Well hello depression

I have always been on the depressive side of manic depressive and even during the times when I rapid cycle so many times a day that I lose count there was always the certainty that when the cycling stopped that I would stop in depression and not mania.

Depression, while a disgusting and debilitating experience, has always been familiar to me. I never recognise the onset of it but once I do I know how to handle it. I have a check list of things to do until I see my GP. I see my GP at least once every three weeks so I never have long to wait. People often envy my frequent visits to the GP but try being so ill that they’re seeing you often to keep you alive – it’s nothing to envy.

For the past two years or so I have been hypomanic. Hypomania is mania without psychosis. I have never had a full blown pyschotic episode but I have had episodes that are so close that I’ve felt the cold breath of psychosis on the back of my neck.

I hate being  manic. The management of my illness is centred around being in control. I can’t control depression but I can manage it if I’m prepared to lose sleep and look like a mess.

Over the past week or so I’ve seen my sleeping pattern change. It is a paradox that when I am manic I sleep soundly and when I’m depressed I get insomnia in a big way.

I have felt lethargic over the past few days. There have been bursts of  energy and enjoyment but today I just want to curl up into a ball and live in the airing cupboard for a few years. I sent a message to my best friend last night saying that I couldn’t find any positive things about the day, that I wanted to get monstrously drunk (I’ve been in recovery for 26 years) and that the safest thing I could do was to go to bed.

This morning I sent him a message saying that it had dawned upon me that I was actually was depressed. It had taken me two days to get to that point but I got there in the end.

Depression is a violent drag away from all that is enjoyable and worth living for but the feeling is much better than the relentless optimism (and the lack of empathy that came along with it) for the past two years.

If I spend the next few days, or weeks, or months crying and feeling like nothing counts anymore I’ll be happy in a weird kind of way but anything is better that the relentless mania and all the chaos and indignity that comes with it.

I’m going to talk, are you listening?

A few weeks ago I got a letter through the door telling me I was due for an ESA reassessment. Part of me dreaded looking at the form and so I didn’t for a few days and allowed myself to feel panicked and because I allowed that feeling it passed. When I looked at it I was reminded that it was actually far simpler form than I remembered it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a difficult form to fill in because you have to spill your guts out on to the pages but the form, to me at least, is simple. Or maybe that’s because way back in the day when I worked for DHSS you needed a degree just to open the envelope let alone fill it in.

I talked to my doctor about the supporting letter that I’d need and gave him photocopies of the pages of the form that I’d filled in. (I’ve now posted it and as I write this I’m panicking in case I’ve missed something important out – like my name and address and yes, I have just checked my copy to make sure that I have put it on there.) I digress.

I read the supporting letter that my GP wrote for me this morning before I had it copied and it had me in tears from the the first few lines. I choose the words I used to describe the effects that bipolar disorder has upon me and my life but I cannot choose the words that my GP chooses and it’s those that bring the stark reality of my illness and life into far too a sharp focus.

“She is significantly disabled by her condition.”

“When I first knew her she was particularly unstable, and I had real worries that she would commit suicide…with extremely vivid suicidal fantasies and a degree of derealisation and impulsivity.”

“She experiences very marked irritability that she manages by avoiding interaction with others unless it is very carefully planned and time limited.”

“She is certainly very intelligent, resourceful and insightful however, she copes only by carefully controlling the scope of her life and by reducing as far as she can activities that could result in loss of choice or control.”

“I continue to see her once or twice a month as she always teeters on the edge of instability. Her regular contact with the surgery has been helpful but it does also demonstrate how fragile she is.”

“She only just manages to cope with the necessary activities of daily living.”

“I would strongly recommend that she is not pushed in the direction of work, and that she is allowed to maintain the freedom necessary to make the hour by hour choices that enable her to cope with what is a very unpredictable and exhausting illness.”

Forms are simple, letters are easy to write but coping with the way it spells out your painful life letter isn’t.

So let’s stop with the Time to Change, Time to Talk, Heads Together fuckwitted mentality and really learn what life is really like for those who cope with the kind of shit that I live with every single bloody day.  Instead of harping on about how you’d like to help ask somebody to show you what they have put on the form to prove that they’re in the grip of a mental illness that they can’t escape from. Perhaps then things may change, people may really talk and, miracle of miracles, they may even begin to listen.

Equality and the doctor’s receptionist

This isn’t a terribly coherent post, I just really need to rant or else I’d be tempted to lamp somebody.

