The All-or-Nothing Conundrum

The other day I scrolled through Twitter and stumbled upon a poll that went something like this:

‘I feel anxious, do I…?’
a) take a diazepam and risk napping and messing up my sleep tonight
b) drink a coffee
c) other.

In my response I opt for other. I suggest mindfulness. They don’t ‘do’ mindfulness. I suggest the Headspace app, they tell me their opinion of mindfulness is summed up in one word: bollocks. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Then I realise something in myself. I am recommending mindfulness because I know the benefits, I’ve felt them. I recommend it as a useful tool for everyone to take a few minutes out of the day to just notice. I say this as if I couldn’t imagine a day without it. I say this as I realise I haven’t practised in over a week. Why haven’t I practised in over a week?

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I haven’t practised because I started to get unwell. I started to feel hectic and out of control. I started to sway from my stay well plan after a while of not being well. This is definitely the time when embracing and holding onto mindfulness would be really beneficial and I’m not. I wonder about why this could be and realise I am indulging in another patterns of ‘all or nothing’.

All or nothing thinking featured during my eating disorders, friendships, studying, relationships, working life, attending uni and now in my stay well plans. I’m getting well? I’m full force ahead: day plans for routine, exercising, goals, writing, eating healthily and of course, mindfulness. I try to stick it out for a while each time I get unwell. As my stay well plans slip and slide on the suds of soapy thoughts slipping in and out of my mind as I lose my routine without noticing until presented with the gift of hindsight I stop. I just stop.

I don’t eat well. I stop work outs on my plan. I skip mindfulness and daily structure plans. Before I know it, all structure is gone and I am at mercy to any whim the weather may take. I am flitting about in wing it mode in regards to filling my time. No longer is not having time in my schedule for helpful things to take an extra benzo or drink a bottle of wine to forget it all the motion of the moment. I have all the time. I have all the unstructured time to get wasted because I can’t handle myself. Self discipline is gone. The will to even engage with my stay well plan ebbs into a low tide further and further from shore.

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I have successfully gone from maintain all of my plan to none of it in days. I realise as i re-offend mindfulness on a pedestal to someone else sailing a ship with anxiety at the helm. I recommend this as I am no different. I know some of what helps me. I know some of what doesn’t. What I haven’t learned yet is fully how to keep going with just something, I haven’t learned mastery. I think moderation is a skill. I am learning. We are all always learning – this is something I realise I need to put more focus and thought into still. Just how I do that I don’t yet know.

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Moving On From Hypomania

As with every episode, as it comes to an end and I regain the ability to think I start making plans to try to stay well. I reflect on what has been helpful for me in the past or in general. I look at the advice given by others with similar difficulties. I try to do what my CMHT tell me is helpful and not helpful.

It’s a lot. It’s a lot of studying yourself and others. It’s a lot of analysing what perhaps didn’t work so well, and what did.

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I’ve made a plan, which focuses mainly around reinstating a form of routine to my days. Prior to this episode I had routine due to uni and studying for my exams. I’ve lost that and feel it needs to be established in some form over the summer months until September.

My Stay Well List:

  1. Keep engaging with the Headspace app for daily mindfulness practice as well as practicing mindfulness in general such as whilst brushing my teeth, whilst travelling and checking in throughout the day with myself.
  2. Eat well. Whole nourishing food. Start with eliminating added sugar to my hot drinks. Aim for an 80/20 distribution of micronutrient rich food and food just for fun.
  3. Sleep. Try to keep to a routine of waking up at a decent time. Currently aiming for 7:30am – with the view to push it to 6:30am.
  4. Make a routine out of nothing. Busy myself enough so that there is no abundance of unfilled time.
  5. Talk to and work with my care coordinator: even if I don’t particularly want to.
  6. Exercise – follow an outline training plan, which gives routine and predictability to each week.
  7. Create purpose by signing up to volunteering roles to help with routine as well.
  8. Take vitamin supplement with particular focus on magnesium and zinc in chosen supplement. Take it every other day. Also keep taking meds.
  9. Don’t get drunk. Just the occasional 1-2 drinks.
  10. Read for pleasure to keep the mind occupied. Recognise when to reduce stimulus and do it, even as caution if unsure.

That’s a lot! Unfortunately it all feels necessary. Mood swings seem to be accompanied by a lapse in my self-care regime and routine of activities. It can be hard to get the balance of busy enough but not too busy. Engaged enough but not in excess.

