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, 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