My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…

I remember many years ago, when I was in my very early twenties, I standing outside a pub in Middlesbrough chatting to Jimmy Hartnett about this and that as we did when we bumped into one another when we heard laughter and a boisterous shout before we were swept up in a crushing hug by Malcolm Allison for a minute or so before he weaved down the pavement waving at people as he went.

I can see Jimmy’s face as he turned to me and said, “It’s such a shame he’s like that, he’s such a wonderful man.” I can still hear the thought passing through my brain that vowed I would give up drinking long before I got to that  point. I was there a few years later except that Malcolm was a lovely man and I was a savage drunk.

I’m not exactly Miss Sweetness And Light at the best of times. I don’t set out to snap and snarl but you people just aren’t psychic enough to read the signals that scream at you to go away. Drinking irritated my brain to the point that I wanted to pull it out and give it a good scratch. The irritation in my brain was verbalised and, in later years, I lashed out physically at people. I was that person who people were nice to because it wasn’t worth even trying to cross my path. I had a tongue so sharp that I could bite your head off and you wouldn’t know it was missing until you tried to shake it in disbelief.

My star sign was Bass the Brewer and by the time I was in my extremely early 30s I was a complete mess. I had never been exactly on the fat side (though you would never know it now). I was painfully thin and was described by my GP as ‘anorectic’. I was bloody ill, I knew it but I felt as though I couldn’t do anything about it and one visit to AA had me convinced that I couldn’t handle those Holy Joes, none of them even drank FFS.

Anyway there I was drinking half a bottle of whisky a day (My best friends were Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker), I was smoking 40 fags a day and could quite easily get through half a weight a week if I really put my mind to it. I took pills to keep me awake, pills to get me to sleep, pills to stop me shaking and all of them, combined with the booze, a potentially fatal cocktail. Somebody up there likes me enough not to let me die.

My (now ex) husband was dying as a direct result of his alcoholism and when our GP called me in to see him at 11.30 on 23 April 1991 I presumed it was to talk about him. I’d had one or several liveners that morning so I had a bitter shandy so he wouldn’t be able to smell the booze on my breath. I was shocked when his first words were, “I don’t give a fuck about your husband but if you don’t do something about the way you drink you’ve got about two years to live.” I knew that he wasn’t telling me I’d have a two year long party then drop dead out of happiness whilst on a binge, he was telling me I’d have an increasingly painful life as I lost my life against a vicious element that possessed me and held me to ransom constantly. Purple prose you may think but this is how it was.

I went home that day, to the pub I was managing, wrote out my notice and I haven’t drank since the chat with the doctor. People say there are no magic words that will make you stop drinking but for me the words he spoke were magic.

I had no idea of what sobriety would be like. I started drinking when I was 14 to, as all addicts and alcoholics do, to change the way I felt about myself. I didn’t like myself and so I turned myself into a monster. Being that monster kept people at a distance because if people can’t love you then you can’t love them back and that way nobody gets hurt. In theory.

I’ve changed a lot. I don’t get into many fights these days but I’m still a mouthy cow with opinions that are far too strong at times. I like myself these days and understand that if I don’t like myself then I change until I do – there are no problems that can be solved with a bottle of spirits. I love these days – I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve broken hearts and, along the way, I’ve had a lot of very good sex.

I’m sitting here now in my untidy flat (though very clean posh kitchen) listening to music on a tablet. I would have stolen that tablet from someone when I was drinking and sold it when I need money to keep on drinking. I’ve eaten today and I’m no longer dangerously underweight but I’m fatter than I’d like to be.

It’s on this day every year I count my blessings and there are more every year. I love more people each year but still retain my sense of privacy. I’m working on that temper of mine (which is a blessing for everybody, believe me) and I try to be kind and do a kindness for somebody every day.

I think about Jimmy Hartnett and Malcolm Allison every year. Jimmy’s generous heart and the way he didn’t know he’d made me question my own drinking habits and, that ten or so years later, I’d gain sobriety. I wish Malcolm was still here and I wish that I could share this with him and give him a hug, just because – you know.