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Balance is something that I’ve been working on trying to achieve more of since the beginning of the year. I’m still working on it. I suppose this is going to be quite the journey.

 

The Crash Bang

: The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

The tiredness hits. You’re grateful and glad to finally feel tired. It means you might actually sleep a decent amount. There is no predicting whether you will sleep properly or manage just a few hours again.

If you sleep a whole night, you may wake up with your eyes and your body aching, refusing to move. The crash is as much physical as it is mental. It’s a stark contrast in a very short period of time.

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It can take hours to just sit up in bed. Your body is rebelling against the past string days or weeks of over exertion. It is refusing to comply. There are no thoughts: the brain also rebels, refusing to be alive. I am alive, but I feel like I may well be dead. I even wonder if I am dead or not. Did something happen and I’m not waking up? Is my body dead but my mind still active? Am I in a coma? Is this limbo before all consciousness goes?

No. It is none of these. It is just the sheer exhaustion from flying for days. There are no stores left. You’ve not been eating or sleeping yet doing so much. Your body decides that finally it is indeed human and subject to the same needs as everyone else: sleep, food and water. There is no choice in the matter. Sloth like doesn’t even begin to describe the slowness. You speak slow, you move slow, you are slow. Slow to think and slow to process – breathing feels exhausting.

They say the higher the high, then the steeper and deeper the crash. This is how I have experienced it with hypomania: mania is much more severe. Dark thoughts cloud your judgement but this time, you don’t have the energy to do anything about them. So you sit. You sit and you wait.

The advice I received during this phase was to just wait it out. Use distraction methods that are manageable: sleep when you need, and watch TV. Distract yourself until it passes. With the weather it will pass.

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For as disappointing this part is, it is welcome in the way that finally things seem to be balancing out again. Finally, you can sleep and with the crash that means the ability to eat is closer to returning. It is probably the safest phase of the whole up, down, regulation disruption because there is no energy or drive to harm yourself or others.

There is desire to end it. The realisation that you’ve been horrible to the people you love, and worse to the ones you don’t. The regret and having no money due to a long list of unnecessary expenditures. These are all the facts of the aftermath that need to be faced upon returning to a more balanced place.

The worst though, is the realisation that you just had another episode. How many more to go? How much more time until the mood swings are a thing of the past? How many more times will you need to go up or very far down before things decide enough is enough and regulate?

Then I realise that there is no time limit. This is an illness that flares just as if I had recurrent chest infections due to asthma. I realise the things that went out the window that may have aided in the triggering of the episode. I realise that there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of just putting it all behind you and moving on as I would like with mental illness. Then I start to think that I can’t.

I start to think that I can’t do this anymore. I think about how tired I am of losing control. I think about how much time and how many plans I’ve lost to running around in a purposeless fever and how I’m now behind on my training. I get frustrated about not being able to stick with my training plan because these mood swings come along and disrupt any ability to stick to a regime – yet I need routine and order. It has been established that routine and order help me to stay stable.

Then I begin to realise how much more work is required for me to just wake up and manage each day than I think and perceive it to be for other people. Even if I do have the time of my life for a few days – I lose more losing my mind to rhyming gibberish and recovering in the aftermath of the crash.

The reason I don’t work, the reason that my life feels chaotic stares me right in the face, stares me down and with my tail between my legs I have to accept it. I would like to rise up and say “bring it’, but the battering is so much that I don’t feel able to…yet. Maybe one day. It is in this phase out of all of the hypomania phases that I need to keep hold of hope. I need to believe in hope during this phase just as much as when I’m depressed. Without hope all-purpose and drive is lost under a bus and I’m done.

So I start to plan how I’m going to move forward. I pick up my trusty FiloFax again. I make lists and plans. I write down ideas of what will keep me well and stable. It’s a long list that feels very much like a full-time job in itself. It’s tiring, no, exhausting! It’s destabilising. This was just a hiccup in the road compared to some episodes – yet enough to have rocked my boat so that I’ve thrown all the life rings out to catch the debris of me floating around not yet re-connected.

My confidence has been knocked. My self-esteem and belief in myself that I can achieve and do what I want with my life, or at least, some of what I want with my life. The need to keep taking my medication is reaffirmed to the point of being fearful of not taking it. It’s a slap in the face that knocks you over when you’ve just found your feet.

