Sunday, 31 January 2016
What goes up, must come down...
* This picture is posed by a model....
I washed my face today. OK, so I didn't actually wash it in any real sense but I got a wipe from the cupboard, put it on my face and even smeared a bit of moisturiser on. Not a big deal you may think but if you take into account that this was the first attempt at getting clean in 5 days and then compare this small act to the fact that I ran an average of 21 miles per week in January and spent a day doing numerous local, national and even international radio interviews only a couple of weeks ago you may question why a face wipe has such importance?
I spend my working days trying to dispel myths around mental illness and yet I realised that people around me don't really know what my own condition is like to live with. Stephen Fry really should be given a medal towards services to bipolar disorder (or manic depression as he called it) as he really bought the condition out in the open and made it 'normal' or 'acceptable' in ways it hadn't been seen before. As for subsequent role models, I love Carrie Mattheson and actually find her portrayal in Homeland very accurate at times, even poor Kerry Katona or whatever her name is, slurring her way through THAT interview rang true to me, medication can make you feel and act in that way (of course if you add a few shots of vodka to the mix then that definitely doesn't help with elocution...) However I still think if people were asked they would say that someone with bipolar is someone who swings wildly, running around talking to themselves before they are sectioned and sedated and then spend days staring at a wall.
Of course that is the reality for many, that is the thing about mental illness. There is a total spectrum for most. However the surprise may be that for most people, those around them may have no idea that they are ill, I don't run around howling at the moon most of the time.
For me I generally experience what is called hypomania. When I explain it to you I am guessing that most of you will want a piece of the action and someone I spoke to on a forum this week said that if they could make it in pill form and know that there would be no negative side effects then they would take it everyday (and be a billionaire very quickly). The world is just a rosier place. For me it is mainly my ideas and supposed creativity. I have a million brilliant ideas, some of which I may try and act on. It is like having really achievable daydreams constantly on loop. I can take on the world, both in my private life and at work. Physically I need much less sleep and can exercise more. This is the time when I organise holidays, nights out, races really anything that requires energy. This is also time when I can write freely, sketching out ideas for freelance articles, starting new books and even thinking up new websites and blogs. I even spend a lot of my time singing out loud and going social media mad. It really is fun.
However now I know myself and my illness, this amazing little world always ends up tinged with sadness as I know as soon as I realise I am in this stage it means that the end is nigh... Insight is a bitch. Not that I will do anything about it at that stage, oh no. In fact the opposite. Another night out, 2 more gym classes squeezed into my day. If you have seen Elf I would liken it very much to the magic flying powder that is used in the lollies. The people 'in the know' soon realise that this powder is dangerous but surely the lovely floaty experience for these children (oh and money/ world domination that it brings) is worth the fall. And there will ALWAYS BE A FALL.
The fall this time has been very brutal and yet I knew it was coming, just like hurtling forwards in a car crash. I crashed spectacularly and spent 3 days in bed solidly, unable to do anything apart from cry, attempt to sleep and stare at the shit that passes for daytime TV these days. Some people may think that a few days in bed when there is nothing physically 'wrong' must be quite nice and indeed a lot of people around me thought that it was good I was having a 'good rest'. I can assure you thought that there is nothing restful in this state. Firstly it is not just feeling sad. Throw in feelings of helplessness, paranoia, guilt, self-loathing and anxiety. Even my good old friend the panic attack decided to visit for a couple of days. And physically, just climbing the stairs to visit the bathroom could take up up my strength for the entire morning, coupled with actual pain all over my body. Sleep was a blessing and yet a curse as it was bound to be very broken and filled with lurid nightmares and yet it did provide a break from the everyday horror.
I think for me this time round the guilt has actually been the worst feeling. Being mentally ill can feel very self-indulgent, even though there really is nothing you can do to stop it. I hope that everyone knows by now that the worst thing you can ever do to someone with a mental illness is to tell them to 'buck up' or 'pull themselves together' as though this is something that is chosen. It's not, it is an illness like any other and you therefore have about as much control over it as you have saying; 'I am not going to get flu this year.' Of course there are ways of trying to keep yourself well, just as there are ways of trying to prevent other illnesses but these attempts at resilience don't always work.
I have guilt that I am a shit mother when I am unwell, the amazing 'fun' mum one day and then the wreck that can't even smile at my child the next, let alone look after any of her needs. Guilt that other people have so much crap to deal with and don't end up like me. I have friends and family who are grappling with cancer and immense grief at the moment, so what have I got to feel so upset about with my lovely house, incredible job and amazing family? I also have the added guilt of failure this time round as I have been taking part in a challenge to run everyday in January to raise money for Mind. I did manage it and was actually thriving until I got ill and had raised over £500. So of course I feel now that I have failed both the brilliant people who sponsored me and the lovely, supportive online community of runners. In fact sitting here looking out of my window at the joggers going past actually makes me want to throw my computer at them in my current mood!
Still there is a chink at the end of this tunnel. I woke up today feeling as though I may even leave the house today. The fact that I am writing this and even beginning to chat to people via my various methods mean that the worst is definitely over. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. My friends and family are incredibly supportive. I work in a job where kindness and understanding towards mental illness is just part of the culture, I have professional care from the local community mental health team which meant I was able to see a psychiatrist yesterday without having to wait months, which is the norm for many not in the system. I have also started to take part in forums to find out 'Is it just me?' and of course the answer most of the time is a resounding NO. I will hopefully be able to return to work next week and may even venture out for a jog. My life generally is just very ordinary and my mental illness is just a very small part of it. I just want to maybe explain to people why I may seem a bit 'odd' at times and of course to try and show the realities of a condition like bipolar disorder where in my case it is rarely big or scary. Just a little bit nicer and then a lot more horrible than 'normal' life.