About Sid

Photographer, mental health advocate, occasional ranter, in love with Kent.

The wind, time immemorial & the inner explosion

I live in a small churchyard where there are still bodies underground but only one marker left behind to remind people of what was once there. These days it’s a tiny park just over 1/3 of an acre and is an open secret in my part of town. Most people don’t know it’s there and those who do use it as a cut through without looking up from the desire path that they’re establishing and re-establishing as they go.

I walk around the perimeter with my dog most days and I often walk the perimeter alone thinking of goodness knows what.

Often I will see the trees in the far corner moving gently and they set off a ripple that becomes stronger and more audible the closer it gets. Sometimes the movement dies out before it reaches me, sometimes is batters at me and brings rain but, more often than not, it passes by in a fury.

The gentle undulation in the trees remind me of approaching mood changes and I question how quickly they will descend on me, if depression or mania will dominate the episode and even if, yet again, I’ll be driven to the point of suicide.

Not all warnings of mood changes turn into episodes because sometimes it’s just feeling pissy or happy because I’m a human.

I do not like being caught up in the tornado of mania but it picks me up and spits me out at will these days. Other people have told me that they love the giddy spinning around even though it is also frightening at the time. I am left exhausted, disorientated and I wish I didn’t want to stay alive quite as much as I do.

On the days when the winds bring rain and the only way to walk is with me bending into the wind and hoping I don’t get swept away are the days of depressive episodes. Life is a battle and the storms rage as much inside my home and under cover as they do outside – a permanent exposure to the elements.

This has been happening since, it seems, time immemorial (which 1189 but don’t quote me on that) and it feels as though it will go on long after I am dead, It waited for me to be born and it will haunt me when I am no longer here – it will never let me go.

I didn’t ask to have bipolar disorder and I can’t think of anybody, in their right mind or otherwise, who would wish it upon themselves.

I lived with these episodes for a long time managing to crawl back to the real world but my resilience eventually disappeared along with life as I knew it. Something inside me burst out and I no longer fit into my own skin.

A sense of relief, rebound stress and balloons

In May I had to have a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to see if I was still eligible to remain in the Support Group of Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

I was one of the last people to be moved across to ESA and filling in the WCA form 2.5 years ago was an stressful experience.

I have a severe form of Bipolar Disorder and my doctor often refers to my fragility and lack of stability. He does this when I go for my appointments so we both know exactly how I am. I visit him at least once every three weeks and at one point I was there every day so he could keep me alive.

I finally got a letter saying I was being put straight into the Support Group without having a face to face assessment. This rarely happens and I was relieved to say the list.

This year I had to be reassessed and, no matter how much I told myself that I’d get the same result again, I was still terrified in case I was put into the Work Related Group even though my illness had deteriorated.

On both occasions my doctor has written letters of support and written starkly of how I would be unlikely to survive being forced back into work. In short he was saying I’d kill myself because I wouldn’t be able to cope.

I’m not dreading the next assessment quite so much because it’s highly unlikely I won’t get the result I need but I am hoping it’s at least 2.5 years ago.

I cried a lot the day I got the letter and I cried even more the next day. On the third day I was hit by rebound stress. All the feeling and crappy feelings that I’d been holding on to for a couple of months sprung back on me and hit me squarely in the face. I had a very miserable few days and yes, more tears but now there is a sense of calm. I don’t wake up every morning wondering if this will be the day I get the judgement that may not go my way.

This week has been the Balloon Fiesta and it’s been a lovely weekend. The only thing that mars it is the two firework displays they have. My dog is terrified of loud noises and he barks until they stop and needs a great deal of comfort but we get there.

The balloons were fantastic as usual and I’ve taken hundreds of photos yet again. It’s surprising how many photos turn out looking exactly the same when it comes to balloons – or maybe it isn’t.

Anyway, this past week has been stressful and I’ve had to try very hard to get through it but that’s the thing, if I keep trying I eventually get there.

Twitter, lime curd and a map of Spitalfields

I’ve been reviewing my use of Twitter regularly of late. I’ve been logging out, moving my apps to a distant screen and turning off notifications because I’ve come to the erroneous conclusion that Twitter is bad for me and it fuels my mania.

After a few days with little input into Twitter but a lot of lurking I started to chat to people but only first thing in the morning and in the evening and only for a few tweets. This, because I’m a gobby mare, increased today and I realised that there was a bout of mania building up in me.

The light bulb moment occurred and I realised that Twitter doesn’t maake me manic nor does it fuel my mania if I ration myself but it does give me a good indicator of a manic episode in the making.

It turned out to be right because at 9.30 tonight I was clearing up after an hour of making lime curd. It’s not difficult but it is messy and I really should have had my feet up drinking tea and annoying everybody on social media.

