Rules To Live By In Numbers 

I am on holiday. Some people they may ask, ‘from what?’; I don’t work but I do study, part-time. I have been off from university for 2 months now, surely that counts as a holiday? I’m going to say no, not really. Firstly, I spent  ~a month of that time being unwell with the dysphoric hurricane of hypomania. I went in hospital and had my meds increased. I have since spent time trying to find my feet.

Although I’m not having a holiday from working, I am having a holiday, but what from?  I am having a holiday from being surrounded by mental illness. I live in a specialist supported accommodation which means there is no escaping mental illness at home because someone is always unwell, everyone is on meds and we talk about it amongst ourselves. There are no awkward questions about mental health because we all live there for a similar category of reasons. Also you’re constantly having to answer questions and attend assessments for how well, or not you are doing. Whilst here I have to keep taking my meds twice a day, and I need to use DBT skills to keep my emotional expressions proportional, and I have to take care in the heat because of my meds – there is no holiday from yourself after all – I am kind of taking a holiday from mental illness.

I am taking a holiday from appointments, seeing my social worker, psychiatrist and support workers. Whilst they provide me with a lot of support and access to specialist mental health care, it’s nice to not be talking about symptoms, side effects and how am I really so much of the time. I am taking a holiday away from the bubble I live my life in at home. I am exposing myself to new and unfamiliar territory. At the same time I’m staring anxiety in the face as I gain confidence with new experiences.


I’m taking a holiday from living well within the borderlands of self-imposed restrictions. I am taking a holiday from documenting habit trackers and mood charts. I could stop forever at any time but they are an important tool for my overall well-being, awareness and insight. Taking a week out to just be, live and experience is quite the luxury and a welcome break. This can only be done when I am relatively well and stable: which I am at the moment. This is as much of a break from myself I think it is possible to fathom.

Finally, I am taking a holiday from numbers. Numbers have played a significant role in my life for over a decade: calories in and out, body weight, body fat %, muscle mass, weighing food portions and the numerical data from my FitBit that I try to make perfect: steps, calories burned, hours slept, minutes of restlessness and wakefulness during sleep, heart rate, minutes of activity and exercise. My FitBit data doesn’t just quantify my existence, it quantifies the goals of my existence: calorie goals, BMI goals, body fat % goals, sleep hygiene goals, number of days active goals, heart rate goals, step goals – literally any way of quantifying my life via a watch that you could possibly want for under £200, it does. If I had blood sugar and blood pressure monitors, I would record that too. I shit not, I have previously looked into buying them – all in an effort to feel in control and achieve a way to be perfect.

 

I realise now that I treat myself more like a machine, rejecting how anything feels in order to try to obtain numerical perfection. It’s a great watch and that is what I bought it for but it can be tiring and distracting from the bigger picture. It seems this focus on numbers has become a replacement for my eating disorder behaviour. It is healthier and less destructive but that doesn’t mean it is healthy and not destructive. More numbers can be obtained to quantify my existence further with a premium subscription to FitBit. I have so far managed to resist.

When I left for the airport I saw my analogue watch, ticking away in it’s box from having been rooting for something else in the same drawer. I spontaneously, (get me being spontaneous) decided to switch it up. My analogue watch, get this, doesn’t even have any numbers on it. Not a single one. I need to have access to the time, I don’t like not knowing and can become disoriented with myself without a watch. I don’t think this is mental health related, I’ve been like this since I first got a watch and learned the time as a nipper. With this analogue watch I don’t know the time to the exact minute – which is why I haven’t worn it for the last 3 years it’s been sat in it’s box for. How could I possibly tell the time without knowing the exact minute of the hour? In answer, based on this week, just fine. Vaguely knowing the time of day and hour it turns out is enough.

My holiday from numbers includes not stressing about getting enough steps, enough sleep and enough activity to hit goals that equate to perfection. I have been able to let go a little this week. In my world, this small freedom equivelates letting my hair down, wild child I know.  On the way back from the hiking day to the Gorropu Canyon I wondered how many steps I had done that day, as if I needed to know the number as it would validate my experience and tiredness. Then I answered myself in my mind, it doesn’t matter; that day wasn’t about steps or minutes of activity. The day was about the experience, the memories and the nature I saw in numerous various forms. The number of steps wasn’t important to the experience in any way – and I recited this in a forced way in my mind, as if repeating fake it til you make it to myself.  The amount of calories burned was not important. The amount of time spent at fat burn, resting and cardio heart rates was not important. What was important was that my heart is strong enough to adapt to demand and by doing so allowing me to have days such as that one hiking through the mountains.

I feel quite liberated since cutting back on the permanent numbers game I’ve ben playing. I do find numbers calming, it is a form of coping mechanism for me which crops up more, naturally, during times of stress. Having said that, I feel like I do not need so many numbers in my life. They have evolved from a calming coping mechanism that allures a sense of control, to a controlling cage that traps me in trying to achieve the perfect set of figures across all platforms of my life: diet, weight, sleeping habits, heart rate, blood pressure…the lists goes on. Sounds familiar huh?

It is in this way that I have been giving numbers too much power over my life, letting them govern how I feel I ought to live my life and what I think is the right amount of everything. It initially manifested in an eating disorder, morphed into another eating disorder and now this. I’m a walking project of equations and sums. My experience is invalid without numbers in my opinion. I also know this to not be true.

