Category Archives: psychosis

Bipolar Disorder: Fears and Living with a Chronic Illness

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I have always pledged in my blogs and writing to be as honest as possible- to be authentic- and tell the real story about living with mental health issues.  This blog came about from a Facebook poll and was voted what you wanted to hear about. So, here it is in all its beautiful glory!

Its been a difficult few weeks here with my anxiety disorder (which I will write about another time) and again this just highlights how up and down life with mental health conditions can be.  Recovery is not a smooth process – its always a mix of challenges, happiness, tears, excitement, fear.. mixed with peaks and troughs.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar affective disorder (a mood disorder where you get depressive and manic ‘high’ episodes) as a teenager. The fear at being diagnosed at such a young and delicate age is palpable. You fear everyones reactions and judgement. You fear whether you will be in and out of hospital. You fear whether you will ever be well or whether your medication will hold you. You wonder whether you can pick your life up again or whether you will always be different from your friends and those around you.

I wondered if I would ever go to university, travel, achieve my career dreams, have boyfriends, settle down, live my life again  (I did slowly but it took time and is a constant process). I had no idea what life held in store for me (and at times still don’t!). I am still a work in progress. I had no idea if psychosis would be ever present or if I would carry on feeling suicidal, or if I would spend my life on hospital in patient wards or in countless psychotherapy sessions. Bipolar is chronic because there is no ‘cure’. There are medications to address the chemical imbalance and therapy to help manage life but it cannot be fully eradicated.

I think when you are diagnosed with any chronic illness, you fear with a capital F. You start off by fearing what this means to your life. For me personally, I had to grow up fast. I avoided alcohol and mind altering substances . I made sure I had enough sleep and ate well. I tried to protect myself from negative people- which is hard when you are vulnerable).  I strove for my goals when I was well and relied on my support network when I wasn’t.

I have had to pick myself up countless times. I had years of depression and suicidal thoughts, some at the very time I was completing my Masters Degree. I have had countless anxiety attacks, social anxiety and fears around other people, work anxiety. I have lost my sanity due to a manic episode of illness and had to be medicated, helped and cared for away from home. Even though I am currently well with the Bipolar, the anxiety can take over. I am learning to use Yoga and Meditation to heal my mind and I am doing so much better.

The fear of ending up back in hospital is ever present. The fear of my loved ones having to see me unwell again is palpable. However, my mood stabiliser Lithium Carbonate seems to be holding me well. I no longer feel depressed or manic and my moods are in a ‘normal’ range. I do have certain side effects from medication including weight gain, thirst and having to have heart ECGs or blood tests to check my physical health is ok. This is part of the pay off Bipolar sufferers have for staying mentally well.

There are many uncertain things in my future. Pregnancy could be a difficult time, where I could become ill again and am vulnerable to post natal depression or psychosis. I
will need to be under a consultant specialising in this area.  Life stressors could get too much. However, I prefer to live my life in the NOW, enjoy each day and make the most of each day. I have learnt to be relentlessly positive and with self care and my support network I can get through anything.

There are  still times when I cry and I fear and I live in that fearful place. It is only natural with a condition that flares up at different times- especially in times of hormonal change or life stress. However, I truly believe that by finding positivity and keeping going despite the darkness, I will find the light. My boyfriend, friends and family are wonderful and I couldn’t ask for more support. This is what also gets me through. My belief in God and the Universe, in love and light and good times, will get me there. I will fight to stay well.

Shame and Psychosis article for Time to Change

My latest article for Time to Change, a campaign in the UK aiming to end mental health discrimination. (name has been changed)

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Three years ago last month, my mind lost touch with reality in a very rapid turn of events that culminated in an acute manic episode of bipolar affective disorder. Having been diagnosed with bipolar in 2004, I had not experienced any mania or hypomania (a lesser manic state) in ten years, although I had fallen into a suicidal depression just six months earlier. So when my brain fell into full blown psychosis – with delusions and grandiose thoughts, fearful thoughts about loved ones and being in danger and a complete change in rational perception – it ripped apart the fabric of my life and all I knew. I am writing this to explain what psychosis is really like.

