Living with a mood disorder

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The Tool-Box of Self Help

Where am I? I am lost.

For the last couple of weeks I have found myself wondering where I am, what I’m doing and even who I am.  The moods are shifting from one end of the spectrum to the other with the thoughts racing faster than a race car through my brain.  While I crave peace and silence I seem to find it for an hour or two and then I’m back chasing these thoughts again.  I feel as though I am not worthy, not worthy of people’s time and attention, not worthy of people caring for me or me caring for them.  My thoughts are telling me this and it’s hard not to ignore them, though deep down I do know that they are irrational and not to be believed.  However, when they are swinging from the chandeliers singing at the top of their voices, how could they be wrong?

While I scream from within and know that things aren’t right inside, I also know that I can not access help and support from mental health services because I’m “too high functioning.”  How can that be? I have cyclothymia and struggle each and every day.  Just because I’m at uni and stable on my medication shouldn’t rule me out of accessing NHS care.

So as I explore methods and practices to regain peace and stillness within, I have also ponder on the negative thought processes that come with these methods.  All of these tools I have been taught through the various forms of therapy, self help and support from friends over the years.  I remember something that was mentioned at a meditation class last year “If you want something enough then you will work hard to achieve it”.  Which is true, you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it but it is believing in yourself enough to get there.

A recent addition to my tool box of self help is journaling.  Something that I had previously put down as my random chatterings through blogging, but actually when you think about it there’s so much I share with my journal that I wouldn’t share here.  Not that I don’t want to share certain things with you, it’s just some of it only my head would understand.  At times when my head is going a hundred miles an hour, the thought of stopping to pick up a pen and write seems ridiculous.  How can I stop and be still for five minutes?  How can I write in the journal productively and get something out of it?

When I started journaling I was writing as though it was revision, I had to set myself tasks and answer questions and even give myself a topic to work on through the next couple of days.  Though it wasn’t getting me anywhere, it felt like a chore and didn’t enjoy it.  So I just started writing what came to my head.  I have many a conversation with myself (usually having half hour chats to myself in the mirror), so instead talking at myself I started to write them down.  When I get angry, lonely, anxious or any other negative emotion I would sit with my journal and pretty pens to write.  I write and don’t stop until I feel I have got it all out.  It is so therapeutic because while you’re writing you can think about things and process it, you can then let the new thoughts take you further into the writing.  An old saying “Externalising the internalisation”, and it works; just don’t over think the process of doing it.

Argh, healthy eating! Everyone tells you that healthy eating is good for the mind, body and soul.  But what actually is healthy eating? I’m doing medical physiology and therapeutics at university, so there is lots of information about macro and micro nutrients, proteins and amino acids to plough through.  When you get that in depth about what is good and what is not it can be overwhelming and you can get easily lost.  Though even thinking about it at the level that the NHS healthy eating service taught me through my GP practice, it is still too much to take in.  I’m not sure whether I have a problem with chocolate or it’s the medication talking, but I could very easily live on a diet of creme eggs (they’re eggs, they’re healthy right?).  Even going food shopping can be a chore because you don’t know what’s exactly in your food, the microwave stuff or even the ‘fresh’ stuff too.

My rule of thumb when I go food shopping is if you don’t know what an ingredient is on the labelling then it’s not good for you.  Though that is sometimes a hindrance when I’ve done chemistry and nutrition at uni and I know what chemicals are.  So when my mood is low and I pluck up enough energy and courage to walk over to the supermarket (which is a two minute walk from home), I always walk through the fruit and veg section before I get to the chocolate.  Sometimes seeing it there helps place that little idea of “This is healthy food, it will help your mood better than the chocolate”.  So I buy some and it then sits and stares at me at home too, sometimes I eat it before it goes mouldy as well.

The good old exercise malarkey.  Activity will help your mind settle and it’s also good for your health. Meh.  I was doing an assignment for uni not so long ago about how physical movement can be hampered when you over catastrophise pain expectation and therefore limit the amount of physical activity you do.  Having a diagnosis of fibromyalgia myself, I can totally see this.  Though one article had a definition of exercise that I think we should all take note of is “Physical activity is the movement that we do in everyday activities, such as walking to and from work, washing up and personal hygiene.  Whereas exercise is a planned activity like going to the gym, having a run or doing yoga.”  So when you read that exercise is good for your mental health, is it exercise they mean or are they on about increasing your physical activity?

I know for me going to the gym has its own difficulties, usually thought related such as “They’re all better than me” or “They’re going to watch me and laugh.”  So it takes great effort and confidence to build up the courage to go.  I’d rather go for a walk or do some yoga at home.  While this is isolating in itself as they’re individual activities, they do actually do some good because you are moving and you are increasing your physical activity.  When my head tells me not to move, just stay in bed a little longer, I try to get out and see the sun.  Even if its take the longer route than the two minute walk to get the creme eggs, it is a longer route and I get to appreciate the feeling of the sun on my face.

