The vicious circle of being open about your mental health – from the perspective of a mental health patient.

Everyone is always saying to those of us that suffer with a mental health condition: “its ok to not be ok”. We should “reach out” and “it’s good to talk” – so many great catchy slogans from national mental health campaigns, all designed to promote awareness and challenge the stigma associated with mental health conditions.  Mental health awareness is now at the forefront of everyone’s mind, which is a great improvement from where it was 20 years ago.  The will to end mental health stigma is there, but we still have a long way to go.

The slogans and phrases make the task of “talking” and “asking for help” seem relatively easy but being open and honest about something so deeply personal is difficult.  Feelings of shame and failure are often linked with mental ill health, because in society we haven’t managed to truly acknowledge mental health illness on a par with physical ill health.

The physical equivalent is someone asking you to walk to the hospital with a broken leg to get it fixed.  You wouldn’t ask a person with a broken leg to do this.  It would be obvious the person was in pain and needed help. If you were unable to do so you would call someone, help would arrive and the person would be taken to hospital to get their broken leg seen too.

Mental ill health is a hidden illness.   It isn’t as obvious for people to notice (although to a perceptive person the signs are always there). You are asking someone with an illness inside their head to find the confidence and strength to articulate it.  The person with a broken leg may be able to hobble to the hospital eventually, but it would take a while and that person would be in great pain.  We wouldn’t expect a person to do that, as it would certainly make the leg worse.  Why then are we encouraging people suffering with a mental health condition to metaphorically “walk with the pain”.

If we are asking a person to make that painful journey, we must make it as easy as possible to accomplish.  We also need to make that journey seem attractive, letting them know that at the end they will hopefully feel better.  We know if we go to hospital with a broken leg the medical professionals will fix it and the pain will go away.  The problem is that the journey for someone with a mental health condition starts with asking for help, which at present isn’t seen as safe and attractive as it could be.  Provision for mental health services is a lottery depending on where you live.  Services are under strain and the quality of the person you talk to isn’t always guaranteed.  Stigma and judgement still exist even within the medical professions.  Will you get the person that is helpful and understanding, or the one that is curt, judgemental and dismissive?  Quite often this may actually prevent someone from even trying to ask for help in the first place.  I hope for a day when this potluck approach disappears, and that anyone with a mental health condition can open up without fear of judgement or stigma.  They will simply be heard and can then be sign posted towards help. Every person suffering deserves the same consistency of care on their journey.

Mental health issues leave you weak and run down. Sufferers deal with painful and debilitating feelings associated with whatever condition they have.  The simple act of reaching out, asking for help and being honest is a huge task.  Imagine your head is full of pain and negative thoughts.  Now imagine having to try and supress and manage that while having to continue with your daily life. On top of that you are being asked to find the strength and composure to go and speak about it, to open up and reach out.  It is as painful, difficult and as raw as walking to the hospital with a broken leg, and often the journey to asking for help will have made the condition much worse.

I am not advocating that we no longer encourage people to reach out when they need to, but it is important for society to acknowledge just how difficult that can be.  Once we acknowledge this and understand what we are asking people to do, we can better understand and make the journey for the mental health patient easier.

More needs to be done to educate people on spotting the signs of deteriorating mental health.  Sadly, a lot of the more obvious signs are linked to traits that are associated with lack of productivity, laziness, and a lack of motivation – all qualities that in today’s society lead to judgement and stigma.  Our first instinct is to perceive a person as lazy or unmotivated, perhaps unorganised or simply not very good. We need to learn to see beyond the symptoms and take the time to ask why.  Why is this person late for things? Why are they not talking to people as much? 

This is where the vicious cycle of opening up about your mental health begins.  As things worsen, your daily battle with the demons in your head requires more and more of your concentration.  Inevitably other tasks in your daily life start to suffer: hygiene, work, housework.  These are the more obvious signs to a perceptive person that something is wrong. 

The trouble with society today is that we live in an Instagram culture.  If we are nothing short of perfect we are deemed a failure.  If we aren’t doing fabulous craft activities at the weekend with our children, if we aren’t producing Nigella-standard evening meals, if we aren’t the beacon of organisation at work, then we in some way failing.  And so as our mental ill health fails, we feel more and more inadequate. No one can see the pain inside your head, but everyone can see that you’re not coping with daily life.  People are unkind and we are judged.  So we try to keep up with our neighbours rather than asking for help.  The fear of being perceived as failing or being judged prevents us from starting our journey to ask for help and serves as a barrier.   

“It’s good to talk” is a catchy slogan on a mental health campaign, and we can all hash tag and quote it endlessly.  We can train hundreds of mental health first-aiders in the work place with colourful lanyards saying they are there to talk, but the reality of what we are asking of this person who is suffering needs to be understood.  I believe that if we all understand how hard it is to ask for help then our approach to listening to a person will be kinder. We will have more empathy and be better placed to gain the trust needed to point a person towards the help they really need.

The seemingly simple act of asking for help if you are suffering with a mental health condition NEEDS to be acknowledged by the person listening.  They must understand quite how much strength and determination it took to make that journey.

So our mental health patient has metaphorically walked to the hospital on their broken leg and made the painful, brave and daunting journey to go and ask for the help they need to get better.  The next interactions with that person are even more VITAL.  You might be a doctor, a work colleague, a manager, a mental health first aider, or a friend or family member.  Whoever you are you have a responsibility to listen to this person. They have been brave enough to talk to you.  If you saw someone with a broken leg you wouldn’t leave their side, you would make them feel comfortable and safe and phone an ambulance.  The same care and attention needs to be applied to how you help and engage with someone who has disclosed that they are suffering with a mental health issue.  I am sad to say that often people are dismissive, they don’t have time, perhaps they simply cant acknowledge the huge achievement this person made to get to this point.  Imagine walking to hospital on your broken leg and when you arrive at A & E you are asked “Are you sure its broken?”  “I’m sorry to hear you have a broken leg, that’s really unfortunate”, “Do please keep letting us know its broken, its important to continue reaching out”  The unfortunate text book responses to mental health issues used with little thought for how they received. 

The quality of this interaction is crucial. If it goes badly, if the person feels you aren’t listening or don’t care, then they have effectively made this painful journey for no reason.  It’s made them feel worse and exacerbated their condition.  They may never find the confidence and stamina to make that journey again.  So I stress again the importance and responsibility on the individual that has been charged with listening to any person who has made the effort to ask for help. Think carefully about taking on the role of, for example, a mental health first aid trainer – do you really understand the gravity of the task?  Is it something that you are willing and capable of doing?  I firmly believe that more work needs to be done on the mental health first aid model. Please understand I am not dismissing it – it’s great we have something at least – but I fear it has become a simple box ticking exercise:  showing willing without understanding.    

In my life, I have lost count of the times I have made that exposing journey to ask for help.  I have also lost count of the times I have been greeted with a curt, dismissive and incredibly unhelpful person.  Quite often it has left me vulnerable and bruised. I retreat, hide and don’t want to ask for help again.  However, I am also very pleased to say that a few times I have been greeted with kind, understanding and helpful people who have encouraged me to seek the specialist help I have needed.  Over the last year I had to make that painful journey again.   Sadly it doesn’t get any easier. In fact if anything its harder as it’s the path you have already trodden and its laden with feelings of shame that you are having to do it again. When I reached out it was horrible; I was sad, ashamed and scared at knowing I was getting so poorly.  I was distraught it went so badly, I felt stupid and vulnerable.  I came home so upset, and ready to give up.  My husband convinced me to keep trying, I reached out to a friend with experience in the mental health professional field.  He said to me “not everyone is like that, there are good people out there, good people that will want to help you”.  So I picked myself up and tried again, it was long painful, judgemental and scary, but I am pleased to say I have the support I need with a professional team that I trust.  Its just a shame the journey to finding it was so fraught and hard work.