Lots of people get sober for a few months or a few years. Fewer people make it to five years and even fewer to 10 years. People 26 years sober don’t come along that often and people with who have bipolar disorder and have managed 26 years of sobriety barely exist at all. I am lucky. I am blessed. I am content.

My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I’m not good at doing nothing. I have to be doing something and the art of doing nothing has become about mindfulness – I’ve been practising proper mindfulness for over 10 years not this concentrate on your breathing crap that people sell as mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t doing nothing of course, you’re actually acutely aware of yourself (if you’re doing it properly) and not in a trance.

I don’t get bored and it’s so long since I was bored I can’t remember what it feels like. The decisions I’m facing are what I should stop doing and what I should be doing.

The community work has to go of course, some other fool can chase the non-existent glory but my voluntary work will stay since it’s simple to do though how it will continue is one of the things that has to be decided. Whatever is decided, those changes will take a few weeks to kick in.

How I run my home is going to have to be assessed. If the results of the CT scan are not too good then I’m going to have to consider, and seriously consider, help from an outside source. I don’t do having help and my independence is a very conveniently placed wall that all the idiots in the world can’t climb. It is my saviour and I refuse to be pushed into thinking that it’s a burden.

There will still be trips away and there’s no reason why they should stop. I travel in Britain on a disabled travel cards so I’m still going to be able to go in style with a massive discount. I will have to consider their length and frequency though, that’s massively important.

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I’m also going to have to think about food properly. I can’t go on with the chaos even though it’s incredibly difficult for me to not be chaotic and fractured when I’m in the kitchen on the days that I don’t cope.  I think it’s time to stop telling everybody I know about food and ask to see a dietician. I need to start being sensible.

It’s easy to sit and tell myself these things but they’re much harder to put into practice.The level of chaos in my head varies wildly from day to day or from morning to afternoon to evening so good intentions at breakfast can end up in despair and tears by bedtime.

I think I should start with making lists and if it’s as far as I get and no further then that has to be ok.

On lowering my expectations and learning to take the pressure off

I’m still a bit shell shocked by the news I got on Tuesday. It actually all makes a bit more sense now I’ve learned a little about what executive functions are. I have to talk things through thoroughly with a few people and then I’ll feel more at ease and less dis-eased because right now I feel as though I’m inhabited by an invisible parasite.

The news has focussed me as bad news often does and today I’ve been looking at how I spend my time and why I spend my time the way I do.

This morning I was in a local park with some fellow dog owners and our dogs. None of us really knew each other until just before Christmas but now we’re at the point where we’ve swapped phone numbers and we talk about the big stuff to each other. This doesn’t happen with any of the other groups of dog walkers I see so it feels pretty special. I’ve seen two of them today and they allowed me to talk about what’s been going on and there’s been hugs and tears and that in itself is healing.

I didn’t sleep well last night (I was watching an episode of My Crazy Ex at 3.30 this morning) so when the alarm went off I was in no state to walk Ogden and we were late getting out and getting back.

There was a dog show in one of the parks tonight that I was going to go to but I changed my mind because it was a pressure I didn’t need and Ogden didn’t have a clue what was going on so its not like he’d have a tantrum if we didn’t go.

I live in a city that is permanently on the point of vomiting with excitement because there is so much going on all the time. It’s filled with newcomers who have tiny spans of attention and who seem to be unable to spend time alone or silent or in any kind of isolation which is the opposite of me. So what does this have to do with the pressure I feel?

Well I’ve recently been dipping my toe into community stuff again purely because nobody else round here does and the experience has been as awful as I remember – ungrateful neighbours and resentful officials with few exceptions. So that’s the first thing to go. I’ve got a response to a plan to type up and then that’s it.

I’ve also decided that I need to change Ogden’s routine a little because I’m supposed to be the one in charge and so I get to decide what we do and when. He’ll not be short of walks or love so he won’t mind in the slightest.

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Small changes but they’re the ones that build up until they’re big changes and I recognise that I’ve been giving into pressures that I’ve put on myself but also because of the way other people perceive me – I don’t have to live up to the image that anybody has of me. I was once a very capable and driven person which is why I’ve lived my life the way I have but, and it’s a reasoned but, I’ve changed.