Where am I? Even though I do actually have a plan of attack for this blog (I don’t usually bother with that), I’m rambling.  Ah well, stops the negative thoughts entering my head.  Next…

Mindfulness.  Yes, that great new tool that the world is banging on about.  Even global organisations are now cashing in on it to boost their employee’s productivity to make them more money. Yay!  Though, to a lay man, what actually is it?  Sitting still, clearing the mind and saying “Ohm” a lot?  Nah.  Once upon a time I was sat in a bipolar support group that I used to run with a guest speaker to talk about mindfulness.  He asked the group what is mindfulness and I stupidly put my hand up and answered “It’s where when you’re washing up you appreciate the washing up bubbles on yours hands and feel every grain of dirt being lifted of the dishes”.  Ok, maybe not so stupid, but I don’t think that was what he was getting at.  It is about being aware of what is in front of you, around you and appreciating it in that moment in time.

When the head is racing and thoughts flying around, the last thing you want to do is to stop to appreciate the wind on your face or the smell of freshly cut grass.  With the world going at a fast pace and with work demands on the increase why would you pay someone to teach you to stop and sit still?  Unfortunately, where I live there are no local mindfulness courses so I’m reliant on meditation classes, books and the interweb.  It’s mish mashing several tools to create one thing that is available in other parts of the country.  But would I still pay for a mindfulness course if there was one locally? Oh yes!  It helps you see that there is more in the world than work, deadlines and stress.  It shows you that there is love and peace in the world.  At a meditation class recently I was taught that to find inner peace you need to find mindfulness.  I strongly believe this is to be true, so I will continue with the multiple ways of finding mindfulness so that I can find this peace I so desperately crave.

Here’s one of the basics for you; breathing.  Yes, we do it every day and yet we don’t appreciate it for what it’s worth, which is so much more than clearing and emptying the lungs.  Here’s a random fact for you that I’ve been dying to tell someone; we don’t actually breathe to live, we breathe the clear out the carbon dioxide that is created when we are producing energy through glycolysis.  So it’s the breakdown of glucose and the production of energy that keeps us alive.  Random eh?  Anyway, off on a tangent there.  Breathing; so it’s there all the time and we can forget about doing it because we don’t consciously make it happen.  But when you sit still and focus on your breathing you can let your thoughts and feelings disappear for that short space of time, and longer.

Though when you’re stressed can you really sit still and focus on one thing?  With the thoughts racing through your mind while you feel the breath entering and leaving, how could they possibly stop?  They can’t and you can’t stop them from continuing to annoy you when you’re finding peace.  But you can accept them and welcome them with loving kindness, then ask them to move on for a while.  I have this fear of being in crowded spaces when I can’t find the escape route.  What if there’s a fire and I’m trapped?  This brings on panic attacks and the anxiety shoots through the roof.  Though I know that the anxiety and adrenaline can only be pumped through the body for so long and during this time I find a quiet spot against a shop window and focus on the breath.  Sure enough it works, the anxiety reduces and I can continue.  Either that or I run for my life out of the building and then find the breath.  I think what I’m saying here is, don’t forget the breath.  It has more importance to you than just keeping your glycolytic system on the go.

And finally a fun one (I hear a sigh of relief from you all due to the length of this); dress to impress.  When the depression kicks in all you want to do is stay in bed or sit on the sofa with the TV blaring daytime shows that we’re not actually watching or listening to.  Though what is the usual favourite type of clothing for this?  We go for comfort clothing when the brain is so tired of fighting, which is a natural thing to do.  I tend to go for jogging bottoms and t-shirt or stay in the PJ’s all day.  Why dress up when we’re not going anywhere, seeing anyone or have a daily plan of action?

A friend taught me this one, and I must say it’s my favourite by far.  We tend to ‘dress to impress’ other people; socialising, work or interviews.  How often do we do it for ourselves?  We don’t.  To me clothing is something I have to do, and usually there’s no enjoyment about throwing on a pair of jeans and top.  Especially when you’re trying to make them match so that you’re, you guessed it, impressing other people.  So when I’m feeling low I tend to try out the routine of showering moisturising, finding nice underwear, doing my hair, splashing on some perfume and treating myself by wearing a pretty dress.  It’s amazing how good you feel, not just because you’ve taken time and effort to look good, but because you’ve done this for you.  You don’t have to please anyone except yourself, so try this and see how good it feels to impress yourself.

And at nearly a 2000 word essay here (sorry for the length of this blog), I find myself rambling on about things in my tool box for recovery and not sure whether I achieved what I wanted to when I began typing.  I do know that the concentration that I have put in to writing this has taken my mind off the negative thoughts and I have found some form of peace.  These tools have helped me in the past and I need to remember each and every one of them for when times are getting tough.  The last few weeks have really been a challenge, not knowing where I actually am on this bipolar spectrum and whether thoughts are real or not.  I know that I have taken out these thoughts on people who mean so much to me and for that I am sorry.  While I feel lucky that these people know about the condition so they understand the rapid cycling and random thought processes, I also feel guilty for either offloading on them or pushing them away.