I was just 25 and although I had experienced a mixed state which left me hospitalised at 16 (and had experienced some psychosis then), this was by far the most challenging, lengthy and painful bout of mania and psychosis that I had experienced. I began to believe that my step father was behind why I was in hospital and wouldn‘t let him see me, I thought that the doctors and nurses were a gang holding me hostage. I was fearful of everything, talking and singing to myself, unable to sit still and became quite agitated at times with the staff and patients, which is completely out of character for me. I simply didn’t know what was real or unreal and I was so frightened of the staff and others while my brain was in this state. Eventually, I recovered after about two months of being given anti-psychotic medication and tranquilisers to help me rest (often I was pacing around due to agitation/ mania), in combination with individual and group therapies. I left hospital after three months.

I rarely talk about my psychotic state, which led me to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This is due to shame: I was ashamed of myself even though it wasn’t my fault – rather down to faulty brain chemistry and my medication that had stopped working. There is still a huge amount of stigma about psychosis and anything that makes you lose your sanity. My psychosis is part of my bipolar illness and happened completely out of the blue. My mood stabiliser hadn’t been holding me for some time but no one could have predicted quite how rapid my descent into psychosis and illness could have been (it took only a number of days and escalated at a weekend, leaving me to be admitted via A&E, which proved traumatising).

The shame of losing your mind is great and also acting out of character shatters your self-esteem. When I left hospital, I sunk into a depression due to the shame of how I acted in hospital and how my brain and its chemistry could go so catastrophically wrong. Kindness goes a long way when you are feeling ashamed. If you have a friend or family member struggling with this – be calm, show kindness, and show up for them. They need your support at what is an incredibly painful time. Let the person with feelings of shame about their illness know that they are human, that they are an important friend to you, and stand by them.

What truly helped me in those dark days was the attitude of my psychiatrist in hospital and in the day recovery unit I attended after. Despite being psychotic and unwell in hospital and quite agitated at times, my doctor persevered to get me on the right medication and put up with my changing moods. She knew that if I took anti-psychotics and then agreed to go on lithium carbonate (the main mood stabilising medication for bipolar disorder) that I would recover – even if it took me months to get there. It was a slow recovery but I got there in time. Her patience, perseverance and kindness saved me from a very acute episode of illness. Similarly, the psychiatrist and all the staff at the Day Recovery Unit helped me in my down days starting on lithium and having regular blood tests, recovering from being very unwell and they treated me like a human being, when I had felt so ashamed.

If it wasn’t for the Doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and other staff who looked after me  and helped build me back up, I wouldn’t be here today.

There is no need to feel ashamed, although you may do.

Although I still find it hard to talk about my descent into a psychotic state – I am so grateful to the NHS for all the help I was given and have been well for some time. I hope this article helps others in a similar position – you are not alone and don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed.

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/there-should-be-no-shame-experiencing-psychosis

Psychiatric Medication and Weight Gain- a Journey to taking back control.

This post is intensely personal for me as it encompasses 3 years of recovery from  a severe bipolar manic episode that left me hospitalised. Weight gain is a side effect from more than one of my medications and in this article I will explain my journey and why now I want to take control back.

I have (up until the past few years) always been tall, slim and curvy and never had to worry about my weight. It simply didnt register to me that I couldn’t eat carbs or ice cream or pizza (or my favourite food in the world- pasta)- my height, at 5 foot 10, meant I could carry my weight more than the average short person.

The first time I put on significant amounts of weight due to psychiatric medication was after going on the anti psychotic Olanzepine, aged 16 after an acute episode of depression. I ballooned in weight (due to cravings) and put on maybe 2 stone (not sure what that is in kilos)- but at the time as I was a teenager with a fast metabolism, I was able to lose the weight once I came off the Olanzepine and go back to being a size 12 . My first mood stabiliser- Carbamazepine, that I was on for 10 years didn’t cause the weight gain I have now seen and I went back to being slim.

