More cycling than the Tour de France

Last week I was anxious and it grew until it was a monster living in my head.

Anxiety doesn’t always have a source but this one did. I was worrying about a friend, I was worrying about money and I was worrying in general.

The anxiety became turbo charged and on Saturday it transformed into an ultra manic episode. I revisited the suicidal ideations that I had many years ago and, not to put too finer point on it, I was scared shitless.

Then the episode began in earnest and I spent the next 90 minutes fighting against my own mind. I have two armies warring in my head and I feel as though I’m stand in between them trying to keep them apart.

It is exhausting.

I sent texts and messages to a few people as it was going on and I got the supportive replies back and those soothed me. When I read the messages back I feel comforted and thankful for those friends. They have no understanding of bipolar disorder and that is a blessing for both them and me.

My sister and I have a strong bond and we don’t need to say a lot in order to understand one another. We do well together.

I had an appointment with a GP yesterday evening and I talked frankly to her even though I was also afraid that she would mention hospitals and sections. She didn’t and I have now been referred to see a psychiatrist that I’ve had an on-off working relationship with for the past 17 years.

My regular GP rang this evening to talk over what had been said with his colleague last night and to make sure I was okay. We broached the subject of ECT as a treatment which is a bit scary but also not as scary as it sounds.

In a study in the US last year the results were hopeful. 61% of people who completed a course of ECT had periods of stability that lasted for at least nine months. I have had one period of stability of eight weeks and I am so desperate for longer periods I am willing to seriously consider a treatment that is not without risks and may not make any difference at all.

I am tired and I need rest but I am still moving forward.

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.

I don’t do crossroads, I do corners

After what seems to be years, but in reality is just a few months, I finally have finally seemed to turn a corner. Getting to crossroads tends to suggest two options from which to choose but I’ve never been in that position, I’ve always been on the right side of the path but sometimes I turn round the wrong corners.

Recent crises have left me feeling fragmented and helpless and I don’t cope particularly well with either state. I have had unfailing support from a small circle of friends and family who have helped me whether they knew it or not.

I knew I’d turned a corner when I did some ironing today and that I knew when to stop. Too many times I tell myself that one more item won’t matter but it usually does mean the difference between tears or tantrums and sometimes both.

I got the hoover out and did the living room and the kitchen and that felt as though I’d regained a little more control over my life. I don’t like doing housework but when it’s as tidy as it can be it’s a long way of the chaos that it can be in a matter of days.

I’ve not done too well on the eating side of things but I did at least stop for a cheese sandwich at lunchtime and there will be fish finger, chips and peas for tea. Not brilliant but not disastrous either.

I’ve just realised that from starting the above paragraph and finishing it I came to the conclusion that I’ve done quite well. It becomes more obvious how well I have managed when I see things on a page. It’s very important for me to write things down. When I post my blog it doesn’t matter if it never gets read by anyone else (though people do read it and identify with it) but I write regardless because it clears my head and carves a path through the debris and detritus that’s hanging around my brain.

The most important thing that I’ve learned in these weeks and months is that acceptance isn’t a final stage. I accept that I have an illness that makes a huge impact on my life and that impact could, and probably will, make me become more severely affected. Bipolar disorder doesn’t go away and unless there is a miracle cure then how I am now is the way I will always  be and I have to live with.

I will never stop railing against it. I will never stop exhausting myself or burning myself into the ground just by doing the normal kind of things that normal kind of people do. I will always do the outrageous thing than the safe thing. I will always strive to get to a stage where I cope with this bloody awful illness instead of just managing it hour by bloody hour.

I’m not any of the descriptions that people trot out in memes. I haven’t got a mental health problem because I’m a strong person who’s been fighting too long, I’m a strong person with a mental health problem and I’m living with it not fighting it. There are days when I’m fed up and I can’t imagine living this life a moment longer but I am the semicolon and not the full stop; I know that there is a life for me if I just pause. It is not the life that 14 year old me imagined for herself but it hasn’t been a bad life, it’s been an interesting life. There’s been lots of hilarious moments, too many stupid ones and so many outrageous ones that I’ve lost count.

