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, 23 December 2016

Christmas time

Christmas is an odd time for me, as I am sure it is for many people. For some, there seems to be a veneer of happiness, thinly spread across the reality of life which is sometimes very challenging or painful. Some people actually love every minute and plan for months in advance and get their tree up in mid November. We miss people who cannot be with us, or those who have passed away. Some people go away, some stay at home, some people get together with family and friends. Some people actually think about Jesus. Shocking I know!

From a mental health perspective, the trigger issues ramp up at a rate of knots. Emotional and financial stress, spending time with family that do not understand mental illness, late nights, too much booze, relationship problems and an overwhelming desire to actually try and feel happy when all you want to do is hide under a duvet and wish the whole thing away. I know these issues are there for normal folk too. My dear sister; Germany and the red cabbage. Say no more!

But what I am keenly aware of is that the crushing separateness and disconnectedness you can feel in depression, is accentuated at Christmas.  Life seems to be bigger than usual, people are happier and celebratory, they bask in the joy of a festival and run around with a lovely sense of freedom. It magnifies your isolation and inability to connect. It's not their fault. It's the illness. It is a hideous reminder of how totally shit you feel. Faking it to make at Christmas is particularly hard, and reaching out to a load of disgustingly happy people about your doom just doesn't seem appropriate. Would you like some doom with your turkey? Misery pudding with sad face cream? "Come on, smile it's Christmas!" Sadly, you cannot suspend chronic mental illness for the day to make you and everyone else feel OK.

Self care for me at this time of year is key. Knowing who to call in an emergency. Taking little time-out rest breaks during social gatherings. Reminding yourself that in 24 hours it will all actually be over for another year. Being kind to yourself with baths, naps, small walks and mindfulness to help calm the head traffic. Oh and it is just a day of the week. This year it happens to be a Sunday.

My Christmas experiences have been varied with my bipolar companion brain. Pre-diagnosis, mostly chaotic, sometimes very lonely, homeless, knocking on heavens door, fuelled by inappropriateness and dodgy people (Me being the most dodgy of all). Then with insight and finally a diagnosis, less chaotic, much more ordered, fun with kids and family and generally manageable (with a large dose of internal misery and hatred every now and then!).

What I would wish this Christmas, is that anyone who is struggling has at least one person they can reach out to and speak with about their feelings. That they can have a real experience of friendship and support, and stay safe if things go awry. Look out for your friends and relatives. Make a small space to spend time with someone you know feels the harshness of life, and show them gentleness. Be a light in the darkness.

I wish you peace and love this Christmas. May you feel joy and companionship and a spirit of grace x

Monday, 12 December 2016

The role of the spiritual in my recovery

I am a woman of faith. Most people know this although I do not profess to be pious or saintly in any way. The God I choose to believe in is not necessarily the same as yours, but I would never make you uncomfortable about your beliefs, or reject you for your difference. I understand about other faiths, spiritual practices and philosophies, and embrace their similarities. I will pray for you even if you do not have belief. If we disagree, I'll still give you a cuddle.

Having faith has been a bedrock of strength throughout my recovery journey. I know the old adage of "Opium for the people", having a crutch, believing in the invisible because you can't deal with reality of the world. But actually what I have found is the opposite. My faith has actually enabled me to have honesty about myself and my limitations, it's taught me about compassion and forgiveness, it's taught me the importance of fellowship and trusting in others when you feel you cannot trust yourself. It has furnished me with the skills to live life on life's terms in all of it's hideous realness, with integrity and courage.

You know, the bible is an extraordinary book. Whether or not you believe in God and the fabulous J.C, it's wisdom is without question. Parables, proverbs, family murders, alcoholism, vastly inappropriate relationships and nude bathing on the roof tops... you name it, it's in there. There is also incredibly scary spiritual warfare stuff, that although people like to dismiss as silliness, sometimes come across by accident, and get a shock. It's actually got advice about that too thank goodness. But importantly for me, it shows me that for thousands of years, the struggle for peace, peace of mind, of country, of family, for belonging and wholeness has been rolling on for a really long time. I am not alone in my struggle and I was never the only one having a difficult time. Not that I really believe that truth, but that these people overcame, they succeeded in times of despair and they continued on for generations, with hope and perseverance. This is something I strive for. I am connected to this thread of survival in all of it's glory.

And I know other faiths or groups or ways of living, have a similar vision. I am glad of this, and hope that you will find yours as I have found mine.

What I know, for me, is that in the darkest moments, the ones where I am literally on my knees, crying out in despair, contemplating whether or not to give in to the desire to end it all, I surrender and open myself up to a love that is vast and unending. A power so great that my soul is soothed, my mind calmed and my compulsions relieved. The reality of my faith is that I truly experience the wonderful revelation of the creation within me, ministering to my inner most fears with unabashed love and compassion. Awesome doesn't even cover it.

Those of you that know me in my spiritual gifting, will probably recognise that I experience a connection to the God of my understanding. I feel privileged that for some unknown reason, I am privy to a world that some people cannot see or experience. I am humbled by this fact, and it feels like a precious stone that I have been given to carry around and protect.

Being mentally ill is incredibly difficult, but with God, all things are possible. I pray it will be for you also.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

My emotional barometre and the lack of verbal sieve

Something I have learned about my illness is that my mood fluctuates more often and to a greater degree than most. Sometimes it's quite manageable but when I am more manic or depressed is resonates more furiously and with less control. This can sometimes be seen in my outward behaviour, but more often than not, it's all going inside my little inner universe of chaos, and I am working tirelessly to respond appropriately when actually I want to smash up everything in site or run around yelling expletives.

Image result for what do you call a semi circle shaped  dial with a scale on it
Imagine your moods on this scale. Most people range somewhere between 20 and 20 with the odd spike here and there. I am constantly fluctuating between -50 and +50. The plus side of this is that I feel everything. I have a response to all situations, am sensitive and empathetic and almost vibrate with realness. However, it also means that I don't always deal with challenging stuff very well. Most people find anger, conflict and hatred unpalatable. They have uncomfortable feelings towards those situations but manage to plough through with some semblance of order and direction. It happens, it passes and they move on. For me it takes a concerted effort to engage, process and travel through those experiences. The indicator spike will be wildly flailing backwards and forwards on the dial. And the mood variance and intensity can trigger a depressive episode or a manic phase. It's all a very fine balance. I have learned that some situations are better to avoid for me or it can have dire consequences. Not for you, but for my head. Lithium helps to "Damp down" the extremes without stopping me being a zombie of no thought or feeling at all.