Over the years as I was put on different anti depressants and experienced suicidal depressions and social anxiety, I comfort ate- pasta, chocolate, cheese to take away the pain of the depression. Still, in 2013, I was maybe only a UK size 14-16 (having been an average 12-14). As mentioned, my tall frame meant I didn’t look big.

Then, in 2014, I was hospitalised due to mania and psychosis and given many medications for psychosis and anxiety- Haloperidol, Benzodiazepines, Upped dosage of Quetaipine in addition to my mood stabiliser and anti depressants . Also during the mania, my mind was so busy that I constantly craved food and snacks and couldn’t regulate my appetite. So weight gain was inevitable.

I put on a lot of weight over my time in hospital, day hospital and at home when recovering afterwards- I wasn’t working, was very anxious and low and the comfort eating began. Add to the lack of exercise- I became overweight and unfit fast. I also found that my new stabiliser Lithium, plus the Quetaipine and anti deps, meant I had bad sugar cravings and became addicted to sugar. I still am, but I am trying to regulate it. This meant I was drinking a lot of juice and eating chocolate.

This week I went to the Doctor and was weighed. I have put on 5 stone in 3 years since Ive been unwell. This was a huge wake up call. The Doctor told me that reducing the Quetaipine would help my weight loss as it causes increase in appetite.

I have bought the Slimming world cook book and Exercise DVDS and really need to find the willpower to just start my diet and exercise regime. Being the size I am- I need to lose weight for health reasons and this is what is spurring me on to begin.

Living with Uncertainty- Life and Journeys with Mental Illness

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*Trigger warning- talks about severe depression. Please be careful when reading*

There is so much I want to write on here that I havn’t yet written. Some topics  are too deep or painful for me to address- particularly surrounding certain aspects of previous hospitalisations. I hope one day I can share these with you. However, as a writer, I often get into the flow and just want to spill whats in my heart. So, this blog is about what living with mental illness can mean- its uncertainty and coming to terms with my own brain.

As most of you know, I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, a mood disorder, as a teenager. I was poorly with depression and a mixed state in hospital when diagnosed and I don’t think fully came to terms with what the diagnosis meant until a few years later.

Being diagnosed so young instilled a lot of fear in me and a lot of avoidance. I decided not to drink alcohol or try drugs- as I didn’t know their effect on my brain and I was already  pretty anti drugs for many reasons. I knew my illness meant that the chemistry in my brain wasnt the same as everyone else without it- I had either too little seretonin causing depression, or too much causing hypomania and manic episodes. I felt often that despite taking mood stabilising medication and anti depressants and tablets to help PMS- that everything was uncertain. I had no idea when the next episode would strike- or if I would  be well enough recognise it.

I am lucky. My illness is very severe when it happens. Yet, I went 10 years without a manic episode or hospitalisation, though I suffered from acute depression that got truly so bad I didn’t want to be here anymore- which is quite a common side effect of being depressed. I was able to be supported at home and with my psychiatrist. I knew it was my depressed thoughts and not me- but this uncertainty  was incredibly stressful to myself and my family. I spent years being depressed and anxious and trying (and failing at times) to function- because my medication wasn’t holding me and my brain correctly.

Despite the uncertainty of so many things- dating, the effect of stressors in my life, work, etc- I am doing well at the moment. However, the uncertainty of the illness makes you worry that you could suddenly get ill again.

I practise a lot of self care- try to get to bed early, eat well, take my medication, tell my family or friends if feeling low etc. However, I always live with the knowledge that my Bipolar may pop up at different times in my life- and important times.

Due to having had this for 13 years- I am used to living with the chronic nature of my mental health condition. It can still be frightening and distressing and down right annoying. Yet, with the right support network and medical team, I know I can stay well for as long as my brain allows me- and I can get well and recover.

Recovery makes you stronger, Living through the pain makes you stronger, Surviving an episode makes you stronger.

You are not alone.

