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.

Planning, Photographs, Pokémon Go and a Pie

I have started putting the decisions I made into action and it feels quite good.

Today I sent the email that delivers my opinions on a report but also, just before I signed it, says I’m not going to be doing any community work any more. I’m going to attend community meetings (perhaps) but that’s me done and this time I mean it.

I’ve talked to a friend today and we’re planning some things that will help me cope with whatever it is that’s going on in my brain but allow me to do useful things as well as getting rest and reshaping my life.

Today I left Ogden at home and walked up and down a street taking photos from a recent graffiti festival. The impact of the festival on the local community is huge (think women as well as men peeing in the streets and more rubbish than a whole series of Big Brother) but the artwork left behind on walls and shutters is beautiful on the whole.

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As I walked I played Pokémon Go (judge me if you must but it’s bloody good fun and I was walking the whole time I did it so therefore exercise) and thought about how it was a long time since I’d done such a walk and that it’s easy to leave the good things behind if you blink too slowly.

I’m going to keep on working on accepting that I have to make changes in my life but that I can make the changes a positive thing. I’ll always be able to write and I will always be able to put that to use in one way or another even if it’s only writing a blog and divulging my insecurities and perceived weaknesses.

My voluntary job will continue and I’m in the driving seat as far as that goes so all is well and if not consistent then at least manageable.

Tonight I’ve felt like celebrating but since I don’t drink or smoke I had a pie. A carefully chosen pie though – not too high in saturated fat – and a very nice pie it was indeed.

Pies aren’t bad metaphors for life – it’s as wholesome as you make it, it can be indulgent and as long as it doesn’t damage you it’s bloody lovely.

Eric, executive functions and exhaustion

I had an appointment with a consultant psychiatrist this afternoon. Eric and I go way back – 15 years – and he was the first consultant I saw when it became obvious that the brand of bipolar I have was way too much for junior doctors to get their heads round. He hadn’t been in Bristol long and so we were both experiencing new things. We got along great and I was discharged about a year of his care.

After it became obvious that, after a year or so of mania, I just wasn’t going to get any better my GP made a request for me to see a consultant and, in particular, the one I’d seen for about 10 years. That wasn’t possible so I had to wait and see who I was going to get an appointment with and just how much experience they had.

Today I saw Eric and there was a short period of happy catching up before we began the consultation. I trust Eric implicitly and found it very easy to be open, to disclose things that I feared and to cry when it all got a bit too much. He’s a kind person and he knows how to elicit the information he needs without stressing the person too much.

The consultation lasted an hour and I talked, asked questions, forgot what I was talking about, cried, became afraid and anxious and, eventually settled into a state of acceptance.

He thinks that the problems I’ve been facing for the past year or so are coincidental to me easing back on medication last year and not a result of them and that they are about my executive functions. He asked me about my cholesterol levels and if I took statins or had been offered them. It’s not a big leap to think that he was thinking along the lines that I’d had a mini stroke but he wasn’t saying that I had. This is where the fear and anxiety kicked in because I know the link between high cholesterol and strokes and I don’t exactly have low cholesterol levels. On the other hand it could be something else that is interfering with my executive functions and so we have to begin the process to find that now.

This is where I stopped being afraid and anxious and became logical and calm. I am going to have a CT scan and I like CT scans. If you close your eyes as your head is scanned it feels as though you’re drifting gently along on a stream and it’s five minutes of peace and mindfulness that feels a lot longer. I had one about five years ago and it was returned as normal so we will know if there is a problem with my brain straight away.

Tonight I’m exhausted but I need to write this down. I’ve spoken to my sister to tell her what’s happening, sent texts to the people I needed to text and now I’ve satisfied the need to get all this out of my head so in an hour I can take a sleeping pill and get a good nine hours sleep. Apart from a short visit from someone tomorrow whilst Ogden is out I have a day to relax and just be.

Whether this turns out to be my bizarre version of bipolar disorder evolving into something even more bizarre or it is the result of a mini stroke or something different all together then worrying about it isn’t going to make much difference. Logical me has to remind anxious me of that when I do get jumpy.

So off to bed and go with the knowledge that, one way or another, I’m not right in the head.

Shredding, shredding, shredding

As you may guess by the title of this post I’ve been shredding a lot lately and doing even more decluttering around home than I thought was possible. I’m not the kind of person that holds on to possessions but they can always be just a little more organised.

I used to live in chaos because I never used to know where to start to stop the chaos. If something is so hugely overwhelming that you have no idea what to do it consumes you almost entirely but start somewhere you must.

I actually began some years ago by listening to a good friend who holds Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for me and is also a financial adviser. He took a good look at my income and my outgoings and showed me where I could be saving money and, more importantly, how to save for a rainy day. I now have my rainy day money and I manage my financial affairs, for the most part at least, quite well.

Once I stopped worrying about money I could concentrate on other things and the flat became tidier (though it will always be tatty) and I am able to feel more in control. These past few days have been about shredding old paper work that was from my last job and now that it’s gone all the file boxes can be used for storing my things. It’s lovely to see them all stacked up neatly and almost everything has a place and is in it.