With the tools under my belt, I know that I can find an even keel to the moods and I can gain control again.  A big long hard battle ahead, but one thing I must remember:

“Thoughts are not facts.”

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The Meditation Class: What Is Love?

I admit that I have fell behind in attending meditation classes, though with a revelation that came out of counselling this week I felt the need to get back to it.  So when tonight’s class hit exactly the problem I’m addressing I feel calm and at ease with myself right now.

Counselling touched upon the fact that I’m searching for inner peace in the wrong ways, ways that I don’t feel able to talk about, but still searching in the wrong places.  It is the peace and calmness of the mind that I crave, the stillness and ability to be quiet without the mind going a hundred miles an hour and the continual chatter interrupting every day life.

Today’s meditation class was about love and concentration.  The teacher first spoke about love, which I think I’ve touched upon in previous blogs about the meditation classes.   The fact that we can place happiness on non-virtuous objects and that we can hold ideas and beliefs in our mind that these objects will bring us the happiness and peace that we are looking for.  Though they do not bring us the peace we are looking for, they bring us anger, hurt and pain.  Say you place happiness on a non-virtuous object as another human, we believe that by making this person happy it will in turn bring us happiness.  Though when this human does something that we don’t like or agree with, that is when we hurt or become angry.  So instead we need to focus on virtuous objects such as love, where we learn to love ourselves from within and by bringing our own happiness we can be still and at peace.  This also allows us to offer our love to other humans, so that we can wish them well and wish that they are at peace and have happiness.  We are not reliant on other people to bring us the calm that we crave.

The breathing meditation really brought me into the room.  It allowed calm to enter me and I could feel all the stress that has been building up inside float out of me.  The tension that has been building up escaped and I could see clearly, or hear clearly, what the remainder of the class was being taught.

I feel I need to point out that the class this week was in another room as there was a rock concert on below the room that we usually use.  The reason for pointing this out will become apparent later.

The main topic of the week was concentration, how to achieve it and what it means to concentrate.  He started by making the connection that to find peace you need concentration, and for concentration you need mindfulness.  Not a connection that I had made myself, but it does make sense.

Starting from the top; mindfulness, what is it?  It’s the ability to focus on one object or project and keep that attention fixed.  Though this is easier said than done.  While, as he pointed out, the breathing meditation that we do at the start of the class is not your typical Buddhist meditation, as you are not focusing on virtuous objects, it is a great place to start when learning the art of mindfulness; the art of keeping your mind fixed on one object.  By focusing on the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, it allows you to remain with one place at one time.  The mind will naturally wonder off, so by bringing your attention back to the breath you can practice mindfulness.  While you bring your attention away from the thoughts that enter your mind, you shouldn’t dismiss the thoughts.  They are there for a reason, maybe you’re thinking about what to have for tea or the quickest journey home from work, and while they are genuine concerns that you need to consider they are not for that moment in time.  By acknowledging that you will decided on what you want to eat once you’ve finished the meditation, you can then bring your mind back to the breath.

By working on your mindfulness you can then work on your concentration.  The teacher likened it to when you’re doing an art project, one of those miniature art sets where you have to make sure the eyebrows are in the right place.  His analogies are superb by the way.  When you are fixed on making sure you have the right amount of paint on the brush, that your eyes are focused ready for such small amount of work and you are adding the eyebrows you realise that the rest of the world feels non-existent.  This is because you are concentrating and it’s this concentration you need to bring to your meditation on a virtuous object.  When you are wishing that all people in the rest of the world are well, healthy and happy you are doing this with the same level of concentration.  While you are meditation on wishing the rest of the world well, you are not aware of the rest of the world.

Finally we moved onto peace, which is the area that I am chasing in my own world.  Concentration comes with time and practice.  Imagine that you are making a cup of tea and without any concentration at all the tea bag will end up in the bin and the hot water all over the stove.  So there must be some level of concentration there to actually get the tea bag and the hot water in the cup.  Though when you leave the tea bag to brew, the flavour of the tea leaves enhances and the taste becomes even better.  Tea bag of happiness, strength and peace.  This is the same for finding peace; the more you are mindful, the more you concentrate the more you will find peace.  You just need to keep brewing the tea bag.

The final meditation was about wishing the rest of the world peace and happiness.  As we over ran it was a very short meditation, which in a way was good for me because of the change of room it was very hot and stuffy and I was ready to fall asleep mid mediation.  The object of the meditation was “I wish that all the people in all the world was happy” and when we found in our minds eye the peace and happiness we were to stay with it, to concentrate.  Also even with the room change we could still hear the rock band downstairs, so rather aptly when the lead singer was shouting at the top of his lungs “Get the hell out of here” as though he was in the middle of a fight scene in a movie all my love and peace was sent in his direction.  I sent him happiness and wished him well, he soon stopped shouting.