Emotional self care for me relates largely to being selective about who I spend my time with, choosing my battles very carefully, accepting my difference within an environment that doesn't always suit me and asking for help to deal with stuff that I know will cause me damage. Toxic people are a no go area. I also try and improve my resilience in safer scenarios. Practice makes improvement, not perfect!

Image result for sieve

So the verbal sieve. My verbal sieve does not always work when required. I am, as a rule, a pretty honest person. Not blunt, but I will tell you how I feel or what I think if it's appropriate. I wouldn't massage the truth to make you feel better. I'd call it as I saw it and help you do it differently if that was what you wanted. But sometimes, without announcement, the sieve of appropriateness goes on a lunch break without my knowledge. Stuff comes out of my mouth from my brain without a check point station and even I am surprised by the outcome. It's like somebody else said it out loud.  Now I still don't know if this is to do with a mildly dysfunctional brain or if it happens to normal folk. However, when it happens in company, I am always a little worried as firstly it's a shock to me, but also a shock to the company I am with. Then I also worry if they are going to be offended and tell me off. It's all a bit risky. Let me give you an example. Standing on the touchline with football parents at school. It's very cold and the morning had a hard frost. We're discussing illness in winter, noro virus and the like. My friends says, "But isn't the cold meant to kill off stuff like colds and virus'", to which I respond,  "yes, and old people." Now this is actually a statement of fact, not intended to be malicious in any way. It happens so fast, we're not sure I actually said it. The look of horror, quickly turns to hilarity and statements of, "Dear god you're awful!" I don't want old people to be alone, ill or at risk of death. But this weird nugget has just escaped anyway. Like the time I said with rather too much volume, "Gosh his face looks just like a walnut." The list is endless.

I suppose it is all a part of my multi faceted personality. Thankfully noone as yet has punched me in the face for it. I'd be interested to see how many other people are blessed with this foiball. Answers on a postcard please!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Attempting recovery

I've not blogged for a few weeks as I have been attempting a personal recovery revolution. Turns out mental health services are so ridiculously stretched that unless I am trying to end my life, the wait for help is 2 years. I threw a minor tantrum at my mental health service, the first of my entire secondary care career, which has resulted in a few sessions of schema work/domain work being offered (To help challenge blueprint behaviours entrenched from early life) and an agreement that I should go on the waiting list for psychotherapy.

I discussed this with my GP, who, after also throwing a minor tantrum about the NHS and mental heath care himself, signed me off work for another 3 months to pursue self-help courses at recovery college. These will be anxiety management, the role of comedy in recovery and somantics. I'll be less stressed telling jokes about suicide in a flexible muscle stance!

I have also had the joy of my ESA being suspended this week. They won't pay you if your sick note doesn't arrive either in advance of the end of your last one, or the day after. You cannot get a sick note from a GP in advance. Also, post to the DWP takes 3 weeks to get to the right department. I ended up cashing in Ian's 2p jar to pay for parking, driving on fumes to Leicester, sat in the jobcentre plus office for 90 minutes, and got is scanned and sent via email encryption. They grilled me about my identity, why my kids weren't on the system, am I a single parent and why am I not receiving any other benefits, why didn't I get my note in on time and no I cannot tell you why your capability assessment information hasn't yet been processed... since August. I will take a plastic bag to sit on next time. The place is filthy.  I then had to come home and wait for a phone call to clarify my identity again, and discuss whether or not to "Unsuspend" my claim and pay me. They decided YES, but it could take 24 hours. The mind boggles. They have shame and degradation down to a fine art.

I also got a tax bill. Apparently at some point, I earned a fraction over the limit of the basic earnings, therefor, I needed to be taxed on any other income, in this instance, ESA. Yes, taxed on my benefits. So I have to pay £328 in April.

I'm sorry your brain is experiencing technical problems. Please allow us to shaft you in as many ways as possible to help you reach the suicidal rock bottom required for treatment, at which point we might assist you.

So here are my achievements for the month of November and early December :
Not killing anyone in a government office or health profession
Cleaning the fridge
Washing the car by hand and cleaning out the inside
Perfecting cookie making
Not using the C word half as much as I would really like to
Being really pushy with services - so not me!
Attending recovery college and planning new courses
Surviving an argument with Ian - think it's about the 3rd one we've had in 17 years!
Still parenting with compassion when the kids are like Regan from the exorcist
Attempting to live the spiritual life in pretty challenging scenarios

It's not strictly rock 'n' roll but it's a damn site better than being bullied by the Vicar from hell or feeling that I cannot carry on living. Actually, I'm a very lucky girl.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Revelations at recovery college

So we have a recovery college in Leicester. It has a few full time mental health staff and runs courses that might help improve mental health recovery, build confidence and get you to meet other folk in your situation. It's been running for about 3 years. My friend has been and my GP suggested it. I called them and signed up and have done a few short courses, 2 hours long, just to get my toes wet. I did creative writing and poetry, and also did a stint of mindfullness.

However yesterday I started the "Living with bipolar" course. Its a few hours one afternoon a week, over 5 weeks, and covers basic diagnosis, pharmacology, living strategies and relapse prevention. It was great to sit with other "polar bears" as one lady called them and listen to some of their experience, symptoms and hope. But the thing that really grabbed me was a single slide entitled, "NICE guidance for bipolar disorder". Although I am reasonably bright, I can also be pretty dumb and trustworthy when it comes to services. I fall into the trap of thinking that they have my best interests at heart and are doing everything in their power to help me get well. I am naive I know. Sorry.