That life will continue. I am 59 this year and I have been living with bipolar since early adolescence – onset at 13 or 14, diagnosable at 16 or 17 but not diagnosed until I was until I was 36. I am, at times, as old as 27 in my head but I’m usually a reckless 18.

I have many talents though I would dearly love to improve both my writing and my photography because even though I’ve had pieces of each published professionally I don’t think that you ever get as good as you can be. I will leave you with the quote below which I believe the coach of the England squad said in a Rugby World Cup about how the team strived to win.

The greatest sin you can ever commit is to grow old without knowing just how good you could have been.

Limitations, six (now seven) and three

One thing has become very clear this past week or so and that is my previous limitations have changed. My ability to do stuff, whatever the stuff is, has lessened of late and I have to accept this. It may be a temporary thing or it may be a permanent thing but, either way, I have to deal with it.

I have a list that has guided my way of living for around 20 years. They were given to me by a consultant psychiatrist to try as an “experiment” because he knew damn well that if he told me it was a good set of guidelines to live by then I wouldn’t do them. The whole of our professional relationship was, it seems, based on a series of dares on his part and challenges to his thinking on my part but that is another story.

The list he gave me goes, in no particular order

  • Be Safe
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Medication
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness

The first one happens automatically if I do the other five and most days I manage to do them all. Not necessarily well but I do them and that’s a big achievement.

I now have to add “Know Your Limitations” to the list and it’s incredibly difficult. I’m the person who worked 16 hour days without batting an eyelid, the one who could walk 25 miles without much of a sweat and not a blister to be seen, the one who faced down thugs in the pub I ran when my husband hid, quite literally, under the counter and I am now a person of limitations.

There is, luckily, no puzzling over where to start. I have this very sensible friend who has also been my kind of life coach for the past 10 years. He’s really good at it and has no knowledge of how poor mental health works so his suggestions are entirely practical and, for the most part, workable.

He has had me writing a daily ToDo list for a long time. I’ll write tomorrow’s list tonight and I know what I need to do so my list will look like this –

  • Turn the washing machine on
  • Hang the laundry up when the wash finishes
  • Have a nice bowl of fruit salad sat on the step with Ogden

The trick, and it’s a trick worth learning, is to write only three things on a ToDo list and make the final one a nice one. Never put a thing that you do routinely on a ToDo list; those things don’t need to go on one and they just make a list longer. Rarely will I be unable to finish a list with only three things on it. Notice I’ve broken down my laundry into two of the things and the third one is a treat. I will complete that list tomorrow and, here’s the really good bit, everything I do after that will be extra and we all know how good doing extra things feels.

The burn, and there is a burn now, is that I’ll have to limit the extra things. In order to work out how long things will take me and how important they are I’ll have to write them down because that gives me a sense of reality and not some random things running around my mind bumping into one another.

The guidelines will be my list of seven and how I’ll execute them will be the list of three. Tonight I need to do something that will help me eat properly tomorrow so I’m going to wash and slice the potatoes I harvested this morning. I’ll also slice the onion I harvested yesterday and they’ll form a meal. Preparation is a good thing as long as it doesn’t wear me out. I’ll cook sous vide tomorrow so I’ll eat well with a minimum of fuss.

So what else can I do to make things better? I’m going to spend less time on Twitter. I’m finding it quite hard going at the moment so it’s a welcome break and there’s lots of politics on my Facebook so I’ll get my fix there. I’m going to stop watching soaps – they’re moving wallpaper and light on the mind but they take up time I can be using to do something relaxing and, as I’m relaxing more I’m reading more and that makes me happy. There will be days when I can’t read but those are the days that Ogden will get longer walks and then he’ll be even happier.

Changes, my life is full of changes. Bipolar disorder rules my life with the incessant changes it throws at me and management of it is dodging, ducking, diving and changing at a rate I can’t cope with but accepting my limitations are part of that change, at least for the time being, gives me time and space to be safe and that’s good, really good.