While I said previously that the mindfulness and concentration allow you to forget the outside world while you explore your own happiness, directing the happiness to the lead singer may not have been what the teacher meant.  But, as he reminded us all the way through, we have just placed the tea bag in the hot water.  We are in the brewing process and it takes time to perfect the art of mindful meditation.

I am glad that I went back to the classes tonight, I feel that it is something that is well over due and hopefully I can work on my own inner peace and happiness leaving behind the cravings and negative behaviours I’ve been using to find this peace.

The Meditation Class: Week Three

The Meditation Class: Week Two

The Meditation Class: Week One

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The Last Few Weeks

So things have been rather difficult for me recently and I feel that is why I’ve withdrawn myself for a lot of things.  Not only was there the usual seasonal depression which I get every February that I think stems from knowing that February was the month where everything changed for me 7 years ago.  I’ve also had a lot of soul searching with the loss of three people who meant a lot to my recovery in the space of three weeks, and physical ailments to look after; I’ve had to go to hospital for problems with my eyes picked up by my optician, and I am also waiting to go to hospital to look further into heart problems I’ve been having.

You see my eyes are kind of important to me, yes they’re important to everyone, but knowing just how blind I am without glasses gives me that fear of losing my eyesight altogether.  After going to hospital for tests I know that this isn’t going to happen in the near future, so phew.  I remember a time where I was so scared of my ex and how he abused me that I was this timid little thing, but when he knocked the glasses off my face and broke them this raging anger took over and I don’t think I ever spoke to him like that before in fear of further physical hurt.  He was even shocked at the anger that came out of my mouth.  I think that shows how much my eyes mean to me.

With my heart I feel it’s more than just the heart problems that I face, it’s the possible root cause.  One of the known side effects of the medication I take as a mood stabiliser is heart palpitations, and a quick investigation from my GP and he believes that my palpitations started roughly the same time as when I started these meds.  He has referred me for further tests on the heart to see the extent of it all.  I know that I shouldn’t look too far into the future, but I can’t help but question “What if the meds are causing this? What if I have to come off my mood stabilisers because of the heat problems?”

The meds have given me this lease of life that other medication simply didn’t do.  Yes there are side effects to the meds that everyone I have spoken to who takes it faces everyday also; drugged up in the mornings, weight gain, uncontrollable thirst.  As well as the horrid physical effects that come if you forget to take them, and the way that they control your sleep so that you’re in the land of nod for a stupid amount of time each night – I do worry that I’m that I’m so deeply knocked out that a fire alarm couldn’t wake me.  But regardless of all the bad that the meds bring, they make me feel human and I can function.  I really don’t know what I would do without them.  So to have that risk of being taken off them and not knowing where I will be mentally really does scare me.

Though continuing on from that, if I am allowed to stay on them there faces another problem.  I have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and one of the first line of medications to treat the symptoms also happens to have contradictions with the mood stabilisers; heart palpitations.  Yup, you guessed it, double dose of heart problems.

So I am left in a place where my will power really has to come into play and sort out holistic therapies, talking treatments, meditation, mindfulness and physical exercise to combat all of these symptoms and side effects.  My will power is pretty much non-existent as I can’t even give up smoking right now.

One thing that smoking allows me is the space from the rest of the world.  As a friend tells me it’s the ritual of preparing a roll up, standing there and having alone time with this stick.  And it is, when I really think about how I smoke it is time away from the other things I am doing.  But it’s also a reward, in the sense that I finish reading a really hard journal for studies and I try to get my head around what  just read by having alone time with the cigarette.  Recently after a two week attempt of giving up I had one almighty mood crash.  I craved a smoke, I needed it and wanted it.  I tried meditation, going for a walk, music and other things and it just wasn’t the same as having a smoke.  So after two weeks of not smoking I jumped for the fags and hey, I still smoke.

There has been so much more happen over the last few weeks, months even.  I’ve had someone come into my life that has opened my eyes up to wonderous things in the world, making me realise that there is so much more that the world can offer me, and I can offer the world.  Though with that there has been heartache and pain because I’ve come to realise that I am not fixed, I’m still broken from the world that once was dark and cruel to me.  I know you’re reading this, so I want to say from the bottom of my heart thank you for being you.

I started counselling a few weeks ago, and while my head was saying “I don’t like this counsellor, we won’t get on”, I still find myself telling her things that I have kept locked up for so long.  I find myself in tears each week at the realisation of how bad things were, how I have changed yet how much more work I need to do for this thing called recovery.  One thing that brought me to tears was hearing about my life as a full timeline, I tend to chunk my life off so it’s crappy childhood, teenage family abuse, domestic abuse in relationships, hell and the afterlife.  So when she sat there and read my whole life story out from start to finish I was amazed at what I had been through, though there were moments of “If I have to do that over again then I would take my own life”.  There is no way I can do all of that again.