 

I have had a desire to be clockwork and machine like for a long time, again, this was initially achieved by having an eating disorder. More recently it has been achieved by wearing my FitBit. The purpose is to not feel and to function impeccably. I want to do and power through life and for the whole while that my digits remain imperfect i have work to do. It hasn’t always been a helpful approach and has held me back in many ways in addition to always having work to do because I am human. I am an animal not a computer. Ironically, for want of a lack of feeling and human nature, this makes me upset sometimes. Most of us are familiar with not being what we want to be: a marathon runner, a CEO, rich, living in paradise but I have turned one impossible goal for another: being weightless for being numerically perfect in other ways. By doing so I have been choosing numbers over intuition and listening to my body or mind for what it really is.

Using numbers to control and restrict my life is not healthy. I don’t feel like I can preach balance when I am living my life so purposefully out of balance. Balance is not achieving perfection in any way be it weight, hours slept or heart rate. Perfection is not possible and life needn’t be constantly quantified in order to be living well – I am human. I am not a machine of equally spaced cogs designed to work like clockwork. Balance is less balance in the numbers of life and more adapting to the essence of change found in living. Evidently I have some way to go.

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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.

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?

Coming Out of Hospital After 4 Weeks In

From the end of April to late May I spent 4 weeks in a psychiatric hospital, hence my absence. It was a difficult admission and still now I am struggling to quite get my head around what happened, what’s happening, and what I went through. I am also struggling to get back to every day life. Having spent 4 weeks in an NHS institution with nothing to do but sit and talk crap with other patients, sleep and eat I have struggled with going out, with my desire to leave my room, with socialising, with public transport and with getting up in the morning amongst other things.

I am still, after almost 2 weeks out, trying to pick myself up and get going with my life again. It’s been a hard ol’ slog. At the moment I am focusing on getting up and dressed in the a.m and trying to spend my days doing more than staring at the TV until I’m sleepy again. I haven’t managed to start exercising again yet – for some reason I’m really scared to go for a run, or get on my bike. I think this is going to be a long process that seems to be moving at a glacial pace.

I am however, trying to implement skills and tactics in order to get going again, and in order to cope with my new found freedom, in addition to coping in healthier ways than those I employed prior to my admission which landed me in hospital for 4 weeks. My journey from public place, to police van, to 136 suite and then to hospital was quite a surreal one. I did write a lot whilst I was in hospital about what I was going through, some of which I plan to share over the coming days in order to explore my experience. It kind of illustrates my journey with my experience.

After 4 weeks of doing very little, and becoming accustomed to sleeping the days away in order to pass time and be perceived ad the “good quiet” patient, I am slowly getting used to getting up and dressed, as I barely dressed or washed whilst I was in hospital. In fact, every time I have showered since coming out (2-3 times) I have lost the knack of keeping soap out of my eyes and mouth in the shower – this is also something I am currently grappling to re-learn.

So what am I doing to get myself back on track?

1.Set an alarm for 8:30 and 9am to try and get  up and out of bed in a decent time.
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2. I decided from today to not watch TV before 3pm, otherwise I will sit there and watch it all day at the moment. This isn’t usually something I struggle with but it has cropped up since I have come home.
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3. Making plans on sites like Meet Up to go out with people, socialise and become slightly active again.
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4. Making daily To Do lists to try and do something productive with my day and to get chores done.
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5. Trying to go out and acclimatise to using public transport again.
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6. Planning fun things to look forward to.
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7. Keeping a functioning and mood reflective diary.
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Melancholy

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I’m really struggling at the moment. It’s hard to pinpoint with what exactly though. I’m really unmotivated to do anything, and I keep sleeping for a really long time. I’m massively relying on my comfort items at the moment – I am sat with Big Bear as I type. I think something, although I’m unsure as to what exactly may  be stressing me out.

I’ve been trying to focus on managing my personal hygiene better lately, which means trying to shower every day. Right now I couldn’t think of much worse. I think, perhaps my medication may be too high as I’m hungry all the time as well – like right now, I have done nothing and eaten food yet I’m starving hungry. I always feel weak and lethargic, like a sloth and have no motivation to exercise which is stressing me out as I have big races in less than 2 months to train for.

I missed a workshop that I was really looking forward to this morning because I just couldn’t face getting up for it. The journey just filled me with dread, so I went back to bed and woke up again at midday. This isn’t anywhere near as productive as I would like to be.

I’m quite unhappy in this state, although I feel numbed to my discontent. I’m not depressed, but I”m something. Perhaps more melancholy than actively anything, lethargic and apathetic to most things. I spoke to my friend and she really helped to lift my mood and was very supportive.

I hope I can figure this out soon because it’s not as dramatic as “I can’t live like this” but more along the lines of, “this isn’t productive or conducive to recovery” and that’s what my journey is about right? Recovery. I want to be as well as I can be, and that means getting out of bed in the morning for one, and doing stuff with my time for two – then looking after myself, i.e. showering and eating better for three.

Online Support Forum

Hey everyone,

I’ve made an online support forum for everyone suffering and experiencing mental health difficulties. The boards are for everyone experiencing mental health difficulties in some way ranging for psychosis to eating disorders.

Please feel free to join up at http://deardarlingsanity.boards.net