So it shows briefly on the magic slide, the recommended treatment for people like me. Now don't get me wrong I have had some intervention but what I feel I actually need, I have not had. I did a CBT course in understanding depression 6 years ago. I did self esteem CBT 6 years ago. I asked to go on the bipolar course 6 years ago. Nothing ever transpired. I asked if I could have psychotherapy. "You are currently too unstable and the waiting list is 2 years." They wouldn't even put me on the waiting list. I wanted to to get some help for my anxiety. Your anxiety isn't debilitating enough to warrant treatment, and even if you did, the waiting list is 2 years.  I'm meant to be linked into support groups. I was told not to go as the local bipolar group wouldn't be helpful for me. I am blessed with family intervention, but this is about symptom management and helping my husband not to have a freak out super meltdown when things go wrong. It's not about me getting some permanent recovery.

So yesterday I came home and read the guidance in full. It also says I should have a lead care co-ordinator overseeing my care and reviewing my case regularly. I should have an up to date care plan and I should have an up to date risk assessment that is inclusive of my families input. I should have an emergency pre-planning document so that if I am so unwell I cannot decide on my care, the plan is already agreed and signed.

What I have realised today is that I am a patient in the void. I am not in crisis and am deemed "Well enough" not to be on the CPA, therefore, I don't have a CPN. I am too ill to be in primary care or supported psychologically through primary care agencies. I am not well enough to work. If I work my level of stress and fatigue rocket at such a rate I get ill with a matter of weeks. I also struggle with psychological issues of intrusive thoughts and as I haven't dealt with certain issues in my life, I also end up emotionally shredded when bullied or in conflict or unsupported. However, I'm pretty sure when ESA actually get back to me about my work capability test, they'll say I'm fit enough to do a 40 hour week (Probably cleaning where the intrusive mind of mine will want to constantly make me drink bleach). No offence cleaners, its the chemicals that are my issue!

So I called my team and said, "I want a review. Who is my care co-ordinator?". After some minutes, it was decided the new locum psychiatrist would probably be the guilty party. Well that's a bit pants as he's crap, so I tell you what, these are my issues, this is what I want sorted and I want someone to help me get a solution and a plan. "OK, we'll see if we can get a review organised for you as soon as possible. Someone will call you back."

In the mean time, I will continue to flail about in the void, trying my damnedest not to drown or relapse, and I will push on with my recovery, doing most of the work myself in the hope that if nothing else transpires at least I am trying to do something to make me better.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Remembering the past and echoes in the present (Hard reading - trigger warning DV)

David Stokes of Hinkley, a town 7 miles from me, killed his sons Mathew and Adam and himself yesterday. He also tried to kill his wife Sally who survived with serious head injuries. He'd barricaded them in the house for 5 hours before it came to a tragic conclusion. The married couple had separated but were living together for the sake of the children, but she had asked for a divorce.  Comments about how lovely they seemed, how normal they were and "you never know what goes on behind closed doors" were rife.

I cannot imagine the terror that they all experienced in those 5 hours. I cried for the children who would never know a full life and for a woman who will never be able to live a normal life ever again. But what is more concerning for me is that this happened at all. I don't claim to be a specialist in domestic violence or emotional abuse but do these things just happen as a one-off extraordinary event, or is there behaviour and history leading up to it? I think the later may be true. And it is hidden.

Violence against women and girls is a hot topic, but abuse is still common and concealed. There are criminal and civil laws protecting victims, including men, people in same sex relationships, honour based violence etc. but silence, fear and shame still play a huge part in speaking out and getting help.

And for me how mental health plays into this is massive. Not only can a victim become mentally ill as a result of abuse, but if you were already unwell, the results can be catastrophic. Self esteem is shattered, anxiety is increased, stress and fear are your constant companions, and experiencing mind games and manipulation makes you question your sanity. You may also be denied access to medication and specialist support. Also the internal dialogue of "Maybe it isn't as bad as I think", or "it's just a phase", or "He's not like it with anyone else and they all think he's a great bloke" bounce around like accusatory tennis balls telling you you are making a big deal about it. There is also the bare faced lies you tell because if you do tell the truth you might get your face punched in.

My own experience thankfully didn't result in the loss of life but did result in me trying to top myself twice, the second time very nearly successfully. I was 18 and it lasted nearly 3 years. I didn't have insight into my mental health at the time but I knew things were not right. Also domestic violence wasn't illegal at that point. Even now very few people know the extent of my experience and what I endured. Some of the friends who were around at that time knew he was bad news. A few warned me (Who I dismissed as I din't want to listen or believe at the time), some saw things but I played it down, but eventually I made a break for it. I was homeless, penniless, owned only enough clothes to fit in a kit bag and was broken mentally and emotionally. He was skilled at his craft and I was at a complete loss to cope with what happened. I have a pretty unshakeable belief  that people are essentially good. I want to believe that all people are capable of love and compassion. In this situation it was my undoing.

The timeline of behaviours went like this:
Drip fed criticism and undermining of self esteem
Financial exploitation
Manipulation of the truth and lying
Constantly comparing me to others and saying I came up short
Questioning my mental and emotional health when I challenged
Explosive outbursts and shouting
Smashing things up around me and throwing things around or at me
Trying to separate me from friends and family
Pushing and shoving and threatening
Telling lies about me to others
Physical assault, usually punching in arms, kicking in stomach, restraining. Very rarely face as it shows. Usually behind closed doors. By the way when you get punched you do see stars.
Sexual assault/rape and drugging me
Smashing my head against a wall in public outside a busy restaurant
Threatening to kill me whilst pinned with a large hunting knife at my throat

My behaviour throughout this time was not fabulous, but looking on this list now, if a bloke even went to the first sentence I'd be kicking off. Writing this is actually very hard. It was 25 years ago but never leaves me. I lost myself and it has taken many years to reclaim me. I pray that Sally of Hinkley can get help and be supported into some kind of recovery. Normality will not be something that comes easily and this will never be OK for her.  Also, if any of you read that list, identify with it from your past or present, do something about it. There is help available for both your mental health and domestic abuse issues. Be empowered, be a survivor, do not let your past define you now. Despite the historical chaos and terror, rise in love and still believe in the goodness of humankind.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

I went to the psychiatrist

So I went for my visit. I don't see my psychiatrist that often, maybe every 4-6 months unless I'm in crisis. Then, I see the crisis team and other psychiatrists for a short period of assessment and care until the crisis has passed. We then return to normal format of very little. So When I do go I try and be focused, direct and not ramble. There isn't time. I am fully aware that services are financially stretched, staff rotate, leave or move sideways, and things in mental health are particularly tough. So today I knew my established psychiatrist had left and a locum was in post. I had to be understanding and flexible.

