Tag Archives: Bipolar disorder

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.

The Anxiety Wheel: Lifes Voyage

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It has been a while- about a month since I have written about everything going on. This is because between the moments where I feel full of health and happy, I have been experiencing morning panic attacks at times again and I just didn’t have the energy to process it and write about it.

I have had morning anxiety for a long time, where I wake feeling overwhelmed and fearful about the day and I have had lots of therapy to try and help combat it. The only thing that seems to work for me a the moment is resilience and picking myself back up- but its not easy. After the adrenaline stops, I often feel embarrassed that I couldnt do a desired activity and I don’t want to let others down also. Its a catch 22.

I am doing a bit better this week but last week was tough. When I have breakthroughs, moments where I can socialise or go to work- then its excellent because it gives me confidence to continue.

Here is a diary entry I wrote in Starbucks the other day to make sense of the ups and downs of what I term the ‘Anxiety Wheel’:

In the past week and a half, I have been experiencing an increase in my levels of anxiety. It reminds me of a metaphor- that of running around a hamster wheel. Let me explain.

Sometimes it feels like I’m treading, treading, treading, trying to keep the wheel of life turning. Trying with all my might to function at a ‘normal’ pace. There are days when I can enjoy the running and everything feels enjoyable and exciting. There are days when I can take my feet off the hamster wheel and rest.

Yet, sometimes in my rest times, I can be overwhelmed by the anxious thoughts of lifes spinning wheel. It all feels too much and then I freeze, I hide, I go into fight or flight. I metaphorically hide and sleep in my safe cage, before I pick up the courage to turn lifes wheel again.

Today I am taking back control of my life and spinning the wheel slowly and cautiously before I get back into the full groove again. Picking myself up after panic attacks is not at all easy,. However, with support, resilience and inner strength, I can do this. I will feel safe and comfortable.’

Mental Health, Social Media and Relationships: Reality vs the Edit

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This post has been inspired by a few experiences that have happened to me in my life- regarding relationships with others- be they a friend or otherwise and social media.

I am a self confessed social media lover and addict. I love its ease, I use it as a way to store memories to look back on- photos, places I have been. A kind of virtual diary. I use it to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances who I would never normally see as they are in different countries or regions- and to keep in touch with friends I see regularly. I am always on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (though not Snapchat- showing my age) and I truly love being online. Most of the time.

The difficult part about having bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder/ social anxiety is that it is not easily visible. Equally, on social media we always tend to present an edited version of ourselves- the good side. The positive side. The places we’ve been and the friends we’ve seen, those close to us. My Facebook profile, when I can achieve things, shows me smiling and being out and about. However, this has the potential to upset people if I have had to cancel arrangements due to anxiety.

The main refrain is often ‘But you were able to do it then- so why can’t you do it now?’.   How come the next day you could go out for dinner (I saw it on your Facebook)?

I understand this reaction. I do post a lot to celebrate achievements to myself and keep memories- happy memories for when I do become unwell again (which I hope won’t be for a long time). Social anxiety means that I want to look back on and remember the good times, the happy times.

The tough part is that relationships can become strained if one overly posts on social media. So its a complete dichotomy.

Do I post my life and enjoy the times I am able to socialise and go out without anxiety? Or do I edit what I upload so as not to hurt feelings of people I have had to cancel due to anxiety attacks? Ultimately- do I take my memories offline and into a private journal or on Instagram rather than Facebook?

All of this has been going through my head. Mental illness is not as straight forward to others as a broken leg. I don’t wear a sign saying I am bipolar or a bandage round my head.

I may look like I am having the time of my life…. but one may not see that:

Yesterday I could have had a panic attack which meant I couldn’t leave the house as I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed, and totally drained from the adrenaline. I got out to socialise now because a family member drove me somewhere as a form of exposure therapy to lessen my anxiety.

OR this scenario…..

My anxiety took over and I felt so frightened I was hyperventilating, crying and beating myself up emotionally, for not being able to see a friend. Because yes, we don’t want to have this and we care deeply about our friends feelings.

OR this scenario….

I have heard you talking negatively about me to someone else because I had to cancel an arrangement. Yet, I have anxiety about travel and socialising and sometimes feel overwhelmed. You know this, yet will still be upset- which I have to take into account.

So no, I am not really having the time of my life all the time. Friends are my priority but equally optimum health and managing day by day is to me hugely important.

I will try my very best not to let you down. If I hurt you through my social anxiety, it is never intentional.

I have learnt the hard way the pitfalls of social media with mental health issues. The large part is that we don’t want to talk about how depressed or anxious or panicked we are on Facebook. So it gets hidden and misunderstandings happen.

I hope one day it comes into the light, through my blog and when I can be more open.

Reflections- Being Bipolar is not the end.

