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?

Suicidal Thoughts Are Just a Habit?!?

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Today I’ve been told that suicidal thoughts are a habit in response to a low mood. I don’t know if I agree with this. I was told this by my therapist, and I agree it used to be like that for me a few years ago whenI was told this by my schema therapist – however this was at a time when suicidal thoughts were chronic and ongoing. Now though, I do not always have suicidal thoughts when I’m down. There are may days when I am down and instead I focus on “how can I get through this?” but at the moment, unfortunately I am suicidal, and actively so.

It is a scary place to find yourself, thinking about suicide constantly. It is a  very scary place to wind having to explain to people that over the weekend you tried to take your own life because the thoughts got too much. I’ve been told to think about tomorrow. Always tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow, but what if tomorrow is like today, and yesterday and all the other days that have gone by. From experience I can tell you these depressions last a really long tim end become rather torturous at the best of times, never mind when they are all encompassing. Even new shoes cannot brighten my day – not that buying your way out of depression ever solves anything, but the point is that something that would normally make me happy hasn’t had an ounce of effect on my mood for better or worse.

I am not crying. For some reason my tears are dry except at the mention of my old therapist where I let now tear go. It seems I want to cry it out on my own but in front of others I’m retorting to the old facade of keeping them in. I miss her. That’s why I cried. I miss her dearly because in times like this she was very comforting and I could do with a talk with her right now. I could with sitting in that chair across from her and her new shoes – she always had new shoes – and talking about my mood and working through it with her. Obviously, this can’t happen. We finished our work together.

I’ve been told to think about how lucky I am to be living where I am, in England, and having support around me. Which is true. It was always worse when I had no support around me, or my support networks were struggling as much as I was with my moods.

On the up side, there is talk of a medication change to a mood stabiliser. I have requested this, and hopefully it is in the motions of going through at the moment. This is my thread of hope, amongst all the advice and talks I’ve received, this is my hope that I’m holding on to. That things can get better if only I were on the right medication.

For now though, I will return to my list of coping strategies in the hope that they help because truthfully, I know I don’t want to die because there are things to look forward to in my life I just want to postpone the depression, or sleep through it and make it stop.

Accepting Delusional Mania

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I don’t remember much.

I remember sitting on a park bench talking to a robin whilst near college. I had seen the mental health support team in college that morning, and it was established something wasn’t quite right because I remember her phoning my care coordinator. I don’t remember what exactly wasn’t quite right, but I just remember sitting in the cold and talking to a robin.

Then somehow I’m home. I’ve spoken to my partner briefly before walking off to eat some food because being invincible takes energy, and if I’m going to prove my invincibility I need energy. Before I know it, I’m walking across the top of the local car park and hands are on me, my hands are in cuffs; it’s the police. They’d been called by my partner, who believed otherwise about my invincibility powers and attempts to prove them.

I spent the next 4 hours in the back of a police van in cuffs waiting for a 136 suite (i.e. place of safety) to become available somewhere in london where I proceed to spend the next 24 hours locked in a room with soft padded furniture and 2 nurses watching me constantly before being sectioned and spending 2 weeks in hospital, against my will, against my beliefs, for my own safety.

I don’t remember much from the van, nor do I remember much from the 136 suite or my assessment there other than the woman was called Penny, like in Big Bang Theory because this was how I was thinking back then. I was a genius, an invincible genius. I loved big bang theory because I too was a science whizz kid who was going to win a Nobel Prize later in the year, and who despite being exceptionally gifted at science defied science itself, and nature, and logic by being special and invincible. I could do anything and I would survive, or so I believed.

I could take an overdose to kill an army: I would survive. I could walk in front of a car: I would survive. I could jump from a building, my chosen method of proving myself: and I would bounce, and ultimately, survive. It was for this reason that I was sectioned because after all, it turns out that I am just a human like everyone else. The realisation of this, when it eventually came was heartbreaking because how wonderful it felt to be special, invincible, different and exceptional. However, the realisation and shock that I could be, and had been so delusional hurt so much more. I never knew my brain could play such a nasty and heartbreaking trick on me. I was hurt, upset but most of all confused. How could this have happened? Was it even real? Were they even right? Who was right? It was from this episode of mania that I received my additional diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder – the acceptance of which was a difficult process in it’s own right after the shock of my descent into madness and back.

After such an episode it is difficult not to question everything you believe about yourself and the world around you. Is it real? Is this real, and that, did that happen, is my head screwed on right at the moment because is this real. The other day for example, it was raining snow foam on Oxford Street. I was with my mum, and upon realising it was fake snow made from foam – something I’d not seen before, I had to ask her, “is this real? Am I seeing things again?”. No, believe it or not, it was real fake snow on Oxford street coming from nowhere to everywhere.

Accepting that your own reality may not be so, that your own beliefs are exactly that and nothing more, beliefs, and that in reality you are not special or exceptional but in fact unwell is a difficult process to undertake. Accepting the medication to stabilise a mood that is highly enjoyable, and intoxicating is difficult to manage whilst accepting that these episodes are episodes of a life long illness on top of your already existing illnesses is difficult. One illness, the previously diagnosed one, you can recover from. Bipolar, you manage and live with for the rest of your life. The disappointment in this realisation was a process of crying, depression and crying some more until eventually my emotions subsided and I could say to myself, “OK, so I have this diagnosis. We kind of already knew. It runs in the family. What is it that I need to do about it?”

I have since been referred to a specialist team who only have clients with severe personality, anxiety and mood illnesses. I am finally receiving the support I need in order to help manage this illness and these episodes to hopefully prevent further admissions, but have them when necessary. I don’t have any advice compiled yet on how to manage this illness, or these episodes as I’m still learning – but that is OK. I’m talking about it, here and in my poetry – and that I believe is an important first step towards managing my illness openly so that those around me understand. I’m merely starting a conversation and sharing my experience and once I’ve nailed it – or figured some of these challenges out I’ll share that with you all.

Love. x