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, 20 May 2017

Turning 20

Saturday 17th May 1997: FA cup final. Sitting on a table, alone, in the student union bar. Most people had gone home after exams or were somewhere much more fun. Booze was very cheap and I spent 2 hours drinking vodka and nothing was happening. The "hole in the soul" was not being filled, no ready brek glow of emotional soothing, no fuzzy head blotting out intrusive thoughts. Quite frankly, alcohol was not working. Class C was still happening and I was obsessing about class A.

Rewind 18 months previously: A locum GP had rather rudely told me that I had issues with drugs and alcohol and I should really go to the local centre for a stern chat. My response was something along the lines of, "You should see the people I hang out with" and "Yeah maybe". I did go. It was rather obvious that I was not in a good place. I called from a phone box as I had no landline, walked 5 miles to the appointment as I had no money or transport, and filled in a questionnaire. I clearly recollect thinking, "I should be ok as I haven't injected heroin". The man assessing, very gently explained that actually taking speed for breakfast, marijuana at tea breaks at work, shots for lunch, and a boggling amount of other chemicals as evening fun, could be considered problematic (And the fact that I was nicknamed the mushroom queen and had C.I.D visit my parents pub and knew some decidedly shady people). He suggested a 12 step fellowship, of which I attended once, and picked up an orange keyring which apparently meant I was clean and sober for 30 days. What I had understood as clean and sober at this point was only smoking pot and drinking (But not to oblivion...which was very hard). Kept the keyring. That stupid mustard seed that had been planted in my head niggled at me most of the time.

Fast forward to Sunday 22nd September 1996: At this point God has graciously but rather bluntly appeared and kicked my spiritual butt, however the desire to totally give up mood altering substances has of yet, not appeared, and my discipleship journey is scant. I was about to do what is fondly known as, "A massive geographical." In the morning I was baptized by full immersion and said I was going to commit myself to the Lord, I prayed for wisdom and knowledge and gave up the old spiritual practices for a new way in Christ. Then I packed my bags and ran away to university, leaving my home, job, relationship and geographical area, to launch a new me into the world. On reflection, I actually believed my own deception that all of this would sort me out.

So I stand at my desk of my new halls of residence, door wide open, wondering if I'd made a huge mistake, bunch of keys chucked down. Then a very bouncy person appears to welcome me to campus called "A refresher". After a short introduction, she spots the orange keyring and says, "Oh you're in the fellowship". WTAF. Questions rush across my brain mostly consisting of a) Have you been sent to spy on me? b) How do I get out of this one? c) Why on earth did I ask God to sort me out I am not ready and you've sent someone! d) Why didn't I get rid of the stupid keyring? After a rather long pause I said "No" rather aggressively, to which she responded, "OK well if you change your mind here is my number."

Giving up alcohol and drugs is like letting go of an abusive relationship where you tell yourself regularly that they love you really. It will get better and change. I'll try and do it differently and the result will improve. It's not that bad. Eventually, you cannot escape the truth that it's hideous and ending it is the only solution, and you mustn't go back as it will always be the same.

Monday 19th May 1997: When you know, you know. And although the utter hideousness of accepting what the solution is, you still force yourself to turn up to a meeting where your feet are trying to run off but your heart is encouraging you to be brave. I literally begged a friend to take me in his rusty hatchback to the nearest meeting. He was a 3rd year performing arts student, and I remember so clearly him sitting there in a crop top, hot pants and knee high boots, trying not to touch anything, speak or breathe. I love that boy for doing for me what I could not do for myself. I can remember so clearly where I sat, who was there, the people who were new around and those with more experience, and there were only 2 women and I was one of them. So I came home with telephone numbers, a list of local meetings and a desire to go to any lengths to be well, happy and free of the grip of substance use. I was 26. I had done things spiritually and literally that would make your toes curl. I had been caught up in something I thought would help me to feel free, in control and untouchable by horrible people. I had been very naughty. But more than that I felt empty, full of guilt and shame and all I wanted was to feel happy and whole. This journey for me has never been about social acceptability or worldly success.