A huge part of my illness and lack of initial engagement with treatment was about trust. Before getting help, I trusted absolutely noone, told noone what was in my head or my heart, was pathologically hostile to institutions and people of "Control" and was a self contained moon unit floating about in society. Over time, I have learned to open up and to practice trust in all areas of my life. Sometimes that bites you in the backside, but generally, it has been fruitful. So when I got to an institution, to talk to a stranger, exposing my inner most being, I feel quite anxious and try really hard to manage my expectations. I have to build myself up to it and walk myself through it. My underlying motivation is wellness and recovery.

So I spend the next 40 minutes feeling totally conflicted. The whole episode is an effort. Psychiatrist X I will name them, is running on time I am told. Good. I get in their office and spend 15 minutes sitting there whilst psychiatrist X talks on the phone to an IT engineer as they cannot log on the system and read my notes. Finally the system boots up and psychiatrist X reads from a letter from my paper file about my last visit. Verbatim. Finally I am asked how I am. I'm on the clock so I keep it brief but direct.

Not manic or suicidal
Intrusive thoughts quite noisy
Mood erratic and motivation sporadic
Anxiety high
Doing anything out of my basic routine throws me totally and my mood vibrates wildly
Lithium side effects are quite annoying
Not sleeping well

Other than that I function quite well but I would really like to feel better.

What do you mean about "Noisy intrusive thoughts"? I assumed psychiatrist X  understood intrusive thinking but maybe it needs explaining for them to judge my wellness. But are you actually harming yourself? Er no, but intrusive thoughts aren't about me hurting myself it's about raised anxiety and distress affected by mood. Are you suicidal. Er no I said I wasn't.  Excuse me, please can you tell me if the IAPT service contacted you about anxiety therapy after they rejected my application due to me being in secondary care? No. Well can you help? I don't know. I can talk to MDT and see what they say. Come back in 3 months and I suggest you just do less and see what happens. Oh and don't work.

Chocolate tea pot springs to mind. The local postman could have told me that. So I waited four and a half months to get some help and input and received zilch. I suppose what bothers me the most is that I am expected to spill my guts to a complete stranger, make myself totally vulnerable and "Engage" with services, only to be told that actually there wasn't much point in you coming. Basically, as you are not at the point of hanging yourself or hurting someone else, I'm not in a position to offer you constructive input. Not set up for that. Probably too expensive, and not available for 2 years even if it was. I actually want to be well. The government bang on about the cost of mental ill health both to employers and the welfare state, but they have cut budgets by £600 million in real terms over the last 5 years. (http://www.nhsconfed.org/-/media/Confederation/Files/Publications/Documents/)

If you can't get treated, you can't get well, you cannot work and pay back in to the system for other poorly folk. Fucktards. It's not rocket science!  Sorry. I'm feeling angry.  Now I'm crying with frustration.

I wish sometimes that I could be on the other side and understand why things are structured the way they are, why it is I cannot access help without jumping through ridiculous hoops, why it is that I'm in secondary care and ill, but not ill enough to warrant some kind of regular support. I am not privy to the club rules.

Anyway, tomorrows another day. I will continue to plod and reach out for wellness regardless of you lot and the rules. I'm going to nurture my inner child with an ice pop and a Disney film. Cheerio!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Employing strategies

I have recently been on holiday for a week, and it reminds me that any change in environment triggers unmanageability in my brain. I have to employ strategies to keep myself on an even keel, and recognise what is needed at any given time to balance me out. Triggers for me are things like lack of sleep and/or change in sleep patterns, therefore, chronic tiredness, stress, physical illness, fear, raised anxiety, forgetting to take my medication at the right time, new chemicals/glass/sharp objects/cliffs etc. that trigger intrusive thoughts, and being given free shots after a meal out (AVOID).

I take my metaphorical strategy tool box with me wherever I go. It's filled with all sorts of quirky stuff that actually really helps if you deploy it when needed. Sometimes you have to find a quiet toilet in order to get to your toolbox, but essentially you can use it on the go. Let me share some of my toolbox with you.

