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.

My time recovering in the Acute Day Treatment Unit

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(my art therapy)

As I have previously written, in 2014, I suffered from a very acute period of mental illness- a manic bipolar episode. I had to stay in hospital for 3 months before I began my recovery process at home. Part of that recovery process was being referred to an Acute Day Treatment Unit (ADTU).

ADTU is effectively a hospital day therapy ward- where groups are run on things like anxiety management, recovery techniques, anger management, assertiveness, relaxation/ meditation to music, arts and crafts and groups such as playing games eg table tennis or quizzes. It is there as a short stay intervention. Some like me had been in hospital already very unwell and some had been referred to ADTU to stop them having to go into hospital and to get them better through therapies.

People are referred there with all kinds of illnesses- depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, eating disorders, drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, psychosis, acute anxiety disorders eg PTSD/ OCD and more.

As well as the therapy groups with occupational therapists, the ADTU has psychiatric nurses, psychiatrist and therapists who support you during your stay. I was there largely because I had been through a very traumatic period of bipolar illness and also because I had decided to change medication to a new mood stabiliser- Lithium.

This meant that as well as the therapy sessions, I had to get used to a new medicine regime and weekly blood tests to determine my Lithium level. When you start Lithium, the level in your blood fluctuates- if it goes too high your body can have a toxic reaction. Luckily this never happened to me but there were times when I was quite low and depressed as the Lithium level was too low. So for about 8 weeks, I had regular blood tests.

In ADTU, you get given a key worker- an occupational therapist or nurse who works with you through your stay and acts a bit like a therapist- they are your support team for when you are there. At ADTU, I lived at home and went in every day 5 days a week. It was challenging as there were constantly new people coming in and out- some very poorly. However I made some incredible friends.

My first important friend I met on my first day! We both began at ADTU at the same time and started our induction. She also has bipolar disorder and we were quite similar- both loving all things girly, glittery and of course- unicorns! We got on well from the beginning, sat with each other in therapy groups, where we both regularly fell asleep in the relaxation to music sessions. She is an amazing and brave woman- who I am honoured to call a friend and we are still in touch today!

I made other friends as well, from sitting in the lounge and chatting in the mornings. One of these was my friend who loves sport and we would chat about what she was doing on her degree. She is also another amazing one who I am still in touch with!

ADTU is meant as a short stay intervention but due to my acute illness and change of medication I was there longer than almost anyone else. This became frustrating as I kept seeing people being discharged and I was still there. In the end after 12 weeks where I became used to all the staff and therapy groups and felt a bit like a veteran (some people are only there for 2 weeks) I emerged still fragile but stronger than I had been.

I owe so much to the wonderful staff- especially my occupational therapist key worker and the therapist running the arts and crafts and recovery groups. The staff were so supportive and kind.

In the UK, there are now only two ADTUs in the whole country as funding has been cut. However, I can honestly say that without the staff there and my new friends- I would have found life so much harder. I owe them so much.

Here are  some of my photos from the therapy folder I kept.

This blog is dedicated to my friends from ADTU who are making amazing strides- my 2 closest friends are now studying for Masters Degrees!

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