I’m a bit angry and I’ve really, really, really bit my tongue hard during a phone conversation I had about half an hour ago.

I have this pain in my left breast and it’s not in one particular part so for a couple of weeks I’ve been thinking nothing of it but it won’t go away and it doesn’t feel muscular so I rang my GP’s surgery to get an appointment.

It’s constantly drummed into us by health professionals that it’s important to get bumps, lumps and twinges checked out when they’re in your breasts (and testicles for men of course) and so that’s why I was ringing.

My GP is on holiday and he’s not back until the day I go away so there’s no way he could ring me back and give me some reassurance or let me pop over and get checked out.

I have two choices it seems – I either ring up at 8.30 tomorrow and see if I win the appointment lottery or I talk to the on call doctor today and be treated like an emergency. I can’t ring up tomorrow because my memory is shot to pieces and if I’m out with the dog I have nothing to make a note on and will have no idea of what time I’m supposed to be there if I’m lucky enough to get an appointment. If.

I asked for a note to be put on my doctor’s screen so when he gets back he can see it because I’m going to have to talk to him about it as, since he’s my key doctor, he looks after the whole of me not just the mental health bit.

This confused the receptionist big time because she wasn’t convinced that she could leave a note for my doctor and ask an on call doctor to ring me. I persuaded her that since the system for appointments etc. was inadequate and that I don’t fit into the options open to me then I needed my GP to get the message and, whether this pain is an emergency or not, I need to talk to somebody about it.

Then the defensive language came – you know the stuff. “I’m just doing my job.” “I can’t change the rules.” “I’m treating everybody equally.”

I wanted to scream at her. The system doesn’t treat everybody equally – it doesn’t leave room for people like me who have complex problems and live alone but it will give priority to physically disabled people but if the disability isn’t obvious then we’re expected to sit in the corner and play with the crayons.

I asked her to feed back that the system is inflexible and inadequate and that I’m sure I’m not the only person that feels that way. Surprise, surprise – I’m not the only one. Will she feed it back? No, because that would be mean going to someone she feels is powerful (and therefore gets to hide behind their power) and acknowledging that an imperfect and inadequate system may seem to promote equality but it actually discriminates.

There is a glass ceiling when it comes to disability and those of us with mental health problems or invisible and/or undiagnosed (I’m trying to handle the news that there may be something wrong with my brain too) hit that ceiling quite early on. It’s as if we’ve brought it on ourselves and that any anger we feel is either a result of our mental health or ingratitude when really it’s more about a desire not to be treated like a pile of shit.

Stop the world, I want to get off

I’m waiting to see a psychiatrist again. My GP requested a referral and we’re both hoping I’ll get to see my last consultant mainly because he’s amazing at his job but also because I saw him for about 10 years and we developed a mutual language so it would be easy to talk to him. I can go in and tell him I feel well fucked up and he’ll know what I mean. Priceless.

I’m ultradian cycling (though at this point it’s only one change every 12 hours or so) and this started on Thursday. It was odds on it was going to start – EU Referendum, opportunity to write about it for a website and staying up all night to listen to the results – it was never going to end well. Politics leave a lot of people cold but I love it. I’m not eloquent about the subject but I know what I believe in and that passion, like all the others that inflame me, burn me out with mania and turn me into ashes with depression.

I’m fed up with the in-house mud slinging of those within the Labour Party re Jeremy Corbyn. He was voted leader by people who know that, despite the leadership and Tory Lites of recent years, the Party was born in red brick houses and not red brick universities. If he is deposed then the Labour Party membership will drop overnight.

I’m not at all surprised at the antics of the Conservative Party (has anybody found George Osbourne in their shed yet?) and the desperate please of the Liberal Democrats is rather sad but have any of the shit stirrers thought about what this is doing to me and all the other vulnerable people who have elected them, voted in the referendum and left feeling scared at the uncertain future that has been created?

I’m in that tiny section of people who are considered so ill I was put in the support section of ESA for life (without a face to face assessment) because the risk of me committing suicide if I was forced back to work is too high for them to take the chance. This means that my income is guaranteed but I am not invulnerable to rising prices, higher utility bills and I cannot tell myself to worry about life in the UK because it is something to worry about.

Anyway I’ve been so manic that I can’t get the words in my sentences in the right order and today I’ve dipped into depression and couldn’t care less if my words are in the right order or not. I’ve decided to focus instead on a day out in London I’m having on Thursday and if I burn out then so be it.

