A Guide to Mood Disorders: Guest blog By Ellie Willis

Mood disorders encompass many disorders of how you feel from day-to-day, whether that is abnormally elevated (mania) or depressed and in low mood. They can include depressive illness such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, postnatal depression and the bipolar spectrum disorders. They also feature anxiety and panic disorders. These are often down to brain chemistry and sometimes environment.

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(image: Pinterest/ Healthyplace.com)

 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is defined as a depressive illness where you experience a significantly lowered mood and a loss of interest in activities that you would normally enjoy. While it is normal to feel sadness and grief when your life significantly changes, such as when a loved one passes away, when it doesn’t go away or gets worse, it may evolve into major depression. Some of the symptoms of depression are:

• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness • Feeling guilty over insignificant things • Withdrawing from family and friends • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs as a coping mechanism • Having problems with concentration • Being unproductive • Having a lack of confidence • Feeling irritated or frustrated • Having a lack of interest in sex.

While sometimes a depressive episode seems to come out of the blue, there are often things that can trigger them. These may include: Genetic risk factors • Alcohol or other substance abuse • Medical problems such as thyroid issues or chronic pain • Certain medications such as steroids • Sleeping problems • Stressful life events 

Studies have shown that there appears to be a genetic component to depression. That is, if one of your parents has a depressive illness, you may end up suffering from depression yourself.

Dysthymia is a chronic form of depression that occurs when you suffer from a mild to moderate depression for at least two years. Although dysthymia causes problems in everyday life, dysthymia is often not severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. The chronic nature of the disorder means that you may believe that you have always felt like this.

The good news is that there are a wide range of medications to treat major depressive disorder, such as antidepressants. There are many kinds of medications around, and you may have to try a few until you and your psychiatrist find the perfect one with little to no side effects.

As of the time of writing, the antidepressants most commonly used are SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These refer to the types of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that affect mood, among other things) that they affect.

With antidepressants, it is extremely important not to stop medication all at once, unless there are serious side effects and even then, only under medical advice. This is because of discontinuation syndrome. Simply put, this means that your body gets used to the medication being in your system (different to addiction where you crave the drug) and you experience symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and insomnia, to name a few.

Another important way to treat depression is psychotherapy in one form or another. This can help you by learning coping skills to deal with depressive thoughts and negative thinking, as well as having someone to speak to with complete privacy. There are a few other ways for you to combat depression in adjunct to medications or therapy.

These are: • Maintaining good sleeping habits • Exercising more • Seeking out activities that bring you pleasure • Being around caring and supportive people

Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression is a depressive illness where a new mother experiences depression in the first few months after giving birth to a child.

Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:

• Feeling sad or empty • Lowered self-esteem • Changing appetite (usually a decrease) • A loss of enjoyment in everyday activities • Changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia • Not being able to concentrate • Feeling cut off from the baby • A loss of interest in sex • Feeling ashamed, guilty or inadequate • Withdrawing from family and friends • Mood swings • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

There are a number of factors that make postnatal depression more likely. Some of these may include: • A history of depression, especially postnatal depression in the past • If the baby is sick or colicky • If you are in an abusive relationship • If you are suffering from stress • If you have little support from family and friends •

Treatment for postnatal depression is essentially similar to that for major depression, such as antidepressants and therapy and in some cases intervention from a psychiatrist or hospital team is required.

 

Bipolar Disorder Spectrum

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterised by periods of extreme mood states known as mania and depression. It is one of the most serious mental illnesses and is the sixth most disabling condition in the world at the time of writing. It is chronic and potentially life threatening. However, those with it can go on to recovery and live happy and fulfilled lives between episodes. 

According to some studies, one in fifty people may suffer from a form of bipolar disorder. In many cases, there is a family history.

Mania is one pole of bipolar disorder – an extremely elevated or depressed mood, sometimes accompanied by psychosis. You may have racing thoughts or speak so quickly it is difficult for others to understand. You may also have trouble getting to sleep at night or suffer from insomnia. There is a danger of reckless behaviour such as overspending, unsafe sexual activity or aggression. You may feel a sense of grandiosity, making unrealistic plans. Despite mania feeling great at the time, the consequences of mania can be destructive.

Some of the signs of depression include a lowered mood, self-esteem or interest in enjoyable activities, pessimism, reduced energy and changes in appetite. Suicidal thoughts are also possible and must be monitored closely. As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications to maintain your mood at a normal level.

Hypomania is the hallmark of bipolar II where the patient might feel euphoria or agitation. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes except they are less severe and sometimes pleasurable to you. There is never psychosis in a hypomanic episode. Despite hypomania increasing productivity, or making you feel increased self-esteem, the consequences can be major, especially as your mood goes down to depression.