I have before me a map of Spitalfields. I’m going to be in London in October for a day trip so I’m going to take photos of the Spitalfields Roundels. I took a photo of one of them last time I was over that way thinking it was a manhole cover and now I’ve found out what they are I want to take photos of the whole set. Thus the map in front of me trying to plot where the locations are even though it’s about two months away.

Meanwhile I am dreaming about the curry I’ll have on Brick Lane, the place where all the curry houses  are endorsed by famous people. Magical.

Time, tasks & all that shit

Time is very difficult for me. I’m not sure if it’s the bipolar being bizarre or the compulsion in OCD chaining me to a radiator in some strange place.

I have to do certain things my a certain time in the day. I can only go out on a morning on rare occasions which is a bit of a bugger because my GP appointments are scheduled for 9.00 am at the moment.

I have to do certain things in the morning or they don’t get done at all. They may get done the next day but equally they may not.

Switching the washing machine on is a morning thing. Ironing is a morning thing. Changing the bed starts off in the morning and goes on in stages until early evening. Baking bread can happen at any time but when I do it it throws everything else out of the window.

I miss out on a lot of things because the bipolar compulsion keeps me inside but, to be honest, a lot of it I’d avoid if I wasn’t being so pissy about not having a choice.

This week has been difficult. My eating has been especially disordered and I’ve eaten far too much fat. I’ve been sub manic; energy has been both usable and un-coordinated and as a result I’ve spent the whole week confused and not coping well.

Today I’ve done a lot but now the flat is disorganised again. I truly do not know how it happens but it’s certainly a bag of shite.

RIP Amy Buel, thanks for all the hope

I read about Project Semicolon a year or two ago and the purpose of it really struck a chord with me.

It was inspired, if that’s the right word, by the death of Amy Bluel’s father. She wanted to honour his death after he took his own life which an inspiring act in itself. Project Semicolon was the result of tragedy and I’m sure it has saved more than one family from a similar tragedy.

I have had to fight the extreme urge to die too many times in my life. I used to scare my GP as he listened to the things I said to him. I had to get my medication on a daily basis, friends in the local police beat management team took my sharp knives until I could be trusted with them again and I hung on to life even when my grip on reality was at its weakest.

I recovered from that period of depression eventually and I began to gain some stability in my life.

Then the ultra manic episodes began and, during a very intense 90 minutes or so, I had to argue with my own brain just to stay alive. It would shout at me to die, to stop the pain and I would shout back that I knew it would pass if I just held on 10 minutes longer.

I still have those episodes and I’m exhausted for days after they’ve happened. Mental illness is so physical it literally hurts.

The core of Project Semicolon is that “the semicolon represents the continuation of life after struggling with thoughts of suicide and death.”

We could have chosen to stop but we chose to keep going.

I have my semicolon tattoo on my right wrist. During my extreme episodes I look at it and tell myself what it stands for and, alongside with the remembered support of four people I pass successfully through the episodes. Bipolar disorder hasn’t got me yet.

I read a web page today that has the story that Amy Buel took her own life on March 23 this year. I am overcome with sorrow that the woman who gave me so much hope and support has been beaten to death by depression.

Amy and I never spoke, we never exchanged texts and she had no idea I was in this world but we were linked by the fragile thread that all people who experience mental illness are.

I end this with Amy’s own words:

“Just don’t let them forget why I was here because that’s what’s important.”

 

Going underground

Using the tube in London has always been something I’ve avoided unless it was unnecessary. I don’t so much mind being underground so much as I can’t see where I’m going or where I am. I like the bits of the underground that go overground because, no matter how awful it is, it’s something to see.

I hate going down the huge escalators with hundreds of other passengers just to stand on crowded platforms while praying to an unknown entity that I’m heading the way I’m supposed to be going.

Most of my trips to London since 1992 have been to south of the river and, since it has been more often than not Bromley, there has been no need to use the tube. (20 minutes on the 436/36 bus from Paddington then 17 minutes on a train from Victoria if you want me to justify it.)

The past six months or so have changed all of this and I no longer have had a decent excuse not to descend into the viewless void. (Why yes, I am a drama queen.) It’s an inescapable fact that longer journeys across London are far quicker on the tube than they are on a series of buses. No arguing with that.

One of my most favourite, and incredibly patient, friends has been babysitting me while I’ve been taking my first regular trips down in the dark depths. Yes I know, drama queen.

In all seriousness though he’s explained to me where we’re going, what line we’re taking, how many stops it is and, all through the journey, chats about anything that would keep me distracted from the fact that I couldn’t see out of the windows.

I’m not claustrophobic, it’s difficult to explain but a large part of it is that I love being outside. I go out for a walk when it’s raining so heavily that my dog refuses to move out of the room he’s in let alone leave the flat. When I worked in offices the windows were left with permanent indentations left by my nose being pressed up against them as I gazed wistfully at the outside world. I’m just not an indoor person.