There is one really big thing that has come out of counselling in the last week which has given me a massive wake up call.  It’s made me realise that I haven’t dealt with something from my past that I really need to deal with.  I’m not ready to talk about that here and now, but lets just say I’ve woken up to the fact that I can’t carry on with one certain behaviour of mine.  I have to make a change, and as of today I am making that change.

So, that’s been the last few weeks.  A tough little ride that I know the immediate future is going to be hard, but I have to take it and I have to make it work.

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The Opening of the Eyes

The last twelve months haven’t been the easiest for me to live with; I don’t think a lot of people could have handled what I have and continued with life.  I’m not trying to big myself up about how resilient I am, but things that have happened haven’t been your run of the mill day to day challenges.  It’s going through these difficulties that leave you in a position to pull back, walk away and then be content with what life gives you.  If there are no expectations then there’s no disappointment, so why place expectations upon yourself?  That was until I got speaking to a dear friend who has opened my eyes to the world that I pretty much gave up hope with; he has allowed me to see that there is a place for me in this thing called life and I can make it what I want it to be.

So a quick run down of what has made me withdraw from the world:

  • Fibromyalgia diagnosis – that in itself is bad enough, but when you get talking to people who have fibro/ME/CFS you start to wonder if this is accurate.  The pain and fatigue I feel is more after exertion than randomly appearing and other factors to taken into account.  So I never accepted it and I carried on with my life as before, which leads to…

  • Physical breakdown – after suffering a mental breakdown 10 years ago now (wow, time flies) I knew that this was something different.  I had pushed myself to be a good full time student at uni while carrying on working 20 hours a week, all with this new fibromyalgia diagnosis.  My body couldn’t take it anymore and one day it just failed on me.  I lay on the sofa unable to move a matter of inches to pick my phone up and ask for help, I had to ride this storm out on my own.  Which leads to…

  • Handing in my notice at work – I had to make the ultimate decision of carrying on at uni or carrying on at work.  There was no way that I could carry on doing both, neither physically or mentally, so one of them had to go.  The whole reason for going to uni was to get a career and not have to do admin for the rest of my life. Financially it will be bad while I’m at uni but it is do-able, so I handed in my notice, left work and became a full time student; which leads to…

  • Unplanned summer holidays – because of the timing of the breakdown and having to give up work I was still in recovery over the summer holidays, therefore not in the best place to find a small summer job or structured activities.  Plus I felt that I deserved a break from it all.  Which I suppose I did deserve the break, however as I have since found out me taking a break is all well and good as long as I can pick myself up after.  Luckily I had some work for my local Mind to complete, so there was something to look forward to within the depths of self loathing that occurred; which leads to…

  • Fall out with a charity close to my heart – I’ve never spoke about this publicly and I still don’t feel comfortable talking about it.  So let’s just say a charity close to my heart broke my heart; which leads to…

  • Loss of identity – I felt as though my last two years were based on lies, that this person the public see’s or reads about isn’t the real me.  It was as though the world had met my persona and didn’t know anything about me.  Which I think can be explained by a friend who says to me “I’d rather get to know Tracey and not EhOh”, strange but true.  Which leads to…

  • Rejecting work opportunities –I felt lost, dark and empty, there is no drive or motivation to achieve anything and I would be happy and content staying at home, oversleeping and watching DVD’s day in and day out.  So when I was successful with an interview for a voluntary position at a charity that provides similar service to Samaritans I wasn’t excited and happy as I should, I was full of dread and nerves wondering if I was able to carry this out.  Which leads to…

  • Difficulties at uni – assignments being handed out all over the place and no idea how to complete them.  Well, I knew how to complete them, I knew what I had to do to research, structure, plan and write the essays.  I just had this voice I my head telling me “You don’t know what you’re doing”, and sadly I agreed with it; which leads to…

  • Therapy – It’s fair to say I’ve been through all sorts of counselling/therapy etc., and sadly I couldn’t get hold of my preferred therapist when I needed him, so I ended up taking advantage of the no waiting list counselling provided at uni.  The first session done the job, though after that it felt as though she was clutching at straws to keep ‘therapy-ing’ me.  When I explained this to my disability tutor at uni she said that I’m like a wine connoisseur, though not of wine but of therapy.  S’pose that’s something I got going for me.  Which leads to…

  • Grief – The first session of uni counselling brought it out of me, I was grieving at having my heart broken by this charity.  This came as a shock to me because I had never associated the possibility of feeling grief towards anything but human/animal loss.  Though what do I do with this information now? I have found that one I know what something is, emotionally, then I can very easily move on from things.  Like being told by a friend a few weeks back that I have been triggered by something and once I knew I had been triggered all seemed well with the world.  Which leads to…

  • Christmas – I don’t do Christmas. I don’t like Christmas. It doesn’t happen in this household.  Well, it hasn’t happened since I had to rebuild my life nearly 7 years ago.  It’s not just the bad childhood memories; it’s the bad homeless memories too.  While I have people asking for me to participate in Christmas activities I find it increasingly difficult every year to wear the mask and not tell them the deep dark secrets I hold which prevent me from seeing the slightest bit of enjoyment of Christmas.