So I made the decision to step out in faith and begin a journey of spiritual and emotional change. I chose abstinence and a new way of living. When God rugby tackled me to my knees and revealed the truth, I could never have imagined how it would play out. So 20 years later (As of Monday 22nd May) I am still on the path less trodden, plodding along gently trying to get closer to God, still not using and drinking and trying to help out other people who are also a bit lost. I still know some of the amazing women who helped me and befriended me from that time. If you are reading this you know who you are and I am eternally grateful.

I am still me, but I have had my edges smoothed off, the rubbish has been chucked out and the better bits polished. And I am available. Available to serve God. Available to help you if I can. Available to listen. It's no longer about me and me alone. It's about God, and me walking alongside listening to instruction, realising that His way is actually much better than my way.

And it's not easy. If anything it's harder than I ever imagined, but the payoff is amazing. And I will not be giving it up any time soon because reflecting the truth of God in my recovery means that I am blessed with the presence of grace, love, acceptance and a deep knowing that I am no longer alone.


Monday, 8 May 2017

The year that was (Trigger warning as suicide is mentioned)

This week marks the end of the first year of my hiatus from the working world. I'd popped my keys and letter of notice in a small padded envelope (How appropriate) and let go. It had taken 8 years of trying to juggle work, parenting, being a wife, living the day to day with an intense desire to be well, only to realise that I cannot do it all. Of those 8 years I would say that I had spent approximately 40% in mental health relapse, off work and in crisis, and a further 40% partially recovered, struggling to get by and never being fully well. Being OK 20%  of the time is a really crap way to live.

I negotiated with my husband for about 2 years before getting to a place where he supported and recognised that I couldn't carry on repeating the work, struggle, relapse, partially recover, go back to work too early etc etc. cycle. Me not working has ramifications, mostly financial, but an increased pressure on a sole parent providing income and security, his concerns about me missing out on a career or having something meaningful to do, and what would I actually do whilst being at home? It's very easy to assume that I would just sit on my arse watching DVD's and eating chocolates. My inner universe is like living in a snuff movie that noone else is privy to. Wouldn't you want to try and spend some time turning off the video player?

I feel eternally grateful to the family intervention CPN that helped us to navigate where we might end up and how this could benefit us both individually but also as a family. What I have to remember is that in July 2015 I spent 8 weeks planning on how I could hang myself without upsetting too many family plans, in a quiet place where I wouldn't be found or cause too much trouble. My illness is life threatening, even though most of the general populous do not grasp that reality. Thankfully I allayed the concerns of my husband in those sessions by explaining what my recovery plan was and that I could not get properly well without dedicating some time to it.  It would take some time. And so it began.

A year on and things have completely improved, and now I can reflect on that process and our family members, I hope, can see that the supposed sacrifice of leaving work, was in fact, an investment in our future and my journey to wellness.

So what have I been doing:

Recovery college:
Creative writing
Understanding and living with bipolar
Understanding and managing anxiety
Using comedy in the recovery from mental distress
Being asked to be a peer mentor for a new LPT course in the coming months
Representing recovery college in London for a mental health research project

Psychiatric input:
Finishing off family intervention
Maladaptive schema sessions x3
Referred for psychotherapy (After an 8 year battle!)
Connected positively with my new psychiatrist
Lithium levels safe and working

Grace course
Healing and wholeness course
Spiritual retreat twice with some spiritual direction
Focus on prayer and seer aspect of the prophetic gifting
Pastoral support to house group and commitment to prayer team
Amazing prayer session with elders focusing on release of the dark influence of others from my earlier life

Physical health:
Still not drinking, using, smoking....
I have lost a stone (To some that might not sound too much, but if I diet inappropriately, or over exercise and dehydrate I can actually poison myself very quickly with my medication!)
Got the compressed discs in my neck sorted (Then fell down the stairs oops!) However physio gave me the tools to help manage the condition better

Battles overcome:
The DWP farce of medical appointments and then forgetting to back pay me until I reminded them
Fighting for the correct psychiatric treatment in line with NICE guidelines
The bullying priest of my nightmares. Long live forgiveness and the tough life lessons that shape our integrity.
Rising above the judgement and ignorance of others in relation to mental health and also not having a job.
The murder next door, although this will have an enduring hangover in many guises. I don't think the kids will ever fully realise the lengths I went to, to protect them and what I was prepared to do in order to stop him coming through my door. When I say that out loud I get overwhelmed by how much I love my family but also how much I love being alive. I am also very lucky. Coming from a bipolar suicidal person that says a lot.

