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.

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.