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.

 

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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?

That Tough Mudder for MIND

In the pub one December evening in 2014 a friend and I decided it would be a really good idea to sign up for Tough Mudder. We decided it would be fun, it would be a real laugh and a challenge that was totally do-able. We 100% had it in the bag already, after a pint or two I was convinced I could run it right now and with nine months to train. We were gonna smash it. We teamed up and began to raise money for Mind in the process.

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I was originally signed up for Tough Mudder in September 2015. However, in early September I found myself stuck in hospital in the middle of nowhere. On section, I wasn’t allowed to leave and there was no leeway for negotiation. I deferred my entry until May 2016 with the assumption that I would be better and have had enough recovery time to focus on training again.

Some new meds, some disruptions and some turbulence later I was admitted on section in April 2015. This meant that again, I couldn’t go. This time, ashamed and disappointed I retreated into the distance. I went quiet. Overcoming that admission took a very long time; it had a profound effect on me and when I came home I struggled to even go to the shop on my own. My social worker described what I went through with that admission as a trauma, and no wonder I was overwhelmed. I guess it’s hard to know when everything is so confusing and you don’t understand why you’re stuck on the inside, and everything is a whirlwind of screaming, fighting, restraints and tears.

As a result, I went quiet about all the races I missed during that admission and the money I raised was donated over to Mind regardless. I was upset and felt guilty for having accepted donations and money and having not actually done the challenge I was sponsored for. I also felt guilty asking for a Mind charity place for a third time. So I didn’t. I let it go.

I accepted that I had been too unwell to be able to go to Tough Mudder twice in a row, and for as unfortunate as that was I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I had to accept that these circumstances had been beyond my control and even though it didn’t feel ok, it was ok. That’s the nature of mental illness right? I put it behind me and focused on getting better, yet it still felt like unfinished business. In my mind, I was going to revisit it and tie the loose end for myself when I was more stable and more well, whenever that may be.

Then December 2016 happened. I had a rocky time with starting uni but during a particularly ambitious patch of behaviour I signed up. I had a touch of realism about me still, thank goodness, and I opted for the half distance. I kept it quiet and only told a close few incase I didn’t do it again.

The date crept up on me and fortunately I had managed to start running regularly again. It became harder to keep it quiet; a tad of excitement, a touch of self realisation that I could do it, and a growing sense of self belief spread the secret out a bit more than I had initially intended.

On the day, Wifey and I travelled to the venue together. She wasn’t running however, said she may consider running one next year? *nudge nudge – that would be a really great idea – hint*. She sat with me during the pre-race nerves and put up with my excessive neediness for affection and reassurance. in the run up to the race. Like the boss of a Wifey that she is, she stood by me right until it was time to go into the warm up pen. At the start line, she waved me off.

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This was it. This was the moment that had taken be 1 1/2 years to get to. This was the event that had hung over me for the past 2 1/2 years and I had finally crossed the start line. It seems to be a theme that getting to the start line is the hardest part for me. I was on my own. The tough Mudder mantra is that no one is on their own. The challenge is about comradery and teaming up with people you don’t know. You’re all in this together, you start together and you finish together. However, running a race that most people sign up with for in a group can make running it feel a little bit lonely at times.

I’m no stranger of doing things on my own. I am an only child after all. I’ve been wanting to start running trails lately, so running the off-road terrain was something I really enjoyed, even without music. The constant challenge and excitement of the terrain was enough to keep my mind occupied: the scenery and the challenge of the hills, of which there were plenty was enough. Sometimes the course led us up a hill just for the fun of it to come back down. It’s like a reminder of a lot of what we do in life. Why do we run in big circuits, and climb walls to just come back down again? For the fun of it of course, and the feeling of accomplishment that you can’t get from not climbing the wall or running in a big circuit just for the fun of it.

The obstacles around the course were a good challenge and totally do-able. My favourite was block ness monster; I love water obstacles. It always takes some nerves to dive into a cold pool of muddy stinking water, but afterwards, despite stinking of sewage, you feel great. The other obstacles on the half course included: mud mile, the pyramid scheme, inverted walls, high walls, and the grand finale, Everest 2.0.

Everest 2.0 is one of those obstacles wherein which you have to break down barriers and put your trust in a stranger to haul you over the ledge all after you’ve run up a quarter pipe upon which it is highly likely to end in a royal motherfucker of a face plant. It took a number of attempts and to my surprise, I didn’t land on my face.

Also surprisingly, hanging from someone’s hands whilst straggling legs in all directions in an attempt to get over the ledge is really exhausting. Eventually when I was hauled over I had no strength left in me to help drag anyone over. In fact, i felt positively nauseous. Slowly I climbed down the ladder on the other side to be greeted by Wifey taking my photo and an upheaval of vomit into my mouth.

She ran to the hydration station and got me some water to drink to one of her infamous pep-talks. I could do it. It wasn’t far until the finish line now. I had already covered most of it. I recollected myself.  Picked my sorry arse up off the floor and using her words of encouragement began to run again. I wasn’t far now. I was nearly done. I soon saw the finish line, with Wifey running up beside me to take my picture crossing the line.