Those catchy mental health slogans in social media feeds make it sound so easy: “it’s time to talk”. Yes it is, but more work has to be done to make that journey easier safer and less painful for mental health sufferers, and when we get there we need to know that we will get the same level of consistency in care that you would get for a broken leg.  It shouldn’t be pot luck.  It’s a vicious circle:  its time to reach out for help but the journey to seek the help is painfully lonely and we have done nothing to make it easier; when you finally get there you may not be listened to with kindness and understanding, so you might retreat and be too nervous to make that journey again.  Only when we get to that place of consistency in how we listen to people with mental health problems can we seek to change the culture of our society and make people feel they can really “talk”.

 

  • Be more perceptive in spotting the signs of mental ill health – let’s not put all of the responsibility on them to reach out because we know it’s hard.  Let’s open our eyes and see if a person is struggling.  Let’s start spotting the “broken legs” before they are suffering in pain for too long alone.
  • “It’s good to talk” goes two ways.  If you notice signs of someone struggling, then why don’t you take that bold step and ask them if they need help.  Acknowledge how hard it has been for them and make the journey easier.  As long as you’re kind and not forceful, you will be surprised at their response.  It’s also ok if they aren’t ready.  But it’s also ok to try again later.
  • Lighten the load, make that journey easier – If I had a broken leg you would probably offer your support to physically help me get to the hospital.  You might even drive me there.  Making that lonely journey to ask for help is hard and there is no shame in having someone help you.  Why don’t you offer to help that person if you can see they might need it?
  • Hold back the judgement and stigma on those obvious signs. Ask why?  Why is this person being late all the time? Why is their work not up to scratch right now? Why is this person ignoring me?  Change your mindset, and hopefully we can start changing the mindset of society.
  • Acknowledge the achievement that person has made in talking to you in asking for help. If that person has made that painful journey, give it the respect it deserves, so make sure you listen and understand the achievement this person has made in opening up.  How they are listened to and treated at this stage is vital in their journey to get the help and support they need.
  • Offer consistent support.  This part is crucial. If every journey a mental health sufferer makes ends with the same consistent non-judgemental, kind and understanding interaction then the next time they make it, it might be that bit easier.  This is how we change the culture of encouraging people to talk about their mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 7

Sunday 24th May

This morning was a peaceful one, Chloe and Paul went off to pick Talulah up, so I had a very rare few hours to myself.

I’m really tired now.  I haven’t mastered getting to sleep before midnight, and the curse of the 3am wakeup call hit me again last night.  I call it witching hour, it’s always around 3am. I wonder if there is a reason for that?  Either way I’m fatigued.  Battling with your sleep is a very common problem with people that have bipolar disorder.

I spent the morning enjoying the quiet.  I knew I wanted to fit in a run before the family got back, but the lure of procrastination meant I took ages to find the motivation to actually get going.  My run was along the river, it was a pleasant 7k, and Burge picked me up on his route home.

Its Burge’s birthday today.  I’m always nervous about occasions, am I going to feel ok, will I ruin it?  My worry about today is no different, the run was my way of getting some endorphins in to try and make sure my mood stayed pleasant for this special day.  I don’t want to ruin it, I hate that my condition has robbed me of enjoying so many family occasions in the past.

Chloe clearly didn’t get the memo that it was Daddy’s birthday and is in a foul mood today, she is also tired and is letting us all know about it.  The quiet of my morning is shattered with the wailing noise of a 2 year old, and I can feel this noise penetrating my mind.  I know I am feeling different as my tolerance of noise begins to dwindle.  I’m nervous I don’t want to tip over the edge, I don’t want to ruin the day for my husband.  I’ve been trying to find a way of explaining it to you, the last 3 days I have enjoyed seeing the world clearly, like I have almost been reborn in some way.  I can see and feel the sunshine, I can watch the ducks on the river, and see the kids playing on the river bank.  I can see it all, I feel a part of it, appreciate it.  It sounds very hippie, but it’s a truly beautiful content feeling of peace.  I feel like I’m a part of the world, that I fit in.  Someone let me in the club for a few days.  Now the haze is setting in, I’m starting to see the world through a filter, its distorted.  To use a lighting analogy someone has put a light frost over my vision, my world is now all a little fuzzy, it’s hard to concentrate and see.  The joy and fascination of life around me has dulled.  My vision is closing in, I’m having to focus in more, I no longer have the luxury of letting my vision and mind wander, I’m in self-preservation mode, my mind is starting to hurt I have to retreat and protect it.

We drive home, and I want to make Burge some brunch, the boat is full of people now, the noise is louder, and I’m having to negotiate making food for everyone.  I can feel my mind shrinking, shying away from life.  The task of toasting crumpets, frying eggs, making tea, it’s becoming too much.  The clouds are drifting over me.  I crack the first egg and break the yolk, I’m pissed off.  I wanted to make Burge a nice breakfast and I’ve cracked the yolk.  Its ok I have one egg left, I will have the cracked one.  I fumble around, getting slowly more impatient and annoyed with tasks.  I know Burge can see I’m struggling.  I crack the 2nd egg, and the yolk breaks… I’m distraught!  I know this sounds mad, it sounds crazy writing it, it’s a cracked egg not the end of the world, but something has changed in my mind, the delicate eco systems balance has changed, god knows how or why but it has, life is a little harder to manage today for some reason.  Despite the egg disaster I manage to keep it together without it becoming a major trigger.  I’m hungry, perhaps once I have eaten I will feel better?

Burge takes the kids up onto the island, I suspect to try and avoid me and my volatile mind for a while.  It gives me the quiet I need to regroup, settle my head and tackle the task of the rest of the day.  We walk to the park to meet my in laws, and we join countless other families outside observing the 2 metres apart rule.  I got a fancy flat white coffee from the boat club that has now opened with a new impressive one-way route in and out.  The caffeine hit keeps the tiredness at bay, and allows me to enjoy the time with my family in the sun.  As we walk home, I know I am dragging some clouds with me.  The fatigue is kicking in.  I want to keep it together the best I can to end Burge’s birthday well, but the task of washing up and starting dinner doesn’t hold the same level of contentment it did a couple of days ago.  It’s becoming difficult again.  I grit my teeth and turn on the tap, the rest becomes mechanical movements that result in clean crockery and chilli on the table for dinner.  Throughout dinner Burge can tell I am not myself, he offers me sympathetic hugs, “It will be ok darling”. Unfortunately the numbness is taking hold, and the sentiment of such kind words simply rebound off the grey clouds that are forming around me.  I express my frustration to him “what have I done so differently today that warrants me to begin feeling this way?” I adopt the stance of a child…n ”It’s not fair, its simply not fair, I don’t want to be feeling like this”. “Its cruel… this condition is just cruel!”  I don’t cry, but I’m close, I’m frustrated and annoyed, I wish I could control it, it annoys me that I can’t.  That being said today I won’t go down without a fight, it hasn’t got a hold of me yet.

All is not lost, my mood has slipped into “mild and moderate depression” I am out of the balanced zone, and sitting around a 3 on the mood scale score.  At this point it would be easy to give in, but I am a stubborn lady, and I’m not ready to give up yet.

Burge and I talk about it, we conclude I am exhausted.  I am so tired.  This evening I will give myself the break I need and take a sleeping aid to help me get the rest I require.

We all have quiet time after dinner.  Talulah on her phone playing a game with friends, Chloe on her ipad, and Burge playing a game on the deck.  The quiet again helps me to calm down, regain focus, settle my head.  The more I think about it, the more I realise noise is a huge factor at this phase of my cycle.  I wonder if there is anything in that?  I resolve to take some time to look it up at some point.

