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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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?

 

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?

Normal.

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Do I wish I was ‘normal’? No.  Do I wish that I belonged? Of course, who doesn’t want that?  But I don’t and I’ve pretty much come to accept that.  However, the power of normal should never be underestimated.  To some, normal may be synonymous with boring, but in terms of childhood, normal is good perfection.

I have spoken before of my admiration of the incredible woman who is Drew Barrymore.  I have found her fascinating for much of my life.  I see in her aspects of myself – the damaged child, desperately trying to make it in the big, bad world by maintaining a positive and almost innocent outlook.

Much like my own, her childhood was far from normal.  But the thing is when you experience that kind of dysfunction during the formative years, as a mother, it becomes increasingly important to shelter and protect your own child/ren from the same experiences.  Because, hindsight is a powerful thing – I have been told by numerous professionals that many of my ‘issues’ are a result of a lack of stability, dysfunction and multiple rejections during my childhood.

I recently read an article regarding Drew’s approach to parenting and I could definitely relate.  Click here to take a look.  The zero consistency approach that she experienced herself really struck a chord with me.  My childhood had no consistency whatsoever.  My mum’s approach to parenting was to be my best friend.  Period pain? “Here have a beer!” My mum has no filter whatsoever.  Zero.  There are things that you just don’t want or need to know about your parents.  Sadly, I don’t have that luxury. I know the lot. With minute detail.

As a result, I know exactly the sort of mum that I don’t want to be.  My daughter is not my friend.  It is my responsibility to protect and care for her.  Therefore, I am strict with her, I am consistent in my approach.  I provide her with routine and structure so that she always knows what to expect.  I bake with her.  We do arts and crafts together.  We go for walks in the wood.  She knows that I love her with all of my heart and that my main priority in life is to protect her.  I did not become a parent to become a best friend – that role is available to someone else.  I am, and will always be her parent.  She will never feel responsible for me.  She will never have to sacrifice her childhood because of me.  Am I a perfect parent? Of course not, there’s no such thing. But I am determined that my daughter is going to be unaffected by my illness as she grows up.

After being a teacher for 13 years, I left the profession to work in child protection.  As much as I love this job, it breaks my heart.  On a daily basis I deal with kids who are all too familiar with life that involves gangs, drugs, prostitution, domestic violence and self-harm to name just a few.  To them, this is normality.

Part of the reason that I do this job is that when I was growing up there was literally no-one there looking out for me.  There was no-one whose job who was to notice the signs.  I hope that through intervention and support I can at least help to soften the blow of these tragic childhoods that are occurring before my eyes.

However, some of these children are so critically damaged.  I can see no way out for them.  Sadly, more often that not, a child will remain in the ‘family’ home, even when it is obvious that they shouldn’t.  I don’t know the ins and outs of the circumstances as I don’t work in social services but I can only assume that it comes down to lack of funding and lack of emergency foster care places.

I think of the impact that my childhood has had on me and the experiences that so many others that I have spoken with who have significant mental health issues and I have to wonder, are these children’s life stories already written?  Can the damage be undone?  Are they destined to a life of mental health problems, anxiety and mistrust of others and the inability to get close to others, or on the other hand, trust too much in an attempt to finally feel safe and as if they belong?

When you consider the above, it becomes apparent that normal is all any child needs.  Kids don’t need what they think they need.  What children need is time, love and boundaries.  Without that, you can’t go too far wrong.

Hello (part II)

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I am struggling to say what I wanted to say, so I will try again.  Yes I was feeling what I wrote in my previous post, ‘Hello’ but it goes deeper than that.

I am an all-or-nothing kinda person. I’ve tried to be middle of the road but it doesn’t work for me; it’s just who I am.  Perhaps I appear intense, perhaps I appear aloof.  Maybe that’s because I am.  Either you’re important in my life, or you’re not.  I can’t be doing with fucking about and lukewarm relationships and interactions.  Either experience them to their full, or move on.

Take for example the couple sat in the booth next to me (yeah, I’m back at ‘My Blogspot’ praise the lord!).  They are young, attractive, unmarried and childless, judging by the lack of offspring and wedding bands.  They have been sat in booth next to me for approximately 10 minutes.  They have said exactly nothing to each other.  Nothing!  The only words uttered have been to the waiter who has taken their order (to share)  Seriously, what the fuck is the point?  What a waste of life just tick-tocking away as we grow another minute, hour, year, decade older.