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Every time I stand it isn’t long until I’m bitch slapped again. I feel angry, hurt and sad. I feel confused, slight disbelief and frustration. I feel disappointed, cautious, restricted by routines and measures to try to stay well, but there is no choice.

I may not always manage to stay well but I have to try. I owe myself and those that I love that much. I have to keep trying and when I feel like giving up I have to reach out for support despite my grand desire to be self-reliant all the time. My pride takes a hit with gusto. I am humbled to the point of slightly crumbling at the seams whilst I try to fervently stitch myself back up and get my life back together.

This is my life. I need to work on accepting that some more.

The Up Down Down Down UP Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

Hypomania isn’t always fun and games. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are super happy over nothing for too long. Sometimes it can become dysphoric. Hypomania is like being revved up on overdrive, therefore if something upsetting happens it can turn to rage extremely quickly. In a flick of the light rage and aggression, verbal assaults with a vicious tongue, throwing objects in fits of rage in every direction and crying so much the physical upheaval should be exhausting.

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These outbursts are often filled with regretful actions and words. Actions and words that can’t be forgotten. Actions and words that can’t be undone. They are harsh and require very strong apologies, promises to seek help and a generous dose of understanding from those afflicted to such attacks.

All of a sudden the world, which was beautiful, glorious and fucking fantastic comes crashing down in an energised depression. Thinking remains fast, emotions on full volume and at this point going from a decision to try to kill yourself to action happens very quickly. All the sorrow of a deep hopeless depression is combined with an abundance of energy in an emotional upheaval, a resilience to tiredness from crying which usually acts as a buffer between thoughts, decisions and consequent actions.

People, at this stage, are unwelcome. conversations to rationalise are also unwelcome. Eventually you fall asleep for the few hours per 24 that you get – which is essentially a nap and ping! you’re back to it with little rest for the wicked. The happy, energetic and too fast to handle mood is back.

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Quicker than defying gravity your mood has up cycled itself into a continuing flash of a flame thrower – and you’re off. This can happen all in the space of 48 hours. It should be tiring. It is tiring, eventually. At the time however, it’s a whirlwind that you can’t slow down or keep up with at the same time. It’s confusing.

I decide that actually I can’t be hypomanic because hypomania is extreme happiness. I’m was so painfully sad and so intensely angry that I’m not sure what it is that is happening: could it be a mixed episode? Or just dysphoria? It happens so fast and furiously that there are no minutes to reflect until afterwards.

The Too Busy to Sleep Phase

I’m sure somewhere there is some wisdom on not sleeping that goes along the lines of, “if you can’t sleep, get up and do something until you’re tired”. This is exactly what I do when I can’t sleep, which doesn’t happen all that often for me.

I am a good sleeper. I always have been. When I go to the higher side of life however, sleep becomes a waste of time. I get up eager to do something, anything other than sleep. At this time, forcing myself to rest despite not being able to sleep is probably the best advice – but the best advice is not always the advice we want to follow. Additionally, it is easy to rationalise the get up and go logic in a world that glorifies the go, go, go of using every day to the max.

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During hypomania getting up instead of resting is essentially a big gust of oxygen on a burning ember at just the right angle and pressure to light a bonfire. Not that I realise at the time whilst I spend the whole night doing a million activities: reading, which feels like I’m breathing oxygen specifically for my amazing mind; playing on my games console which feels like the biggest adrenaline rush I could get whilst staying in as I fight my way through every first person shooter I own; writing, wherein my creative genius just slithers effortlessly out of the end of the pen; smoking because I’m in party mode and the music, the music feels electrifying to my body as I dance and sing ecstatically at 5am.

I should be drunk but I’m not as the activities get progressively more active and progressively more exciting until it’s 6am. I’ve not slept and it feels too late to sort it out because we’re at the start of a new day. Every dawn is a new day not to be tarnished by the last right? – yeah, I probably only follow that 100% when I’m hypomanic too.

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I don’t necessarily realise at the time. I write it off to not being that sleepy, to it being ‘just one night’. This happens a lot with hypomania. I only realise and know in hindsight. In hindsight it is blazingly obvious. At the time I am blinded to it, wrapped up in it and the world is viewed through rose-tinted spectacles wherein there is no way feeling this good could be “bad”.

