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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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.

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?

Songs of My Journey: Early 2014, A Terrorising Depression

If I look over my diary from this time, it isn’t pretty. I started a private diary on my computer because I was being followed in the cyber world. I was being stalked by none other that my dad. I had no space again. I couldn’t breathe again. I became scared again. Walking around my local area became a game of who’s following me? Can I lose their track? Shit. He’s got people on the ground everywhere. Is he sitting outside my house waiting?

Life became scary. I couldn’t trust anyone. My CMHT were in on it. My care coordinator had been making a plot to destroy all my hopes at recovery to make me kill myself. The government wanted me dead to ease my contribution to the deficit and my costs on the national budget. They wanted people like me dead. I discharged myself from the CMHT. I needed to get away from them because they were dangerous. I needed to be alone and trust no-one. I needed to rely on no one.

I became very depressed. This led to more suicide attempts, and crisis’. The police and A&E became a common occurrence in my life, and my depression just. Would. Not. Lift.

Doctors were telling me it was my personality, I just needed to “get on with it” and I “just needed to get out of bed in the morning”. I needed to “stop being so selfish” and I “needed to start giving back to my partner”. Each time, these messages made me worse. I was trying. I was really trying my damned fucking hardest and they were kicking me down for not managing. I wasn’t depressed they said.

“Did I cry?” The relevance of this question I’ll never know. “Did I not want to be well. Did that thought scare me?”, “what did I gain from being sick?” I’ll tell you what I gained from being sick.

Terror. I gained a terror of being around people. A total loss of will to stay alive for the purpose of ‘that’s what people do, they stay alive for as long as possible’ – and I didn’t get it. Why would anyone want to be alive in this world? I gained a seeping paranoia that infracted every aspect of my life. People were trying to kill me. How should that be fair? If I’m going to die. It’s going to be my choice and on my terms. Why should I stay alive to be murdered by my CMHT and the government.

Then I went to my GP. I had been in A&E the night before, and had fallen on my face running away from the police. He spotted not only the massive graze on my face, but that something wasn’t right with how I was. He chose to go against the grain. He didn’t believe that I wasn’t depressed and he prescribed me anti-depressants: what I’d been asking my team for for years to only be declined each time.

Until that point though, whilst my depression engulfed my every breath I listened to the remix of summertime sadness by Lara del Ray. It was about suicide, and in my mind, I was going to die from a completed suicide at some point. It was fitting and it was perfect.

Life of the Living Dead

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Sat, slumped against the wall, I have bad posture but I don’t care much for my posture right now. I’m sat in silence, and have been for hours; I don’t care much for music, or talking right now. Space occupies my every hazy thought, wisp of a thought and thought of a thought; I don’t care much for thinking right now. I am not bored, yet I’ve done nothing for hours. I am not sad, but flat, numb, and lifeless like the living dead. I feel like a zombie, an in tact zombie with nothing more to do than sit, stare, exist, breathe.

I want to be on my own, and desire no contact with the outer world. I could stay in my kitchen for days on end, and see no point in leaving the house. I don’t desire activity, excitement or occupation. It is as if my brain has flat lined, but my body remains alive like a living corpse.

I feel no love, no warmth, no joy, no sadness. Just nothing. I am a void, a black hole embodying listlessness. My body is heavy, my limbs lay numb, and there is no impulse, sign of life or emotion.

I don’t know what is wrong with me. I can’t pinpoint it. I just know that things aren’t right. I don’t want to eat, move, or do anything but sleep. Maybe I’m depressed. Maybe this is the effect of my medication I thought, but when I phoned the home treatment team to ask they disagreed and instead offered me a dr appointment in two days.

It is an effort to achieve anything today. Today I achieved drawing. I have been using my iPad to draw about how I am feeling in a hope of figuring something out, or healing something a little. I hoped it would be therapeutic and calming. It productively filled some time in my day at least.