Life is so precious and we start out so vibrant that it devastates me to see how so many lose their shine as life, year by year, dulls the perfect portrait of who they once were.

This is why the song, ‘Hello’ by Adele devastates me so much. I miss the intimacy that I shared with so many people as my life shaped who I now am.  I miss them.  I miss them so much that it literally hurts.  But here’s the thing, they don’t exist any more.  I would love to be able to call them up at any time and talk like we used to talk.  To turn up on their doorstep just because I was passing and sit down to drink coffee and shoot the breeze.  However, these people who I loved so much just don’t exist anymore.  I could still express these spontaneous desires to connect but they could not.  Life has changed them.  Many have forgotten who they truly are.  That doesn’t mean that responsibilities have to be shirked.  Being who you truly are does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of responsibilities.

One of my closest friends who I spent the majority of a decade with, is now a virtual stranger to me.  We go through the motions of being ‘close friends’ but it’s bullshit.  I have no idea of who she even is any more.  She has no children and a job that has no responsibilities outside of her 40-hour working week.  She has no hobbies that I know of and a very limited social circle.  Her life now revolves around her husband.  Meeting with her requires approximately 6 weeks warning and even then she generally cancels our plans last-minute.  This is someone who I knew everything about.  I knew her hopes for the future, her dreams, her fears and what made her tick.  These days she is ‘Colin’s wife’.  What the fuck?

This is not a one-off.  So many of the people who I adore have let their ‘adult’ life consume their essence.  Maybe that’s ‘normal’ but I’m not normal. I’m not buying it.  I can’t be doing with the bullshit small talk that occurs once or twice a year when you meet to ‘catch up’ and talk about your partner, work, holiday plans that will draw you further into debt, blah blah blah.  Erase those bullshit sorts of things and you’re left with the kinds of conversations that really shape who we are.

It’s been 40 minutes and the couple next to me are still not conversing – they’re not amidst an argument either, I can tell by his body language.  He’s looked at his phone a few times though.  What happened to there not being enough hours in the day to fit in everything you want to say?  Not wanting to sleep because every hour asleep is an hour not spent feeling the most alive you’ve ever felt.  That is when you know you belong.  That is when you know you’ve arrived.

If you haven’t arrived and you can’t see the destination in your sight, maybe you’ve taken the wrong route…

Hello.

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Mainstream music is not my thing.  Give me rock, country, jazz, classical any day of the week.  However, Adele’s new song which was released yesterday had such an impact on me that it has prompted me to write.  The lyrics which are so raw, ripped memories back into my mind and caused me to well up.

You may or may not be familiar with the song, it is called ‘Hello.’  It struck a chord with me.  I heard an interview with her saying that her new album ’25’ is about when life gets in the way of relationships and friendships so that the intimacy once shared is lost.  I could relate, more than you could ever imagine.  It’s funny how a beautiful vocal tone and a melancholy ballad can devastate you isn’t it?  The impact on the senses can have such a profound effect on our emotional state.

I miss the intimacy that I shared in my younger years.  I resent that these days there are only a handful (that’s being generous) of people who I can truly be myself with.  How does that happen?  “You grow up and life gets in the way!” seems to be the default option that most use.  I call bullshit. Why does ‘becoming an adult’ mean that you have to lose the intimacy that you once shared with people who helped shaped who you have become?  I do not buy into the idea that once you get married, you have no need for other relationships.  “You have a family now” people say.  And?  Of course my family is my priority – I would move mountains for my daughter but why does having a family seem to mean to so many, that all other forms of intimacy need to be cast aside?  It’s bullshit.

But I digress. My point is, why do so many people equate growing up with having to lose the intimacy and friendships that they have shared with people who are so dear to them?  It is not a given. Yes, I have a full-time job, yes I have an evening job too, yes I have a family.  Does that mean that I don’t need the connections that I once shared with people? No. If anything I need them more.  Life is so demanding of us at times all the time, that our connections that we have to others can be the one thing that keeps us going.  The spark that starts the fire that reminds us of who we are and where we have come from.  That is what keeps us truly alive.  Without that spark, we are merely robots, going through the motions of life.  I’m sorry but that’s not okay with me – surely life is supposed to make us feel alive?

To hear ‘Hello’ by Adele click here

Have a beautiful day.  Perhaps reach out to someone you are missing who thinks you have moved on.  Maybe they’re thinking about you too…