Choose life?

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If nothing else, this disorder certainly keeps you on your toes.  Crippling depression with bleak and foggy outlook: fast forward 24 hours to: sunny with a chance of mania.

Sleep, or lack of it, is probably the most dangerous trigger as far as I am concerned when trying to manage this unicorn beast.  For the past few months I have been lethargic, bleak and well, grey.  This is probably the longest period of depression I have experienced in several years.

Friday night I did not sleep.  All I can assume is that in my foggy state, I reached for regular tea as opposed to the decaf that I drink after 5pm (I know, I am too rock and roll for words.) Perhaps there was just too much on my mind.  But for whatever reason, the sandman did not arrive.  I tossed and turned in bed.  I took myself to the spare room.  No luck.

I had agreed to cover a fellow instructor’s early morning Z class so there was no chance of of trying to catch up with sleep.  The class went great and the massive rush of endorphins coupled with the lack of sleep, meant that by 11am I was feeling awesome.

See, this is the thing that those uneducated about bipolar sometimes struggle to get their heads around.  If a ‘normie’ gets no sleep, they’re perhaps prone to grumpiness, tiredness and general confusion.  The exact opposite is true with a person who has bipolar disorder.  Just one disrupted night of sleep can result in elevated mood, clarity of thinking, endless energy and hyper-productivity.  Hypo-mania is perfect.  You are able to achieve so many things simultaneously, all whilst displaying good humour and charming wit.  It is the reason that I do not, for the most part, despise this disorder.  Hypomania is the silver lining that surrounds that bitch of a cloud.

But the problem with hypo-mania is it’s the life and soul of the party and is fully aware of the fact.  “Just keep going!” it screams over the stereo, swaying in the euphoria, oblivious to all that surrounds it.  It is here.  Right here, when you have to know when to stop.  It is like hurtling along a single-track road in a convertible with your hair whipping in the wind as you pound the steering wheel along to favourite track and without warning you are faced with an amber light.  You have 2 choices: change down the gears, gently pump the breaks and bring yourself to a halt, as the music continues to blast around you, leaving you feeling slightly embarrassed and out-of-sorts.

Or…floor it.  Pedal to the metal, suck in your breath and brace yourself as you throw caution to the wind and go, go, GO!

It is at this point that you have to hope that there is a sliver of rationality left in amongst the hedonism.  It is at this point where things can go horribly wrong.  It is at this point that you become the side of yourself that you didn’t think existed; hoped didn’t exist.  Didn’t think you were capable of.  It is here that everything seems like a great idea and the Dr Pepper mantra, “What’s the worst that could happen?” pops into your head.  But here’s the thing, no matter how caring and sensible you might be when stable, when you ask yourself that question, the truth is, you don’t give a fuck!  Rationality is a long and distant memory and the consequences of your actions are a mere inconvenience to be dealt with later down the line.

But you feel so damn alive!

So the choice is yours, stop or go?

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Warmth…

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There are very few things that can have an almost immediate impact on my mood.  Music and dance are both things which help but they require the motivation to be used (as a part-time fitness instructor I don’t have much choice about turning up to class, so the regular classes generally help to elevate my mood from the depths).

I often find that nature is one of the greatest contributors to improving my mood.  The last few days have been blacker than usual.  I know that February is always a trigger-point for me and I’m fully aware that the dark mornings, cold weather and reduced daylight hours certainly do not help.  Despite being mindful of these things, it is sadly not enough to tell myself to use ‘mind over matter’ – if only that worked.

But this afternoon as I sat in the park and watched my daughter dizzily spin herself faster and faster on the roundabout, I felt for the first time in many months, the sunlight on my face.  I closed my eyes and felt its warmth creep over my skin and down my body.  The effect was like a solar-charged calculator; watered down, barely visible motions, suddenly becoming clearer and appearing with greater conviction.

I have often wondered how this illness would present if I wasn’t living in England.  If I lived in a warmer climate would I still experience the November-induced mania with February crash?  I’d be interested to know about the experiences of others who live in different climates.

Have you taken your meds?

*Triggers*

One of the most patronising questions you can ever ask a person with bipolar disorder.  Of course I’ve taken my fucking meds.  Do you really think that I would inflict this agony upon myself intentionally?

It is Christmas; my favourite time of the year.  My obsession for Christmas is renowned amongst those who know me – the excitable woman-child who lives and breathes all things festive as November dawns.

And that is how I know how sick I have become; how far I have fallen over these past few months.  This fog which has clouded my mind, thoughts and judgements, instead of lifting over the season of goodwill, has merely thickened and darkened engulfing me in its entireity.