I’m not less capable but I am differently capable and because of that I’ve learned to be adaptable. Adaptable people succeed because they’re willing to bend yet essentially stay the same and it’s a constant process.

I’m going to plan my days a little more but try to work out a way of coping with the small changes that I am no longer able to cope with. I’m going to have to try and plan food that takes into account that some days I can’t work out how to get the raw ingredients onto a plate and safe to eat. Big ambitions but some days you have to aim high.

And today? Today I’m catching up on junk television and doing just enough to get by and it’s been a good day. I’ve missed out on a few things but I don’t have to have every experience that’s on offer – quality not quantity and that’s the way I have to remind myself from here on in.

Today is gratitude day…

Yesterday was the final day of three days of mania. It was extreme irritability day (I was very annoyed with myself even) and it was breaking point day. If I were ever to commit suicide – and I sincerely hope that I never will – it would be on the final day of a manic episode. I want to tape my mouth up, rip my brain and self harm big time.

I contained myself as much as I could and I blogged about it. I think it’s important to  share the manic experience because so few people experience it for themselves but I also think that if I put the experience down on “paper” then I am, in a way, freeing myself from it. I truly believe that staying silent enslaves me.

Most people were wonderful. My family and friends were there with kind words and unspoken support and I felt protected by them. Other people weren’t so nice and one in particular wrote off my feelings of frustration at somebody refusing help and rebutting my offer of help at me being mentally ill. This, at its best, is discrimination but when it comes from someone who claims to have personal experience of mental illness it is damaging and disgustingly spiteful.

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Today was different – the quick chat in the pet shop, bumping into a neighbour in the street and laughing together, the packet of Revels that was cheaper than I thought, the easy talking with the checkout operator as I packed my shopping and the longer talk with another neighbour out in the churchyard that serves as a park which is right on my doorstep.

He and his wife have a rescue dog who is the sweetest if oddest looking dog I’ve seen. He recognises me and runs towards me with that smile that dogs have and today I got the supreme compliment from him – helicopter tail! Dogs don’t do helicopter tail unless they love you immensely.

As I talked to his owner I was really counting my blessings out loud and inside I was tearful as I did it. Counting your blessings in your head doesn’t work unless you say them out loud to somebody else or write them down and it’s always good to remind myself of my privileged life.

  • I have the time and space to be ill – sounds bizarre but I can take time to manage bipolar disorder even if I can’t cope with it;
  • I have lots of animals and there is always at least one that’s awake and ready to be cuddled;
  • I live on my own so if I can’t face the washing up or doing the laundry then I don’t have to;
  • I can nap in the afternoon in a haze of Valium if I need to;
  • I can catch up on television programmes or watch a movie without consulting anybody else;
  • I can eat when I want and what I want (and  yes those are cornettos you can see in my freezer);
  • I can live the life I need to live and not the one that other people think I should.

Tomorrow will be the day I feel as though I’ve lost people and that I’m emotionally detached from them but I’m expecting that and I know it will pass. I may chatter a lot on social media or I may sit quietly at home and read but I will do what is best for me and that’s good enough.

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.

 

My name’s Cecilia, I’m an alcoholic & today I’ve been sober for 25 years

I remember one night in 1991 going to play darts with the girls from the Spring Gardens over to a pub in St George. We were in two cars and I was stuck in the back of one of them with the landlady of the Spring Gardens and somebody I can’t remember. I do remember there being some joking going on and her seeming to shout out that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get to the pub because I could go minutes without a drink. I had a half bottle of vodka in my bag and I was desperate to get to that pub just to get into the loo and take a swig of it. I knew I’d order a bitter lemon or a coke or something so I could carry on the everlasting story of having a bladder infection to explain the frequent trips to unsavoury toilets. I fooled nobody of course, not even myself, but the compulsion to lie about the amount that I drank was nearly as great as the compulsion to drink.