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This blog post was prompted by a blog I had written a few months ago for Rethink Mental Illness about living with Bipolar 1 disorder. I received a message from a mother whose teenage daughter was suicidal and very unwell and was receiving treatment from CAMHS child and adolescent mental health service . This same mother has stayed in touch with me and updates me with her daughters progress.

I was the same age as her daughter is now when I became unwell. I was only 16, still a child but on the brink of adulthood, at a time where teenage life can be confusing, even without a mental illness!  Being diagnosed at 16 changed my life in many ways. I had to come to terms with having a chronic illness, with being ‘different’, with taking medication daily for the rest of my life, with not drinking alcohol, with feeling insecure about my own mind and self for a long time. Its a lot to take in, at that age in particular.

Being Bipolar is not the end. Yes it can cause havoc and play with your sense of self, cause insecurities about your mind, make you psychotic or manic/ hypomanic, make you depressed and suicidal, make you anxious and terrified and many other symptoms. But it is not the end. With help from support networks and professional medical teams, you can recover. You can get better. You can achieve.

What changed everything for me was taking Lithium. It has stabilised my moods and they don’t fluctuate as intensely, so I am not symptomatic. It was a gamble taking it, as is taking most psychiatric medication, its trial and error. But, as Bipolar runs in my family, I knew having the right chemical balance was key because my moods were all over the place.

I still have bad days and panic and anxiety from time to time. However they are no way near as bad as when I was on the wrong medication.

At 16, I had a very uncertain future. The Doctors told my family I wouldn’t get my A levels (despite having got good grades at GCSE) or go to university. I proved them wrong. I went to university and got my BA, I went travelling to India and Ghana where I volunteered and I went to drama school to do a Masters degree which I attained, despite the difficulties in my mood and the stress it did create. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support network and amazing family in my life. And of course, my need to do things despite the illness!

Achieving these things made my self esteem increase. There are times when I am not confident but having a severe mental illness is not the be all and end all. You can live with it, there are times which can be hell- but these make the sweet times better. I am back at work as well after being in hospital in 2014 and have tried to rebuild my life.

So today I am thinking of the teenage girl who is currently unwell at 16 and her family. And praying for her as we go into Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath).

Surviving mental illness while practising Judaism

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This post is being dedicated to my friend Helen Brown who wanted to know how being an Orthodox Jewish woman works and is compatible with having a mental illness. How supportive were the Jewish community when I was ill and what does Judaism mean to me?

So:

Let me start by saying that I was born into Judaism and raised Jewish, in a Modern Orthodox, United Synagogue Household- meaning I keep Kosher, rest on the Sabbath and observe all the festivals, learn and pray when I can. I also practise ‘tzniut’- dressing modestly and endeavour to live my life with the positive values of the Torah (Old Testament) bridging modern society .  I have a great love for and appreciation of Judaism and I have found that it has kept me going through many difficult times.

Prayer in particular has had a very important resonance in my story. When I was ill in hospital with a bipolar episode two years ago, my friend brought me a tehillim prayer book- the Book of Psalms. Another friend brought me a book of strengthening hopeful quotes from Rabbi Nachman. Every day, I prayed to God to release me from my illness, to give me strength and to give me a full and complete recovery. I prayed that the Doctors and nurses would support and help me, and they did. I found freedom through my religion, even if I couldn’t always understand why this particular test was in my life. My friends also lit candles on the Sabbath with a prayer that I would get better and prayed for me.

The support from the Jewish community during this time was incredible. Rabbis visited me with warm chicken soup, cakes, wisdom, advice and prayers. Friends and family rallied round to visit and bring me food, soft toys, cards and themselves. The kindness was immense and never will be forgotten.

However, there is still a stigma against mental illness in the Jewish community, as there is in most other communities.  When I first became ill at 16, I was ridiculed my many who did not understand the meaning of a bipolar manic episode. To this day, I believe there is a woeful misunderstanding and knowledge of psychosis- delusions or hallucinations. There is also a stigma when looking for a marriage partner, if using a matchmaker. I was taught by many to keep quiet about my illness and I still do not readily give the information unless it will help someone else.

Not everyone understands medication or psychotherapy and I am on a mission to educate everyone so the stigma can fall. I am a Modern Orthodox Jewish woman.  This means I love God and want to live by His laws, whilst enjoying the modern world of theatre, books, cinema and culture too.

I believe that I was ill for a reason, whether its brain chemistry, a test or both. What I do know is that the community now is changing- there is much more support and kindness.

We only have to look at the new Jami (Jewish Association of Mental Illness) Head Room Café (a social enterprise cafe raising money for the charity) to see that. The funding and support Jami is getting and its new prominence.

There is still more to do, but we as Jews (and non Jews) have a duty to support anyone who is ill- whether its in the mind or the body.