Christmas morning I lay curled in a ball upon my bed, willing the pain to subside, “Please not today, of all days…Just give me one day off.  Allow me one day to feel normal and be able to wear my mask of contentment with conviction…Please.”  I stand under my powerful shower, turning the heat up in an attempt to warm my soul.  No matter how high I turn the tap, the heat can never match the searing tears as they burn down my face.  “Just cry it out,” I tell myself.  Usually, letting out the pain leaves me spent, as a calm numbness surrounds and envelops me.  But not this time.  The tears continue to fall as the sobs wrack my body.  I cover my mouth with my hands, determined that no-one should hear.

The pain does not dissipate; it is showing no remorse.  I despise what I have become.  I am usually able to look at the ink upon my wrist and find comfort in the words I had inscribed there years ago, knowing that they speak an undeniable truth, “This too, shall pass…”

But now I am beginning to doubt those words of wisdom.  I fear that they are lying to me.  This pain is unbearable – my heart is being torn into a thousand pieces and my eyes constantly prickle with the imminent threat of tears that once started, I fear may never stop.

How has it come to this?  How have I reached a point where I truly believe that the only way I can find peace is to be free from this life?  I am not someone who threatens suicide.  I have seriously considered it less than a handful of times throughout my life.  During those times I have never told a soul what I was feeling at the time and I can only assume that is why I have never had the misfortune of becoming acquainted with the in-patient experience of psychiatric care.

But the tears just wouldn’t stop.  My husband commented today that I had not seemed this bad in a long time.  I replied that life was too painful and that I wasn’t sure I could do it any more.  His response was minimal – in years gone by he would have moved Heaven and Earth to take my pain away and would insist that we talk until all avenues had been explored.  Instead he suggested that perhaps I go and take a nap, read a book and that it may be wise to get in touch with my GP in the new year.  No shit Sherlock.  What I couldn’t bring myself to mutter was, “If I’m still here…”

He fiddled with his phone, absent-mindedly stroking my leg.  As I wandered aimlessly into the kitchen, I glanced over my shoulder, thinking that perhaps he was looking up the number for the crisis line or the opening hours for the community mental health team.  This is probably this first time that would have agreed that I needed it.  I told myself that I would leave my fate in his hands – he was the ‘normal’ one who was present in this situation.  He was on Facebook.

How has this happened?  How have we reached the point where mentioning that life has become too painful has become blasé?  I have not thought about my own demise this way before.  The longing for this life to be over.  I feel terrible saying these words.  I cannot believe that this has become a serious option for me.  Who have I become?  How far have I fallen?  Can anybody save me from myself?  Would I even want them to?

As an outsider looking in, I would not take my eyes off me right now.  I am too much of a risk.  Instead, he has taken himself off upstairs without a word, to read his book.  And so I let these thoughts and words tumble from my mind and onto the page.

What has happened to my life?

 

I miss me…

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I am no stranger to the wonders of this illness during the times of hypomania – everything more vibrant, exciting, feeling so fucking alive as the blood pulses through my veins.

But right now, I am pissed at this disorder. I look in the mirror and barely recognise myself.  My hair perpetually scraped up into a fresh-from-the-shower messy bun and my eyes void of my staple ‘cat’s eyes eyeliner.’  As I look down at my slipper-socked feet and cosy North Carolina hoodie, I have to ask myself, “Where did I go?”

The countdown has begun to my return to work.  My GP suggests that Friday would be an ideal day to return to work, as only having one day to get through before the weekend will help me to gain confidence in social situations.  That gives me approximately 3 days to ‘find myself’ again.

I am not suicidal, I have not fallen that far.  I have been far worse than this in the past but I am blank with the exception of the overwhelming anxiety that crashes over me every time I attempt to leave my house.  I feel like such a pussy.  What am I so afraid of?  What is the worst that can happen? Why is the thought of leaving these 4 walls so terrifying?

On the rare few occasions that I have managed to leave, I felt so awkward and uncomfortable within my own skin that I wanted to run and hide.  Making eye-contact is almost painful and I feel that as well-meaning people look into my eyes, they can spy my deceit as I ‘smile’ with the standard, “I’m fine!” response.

The only place I find peace and solace is within a drug-induced sleep, or within the pages of a book.  Within those pages I experience none of my own emotions; I merely escape into the lives of the fictions characters who whisk me away from the depths of my mind.

Despite feeling so alone, I have zero desire to socialise.  On days weeks like these, just the thought of looking at my phone makes me feel sick to the stomach.  What the fuck am I so afraid of?  I guess it’s because finding a stack of messages from people assumes that a response is required.  However, I am not the sort of person to ask for help, I am not the sort of person who spills negativity in the direction of others.  I am not their problem, whether they want me to be or not.

And so I come here, spilling the thoughts of my mind on this pristine white page.

 

5 Minutes of Fame…

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There are 2 parts to my professional life, my day job and my night job.  Up until recently, only my daytime colleagues knew about my condition – it is an aspect of my life that I have never felt the need to conceal, despite numerous rejections and significant stigma that I have faced over the years.

