My Husband

He is my best friend; there are so many clichés to describe Luke. He is kind-hearted, loyal and selfless; he is my rock.

We met working in an insurance call centre when I was 17. He was the systems administrator for the whole company, and I’d often see him walking the floors to check on people’s computers; he was always proactive when it came to problem solving. The first time I met him properly I was enamoured by his long, curled blonde eyelashes and his unkempt mop of short-but-curly fair hair. He struck me as something of a lamb; it seemed there was something gentle and innocent about him.

I didn’t know how to properly introduce myself to him. I was nervous; I wanted to say hi but I was too timid (very out of character for me but I was crushing, hard!). One day, as I saw him coming up the office towards where I sat, I was struck by inspiration – I kicked the power cable out of my machine and voila, an instant need for technical assistance. I must have seemed so dim when I called him over and explained that ‘the power just cut out’; I can’t imagine what he thought of me when he saw it was just a cable issue. But that was it, we had officially met. Neither of us really knew the potential we had before us.

From there on, we begun spending all our free time together. We weren’t a couple, not dating, but I suppose you could call it an almost-traditional courtship. Summer lunches were spent in the park listening to music on his headphones. After work, we’d pop to the pub for a couple of drinks before getting the train together; each of us going to our respective family homes. It was a lovely summer, and I was so happy I’d made such a good friend, but I still wanted more – I wanted to kiss this wonderful man and make him my boyfriend.

It was September when we finally started making progress on becoming more than great mates. I now know that he was too shy to ask me on a proper date. Instead he let me barrel my way into his plans; he knew me well enough to know I’d take the bait. After work one Friday he told me, ever so casually, that he was going alone to London the next day; being who I am I instantly invited myself (something along the lines of “I’ll come and keep you company”). We made plans to meet on the train; I was so excited that we were finally doing something together outside of the sphere of work and work-related socialising.

We kissed for the first time that Saturday. It was such an innocent kiss; it began as a hug that turned into a cuddle and when I turned my face up to look at him from my spot under his shoulder he moved down for the first kiss. I still have butterflies thinking about it. It was unutterably perfect.

It was a month later that I moved into his family’s homes. His mum and dad had been divorced a few years earlier and Luke split his time between their houses. I wasn’t getting on with my mum at home and he invited me to stay one night that turned into two and three; before long I was spending all week with him at his parents’. It was the first indication of the generosity that is inherent in his family; they probably would’ve kept us on forever but we made the decision to look for our own place together.

We married in December 2011 – I was 22 and he was 24. No one told us we were too young to take such a big step; I think everyone knew we were made for each other. It was the best day of my life (how clichéd but so true!). I didn’t feel nervous on the day – I just wanted to get to the front of the church to finally solemnise our relationship in front of people who loved us. Walking down the aisle I remember looking around and seeing so many smiling faces; then I looked to the front and saw Luke absolutely beaming at me. It was amazing; the ceremony passed in a happy blur and the reception was exactly what we had planned; we’d arranged afternoon tea for our guests and a live band to play all the songs we’d danced to in the pub when we were first getting to know each other.

I look back on that happiest day now and still smile, despite the turmoil that we didn’t know was about to hit our lives together. From around January, I began to get unwell as I’ve written about a lot on this site. By May I was in the depths of a major psychotic episode and I know, with hindsight, it was a dark time. My husband – my wonderful husband – stood by me, even when I wasn’t letting him in on the reality I was living, even when I yelled at him for not understanding, even when I printed him off a booklet of my psychotic writings. Throughout the whole thing he remained strong and stood right by my side through appointments and referrals; he was my advocate and provided a voice I couldn’t find for myself.

The last three years have been a mix of highs and lows. Without stumbling, he’s been there with me on emergency trips to hospital and stroked my hair as I’ve hidden myself in the bedroom to sob my heart out. When I’ve been high, he’s been the first to help me divert energy with suggestions of ‘do some baking’ or ‘shall we go for a walk?’ Throughout the darkest, hardest times, I’ve always had the safety net of my husband’s love to fall back on.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him in my life; I never want to find out. So, my love, this is my tribute to you and my promise of love for the rest of our days on Earth.

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My Husband

Reflections on Change

Over three years have now passed since my first manic and psychotic episode, and I sometimes wonder just how much I’ve changed. Lately Luke has been telling me that I’m growing back into my old self, my pre-mental illness self, and that’s been so encouraging to hear. I am the type of person to set targets; I tend to work in measures that I can quantify (I have to remind myself that one person’s comment on the site is worth innumerable page views). So realising that I’m somewhere back to where I was before everything changed is heartening.