Full Circle- From Bipolar and Mental Illness to Recovery

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It was summer 2014. I sat on a sadly impersonal green NHS couch in a quiet side room , my feet dangling over the edge, holding my wordsearch book and counting down the hours until I could leave the Day Unit. I had been feeling exhausted from my new medication, wobbly, teary and lacking in confidence all day and I had just started taking Lithium as a therapeutic medication. As such I had weekly blood tests as the Lithium level in my blood fluctuated between 0.4 and the optimum dose of 0.8, where you start to feel much better.  Lithium has to reach a certain amount in the blood to work on your brain (where it stops or tames mania and mood disorders).  They also had to check it didn’t become toxic in my blood and so weekly tests were needed which were exhausting at the time.

I had just received test results that day informing me that I was feeling a bit fragile because the Lithium was only at 0.4 in my blood. All I wanted to do was hide away from the rest of the therapy group in that little room, peacefully colouring in photos and doing wordsearches to keep me occupied. All I really wanted to do was go home, to where I felt safe and I didn’t have to face the reality of being ill.

This was at the beginning of my recovery journey in 2014. I had left hospital as an in patient after a manic episode and was a voluntary patient at an Acute Day Unit specialising in group therapies. Eventually, I grew to love it and the other people there- although I always wanted to leave faster than the Doctors thought I was ready! I stayed there 3 months in total and some people stay there 2 weeks. I very much needed the healing nature of the therapies even though I didn’t feel it at the time.

I realised these past few weeks how far I have come in my journey- from ill service user needing the support of my psychiatrist, nurses and OTs, to not needing that support currently (on 6 monthly psychiatrist meetings) and helping others in a similar setting in my new job.

I really have come full circle. There may be times when I am ill again in the future or not feeling at my best. I may need more support again. I may get panic attacks or mania or depression. However, for now I am feeling positive and hoping I stay well for a long time on my medication.

Recovery is possible. I am so thankful to all who have helped me on my journey and continue to provide guidance and love.

Be Ur Own Light is One year old!

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I can’t believe my blog, Be Ur Own Light – started on March 1, 2016 is 1 year old today.

My journey with blogging has been so exciting, inspiring and wonderful. It has reached every part of the world and a huge number of countries in UK, Europe, USA, Canada and South America, China, India and other Asian countries, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. It is such a blessing to be read world wide!

When I began this blog it was a diary to explain and help recover from my anxiety disorder. However, over time it has evolved into so much more!

As I grew in confidence and found other kindred spirits in my writing, I began to write for other organisations and also receive and upload guest posts on mental health topics.

This year I have written blogs for Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change, Bipolar UK, Self Harm UK, Phobia Support Forum, Counsellors Cafe, Monologues Project and the Bossing It! Academy. I have written 4 blogs for Rethink and have loved collaborating with each charity and organisation. Special mention to Louie Rodrigues at Rethink.

I have also received amazing guest posts from these wonderful charities and writers who shared their hearts in order to battle stigma. Thank you:

– Breathe Life
-Ashley Owens at Generally Anxious
– ISMA stress management
– Stephanie at Making Time for Me
– Adar (PTSD)
– Deepdene Care
– Joshua (bipolar article)
– Michael J Russ
-Richie at Live Your Now
– Megan at the Manic Years
– Quite Great Music psychotherapy
-Lystia Putranto and Karina Ramos
-Eugene Farrell at AXA PPP
-Marcus at Psychsi
– Paradigm Centre San Francisco

I can’t wait to receive more guest submissions over time!

In the past year Be Ur Own Light has grown into a #lighttribe of thousands. On Twitter we are now 2,287 , Facebook 265 of my friends and family, Instagram is 2156,  and we have 127 dedicated WordPress followers. Thank you to each and every one of you for following, commenting, sharing and reading and for helping fight stigma through talking..

This blog has also raised money for Jami mental health charity and I am excited to be starting work for Jami soon.

Its been an incredible year of sharing, writing and breaking down barriers. Its OK to talk about mental illness and mental health. Its alright to feel lost or broken or ill. Seek support for recovery and you can get better. You are not alone.