My evening job is my business, it is so far removed from my day job that people are often surprised by the duality of the ways I make my income.  In the evening I am a fitness instructor for a very well known fitness brand, however, I kept my illness and diagnosis completely separate from my participants for a long time.  I think the reason being that I was so reliant upon them to accept me, in order to make my living, the thought of being rejected by them would have a significant impact on my income.  It was a risk I couldn’t afford to take.

I knew that this fitness regime was part of the reason that I was more stable than I had been in years and decided that it was finally time for me to come clean. However, ‘coming out’ to your entire clientele was not something that I was sure how to approach and wasn’t sure when was the right time.  In the late summer the fitness company that I represent ran an online article about my condition and how I used fitness to manage many of my symptoms.  The article received thousands of likes via Facebook and the fitness company’s social networking page – I received messages of support from all over the world.

And so I came clean on my business Facebook page.  I posted the link and told my participants to read the article in order to learn the truth about their instructor.  I received mostly overwhelming support.  However, certain participants contacted me asking me to remove them from the class register as they would not be attending again.  What did I expect? There’s still significant stigma surrounding mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder when you think of all the bad attention it gets in the media.

As a result of the article, I was also asked to become a media volunteer for a British organisation that is aimed at changing attitudes and stigma regarding mental illness.  The idea being that the organisers have a file about me stating that I am a 30-something woman who suffers from bipolar disorder.  As a media volunteer, my role is to advise people on the reality of what my experiences are like of living with this condition.  It may be for the purpose of articles, script writers, television interviews, whatever is needed.  Obviously wanting to do all that I could, I accepted.

This all occurred in August.  There were a few crazy weeks where I was inundated with a buzz of support and then inevitably the excitement died down and life returned to normal.

Until Thursday evening…

I noticed I had a missed call from a number that was not a contact registered in my phone.  Being absolutely terrified of having actual phone conversations, I took the wimp’s way out and sent them a text message telling them that I was sorry that I had missed their call.

I did not expect the response I got.

“Hey ******** is ***** ********** from ***** fitness Home Office.  I would really like to speak to you please.  When is good to talk?”

I glanced at the clock and replied that I would be able to talk at 5pm and gave him my home number, still not quite believing that anyone would ever actually call me.

Being the paranoid cynic that I am, I automatically assumed that it was a hoax and that someone was fucking with me.  So what did I do?  I took to Google obviously.  The name and location checked out.  I still didn’t believe it.  I did the next best thing to Google.  I messaged my buddy who is significantly higher up the ***** fitness hierarchy and asked if he was aware of this person.  Again, everything checked out.

At 5pm precisely my phone rang and I was greeted with a warm American accent.  He got straight to the point.  The company are doing a huge  marketing campaign over the holidays to promote the latest ***** fitness DVD release that is being made in conjunction with Universal.  ‘Hot American’ informed me that angle the marketing campaign were taking was how this fitness brand had changed people’s lives.

Enter me.

Apparently, they were so touched by my story that they had published that they wanted my permission to use my story and get involved with the marketing campaign.

Say whaaaaaaat?!?!?!?!

When I managed to pick my jaw up from the floor, I quickly agreed and was promptly told that my number would be passed on to the person from the marketing company that would be handling the promotional campaign.

Again, Say whaaaaaaat?!?!?!

I am simultaneously about to spontaneously combust with excitement whilst also being all-out terrified.  The thought of my face and my story being well and truly out-there is somewhat overwhelming.  The article that was written was niche in the fact that you could find it on the company’s Facebook page and website but otherwise you could quite easily have no idea of its’ existence.

I’ve been told this will be a significant campaign between now and the New Year.

Fuck.

 

What lies beneath…

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I gingerly take another step forward casting a wistful glance over my shoulder.  In the far-flung distance I see vivid hues of my former life vibrant against the setting sun.

I turn my head and sigh, my breath fogging in front of me and hanging densely in the frigid air.  With reluctance I take another step, lightly placing my feet with care and trepidation.

A deafening crack fills the crevice of my mind, as I plunge into the icy blackness below.  I gasp for breath and kick, kick with my legs but they are heavy and uncoordinated.  Again I am dragged below the surface, the blinding light of my former life rushes away from me in a rapid backwards motion.

My point of entry is gone.  I am overcome with panic as terror claws at my throat, crushing my chest and enveloping my senses. As I flail helplessly, my leaden limbs propel me to an icy ceiling.  This crystal partition, so beautiful upon first sight, prevents my escape.

I squint and in the distance through the ice I can see the life that I once knew.  My loved ones wave in recognition as they glance me in their periphary – their distance prevents them from seeing the panic and terror within my eyes.  “Just relax!” I tell myself, “this isn’t real.” Those I love carry on with the lives in blissful ignorance.  I watch in silence with resignation, as my limbs cease their fight with the current that is persistent with my inevitable descent.

Do they even know that I have slipped away?