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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Moving On From Hypomania

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

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

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

My Stay Well List:

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

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

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

 

The Crash Bang

: The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Sharp to Sludge Thinking’ Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

All these ideas you had that were great, they speed off into the distance. Whilst trying to catch it from running off a lorry of other exciting ideas crashes into your side. Now there are two to catch. Another drops on you like a bomb of catastrophe, and between chasing the previous two and picking up the shards you’re lost. You’re lost to your own mind.

The extreme clarity of sped up thinking that had you convinced you’ll make your millions in the coming 3-6 months, becomes murky waters riddled with quick sand. Whilst sinking you’re trying to keep catching and to keep moving. Fighting it makes you confuse yourself further and deeper into a webbing of not being able to complete a thought before being distracted and starting a new one, which happens again and again and again and every time, you’re lost.

Even processing the actions required to make a drink and following it through becomes difficult. Doing anything that requires order or sequence becomes difficult because youre trying to run in a dozen directions. Focus goes. Clarity clouds. Ability apparates elsewhere, and you don’t know where.In a bid to keep words in your racing mind, things start linking together and rhyming. Everything rhymes with everything.

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And I sing, search on bing having a ring a ding ding of a spindling fish in a dish make a wish fantastish wonderish handerish gibberish.

Quite literally. In an attempt to string ideas together thoughts become a racing rhyme of gibberish that runs to its own speed now. You’re lagging behind. You can’t keep up. You’re not running the show or waltzing at your party pace. Your rhyming thoughts are jacked up on speed – and there’s no drugs in sight.

It’s confusing. A little scary. A little entertaining and quite anxiety provoking because communicating and finding the words you want and need becomes more challenging, more frustrating than damn impossible. You know you don’t want these coming out of your mouth because how will anyone else make sense of them when they don’t make sense to me. It’s another language, a rhyming language, where the possible grows impossible and the impossible is extremely possible. There is no logic. There is no reason.

The Definitive Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

Some people will be quite forward with me, “you’re doing my head in. Go away.” My partner, and nurses on a ward mainly who refuse to talk to me unless I stop pacing around them in circles as fast as my feet will carry me. Other people try to be more discreet, “I’m just going to go downstairs”, “I’m just going to go and get a drink.” and “I’m tired. I’m going to bed now” are all hints I’ve received under the suspicion that actually, I’m just doing their head in.

I know it. I can sense it. Do I care? Not really. I will want you to stay because for that moment you are my entertainment source to spout all my nonsense onto, to force to dance with me and to dance around in circles like I’m a witch dancing a hokey pokey to some form of witch craft ritual of absurd movements, expressive jumps and jaunts of the body.

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Tactless as ever, I’m not a very tactful person at best, I will say, “I’m doing your head in aren’t I?” That won’t stop me though, even if you answer ‘yes’.  I will observe that I am annoying everyone around me and continue regardless. I will ask and say things that make people feel uncomfortable and keep on about it, like how you should get a girlfriend and lets set up an online dating profile for you, about how you guys make a cute couple and I bet you have really great sex, and observing out loud that complete strangers are ‘fit’ or that ‘I’d bang them’. This isn’t how I would normally talk. Banging in this context doesn’t usually enter my vocabulary because not only do I have the guts to say anything and everything, I go that mile extra with a whole bag of zero fucks to give about saying it.

This is a sign of the definitive period. This is when I start to realise I may be hypomanic. I am aware that not everyone around me is enjoying the walking talking party that i have become. People hold back, people leave the room, they go home and I have to find someone else to essentially be my toy to play with until they fuck off and I need to find someone else to annoy.

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Everyone is my friend and I will talk and talk at anyone who even feigns to listen whilst I crack offensive joke after offensive joke – and find each and every one far too hilarious to keep standing up straight. Everyone is my friend, but I’m not everyone’s friend at this stage. Even with the realisation that I may be hypomanic it is usually a bit late to do all the ‘keep calm’ techniques because I’m far too wound up, far too fast and I find sitting still far too agitating by this point.

 

The Chatterbox Tatterbox Hackerbox Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

What does someone do who has all of these amazing ideas crashing into one another in their mind? They’re too good to keep quiet, too many to not share and too exciting to not act upon. They talk. I talk, shit mainly.

I have a story for everything we may see; a funny looking tree, let me tell you about all my hilarious escapades climbing trees as a child and then as an adult; an absolute banger of an old car, let me tell you all of my shit car anecdotes of which there are many because I’ve only ever had shit cars; a road sign to no-where, let me tell you a story about that too. If it’s not about me, which all the best stories are, I’ll tell you about a story of someone I know, or know of, or who knows someone who knows someone I know vaguely from social media. Even if I don’t actually have an anecdote or real story, I’ll just make one up.

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In fact, scrap the ‘let me tell you’ – even if you don’t let me I’m going to tell you anyway. Like an enforced torture of verbal vomit that relates to nothing  you’re interested in, additionally I’ll ignore all of your requests for me to shut up – it will feel physically impossible for me.

If I let you talk during all of this because you know, conversation etiquette and all, you’d better be thinking and speaking at light speed too otherwise frustration boils up inside me like the heated gas in balloon expanding until it bursts. I am a balloon above a radiator.

I try to stifle myself but it requires an incredible amount of discipline. Sometimes I manage, sometimes i don’t. You’ll know if i don’t because all that frustration I’m feeling in keeping quiet or waiting my turn or waiting for your slow brain to process and just spit it out already, you’ll likely feel for precisely that: me not shutting up. Likely, i won’t give a fuck. As long as I’m relieving my tension and urges then the world remains glorious as I spout the more important three-quarters of our conversation.

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If you decide to go home and leave me to it that’s fine too. I’ll just talk to myself. At least then I can keep up and I don’t need to take turns. I’ll crack jokes, laugh out loud and generally encourage myself in all of my shining glory to keep on shining dear friend, just keep on shining.

 

 

The Too Busy to Sleep Phase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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