There’s nothing quite like crossing the finish line of a race or challenge and seeing Wifey’s face beaming at me. I collected my treasured headband that certified I had indeed done a Tough Mudder challenge. I had done it. Two and a half years after I was originally signed up to line up at the start I made it. I crossed it.

Crossing that finish line was more than just a Tough Mudder challenge. It wasn’t just for fun anymore. It was unfinished business as a result of my mental health difficulties. Crossing that finish line signified finishing something I signed up to for myself years ago, and making it to the event and crossing that start line signified a new era of mental health better than I was for a long time. That’s very wordy, I don’t know how to say that in a less wordy or awkward way – I’m not great or at my best, but I am better, and that’s a big fucking deal.

 

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Running Tough Mudder Half, for this reason, was a massive moment for me. It’s a year since I last signed up, and also a year since I was last roaming the corridors of a hospital ward. I’m not always well and I’m not unwell like I was back then. I’m bigger than I was due to medication. I’m slower than I was when I signed up and felt like I had the running world at my feet. I’m not as confident about my strength and abilities, yet I’m more confident than I was a month ago. Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored me and yes, I finally ran it. I did it. I crossed the line. Loose end tied. I think this story is less about Tough Mudder and more about keeping on keeping on. When life throws you a royal shit storm, grab the hand of your right hand (wo)man and damn well dance, because together you’ve got this. We’ve got this.

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She said ‘strike a pose’ – This is what comes to mind whenever anyone says strike a pose, right?

The Happiness in Not Being as Stupid as They Had Me Believe

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I have an active mind. Perhaps, I sometimes wonder, if that is part of my downfall. I need stimulation and I need a challenge in order to be happy, feel satisfied and achieve a level of fulfilment. This has often led to my needing a career in which I can reach this fulfilment. Even if not in the short term, but I have always been needing to work towards a bigger picture, a stimulating picture, a picture that I can create for myself in my future. I have wanted to be a writer for a long time, and still have the ambition to write a book, or two, or perhaps three.

I used to write for magazines and remember the thrill of first being published. Me, my name in the credits, my name next to those features. I did it. A magazine article isn’t quite a book though, and that is the ultimate ambition. Writing aside though, and back in the real world, I need the same from a paying career.

When I was unwell, I postponed my final year at uni. Then I had to postpone it again, and then again. Fortunately I have since realised that fashion isn’t quite the world for me, but in all of those postponed years I was too unwell to work. I tried volunteering, I tried applying for jobs, and I attempted internships. Each time though, my mental health got better of me and I couldn’t manage it. I had to keep dropping out. The girl too stubborn to take a break became a perpetual drop out for 3 years.

Finally, I started to look into a career change for when I managed to become well again. I am now an aspiring dietitian and I’m at college on an Access to Medicine course that is part time and flexible, but intense. The major point being is that I am at college. I am studying again.

To travel there, and swipe my card gives me a sense of purpose and belonging that had been lacking in my most unwell years. The going into class and being challenged, learning about thought provoking topics such as biology and chemistry really gives me a sense of well being that makes me feel proud. I am proud to have come so far that I can sit in class and learn about genetics. I am proud that I can sit in a classroom and learn about the properties of chemicals and be so mentally stimulated that I am tired after class. My thirst for more knowledge, my desire to get good grades keeps my fire burning.

Most of all though, I am grateful. I am grateful for my second chance, and grateful that there is a college to go to. I am grateful to be well enough to travel there most days, and sit in a classroom full of people, whilst navigating jammed corridors also full of people, who, even worse for my anxiety, I don’t know.

I am grateful that on my days off I can spend time reading and learning, and to get the satisfaction of sitting a test to prove to myself that no, I am not stupid. I am not so stupid as all those years in my high school would have had me believe. I am not so stupid that I cannot do this. I am bright enough, and for that I am also grateful because it helps my need to be challenged and stimulated.

My gratitude extends further. I am grateful that I am now able to talk to people in class. I can make small talk and conversations about nothing too much. I can smile at people, and say, “Hello, how are you?” We go for coffee, and we smoke rollies together. We talk about work and about how our days are: a moan about people on the underground here, a laugh about study skills there and a talk about the different cultures people come from in between.

From this I feel an overwhelming drive to try my hardest to manage my mental health. From this I feel an overwhelming sense of pleasure from being in class and learning again. From this I feel proud, proud that I did it, proud that I got into my college and that my grades have been good so far.

The gratitude goes further, I am also grateful that I can allow myself to feel pride. I can allow myself to feel enjoyment without guilt, that I can focus on my studies and not what I ate for lunch for the past 3 weeks, if I ate lunch that is. This is thanks to therapy, but within that, I am also proud that I managed to engage enough to manage these positive feelings about myself.

As it turns out, I am not as stupid as they would have had me believe. I am not so much of a waste of space as I was taught to think. So for my journey from there to now, I am grateful, and grateful for the tiniest achievements that many take for granted. So when I go to class, even if I am in a grumble of a mood, inside I am smiling overall.