Meanwhile the country is being fucked roughly by the people we have trusted it to. Bastards.

The deterioration of self…

I feel as though I’m disappearing quickly and all that is left to see and feel is mania (though one day I’m sure that mania will be replaced by depression). It’s quite a dramatic thing to think and say but it is by no means the statement of a drama queen.

Last week I went away off to London/Kent for a few days with my wonderful dog who came to live with me as a rescue last year. About 6 weeks after he arrived I made a similar journey with him and he coped admirably but last week was totally different. His first visit was made whilst he was still timid and not sure of who I was or that this was his new life and last week he was brimming with confidence, playfulness and a need to demonstrate that I was his mum. It was exhausting.

On the way back home we got to Paddington station early so he could calm down and sit in the waiting room peacefully instead of the hour in Hyde Park that I’d planned. It would have been fun but he’d have been so hyped up it would have been nearly impossible for him to sit still on the train. While we were waiting for our train the sad news filtered through that there had been a death on the tracks just outside of Reading and that meant changes to the journey. We got on an earlier train and that meant a 40 minute journey at the other end by bus before a 20 minute walk home – small changes compared to somebody losing their life but the impact on me was bigger than I expected.

I found myself sat on the train crying which, being in a chronic period of mania, is unheard of these days. I felt confused and unable to cope with getting off the train, walking 100 yards and getting on the rail replacement bus. It felt as though I was facing an arduous journey. Luckily I was able to talk to the train manager and show him my railcard that states I’m disabled and he made sure I got to my bus safely.

Almost a week later I’m still exhausted. After talking to my GP this morning it’s obvious that my ability to cope with small changes has disappeared; I can no longer cope with small changes in my routine. Five years ago I’d wake up really early and go off out for day to who knows where and not think about the impact on myself – I could cope with change. Even without a dog in tow I couldn’t do that now.

I had forgotten that I had an appointment with my doctor today until I got a text reminding me. It has thrown out my plans for the day because it was a small change. It has shifted my day by about 45 minutes but my brain tells me that I can’t have the day I’d planned because the timing has changed. I get a physical feeling on one side of my head as I try to reason with myself that I can still do the things that I’d planned but it doesn’t work.

It’s acknowledged that this isn’t me, this is bipolar disorder – I want to do the things that the illness is telling me that I can’t. A friend reminded me this morning that we all have limitations and that we can’t always do the things we want or need to because we can’t get our head round them and that’s true, I’m not special or unique in that way. I struggle a little more perhaps because the illness gets in the way. It’s hard going from being a spontaneous and chaotic person to somebody who is no less chaotic but is less able to embrace it.

People often say that it’s the little things that count and in my case it’s the little things that count against me.

A head full of shit

I feel a bit strange and have done for a few weeks now. As I return back to my version of stability, which is really a level of instability that I can live with, I’ve become aware of, and am coming to terms with, certain things.

The first, and arguably most important, is that I’ve gone from being a predominately depressed person with manic depression to someone who has become predominately manic. Mania is supposed to lessen as you get older but I’ve never been one to follow all the rules.

Having spent quite a long time unstable last year which resulted from an attempt to stop taking medication (supervised not whim) I was acutely ill and on the point of it becoming chronic. Even when back on the full dose of my usual medication I realised that I wasn’t going to get stable without extra pills and that was, potentially, a problem. My GP needed input from a psychiatrist and I no longer see a psychiatrist so it looked like a referral back into the system was going to happen. This would have been a bit hit and miss depending on how urgent it was deemed so my GP rang the consultant that I’d seen for a decade and he agreed to do recommendations over the phone. This flexibility and bucking of the rules is what makes the NHS great. In a fee paying medical world the man would have had to forgo a fee,

I had noticed that I was feeling a greater lack of emotion that usual. This is not unusual with depression but not so with mania. It made me consider what was going on and, looking back, I have to accept that I can be cold and ruthless when it comes to people. I put it down to being an Alpha person and therefore I have a touch of the psychopath about me (25 on the Hare scale so a big touch) and that it’s something I try to rein in. On the odd occasion when I feel backed up against the wall and the person refuses to read signals that I’m not necessarily giving out I lash out big time.