So that is really the last twelve months and there are other things that have happened which had a detrimental effect of my life but if I was to mention them here or elsewhere then it would open a massive can of worms that I really don’t want to open.  Let’s just say these other ‘unmentionables’ have also shaped my position in the mental health world/community.  I feel as though I have walked away from a lot of things this past year as I felt I was put in a position where I had no choice but to give them up.  Though I haven’t felt any inclination to make changes to ‘replace’ these lost things with something else to give my life meaning, I have become complacent with my position in the world.

That is until I got talking with a good friend about life in general, not the difficulties he and I face every day but just a good old natter about life in general.  I think that’s what has made things different; we talk about anything and everything except we rarely talk mental health.  During my recovery I have surrounded myself with people who have a mental health condition because I felt I needed to be around people who understand what I’m going through.  I’m sure you an appreciate that most of the conversations were about mental health, which I’m not saying is a bad thing, but once you reach a certain point in your recovery you need to be awakened and shown the rest of the world as well.

This is the point I am at in my recovery.  Which is something I find strange to say out loud as I have always thought my recovery is fine and dandy, life is good blah blah blah.   Though it’s not, I am still in the recovery phase and I do still have a lot to learn about myself and how to take care of myself.  How can I lead a happy and fulfilling life if I am sat comfortably in the corner watching the world go by and not taking part in things myself?  You need to take risks every now and then else you don’t know what you are actually able to achieve.

I believe that I am lucky to be in the position I currently am in the fact I am at uni, I have a really big interest of the science world and I do still have my place in the mental health world.  It’s taking the initiative and risk to pull them all together and make something of them.

This year is going to see me take risks;

  • I’m going to ensure that I stay focused at motivated at uni, looking into different ways of studying which will be most effective for me.

  • Jump in feet first with science festivals that are coming up and I have been offered volunteering opportunities nationally and the prospect of helping organise a local science groups’ events.

  • I’m going to take up that opportunity I turned down at the tail end of last year as it is still open to me, and hopefully due to the anonymity of the service I can just happily do the work without comebacks I’ve previously had.

  • I want to make sure my friends are all part of this journey and not forget about them, they are the ones who make me smile and remind me of the beauty of life.

  • I’ll appreciate the little things like watching the sunrise on the way to uni each morning or the taste of freshly ground coffee.

  • Read more books, they are valuable resources that need full love and attention.

  • And one big risk is to take part in the Superhero Run in May, which brings it’s on risks due to physical health problems and finding ways to over come them.

While this may seem like a ‘New Year, New Me’ type of blog, I can assure you it’s not – partly cause I don’t believe in making changes to your life just because it’s Jan 1st, and partly because it’s taken until now to truly reflect back on the last year.  Anyway, here goes to rebuilding my life…. again.


The Memory of Wolverine

My leaving card from work, which will always hold these memories close.

My leaving card from work, which will always hold these memories close.

I haven’t felt the need to write or blog for the last few weeks, though tonight as I walk along the streets for my weekly chip shop treat I realised that I needed to get this out.  I know first hand the side effects of my medication, starting with my memory – it sucks.  Secondly, unless I am going through hypomania or depression then I don’t tend to realise that I feel emotions.  So when I found out some bad news earlier this evening and feeling something very alien to me, the emotions called shock and grief, I knew that I had to write all of this down.  I don’t want to lose these memories, they mean an awful lot to me.

So there I was browsing Facebook for the first time in days (I know, me not on Facebook – shocker in itself) and a post catches my attention from my local soup kitchen.  Within the post is a photo of a man I know, helped, cared for, was his side kick for winding people up.  Obviously curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the photo to be greeted with the news that this man, Wayne, has passed away last night.

Numb, that’s what happened first, then shock, followed closely by tears.  These feelings or blankness were all alien to me.  While all I was thinking about Wayne and wondering what had happened, there was something in the back of my head saying “this is not normal”.

Within minutes a friend rang for an evening catch up unaware of what happened and I was just stuck for words.  I remember that Wayne had given me something and I had this overwhelming urge to find it.  Mad panic kicked in as I knew roughly where it was but it still meant ripping the bookshelf apart to find it.  I couldn’t talk to my friend, even though right at that moment in time I didn’t want to be alone.  I wanted him to stay on the phone, not even to say anything to me, just to know that he was there.  I found what I was looking for, my leaving card for my place of work where I met Wayne – main photo.

It was only now that I could start to remember Wayne and think of all the laughs we had, the serious stuff and the times where we just sat there in silence when his head was bad.  You see, I first met Wayne two and half years ago at a homeless hostel in my town.  He became a resident there pretty much the same week I started working there.  He was the first resident to come and greet me and although he had only been there a few days himself, it was as though it was already his home and he wanted to make sure everyone that ‘visited’ his home (as in staff, volunteers and other residents) was made welcome and had everything they could ever need.