Sleeping 3-5 hours a night is glorious when there is such an urgent pressure in your belly to do, do, do. It is bloody fabulous in fact because it means you really can maximise and squeeze the fuck out of the potential of every day, every, single, day. Whilst my wee early morning texts reap dead-end conversations as everyone else is a weak human and succumbs to their need for sleep – I however, am more than human. I’m super human.

And just like that the fire is burning. Raring to go for the next day and the next and the next of my new brilliant super human life. I do not get sleepy again. I do not return to my bed to get a few hours shuteye. This get up until you’re sleeping advice is possibly the worst advice during the sleepless nights of hypomania.

 

I Have a Big Mind, So I Can Keep Dreaming

I have a very big mind. I don’t know if you can quantify the size of a mind seeing as it is abstract. What I mean when I say I have a big mind is that it wanders. I have high ambitions for myself, and sometimes believe in them. I think I’m going to become an award-winning author, a Nobel prize receiving nutritionist (has that ever even happened?). I’m going to run marathons and go on to running ultra’s. I want to play instruments and dance like Darcey Bussell

I don’t just want to do all of this stuff. I strive to do it all. However, one obstacle keeps getting in my way. My mental health. I can be very disabling for me. Sometimes, when I am unwell, I can’t even cook or eat properly. I can’t wash. Going to the toilet feels like a chore. Understanding and depicting between reality and fantasy can be a challenge.

I think a lot. I use mindfulness to tame my thinking – and often my mind may be empty, and still I think a lot. I can switch off, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want all of these things for myself, along with a fantastic relationship, and friends, and above all – learning to manage my mental health.

One thing I still struggle with a lot is knowing how much I can do. I often feel like I want every waking moment of my days to be achieving something – be that studying, learning, writing, reading, running, climbing, art. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I’m not sure.

When I’m depressed though, something I always struggle with is my inability to do very much at all – and learning to reign in my ideals of how I want to live my life. Accepting the limitations placed on me by my illnesses is something I have not fully accepted. I have accepted it more than I could a few years ago: it is a process. At the same time, I don’t want to not live my life because of my illnesses. I don’t want to sell myself short. I think most people can relate to wanting to be the best version of themselves, and to wanting to live their life as the best version of themselves.

So accepting that I can only read a paragraph at a time, accepting that I can’t go out or leave the house, accepting that I can’t run 4 times a week because quite simply, I am too unwell is difficult to adapt to each time I get unwell. Unfortunately, for me, getting unwell is still a frequent part of my life and I wonder if ever I will be as well as I hope to be. I expected to be a fully functioning member of society with a brilliant job after being off work for 6 months. That was 6 years ago. Evidently, these hopes and desires didn’t quite pan out.

There are times when I wish I was someone else. There are more than numerous times when I wish I didn’t have my illnesses. In fact, I wish this most days that I’m affected negatively by them. I think that is natural, right? So here, on that point right there I need to do some more acceptance work. By that I don’t mean stop fighting and give in. By that I mean learn when to pull the reigns in and accept that for a period of time I probably can’t do everything I want to do or wish for.

The difficulty of this acceptance I think is compounded by the highs I experience. During these times, life is bloody wonderful and I’m functioning at 200%. I’m productive beyond measure, goal orientated like a world champion athlete chasing after an Olympic Gold. I’m talented. I’m brilliant. I’m capable of anything and everything I set myself to. This is called hypomania – and the part that gets me the most is the comparison.

When I am hypomanic, experiencing myself at 200% and loving it, producing grand plans and ideas of how I’m going to become successful in every sense of the word makes the contrast between this state and being so low I cannot leave my bed a more bitter pill to swallow – and in swallowing my meds, I am to an extent, forfeiting these periods of my best self.

Overall, I know it is worth it because I get severely depressed much more than I get hypomanic – yet the contrast of the, “but I’m so brilliant” during those times is a difficult price to pay for stability. Over the years I have refused medications and not taken my medication. Slowly I have learned that this is in fact the worst thing I can do because 90% I will go down, down, down. I have learned the importance of taking my meds, and the importance of self-care in terms of sleep hygiene, and keeping calm in my overall performance, because what is the use of functioning and being my best self at 200% for a few weeks once a year or so, compared to a functioning level between 60-70% for the majority of the time? It is an equation of better odds in longevity.