A mixed state is a combination of manic and depressed symptoms. In a mixed state you may feel very sad or hopeless while feeling extremely energised. These can be dangerous, because of the suicide risk from being depressed as well as impulsive. If you feel you are heading into a mixed state, you should contact your psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Bipolar disorder type I is characterised by at least one episode of full-blown mania as well as depressive episodes. There is also a chance of psychosis (delusions/ hallucinations)  accompanying a manic episode. Bipolar type II features only hypomania and never mania or psychosis. While these manias are less destructive, the depression tends to be worse, and there is often a high suicide risk.

Cyclothymia is a bipolar spectrum disorder where you may have long periods of minor depression lasting at least two years alternating with hypomania. These depressive periods tend to be irritable and agitated rather than melancholic and lacking in energy.

Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified) simply refers to bipolar disorders that do not strictly meet the criteria of any of the previously mentioned types of bipolar disorder.

The treatment of bipolar disorder involves medications such as Lithium carbonate, lamotrigine, sodium valporate, and quetiapine, as well as psychotherapy to help overcome negative thoughts that exacerbate depression or after effects of mania. 

As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications for life to maintain your mood at a normal level. Despite this, many patients continue to do well as long as they stay compliant with treatment and keep aware of their changing mood states.

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(image: MTVFORA: http://fora.mtv.ca/words-of-wisdom-celebrity-quotes-on-mental-wellness/)

 

Anxiety Disorders

The term anxiety disorder covers a wide range of illnesses from panic disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the wide range of diseases, many share similar treatment options. There is a stigma affecting some anxiety disorders due to stereotypes in the media.

 

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

It is normal for people to feel some anxiety over normal life events such as exams, work problems or family issues. However, when it causes problems in your everyday life or is particularly severe you may have an anxiety disorder. Generalised anxiety disorder involves having irrational fears, such as being afraid harm will come to you or your loved ones, financial issues, health, relationships and work.

Physical symptoms when experiencing anxiety may include: • Light-headedness • Becoming tired easily, or being unable to sleep properly • Feeling tense or restless, or losing your temper easily • Nausea • Shortness of breath • Headaches • Trembling • Muscle tension Treatment generally involves medications or therapy.

Psychological treatments may involve: • Learning relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxing exercises or meditation • Therapy to teach you how to solve problems that cause anxiety with anxiety disorders, psychological treatments are generally more effective than medication, however it can still be useful.

The most common treatments are antidepressants or benzodiazepines such as alprazolam or diazepam. Generally, benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken long-term, as there is a risk of becoming dependent on them.

Anxiety disorders are relatively common in the population, with statistics that approximately 25% of the people suffer some kind of anxiety disorder that may warrant treatment in their lifetime. Anxiety is treatable, and therapy or medication may minimise the effects on your life and relationships.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a mental health condition where you experience a feeling known as a panic attack recurrently.

Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include: • Shortness of breath • Dizziness or light-headedness • Tightness or pain in the chest • Trembling or shaking • Dry mouth • Muscle tension • Difficulty gathering thoughts or speaking • Tingling fingers or feet • A choking or smothering feeling • Hot or cold flushes • Nausea or butterflies • Blurred vision • Fear of dying, losing control or going mad

When you have panic disorder, you may also worry about the implications of a panic attack such as humiliation or feeling of going crazy.

You may try and flee from the situation hoping the panic attack will stop. Panic disorder is generally treated via therapeutic methods rather than medications. This may involve your doctor teaching you about panic disorder, for example, that a panic attack is distinguishable from other mental illnesses such as other anxiety disorders or psychosis – this is known as psycho education.

A therapist may instruct you not to avoid any situations where a panic attack may occur. This may be unpleasant at first, but slowly you will not feel anxious in the situation. This will help prevent agoraphobia and the disability it causes.

A common treatment for anxiety disorders is CBT – but there are many types too including exposure therapy and talking therapies. They can be incredibly helpful for you to overcome feelings of anxiety.

This guest blog was written by Ellie Willis, an expert in mental health.

 

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Metro article extract by Eleanor: ‘My Dad and I have helped each other through our Bipolar disorder’

Our founder Eleanor and her Dad shared their story with Metro.co.uk for Fathers Day and Dads Mental Health Day. Here is an extract:

I am the child of a father with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with the same condition aged 16 in 2004 – this was only four years after my dad was diagnosed at the age of 44. Our story is a special and unique one, and dad and I have a strong bond as a result.

However, it has not always been easy for me and my family.  Growing up with my mum, dad and younger sister in Hertfordshire, I didn’t fully know that my dad had serious mental health issues until my teenage years. I was largely sheltered from it by my mum and my loving grandparents as a child. My grandparents would look after us when dad was ill with depression and mum had to work.