1) Recognising unhelpful thinking styles
CBT techniques get you to challenge your thought processes such as black and white thinking, catastrophising, inappropriate mental filtering, over generalising, negative labelling and emotional reasoning. Yes I do all of these. Basically you have to practise listing reality and redirecting your brain to that. It stops you speculating and getting lost in the forest of your own ridiculous thoughts.
2) Sleep hygiene
Sleeping properly. At the same time each night, with no stimulation like TV or mobile phones, no reading, no caffeine, appropriate wind down like meditation and a nice warm bath, cool room, darkness and not getting overheated. If I don't sleep properly, my mood nose dives. Chronic fatigue is also a mania trigger. Insomnia for me is very bad news.
3) Exposure therapy techniques
This helps me to challenge hideous intrusive thoughts, helps me to move through any avoidance and desensitises me to the trigger. With an intrusive thought your head tells you it's really going to happen or you are really going to do it. So for example, the kids are walking along the path near a cliff that has a wall about 2 feet high. The drop on the other side is steep and rocky. They want to jump on and off it, push each other around and generally be a little unsafe. Intrusive thought head sees dead children, broken and covered in blood at the bottom of the cliff, which in my whole body sensation feels real. I start to hyperventilate, heart races, clammy hands, major panic sensations and mild hysteria. This can result in screeching, dragging children away from the edge physically, really over reacting and children feeling slightly confused about mental parent. Exposure response is to go with children, lay across the wall on our chests, look over the edge and experience weird tingly bum sensation of vertigo, discuss general safety and walk away. Let them do some jumping. I will breathe through it. I have also had to do the whole knives in the sink with wine glasses, drinking tea next to a bottle of bleach, flirting with the fabric softener and sharing with my husband that my head just told me to poo in a plastic bag and leave it in the glove compartment of the hire car. It is random and totally unhinged. Thankfully I don't act out on it! I know I'm bonkers.
4) Mindfulness
This helps to slow down and refocus the "Head traffic" that I get on a regular basis. It gives me a place to detach from the noise and keep it simple. I can step back, observe the thoughts and allow them to pass without engaging with them.
5) Doing something physical and/or challenging demotivation
When things are off balance, I can feel very demotivated. I have to force myself to do something, or try to do something, even if it's very simple. Walk, swim, do the washing up, cook, say yes when really you want to say no. This makes your endorphin's start swishing around a bit and makes you feel more uplifted and positive.
6) 12 step program
I could write about this for the rest of my life. Very simply, I cannot drink/use like other people. I accept this and on a 24 hour basis I do not use mind altering substances, I work on my behaviour, I am compassionate to myself and others, I trust that my higher power will guide me spiritually, I help others out when I can and I make a concerted effort to not be an arsehole.
7) Singing very loudly
Do I really need to explain this? I do this usually on my own in the kitchen when cooking and cleaning, or, in my car. This means I am alone and can pretend I am amazing at singing when quite clearly I am not! Really helps to channel my emotions.
8) Asking for a cuddle
Sometimes gentle physical contact and affection can make all the difference. It warms you, helps you to feel loved as well as held physically and emotionally.
9) Body scanning and mood/thought monitoring
This is really important for me in managing anxiety. Anxiety for me is a whole mind and body experience, and when I am in it, I need to anchor myself to a practical framework to help me scale myself down. So I check through what my body is doing as well as what my mind is trying to sell me at a particular time. Slow down the breathing, move to a quieter place to sit down, touch something tangible and mindfully feel it, reality check myself to reduce fear, what is real and what is fiction.
10) Humour
Humour is a God send and a life saver. My illness is life threatening and very serious. If I get too caught up in all of that I might as well give up. I cannot take myself too seriously and humourising my situation can make it feel more acceptable to me and others. And it is laughable some of the stuff that goes on in my head.

You know I have a choice as to how I live with my illness and I think from very early on I knew that I would have to work at being well. And I do most of the time. Sometimes things are too difficult and I seem unable to use anything to help me. I'm just in it and have to ride it out. Other times I am like SAS recovery bitch and I am slapping the illness down and batting away symptoms like flies. Mostly though I am somewhere in the middle, flailing around a bit and getting through every day. And that is good enough. I give myself the chance every day of having some enjoyment, being emotionally available for those who need me and not giving in.

Now where is that toolbox......

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

So where was I?

I was trying to return to work in a phased approach. I started this process at the end of January 2016 and had to take all of my owed annual leave, as well as planning how I would like to return to work; 25% one month then increasing this to 50%, 75% and then hopefully 100% of contracted hours. My psychiatrist warned me to take it slowly. Recovery in the early stages is precarious and you do feel delicate. Risk of relapse is high and being vigilant of symptoms, stress and fatigue is essential. Ideally you would like to be supported by someone who understands and cares about your well being. The trouble I had was that I was experiencing mixed messages from a variety of directions. My boss didn't speak to me for about 4 weeks. I think he'd been warned not to upset me, so in his wisdom, he avoided me like the plague. The verger wanted to know every detail of my life like a mother hen, and the Cathedral canon who was allocated to oversee me in a "Confidential support" role spoke to me on the phone infrequently but when I saw her face to face was a total God send.

To be honest, I don't think they had any idea of how to handle me. And I tried really hard to do everything right. Thing is you cannot legislate for other peoples unseen agendas, game playing and generally misogyny. I made the mistake of thinking that my fellow colleagues were all on the same page, both with me and each other. I was so far off the mark it's ridiculous. I am no good at living within chaos and under currents. It reminds me of living with my parents when I was 9.  I know some people are really solid and can surf the waves and get their head above water. I am not that person and being mentally ill within all of that is a recipe for disaster.

I requested a meeting with my boss and some members of the parochial church council (PCC) to discuss my ideas and concerns about the job. I'd talked this through with wiser counsel, and they supported the idea. I called my boss to get some time slots arranged. This was the Thursday. The following Tuesday my boss told me he'd been to the arch deacon to discuss me and that they felt my meeting was a terrible idea, and that as I was "Failing" he felt that I should have a meeting with the PCC and my boss every week to discuss my work plan, outcomes, forward planning and issues. So me, 5 members of the Church, every Wednesday for 2 hours, had to meet. So there I am, working hard to get back to work slowly on medical recommendation, unsupported, and dealing with my fragile mental health and now I was to be subjected to weekly interrogations.

Light bulb moments. Chrystal clarity. Emancipation.  In that first meeting, and what transpires as the only meeting we had, everything made sense. I was allowed to speak first. There is a God. What followed was both shocking and a relief. Turns out my boss had been manipulating the information of the PCC and telling me half truths and lies, and ignoring diocesan policy on supervision practice. Bless the PCC representative that day. He looked genuinely appalled. People can be naive and this includes me. Just because a person is ordained doesn't mean he is compassionate or Honest. Turns out he was self serving, deceitful, power hungry, willing to sacrifice everyone else in order to get his way and a chauvinist. He was also very good at presenting the face of pious submission to those higher up the ladder.  I remember thinking if Jesus were to turn up, I wonder what he's make of it all. Now as a caveat, this is only my experience of this person. He may be amazing with other people, but with me he was a class A shitbag.

I prayed. I spoke with wise people. They talked at me! I went to my GP who signed me back off work. I reflected. I resigned. I had spent 4 precious months embattled and pretty much degraded. Enough was enough. The feeling of joyous relief when I popped my resignation note and keys in the post was sublime.

I am fully aware that the world does not have to bend to my will and my illness. The world does not have to constantly pander to my whims and needs or suffer as a result of my inability to show up to work. However, just because I have a mental illness doesn't mean that I am not capable. It doesn't mean I am stupid. It doesn't mean you can treat me unspeakably poorly. I do not have to expose myself to the abuse of others. I have learned so much from this experience. Mostly that my mental health is more important than ever. I cannot be a parent, wife, friend, daughter or sister in Christ if I am permanently ill. Also, that there are lots of people in the world who do not understand mental ill health, or even want to understand mental ill health. This probably won't change, and when I am around that I need to be really selective about my approach. I have to protect myself. I also have to remind myself that I have something to offer the world. That I am acceptable. That I am enough.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Visibility - Happy Mental health day!