The washing up lingers from dinner, I’m determined to get up and do it.  I want Burge to relax and enjoy the remaining evening of his birthday.  Armed with some quiet, and a 10-minute rest and reflect, I get up and carry on.

As the day draws to the end, I am pleased with myself that I kept it together.  I didn’t succumb to triggers that could have tipped me over the edge.  I know I’m precariously teetering on the edge, and I need to be careful.  I have to admit I’m tired and on that front I need help this evening, it has to be a priority, I need rest in order to tackle another week.

Today is the end of mental health awareness week, and my last shared journal entry.  It’s been a really interesting exercise, and although the aim was to share more with you so you can better understand the struggles of people with mental health conditions, like all these things I have taken on to promote mental health awareness I have learnt more about myself in the process.  They say writing a daily journal can help get the thoughts from your head, so you go to sleep and tackle the next day afresh.  You can also read them back and begin to see trends and triggers and start to better understand yourself and your condition more.  That has definitely been the case for me.  Charting my mood using the Bipolar UK mood chart is also a great way to know where you are visually, and see trends.

Bipolar UK, is a national charity and I am pleased to say they are formally partnered with the Blackout project.  I know times are tough, but if you want to support a charity for mental health awareness week I can’t advocate this one enough.  1 in 50 people have bipolar disorder in the varies forms it takes.  While there is lots of support for depression and anxiety on the NHS, this condition lacks the resources for the specialist help people require for this condition.  Bipolar UK fills this gap.  They are entirely publicly funded, and if you support the charity in the next 24 hours, a very rich supporter has offered to match the funding raised giving double to the charity.

I spent the week sharing this with you to share more about my condition “bipolar ii”, showing how you can use the Bipolar UK mood chart to help you keep track of your mood,  and highlight the great work of Bipolar UK.

Remember the theme of mental health awareness week is kindness, we can all pack this in our hand bags each morning and get it out when we encounter people throughout the day.  We simply don’t know what a person is dealing with, so consider chucking in a sprinkle of the kindness you have stashed in your bag into your next conversation.  It might just brighten up a person’s day.

Thanks for listening to me all week.  I hope you have found this helpful.  To the 1 in 50 out there that have bipolar like me, and the 1 in 4 that suffer with their mental health like I do:  stay strong, its rubbish, I know, but you are more than this affliction, and you are some of the strongest most hard-core people I know.  Keep battling, find the resources that can help, and know that I often think about you all.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 6

Saturday May 23rd

I’m still struggling to get to sleep at the moment, I’ve found I’m going to bed much later during the lock down than I would normally.  Chloe granted me a quiet evening so I wasn’t woken up.  However, a gone midnight bedtime and a 5am wake up this morning meant not a lot of sleep.  I have no idea why I was so awake so early?  I even considered getting up and going for a run again, I spent at least an hour having a debate in my mind about this.  Today we had to make an epic drive up to Doncaster to view and sign off our new boat build. (For those that don’t know, I live on a boat, and we are getting a bigger new one built).   I knew I would be in a car for a 7 hour round trip and I was nervous that the lack of movement would affect my mood.  My logic was to get out and get some endorphins before the car confinement.  However, I also knew I hadn’t had a lot of sleep and expending so much energy before a long journey could leave me knackered before the day had even begun.  So it’s not even 6 am in the morning and my mind is currently in a heated debate with itself about what I should be doing!  It’s tough having my brain.  I’m only telling you this, so you can understand the constant nature of considering my condition, the persistent push and pull.   What will help?  What will make it worse? To get this wrong can be the difference between a good and bad day.  This morning it was a worry.

Anyone that knows me knows I hate making decisions, I hate choosing things; where to eat, what to eat, what colour do I want the paint in Chloe’s bedroom, anything like that I hate it, I hate making decisions!  Hopefully now you will understand why.  My mind, my condition is a constant balancing act, a relentless juggling of various elements of my life to keep it from tipping into manic lows and racing hypo mania.  I’m always trying to make the best decisions in my day to make things better for me and those around me.  So forgive me if when I’m presented with more options, I’m not generally over-joyed with the thought of expending more brain capacity to make more choices.  Quite often the basic day to day decisions I am presented with are, in my complex mind, simply not that important as long as I’m happy and not so low that I don’t want to be alive. For example; I don’t much care what we have for dinner, or if Chloe’s bedroom is polka dot pink!  Sorry to make these things seem trivial, but I hope you can see that in my mind they simply aren’t as important as the things I deal with day to day.

I elected to try and get some more rest, it took a long time to get settled again, and I don’t think I got back to sleep until 7.30am, however my husband again granted me some rest bite and got up with Chloe affording me a little longer in bed before our long trip.  He has lived with me and my condition for long enough to also know what will make things better.  We have worked hard to learn to talk to one another about our mental health needs, and as a result are getting better at supporting one another when we need it.  It’s been a work in progress, but something I would recommend if you live with someone, so they can better understand you, your condition and needs.

My day hasn’t really been that exciting and certainly not much to write about.  We spent 3 and a half hours in the car driving up north.  I used the time to buy a few gifts to send to some friends who I know are struggling, which I hope will bring a smile to their faces.  My theory is everyone loves some nice post that isn’t a bill!

We arrived at the boat builders and it was so exciting to board our new boat!  It was no longer a series of photos, but a thing that we were standing on.  I had a moment of gratitude that my mind was balanced, and not covered in dark clouds, so I could truly appreciate this moment with my husband.  As I mentioned before I’ve lost count of the times the manic lows have robbed me of the happy memories I should have had at various moments in my life.  Burge has worked so hard on planning, drawings, and making decisions about window locations and dimensions to bring this boat build to life (decisions I haven’t always been able to help with).  I am so happy I can stand in the wheel house of our new boat, look at his achievement and be so proud of what he has made happen.

We still have the epic 3.5hr hike home.  My thoughts drift to staying balanced.  I haven’t eaten very well today, I didn’t have breakfast, and the journey has been filled with service station snack food.  As I mentioned I have long since learnt that I function better with routines, good sleep, eating well and regularly.  It sounds a bit regimental and not very spontaneous but I know it works.  I am trying to cut myself some slack, and relax, but I know they are important things to consider.

I take some of the driving on the way home, I keep myself amused by singing along to some classics on smooth radio.

We are late back from our trip back up north.  I have 15 mins before I have to read this to you all.  I said to my husband it won’t be a very exciting journal for you to listen to today.  Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have never been so glad that I don’t have more drama to write about.  I’ve had 3 blissful balanced days, it’s at times like these I feel like I’m normal.  My thoughts wonder to those lucky people whose days are like this every day, and I am envious.  That being said I wonder how much they appreciate those days without the horrific contrast of the manic lows I am afflicted with?  I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy.

I’ve had a pretty torrid time the last 10 odd weeks since all this has happened.  It feels like forever since I enjoyed 3 days of being stable, it’s like I have had to learn how to live with bipolar all over again since all my routines and structure have changed.

I wonder how long my mind will grant me this rest bite, I often wonder when my next low will hit?  I try to push this to the back of my mind.  I have chalked another balanced day and this is good, I will tackle whatever tomorrow throws at me when it arrives.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 5

Friday 22nd May

Its 5.45pm and it’s the first time today I have sat down to write.  This can only be a good thing, as I haven’t overly had any burning desire to recall anything during my day.  A good sign that my mood has stayed in the stable zone most of the day.