I hadn’t cried for a long time and have since cried a little but, in a way, I want to wail in that almost animal way that hurts like a painful death but leaves me feeling empty and ready to move on. I also haven’t laughed a lot except with close friends and family. Sometimes the laugh is on my face and in my eyes but inside my head there is nothing. I rarely laugh at comedies or comedians and this puzzles me. Is it linked to manic depression or is it part of the suspected psychopathy?

There’s love too. I love people but it has never been an all consuming thing for me. I don’t love easily or readily so when I do it’s something that scares me. I get confused about what other people think about what happens when you love someone. I like my friends at a physical distance so that I can cope with emotional closeness. My last big relationship was with a man who lived 3.5 hours travelling time away and sometimes it felt far too close.

I’m rambling more than a little and whilst it makes some sort of sense to me I have the feeling people won’t get what I mean even though some people will say they do. This is my head and it’s not possible for anybody to get inside it and, even if they could, it’s not the kind of place you’d want to stay for very long.

Rats, ovens & kindness

It’s been a hell of a week.

My GP told me that I’ve coped well but I haven’t. I’ve coped but badly. My clothes haven’t been changed often enough. I haven’t had enough baths. I haven’t eaten properly. My washing up took me two hours to do this afternoon. I have coped badly.

It started last Saturday while, when giving my youngest rats a check, I found one of them had a fast growing lump. It appeared to be in a sac of its own which mean that malignant or benign the removal would be pretty straight forward.

I rang the vet on Monday and they asked to see her straight away. My vet, though quite local, is a two bus ride away. Walking it takes me 40 minutes up one of the steeper hills in Bristol and even in winter I sweat buckets as I do the walk. Anyway up we went and, as I suspected because the lump was fast growing, surgery was scheduled for the next day.

On Tuesday I was up and about at 6.00 so that I could make sure the rat didn’t have any water and to breakfast all the other animals before I could take her up the steep hill. I left about 8.00 and was back home by 9.45. I spent the day trying to keep occupied but worrying about her at the same time. Her sister looked lost in a big cage all by herself and it made me realise how tiny and vulnerable they are. I picked her up at 3.30 and we were home by 4.45. I was exhausted and tearful and nothing was done at home that evening. Food was a scratch meal of little or no nutritional value.

Somebody was supposed to be coming to fix my oven on Wednesday so again I was up and about by 6.00 but the engineer didn’t turn up. That was a whole day of phone calls from the manufacturer offering excuses and inadequate solutions until I finally got them to schedule the repair for Thursday. I also got it done without charge and with the minimum of fuss from an engineer who seemed not to fit in with the company because he was so pleasant and efficient.

So this morning (Friday) I got up early for my GP appointment and felt that I wasn’t going to get through the day. Though my GP is more than aware that my outward competence belies my inner inadequacy. As I said at the beginning, my GP feels I have coped well but I know otherwise.

This afternoon I put my phone on silent so that I could dodge a phone call that I didn’t want to handle. When the phone all buzzed on the table I did the thing I didn’t want to do and answered it. Problems with neighbours are hard to deal with and I find them very difficult. I stay quiet and calm until my back feels hard against the wall and then I let go. It’s a surprise to people but it’s the way I cope with confrontation and what is actually just a form of bullying.

The phone call was from a woman who wanted some details so that she could deal with the situation appropriately. I expected somebody business like and a little crisp at the edges and she wasn’t. She was warm, caring and kind. I cried and she became kinder. It was a difficult conversation but at the end of it I really felt as though I’d been treated with understanding.

The rest of the day has been a reaction to the stress of the week and I’ve even had a nap. The weekend will be a time of not quite getting things done but I have to begin recovering in my way and at my pace. It’s going to be straightforward but frustrating and there will be tears.

I hate my life some weeks.

I’m still a sick pigeon…

I’m halfway through the process of becoming free of medication specifically to treat manic depression/bipolar disorder and it’s interesting to say the least.

After 20+ of instability and medication regimes so overwhelming (33 pills a day at one point) and distressing I decided this year to try to stop taking medication. I will still take medication periodically specifically to treat anxiety as it can fuel mania and also pills for insomnia as that drives me to hallucinations at times but none specifically to treat bipolar disorder.

I went through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) this year and, without a face to face assessment, was put into the support group for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). This now gives me the time and energy that I’ve wasted fretting about what would happen if I had to fight my corner to work on self-management of bipolar disorder. I have, for the first time in my life, time I can devote to me and me alone.