Today is the day when the world stands up and takes notice. The general populous reads articles, sees adverts and is exposed to the realities of mental ill health. It's meant to be a big mental health love in where everyone hopefully realises that you shouldn't be shit scared of a mentally ill person and it's not contagious. We are not all Michael Myers. 

These things for me are a double edged sword. Embracing mental health tends to be like cuddling a hedgehog. It's got the soft, gooey, love me stuff on the inside, but there is a hell of a lot of prickly stuff to get through on the outside that can put you right off. "Life threatening illness" does not spring to people's mind when you talk about mental illness. The amount of times I have sat on the tube and someone has flung themselves under a carriage and people use words like selfish, attention seeker, and waste of space is shocking. 

Demystifying mental health is a massive task. It is complex, odd and other worldly. You cannot see it or feel it, so it's really easy to think that someone is making it up or it's not that bad. What amazes me is that people will readily believe in talking to the dead, that tarot cards can predict your future, and that there is relevance in 6 magpies together on the lawn, but mention depression, hearing voices or anxiety and all hell breaks loose. There is some inexplicable hysteria about losing control of your mind, or the perceived fear of being slightly unhinged from reality. People of mental ill health have been demonised for years and the drip, drip, drip of paranoia leaks into your psyche and festers.  We are not all murderers hiding in bushes. In 2010-11 635 homicides were recorded in England and Wales.  95% of those murders were committed by individuals who had not been diagnosed with a mental health problem. It's so easy to focus on the perceived weirdo, rather than accept that the other 95% who were doing the murdering were of, "Sound mind". Like your next door neighbour. 

So we battle fear. We also battle impatience, dismissiveness, misunderstanding and get patronised and ridiculed quite a bit. I know that the mental health camp is not the only group of people getting this kind of deal. I suppose for now though it is my topic of choice so I am not casting aside other groups who experience similar alienation. It's just that this is my current experience. But in amongst all of that, I do want to be accepted, understood and embraced for the person that I am, with my illness as part of that wholeness. That means exposing myself to you, at the risk of being rejected or gossiped about or avoided. It's not like I'm choosing between two pairs of shoes now is it.  Show the real me to you and possible have a nightmare experience. Hide myself in plain site and be living a half truth, colluding with the denial camp and suffering in silence. And the thing is my illness is a part of me, it's not the whole me. There is more going on than just intrusive thoughts, feeling suicidal every now and then or running around like a headless chicken. 

Visibility. It's all about visibility. Drag the fears into the light and they wither and die. Just like pouring water on the wicked witch of the west. I have chosen to be visible. I have chosen to embrace my truth and put it all out there. But this isn't just for me. By taking that risk, other people see their truth and are able to feel just that little bit safer about sharing theirs with me or someone else. I have had the huge privilege of being able to listen to other peoples experience, advise them about where to go for help, laugh at the madness we share and generally be a person in solidarity. We can actually save each others lives by letting someone in and seeing who we really are, and bring hope in times of despair. 

What might be frightening for you to understand, is a living horror for the person experiencing it. They will be so much more terrified than you and showing compassion and empathy is a cooling salve to someone who has experienced hostility and animosity. 

Go gently and confront your fear. You may just save a life with a small act of love. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Peaks and troughs - What is a dip and what is a collapse

Everybody experiences ups and downs in their general mood. We are not people on a consistent plateau of happiness; more often it's perhaps like looking out on the Lake District. Overall it seems to be appealing and manageable with some darker valleys and sweeping hills. The wider picture is one of reasonable consistency and can be traversed with relative ease.

Having a mood disorder shifts this paradigm and has to include the foothills of the Alps and sometime the Himalayas. The bell curve of emotional experience is deeper and wider and more inconsistent. And when ill, my emotional antenna is incredibly sensitive and overloaded. Medication, strategies and self care help me to gently ease my mood flux into a more narrow channel, and trying to recognise when the moods are expanding and leaking out into unmanageability is a skill in itself. And again, as it is mostly internal and cerebral, communicating the shifts is complicated. You don't want to worry anybody by alerting them to your shifting frame of mind, but in the same breath you need to let on that things might not be OK. Over the years I have had to understand what is a dip and what is a slippery slope to madness. One way of explaining it is using the analogy of a radio. When well and feeling like ordinary folk, radio 2 is on quietly in the background. Sometimes certain songs or articles of news grab your attention more than others, but generally, it's benign. It isn't distracting and doesn't interfere with your daily functioning. When ill, someone turns the volume up to maximum. Your moods crash in on you like repeated swells, they are almost suffocating and get in the way of doing anything sensible. You also react to people more violently than you normally would as you are experiencing reality in a magnified way.

When Manic, all my boundaries and mood containers disappear. It's like a flood, rampaging over the flats with no regard for person or property. Lots of unbridled thoughts and emotions. It's funny as the urban myth about mania is that you feel ecstatic, euphoric, creative and wonderful. In my limited experience, this isn't actually the full picture. I do get some of that, but that is usually when ascending to the peak of Everest. Coming down the other side is usually all agitation, anger, grandiosity, paranoia, fear, confusion, aggression, despair and then finally a feeling of mental collapse when your brain actually stops running and leaves you feeling like someone put a bullet through your brain. Scrambled eggs head. Also throughout these periods, those thought and feelings I have are not coherent. They are scattered and almost out of order. My brain shatters into a million pieces.

So I have to take mood inventory most days. Living with bipolar is all about balance and measuring yourself on your own scale of manageability. I have had to learn what is within the normal scale of thoughts and feelings and what for me is stepping outside of that. If I am stepping outside of that, how long should I leave it? Will it contract back to the norm, and if it doesn't at what point should I speak to someone, seek help, panic? Also, there are normal mood dips in relation to external circumstances. If something kicks off with the kids at school, feeling angry and upset is a normal reaction. It will probably hang around for a few days. That's what normal people do. I do tend to feel it in a more magnified way as I am super sensitive, but it does pass. I think there was a part of me that hoped one day I wouldn't feel anything uncomfortable and that equalled wellness. That is far from true. I will never be a spiritual guru in a state of near Nirvana. Thankfully I have gained insight during my journey and it helps me to survive the roller coaster. This is also an ongoing work of self, as every new situation presents an opportunity for learning and growth. Things move and change constantly.