I am the eldest, and being the child of someone with a mental illness did bring its own challenges. I have always felt a sense of duty and responsibility to look after my sister and both my parents, despite receiving a lot of love and care. This sentiment has meant that I have always felt a need to look after those around me, and make sure my dad is stable with his health.

Many children of those with serious mental health issues are exposed to a lot more than I was. My childhood was largely happy. My dad was never sectioned or hospitalised and never experienced the psychosis that I have experienced with my own bipolar. There were no alcohol or drug issues in my home but dad did experience mood fluctuations with both mania and depression.

He also experienced panic attacks that stopped him from working. Dad remembers having these when I was just four-years-old. In 1996, he had his first bout of severe depression and anxiety. His panic attacks meant that he had to stop working at his job in finance after collapsing there.

Mum became the breadwinner, with two children under seven. My sister was only five-years-old. I know this wasn’t easy for anyone though I don’t fully remember it. I have been told that dad was often not around during the day due to his depression. He would retreat into his bed and sleep, but would come and see us in the evenings, once we came home from school.

I do remember visiting him in hospital one time after his severe panic made him collapse in the street. He was having his heart monitored to rule out a heart attack and was eventually discharged home.

Dad was never referred to a psychiatrist and he believes this is why his bipolar was undiagnosed for so long. He gradually recovered with antidepressant medication and support from the GP and my mum.

He slowly coaxed himself out of bed and out the house to walk down the road to buy a paper. This would take several hours. His depression lifted and he eventually went back to work. Life was easier for our family for a while, although financially, things were tight and there was always a risk my dad might not be able to work.

 

 

Read the rest of the article : https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/17/my-dad-and-i-have-helped-each-other-through-bipolar-disorder-heres-our-story-7627817/?ito=cbshare

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Guest Post: 10 Ways that Mindfulness Helped me Cope with my Bipolar by Kevin Morley at Satori Mind

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(image: Plum Village)

 

Up and down. Up and Down.

Round and round.

Having Bipolar Disorder can sometimes feel rather like being in a washing machine!

Luckily my illness is now under control. But it has taken a long time to get here, and was not always so. Mindfulness has played a big part in my ongoing wellness, alongside a tweaked medication regime.

This is my list of just how mindfulness has helped me cope with BP over the past few years…

It has levelled out my moods – I was last in hospital in 2014. Mania. Psychosis. Sectioning. The whole lot. Since that time, my moods have at times, fluctuated a lot. But mindfulness has helped me. It has made me a calmer, steadier person all round. A quick 20 minute session before bed does wonders for my mood if I’m feeling down, and can bring me down if I’m feeling a little hyper.  More stability = less episodes. Less time in hospital.

It has helped me to sleep better – As I mentioned above, I tend to meditate before bed. This has the possible negative effect that I sometimes fall asleep while doing it. You may not get the whole benefit then. No matter, just try again the next time. My bed time ritual does help me to establish a routine before going to sleep. This routine helps me sleep.

It has deepened my self-knowledge – “Know Thyself” was written over the Oracle at Delphi in Ancient Greece. The principle being that knowing oneself, self-knowledge, is of prime importance in life. Mindfulness aids that process greatly. Through meditation, and self-observation, you learn to understand your own motivations and reactions to events. With Bipolar, mindfulness helps you learn your triggers for high and low moods much better than by thinking alone.

It has helped me eat better – Odd one this. How it works is that eating mindfully – that is slowly, deliberately, consciously – helps you to taste food better. Rather than scoffing down each mouthful, you instead savour the food, eat slowly, actually taste it. Because of this, you end eating better food, and less of it. I was doing this the other night, just taking 5 minutes to eat it food and really tasting it. It intensified the eating experience tenfold.

It helps me to remind me to take my meds – . Since I meditate before I go to sleep, it reminds me at the same time that I must take my medication. This has helped me to be almost religious about taking my meds, and improved my stability at the same time.

It helps me to pray and connect with God – In the Christian Tradition mindfulness is called “silent prayer” or “contemplation”. It has been used for thousands of years to connect with the Divine and purify the spirit. And in all religions, too. Today’s secular mindfulness derives from Buddhist meditation.  Anyhow, my practice enables me to spend time with God every night, and further my spiritual relationship and growth with him. It’s a healing time. I couldn’t have got through my illness without my faith. Its been invaluable.

It gives me a feeling of achievement – This feeling can be vital when I am between jobs and often have little to give substance to my day. Even if I am feeling low and have achieved very little that day, I can always say I’ve done my 20 minutes quiet time. Just this can give me a boost, and leave me feeling settled whereas before my bad moods will have dragged me down previously.

The scientific evidence is in favour of mindfulness for helping Bipolar – A 1995 study in the Biological Study Journal concluded that mindfulness is effective in levelling out Bipolar moods. A landmark 2005 study by esteemed neuroscientists from the University of Massachusetts also discovered that the brains of meditation practitioners had much more thickness, density, and activity within their prefrontal cortex — just like physicist Albert Einstein. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with emotion, and emotional control.

