Is It Just Me, Or Did The World Just Slow Down?

One of those things familiar to anyone who has lived with hypomania or mania is the feeling of time standing still around you, whilst you whizz through the world at top-speed.

Time drags on. You look at the clock every few minutes and you’re surprised that you’ve got so much done in a matter of moments. On days like this (taking Friday as an example) I can process 36 emails in 20 minutes; and even then it feels like I’ve not worked at full capacity. My 100 mph brain is relentless in presenting myriad thoughts in quick succession. There’s barely enough time to register thought one when thoughts two, three and four come flying in for consideration.

Even Twitter can’t keep up, which really should serve as an example of just how quickly my brain flies through the day. I am forever grateful to Twitter for serving as an outlet for the random thoughts that I feel the need to express; I am also apologetic to those who have to read them (I don’t mind if you don’t!)

The other thing that happens – along with Father Time hitting the pause button – is a certain vividness that takes over the planet. It’s like I just switched from an old television to a Full-HD, 3D, ultra-clear-and-bright screen. On a day like today that is gloomy and overcast, I see the world as if it were a 28⁰C midsummer’s day. The pine trees are glorious green with wonderfully contrasting brown trunks, and the grey of the building is more akin to shimmering silver that is truly eye-catching.

I’ve refreshed my inbox at least ten times since I began writing this post. Nothing’s happening. I check the spam folder in case something interesting pops up. Still nothing. The benefit of this kind of hypomanic mood is that I am incredibly productive; with the caveat that I find it impossible to stay focussed for very long. In the little bursts of attention I get so much done though, that it hardly matters that I don’t stick with a task for more than a few minutes.

All in all, I love this kind of mood. Sure, it can be a little overwhelming, but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. I pray to a God I don’t believe in that it stays steady; that it doesn’t go overboard or turn to a mixed mood. Whatever happens, I will thank my stars that at least one aspect of this diagnosis has a benefit.

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Is It Just Me, Or Did The World Just Slow Down?

mind.org.uk – An Overview of a Great Resource

Mind.org.uk is a UK based mental health charity which works to support and inform those with mental illness as well as those who are interested in learning more about the world of mental health.

Their site is incredibly informative and easy to navigate – including a ‘not sure where to start’ link on the front page that takes you to an initial menu of pages to read including mental health problems, supporting those who suffer, drugs and treatments, tips for everyday living and a link to their helpline.

The A to Z of mental health issues lists the diagnoses and links to easy to digest information about each. From depression, to bipolar and onto schizophrenia, each diagnosis page is split into sections; about, diagnosis and causes, treatment and support, self-help, friends and family and useful contacts. It is a great place to start if you’re newly diagnosed and need more information about it.

They also have personal accounts listed on each diagnosis page – the stories are from people who live with and have experienced mental illness. They are a great resource that shows the human side of the labels given and the people who have shared on the site give a voice to those who suffer.

Currently, mind.org.uk is running a campaign to bring mental health to the table in the run up to the General Election 2015. They have written a manifesto  ‘Take action for better mental health’ that aims to bring the topic of mental health to the front of the debate. This is a great initiative as having enough funding for early intervention in mental health issues can save the NHS money in the long-term.

The section on mental health at work offers support and guidance to employees and employers and should be the first stop for any employer wanting to make sure their employees are well supported in the workplace. They also offer consultancy and training to work places.

Mind also offer helplines where you can talk to someone about what you are experiencing.

Check out mind.org.uk and see what they offer for yourself – it is a great resource and one that people can really make good use of.

mind.org.uk – An Overview of a Great Resource

The People Who Help

I wanted to write a little bit about the people in my life who have supported me over the last three years. Without them I believe I wouldn’t be here to tell my story.

The primary supporter in my life is my husband Luke. We’ve been together since we were in our late teens and got married in Dec 2011. When we first began getting serious (i.e. after about a month!) I explained my struggles with depression from my early teenage years and the anxiety that had gone along with it. He made a promise to always be there for me when I need him, and he’s gone above and beyond that time and time again in the years that followed.