I didn’t start out like that. I wasn’t always 32 and I wasn’t always an alcoholic but I always had a reputation as a drinker and a nasty one at that. I’d like to think I was nasty only when I was in my cups but alcohol has a tendency to magnify the personality traits that are already there. I can be spiteful these days but I try not to be nasty but sometimes I am and these days I own up to it if only to myself.

I don’t think that my parents thought for a second when they gave their youngest daughter a much watered down Dubonnet & bitter lemon as a Christmas Eve treat when I was six that they were unleashing an alcoholic – I downed it in one & knew that the second one made with blackcurrant juice was different. I never sipped alcohol because the faster I drank the more I got to drink.

There isn’t an alcoholic alive (or dead) who drank for any other reason than to change the way they feel about themselves. It’s a bizarre mechanism that protects us from ourselves and destroys us in the process. I won’t go into the details of why I drank so enthusiastically because they don’t count but I threw myself into it like it was my destiny. Perhaps it was.

I never really hid my drinking and there was more than one person commented on how much I drank before I got out of my teens but I tended to hide amongst those that drank more than me – where better to hide an alcoholic than in a horde of heavy drinkers? I think I married my ex husband because he was brilliant to hide behind but I became his patsy and assumed a responsibility for him that wasn’t mine. It really backfired on me when I was assessed for treatment at the same centre as he’d been through – the staff were very good at comparing us to the point that I was declared not at risk less than six months after I’d been told the get my act together or I’d be dead before I was 35.
I’m glad now that I didn’t go down the route of the treatment centre as peer “support” (as I saw in AA and other similar groups) is often more about telling people where they went wrong, how bad they are and then telling them off when they resort to drinking to cope with the way they feel.

I stopped drinking because the day a doctor told me I may not see 35 a light went on in my head and, to put it mildly, it scared the shit out of me. I wanted to give up and wanted to stay stopped but I was also aware that it was almost impossible to stay stopped. Pop into any open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and see how many people are under a year sober and how many, if any, are over 10 years sober. Addiction of any kind isn’t about choosing to use the chosen substance or stopping using the chosen substance it’s very hard work. There are times over the past 25 years when all I’ve wanted was a bottle of Jack Daniels (he was my best friend you see) and a very long straw and there are times when I’ve walked up and down the booze aisle pretending I wasn’t seriously considering picking up a bottle with a degree on nonchalance and getting pissed as a fart. Had I actually touched a bottle then I would have bought it. It’s simple to stop but it’s hard to stay stopped and staying stopped does not get easier but you do learn a few coping mechanisms along the way.

People kept telling me that I’d get my life back once I got sober and I was really an emotionally stunted wreck who hadn’t had much of a life to begin with. When your life is ruled by booze then you tend to neglect life. I’d enjoyed being a beekeeper and I’d loved being a life model but neither a great achievements – anybody can don a white suit & veil and work with bees just as anybody can strip off and sit still. Really, I’d achieved nothing of note.

Since then I’ve made up for it. I’ve done some really good community work around the theme of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and, being a self-made expert I know what I’m talking about, I’ve worked with a former Arsenal player turned fire fighter coaching kids (football of course) and reducing ASB in the park where we played by 50% and I’ve been the troubleshooter on a street refurbishment (including resurfacing the road!).

I’ve taken up photography and had my photos used in books, I’ve learned that I’m not responsible for the world but I think I am and I’m learning to let go of the things that I really can’t do anything about though cyclists on pavements is hard to let go of. *shakes fist at cyclists on pavements*

I’ve challenged the way NICE have traditionally gathered testimonies for presentation at committees and now blog posts are allowed as long as they contain all the information needed. I’ve spoken to countless medical students over the years and spoken at schools and youth groups.

I’m not perfect. I’m a ratty, irrational ex drunk with a fondness for swearing far too much and being far too crude. I don’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, I really don’t like people much some days. I do like social media and everybody thinks I’m nice because I bite my virtual tongue a lot but the person that was the nasty drunk has her roots in the me of today.

Drinking doesn’t change our characters and stopping drinking doesn’t make us angels and I think that’s the lesson that’s the hardest to learn. We alcoholics drink to change the way we feel about ourselves and so, to be in with a chance of lasting sobriety, we have to accept that we’re flawed, scared and hopeless at times and that’s more than okay. Saying we’re fine doesn’t have to mean fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional it can mean that you really are very well indeed.