Mindfulness has also made me a more patient person – with others, and with myself. This level of self-patience and self-care has helped me to cope with my Bipolar a lot. Meditation has removed much of the agitation and bad moods that used to plague my everyday life.

Most of all mindfulness has made me more appreciative of the now, and the beauty of living in the present– so much of our lives – Bipolar and mentally well – are spent elsewhere, in our heads, instead of focusing on what we are doing right now. We are typically either ruminating and regretting things in the past, or worrying about the future. Enlightenment, as I understand it, is not withdrawing into some grand philosophical way of life, but a renewed focus on the now. “The Power of Now” as the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle puts it. My recovery from my Bipolar was not so much about grand realisation but an increased awareness of what I was doing, moment by moment – the food I was eating right then. The person I was talking to right then. Everything happens in the now; the rest is just illusion.

This is a guest post written by Kevin Morley. Kevin is a spiritual seeker and runs a meditation and spirituality blog called Satori Mind (www.satorimind.co.uk). He has Bipolar Disorder, but has many other more important character traits too!”

Guest Post: Mental Health in Schools- Support, Goals and Prevention by Jon Manning at Arthur Ellis: School Enterprise

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Last year, 916 children per day in the UK were referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. In some areas of the UK, there are mental health appointment waiting times of up to 2 years.

 

As with everything, we need to learn from this, adapt and solve. Many of our children are subject to a huge amount of information through a variety of channels including social media, news, peers etc, much, much more than if you look at only ten years ago. With these added pressures, we need to ensure they have a more robust support system in place that is ready to react when they need it.

 

Arthur Ellis: School Enterprise is a non-profit organisation solving mental health issues. Founded through the real life experience of Jon Manning who suffers with Bipolar Disorder. With the help from Medical Professionals, Teachers and Local Authorities, AEforSchools was created, a support system that embeds itself in schools and mentors pupils on those waiting lists and provides empowering workshops for those within school counselling.

 

Like many things, a mental health issue snowballs, it doesn’t always go away, it may get worse. With the numbers rising, our young people need to understand and be able to differentiate between good mental health and mental illness and know how to take control of their lives to minimise the effects of it. The more children that can take this control at a young age, the more resilient they will become and be able to live fuller lives as they grow.

 

One thing that I have learnt from my journey to gaining a diagnosis, is that a support network is key. You need to be able to feel comfortable enough to open up to someone who can listen and work with you to support you. Not everyone will be able to help with everything. Personally, my Mum and Dad had different approaches, I would approach one for certain things and the other for something else.

 

Another main task I took on was exercise, no matter how small. Some days, I didn’t feel able , which is okay. I would however, make sure I did three lots of exercise per week. I found that setting an achievable goal helped so much with giving me a purpose, I could relate that back to how I felt after a jog or a few press ups and it began feeling better…with that, I added a day. This sometimes took so long I felt there was no progress at all but I knew the most important thing was that I was doing it. I found that my Mum was the part of my support network to help push me to not to forget those press ups! You tend to do it when a strong, female is telling you to!

 

Making little goals and having a support network to help push you to strive towards goals is a great way of tackling issues. You may need medical intervention but this is a good way to help without it (or with it depending on what you need). It is easier to stop a snowball rolling down a hill while it’s still small. The further down it gets, the more help you will need- and that is OK. Be open. Those that are close to you often understand, tell someone you trust.

 

When I first told people about my diagnosis I often got the reaction ‘Well that makes sense’. We had all been thinking the same thing but hadn’t spoken about it. I was shaking at the thought of telling people, not knowing how they would react, what they would say and what they wouldn’t say- but how they might look. However, because it was the right people, it was fine, liberating in fact to disclose my bipolar!

 

So use that network you have around you, talk about how you’re feeling and think about something you love, do it in small doses and get your network to help you complete those goals.

 

Teach your children the same and they will grow up more resilient, more confident and able to handle the ups and downs of life.

 

Jon Manning, Founder, Arthur Ellis: School Enterprise  https://www.arthurellisltd.com/

‘A Unpredictable manic episode meant I was hospitalised for my bipolar disorder’: for Happiful Magazine February 2018 Issue

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(image: E Segall and Happiful Magazine)

Hi everyone,

I am thrilled to be able to share my story of recovery from bipolar disorder for the first time in print (!) at Happiful magazine, a UK magazine solely dedicated to mental health.

You can read it online here:  https://subscribe.happiful.com/ click read e-magazine and turn to pages 50-51. If you live in the UK, you can also order the magazine there by post or buy a copy in most major UK supermarkets!

