Spring Rebirth: Waking up my Mental Health by Eleanor

 

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(image: Eleanor Segall)

Its that time of year again here in England. The candy- floss pink cherry blossom are on the trees. The sky is a cornflower blue and the sun is streaming down, just waiting for the odd April shower. And I was outside to see it and enjoy it today.

Why is this a victory? Because over the winter I was mildly depressed and hardly leaving home. The lack of light had really got to me and I just wanted to curl up inside with a blanket. Now the days are getting longer and the spring is here, I am thinking about rebirth, waking up anew and starting afresh.

I am writing my book still (cover and title to be revealed) and I will be starting a new job in PR soon. Tonight, Rob and I are going out to celebrate that over dinner. Our wedding is 3 months today 🙂 and coming round fast.

Theres a lot to do, plan for and a lot of change (mostly positive but still a shift). I know that this is not a bad thing however this week I did start feeling overwhelmed. That was because my step grandpa passed away and we had to go to Wales for the funeral, followed by a week of mourning in our home. It was a challenging week, he will be so missed.

Yet what I have learnt from life is that there may be constant intensity or ups and downs, with everything happening at once but we have to learn to try and go with it.

Going with the flow is not something I do well. I get anxious, overwhelmed, tired, stressed, sad like any other human. I hope and I pray and I try to see signs from God and the Universe. Getting fresh air and sun is good for me and you too .

Ultimately I am learning life is a blessing but I need to guard my mental health carefully (and thank goodness for medication and a strong support network)

How are you this Spring?

Eleanor x

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World Bipolar Day: Extract from my blog for the Centre for Mental Health by Eleanor

 

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(image: Centre for Mental Health)

‘Like so many sharing their stories this World Bipolar Day, I have lived experience of bipolar disorder. I am now 30, but was just 16 when I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 (the most severe form of the mood disorder) as an inpatient at the Priory Hospital North London. It was hard to deal with this diagnosis at such a young age and I didn’t know then what my future would hold. I was hospitalised due to having three episodes of illness: mania and depression in one year, which led to psychosis, where my mind lost touch with reality.

Bipolar is a serious mental illness that causes a change in mood states to either big manic highs or devastating depressive lows, with a normal state of functioning between episodes. As someone living with this, I also have experienced psychosis during my mania which needs quick hospitalisation as my mind spirals wildly out of control. I have been hospitalised twice for my bipolar (in 2004 and 2014), both times due to an extreme episode of mania and psychosis.

As a teenager in hospital, I was depressed, anxious, fearful and vulnerable. I believed (falsely) that I had been sexually abused and my reality became based on this false belief (delusions). The doctors got me back to full health through a combination of starting on new medicine (mood stabilisers) and giving me anti-psychotic medication to bring me down from the mania. Over four months I also had one to one therapy, group therapy with the other teenagers in the adolescent unit and was supported by an incredible team of nurses and a psychiatrist who believed I could get well. I eventually went home once my mind was stable and started a long process of counselling and recovery.

I was able to go to university and get my degrees, travel, make friends, date and live my life. However, in 2013, after some life stressors, I began to experience a depression which featured suicidal thinking. It was very scary and we believe it is because my medicine Carbamazepine wasn’t working any more as I got older.

Depression of this kind is incredibly hard to deal with. I stayed in bed all day most days with breaks for meals. I had no energy, no hope, no reason to get up. I was unmotivated and couldn’t cope with life. I barely washed or spoke to friends. Luckily, due to my fears about the suicidal thoughts, I shared this with my family and medical team. I didn’t want to act on it, just escape from the pain my mind was in.

Unfortunately, a few months later, the depression turned into a period of mania, possibly caused by my mood stabiliser not working and taking anti-depressants. This is always a risk with bipolar, that medicine can send you high. I was agitated, speaking very fast, with racing thoughts, raised libido and was vulnerable as a result. The psychosis then started, with my mind starting to believe falsely that I was being held by a criminal gang orchestrated by my family. It was so scary. I was sectioned, treated with medication again and over several months engaged with therapy in hospital, while they tried to bring my mood and mind back to lucidity.’

Read full blog here: 

https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/blog/centre-mental-health-blog/bipolar-disorder-eleanor

 

World Bipolar Day is Tomorrow!

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Tomorrow, join in and learn what you can about bipolar disorder.

As many of you know, I have bipolar 1 disorder and when not on medication, have episodes of high mood- mania/ psychosis and low mood- severe depression. Thankfully I am in recovery but it affects so many people and is thought to run in families.

Remember you are not alone.

Bipolar UK-  https://www.bipolaruk.org/

Bipolar in USA: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/bipolar-disorder

The secret is out: I’m writing a book and am going to be an Author!