So if I seem a little confused, or tell you you that I find this current situation really hard, remember that I am am working hard to keep up with you. I am probably flicking through my book of tips to figure out what I could be doing to make things a little less troubling or tricky. I will catch up eventually if you have the time to wait.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Positive states of being

Humility: Being open to every lesson life brings, trusting that our mistakes are often our best teachers. Being thankful for our gifts instead of boastful.

Discernment: Applying the wisdom of our intuition to discover what is essential and true, with contemplative vigilance. Clarity of the soul.

Integrity: The state of being whole and undivided.

These three "virtues" have become a talisman against which I measure my behaviour and well being. If I am immersed in these behaviours, even when things become incredibly tough, my inner core is more stable and I feel a degree of freedom from the chains that wish to keep me in bondage. This doesn't mean that I am pious, lacking in humour or never make mistakes; it helps to centre me in a world where I can easily be cast adrift and tempted by the bright lights and illusions of false promises. It stops me getting caught up in people pleasing, fixing myself to fit in with you and wearing masks to adjust to each and every situation in order to feel acceptable. 

Apparently some people have self esteem and a strong sense of self and never really have to work on feeling OK in the world. Bizarre I know. I was not one on those fortunate people. For me, not being grounded meant quite a lot of personality floating and uncertainty of how to act and who to be. Did you ever own an activity book where you pop out the woman in her underwear, then turn the pages to pop out further daily outfits to hang off her torso or legs? You'd fold over the little flaps to secure her new roll neck sweater and cords! This is how I used to live my life. Standing semi naked in my undressed cardboard glory was not how I felt comfortable. Throw in a dose of depression and/or mania to make it even more complex and I felt even more dissimilar and unusual than the next person. I needed a huge wardrobe of behaviours and characteristics to camouflage the real me in order to move throughout the community unseen. It's a real contradiction. Being yourself you feel invisible so you try and hide that reality to be seen as a "Normal" person,  which actually makes you invisible! Yes, it's a bit abstract and totally irrational. I'm mentally ill remember. 

So every day I would open my trunk of living outfits and pop on what was appropriate. Going to work blouse of academic qualifications, skirt of bravado, shoes of the opinions of others and jacket containing pockets of music you might like, I'm OK really and I'll tolerate you for fear of having no friends. Every scenario would be different so going to the pub would be a jumpsuit of fake joy, to my parents a party dress of lies and with men the mask of I'll just be what you say I should be as I really don't have a clue about being in a grown up relationship. 

This is a long time ago, but formulating and constructing a coping mechanism and framework for keeping you safe takes a lifetime to undo. I had very little insight and no bench mark of what it meant to be whole, and free, and self accepting and myself. I wasn't well or emotionally bold. At 19 I was not able to say, I love and accept myself the way that I am, and I have a mental illness but it's OK as I can learn to live with it. I know when we are young we are finding out feet but in hindsight I realise I was lagging behind the pack dragging along a brain that wasn't functioning properly either. 

So fast forward 25 years. What have I been doing? I've been clearing out my wardrobe. You start off with the big stuff, the really visible behaviours that are toxic for you and others. Out go the winter coats, the bobble hats and scarves. Then you work down a little deeper and find things that are maybe not as obvious but can really trip you up. The G string of shame! Small and insidious but cuts you in half if you wear it too long.So eventually I have to learn to walk around in my emotional birthday suit. I have to embrace my illness and the quirks that it furnishes me with, and trust that if you see me as I am the world won't come to an end. I can be the real me in all situations. Every now and then I might run to the wardrobe and grab a few items usually in moments of fear or anxiety. With me it's most likely to be the handbag of avoidance and purse of sarcasm. 

But in order to be well I must be free of the old framework and find a new world view. I need to give myself the permission to be free and to be loved for what and who I am. It banishes the darkness and deceit and "Head traffic of lies". I read a book by Max lucado called, "You are special". You can hear it on you tube if you type it in the search bar. It is a Christian book, but it's message is for those of faith or none. It reminds me of the beauty of being unique, and that I am enough, I am accepted and I am loved. 

So I focus on my touchstone virtues, put one foot in front of the other and press on into the new world. Slightly naked, but less afraid.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Listing the positives

I thought this morning I could write a long list of positives about being mentally ill. It can feel like things are difficult, dark, challenging and joyless at times but you become moulded by your experience and great things do happen as a result. So I am going to list the great things below in a chronological order as far as I can remember. Attitude of gratitude I was told!

Discovering a spiritual way of living that involves much less of ME and much more of YOU
Asking for help is OK
Giving up drink and drugs as a coping mechanism
Giving up smoking as a coping mechanism
Learning that rigorous honesty is actually good for you
Embracing kindness and compassion in relation to others
Being less judgemental
Learning to really listen not just pretend to listen
Accepting that being mentally ill isn't the end of the world, it is just the beginning of a different world
Learning self care and mindfulness
Being unafraid to speak my truth as it might actually help someone else
Mental health is just the same as being a "Normal person" but with certain aspects of my brain volume turned up. Your volume is currently turned down.
It's OK to not be the same as everyone else
Humour is a God send.
Toxic people are dangerous to my well being
Being sensitive is not a handicap
I am able to teach my children about mental illness and foster emotional maturity and communication skills
I am motivated even though it goes on holiday sometimes. I would not have come this far would I if I had none!
Having low self esteem is not a permanent state of being
Intrusive thoughts are not real even though they feel like they are
Everything is temporary. Nothing remains the same. Things always change.
Being the best, having a career, being loaded and being fashionable are not important to me
I don't need to measure myself by you or anyone else, being me is enough
Even though some people are mean and hideous, most people are actually lovely
I cannot change everything in the world, but I can change me and I can help one person at a time
Swearing is actually really useful at times
I have skills, although being kind doesn't necessarily get you a job but never mind!
Taking positive risks and trying new things even though it feels really uncomfortable
Tolerance of other people. It's not their fault, and even if it is, I can still let it go
I accept that I function differently to other people and I can adjust where necessary
It's OK not to have all the answers
Killing myself is not the answer even if my head tells me it is
Live in the now

Being fired in the crucible moulds and develops you. You become something other than you expected but it isn't always a disaster. When I was 18, and I envisaged what life in my 40's would be like, I'm sure this wasn't it. But actually I think that is probably how it ought to be. It is OK to not have a plan or be sure about where you might be going. I am a work in progress, probably more Picasso than Turner, but still a creation. It will be OK.