Let me first start with yesterday evening; I decided to go for a run, some much needed movement to counter act sitting at a desk all day.  I was only 1km in, and for the first time in a long time I stopped.  Not because I was depressed or low, not because I was tired or in pain, but just because I wanted to.  I didn’t need the energetic stamina and drive required to run, I didn’t need the endorphins.  I wanted to stop, and walk, slow the pace down.  I didn’t need to run.  Instead I walked.  I took in the scenery around me, of the river and tow path and simply enjoyed being out on such a beautiful warm evening and feeling well.  Believe it or not I have never done this.  There was a time that I would have attributed stopping with failure, not finishing something I had set out to do.  It’s weird but these last 2 days I feel like for the first time ever I have learnt to appreciate the balanced days.

Fridays are my day off from work.  I always like to mentally pat myself on the back when I get to the end of the week.  A silent recognition of making it through another working week.  Although I have been known to tackle a few bits of work on a Friday, I know that Fridays are in part relaxed, and won’t have anything too taxing for me to tackle.

The danger with days that have no work is that I have no focus, and that can often lead to feeling a bit lost and unmotivated.  Remember I cope with my bipolar condition with routines and structure, and removing them can leave me lost.  The challenge today was to keep my mood stable.  I had to make sure I wasn’t tempted to tackle too much in case it would tip me into mania.  I also had to make sure I didn’t slump and do nothing, succumbing to the lack of motivation and sedentary nature of lethargy, in case I tipped into depressive ends of the mood scale.

I very much attribute a good day with being productive and achieving something, if I don’t I immediately link this with feeling bad, mainly because I don’t manage to do much when I’m low.  I am slowly learning that its ok to have days that aren’t full to the brim with activity.  It’s been a difficult mind set to change.  It’s like I am having to learn to take it easy on myself, and cut myself some slack.  I spend so much of my time constantly correcting myself from hypo mania and manic depression that my mind is always busy thinking, adjusting, coping.  It’s like I haven’t learnt to simply relax, settle and enjoy the calm when I’m stable.  I’m used to this silly pace of life, this constant state of turmoil.  When its calm I almost don’t know what to do with it.  I’m looking for the “thing” I’m supposed to be doing.

For me today I was leaning towards the hypo mania, the lure of feeling ok meant I wanted to do more, so it was important to keep that in check. Thankfully I have my husband to help me do that.  I had a nice breakfast with Burge and Chloe and tackled a few bits of work, but at no great pace.

I also took the time to catch up with some family and friends, something I know my condition doesn’t always allow me to do.  My mood is always in a state of flux, and all the time I’m trying to deal with that I often find the simple act of communicating with loved ones too hard to tackle.  It makes me a pretty flaky uncommunicative person at times, and I’m lucky to have a few very tolerant and understanding friends who have stuck by me and been understanding.

I have also managed today to take the time to acknowledge, take in and respond to the many kind messages I have received this week from different people.  They have all been so lovely and supportive.  Several of them made me very emotional.  I’m just glad that today I took the time while I am stable and balanced to read them and appreciate them.  My low and high moods often leave me in a world of my own, and to read things from people where I can see that what I am doing is providing some help makes me feel like I have found a productive way to find some good in having this condition.

Many people have asked if I am ok. I know that for most it can seem alarming to read about manic lows, hypo mania and my constant mood swings.  I have been pretty open and honest about my battle with bipolar ii, but this daily journal has been a chance to share my day to day battles over the course of a week.  I just wanted to let you know, now while I am balanced and feeling ok, that this is a fairly typical week for me.  The cycles are a little more pronounced and frequent since this corona virus nonsense but I guess that is to be expected.  That being said this is my life. I have chosen to share it with you for this week to promote awareness, so people can better understand mental health conditions and in particular my own bipolar ii.

Next week I will stop sharing my journals with you, but unfortunately, I will continue to endure the same battles with managing my mood.  For me it doesn’t end when mental health awareness week ends, I only wish it did.  Next week 1 in 50 people will carry on battling bipolar with me, and 1 in 4 of us will carry on dealing with their own mental health condition.

The message of “kindness” this mental health awareness week shouldn’t be lost when the week ends.  I am sharing my daily journal so people better understand the battle some of us have with our mental health.  We should be kind every week, and add a teaspoon more of understanding and empathy to our morning coffee, you simply don’t know what a person is having to deal with day to day, whether they have a mental health condition or not.

Sorry this kind of feels like some profound message I should have left to the end of the week, after all I have another 2 more days of sharing my journal with you, however if you have stuck with me all week you will know I never quite know where my mood will take me, so I’m saying it now while I feel ok, just in case I’m not able to on Sunday!

I have an hour and a half before I read this to you, I feel the urge to get moving, there is only so much relaxing this over active mind can endure, so I think a run or walk is in order (that and we need some milk!) I promise to try and get back on time to read this to you at 8.30pm.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 4

Thursday 21st May

I had another restless night’s sleep, this time it was the fault of my darling 2-year-old.  Bless her she was having nightmares.  It meant I was up 3 times in the night.  The problem for me is it takes me so long to settle and get to sleep that when I get woken up I have to go through the whole process again.  Last night I had to do this several times, so I spent a good deal of the night reading.  The lack of sleep is beginning to take its toll, you can’t be strong and tackle a day, never mind one with bipolar ii if you are tired.  I suspect I will have to consider some intervention this evening to help me sleep.  I have several sleeping aid tablets, some great herbal and over the counter ones I can consider using as well a couple of prescribed options.  My body needs to rest.

This morning was a sigh of relief as I look at my diary and see I have nothing that requires me to be in attendance, nothing that needs me to be forward facing, no meetings.  It’s another scorcher of a day, and so I take the opportunity to dawn a bikini top, sit with a nice coffee and tackle some work without the added strain of “performing” in a meeting or teaching session.  I start off slow, emails, basic planning tasks.  I then attempt some things that require a little more ability to focus.  I am pleasantly surprised that I manage it, and am over the moon!  I know that I am feeling more stable.  The pull of focus is never far from my mind, especially at home.  There is a full bowl of washing up in the kitchen, I am having mum guilt at not spending time with Chloe, the weather is beautiful and I feel like I should be making the most of it.  My mind is alive with all these thoughts and more still, and it’s a battle to keep them at bay.  To quiet my racing mind.

I sometimes wonder if I should reward myself when I have completed a task, perhaps a short walk, or 10 mins in the sun up on the island?  It would break up the long endless days of sitting in front of a lap top, which is what my working day has become as a result of covid-19.

I decided to try that approach, and went on to set myself a goal of tackling another couple of more complex tasks that require me to be more focused.  I’m elated that I managed them, and reward myself with a break from the lap top.  There are some very clear signs that my mood has settled in the green stable zone, my mind is quieter and more settled.  I can begin to take on some more menial domestic tasks.  I attack the large bowl of washing up, and make my family lunch.  It’s such a nice feeling to know that I can do this to support my long-suffering husband.  When I’m battling bipolar mood swings by ability to endure basic wife and mother duties are sometimes beyond me.  As if the conflict in my head is so troublesome and distracting I can’t deal with anything else.  It’s enough to deal with that and balance work, and the house work is the thing that takes a hit.  When I do feel well enough to resume doing normal thing like washing up, I’m over joyed at completing the tasks.  I’m sure people must find this weird that I’m so chuffed at putting some washing on, and making lunch, but I do this with a beaming smile, as it means I’m well, I’m normal, today I am balanced.

I can’t begin to convey the sense of relief and joy that today my condition has granted me a day of rest.  The feeling is over whelming, the sun is shining, my head is clear, and I could simply cry with happiness that I feel ok.