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I can’t fully believe that I am typing this as its a dream I have had for my entire life. I had been asking God for this to happen when I was ready and for me to be able to write to share and help others.

At my lowest ebb, I dreamt that if I survived the depression and mania that I would like to help others in similar places. Writing has become my therapy and I hope it helps others too.

So… the secret is out…

I am going to be an author and my life story with bipolar disorder and anxiety and how I have overcome adversity will be told in a book written by me for Trigger Publishing.

Trigger ‘the voice of mental health’ are an independent publisher whose work I have followed for some time now,. They are the publishing arm of mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation.

In 2016, The Shaw Mind Foundation set up Trigger, a global trade publishing house devoted to opening conversations about mental health. They say ‘We tell the stories of people who have suffered from mental illnesses and recovered, so that others may learn from them.’

In order to get my book published, I had to write three chapters and work with an editorial team. I had admired many of their books, especially those by Hope Virgo, Karen Manton and Terri Cox about their lives with mental illnesses and how they overcame them. I knew Trigger was the right place to share my story of recovery.

My book may not be out til late 2019/ early 2020 but I will keep you all updated. The title will also be revealed at a later stage.

With thanks to the incredible people at Trigger: Stephanie, Katie and James for believing in me and for Hannah for all your help!

Now I just have to get writing! I will write further blogs (or share vlogs) to update on how writing is going.

Love,
Eleanor x

What happens during a Manic episode: Bipolar One Disorder Tales by founder Eleanor

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When most people think of bipolar disorder, they may think of the two opposing poles that make up the illness. High and low. Manic and depressed. Many also believe that all people with bipolar flit between these moods constantly and that the illness is severe or alike in everyone who has it. This is not the case.

There are two types of bipolar disorder. I have the first one – Bipolar affective One disorder, which means that I have serious manic episodes which include psychosis (loss of touch with reality). This has happened to me twice in my life and both times I have needed hospitalisation. Bipolar two is characterised by lesser manic episodes (hypomania) and more mixed states.

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(image: https://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/mood-swings.htm)

Being Bipolar One is very challenging. When I get ill, I get really really sick. Loss of insight, loss of reality, needing anti psychotic medicines now- ill. Ill to the point of being sectioned under the mental health act due to lack judgement and insight. Believing that my family are out to get me and people are going to harm me – ill.  Really unwell.

When one of these serious manic episodes strikes for me, my thoughts begin racing and I can’t concentrate. I don’t sleep, I am more creative in the short term but a gibbering wreck in the long term. I start believing I can do things that I can’t rationally. I am super vulnerable and I speak much faster. I may not make much sense and when the delusions begin, I start believing I am going to be harmed.

Luckily, these episodes are kept at bay by a host of excellent medications including Lithium and Quetaipine. I also take anti depressants to keep the low periods at bay in my life.

Full blown psychosis and mania for me are very rare but they do happen. In 10 years, from 2004-2014 I did not have a hospitalisation. I was depressed and anxious but I was able to recover at home.

I had no hypomanic or manic episodes for a decade! No psychosis. One therapist even questioned my diagnosis, before my 2014 hospitalisation.

Mania for me means danger. That danger means I am more vulnerable. I have to be very careful who I surround myself with during those times. I don’t drink alcohol to excess or take drugs, but some with this kind of mania do. Or they spend lots of money or engage in risk taking behaviours such as sexual activity.

I have learnt that as long as I take my medication regularly, get enough sleep, eat well (and don’t engage in long haul travel) that I can keep my symptoms at bay. If my medicines work! (this is always a fear.. that they could stop working).

Mania for me strikes out of the blue sometimes. I also have to be careful that my mood stabiliser medicine is holding me- as with high doses of anti depressants, mania can be triggered without it.

When in psychosis in hospital I have thought the following untrue delusions

– I am being harmed by my family
– There are CCTV cameras watching and filming me in my bedroom/ hospital room
– I have been abused in some way (my mind convinces itself)
– I am being held by a criminal gang (in hospital)

These delusions have always disappeared over time, with excellent care from psychiatrists and psychologists, anti psychotic medicine and good support from family.

I don’t get these when well, and rarely have to go through them. I am learning to accept that my brain chemistry is not the same as other people and having bipolar, a chronic illness, is not my fault. I just do the best I can to manage symptoms and keep myself as well as possible.
If you want to share your story of mania and bipolar, please do write below.

There is hope and recovery after mania. Thank you to all on the Facebook group who voted for this one.  

