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.

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?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Side effects

So it is all a bit chaotic to say the least. The lithium is definitely working as my mood is changing but I am also experiencing  some other side effects. Initially the most obvious is a very apparent tremor. My hands vibrate so much that I look like I am conducting an imaginary orchestra. If I hold a coffee cup in public, I have to place it on the table in front of me and put both of my hands around it. The first bit I have to drink by sipping from the top whilst it's on the table. I cannot risk picking it up as I will make an enormous mess. Once the liquid is a few inches down I can pick it up, but have to be be quick! My sleep is now also all over the place too. I used to sleep like the dead, 9 hours a night flat out and up to 16 hours when very depressed. Now I'm lucky if I get 3 hours in a block. I'm up and down like a yo-yo, and by body feels twitchy. I also go to the loo like it's an Olympic sport. Lithium interferes with urea production in your kidneys. Thing is, as lithium is in salt, and you have to keep your water intake high so as to not dehydrate constantly. So you have to drink loads, and then it makes you pee like a drunk bloke on a Saturday night. I feel like I plan my life around public (In)conveniences.  My skin itches, I have low grade nausea, and my mouth is so dry it feels like the bottom of a parrots cage.

To top this off my blood test results show that my thyroid levels are all a dither. Apparently there are three things they measure. The Levels in your gland in your brain that controls the thyroxine thermostat, the actual thyroid gland level, and thyroxine in your Blood. All of them are "Borderline". *imagines lots of miniature Madonna's running around my blood stream*  He asks me if I am feeling particularly lethargic, or experiencing any odd symptoms. You mean other than all the other stuff that is going on? He prescribes some propananol until the tremor eases down and says we need to monitor my thyroid regularly. If it tips the wrong way, you guessed it, they can give me a tablet to take to adjust it. He promises me that my tremor will go eventually and that my body is in a period of adjustment. On the upside, coming off of the Depakote has meant my hair is growing back, although it is wavy like corrugated iron and I look like Chrystal tips! Yay for me!

Pharmaceuticals. My ethical head tells me that  the large companies create chemical monsters that fuel corporate money gluttons at the expense of incredibly ill people. We take the tablets that make us ill but supposedly make us better. We pay above the odds for them financially and create a cycle of animal cruelty, greed and dependence. I am certain there are more over the counter pill addicts than crack smokers. The flip side of this is that actually, some medicines are miraculous for the lives of people who wouldn't function or survive without them. I always feel conflicted when the arguments pop up on my Facebook timeline with the pro's and cons of corporate pharma versus homeopathy and alternative therapy. I assume there is a place for both particularly if we could take out the dishonesty and lack of transparency with some companies.

But lithium comes form the earth, and although it is not part of the natural mineral requirement for the body, it does work. What I have to decide is whether or not to live with the added physical bonuses of my new prescribed companion, or take the risk of weaning off it and trying something else or nothing at all. I am not suicidal, I am emotionally engaged with the real world, I have energy and motivation for the first time in over a year. Can I adjust accordingly to the side effects and tolerate it's intrusions? How much do I want to be well? I wonder what you would do? Hold that thought.