As I say in my article,

Having bipolar is not a curse, I look on it as a life lesson and something I will always live with. My dream would be to publish my life story as a book and share it with others across the world… The girl who lay on that ward so frightened and scared is only a small part of me. Now, I want to raise my voice even more to help others, so stigma falls’   

I hope you enjoy reading it and leave a message for me in the comments if you do.

Recovery from Bipolar and Achieving despite the odds: Sam

Sam shares her incredible story of living with bipolar disorder and how she recovered and now helps others as a student mental health nurse. As a student, Sam has worked on a child and adolescent unit, has volunteered for Mind with a theatre project for people with mental health issues and shares her amazing story with us here.

Trigger Warning: Piece speaks about self harm and suicide, please read with care.

 

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(image: bphope.com)

I started to experience anxiety at the age of 10. I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed at the thought of moving to secondary school and although I was very bright in other areas, I struggled with maths and this often reduced me to tears. At the age of 11, I started to struggle to fit in with my peers and became increasingly socially anxious. By the age of 13, I began to experience severe emotional bullying within my school. I had many friends and I was a talented dancer but the effects of the bullying eventually led to feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. I wish I had had the confidence to speak to my parents about the bullying at the time but I felt ashamed and ultimately believed that there was something wrong with me as a person.

Additionally, I was a high achiever in a high achieving school, in a good area, so I felt the pressure of  these expectations. I had big expectations of myself too, which added to my stress and made life difficult. As I turned 14, I had already had three episodes of what I now know to be depression. I would go for weeks without eating and felt physically unable to speak. I would spend hours in bed and did not feel able to attend school. One day, I decided that I could not cope any longer, I felt suicidal and alone, taking an overdose. My parents took me to hospital and I later saw a psychiatrist at the child and adolescent mental health outpatient’s facility.

The attempt on my life made me feel really ashamed but I did not know why I felt that way and had those thoughts. I couldn’t explain everything to the doctor. I continued to have periods of depression and at age 15, I experienced my first manic episode following a break up with my boyfriend and a significant life trauma. I also had my first episode of psychosis (when your mind loses touch with reality) following this. I was taken into hospital and then sent to a psychiatric unit. Here I received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (type 1) and was prescribed Lithium to stabilise my mood and anti-psychotics to treat the mania and psychosis. I found this diagnosis really difficult to accept but I was relieved to finally know why I had felt the way I did- and what was causing the depression and mania. It would have been very helpful to have someone tell me at this point that recovery is possible. It is possible to have a fulfilling life despite my condition, but I didn’t know it then.

I returned to school for my last year and I had to drop one of my GCSE subjects to catch up on the work that I had missed. I felt ashamed of my situation- I found school and socialising really hard and because of the greater stigma that was attached to mental health back then, many of my school peers were not very understanding or supportive. I failed most of my exams and felt like a failure. I had aspirations to go to university but due to my grades this was not possible so I had to do an NVQ instead.

I decided to study counselling as my experiences had given me an interest in this area. Unfortunately, I found life with my new diagnosis increasingly difficult and fell into the wrong crowd and turned to substances, alcohol and self-harm as a way of coping. I did not take my medication as prescribed- so consequently had another manic episode at age 17. I became so unwell that I was sent to a psychiatric hospital out of area and sectioned under the mental health act. Here I had high doses of rapid tranquilisation to treat my mania and psychosis.

I recovered from this episode and went back to work. At 18, I was working in a call centre and moved out of home into a shared house. I spent large amounts of money maxing out credit cards. I began to sleep around and had unhealthy relationships, putting myself in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, the people I moved in with were also using substances and this exacerbated my mental health symptoms further. I moved onto using harder drugs. I really didn’t care about myself and felt like my life was over before it had begun- I felt like I had nothing to live for. I started to harm myself again – culminating in an overdose. Then, I was admitted to an adult psychiatric unit on a section 3 (a longer hold in hospital).

By the age of 23, I had had several admissions into this hospital and had also lived in supported accommodation. I had many traumatic experiences in hospital as some of the care I received was not positive. Each episode of mania followed an episode of depression.

At 24, I met a boyfriend who did not use substances and he also had had his own mental health experiences, I fell pregnant and we decided to keep the baby. I then stopped taking substances and began to take care of myself for the first time as I realised my actions would now not only affect my life but another’s too. This was a big turning point in my life. I had a baby girl and came off all my medication. I had an emergency caesarean which was traumatic and I tried to breast feed which was unsuccessful.

However, being a mother with bipolar has its own challenges. I became very low after the birth and had an episode of postpartum psychosis, where you can suffer from delusions and/ or hallucinations. I had to spend time in a psychiatric unit for three months to be cared for and to get well again. Fortunately, my family took care of my daughter during this time. I recovered from this episode and my daughter, my boyfriend and I moved into a two bedroomed flat to make a fresh start.