Love, Eleanor x

 

Blog for No Panic on Living with Social Anxiety: by our founder Eleanor

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(image: No Panic)

I am delighted to collaborate and write a blog with No Panic, an amazing mental health charity for people with anxiety disorders. You can read it here on their website:   https://www.nopanic.org.uk/living-social-anxiety-story/  and also below:

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(image: No Panic)

I have lived with my anxiety disorder for most of my life, but it really started at aged 15, when I was so acutely anxious I had to take six weeks off school during my GCSE year. I was suffering from an agitated depression, an episode that left me reeling. I was so young and so unwell. It was partly triggered by stressful life events but what I didn’t know at that time was that my anxiety and depression was part of a wider illness- bipolar disorder.

After several episodes of depression and mania, I was hospitalised at aged 16 at the Priory North London and diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Bipolar is a mood disorder where you fluctuate between episodes of depression, hypomania (a lesser manic state) or mania. It can run in families and can be triggered by life events. I am now 29, so have lived with this for almost 14 years.

I was hospitalised due to a severe depression that featured psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality and can cause bad anxiety. I had delusions- false beliefs about the world and a lot of fear. Luckily, I recovered after four months of treatment, left and started taking regular medication which began to help, however, the anxiety seemed to be ever present.

As I had been so ill as a teenager with a whole host of symptoms due to my bipolar, I developed social anxiety and panic attacks. I was desperate to fit in and appear ‘normal’ as most teenagers are. I felt different, I was facing life with a chronic illness. There was so much uncertainty, they couldn’t just scan my brain to see what was going on. Taking medication was trial and error for me, some worked and some didn’t. The same with therapies.

The social anxiety was about feeling judged by other people, because I was judging myself wrongly for what had happened during my episodes. It impacted my self esteem- I felt low about myself and didn’t know why I had been given this illness and why it caused me so much embarrassment and shame at the time. There was a stigma back in 2004, that has lessened today

My social anxiety manifested a few years after I had left hospital. I began to fear attending parties, dates and social events with friends, in case I was judged negatively. As a teenager, there was a lot of stigma from other teenagers about my illness. This made me feel depleted, sad and angry. I didn’t choose my brain chemistry- so why were they spreading false rumours about me and making me feel worthless? It was a difficult time for me. I did also have a lot of love and support.

However, my heart would race and the event eg a birthday party in a club or bar, would trigger an absolute state of panic. What if I looked awful/ wore the wrong clothes? What if everyone was judging me when I got there and thinking badly of me? I often would cancel on friends and not attend, for fear of having to show up, however I felt. I felt so vulnerable and I didn’t want anyone to see it.

Part of the anxiety was because when you have bipolar episodes of mania and depression (particularly mania) it leaves you feeling ashamed of your behaviour. For me there was a certain sense of shame, especially with the manic episodes. However, I knew it wasn’t my true personality and I could not control my brain chemistry at the time it happened. Yet, my subconscious mind continued to trigger panic in social situations.

I was lucky and am still lucky to have a group of very supportive friends (and family) who helped me to get out more, through exposure therapy. My Mum or Dad would take me out in the car, or friends would come to the house and coax me slowly out into the world again. Exposure therapy, moving slowly to expose myself to the feared situations is so helpful to me, even today.

Aged 20, I began my first course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the anxiety. I worked out with my therapist what the limiting beliefs holding me back were- fear of judgement, fear of being exposed negatively (as my illness made me feel so out of control) and I was asked to keep thought records of my negative thoughts at the time of a panic attack.

For me, panic attacks manifested themselves as feeling clammy, sick, tight chest, overwhelming negative thoughts about a situation and the fight or flight desire to run away and cancel the arrangement, removing myself from the feared trigger. Although the CBT did not stop the anxiety and panic, it gave me some tools at the time to understand it.

Over the years, I have completed three courses of CBT with a psychologist and another therapist, until I gave up on it, because my anxiety was so emotionally rooted and based in the subconscious that the cognitive approach was not working. For me a combination of the following helps.

Firstly, talking therapy about any past traumas (psychodynamic) with my current therapist is so helpful and makes me feel so grounded and safe. Secondly, when very stressed, I find meditation, particularly the Yoga Nidra meditation or apps like Headspace so helpful for breathing. Taking deep breaths can help relieve stress. Thirdly, exposure therapy is key to recovery. I find the more I go out accompanied, the more I feel able to do- it’s a slow process but helpful.

In 2014, after ten years out of hospital, I was hospitalised for a severe manic episode with psychosis. This hospitalisation caused a lot of trauma and anxiety and in hospital, I found art therapy incredibly helpful. Making a picture, collage or painting focused and calmed my mind. Even colouring in a book helped me to filter out the stress of being in hospital and kept my mind calm. I suppose this is a form of mindfulness too and I still love art today.

I very much support the work of No Panic and am so thrilled to write here. Since 2016, I have made a really good recovery from my bipolar and am now stable on medication. My anxiety is still there but I now have a career writing freelance for Metro Online, Happiful Magazine, Glamour and mental health charities such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Time to Change. I have also written my mental health blog www.beurownlight.com, which is about my journey with bipolar and anxiety and those of others. It is currently nominated for a UK Blog Award.