Part of this time and energy is spent baking which is both therapeutic and money saving. It doesn’t always get done as, well managed or not, bipolar disorder will always steal far more of my life than I am willing for it to take. I can sit around in my pyjamas and edit photos all day if I want (or need) to and I can sleep without waking up in a panicky state just in case I’m told I’m well enough to return to work.

I’m doing well so far but recently I’ve been rapid cycling and I was worried that it was the result of reducing the medication I take. I’d been through nightmares as a symptom of the withdrawal, deep exhaustion as my brain freed itself from the drug and I was more than a little worried that those experiences would all be for nothing. Becoming medication free is the holy grail and I am close to touching it so I knew I had to talk to my GP about it and take note of what he said even if it was an instruction to increase the dosage of the drug I was trying to give up.

A long talk with him yesterday has put my mind at ease and all is back on track. The rapid cycling isn’t considered out of my normal range. I’m still able to assess my behaviour and respond accordingly and I’m aware of what is right and what is wrong. My big warning sign is irritability and it can often be out of control but I am able to rein it in at least a little so on I go.

I am not cured and I still live with the effects of a deeply destructive illness. I may become medication free but I cannot reasonably expect that to continue for my lifetime. I have time, energy and space to self-manage but I am still a very sick pigeon and there is no cure but I’m going to be a sick pigeon without medication and that makes me smile.

Leaving the medication behind…

A few years ago I was so seriously disorientated by my mental health problems I was forgetting to top up my electricity and gas meters, forgetting to cook food that I’d bought and was deteriorating rapidly. There wasn’t an obvious reason for this decline, it’s just the way it is sometimes when you have serious mental health issues. I rang my two closest friends and we agreed that the way forward was Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and, as one of them is an independent financial adviser, my finances and my handling of them improved no end.

Last year I decided that the way forward for me was to stop seeing my doctor quite so often and this followed on quite naturally from my self-discharge from my consultant psychiatrist. Both doctors have been fabulous and neither of them fit into the imagined boxes that people shove them into. They’ve both convinced me over the years that just because I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder it doesn’t mean that I have to behave in the stereotypical ways and this is because neither of them fit the stereotypes of their jobs.

Last year I went through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and I was lucky enough to be judged to be put straight into the support group for life without having to have a face to face assessment. This means that not only is it accepted that the way I am is as good as it gets it also means that one enlightened person in the system realised that it would do more harm than good in dragging me in for assessment. I think the fact that I am at risk of suicide if I’m forced back into work helps.

Also last year I successfully stopped taking lithium after 20 years. I had been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and lithium will only make things worse, I hadn’t been anywhere near compliant with doses for a long time so my GP and I decided that the time was right for me to stop taking it. All’s well that ends well.

I have no major money problems any more, I have a good relationship with my GP and I’m no longer in such dire need that I have to see a consultant psychiatrist anymore and as a result I have the time and space I need to have to manage myself and my illness. I can rest when I need to, I can divert my manic energy into doing positive things and know that when I crash I can take the time I need to isolate myself and recover as much as possible. I have become stable within an instability – far from stable but much better at managing it.

So this week I’m sitting down with my GP to talk about stopping taking the last remaining medication for stabilising my moods. It’s a drug used for managing epilepsy (believed to be on the same spectrum as bipolar disorder but a variable distance apart) and so it’s not quite the gamble it was when I stopped taking lithium. I will agree to start taking it again if the gamble doesn’t pay off but I’m very hopeful that it will.

I am never going to be well but I am managing well. I’m sat writing this at my dining table (two large cats have taken over the bureau so no chance of using that) swigging from a “sharing” bottle of diet coke and eating cheese & biscuits. I’m almost dressed but not quite (jeans yet to go on) and my teeth need brushing but I’m doing something that is useful for me.

My “recovery” will never become meaningful remission but that’s ok because I’m now at a point where I know how to cope and I know that it’s more than ok in the times that I can’t cope.

And that’s the point – we eventually get to the point where we can stand up on our spindly little bambi legs and walk. I’m walking.

 

On celebrating 24 years without booze…

It would be odd if it went without notice that today was St George’s day or Shakespeare’s birthday (and his death day if you want to be picky) but for me it’s the day I celebrate how long it is since I stopped drinking and today it’s 24 years. For someone who didn’t think that they could ever manage 24 hours without a drink it’s pretty good.

Each year I look back on the day that I stopped drinking and marvel at the fact that even though people say that there are no magic words that can make you stop drinking the words that stopped me in my tracks felt like a magic spell.