I had some difficult news that year that spurred me in in my recovery and to make positive change for those of us with bipolar and mental health issues. My close friend that I met whilst living in supportive housing, who also had bipolar disorder, passed away from suicide. This inspired me to then start volunteer work within the mental health services and try to use my own experiences to help other people. My support worker at the time put me in contact with MIND and a local theatre group.

At the theatre group, I met many people who became a positive influence on my life. I started a course in mental health at college in the evenings and helped run the hearing voices group at MIND. I also volunteered in secondary schools educating young people about mental health, the effects of bullying and substance misuse. I also took A level psychology at evening school and completed a year’s social science course at university. My mental health improved and so had my self-esteem and confidence. I finally had purpose in my life as a mum and volunteer with positive friends and family around me. I also had a stable prescribing routine of medicaion- Sodium Valproate,  to help keep my moods stable and no longer going between depression and mania.

This spurred me on to apply for a job on the National Health Service (UK) Nursing bank as a Nursing assistant. I worked in different mental health settings including the hospital that I spent time in as a patient. This felt awkward at first but a Nursing assistant who had cared for me in the past took me under her wing. I really enjoyed the work and realised that this was the career for me as I loved working with people and helping them through their distress. When my daughter started pre-school I applied for a permanent job in one of the hospitals that I did agency shifts in.

That year, my boyfriend and I got married. After working in low secure unit, I moved on to working in a recovery unit and eventually applied for a job in a child and adolescent unit. I continued to have an interest in performance arts and my friend told me about a local theatre project which aimed to challenge stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. This seemed to be right up my street so I volunteered! We devised two plays during the time that I worked with them. I enjoyed acting and spending time with others that had experience of mental health. We also wrote a book with stories and poems related to mental health which was later published. It felt great to be back challenging stigma and using the arts as a way of doing this.

I spent five years working at the child and adolescent unit and really enjoyed working in early intervention with young people. I had my son during this time and although I had another caesarean and a low period post natal, the overall experience was much more positive as I had stability and a good insight into my mental health.

As my son grew up, I decided to start my access to nursing and maths GCSE at evening school. It was hard to look after two children, work and attend college but I passed and gained a place on the mental health nursing degree at University. My manager also advised me to apply for the nursing scholarship and I was successful. My trust is paying for my training and I will have a job as a mental health nurse on qualifying.

15 years ago,  I really didn’t think I would be where I am in my life today. It really does show that with the right support, lifestyle and for some, medication that recovery is possible. Remember your diagnosis is just one small part of you it doesn’t define you and unlike some people in society mental illness does not discriminate – it could happen to anyone of us.

Book Review: Searching for Brighter Days Learning to Manage my Bipolar Brain- Karen Manton (Trigger Press)

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I bought this amazing book, because I very much wanted to read about another womans experience of bipolar disorder, living in the UK like me. It is also published by the great mental health publisher Trigger Press as part of their Inspirational Series. Their aim is to educate and battle stigma. I had previously read Hope Virgos book about anorexia published by them and I felt that this would be a challenging but good read.

Karen writes very eloquently about her life living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. For many years she was in and out of hospital, with no proper diagnosis or understanding from the medical profession of her illness. She was sectioned multiple times due to mania and depression and although she healed from her episodes, they kept coming back with a vengeance. This was largely because she did not have a name for what she was experiencing and many times was discharged from hospital without proper support.

Growing up in the North East of England, Karen went on to work, marry and have children but had to balance this with the ever increasing and erratic episodes of her bipolar. This included psychosis, hallucinations and delusions as well as deep depression. However, during one hospitalisation, Karen met a new psychiatrist who finally diagnosed her and set her on the bright path that she is on. She began taking medication and engaging with therapy and support. She had a name for the illness and what she was going through. As she writes, she was searching for brighter days and eventually found them, despite many losses in her life.

For me, this book is a must read. You can buy it on Amazon and other book stores online as well as on the Trigger Press website. It is a really important work about succeeding against the odds and gives a comprehensive glimpse into life with bipolar disorder.

Thank you Karen for your bravery in writing this and sharing your story with the world!

 

Last few days: UK Blog Award Voting, Aftermath of Mind Article and Working on my Anxiety

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Its been a really busy few days on Be Ur Own Light blog. My first blog for Mind Charity on living with bipolar disorder was posted (you can read it in the below post) and I had the most amazing, positive reaction to it. I had emails and Twitter messages, some from people who are struggling and who wanted advice, others with bipolar who just wanted to chat because they didn’t know anyone else with the illness and some who wanted to help me to fight stigma via writing on the blog. Others merely expressed dissatisfaction with their own care. I’ve heard every single voice on all the different platforms and want to thank all of you for responding to my article in such a wonderful and important way. I have tried to respond to everyone who has written to me, liked or commented. I write to fight stigma and to break those barriers down and thank Isobel at Mind for helping me to share my story.

Then, in true Eleanor style, this week would be the week too that the voting for the UK Blog Awards 2018 opened! I have been nominated in the Health and Social Care Individual Category and need you all to VOTE for me to be shortlisted and get to go to the awards as a top 10 blog in my category (or a potential winner).

So please click here  https://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2018/entries/be-ur-own-light-mental-health-recovery-blog    

Then type in your name, email and the health and social care category. Voting closes on December 22nd so thank you so much! I appreciate any votes. Thank you too to everyone on my Facebook (and my Dads), Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter who have voted for Be Ur Own Light, it means the world.

Lastly, I am still job hunting but still experiencing some anxiety around work situations. I know that things will improve if I just do as much as I can. I am also working with a therapist to tackle this. I am now on Day 9 of Holly Matthews 21 Day Smile Happy Me Project and it helps me to look at things more positively, so will keep up with that.

Have a great weekend friends- new guest blogs are being posted next week 🙂

Eleanor x

‘Bipolar Disorder: What I wish someone had told me’- my first blog for Mind Charity

MindEleanor
(image by Mind Charity)

Original post at Mind website: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/bipolar-disorder-what-i-wish-someone-had-told-me/#.WiUudVVl-M-

When I was 15, I started suffering from depression and anxiety. My heart would race, I couldn’t sleep and it was so debilitating I had to take six weeks off school in my GCSE year. I still got my GCSEs and I recovered for a while. However the following months were filled with a manic, high episode and then a depressive episode featuring psychosis which led me to be hospitalised voluntarily on an adolescent mental health unit. It was there, aged just 16 years old, that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar affective disorder, which runs in my family.

Bipolar is a serious mood disorder where sufferers can experience depression and low phases lasting for months and manic, high phases which can make sufferers feel out of control due to the symptoms.

I am now 29, but when diagnosed at 16, this felt like a life sentence. I was a shy teenager, always wanting to fit in and now I was told I would have a chronic mental illness, have to take constant medication to keep well and keep regular tabs on my moods. What I didn’t know was that due to the severity of my illness, the doctors told my parents they didn’t know if I would be well enough to go to university. I proved them wrong, but this is what I wish I had been told when first diagnosed

Not everyone with Bipolar rapid cycles

I go for months between episodes and on my medication sometimes have no Bipolar episodes at all. In society, people think being bipolar means your mood changes a hundred times a day. This is not the case. Often months and years pass between episodes because everyone with the illness is different.

Some people do rapid cycle with their moods and for others it’s much slower. Let’s change that stigma.

You can do whatever you want to do, just make sure you set realistic goals

Whether it’s going to University, starting a new job, travelling around the world- you can do it if you are feeling well. Make sure you look after yourself and ask for reasonable adjustments in the work place, if need be. It’s ok to disclose a disability- but as long as your episodes are fairly under control (and in this everyone is different) you can still achieve. Small achievements are just as important, just make sure it’s achievable and realistic for you at the time.

Medication can help keep your moods on an even keel, but it is trial and error

It took me almost 11 years of living with the disorder before I found the right medication to keep my episodes at bay, and my moods properly stabilised. I experienced severe depressive and manic episodes when on the wrong medication for me.

Mood stabilisers, such as Lithium, really can help. When I changed from a teenager into a woman, my previous mood stabiliser Carbamazepine stopped holding me and I became unwell. Make sure you chat with your psychiatrist about the right medicine for you, and don’t be afraid of drugs like Lithium- it has saved my life.

Everything is trial and error and you may also need to be on a combination of anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. These medications all have side effects but if it helps your mental health significantly it can be worth it, just make sure you do it under the guidance of a psychiatrist.

You can live and live well

In 2014, I was hospitalised for a severe manic episode and was very unwell. It took me the best part of a year and a half to recover from the affect. However, since recovery I have worked for mental health charities, started a blog Be Ur Own Light (www.beurownlight.com) to tackle mental health stigma and blogged for Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change, Bipolar UK and other publications such as the Huffington Post UK. Living with bipolar disorder means you have to be resilient. You can live. Yes, you may have other mental health challenges (I suffer from anxiety) but you can still achieve what you want, however big or small. Live your dreams.

When you are first diagnosed with bipolar disorder or suspect you may have it due to your moods and symptoms, you can feel incredibly out of control and overwhelmed. The most important thing to do is to take it day by day and get the right support. You don’t have to live a miserable, reduced life, rather with the right help and combination of medication, therapy and support networks – including a good medical team- you can thrive.

Things may feel bleak and scary. However, you can move forward into the light. Be kind to yourself. Your illness is not your fault and you can recover again. That’s what I wish I had known when my journey began and what I want to share with you.

Raising our Voices: Stigma and Bipolar Disorder (For Equilibrium Magazine Issue 63)

I was asked by Equilibrium magazine, an online magazine dedicated to mental health and wellbeing by those with lived experience, to write an article for them. I chose to write it on stigma and bipolar disorder and here it is. You can also read it online at :   https://issuu.com/antz333/docs/equilibrium_2063

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I am very excited to be writing my first article for Equilibrium. In this article I
will discuss stigma and life with bipolar.

I have lived with bipolar disorder for thirteen years, having been diagnosed at just
sixteen years old. The illness runs in my family, but it was still a shock when I
found myself unwell in hospital as a teenager. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder,
which means moods can oscillate between depressive lows and manic highs that
can be treated with medication and therapies. When depressed, one might find
oneself feeling extremely negative and unable to do activities previously enjoyed
or, in bad cases, suicidal and unable to cope with life. When in a manic state, one
may be in a heightened hyperactive state, talking fast/not making sense and
unable to sit still. A person may act in ways they would not usually behave when
in a typical state. This can then spill over into psychosis, with delusions and a loss
of touch with reality, which can eventually lead to hospitalisation in severe cases.
There is currently no cure for the disorder; however, mood stabilising medications
such as Lithium, prescribed by a psychiatrist, and courses of therapy can very
much help. It is believed that bipolar may be caused by a chemical imbalance in
the brain, but there is still so much we do not know. It is for this reason that
stigma about the disorder and other mental health conditions, pervades across
the world.

So, what is stigma? Stigma can be defined by the Oxford dictionary as a ‘mark of
disgrace associated with a circumstance, quality or person’. In terms of mental
illness, people fear what they have not experienced, do not know and do not
understand. It is the fear and ignorance that then perpetuates myths about those
who struggle with their mental health.

Due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of mental illness, in our case, bipolar
disorder, fear and stigma are most definitely generated. When people haven’t
been through the suicidal, heart-wrenching lows, and the sometimes equally
terrible highs, they will comment that the person is ‘attention-seeking’ and just
doing it to get a reaction from other people. We have seen this recently when
depressed celebrities, for example singer Sinéad O’Connor (who has bipolar), open
up to the world about their demons. They get criticised, shot down, told they are
being drama queens, silenced, as if their problems are trivial. There is nothing
trivial about serious mental illness or how the brain can trick you into feeling.
There is nothing trivial about feeling so unwell you can’t get out of bed, wash,
live. There is nothing trivial about experiencing suicidal tendencies and not having
support, because support networks are the one thing that keep bipolar sufferers,
and those with other conditions, going. Without my support network, I know I
would find things so much harder.

So, how do we tackle this stigma? In one word: talking. Telling people about our
experiences. Sharing the world of people who have mental health issues and
reflecting it back to wider society, through explaining to non sufferers what its
like to live with a mental health condition. It Is so important to show wider
society the world inhabited by people with mental health conditions. Everyone
is different. Its vital to explain the unexplainable. Talking about our symptoms
but showing how we can reach recovery or what recovery means to us.

I began speaking about my experiences online via my WordPress blog ‘Be Ur Own
Light’ (www.beurownlight.com) about a year and a half ago. The blog began as a
diary, as I was navigating life with a difficult anxiety disorder which made it
difficult for me to hold down a job long term. I still live with this anxiety and am
learning how to manage it. When I first began writing, I did it secretly and only
showed it to close family members and wrote under pseudonyms. I was effectively
testing the waters to see the reaction. I was frightened I would get negative
feedback.

I began writing for charities such as Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and
Bipolar UK, under pseudonyms, because I didn’t yet feel able to associate my name
with the illness. I was scared, and I suppose was experiencing some self-stigma. In
thirteen years I had never written about my illness or mental health online,
though I had explained it to close friends. I remember the day when my first
article for Rethink was published –‘Being Jewish and Bipolar’- and getting hundreds
of likes, shares and positive comments. This built my confidence, and, over the
course of a year, I wrote for more charities and even started writing for the
Huffington Post Lifestyle blog and other websites/magazines under my real name.

A month or two ago, I decided to write all my mental health blogs under my real
name. There is still so much work for us all to do to bring down the stigma, but it
starts from raising our voices. We deserve to be heard and we need to talk in order
to make mental health issues ‘normal’ in society and to fight for better treatment.
One in four people suffer, although I would argue the figure is more like one in
two. Together we can battle, speak out and one day beat the stigma.

Eleanor Segall is a mental health writer and advocate, who has written for many
charities and magazines. She currently works for mental health and learning
disability charity The Judith Trust. Her blog ‘Be Ur Own Light’
(www.beurownlight.com) is read globally and tackles her life with mental health
issues and those of guest bloggers. Eleanor can be found on Twitter and Instagram