Just know that if you currently experience anxiety and panic attacks, whatever triggers it- there will be something out there to help you- whether its therapy, medication, mindfulness, exercise, meditation, art or exposure to the feared situation in small doses. You are not alone.

For more on No Panic please see: https://www.nopanic.org.uk/

Smiling through the rain: Early morning anxiety and life with bipolar.

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Its been almost a week or so since I have written a blog and thats because life has been hard lately. Due to my early morning panic attacks and increased anxiety about leaving the house at that time, I couldn’t get in to work. Luckily, I can do online work on home doing social media and writing, so that is one major plus point. However, currently I am seeking extra support about my morning anxiety and fears.

I have lived with my anxiety disorder for most of my life- it comes in times of stress or times when I get triggered by something I can’t always explain- having to get up early and achieve, having to show up in the morning despite feeling so quivery and vulnerable, having to feel like I can cope- when inside I feel so scared. For reasons I can’t always pinpoint.

I have tried so many therapies and I would say with me, I have to use things in combination like breathing techniques, meditation, distraction, colouring and exposure therapy. However, now I would very much like  to find a psychological therapy that works for me. I have had 3 lots of cognitive behavioural therapy, which for me doesn’t seem to take away the fear. It is helpful for understanding limiting beliefs  like ‘I’m not good enough’  or ‘ I can’t do this, I will mess up’  and then understand where these fears come from and how they impact on life.

Briefly I will explain that I believe these limiting beliefs have come about because of trauma. The trauma of being hospitalised a few years ago for my bipolar disorder and having to learn to live life and get back to normality again despite disruption. The trauma of not feeling good enough, not feeling like I can live up to my perfectionist standards- not wanting to let people in my life down or me down . Feeling like I have to really achieve and be good at everything I do, because this belief has helped me fight, fight, fight for life and everything in it.

I, like many others with mental health issues, am hard on myself. I have a little voice though that won’t be tamed and is constantly pushing me to achieve and help people, help myself, be better. This is because I know the pain of setback. I know the pain of fear. and I know the pain of being confined to a hospital ward. So when I am well- nothing will stop me. The panic attacks may stop part of my life, but they won’t stop me from telling my story and reaching others. They wont stop me from being able to live and being able to touch peoples hearts through my writing (this is what I strive for).

Right now, I am dreaming about so much and hoping to put these dreams into reality. I will get therapy and I will get better with much effort and time. I will not let this keep me down- because I, like so many with my conditions, am a fighter and I will make sure that I live life to the full.

And part of this therapy is writing on my blog and being authentic, real and honest. And being blessed and thankful for my medical team, family, boyfriend, friends and support networks. Support is everything and I am so lucky.

Thanks for reading <3.

Nobody’s Perfect: An Update on life with Anxiety

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I have put off writing for several weeks just because its so hard to make sense of everything going on in my brain, in terms of my anxiety disorder.

I have had so many good things in the past few weeks but I am also battling anxiety around work. I love my job but past events relating to employment have made me afraid subconsciously. I very much need to unpack these fears with a therapist- I have been on the therapy waiting list for a year and a half. In a few weeks, I will be seeing my new psychiatrist (roughly the 12th/13th one in 13 years due to high staff turnaround!)  and I hope that he will escalate my therapy. I desperately need help with this as I get morning panic attacks around these fears. Despite using self help methods like meditation, these fears can be all consuming and stop me from going into work.

It is incredibly difficult for me to write about this because its so personal and because I love what I do. However, I have been struggling and I hope by writing that yes, I do get panic attacks about my fears, I can also make others feel less alone.

I did get some respite from these fears and work have been very supportive of me. I was able to go with my friend for a week on holiday to Madeira, a Portugese island off the main land near North Africa. Its a beautiful island, filled with terracotta roofed houses, turquoise seas, dolphins, whales and  turtles, friendly people, bright sunshine and palm trees. We went on a boat trip and got to see some spotted dolphins and relaxed in and by our hotel swimming pools. Not to mention the love for Cristiano Ronaldo on the island, as he is from there and the airport is named after him! It was a really restful and fun trip. I wasn’t anxious all week- as it seems to get triggered by specific fears and situations.

I just hope to get back to full health again and get some extra support around the fears that are fuelling my panic.

I tend to beat myself up about having an anxiety disorder and feeling ‘incapable’ of doing certain things. I am learning self love and to be calmer and to just see my anxiety as a hurdle to be overcome. I may be a perfectionist who hates letting others down
– but I am learning, like the Jessie J song, that Nobodys Perfect. 

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.’