My afternoon was filled with back to back meetings, but with a clear head I approached them with ease and confidence, and felt strong and stable throughout.  The rest of my day I am pleased to report was blissfully normal.  I hung the washing out, tackled some chores, all basic every day things, and I enjoyed every minute of doing them.  Having bipolar ii does make me more grateful and appreciative about the small things, because when I feel ok, simple tasks like hanging out the washing are amazing.  The sun was out, I was feeling good, and I was truly content simply pegging out the laundry.

It is my mother in laws birthday today so we went for a socially distant visit to drop off a present and sit in their garden.  It was lovely to be social and chat to my in laws.  My mental health condition doesn’t take into account social plans or events, and I’ve lost count over the years of the amount of times I have missed things because I don’t feel well, or been to events  but feel terrible and so haven’t enjoyed them like I should have.  So again, I’m over the moon to be present, happy and enjoying the visit.

My bipolar ii is rubbish, but one thing it has taught me is to appreciate things when I feel good.  Today has been a good day, balanced, even and good.  Today I felt normal, I even had moments when I forgot about my condition.  Today wasn’t full of anything particularly exciting, but it was perfect! I long for more days like today.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 3

Weds 20th May

I had the worst night’s sleep.  I went to bed at 11pm with good intentions, but my mind was racing.  The hypo mania feels almost scary when I’m alone in bed and trying to rest.  The quiet of my bedroom, and the expectation and need to sleep turns the comfort of bedtime into a daunting nightmare.  I’m tired and I want to sleep but my mind has other ideas.

I often read a book, I find it helps to escape my racing thoughts, concentrating on the story is a distraction from my mind.  The last time check I remember was just gone midnight.  The book must have worked I nodded off.

I saw 2am, and every hour thereafter.  It was a very erratic night’s sleep.  I even had a horrible anxiety dream, I hate these.  My brain puts me in stressful situations.  Last night Burge and I were at a fancy posh restaurant (one where you have to wait ages for a reservation).  Burge stormed off with the hump, leaving me alone at the table.  I was embarrassed, do I stay and eat a posh meal alone? Or do I try and make my excuses leave a tip and leave without eating.  It was horrible.  I woke up turned to my husband and told him that “dream Burge” was horrible to me. At 5am I was tempted to just get up and give up, I even considered going for a run (that’s how mad my racing mind was).  I thankfully challenged this silly thought and crawled back into bed.  I read my book and must have eventually nodded off.  I need to try and get as much rest as possible.

Its only 8.30am in the morning, and I feel like I’ve endured the stresses of a full day already.

My mind is still cluttered, staying focussed on one task is next to impossible.  I know the best thing to do when I’m like this is – tackle small quick tasks that don’t require longer periods of focus.  Quick email responses, and phone calls, simple scheduling tasks.  Anything too long and that would require lots of planning, thinking would be far too much for my manic mind to stay focussed on.  Of course, sometimes I have those longer planning tasks to tackle, and the deadlines don’t take into account my bipolar disorder.  This is always tough to manage.   Thankfully now I don’t have anything lingering on a to do list, and I can afford to wait for a time when I’m more stable to tackle those to do items.  It does however mean that my working days aren’t always structured 9-5 Monday to Friday, I often have to utilise weekends and evenings if my bipolar brain opens a window of mood that allows me to be more productive.

This morning I had a large production meeting, and I had a great pre-meeting phone call with the GSA production manager beforehand to catch up and plan the meeting.  The great thing about finally being so open about my condition is knowing that everyone knows, and it has actually surprised me how supportive people can be.  It has been invaluable knowing that I can relax and allow myself to lean on people for support when I need it.

One of those friends called me to offer some advice having listening to my daily journal.  It’s always nice to hear suggestions, especially from people that know me as their very valuable outside perspective is sometimes what I need to try something new.  I did however have a slight wobble during our chat when I could feel the tears and emotion building.  Not because he was upsetting me, but simply because I was frustrated by having this condition.  Annoyed that we were having to talk about my illness, that wave of self-pity sometimes gets the better of me. Why me? Why do I have this?  Why are we having to talk about this?!

This afternoon I felt a dip, a drop from the mania back down to the lower mood scales.  I logged on to the bipolar UK Facebook group this lunchtime and listened to April Kelley’s live chat.  April has bipolar herself and is the ambassador for this charity.  She talks live every weds lunchtime.  It’s nice to be with a group of people that are similar to me, struggling, battling this condition.  It does however highlight even further that I have this, I’m afflicted with it, and sometimes I’m tired with it all.  Having to think about it, worry about it, manage it.  I’m struggling, this is so tough, but there are expectations of me in my senior role at work.  While I am so incredibly proud of my working achievements, the job I have and the profile I have worked to obtain in my industry, I often wonder if this gives me added strain on managing my bipolar ii condition.  People rely on me to do things, sort things out, organise things.  Sometimes it’s really hard to do these things and cope with this daily mental struggle, and right now in these weird corona virus times its 10 times worse.  I can see my inbox filling with requests.  I allow myself a self-piteous moment to cry and feel over whelmed, I’ve never been more torn…do I need a break? Is it all too much?  The truth is if you took away these things I have to do, this focus, this expectation my fear would be that I would crawl into a corner and give up fighting this battle with my bipolar mind.  I dry my tears count to 10, breathe and switch my camera on to tackle a joint lesson delivery on the CDM regulations.  By the end of this session my lower mood score has levelled out, engaging with the class, talking, explaining things has given me focus, and dragged me from those low thoughts that make my mood drop.

Its 4.38pm, I’ve stopped, I don’t really have any drive left.  I’m tired.  I looked back at my mood chart and realised I’ve gone from hypo mania, down to depressive mood scales, and back up.  It’s exhausting dealing with mood changes like this in one day.  They have a term called a  “mixed state” – feelings of mania and depression at the same time – maybe it’s that?  Maybe a form of rapid cycling between moods?  Who cares what the medical name is, all I know is it sucks, its hard work and I’m knackered!  I’m calling it a day for today.

I took some time to escape up onto the island where my boat is moored, and spend some time in the world of my 2-year-old daughter.  Her world is much simpler than mine, and I quite enjoy getting lost in her world and escaping mine from time to time.  She wanted to help our landlord with the bins, so we both joined in with this island chore.  We then pottered in the sunshine, collecting stones and twigs, and briefly for a short amount of time I forgot about my condition, work, and the mundane life tasks of being an adult.

I am feeling a little lethargic, a couple of days sat in front of the lap top with little movement are taking their toll.  I know I need to get up and get out for a run.

So I went for a run, eventually, after procrastinating and finding things to ruminate on.  It meant I went out late, and it would have been a rush to get back to do my reading.  I got lost in the running, and the endorphins worked their magic.

As I ran I thought about my day.  It’s been very up and down.  The only way I could describe it is if I asked you to spend the day balancing in the middle of balance ball.  It would be a challenge, always adjusting and moving to correct yourself to find that perfect spot to stand so your stable.  This is close to how most of my days are spent, and most definitely describes my day today.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 2

Tues 19th May

Chloe decided to crawl into bed with us at 5am this morning, which meant I got very little sleep from this point onwards with a fidgeting 2-year-old lying next to me. Sleep is such an important part of managing bipolar conditions. A lack of sleep can bring about the mood swings more, so for me I’m always conscience of trying to get enough of it.

It’s always hard waking up after having a manic low the day before. You kind of wake up nervous, and worried about what to expect. Are you going to feel that bad again today? Is today going to be as difficult as it was yesterday? The morning after the day before is always slower, more tentative, and full of the unexpected. You’re a little raw and wounded from the harshness of the day before, and your walking on egg shells nervous you will end up back in the dark place you were previously.