It was Luke who first noticed my mental health deteriorating in early 2012. As you’ll hear a lot from people who have been psychotic especially, it’s those around them who notice it even before the sufferer. I was living in an alternate reality in which it was perfectly normal to be hearing voices, not sleeping and suffering paranoia over the people living next door. Amazingly, and thankfully, the paranoia did not extend to my husband. Although I’d visited the GP on my own to get help for the anxiety, the warning signs of mania and psychosis had not been picked up.

Luke has since stood by me through thick and thin. He has sat with me in the hospital following overdoses. He has accompanied me to appointments and talked to the mental health team on my behalf when I couldn’t speak for myself. He is my carer; I still struggle with being out in public without him if it’s not part of my routine, and he makes sure I take my medication morning and night. When I’ve been unwell he’s kept the house clean and us fed. The stress I have put him under is unbelievable and he is still his jolly, jokey self.

What do I owe him? Everything – and nothing. What he does for me comes from a place of true love. I couldn’t be more appreciative, and I have no idea how I can repay it all. But he tells me regularly that he did it because he loves me and couldn’t imagine being without me – that he’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

My family have also been there for me in an entirely supportive capacity. My mum has driven me to the hospital a few times, and never judged me for it. She is a lovely, warm and caring woman and I am so lucky that she’s supportive and understanding. Never one to shy away from anyone in need, she makes sure I know she’s there for me any time I need her; as she says, her kids come first.

I didn’t speak to my father for three years following an argument in the run up to my wedding. When we got back in touch early last year I debated with myself for a long time over whether to tell him everything or not. I decided that honesty was my best course of action and wrote him a letter that described what had been happening with my mental health. I was terrified that he would see me differently once he knew everything, but there was nothing to worry about. He told me he supported me.

Unfortunately there is so much stigma surrounding mental health issues that there’s no guarantee that people will be supportive of those who suffer. I used to feel ashamed of my diagnosis, that the important people in my life would somehow blame me for what I was going through. The fear of them taking it personally was huge; I was worried that my parents would wonder what they’d done to cause it, or that my husband would think my suicidal ideation was proof I wanted to leave him behind.

I am so thankful to those who have supported me over the last few tumultuous years. I have learned that I have nothing to feel guilty for; no guiltier than someone who’s suffered a heart attack feels. It is my hope that this blog is not just for those with mental illnesses, but that the people supporting them will read and understand that the best thing they can do is be there for their loved one.

The People Who Help

The Why Me Moments

It happens to all of us. Whatever illnesses we face, there comes a moment in which you ask ‘Why Me?’ Whether you believe in God/Gods/a higher power or not, it is a question that comes up for pretty much everyone with chronic conditions.

Getting down to it; I’m having a ‘Why Me?’ moment today. I’ve been feeling pretty good lately (read: normal mood, normal appetite, and normal sleep). Since my last crisis in December and the big medication shake-up things have been running pretty smoothly. I’ve felt… normal. First time in three years I’ve not had to battle hallucinations, delusions, rage, hopelessness, frustration – I’ve not been fighting to live a normal life. It’s been a wonderful respite and it has been gratefully received (thank you olanzapine).

Was I foolish to hope it would last? Was it naïve of me to think we’d finally cracked it? I’m starting to think the answer is ‘yes’. It’s one of those things that starts gradually – with a little experience I’ve started to have more insight and more awareness of when things aren’t on such an even keel – but it quickly gets to be a problem if I don’t make my support networks aware of the issues.

Having said that – it’s been a week tomorrow that I’ve noticed these subtle differences in my mood and today is the first day I’ve told anyone. Bad move I guess. The anxiety is ramping up every day too. I’m simultaneously tired and hyper (not sure how that one works). I am finding my patience thinning out and my internal anger building up. The temptation to engage myself in retail therapy is there. Red flags the whole way down.

It’s a Why Me moment. The cycle propagates endlessly and I can’t seem to beat it. I can find respite for a few months at a time but then I feel like I regress back to square one.

Counting my blessings helps. I have a lovely, supportive husband who will do whatever he can for me. I have a great psychiatric nurse/care coordinator who genuinely cares and listens. I’m still in work and seem to be finding success in the office. I have greater insight these days and can spot the episodes rising. And, thank heavens, I’m not hallucinating or delusional or paranoid.

This rollercoaster keeps throwing up loop-the-loops. Stop the ride, I want to get off.