In April 1991 my former husband was in hospital as a result of his alcoholism and he was not expected to live. Even if he beat the odds he was expected to be so badly brain damaged that his life would be worthless as it was believed he had a wet brain as well as pancreatitis and only 25% of his liver was still working which meant that his liver was a hardened lump with a little softness in the centre.

I went to see him most days and his drug induced coma reminded me so much of how I was not that far from ending up like him but, to quote a song, I was tired of living but scared to die. It’s a heartbreaking place to inhabit and one that none addicts, whatever the drug, cannot possibly understand.

While he was in hospital and I was working out the notice on the pub I was running while he lurched around drunkenly from the moment he woke until the moment he collapsed into unconsciousness I was making several visits a week to our local GP. I thought I was going so that he could keep up with Dave’s progress but the words he said to me during the visit I made on the 23rd of April that year really shocked me.

I had know for about six years that I was an alcoholic. I’d always drank a lot and could drink at least two drinks in the time it took most people to get two thirds down the way of one but I’d always been able to stop when I wanted to and I was always aware that I drank excessively even if I denied it when I was challenged.

Around 1985 I discovered that I could no longer stop when I wanted to and, even though my preferred drink was whisky of any kind (though I chose to drink expensive brands so that I didn’t look like an alcoholic), I often drank vodka because I mistakenly believed that it didn’t smell on my breath.

The morning of the 23rd April 1191 was a stressful one (but then they always were) and by 11.00 am I’d already had three large glasses of scotch to get me going. I was due to see my GP at 11.30 that morning and had a glass of shandy to cover up the smell of the scotch. I didn’t fool him and he burst out in the middle of the consultation that he didn’t really give a fuck about Dave but if I didn’t do anything about my drinking then I had about two years to live.

In the space of about a second I saw my downward path and I knew that he wasn’t saying I’d party well for two years and die with a smile on my face but that I’d gradually degenerate until it was too painful to stay alive. Given my history of depression (a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was still three years into the future) then it was highly likely that I’d kill myself before I got to that stage. I went home and I never drank again. It was difficult in the early weeks as I was still running the pub but I got through that and moved house. I had a stack of blood tests to check what, if any, damage I’d done to my major organs and got the all clear.

I had a rough couple of years being sober and only grudginly gave in and went to AA because I needed peer support. I hated AA because of the God aspect (I don’t think a belief in God is necessary in finding recovery) and because I was always being told that if I didn’t stick around AA I would never become truly sober and, to my mind, that encourages people to swap one dependency for another.

I went through a sticky period during a 13 year relationship with a man I met through AA. It started off well but it soon became obvious that he was very much a mummy’s boy and the only thing he really had going for him was that he had a Harley Davidson Sportster which he later swapped for a FatBoy. I miss those bikes though I’ve never missed him. It was a destructive relationship and he clung to me so tightly and obsessively that it took me nine years to get out of the relationship. He really wanted a stand in for when his mother finally died and I wanted a fun person who was keen on living life to the full and whose idea of a night out wasn’t a diet coke and a doughnut while sat in the car park of the local McDonalds. For the last couple of years of that relationship I knew that I had to get out of it no matter how difficult it was because I was wanting to drink more and more.

I did get out of it and because I had so much time on my hands I began to do things that he would never do or told me that I wasn’t capable of doing. I bought a camera and I’m quite good at it, I started to go to London regularly to take photos and to wander around the streets and I made contact with an old friend who has become one of the attorneys named in my Lasting Power of Attorney. I can’t work any more but I don’t feel useless about it in the way he made me feel useless just for being alive. I think he was projecting his feelings on to me.

Today life is very different from the day I stopped drinking. I couldn’t imagine what sobriety would be like and I never imagined that I’d have the life I have now. I’ve been diagnosed with an extreme case of bipolar disorder and my consultant used to tell his students that they would never encounter a patient with the same picture as I presented. I have to be different. Coming to terms with stopping work forever at the age of 42 was difficult and it took me a long time but I’ve grown because of that acceptance.

I’ve done lots of media work speaking and writing about having a mental health problem and I’ve always enjoyed that immensely. I continue to take photos, some of which have been published in books, and I also write a blog that is the main feature of my website. I’ve got lots more animals than I ever had back in the days when I was constantly at the beck and call of alcohol and I love them all dearly.

Had I not stopped drinking I would have been dead at least 22 years now but I live, I really live and, despite huge health problems, I live well.