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I’ve gotten rid of a chair that was beginning to really bug me this week and have been able to move my tallboy (more of a medium boy actually) into my store room and get my dining table out again so I have more space and I like the look of it. This is an incentive to keep the level of domestic chaos down considerably.

I’m getting a new kitchen installed – hopefully before the end of the year – and I can buy more cupboard space than they are obliged to give me so I’m already planning that in my head.

All this will give me the time and (literally) the space to manage my health and I’ll be able to do it at my pace without the nagging of the things that need to be done dancing around in my head. Now all I have to do is work out a way to get the laundry pile down to a manageable level. Anybody got a box of matches they don’t want?

Moving forward with blogging

When I first started blogging four or five years ago it was because I needed both relief from the silent burden of my mental health and because I wanted to let people know that it’s possible to live with mental health. It felt really important to me to show that recovery from severe bouts of mental ill health and that recovery isn’t necessarily about being the same as before but can show progress in attitude, management strategies, coping devices and acceptance.

For quite a while now I’ve been aware that I’ve been blogging less because I’m managing my illness better though not necessarily coping with it and because I’d decided that my blog was to be about mental health that it would be difficult to move it forwards and expand on topics to write about.

Yesterday my next door neighbour died. I’d been talking to him the day before for ages. We had this thing about standing on our mutual door step, leaning on the balcony while looking out over the beautiful park we live in whilst chewing the fat over.

We talked about the small things a lot but we also talked about his families. He was very proud of his son who has worked his way up from being the junior new boy to a manager in his job. He was incredibly proud of his grandson who is a talented footballer and has played in every premier league ground in the country.

We talked about the steps we took to try to remain healthy and particularly about the exercise we took and how I was eating less meat and more fish because he recommended it me. We also mentioned briefly how glad we were to be friends again after a period of estrangement.

After about an hour he went back into his flat and I went back into mine. I saw him yesterday morning as I was taking my dog out for an early morning walk and waved to him across the park. When I came back from the afternoon dog walk his son was on the step and told me he was about to break the safety chain on the door because he couldn’t get a response from his dad by knocking on the door or phoning him He went inside and then within minute I could hear the sirens of the ambulance getting closer.

At first I was hopeful because the big ambulance went away leaving the single paramedic there. I won’t disclose how I knew he was dead before I shouted out to his son to see if he was okay but I knew he was before he told me he was talking to the police as is standard with a sudden death.

I realised that I needed to write about the experience because it hasn’t affected my mental health but I feeling down because a friend has died. I need to write about the everyday things because my life is much more about my illness. In the same way you focus on not drinking when you become sober eventually you have to let people know how you got sober by talking about your life. Thus I will talk about crises and my illness to shine a light on the subject but I’ll also be talking about me and my life however mundane it may seem.

 

Not coping, managing

I have a difficult illness and, as my former consultant psychiatrist often said, I present an unusual “picture”. He has never seen anybody quite like me and I have never met anybody with bipolar disorder with whom I could identify. I often think, as people talk and relate their symptoms, that if I had their version of bipolarity then I would be living a much different life.

I have been taught by the aforementioned psychiatrist (and many other people) over the years how to manage my bipolarity and to really find out where it and I divide; where I stop and it begins.

I have been taught not to assume that the way I feel when I wake up is anything other than feeling the way other people feel when they wake up. I have been taught that a day that starts badly can finish well and a day that starts well can finish badly but both can be counted as successes.

I have days where the highs and lows change so often that I want and need to rip my brain out but all I can do is take sedatives and wait to be sedated. There are days when I can’t keep awake (no drugs to help with that) and nights when I can’t sleep (no drugs can help with that) and the middle of the road days where medication helps and nights where I succumb to the effects of sleeping pills. There are also days when I touch on normal and sleep comes easily – apart from the ever present fear that I’ll die as soon as I close my eyes.

For the past year or so it’s obvious that my unusual picture has become more unusual and there’s nothing I can do but sit back and wait and see how it pans out. I’m a few months short of a year of much mania and ultradian cycling but I’m sleeping and I am getting a lot of bread baked. I’m not getting much housework done, my personal hygiene takes a knocking at times (I could well be that woman who smells of pee on the bus at times) and my chaotic eating habits are uncontrollable.

Having said all this I manage the illness. I take the medication, I practise mindfulness, I live to spite it not in spite of it, I try to look after myself and I recognise that there are days when I blame the illness for things because I refuse to own up to them.

This is not coping with an illness this is management of an illness.

I don’t cope because, try as I might, I don’t get enough baths in a week, my hair often smells like I have a sheep living on my head, I buy food and then don’t eat it, I get the vacuum cleaner out and it stays out and unused for weeks at a time. Some days I sit and wish I could cry just so I could feel something other than the borderline hysteria that I’ve felt for the past year. I cannot control the irritation that I feel (I don’t suffer fools gladly at the best of times but when I’m manic I want to kill) and it boils over into an anger that isn’t always, if ever, reasonable.

I don’t cope because I have to be alone because I like being alone but I have to go out and be with people I don’t want to see. I want to be with the people I am emotionally close to but I keep them at a physical distance because it’s kinder on them.

I don’t cope with the effects of my illness I manage the symptoms. Big difference.