The Why Me Moments

Wading in on #ClarksonFracas 

I tweeted yesterday about the figures regarding the Jeremy Clarkson debate. Essentially what got my temper flaring was that whilst over 300,000 people have signed a petition to support him, only 164,000 support Mind.org.uk by following their Twitter account. In the same vein, variations on the Clarkson hashtag were trending above #NHSChangeDay. It makes me wonder what is going on in this country that means people care more about a knob-head, overpaid TV presenter than they do about mental health issues and awareness.

Jeremy Clarkson didn’t kill anyone – in the UK in 2012 suicide was the cause of male deaths to the rate of 18 per 100,000 people. To the people supporting his cause; where do your priorities lie? My cause is mental health awareness, but that’s not to say you can’t spend your effort on something close to your heart. There was a tweet earlier that more people had signed the Clarkson petition than signed the end female genital mutilation one, as an example. It is unbelievable to my mind that people care more about their light entertainment than real issues facing us in the world.

And to Mr Clarkson himself, I would suggest that your audience is currently a rather captive one. To quote the Dalai Lama: “You have a microphone – use it to say something.” Sure, you may not believe that mental health campaigning is in your wheel house. That’s fine with me, but what do you care about? And is lining your Levi pockets more important to you than doing something worthwhile that will make a difference to the world we share?

Let’s see more public figures using their influence to make a difference, and hopefully less of this celebrity-obsessed melodramatic showboating. Wade in on the debate, speak up and change the world for the better.

Wading in on #ClarksonFracas 

Have You Met Eve?

So I am going to talk a little about one of the vaguer but more important parts of my mental health issues. Her name is Eve. I don’t know if she’s a co-existent alter or just part of my delusional beliefs, but she exists and I live with her in my mind every day. I can’t promise this post will make much sense as she is a difficult concept to grasp and talk about. When I’m in a good place she is usually asleep. I have a kind of mental bedroom set up for her where she can rest, and I can check in on her on my own terms. That’s the key phrase here – on my own terms.

At first, I believed I was her. That’s where her name comes from – Eve as in the first woman, biblical wife of Adam, one-time resident of Eden and eater of sinful apples. It was what the hallucinations told me; ‘you are Eve incarnate and you must atone for your sin.’ It was the most full-on of my delusional beliefs and it was the most dangerous. I would self-harm because I saw magic in my blood shining through my skin (think Twilight-esque vampires here) – it was magic that would save the world if I let it out. Eve and I were the same person at that point. I was the body, the meat-suit, and she was my soul.

When I got a little better and had more control she split away from my own personality. I don’t know if it was my mind giving me some protection from the danger of my beliefs or what caused the change into having two sets of thoughts, two people in my one body. It was definitely easier to cope with her when I was able to distance my own ‘me’ from her though. For a while, things were pretty rosy. We had a kind of truce situation; she was tired and unbelievably sad and I needed to get on with the business of living. So she slept away the pain and I was able to function again.

Her presence in my life has always been closely linked to my state-of-mind. Most recently in December 2014 I was heading back down the path of psychosis and as I got more unwell she became louder and more active. At first I would fight her and try to push her down and she would get madder and madder until I gave up trying. On a good day I would refer to myself as ‘we’. Bad days saw me giving her a voice, my voice. I never blacked out whilst she was speaking, but I retreated into the back of my mind to listen to her talk to my husband or my care co-ordinator.

The problem with Eve is that she is not well equipped for the adult world. She is a lot younger than me; too young to understand the guilt she feels over the sin she believes she committed. To her mind, the state of the world is her fault and she doesn’t know how to cope with the overwhelming sadness that is associated with what she did. In the end, she just wants peace and she believes that she was awakened in my body to gain that peace; for herself and for the world. ‘Atonement’ to her is suicide.

At the moment she is calm and peaceful. There have been times that she’s not been happy for me to speak about her but at the moment she is in a deep resting state; a state in which she doesn’t feel the hurt and pain that characterises her waking hours. I have done work with her in therapy and have realised that I can’t fight her. Now I just have sympathy for her. If we chat in my mind I do not spend my time arguing with her anymore. I stay calm and try to remember that she is only young and I try to relate to her, to make her feel accepted. It is a much nicer symbiosis.