There were times where we would wind people up together, usually other residents; all in jest and they did usually get their own revenge afterwards.  We would wind the other staff up too, to the point that we were shunned from the office and made to sit in reception alone until the tears of laughter were too much and one of us had to leave.  One of the best memories was when he went to have his hair shaved off as it was winter and he needed a bald head to keep him warm.  Though whenever he got his head shaved he always went for the same beard trim too; all he needed was the blades coming out of his knuckles and we had our very own Wolverine.

I’m sure you can appreciate that with Wayne being a resident of a homeless hostel that there were circumstances that brought him there in the first place.  While I won’t tell you about them as it is not fair to do so, I can tell you one thing about him which is he was an alcoholic (which if you knew Wayne then you’d know it was ok for me to say that).  Though I will say that the stories that brought homelessness to us both mirror imaged each other, and I wanted to tell Wayne all about what happened to me to let him know I really do understand him, but also to let him know there was hope.  Sadly, the nature of the job and not wanting some of the other faces in the hostel to know my past meant I couldn’t tell him.

Wayne was either in one of three states; DT’s where all you wanted to do was give him the biggest strength inducing cuddle ever, happy and jolly where you got the best laughs out of him, or too far gone to remember which room he lived in.  While the two states at either end of the spectrum brought their own memories, the ones I want to keep alive are the happy jolly ones.

Specifically where every time I saw him for a year and half, in and out of the hostel, he would get down on one knee and propose to me.  He took it like a gentleman that the boundaries were getting in the way of us being together; though really he did know we would never be.  He even took it upon himself to ask my manager to sack me so when she questioned why, expecting something along the lines of a complaint, he said it was so that we could buy a camper van, park it up in the car park opposite the hostel, get married and live happily ever after.  He won a hug from both my manager and me for that tactic; I never got the sack.

There were hard times too, times where his head would leave him in a bad place.  While he knew that he needed to get talking therapies and work things out, he was never in the right place for it.  We all knew that even mentioning it to him could set him off, which one night it did.  His whole demeanour changed from this gentle loveable rouge to a hard cold face man that didn’t want to be there, though you could also tell that he didn’t want to be alone.  Nights like this we would simply sit there and just ‘be’ with the conversation gentle and flowing, though he would at times say “Tracey, just shut the **** up”.  While it sounded cold and aggressive, I knew that he just needed time to process it but wanting me to stay there and sit by his side.

The final memory that I really want to keep alive is the first winter we were at the hostel together.  The snow had fallen thick and the car park covered in a thick layer untouched snow.  Hearing a noise out of the window I looked down from the office to see Wayne and two other residents having a snow ball fight.  This may seem a simple playful thing to do, but knowing that it was only a few hours earlier that two of these residents had been to talk with staff because they had been suffering with their heads.  So to see them throwing snowballs at each other with no care in the world we so heart warming and lovely to watch.

Now I remember the last time I saw Wayne, he was happy and smiling where you could see he was excited to see me.  We had a chat and a catch up and he was telling me what was going on in his life.  He told me that he was rough sleeping again and that he was trying to get back in at the hostel.  It was upsetting hearing this because knowing the behind the scenes of his life and the rules of the hostel from working there I knew it was going to be some time before he had a roof over his head again.  We both knew that he was doing everything possible to get himself sorted out and that it was a matter of waiting for the hostel to open up his place again.  I never thought as I walked my way and he walked his that that would be the last time I saw him.

Rest in peace dear Wayne, you truly deserve this break from all your struggles.  Who knows, you may just get your Wolverine blades now.


The Change That Is Needed

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about my future with mental health campaigning and where I want to direct what spare time I have; as there is little time after university duties that I have left so I need to be specific as to what I can and can not do.

This last year hasn’t been the easiest for me; I have been on the receiving end of some rather nasty cyber bullying, I have found out who my true friends are and who the people are who want gossip out of me.  I have lost a very important part of my life because I didn’t agree with the way that a project was being handled by them, which was a massive shock to the system and really did hurt me emotionally but in hindsight walking away from them because of this was the best thing I ever done.

While these things have hurt and do still hurt, looking back I needed them to happen for me to be able to open my eyes and see the world from a different perspective.  I was too focused in on one thing and driven to make them happy that I wasn’t able to see other opportunities available to me.  I would have done anything for them, and it turns out that I did sacrifice a lot of my time and energy which could be directed in to something else.  So now that these things have happened and I can see another door for me to open, I want to jump and hold on to this ride and never let go.

I would never have thought while I was homeless, on drugs, in a violent relationship that I would ever have made it to university.  In fact one of my teenage memories was of my ‘mother’ telling me that I would never make it to university, and me being as naïve as I was back then really did believe I wasn’t good enough.  So for me to not only work my damned hardest to get into university, I actually got through the doors at Med School (ok, I’m doing Medical Physiology and Therapeutics and not Medicine, but I’m at Med School all the same).