But I have a big mind and I despise not being capable. I despise not being independent 100% of the time. I resent the fact that I am resigned to not working full-time, perhaps ever. At times it eats me up inside that I may never reach my full best self due to my illness – and actively accepting that going to the shop for some milk and watching Netflix is as good as it’s going to get for a few weeks is a painful realisation to find yourself in when you have such a big mind.

I know that I need to tame my mind. I may not be able to be brilliant all the time, much to my disappointment – but I can be above good for most of the time when I’m well? Is that a fair price to pay for being 5% of myself, and totally disabled by my mental illness? No. I don’t think so. Is it reality though? Is that just how mental illness goes? Yes. I suppose it is. Do I want to accept that? Not at all. Do I need to accept that? Most definitely.

Many brilliant minds in the public eye are tortured by mental illness, yet they manage to be really quite remarkable. Stephen Fry. Ruby Wax. Catherine Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato. When I see how successful they are, I find myself thinking, why not me? There is an element of self belief required, but the truth is, these people are exceptions. Exceptional minds and personalities with mental illness. They do not represent the majority of people with mental illness. I think society forgets that and that help me to also forget that.

I see a lot of people where I live, and amongst the services and hospitals I’ve been to who experience severe mental illness, and for them, just living in supported accommodation or volunteering 4 hours a week is as good as it’s going to get. Yet I don’t see myself amongst that population. I don’t see myself as higher or better, but I see my mind as bigger. I don’t identify with the people in my living complex who spend all day every day staring into space smoking and drinking – I see myself in the Stephen Fry’s and the Demi Lovato’s: but I just can’t sustain my abilities at a high enough level – and that is something I suppose I need to learn to accept. That is something I need to learn to live with, without thinking I may as well kill myself at the same time. That is something I am sure many of us struggle with, mental illness or not.

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I just wish I could be my 200% for 100% of the time. I can dream. We all can. If I keep dreaming, and keep trying, it might become reality – until then, I need to reign in my expectations of myself again – and the heart wrenching reality of my illness hits me hard in the gut, in my soul, at my very core of what I consider to be my being. This is why I don’t work. This is why many people with mental illness don’t work and that’s OK – I just wish every person understood that without judgement. Maybe one day I too will work full-time, maybe I won’t.  Like I said though, I can dream right?

The Eye of the Storm: The Grateful Aftermath

A depressive episode has a way of making anyone go from actively living their life to merely existing in a matter of days or weeks. The ability to do what you love? Zapped! The ability to get up in the morning? Zapped! An interest in doing anything other than staying in bed living life through TV characters on Netflix? Zapped! Everything goes out the window, and it seems that no matter how “recovered” I feel in a good patch, each and every time I go down down down, I  become the same shell of myself.

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In this though, there is a silver lining. When I come out of these episodes every. single. time. I am so bloody  grateful for everything, anything and the tiny things. With my illness I know these episodes aren’t behind me, and it is likely another rain cloud will come over me in a few months time, but until then I swear to myself, for myself, to grab life in the tightest grip that I can and do everything and anything that I want to be doing with my life. This means that if I can get up early in the morning and DO stuff, I do because I can. If I’m feeling well enough to go out and exercise, I bloody well go and enjoy everything my body can do for me in these moments. Even if an interest overcomes me that is out of character, I give it a go – for example when I started playing saxophone. The important thing in these times for me is to make sure I enjoy myself and learn to love myself and my life again. c3ba9f090dc02b75b570e8ecc11cf5f0

There is more to this than just enjoying the well times – but by building good memories and emotions in a bank within myself during these times, I buffer the severity of impact the suicidal thoughts manage to take on me during an episode.

 

 

 

 

I view my appreciation for everything, anything and the tiny things in life as the gift of depressive episodes. I spend a lot of time hating on, sulking about and wishing I didn’t have my bip0e62e3431977386d29080a0fbbe440adolar and BPD. In these moments of accentuated gratitude however, I count my blessings and enjoy the menial things of daily living: getting up in the morning with motivation, cooking a nice meal for myself and being bothered to do so, going out with my partner and friends and enjoying their company, studying and achieving my potential instead of submitting a sub-par version of my abilities, going for a run and feeling so alive and in the moment, reading and being able to take it in on the first read, laughing out loud and having fun. For all of the things that depression steals from me, I gain back a big part of myself and more. It is in these moments that I say thanks for my life, that I thank myself for staying alive and I stop for a moment, hating on my perspective and experience of life as it is.