I do not want to ‘get rid’ of Eve. It’s hard to explain why but I think I would feel like I lost a part of my own psyche if she went away. She is like my eleventh toe. Not useful in a practical way but still a part of me. I love her and she loves me, and I hope we can both heal by working together.

Have You Met Eve?

Sometimes It’s Good To Reflect

I’ve just walked the door after 10 hours away at work. I’m sitting with the laptop, in the recliner chair in front of the fire (mostly because I didn’t wear a coat today and it’s still only March). My husband will be home in around 20 minute and I can’t wait to see his smiling face and have a nice big hug. All in all, I am very content. Sure, there’s things that went wrong today. But instead of being a disaster as I would have seen it three months ago, I am able to shrug it off as just one of those days.

It is when I pause to reflect that I see just how far I’ve come. My care co-ordinator always reminds me to acknowledge my achievements and be proud of myself. So although this post may seem indulgent, or self-congratulatory, I actually don’t care. Today I am in a place where I can sound my own trumpet from the rooftops and I’ll be damned if I don’t do it.

In my eight years of working life I have worn many hats. I have been a minimum wage administrator, and I have been a customer services manager. I’ve spoken to many people, answered millions of emails and worked under lots of bosses. Currently I am working with a tech giant of a company, and although I am a contract worker, I feel good about the job. Compared to some of my permanent positions, I’d still rather be on contract and happy. Maybe that says something about what I have learned to value over the years, especially since I became unwell.

Then-me would have had kittens over a day like today. I thrived in the high-pressure crock pot of the customer services world, and even one slow day would see me climbing the walls with the anxiety of not being active. I needed to go go go to feel like I was earning my keep. Now-me sees things differently. I am a lot more relaxed and value quality over quantity. I work to the beat of my own drum, and I am lucky to have a manager who is only interested in the end-results. Then-me would have needed lots of direction and praise and feedback and management in order to move in the right direction at work, especially in my manic phases where I would start 20 projects all at once, and see none through to fruition. Now-me has a nice, manageable number of spinning plates and hasn’t dropped any (yet! I’m only human, so if I do happen to lose one or two I will learn from it, forgive myself and move on).

It’s not just at work that I’ve changed for the better. I wrote a guest article for Stigma Fighters today and wrote in it that I miss the manic energy. Which is true, except… do I? I miss feeling like I can conquer everything that’s thrown at me, but I’m in no way incapable of doing that whilst I’m stable. In fact, I would wager that although I used to feel that way it would actually be the opposite. I can probably handle more of life now and enjoy it along the way.

Other positive changes include a new interest in actually looking after myself. I mean sleeping enough, eating enough and not abusing alcohol. So really, I am saying that I seem to have remembered the benefits of moderation. Not too little sustenance and not too much booze. Even if I’m in a social situation now I don’t find myself hitting the inhibition lubricant hard. I can go out and enjoy a drink or two without overdoing it.

And this thing called a social life seems to have re-appeared from wherever it was hiding. Up to December 2014 I became something of a social caterpillar (definitely not a butterfly anyway). Since everything has calmed down I feel better equipped to cope with being in a pub, seeing friends and having a nice chat. Funnily enough, it’s a lot easier to hold a conversation with someone when you’re not being distracted by your alter or the voices.

My relationship is on a lovely even keel. The husband has stood by me through some rough times, and has been my carer in so many ways – making sure I take the meds, keeping on top of the housework, listening to many, many incoherent rants and taking the brunt of my rage. I finally feel I am able to repay some small part of what he’s been doing for me for the last few years (he would argue that I don’t owe him anything though). The nice thing is that doing little things to make him feel good also makes me feel good about myself.

I am better connected with my family now that I am trusting them to love me unconditionally – which they always have done, it’s the ‘trusting’ part that’s key here. We have argued, fought and screamed at each other over the years but we’re at a mutual meeting place now as adults and friends. Now I’m no longer ashamed of myself and my struggles to be well, I can see they were never ever ashamed to call me their relation.

So this has been a rather introspective bit of writing – I am sharing it because I want to let the world see how far I’ve come. The changes are down to finally being on the right medication, and having surrounded myself with the right kind of support. Also, it’s partly because I’ve accepted that I don’t have to fight to accept this reality anymore. I am proud to say I am me and this is my life.

Sometimes It’s Good To Reflect