Burge allowed me an extra hour in bed so I didn’t get up till 8am this morning, he too is aware that sleep is important in the battle against my bipolar ii. I spent the morning on emails as normal, and admin. I was slow and lethargic, but plodded along getting a few bits done. My mood would be 3 in the mood scale. Concentration poor, but finding some comfort in routine. I can only describe this phase in my cycle after a manic drop as being numb, glazed over. You kind of go on much like a robot. Having work, a routine or things to do is helpful. If I didn’t have that the danger would be that I would sit and stare into space.

This morning I had a lighting lesson with my students. I often wonder if they can tell if I’m not ok. I hope it’s not too noticeable? I do worry that my moods reflect in my teaching, and work extra hard to make that not the case. My students as always were great, I really needed them to engage and interact, as I’m not sure I had the energy to be the driving force in a 2 hour lesson this morning. They didn’t let me down, they talked, we worked through our project, and gently throughout the 2 hrs their questions and chatting brought me slowly back to life. I’m definitely feeling a little better after the lesson, my mood is now at a 4 on the mood scale.

I’m now looking at the rest of the day’s requirements of me, and I’m more than a little nervous of the afternoon ahead. I have another group session that requires me to be alive and engaging, but the thing that is playing on my mind is the CBT Cognitive behavioural therapy session I have at 5.30pm this evening. Last week didn’t go so well. It’s a 2 hour session and I struggled to stay focused for the last hour. If this session had been yesterday evening I know I wouldn’t have been able to attend. I just hope I can keep it together to make an appearance tonight. The CBT session is designed for people with depression, they have had to put me into this group as they have no services for people with bipolar. This is the case for most areas of the country. Bespoke support for bi polar sufferers is hard to come by, which is why I have been trying to highlight the good work of Bipolar UK.

I had 2 hours between my teaching sessions, I should have taken a break, stayed calm. I didn’t, I can feel my mind starting to race, it’s so exciting to not be feeling bad, and knowing I can do some work. This is a danger point for me. As my mood scale goes up, its exhilarating, a stark contrast to the manic low place. So I try to ram it in, I want to fit the most in while I am able to do this, while my mood allows me to be productive; before the darkness makes it next to impossible to get work done. I take calls, I make calls. I make lunch while talking on the phone, and eat it in a rush after. I realise my dad called me this morning and I couldn’t pick up – I call my dad 15 mins before my afternoon teaching. I should have been focussing on keeping my mind calm before teaching. It’s not fair on my dad as I don’t have the time he deserves, and not fair on me and my mind as I’m not giving my head the space. 5 mins before my lesson I even manage to take the time to pen a few words on this journal. It’s then I realise I have spent the last hour being hypo manic….my mood has elevated too high, and I need to be careful. My mood now sits at a 7. I need to calm down.

My afternoon teaching session was good. I could feel I was more engaged and enthusiastic, I know I am feeling better. I’ve realised the ascent from my manic lows are slow to start, but very quickly catapult and can go too far up into the hyper manic mood scale areas. It’s just so amazing, so exciting to not be in that dark manic low place, that coming out of it brings a euphoric boost. I’m simply ecstatic, elated that I feel good. The danger with my bipolar ii is that these good feelings can spiral to higher levels, and I start to do too much which makes my mind cluttered and unmanageable. I have only in the last year started to acknowledge and take ownership of my hypo manic episodes, until then I didn’t even really admit I had them. I’m still very much learning about this, I am well practiced at coming out of the manic lows, and have perfected ways to do this. I need to work on coming out of the hypo manic higher moods, the first step I know is acknowledging when you are in them and I am getting better at that, but I need to work on ways to calm my mind and slow things down.

With that in mind it was my goal to try and do something after my teaching session that was calm and peaceful. I wanted to take Chloe out on the kayak, away from the laptop, the phone and stimulants. In reality I ended up on phone calls, they lasted longer than I planned. Really, I should have been more disciplined to simply not take the calls, but like I said in a hypo manic mood you are kind of all over the place. One of the people I spoke too knows a lot about my condition, and I know I mentioned to him that I felt I was speaking faster. I can feel the unbalance in my head, the pace is fast, its unsettling, unfocused. I do something, then think of something else, and perhaps start doing that. I wanted to go out on the kayak but like a magpie I was easily distracted by other things as my hypo manic mind stops me from finding focus. I’m even struggling to write this journal today, being able to focus and write this in a structured way is proving difficult.

Anyway I managed to get out on the kayak, but typically Chloe wasn’t really feeling it, and we didn’t stay out long. Instead we went up on the island. Again my hypo mania found me on the phone again, but thankfully to Simon from my Blackout team, and actually he told me take some time out before my CBT session in half an hour. My Dad turned up for a socially distanced visit to tell me how his doctor’s appointment went, I only had 25 mins before my therapy session. Hopefully you can see from this journal my day went from slow and tentative to fast and out of control in quite a quick period of time. It’s like the neurons of my brain are racing around out of control, almost over stimulated. I can’t focus or concentrate as everything is scuttering around my head. It’s really hard work to complete tasks, and I often end up doing several things at once, and they take much longer. When it gets like that I almost want to push pause in my brain, take 5 mins, get all the neurons line them up in order and then press play and try and resume with some control.

So its 6.15pm. I am actually writing this while in my CBT therapy session. It’s on anxiety and panic. I’m struggling with the format of the Skype delivery, the guy delivering the session is talking at us, no one else really talks, which to me defeats the purpose of talking therapy. Some people chat on the text. I haven’t said a thing this week. I can’t focus. The only thing he has mentioned that resonates with me was the question he answered on what is the difference between primary and secondary mental health conditions. A primary condition is a mild to moderate mental health condition that can be dealt with at GP level, and apparently this CBT session is designed for that. A secondary condition is a long-term mental health condition that needs referral and specialist care, his first example of this was bipolar. He just highlighted that I don’t really belong in this CBT session. That hits a nerve, and I’m reminded I don’t really fit in even here, it reminds me again how I’m very much alone with this bipolar burden. It’s not the fault of the guy delivering these sessions, or the other guy that placed me in the group sessions, all they want to do is offer me help. The simple fact of the matter is that there isn’t that much specialist support for bipolar conditions.

So as I sit in front of my laptop not overly listening to the CBT guy dutifully talking away I ponder the conundrum of what to do to get my mood score a little lower and in the green stable zone. I’m pretty certain a hit of endorphins will make it worse if I run, maybe it’s yoga? Or a friend suggested a mindfulness app. I’m not great at either, but I’m thinking I need to get better…. I haven’t mastered it yet.

In the end I went and did some yoga, Burge literally pushed me out of the door my unfocussed mind was annoying him with erratic conversations, and me constantly interrupting him. I did 52 mins, so quite a while, I sweated, and breathed, and I feel a bit better for having done it.

It’s nice to not be low, but challenging to manage the swing into hypo mania. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 Daily journal : Day 1

Monday – May 18th

I’ve been up since 7am with Chloe.  This is how most days start.  She has milk and watches TV, and I sit on my laptop enjoying the quiet time to try and tackle emails, utilising the quietness of the morning and quietness in my head to try and get some stuff done before my mind and the day gets cluttered.  This morning I was calm, somewhat lacking motivation but calm and settled.  I’ve enjoyed 3 days of my mood being stable and the perfect 5 on the mood scale.  3 blissful days of being normal, on recurrent days like this I wander if maybe I’m cured? Maybe I’m better and I no longer have bipolar ii.

This morning I brought my husband a birthday present (its his birthday on Sunday), planned my afternoons meetings.  Was making plans for the weeks work.  I could feel the expectation of the working weeks activities building, cluttering my mind.  Its mental health awareness week, what should I be doing for it? Have I planned this meeting, do I need to plan that meeting.  When will I run, shall I take Chloe for a walk?

