Self neglect is a difficult subject to write about and even more difficult to come to terms with. I’ve always smudged the words and said that I don’t look after myself very well but the fact is, no matter what I choose to call it, I neglect myself. My coping mechanism are geared towards looking after a friable mind so my body and their surroundings are the target of that neglect.
There is always a certain amount of give and take in what I choose to do and often the choice is not mine; bipolar disorder has a bad habit of stealing time and skills away from me and hiding them in strange places. I have Bipolar I, the big one, and not in a text book way. I have features that are so rarely seen then most psychiatrists let alone a GP will never see them. Keeping the beast in the cage is the big task everyday. Sometimes I succeed, often I fail and often I am so consumed with doing this that I fail at the rest of life.
I have the same tasks as most people in any day – washing up, cooking, eating, cleaning myself and my home, looking after my animals etc. but for every task I do then I have to choose something not to do. I can never guarantee how I’m going to be at any time in any day so I’ve learned to capitalise on the days that I waking up feeling good or when my mood changes into something positive. If the sun shines and I can do it then I go out with my camera because later may be too late and tomorrow may be the sort of day when it’s difficult to move from the spot on the sofa that it’s easy to become welded to.
Things get done but only when mania is in the middle range. If I’m too high (frenetic energy, anger, short fuse, edgy) then there is no chance that I can focus for long enough without shouting and swearing at what ever it is I’m trying to do. I do things but everything I do becomes an abandoned task. Below the medium range and I have enough energy to do things that help me lay down memories and allow me pleasure. In the middle range of mania I can achieve little targets and con myself that, in that moment, I’m actually normal. In depressive times, especially the episodes that steal the ability to know which way is up, it’s always a case of being sat on the sofa and thinking of what I’d do if I could just get up and move. The list of things to do gets longer and longer which ever state I happen to be in and it’s taken me a long time to realise that I’m never going to get to the end of it.
If I manage to get to the end of the washing up (currently about every 10 days) then that means I’ve forgotten yet again to take something out of the freezer to eat that evening. If I do a load of washing (in a twin tub) then the hoover is left to gather dust. If I clean the guinea pig out then that takes away a whole morning as I battle to resist the urge to tweet, make tea, talk to someone on the phone. Too many distractions turn a 20 minute task into a morning of hard labour.
There are too many meals that are not cooked or not eaten. Too many days of grazing on things with too much fat or sugar which sets my mind frantically worrying about what I’m doing to my physical health which sets me off into a cycle of obsessiveness which feeds the mania/depression and then the whole day is gone. Food not eaten, baths not taken, hair not washed and home in a bigger mess than when I got up.
I struggle and I struggle hard so you can imagine how big a deal it is when I let people into my home for whatever reason. Few people can keep their feelings away from their faces. I want to tell them that it’s more mess than dirt but you can see their eyes darting from poorly decorated walls to grubby skirting boards all the time wondering how I live the way I do. People always claim to understand the problems that mental health brings and their understanding is based on their own experiences and those of their family and friends. People like me aren’t exactly in the majority.
So when I say to you in passing that I don’t look after myself very well I’m not saying that there’s something a little out of place on the mantelpiece I’m saying that I’m only just holding it all together some days.
We all have narrow experiences and if you promise not to judge me by yours then I won’t judge you by mine.