With gratitude and love on our first birthday 

Guest post by Marcus – 7 Tips to Improve the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder (formerly referred to as manic depression) is a condition characterized by mood oscillations- moving between high and low mood. A person suffering from bipolar disorder experiences mood changes and these changes are often erratic and unforeseen.

Symptoms of this disorder regularly change and that is one of the reasons why it can be such a difficult condition to treat and keep a consistent state of mood and activity for sufferers. However, it is possible!

Little things can help and here are 7 tips that might just help make symptoms slightly better:

  1. Make sure you get the Right Amount of Sleep

People who suffer from bipolar disorder often have erratic sleeping patterns. It is believed that one-quarter of these cases sleep too much at night while about a one-third experience difficulty in falling sleep, thereby suffering from insomnia.

As irregular sleeping patterns may precipitate depressive episodes, experts advise setting up an alarm to ensure one gets up at the same time each morning as well as setting fixed hours for sleep in the evening so that the body can adapt to this necessary function.

  1. Consistently take your prescribed Medication

According to Cara Hoepner, a nurse practitioner who also has this condition, discipline is the key when it comes to taking medication prescribed for bipolar disorder. However, she also agrees this can be a difficult task, seeing as some of the medications commonly prescribed (such as Lithium) require constant monitoring via blood tests to ensure they do not become harmful to the patient. Lithium can be toxic in rare cases and so its important to work with a good medical team.

Coupled with the fact that skipping medication will often trigger a relapse, she advises that all patients with this condition should exercise diligence and discipline in taking their meds. Tablet boxes can be very helpful for multiple medications.

  1. Shun Drugs and Alcohol

An expert in bipolar disorder, Bearden, claims that nearly half of patients of bipolar disorder have problems with substance abuse. He also states that this is one of the major reasons why many treatments do not succeed, due to it impeding recovery.

He therefore advises that while alcohol may appear a welcome refuge for bipolar patients in that it temporarily relieves depression, the mere fact that it triggers a depressive state in the brain as well as erratic sleeping patterns and mood oscillations, goes against the purpose. In addition, alcohol and drugs may impair cognitive functioning and hinder chances of  recovery- they exacerbate high and low episodes in the condition.

  1. Invest in Therapy

One of the best ways to improve bipolar disorder symptoms is to invest in therapy, including talking therapies, CBT, art therapy and more. While it may seem unappealing to many patients, therapy actually goes a long way in improving their chances of recovery.

Cognitive behavioural therapy helps patients understand and interpret events and thoughts, thereby enabling them to get back to their normal routine. There are other therapies which assist recovery and maintaining stable relationships .

  1. Learn the Triggers

Learning the triggers of bipolar disorder may help the patient nip the episode in the bud by actually dealing with these triggers before they develop into a full-blown episode.

Some of the triggers that make people unwell include sleep deprivation, social isolation and stressors eg divorce, death, change or job or having a baby . Other major changes in your life may also trigger depressive or manic tendencies, especially if they disrupt your routine so be careful to look after yourself in times of high stress.

  1. Learn the Side Effects

The most common side effect of taking Lithium or other anti psychotic medication  is metabolic syndrome, a side effect that majorly involves the impairment in the functionality of the kidney and the pancreas. A spectrum of effects such as high cholesterol, insulin resistance and weight gain would ensue, and this is where you need to deal with the to keep optimal health. A healthy diet and exercise is always important.

  1. Connect with Friends and Family (Support Network)

If you have a good support network, its so important to share how you are feeling with    close relations or best friends. By discussing your problems with those you trust, they hopefully will provide the emotional support needed to get through difficulties and help recommend further treatment or come with you to the Doctor.

In a nut shell, do not sit back and let your mood disorder take over without help. Speak out and let your friends and family help you out. In some families, there is a stigma so please do be careful as to who you let in when you are unwell.

Living with bipolar disorder is not an easy experience. However, by understanding how to deal with the symptoms, you can certainly improve your symptoms to keep you healthy and well. Read widely and remember that however debilitating episodes can be, Bipolar can be managed on medication and with therapy and. support. You are not alone.

Marcus regularly blogs at psysci, a psychology, science blog that examines the latest research and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives