Tag Archives: Bipolar

Looking after Mental Health as a Student and Beyond: for World Union of Jewish Students on World Mental Health Day

This blog is one of a series of blogs that Eleanor, founder of Be Ur Own Light, wrote for the World Union of Jewish Students- www.wujs.org.il/blogs . It was prepared for World Mental Health Day written by young Jews about their experiences dealing with mental health.

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In 2007, when I was 19,  I started my BA (Hons) in Drama and English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Goldsmiths is a quirky, art school with an area of excellence in the arts. It was the perfect place for me to study, despite the distance to South London!

Having grown up and gone to primary and secondary school in Bushey, Hertfordshire in a close knit Jewish community, leaving my comfort zone behind was both nerve wracking but exciting. I was thrilled to be studying what I loved and being on a new journey. In my first year, I lived in halls and made lots of new friends .

However, it had only been 3 years since I had been diagnosed (at the age of 16) with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a serious mood disorder where you can get low, depressive moods and at the other end of the spectrum- high, manic moods. Bipolar can be medicated with mood stabilisers and anti depressants, and I was very good at keeping to my medicine regime and of course avoiding alcohol, not so easy in a student environment!

Throughout my 3 years at Uni, although my Bipolar symptoms were largely kept at bay, I did suffer from social anxiety which impacted slightly on my Drama degree. Anxiety is something that I have lived with for a long time. When you are diagnosed with a mental illness as a teenager, you don’t want to be different. As I had been in hospital as a teen due to a bipolar episode and had to go down a year at school to catch up, getting to university was a victory for me. In fact, just three years before I began my degree, doctors had told my parents that due to the severity of my illness, I may not make it to university. I was so pleased to prove them wrong!

Yet, I did still feel different and although I loved my course, I did have times when my anxiety impacted. Studying Drama was (and is) a love and passion of mine. I loved creating characters, learning acting theories and forming performances with my fellow drama students. However, when I was feeling at my worst throughout my 3 years at Uni, there were times when I felt I couldn’t perform on stage.

In those times, my university tutors were hugely supportive and I disclosed to them that I was struggling with my anxiety disorder. I only ever had positive support and was set an alternative writing assignment instead, which meant I could still get my degree.

My advice if you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions at university is to do the following:

  1. Disclose your condition to your tutors (and particularly a supportive form tutor) if your illness is impacting on your work. It is not weakness to disclose, rather if you do, then the University can help. University has a duty of care to you to make sure you are safe and well. Once disclosing, you will often find that you will be highly supported by staff. Sometimes too, the University pastoral department can get involved to help you and refer you to counselling If needed. You are not alone.
  2. Be honest and kind to yourself. If you are living away from home, there is temptation not to tell your family or friends what is going on. You may think that you will be worrying them but actually having a strong support network really helps, so speak to those who are supportive and get some advice as to what you should do.
  3. If you are really struggling and cannot continue on the course, speak to University about it and see if you can defer a year. Also, make sure you make a GP appointment to discuss what is going on with your mental health- or if you are under a psychiatrist- go and see them.
  4. Try not to isolate yourself. At uni, I found strength from joining Goldsmiths Jewish society and later becoming President of it, working with local Rabbis and meeting Jewish students from all over the world. Its important if you can and are feeling well enough, to make new friends and try out new clubs in the Student Union. In London, we have UJS- Union of Jewish students, which I found really helpful to join. In my third year, I was on the events committee and organised a bar night, Booze 4 Jews London. Having those connections was really helpful to me and I enjoyed my time at university even more.
  5. Remember there will be times when Uni can be challenging. Whether its being away from home, meeting new people, having difficult assignments and lots of independent work, writing a long dissertation… know you can and will get through it but make sure you have the right support in place.
  6. If you are really struggling ie feeling very depressed, suicidal or want to harm yourself- please do share this with your doctor, family or someone you trust, so you can get the right support. You can also call Samaritans and various helplines.  It may help you to take time out of university to get well.

In my experience, my universities (after Goldsmiths, I did a year at Royal Central drama school) really supported me with my anxiety and mental health. Remember to speak out, get help and support and know you can still get your degree despite your health challenges – you are not alone.

Eleanor Segall is a mental health writer, blogger and advocate. She went to Goldsmiths University from 2007-10 and did her masters at the Royal Central School from 2011-12. She lives and works in London, England.

http://www.wujs.org.il/blogs/looking-after-mental-health-as-a-student-and-beyond-eleanor-segall

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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.

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.