Friday, 30 September 2016

So, what would you do? (Think I might be channelling anger!)

So if you or a love one were mentally ill, what would you do?

Coming into the mental health system is scary. I think most of us have an image in our head that involves straight jackets, liquid cosh (Massive dose of fast acting sedatives administered to knock people out in crisis who are dangerous) and padded cells; the thought of being incarcerated against our will with the entire world misunderstanding us and that we'll never be free again. In rare circumstances this does happen, and if you read the history of the treatment of the mentally ill it does make for frightening reading. I still find it amazing that "hysterical" women in Victorian England were treated with orgasm machines as it was felt sexual frustration made them neurotic. Couple that with the odd demon possession case, witchcraft accusations and experiments with hallucinogenics we're all set for joyous sanity!

Moving on.  In my life time "Care in the community" has come into being, which involves trying as much as possible to deal with people's care outside of a hospital setting. The dawning realisation that sufferers need the comforts and safety of their home, to have as much normality as possible and a sense of control of their treatment is paramount. There will always be a need for a secure environment for those persons who are too ill to be safe to themselves of others and that is appropriate. I lived really near to Broadmoor when I was a kid, and the 10am siren used to scare the living daylights out of us every Monday morning. We'd wait in terror for the second siren to go off which confirmed it was the regular test and not an escapee. The imagination can run totally wild if left unchecked! And for me when I was diagnosed, I already understood the distinctions and nuances of mental illnesses, treatment interventions and levels of care required. I've worked with severely mentally ill people before I had my diagnosis so in some ways, I feel very lucky that I had that insight. If you are coming into it totally fresh, the whole thing is baffling. It's also terrifying. Go to Mind.org.uk for LOADS of really good info.

Being mentally ill is hard work. Couple that with the modern choice based empowerment regime regarding treatment, it can be a recipe for disaster. It's like asking someone with a compound leg fracture if they a) Recognise they have a broken leg, b) Would they like it treated? c) Would you like to treat it yourself as I cannot force you to have it treated by me unless you are putting yourself or someone else at huge risk of harm? d) If you do want to walk around with your bone hanging out that's fine, I cannot do much about that as although you seem really unwell, you appear to still have some capacity to make choices, therefore, I cannot intervene, e) If it get to the point of gangrene and you might die and become delirious and detached from reality, we'll have a very lengthy discussion about you and possibly put you in hospital against your will for 2 days 100 miles from your house and decided whether or not to do something! Obviously this is a worse case scenario example, but this stuff can happen.

It's funny. If someone has diabetes, and you tell them a daily injection regime will save their life, they'll do it without thinking. It appears clear as Chrystal that they have a life threatening condition. With Bi-polar, also recognised as a life threatening condition, mention medication and all hell breaks loose. "I don't want to take a pill every day and be chained to pharmaceuticals for the rest of my life." "I can get well on my own", "I'm not really that ill or unmanageable", "I won't kill myself. "

There were 6,708 suicides in the UK and ROI in 2013. That is 18 people a day for a year. It's also getting worse. (http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/branches/branch-96/files/Suicide_statistics_report_2015.pdf)

The stigma attached to mental ill health is staggering and it cripples a sufferers willingness to accept their condition and get help. Society lacks compassion and understanding, therefore treats sufferers with fear and discrimination. Services are underfunded, understaffed and continuously overlooked by other agendas, that in my humble opinion, are less important. Quite frankly it's a big mess. My own local CQC report on our mental health provision makes pretty grim reading.

So when they told me I would need to be in secondary care mental health services for a few years my heart more than sank. In my 8 years so far, I have seen at least 5 different psychiatrists in the community, waited 18 months for a course in CBT and a further 18 months to see a CPN for couples support in dealing with living with my condition. I have been turned down for psychotherapy as my condition is too unstable and even if I did get put forward for it, the wait is 2 years. I'm too ill for normal counselling (Talking therapy) but also, as I function quite well I am not entitled to a CPN to see me regularly to make sure I'm OK. I see my psychiatrist once every 4-6 months, and when I go to book myself in after my appointment, they look in the calendar and say, "Sorry the clinic is full on that day, can we contact you by post when an appointment becomes free?"

I live in a first world country with a free health system. I live with an enlightened generation of people as far as mental health understanding goes. There is provision of care available for people like me, but it is so far from perfect it's scary. I am blessed in that I have insight, I can read and have access to a computer, I have a loving family and support network around me. I am also able to thrash out what I think works for me and what doesn't. I know for a fact that 25 years ago when I first became ill, undiagnosed and nutty as a fruit cake I was in real trouble. I was "Hidden homeless", unsupported and self medicating with drugs and alcohol. I was surrounded with fear and violence, was misunderstood and very afraid. I was totally isolated and had no idea what to do. I tried to take my life twice, and the second time was very nearly successful. I still vividly remember seeing my divorced and estranged parents standing at the end of my bed on the hospital ward looking helpless and afraid. I don't think any of us quite knew what was going on or what to do.

It took a little while, but I realised on some deep level that noone was actually going to help me, and that I had to drag my own sorry arse out of the mire an into the world of the well. I'm one of the lucky ones. Think about those 6,708 people that weren't as lucky. Think about their families and children then next time you look away from at that odd bloke or dishevelled , sad looking women, or moan that someone threw themselves under the tube. None of us are exempt from a mind bending, weird out episode. It doesn't take much I promise you. And if they do try and get help, what awaits them is complex and challenging and can be a massive disappointment.

So if it was you or your loved one, what would you do? How might it be?