I found it hard to really get motivated this morning, more often than not I found my focus drifting to “Finding Dory” which Chloe was watching on the TV.

I thought I should go for a walk really before I start my working day, this new working life for me finds me sat in front of a computer for most of the day, and im missing the lack of movement.  It’s a sedentary life of staring at my own face on a zoom screen, and I know that walking, running, moving is helping my mood.

Around 9.30am I could feel my mood slipping.  I hadn’t gone for a walk, I hadn’t eaten breakfast.  I had a morning full of mentor group sessions, where I am expected to motivate groups of students.  I had left it all too late.  I try to chuck some bacon on the grill, but know I don’t have time for this level of complex breakfast.  For some reason I continue doing it, knowing it’s a stupidly complex thing to tackle so close to my first meeting.  Chloe bless her wants to help me.  She is playing with some cheese on the side, and that’s the trigger……. the flip.  It switches.  I loose!

I throw the cheese across the room.  And there it goes…..from being a 4 on the mood scale straight to a 1.  It’s so quick, it’s an explosion of frustration, almost like a defeated declaration that it’s become too much.  I don’t want to be here anymore life is too tough to manage.

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It’s 9.48.  I have a student group session in 10 mins.  I haven’t eaten.  I’m on the edge of tears.  I want to go back to bed.  But I will put the kettle on make a coffee, slap on face, and give the performance I have spent my life perfecting.

9.54 – I break down in tears on my husband, declaring I simply want to work properly.  Why am I like this….?  Chloe comes and hugs my leg.  In 6 Mins time I will have to present my face cool calm and collected in a meeting.  My husband presents me with a poached egg and bacon on toast, which I wolf down and I make my way to the back deck of my boat (my new make shift office) for my student meeting.

10am

“Hi Mig, how are you”

“Oh I’ve had better mornings guys, but Im ok” – The session begins…..

I have limped my way to lunchtime.  I’m so lucky to have my husband who presented me with some food.  If I was on my own I know I wouldn’t be coordinated enough to feed myself anything of any substance.  I’ve battled through this morning with what can only be described as lead weights dragging me down.

One of my afternoon meetings was with the Blackout team.  The good thing about that team is they know me, and I don’t have to pretend, I can admit to feeling bad.  I didn’t show my face, my husband led the meeting, and the team allowed me to just be me, and step back because I felt bad.  The conversation was hard to follow after time, the noise of people talking was amplified in a way that makes it unnatural and unbearable.  I just wanted to press mute, and make it go quiet, make the noise go away.

I know when I’m declining as the simple task of even remembering to drink water is beyond me.  I’m often very dehydrated when in a manic low.  At 4pm, I lose the battle.  With no one requiring anything of me, no work commitments, and Burge and chloe going for a walk I retreat to my room, I had lost the battle, I was defeated.  It’s a beautiful sunny day, but I chose to hide under my duvet.  This often makes the whole thing so much more tragic and sad, that I am too poorly to appreciate the good weather.

There is a lure to sleep when I’m this low, sleep means no pain, no dark thoughts, a break from this dark place.  I will myself to sleep, in the hope it gives me a system reset.

I don’t really sleep, things wake me, I’m agitated.  I’m also very thirsty, but instead of acknowledging the need for a drink I ignore it, I’m lost in my head. I get out from my hiding place a little after 5pm.  I’m a zombie, sat on the sofa.

Burge is working away on dinner, god knows what I would do without him when im like this.  I always feel like a complete failure when I see him carrying on each time im this low.  Like im a burden.

I know I need to go for a run, Burge knows this also.  I lean on his shoulder and cry, “Why don’t I work properly?’ I don’t want this anymore, I never wanted it in the first place”

We both know running is my “medicine” it wont fix it, but it will help.  The natural endorphins are what I need to attack the chemical imbalance in my head.  I simply don’t have the words to explain how hard it is to find the motivation to get up, put on running gear, and take those first steps and move them into a jog when your mood is down at a 1 or 2.  You might as well be asking me to climb Everest!  It’s like I’m taking on 3 rounds with Mike Tyson.  However I am well practiced at the battle, and I manage to drag my sorry arse out of the boat.  The run was painful, it was a physical manifestation of the battle I was having inside my own head.  Every kilometre run, was a punch in the face of my bipolar condition, and trust me there were several points I wanted to stop and walk, give up.  For me it becomes a principal, I wont stop, I will carry on.  I’ve endured labour for crying out loud, I can and will drag my ass around a 5k running route.  For me running is a socially acceptable form of enduring some level of pain, more productive than some of the darker things that I have done in the past.  The physical battle I need to try and punch at this condition and win the fight.

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The endorphins work against the dark black clouds I have managed to out run, clearing my vision a little.  I had a shower, and I let the tears fall.  Tears of relief that today it didn’t win entirely, tears of frustration that I have this horrible mental health condition and I will have to battle this all over again tomorrow.  I can only hope that tomorrows ups and downs are a little kinder and offer me some rest bite from the extremes of today.

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I have ended the day by singing to Chloe on my guitar.  She wanted to sing her favourite song, “The Grand old duke of York”.  There is something sobering about listening to the carefree singing of a 2 year old.  Tonight I will be kind to myself, rest and relax.  Chalk today up as a bad one, and tackle tomorrow afresh.

Being Bipolar with Covid-19

I have Bipolar ii, a mental health condition where my mood fluctuates between manic lows, and hyper manic (milder forms of mania).

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So where do I start…. over the last couple of weeks all of the routines I had put in place to manage my condition have slowly been eroded away one by one.

  • Firstly I hate shopping.  My brain isn’t good at processing choice very well, and the super market is so busy, so loud and full of choices sometimes my head can’t deal with making.  Online shopping is next to impossible now, and shopping in general has become an olympic event in fighting off people for bog roll and pasta!  This fills me with dread in the coming weeks.
  • On March the 16th, the ENTIRE industry that has been my sanctuary, that I know and love went dark and closed.  Thats a pretty epic thing for my fragile mind to try and deal with.  All theatres, events, gigs are shut, and everyone of the lovely people I can call friends and colleagues are now worried for their jobs and livilihoods.
  • Yesterday they shut the schools and nurseries and I no longer have any childcare.  Now don’t get me wrong I love my little girl, but the day to day life I had mastered of managing work and being a mum must be reinvented and mastered all over again with new parameters.

Yesterday I think I was thrown one too many curve balls and my brain could no longer cope.  The switch went and the lights started to go out.

I had to reduce the stimulation, as my mind was racing and out of control.  There is so much information flying around.  Advice and guidance on the virus.  Plans, groups, advice on my industry having to shut down.  Lots of people offering amazing things to do while we find ourselves stuck at home.  Celebs singing, free training, links to important things.  All of these things I felt I had to try and keep up with and engage with and share with others.  The truth is I have Bipolar ii, and the first thing I have to do to help others is help myself, look after myself, prioritise myself.  If I don’t I’m not well enough to help anyone else at a later date.

So I was honest.  I tapped out.  Let people know I needed some space, and time out.  I deleted all the social media apps from my phone.  I can only now access them on my laptop.  They aren’t in the palm of my hand any more.  I reached out to my husband.  I allowed the tears to fall, embraced the panic, and the pulses of pain that I have to endure.  But I did it with my husband by my side.  I let him look after me. He made me dinner, and I decided to focus on making bread.   Yes you heard me, Mig made bread!  It kept my head focussed.  I can report that I am no Mary Berry.  In fact I right royally cocked up the first loaf, it was more than a little well done, and I put to much bicarb of soda in so it tasted funky!  I don’t think I will be giving up the day job.  However I made another batch and the 2nd one was ok.  I then sat ate dinner and my husband even tolerated an episode of Hollyoaks for me, ( he must love me!)