We are a Top 100 Bipolar Disorder Blog!

Thank you to Feedspot.com for giving us another Blog award! As well as being a Top 30 social anxiety blog, we are listed as a Top 100 blog for people with Bipolar disorder, at number 49!

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We have been listed amongst some amazing, informative websites! Take a look at the full list here: http://blog.feedspot.com/bipolar_disorder_blogs/

Thanks to Anuj and all at Feedspot for recognising our work!

Guest post: Bipolar 2- Wading through depression and loss of motivation by Jessica Flores

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This article is about Bipolar 2 disorder, a mood disorder where sufferers can cycle between high and low moods. Jessica writes about her experiences: 

If you have been diagnosed with Bipolar II, you know that it differs from Bipolar I disorder in that you still cycle between high and low, but you never experience complete mania (high mood), which is good. Instead, you get hypomania (a lesser form). Yet, more often than not, you are trying to cope with long periods of substantial depression; which can be more severe and long lasting . Roughly six million people in the United States  and millions around the world, suffer from some form of bipolar disorder, so you aren’t alone.

When I am hypomanic, I find myself excited to go out and have conversations and stay up all night. I want to make friends and craft furniture and redecorate. I end up buying things online for some new life I plan to begin living. It’s why half of my living room has been filled with boxes of mid-century housewares for the last two years. However, I spend most of my time being depressed.

My life often feels like it is happening underwater. Every action I attempt to take exhausts me. Showering daily is impossible. I sleep for half the day and sit in front of the computer to do my job without the energy to move forward or the cognitive wherewithal to make sentences. I don’t have urges to harm myself, but I wonder why I need to keep feeling this way every day. I lose hope for the future- it can be very difficult.

Lately, I have begun to wonder if I am depressed or if I am simply losing motivation.  I feel sluggish. I don’t feel motivated. My house is a wreck. I can’t remember the last time I cleaned the kitchen floor. I thought about getting a maid service last week, but I didn’t want anyone to see my apartment.  Sometimes I have negative self talk and think I am lazy, not depressed.

As it turns out, I am not alone in my thoughts about this. Many people with clinical depression reach a point where they attach negative descriptors to themselves. If people hear they are lazy often enough during depressive episodes, it’s not unusual for them to question whether or not it’s true.

Mute Everyone Out

A depressed person isn’t simply dealing with a lack of motivation, they deal with changes in their sleep patterns, hopelessness, loss of pleasure in things they used to enjoy, changes in weight and/or appetite, and so much more. All of these are potential symptoms of bipolar depression and they can be treated. There are a number of medications that have proven effective in treating Bipolar II and many forms of therapy that are a critical element of a complete treatment plan.

Regardless, that’s a lot to handle all on your own. And what makes it especially difficult is the fact that it’s all being caused in your own mind.

Which is why it’s time to stop thinking of yourself as unmotivated or lazy, and it’s time to stop listening to anyone around you who does. You have a diagnosed medical condition. You are managing as well as you can in the given circumstances. I know it’s hard, but you’re going to need to learn to tell yourself that that’s all there is and you shouldn’t put yourself down for the resulting actions that you choose to take because of your condition. Instead of feeling ashamed, you need to make sure you are getting all of the treatment that you can and learning skills to help you control what you are able to.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. This is your battle. To make sure that you yourself don’t make yourself feel bad for how you spend most of your days. By being proud of who you are and accepting your condition, you close yourself off from any hurtful comments any uninformed person could ever tell you. And it’s important for you to be able to do that. Because you’re not any of the negative things you just said. You’re amazing, capable, and strong. Remember that.

 

Jessica Flores is a wife, mother, writer, and woman diagnosed with bipolar II. She knows that her disorder affects her entire family and she works to lessen the impact as best she can. However, she also gives herself permission to experience changes in mood. Her drastic experience motivates her to blog about it and help others who are experiencing trying times.

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.

On Pacing Myself

pace1I am very much enjoying my work at the moment- however one thing has come to the forefront and that is balancing my work and social life. I have learnt how important it is to pace myself and take things at a slower pace in order to achieve what I would like. Also, my anxiety becomes triggered if I do too much and all at once and so its really important for me to have down time to balance out the other parts of my life.

My anxiety can strike randomly and I have to cancel arrangements, which I hate doing, but is sometimes essential. I try and do too much- so this is a reminder for me to be kind to myself and take things at the right pace for me.

I think this should be applied as a general rule. I can’t be everything to everyone. I must take time to breathe and slow down and appreciate. For only then can I be truly and optimally happy.