An endless springtime

There is a theory, to which I subscribe, that manic depression is a hibernation cycle that has gone badly wrong.

In the lows, the depths of mood where it is impossible to feel even in despair, we are hiding in caves not of our choosing waiting for spring to creep in and enlighten our lives.

In the highs, the manic fevers where it is impossible to get true rest or think very clearly, we are outside tilling our fields like there is no tomorrow and shooting everything in sight to prepare for the long winter that will surely come.

I have spent far too much time in the hibernation stage and, until recently, I have never experienced a period of chronic mania. I can cope with depression after a bizarre fashion as days pass by, albeit at a ridiculously slow pace, and they are all the same. If I can get out of bed I do and if I can’t I don’t. I carry a cushion around inside my head that acts as a buffer against the world but it also over protects, it shields me from myself. But it is comforting and it is only once I improve and gain energy do I pass through the dangerous zone when I become suicidal then move on to self harm and, finally, back to the instability that is considered stable.

I have spent little time with prolonged mania and have had to accept that my period of acute mania has now become a period of chronic mania and I hate it. I no longer have mood swings and what would have been periods of depression are now bouts of exhaustion. I collapse into bed at least once a week to sleep for 12 hours and I rarely sleep less than nine hours. It is driving me crazy.

I can’t stand the relentless feeling of being upbeat, of seeing only the positive, of being hugely irritated by people who I think are too stupid to understand what they should, of having people not follow the lines of thought that leap magically across huge gaps so that the first few words in a sentence bear no relation to the last few words and most of all I am tired of my mind going so fast it can’t lay down memories.

We all go through the going into a room and forgetting why we went in there moments but with the memory problems that have come about because of bipolar disorder I often have no idea why I’ve stood up or how to finish a sentence I’ve started or started to put on shoes and socks to find I’ve only managed to do one. It’s a relentless struggle and it is madness.

I have to accept that this isn’t going to go away quickly and that even a period of recovery will take time. There will be no waking up one morning to find myself back in my own instability and I have to stop kidding myself that I’m within my own instability when clearly I’m not.

What worries me is that I find it hard to accept my limitations at the best of times and in these not quite the very worst of times I could make things a whole lot worse. I never thought I’d say this but, I miss being depressed.

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.

Fantasy v Reality

After my realisation last week that I was quite ill (very ill if I’m honest) I immediately began to look for solutions to the problem.

The problem with solutions is that what we want ideally doesn’t necessarily exist and sometimes we don’t really know what we want but we do know that we want none of the solutions on offer. Fantasy v Reality.

I’d like my meds to be upped to the dose I need straightaway but this isn’t going to happen. The drug I take has to be increased slowly and I will suffer the same side effects going up as I did reducing – horrendous nightmares, wild irritability (those difficult to distinguish from manic irritability) and anything else it feels like throwing at me. I wonder with half a mind if it’s worth it but luckily I have the experience that says it is and can fight the urge to stay in the disgusting instability I’m currently in.

It’s easy to write off the only solution or treatment available because we don’t think it suits us but it can be a gateway to the solution that does. My last consultant dared me to treat everything like a scientific experiment and I did. He was often right and he was also often wrong but we got there in the end.

I’m in a position that I was last in eight years ago. I’m currently a bigger danger to myself than I have been for many years and I’m treading very carefully on the eggshell fragments that my mind appears to have shattered into.

I can be negative and tell myself I’ve taken a step backwards in my recovery (by recovery I mean maintaining a kind of stability in my continuous instability which allows me to function vaguely well) or I can think positively and tell myself that I’m revisiting coping strategies that I haven’t had to use for a long time.

I have to look back and remind myself that, though I’m back where I was about eight years ago, I’m much further on than I was 21 years ago when I first received my diagnosis and I have no urges to self harm. I also need to remind myself that it’s okay to look back as long as I don’t stare and become fearful or moving forward.

Onwards and hopefully not upwards.

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.