprehend how glorious being free actually feels. But my illness is notoriously unpredictable and marred by fairly regular relapses into darkness. The flip side of this time of normality is that when I feel really good, the "Am I manic?" paranoia kicks in. Am I too happy? Am I too fast? Am I over excitable? Will people think I am manic if I express joy and energy?

What I realise is that feeling well is quite unusual for me and there is a part of me that wants to run around telling people that I feel OK. The other part of me can't believe my luck. I can't predict if I will stay well for a long time, or have a dodgy patch, or go off like a sky rocket into mania space. What I can trust is that if I keep doing what keeps me on top of things, I am in with a good chance of being reasonably OK.

Lastly, recognising the state of being in wellness, is a real benchmark of how far you have travelled upward from the pit of despair. Hindsight, that beautiful reflective tool, helps us to turn around and peak over our shoulder to look back, even when we are a little scared to see. It's at times like these that I get a profound sense of how much of my true self can get misplaced in my periods of deep depression. It's almost like when I am ill, I am only coloured in with the primary colours, in very small patches with bits of grey and black. When I reach wellness, the edges of colour bleed together and I am totally filled in with a mass of hues, blends and patterns. I reach the fullness of my human spirit.

Feeling well and having the energy and motivation to do really ordinary stuff is totally awesome. I smile at you from the inside. Cleaning the bathroom is fun because I don't cry at the thought of trying to change the towels and if I actually complete the whole task, I don't need to sleep for 3 hours. Breathing is not an effort. I bake and am overwhelmed by joy when the choux pasty rises up in angelic little puff balls. There is a glorious sweetness in the very small moments that link together to make up a whole day free of despondency and desolation. I no longer feel like a raging forest fire has torn through my soul and burnt to shreds all meaning and hope.

Depression is a thief. It steals the deepest and most beautiful parts of you, and threatens not to return them. Wellness is a cool oasis of joy and peace, free from fear where I am connected to the world and to you. I think I'll try and hang on to that for as long as possible.

Oh yes, and Mr. Benn gave me this outfit!!

Image result for mr.benn

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.