This is something that I should never forget; how hard I worked to get where I am and how hard I need to work through to finish this degree.  I still remember the day, two-ish years ago, where I have my interview at university to get onto this degree and being offered a place on the day.  It was five years ago to the week that I gave up the drugs, five years previously that I had nothing but the clothes on my back waiting to hear whether I had a place in supported housing or if I would remain homeless.  Luckily the supported housing project took me on and gave me that first opportunity to turn my life around.

Five years it took me to work from the ground up, from nothing at all to being at Med School.  Five years of hard work.  This is what I can’t let go of, how hard it was for me to do that.  Ok, welling up now – subject change needed.

So, that is why I feel that I have to rethink where I am going in my life.  To find the direction I want to be in and follow the dream, to keep working for what I want and not be blinded by the wonderful fantastical opportunities that don’t turn out to do anything but put my face on a poster.  How does that help my future?

From here on in I need to settle in onto what university has to offer and develop the inner geek.  I will of course still be loitering in the mental health community under @EhOhSaysYes, though I will also be making the inner geek happy by following more science related things on @EhOhDoesScience (see what I did there?).  Feel free to follow my new twitter, though please I wish for this account to be science related and not have science and mental health intermingle.

While this is a move that I know that I need to take, it is also a move that does leave the future of this blog a little uncertain.  I want to keep giving helpful advice to people with mental health conditions, show them that you can achieve your dream and have a life where mental health doesn’t control you – you control your mental health.  Though how to go about it is a little unclear to me right now, so please bear with me while I make this transition.  I am still around; I’ll just be having a little geek session going on.

I have been watching other mental health campaigners, such as @bipolarblogger and @sectioned_, tackle the stigma and discrimination that we mentally ill folk face every day.  Watching in awe as they talk with large organisations to help raise awareness of mental health and give vital information about how mental health affects people and how others can help those who are suffering.  I know that with them, and other utterly brilliant campaigners around, the activism side of mental health is in good hands.  Hat’s off to you all.

Until my next update, please take care of yourselves.  And if I don’t speak to you all before then I hope that the holiday season is good to you.  Whether you celebrate or not, whether you hide from the world until it’s over.  Do what makes you feel happy and good about yourself, don’t feel you have to fall to societies pressures.  Just be you and be happy.

Sending love and hugs x

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The Cry For Help

Artwork by Dominic Bradnum as seen here:

Artwork by Dominic Bradnum as seen here:

Friends close to me can vouch for the fact that I never ask for help when things are getting bad for me.  I tend to bottle things up and let my own mind ruminate on the problems until I can come up with an answer myself.  This, so far, has tended to work for me as I feel that I am solely responsible for my actions and I can’t blame anyone else if the outcome wasn’t what I felt it should be.  Though, after a while of doing this it becomes very hard to ask for help on things that I can’t come up with the answer on my own.

The tiredness that I have felt over the last couple of weeks has been horrendous.  One day last week it took all the energy I had just to focus on getting up, dressed, consume caffeine and get to uni.  Any lectures I had that day were to be dealt with when I walked in the room, there was no forward planning that day.  Sadly I couldn’t make it through the day and had to go home at lunch.

The only way I feel I can explain what is going on is that there is a big brick wall in front of me with the words “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”.  I can’t seem to get past this brick wall and even when I took a brick out it magically reappeared with cement stronger than it was before.  So when peers, tutors and senior tutors praise me for the outstanding effort I gave last year (even winning an award for this effort) I just don’t see it.  Praise doesn’t come naturally when directed at me, so when it comes I simply shrug it off.

So when I was writing out my absence form for the lecture I missed, due to needed more sleep, I was surprised when I wrote the words “I’m Struggling.”  There was no conscious thought behind why I wrote it, I just did.  Without any second thoughts I handed it in and thought that was that.  That was until I received an email off the senior tutor calling me in to offer further support and advice.

Was my subconscious trying to tell me that this is something that I can’t do alone; that I do actually need to talk to someone about what was going on regarding my studies and other emotional aspects.

While talking with my senior tutor I explained that I don’t know why I put those words, and that I struggle asking for help.  She gave me the advice of taking one step at a time, ask one module convenor for help and see how that goes.  Then, when I have the confidence, ask another module convenor for help and so on.  She was so supportive and understanding of everything that I told her.  This made me realise that there are people there to help as and when needed, and that these people aren’t scary or won’t look down on me for approaching them about this.  They were genuinely there for me.

I still have some way to go with more appointments over the next week or so to get myself back on track.  But with all the will in the world, I know that I will make it through these difficulties by being strong enough to ask for help.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you acknowledge you need help and that you want to make changes in your life.  If you need help, find someone you can trust or feel comfortable approaching and see how it goes.  It’s better to ask than to struggle on not knowing whether you’re coming or going.