It was only a few months after we married that I became unwell. I’ve written previously about the experience of visiting a –crappy – locum doctor for my anxiety issues; how she dismissed me and my concerns out of hand and sent me on my manic way with an SSRI. From there the anxiety grew and the paranoia grew and I quickly retreated into my own world of psychosis. To give an example of how I was at my worst, I could only leave the house with someone I trusted alongside me; shopping trips were pre-planned and super speed with Luke in charge of getting in and out in minimum minutes. Going to work was only enabled by virtue of my then-manager collecting me from my front door and dropping me back again after we were done for the day. Looking back I have no idea how I actually continued to work at all; my mind was elsewhere most of the time so I can only hypothesise that I worked on auto-pilot, that pretending I could still work kept me going along as normally as I could’ve hoped.

Since that first, protracted episode I’ve been different. I’ve always been fiercely independent since I was little; I moved out of the family home when I was 17 and took the decision to leave college around the same time despite the protestations of parents, mentors and friends. Being brought to my knees by schizoaffective disorder left me nervous in public thanks to a paranoia that I have only recently been able to shake off. To my mind, every person who cast a glance at me in the street was implanting thoughts in my mind, or planning an attack. There was no escaping the endless thoughts of suspicion and the anxiety of being alone in public was crippling. Lately, as I’ve been finding my confidence again, I’ve been able to open my horizons beyond home-work-home-store-home. I posted yesterday about step-class – something that would have been beyond the scope of my mind even six months ago. It feels fabulous to be re-embodying the confident woman I know lives in me.

I no longer walk with my eyes cast to the ground to avoid eye contact. I get into casual (and sometimes heavy) conversations on the bus. I have the enjoyment of some alone time again – I love my husband but it feels amazing to trust myself enough to be home on my own! I walk myself to the gym, through the park and just enjoy being surrounded by the greenery. The change in just six months has been drastic and I am thankful every day for the new outlook I have been granted that enables me to not just live, but actually enjoy living.

Reflections on Change

Examples of Psychosis

When you’re living in another reality it is easy to get lost in the world you perceive to surround you. There is no way to understand the people who try to reason with you that you are lost in a universe created entirely by your mind. In fact, this can lead to much hostility from the person in psychosis.

Here are just a few things I wrote about during psychotic episodes:

“It sucks you in but you know it isn’t real. Suspension of disbelief cannot work when you know you are disbelieving. You see the rush and push along that is guided by another’s hand to show you only what you need to know and hides secrets to the end.”

“So watching the world is a screen but more than that it is cinema and bright and dazzlingly loud.”

“I am losing myself in thoughts of taking off escaping. Gravity is an illusion, head to the stars and to a better place.”

“The void is the space within matter the empty space in the atom. That’s where the answers are and that’s where I’m going. It is big and scary and exciting and so tempting.”

“Are thoughts mind or matter? They are the influence of mind on matter perhaps? Your mind is setting off the impulses to create the thoughts.”

As you can see, there’s no cohesion in these thoughts. Reading them back, they make perfect sense to me; because I experienced them and understand the (flawed) logic behind them. But I will be happy if I can live my life without experiencing that alternate reality ever again.

Examples of Psychosis

Medication Hangovers

I am sitting on the bus and my brain is in slow-motion; it’s nice to get a break from the incessant mind-chatter of yesterday. This morning I woke up – grudgingly – at 5:30 and felt the effects of the night before. I’d not been out and gotten drunk though; I’d had a medication increase.

The worst hangover I ever had was from quetiapine. That was the time I passed out half way up the stairs because I literally couldn’t keep myself awake. My husband tells me he put me back in bed, and when I woke some hours later I felt like death warmed up. A mouth like the bottom of a bird cage, a raging headache and some serious nausea – it wasn’t much fun.

Today’s discomfort is no match for that previous experience. I feel like I stayed out drinking wine till gone midnight, but it was nothing close to that much fun. A little queasy, a slight headache; just mildly unpleasant.

Fatigue and drowsiness are pretty common side effects of a lot of anti-psychotic medications. The list on drugs.com lists a whole host of adverse effects as ‘common’ when on olanzapine:

  • Slowed movements,
  • Loss of balance control,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Trembling or shaking of the fingers, hands, feet, legs, or arms,
  • Blurred vision.