This week I’ve been over visiting my friend and fulfilling a long time desire to seen Camley Street Natural Park and I stayed out in Finchley.

We met up in Paddington and wandered about as we do, taking tube trains when we needed to and it was okay. We had a great day and then we both traveled in the same direction as Finchley Central was the place where we would part company.

I knew that I’d be taking the trip back into central London myself the next day and I was apprehensive to say the least until we got to Finchley. The first thing I noticed when we left the station was the silence. The side street was quiet and that made me feel better, quiet is good.

As I was leaving the next day I debated taking the easy way out and pulling the “I’m a photographer and I need to satisfy the urge to get on and off buses every time I see something worth shooting” stroke but it’s not in me to give into fear or back away from challenges.

The fear is twofold – using a mode of transport that I’m not comfortable with and, more importantly, being in a strange place and having to leave it alone to find myself in a place I was familiar with.

I checked out of my hotel and went to a lovely little church just down the street and wandered around it and its churchyard. I cleaned a few of the grave markers so I could get photos of them and refused to think of what I’d have to do half an hour in the future.

I got messages from my friend to say which direction I should be traveling, what I could see if I got at certain stations and general “you can do this” stuff.

I did it. I got off at Euston, almost had a panic attack coming up from the bowels of the earth (yes, I’m still a drama queen) but I did it. I spotted a branch of Hema and stocked up on Dutch liquorice and then, shaking like crazy, went out into the air. I messaged my friend to share my joy, and it was joy, and there I was knowing exactly where I was.

I walked to Camley Street Natural Park and I spent a very happy hour there. I was surrounded by trees and wildlife while London went on in the background and it was beautiful.

I found myself outside the British Library and sat in the sunshine with a sandwich and a cold drink. I walked down the road towards Paddington with confidence because I knew where I was yet there was a time when I spent the whole time walking that route permanently attached to a map in case I went the wrong way. It’s impossible to go the wrong way.

When I got too tired I jumped on the bus that I knew would take me right outside Paddington station because I’d done it before yet there was a time when I’d done it for a first time.

This brings me full circle. I’ve done something for the first time, something that carried an undefinable fear and that fear has been demoted to apprehension. I doubt I’ll ever confess to loving the tube as much as I love buses but, even though I had fantastic support into getting to this point, I did it – I’m my own hero. Oh, and I love Finchley.

Memories and the habit they have of hiding

I sort of manage another Twitter account for a friend. It’s nothing other than scheduling fie tweets a week for him but it maintains his Twitter presence and I get nice chocolate for doing it.

This morning there was a reminder of what was a painful memory that was brought back to life by seeing the Twitter account of @Twining_news.

Twinings (the tea people) are incredibly wonderful. They support people in Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich with mental health problems in getting back to work. I wrote the article featuring the SEEC which they manage and support and it brought back memories of a time when I could write that kind of piece regularly and I felt sad.

When I first realised that I would have to give up all charity and work, especially writing, I was devastated. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a volunteer in one way or another.

I started off helping run a YMCA youth club (which was the smallest thing I ever did!) and became a contact for the local police and assisted in changing the community in a very positive way. I worked with the graffiti unit with the same police force until it was scrapped and, in order to stop anti-social behaviour in a local park I worked with an ex-Arsenal player supporting him as he coached and finding funding.

My swan song in active community volunteering was acting as a troubleshooter between the local council, businesses and contractors as a local street was closed and refurbished. Heady and heavy stuff indeed.

When the gentler world of writing (though not much gentler and quite pressured at times but that’s another story) about charities for a website I founded with a friend beckoned I did it gladly.

Then the rot set in. I had to stop writing because of the pressure but there was still Twitter. Twitter for that website has had to come to an end because it’s too pressured for me and so my voluntary work, after 45 years, has finally come to an end.

It stings a little because I still have contacts  in the various areas and people that I worked with and they still ask for help. On the other hand I still get members of the communities coming up to me in the street and thanking me for the things I did because they’re still impacting positively on their community.

Memories had in strange place in our minds and when you’re least expecting it you find them as though they were a well hidden person in a game of hide and seek.

When I had to stop the voluntary work I felt that my world had shrunk considerably but then I got a new oven, a bigger and better one and started baking bread again. I started a blog which has recently become a food website. I’ve become adept at cooking with liquorice and I’m picking fruits and vegetables in order to flavour vinegars. My vinegars are wonderful. Last week I made my first batch of sausage me and it was fabulous.

The world that I thought would be tiny and constricted isn’t. I can’t bake bread or flavour vinegar during the episodes when even using a hot hob would be a dangerous thing but I can when they pass. They always pass, that’s what Bipolar Disorder does.