I have been able to do things in the last year that others take for granted, like picking up the kids from school and going to football matches or maths events. I have been emotionally engaged and available for them and my husband in a way that I haven't been able to in such a long time. I have genuinely enjoyed being on holiday, gardening and of course baking. I can dance in the kitchen and sing with a sense of joy and freedom. In the last 2 months I have been able to do housework for the first time in about 15 years without thinking I am going to drink the bleach or the fabric softener. I have laughed in a way that doesn't feel like I am some kind of disassociated marionette puppet, laughing mechanically as I am not connected at all to the world of the living and just going through the motions.

So as I move onward to year two, I will continue to explore ways of improving my wellness and recovery. I hope that I myself and my family will continue to benefit from the decision to take a step back from work.

I will continue to practise gratitude, kindness, compassion and fearlessness.

Saturday, 29 April 2017


"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be".  Anne Frank

The environment in which we live has a massive impact on how we feel emotionally and mentally. I don't just mean the people, I mean the smell, noise, temperature, sense of space, texture and how much light we have. In my last job I spent most of the time in a small dark office alone, with no natural light, rotting plaster on the walls and no access to a radio. It was cold, and the whole Church had very little sunlight or windows so was dark almost all of the time.

For me nature and my connection with it plays a vital role in my well being. The rhythm of nature, growth, rain, beauty and daylight hours all feed in to my mood and sense of peace. City and urban living is sometimes essential and I love dipping in to it, but I prefer to be out in the sticks to be honest.

Some of my strongest memories too, are linked with weather events funnily enough. The drought of 1976 breaking with a huge electrical storm, which my mum got me out of bed to see. No kidding, it was like something out of a primordial creation film with steam and thunder with a very real fear of dinosaurs walking up the A30. The huge waves in the sea on a family holiday, crashing on the beach, red from the cliff walls, powering into the ground with such a ferocious roar it was scary. The storm of 1987. My wedding -  The flood and monsoon rain of the century. Electrical storms out at sea whilst my husband and I watched from the beach restaurant in Greece and lightening danced in forks and blankets across a navy and pink sky. The ice storm where the whole street was encased in an inch of solid ice and I ended up on all fours trying to get to my friend's house! Living in England affords me a huge variety of weather experience but also the opportunity to visit amazing landscapes and beautiful secret nooks.

The outdoors basically right sizes me, offers up mindfulness on tap and a huge appreciation of the process and awesomeness of creation. When I am very ill with depression, life lacks colour, definition or inspiration. Its all flat, grey and meaningless. Being outdoors helps to kick-start my inner being by assaulting me with sensory stimuli, which then feeds in to my emotional experience, my mood and then a response which is usually positive and dynamic. It kind of shakes me up and down a bit like a dormant glow stick.

There are lessons in observing nature that gift you with the fundamental survival ideals for most situations. Although the earth is sometimes parched, water will come either by hand or by cloud. Food is available in cycles of growth, in fields, gardens or pots. Shelter can be carved out of stone in permanence, or, there for a season until the roaring wind blows it away, scattering the boards which can, if so desired, be rebuilt into another shape of safe haven. The transformation of caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly, and the short lived glory of the may fly. There is also the ravaging of prey in the carnivorous cycle, rutting and raging and occasionally the earth splits open in groaning agony and spits fire and brimstone into the atmosphere as it attempts to readjust to what is. There is a process and a purpose.

Nature and I are one of the same. Thinking I am elevated in some way or beyond it's whims is hideously arrogant. But I can practice sitting within it, and use it all as a mirror and gentle teacher, connect with my own ebb and flow and re-energise myself. I remind myself that all things work together, there is an underlying pattern of connection and even if I have been away as a result of my disordered mind, she waits patiently in ancient rhythm to welcome me back in an nourish me.

Ann Frank was correct when she felt that nature helps us to recognise that all is as it should be, even if we are not sure as to why. Persevere.

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. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mood monitoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Having no words or strategies

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

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

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

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

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

I am grateful.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for franz kafka metamorphosis