Which all sounds a lot like the effects of alcohol to my mind – perhaps it’s little wonder a hangover awaits me on the other side of sleep.

I’m hoping the increase in dosage will settle into my system pretty soon and start working its magic. Until then, I’ll stick with it and tolerate these drowsy mornings; and of course, speak to my psychiatrist if it gets any worse.

Medication Hangovers

Acts of Rebellion

One of the key features of a hypomanic or manic mood for me is the incredible 180 my mind takes when it comes to routines. Typically I am a homely creature; I like working regular hours and coming home to make dinner for my beloved. We go out, sure, but normally that looks like doing the pub quiz on a Wednesday evening – and even then we’re usually home by half nine. I tend to be satisfied with my job, with my status and income.

But wow, doesn’t that all change when my mood does. The idea of going home to routine sends me frantic (not exaggerating). The steady 8:00 till 4:30 of office work doesn’t challenge me nearly enough. The cups of tea by the fire I usually so enjoy when I have alone time are replaced with alcohol – not to excess, but enough that I feel like I’ve rebelled a little.

It is a mental rebellion of the strangest kind. The studies all say that bipolar mania includes risk-taking behaviours and I see that in myself when I am running fast. Thankfully I don’t seem to become hypersexual, I don’t turn to drugs and I don’t go parachuting. But the lust for change and excitement that lurks behind the need to take risks drives me up the wall.

It becomes a mental battle of wills. The aspects of me fighting each other – my intellectual knowledge that I really should <stay home>/<meditate>/<take a bath> vs the impulsive side that craves <a night out>/<a night-time walk>. And it is beyond frustrating; it often gets to the point that I am raging angry with the people around me who are trying to keep me safe.

Really, it’s no fun. Taking Freud’s model, it is classic Id vs Ego and Superego. My need to find adventure is contrasted by the sensible thinking me; the me that wants to keep within respectable, ‘normal’ behaviour as dictated by our respectable, normal society. Even writing this now I am finding it hard to describe the levels of annoyance that come with temperance.

I know it’s not just me who experiences this urge to ‘be bad’. Taking an extreme example; a study published on the National Institute of Health library site suggests that 8.4% of individuals with bipolar committed violent crime – this is contrasted to the control population study that found the incidence of crime being committed to be 3.5%. The brain seems to be the cause of this increased risk taking behaviour. A study by Manchester University last year found that there was a dominance of the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’ when assessed using fMRI scans.

Knowing the possible causes does not make things easier however. All I can do is attempt to channel the energy that comes with the impulses into productive activities; baking bread, achieving targets at work and exercising. Unfortunately being a good girl isn’t as satisfying as the acts of rebellion, and I have no idea how to get over this particular bump in the road.

Acts of Rebellion

The Blips

We’ve come to call these little trip-ups ‘blips’. It’s our euphemism for ‘maybe it’s a little rough at the moment’.

Blip: an unexpected, minor, and typically temporary deviation from a general trend.

Yes, that’s the right word then.

This blip is coming up on two weeks old. In the grand scheme of my three years since initial melt-down, two weeks is nothing. Compared to the long months it took to get stable initially it’s no big deal. Right?

The problem with a blip is that it feels a lot like failure. During it, it very much feels like the health I’ve fought so hard to gain is gone for good. In the moment, when dysphoric and anxious, the term blip offers no solace.

My CPN has suggested that I panic when faced with a blip. Another euphemism here – we call it ‘having a wobble’. The issue lays in the way my mind catastrophizes a very simple thing. So your mood is elevated? You’re definitely going to end up back in crisis care!

There’s no real reason for me to believe that this minor episode won’t pass innocently by and I should probably have faith that I’ll normalise in a week or so. It doesn’t stop the worry, the anxiety, of being unwell again. It’s one of those things that always stays with you after the experience has ended. Mania = psychosis = crisis.

I’m not even sure this blip is bad enough to warrant calling the team. With my CPN on holiday this week, I don’t want to waste the psychiatrists time over what is potentially nothing. On the other hand, maybe the sertraline is kicking my mood up a notch. We’ve long been aware that 100mg is my therapeutic dose; but it also has a tendency to send me high.

The balancing act of staying well is tough. I’ve been getting better at it but it’s taken a lot of trial and error along the way. For now, I will continue to track my mood, watch for the red flags and hope this passes without incident. Fingers crossed.

The Blips

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.

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