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Today was a tough start, trying to not succumb to the dwindling progressive low mood.  Getting up is the hardest thing, doing things is even harder.  For me it’s all about having a plan.  With no childcare my husband and I had to tag up our work commitments.  My work meetings online were tough, it was hard to not zone out, and put on my oh so famous game face.  I had a lovely online meeting with 35 of my theatre production students, and they actually brightened up my day.  We laughed, as we were all working out this new “zoom” web meeting platform.  Mucked about putting different backgrounds on our screens, just had a lovely chat with one another.  They reminded me of the importance of simply talking, and choosing to engage and not retreat when my mind is pulling me into a dark place.

I had other meetings, but soon realised I had been sat looking at a screen all afternoon.  I then started to go bat shit crazy!  As a technician sitting at a desk all day isn’t in my nature, so this new way of working is going to be tough.  I know that endorphins are a natural anti-depressant so I dragged my arse into some running gear and despite the drizzle went out for a run.  Within 1k of running I could feel those endorphins kicking in.  Running gives me head space, as I run I start to think, and life gets easier to manage.

Tackling life was easier when I got home, putting Chloe to bed, washing up, house work.  I’m even feeling well enough to pen this blog.

It’s a daily battle, and one I will begin all over again tomorrow.  But I will be dammed if some superbug is going to spoil all the hard work I have made in coming to terms with my condition and finding ways to manage and cope.  It’s going to be like learning how to do it all over again, now that so many changes have been forced into my life.  But I am a very stubborn lady and I will find a way to get through these next few months, and as I work it out my promise is to share them with you all.

To all my fellow mental health  sufferers, these are very strange times.  Our lives are going to be different.  So take some time to work it all out.  Strip back the stimulants, quiet your brains and listen to what your head needs you to do to get by.  I’m working on calming my head, and adjusting to all this madness.  I’m going to take a long weekend, a break from social media and the SO many posts and stimulants, a break from the news, and the incessant rolling script of this virus.  I plan small achievable tasks each day – get up, run (endorphins), shower, maybe plant some veggies in the garden, maybe not.  I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage things.  Do some washing, go for a walk. Sleep.  Simple things.  Quiet things, things without screens.  I’m certain my head will thank me.  Next week I’m hoping I will be calmer, and ready to take on the world again.

Look after yourselves, and may your quest for toilet roll and pasta be fruitful!

 

 

International Womens Day

I write this today on Friday March 6th, I was going to take part in a panel discussion with some other fabulous strong ladies to mark “International Women’s day” at The Guildford School of Acting.  Instead I spent over an hour sat on the A3 in a rather large car park, finally managing to escape having travelled only 1 junction!!  Alas I missed the panel…

The truth is I’ve struggled all day.  I spent the morning not being able to focus enough to decide what to do.  Then I felt crap and felt I should be doing something.  So I spent the afternoon running around like a muppet.  The joys of dealing with my rapid cycling bi polar mind!  Anyway, my day ended on the A3 foiled by something I had no control over.  My tender mind simply can’t deal with the fact I said I would do something, and didn’t do it.  So I thought I would somehow cheat my bipolar brain by taking the time to reflect on my thoughts on being a woman in my industry.

Truth be told I’m lucky enough not to dwell too much on being a woman in the lighting industry, which I feel is a testament to my work environment.  I feel respected and valued as much as my male counterparts and for that I am lucky.  To every “male” I have had the pleasure of working with over the many years of my career that has been supportive and respectful thank you.  Thanks for not making a deal out of the fact I have boobs!  I have so many happy memories of fun and laughter in the crew room, and never felt “different” for being a woman.

Be strong - handwriting motivational quote. Female gender sign. The concept of girl power, fight, protest, strength, struggle for women's rights.

 

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That being said women are in the minority in the technical lighting world.  It’s much better now than where it was 10 years ago, with more females emerging though, but we are still very much outnumbered by men.  It would be interesting to know why the stats are so male heavy?  I can also see a problem in retaining females in higher more senior positions, as well as attracting them to want to apply for them?  Perhaps the roles don’t lend themselves to females that wish to have a family? Are the ladies simply not getting these jobs? Or are they simply not applying? Who knows…. maybe we should conduct a large female study and give our industry a female perspective?

Having said I don’t dwell on being female too much, I have encountered a couple of issues that occurred from me simply being female, and I thought I would share them….

The first was a rather belligerent touring Chief Electrician who announced he didn’t think there should be female Chief Electricians.  He was annoyed at a new rule imposed by my technical manager that meant he couldn’t talk to the fly floor, and it would appear I got the brunt of his frustration on not agreeing with this rule!  I was so startled by this I didn’t really know how to deal with it.  I was also quite poorly with my mental health at the time, not yet diagnosed and doing my best to get by.  I had very loyal crew, and work colleges who weren’t pleasant to him as a result of his remarks.  The support was lovely to have.  I also sent the production company letters to report the comments.  I don’t recall it having had much of an effect but hey at least I did it.  Thankfully this delightful bigoted outdated chap has been the last to date.  Long may that kind of opinion stay buried.  I hope you look at my successful career and feel like the fool you are!

I also recall a few fit ups where the truck driver and touring crew would only hand me small light items, that perhaps were easier for my delicate female form to cope with.  I had one truck load in where I was repeatedly passed wardrobe and kitchen items…an ironing board, clothes rails etc.  This always amused me, and all of the male crew I worked with.  More fool you if you think I’m weak.  I had a few easy load ins from their outdated views, which made up for the back-breaking ones which involved steel deck and breaking up ice shows!!  There was no time for chivalry on a get out!  Every man/woman mucked in till the bitter end, when you were presented with a tin of lager often at 5am!

My only other reflection and I’m afraid to say regret on being a lady in the technical backstage industry was I never managed to penetrate the glass ceiling of becoming a technical manager.   I was Chief LX for many many years, and applied and got close on more than one occasion, but never managed to convince anyone to take a punt on me.   I often look back and feel that it was asking them to have faith and trust a woman in running a technical backstage team.  Oddly the people I had to convince were women, most of whom were general managers with little knowledge of running things backstage.  Maybe they felt they needed a strong man to manage the department they didn’t know that much about, the department predominantly made up of men?  Who knows?  Either way my career didn’t venture that way.  A part of me will always have a pang of bitter regret.  I do know a few fabulous female technical managers, but in this role, we are greatly outnumbered by our male counterparts.  I’m a stubborn lady and it will always annoy me I didn’t manage to obtain that career goal.   Somethings work out for the best, I wouldn’t be where I am now working on exciting innovative new designs, in a progressive inspiring university, and teaching lovely enthusiastic students to become the technicians of tomorrow, if those people didn’t halt my career aspirations within working theatre.  Maybe them withholding my goal is a part of what continues to drive me towards new ones?  So it all worked out for the best.  When one door closes and you’re motivated, another door opens.  My delicate brain loves to ruminate and I would be lying if I didn’t say I’d taken more than a thought or two looking back at the job role that got away!  That being said I’m also a strong motivated lady and I won’t let something like that keep me down.  I have lots of ideas, lots of enthusiasm and thankfully I work in an amazing organisation that supports my aspirations.  Maybe I should use this written reflection as time to draw a line under what I didn’t manage to achieve, and focus on what I plan to achieve.

To all my amazing, strong, talented backstage female technicians continue to be fabulous.  To the many supportive males in our industry that see past gender and treat every technician equally, thank you for making my work place a space where I am included. And to anyone with outdated bigoted views; you need to stop judging with your eyes on appearance and gender, it’s time to start seeing people for the work they do, the enthusiasm they bring, the hardworking and motivated nature they possess.