My life had to change and I grieved over it for a while and then I moved on. I move on quickly as I refuse to lie weeping over the dead body of a part of my life that has ceased to be. I keep on going, I keep on trying and I keep on living because, as someone once told me, I’m just too tough to give in and die.

Let’s count some blessings…

I woke up this morning a little whizzy but with usable energy and so I had no reason to suppose that today would be a bad day.

I baked bread and while I was waiting for the prove I knocked out a batch of triple chocolate chip cookies. Both of which are easy peasy for me and I now have my bread and sweet baking drawer in freezer filled to the brim.

Then halfway through the washing up I started shaking. This is not a good sign and is a herald of a real soar to the top of my scale of mania. I was worried that it would become a “storm” episode that ends in self harm but luckily it didn’t.

I sent a text to a friend saying to ignore me if I sent texts about being manic today and, of course, shot myself in the foot with that. I didn’t want to overload someone who has more than enough on their plate as it is and didn’t want to disturb them when I really wanted a hug from them. I am an absolute idiot at times.

So given all this are there any blessings to my day? Of course they are and they are listed below.

  • Finn has met Moley and Kenneth and it didn’t end in tears.
  • Ogden has fallen in love with Finn and hasn’t stolen his food. Yet.
  • I got back to 1797 on one branch of my family tree.
  • I realised I needed to eat and bought a takeaway without feeling guilty.
  • I remembered to do all the things I need to do to lessen an episode of mania and that’s no mean feat for me even if it was only a partial success.
  • I had my homemade sausage for breakfast.
  • Finn cuddled up on the bed with me and has realised that I’m his mum.

Blessings indeed.

Drama and drama

I went to pick up Finn from Stafford yesterday. The journey up was fun; we sang a lot, swore a lot and put the world to rights.

The happy bus was slightly late getting into the motorway services and we were early so the wait was nerve wracking and dragged out into forever. I got told off by one of the women from the charity for only producing one part of the adoption form even though they’d only sent me one page. Luckily for her my mind was totally focused on Finn and getting him home.

When the van got into the services and parked up we were all waved over to pick up our animals – mine was the only cat, the rest were dogs – and as we got closer I could hear a Siamese cat-like howling. My boy was telling the whole world he was unhappy.

He was first out of the van and, call me soft if you will, I could barely see him through the happy tears! The photo taken by the charity as we were united shows this old lady with wild hair and tears running down her face with a very dignified cat.

He’s home now and, very surprisingly, he had cuddles at bedtime. He’s now taken to living on my wardrobe and I think he’s going to be there for a few days. There’s a fair few kitchen things up there and I can see my popcorn machine taking a tumble before the week is out.

It was a day of drama but good drama.

Late last night I got a series of messages via Facebook from an unexpected source. There’s a bit of a back story but it’s brief so bear with me…

Last month I had two very serious episodes of mania. They are very intense and last about 90 minutes. I’m never quite sure if I’m going to survive them not just because of the intensity but also because of the conversation my brain has with itself. One side (and it does feel like sides of my brain not an all over sensation) shouts that the only way to stop the feeling is to kill myself and the other side shouts that I have to hold on because I’ve survived before and I will again.

I’m left exhausted for days and I retreat from the world except for the emergency visit to a GP to have it added to my records and to pick up extra medication if need be. This time a psychiatrist adjusted my medication via a phone consultation so the good old NHS came through for me in a big way.

Between the two episodes, which were just days apart, I had a series of texts from a person I knew on Twitter saying how depressed and anxious they were. I was in the waiting room about to be called in to see my GP when they rang me wailing about how crap they felt and that they needed my help. I had to tell her I’d ring back after I’d seen my GP and I did.

Now this person works in the mental health field, they knew how ill I was and, out of all the people they could have got in touch with they chose to get in touch with me. Perhaps they knew I’d listen but after listening to them as I walked all the way home I was tired and I was tired of them.

There was a third person in the equation who I’d been “introduced” to but, looking back, it felt like I’d been pushed into being into a “friendship” that didn’t seem to make sense. Things got scary there too. Each one of them asking what the other had said about them and what did I think. It just isn’t normal to behave like that.

To cut a long story short I blocked them on social media and on my phone. I rarely do a blanket block because some people just need to have boundaries established and established so that they cannot ignore them. I needed to cut these people out completely though as their behaviour was controlling and, to be frank, a little more than scary.

One of them me the messages on Facebook last night. They wanted things out with me, I was going to pay for what I’d done etc. etc. Since I had no idea what I was being accused of I was polite and refused to argue back and blocked them from there too.

This kind of drama is bad drama, it’s controlling drama, it’s drama that shows that people can be resentful of the attention you get because you have a serious illness and that is sick on so many levels.

So now I’ve stepped backwards a little more. There is one more thing I’m waiting for and it will come as sure as eggs is eggs. I hate waiting round for the inevitable to happen but when it does I am prepared and I am not defenceless.