Friday, 16 December 2011

New Toy!!!!

So you can make a chart / graph of your moods, leave notes on the stuff that's happening to you, & start to notice & understand any patterns, triggers etc. Could be interesting ... I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Things To Do When Depressed: 1


So this might sound like the last thing you'd want to do, but I just suffered hrough a nasty week & I had both a gig & a LARP event to go to. I seriously considered bailing, but I know from previous experience that this just gives me another thing to torture myself with while I'm down - failure to commit to my plans, letting my friends down, wasting ticket money, blah blah blah. So this time, I just sucked it up & went. The gig was a bit torturous at first ... making small talk while waiting for the bands wasn't much fun - but once the gig started I threw myself into dancing & cheering & singing, & came out of it feeling briefly better. Music has always helped me through, & a bit of crazy dancing really helped too. Probably those exercise endorphins ... In fact my therapist did tell me that exercising would help, so ... there we are.

The LARP helped too. But then that's a mix of exercise & escapism ... running around pretending to be someone else? No mystery why that helped, really.

Now I don't recommend that you stick to things that are going to involve lots of socialising & talking to people, where you're going to have to keep your mask up all the time, & pretend you're fine when you're really not. That's exhausting & torturous, so probably best avoided. After all, if you give the excuse that you're ill, you're not reallt lying, are you? But things you really enjoy, things you can get lost in, things like clubbing or gigging or anyhing else you really love ... try & do it regardless. Things you enjoy that much will help you lift your mood & get out of the funk ... or at least help you stop sliding any further down.

Status Update: October & November 2011

I've been busy busy busy lately, & now that the dust is finally starting to settle I'm back to update this lil' ol' blog thingy.

Sooo ... October. Let's see ... I was deep in rehearsals for a play & had a major game in my favourite LARP game to prepare for, as well as my new year, Samhain. (Have I mentioned I'm Wiccan? Can't remember. Well, I am.) So I had a lot to do. This meant I didn't have much time for moping or dwelling, & I couldn't wuss out on any of these responsibilities, & my mind was pretty much occupied all the time. I only recall a brief (maybe a week) period of feeling ... mixed up, sometimes buzzing, sometimes drooping ... but I didn't have time to pay it much attention. This seems to work quite well, at least for the less severe moments - just keep busy, don't give your mind time to dwell, to play its tricks, just keep forging ahead until the phase passes.

November, I wasn't quite so lucky. The play went on on the 25th & 26th, so I was still rehearsing like mad up til then, & right after that I had another LARP event - this one a small thing that I had arranged with a group of friends, so I was preparing for that too. Up til these, I was fine - busy, a bit stressed, but fine. Unfortunately right after that I had a week of rather nasty depression - the kind that makes you feel physically unwell as well as just plain miserable. I thought I was catching a cold, but the lack of symptoms except for feeling ridiculously tired (but unable to sleep) & under the weather, followed with the sudden sinking spirits, clued me in. I continued with the keeping busy plan, but it persisted ... I'm only just clawing my way out of it now. Still, I found out a few good things - but I'll put them in a new post. :)

In other news ... happy belated new year to all the Wiccans & other pagans out there!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bipolar Surveys for Research & Fundraising!!!

Just thought I'd pop up a quick blog to highlight this. I found it on Facebook of all places, but it seems like a great idea:

I'm signing up, I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mental Illness Metaphors ... Yay Or Nay?

I was directed to an interesting article today, about how using mental illnesses as metaphors (i.e: describing someone who washes their hands a lot as 'a bit OCD' or changeable weather as 'bipolar weather') can be damaging, in that it can demean or belittle the illnesses, making people think they're not as severe as they can be, & encouraging social stigmas against those with mental illnesses. It also raises the opposite idea that it can instead act to bring about discussion of mental illnesses & in that way increase understanding of them. Read the article & see what you think:

Also, the link at the bottom to bipolar disorder has a great section on treatment, including a 'self help' section for anyone who's not on drugs or just needs a way to get a better handle on it. It's pretty much the stuff I'm doing, which is nice for me - a bit of validation is always appreciated!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Status Update: September 2011

This won't be a long one.

September has been ... odd. I had a few days of depression at the start of the month (just after I reported on August being 'episode-free', ironically), & then to the end of the month I had a very peculiar week that I can only describe as being 'mixed'. Very high mood, but with the occasional moments of extreme lows. Lows as in anger, stress & sadness, so it really was all over the place. Though the lows were responses to situations, albeit rather exaggerated ones, in hindsight.

Still, nothing was going to happen overnight. So I'm still on the diet-watching tactic. The thing I've been thinking about a fair amount recently however, is the importance on not being bored. Boredom allows the mind to wander, to dwell, & to play all sorts of nasty tricks on you. & that goes for everyone, not just us poor folks with malfunctioning brains. So I've been keeping very busy indeed. I've recaught the acting bug, had a couple of commissions for my burgeoning costume-making business, & watched LOTS of dvds.Along with this I've been clubbing, larping & rambling. I have to say, fighting off boredom has been fun & certainly productive, but I think there's something to say for not being too busy as well ... :D

That's all for now, I'm off to watch more dvds & play WoW.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Interesting ...

I just had this pointed out to me. It's interesting ... it certainly seems to tie in with my findings on my own caffeine intake. But of course with bipolar it's all about balance ... not too much, not too little ... ir at least it is for me so far.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Status Update: August 2011

As you might surmise by my lack of posts, it's been a quiet month ... Well not exactly, there have been several birthdays, weddings, picnics & so on, as well as commissions to make & of course my job ... but in other regards, it's been quiet. Haha.

I'm happy to say that in August I had not one mood swing that I could attribute to my bipolar. Nothing whatsoever that felt out of control or out of perspective. Nothing! This is a rather happy realisation for me, because I honestly don't think I've had a full month feeling ok & stable for ... 2 years? I know that sounds like a lot, but I think it's right. So this is a good sign, but let's not get complacent ...

So I'm trying to improve on my healthy eating theory. As well as pigging out on salmon & watching my caffeine intake, I've started on these Graze boxes that you can get delivered to you through the post. Anyone out there tried them? What do you think? For those who haven't, they're filled with yummy natural nibbles like seeds, nuts. dried berries & fruit, & the odd chocolate button ... I jumped on them mainly for the seeds, which just aren't something I usually think to pick up at the supermarket, but they're designed to help you avoid the '3pm slump' that a lot of people get when they eat breakfast, lunch & dinner, & not much in-between (which is apparently not great for you) - hence the name 'Graze'. I've added a link on the right-hand side if you want to check them out (put in the code 1KNHPQ43 & you can have a free box on me).

I've done better on the reiki / meditation this month, but not as well as I'd like. So that's still ongoing.

That's all I've got to tell you  ... here's hoping this coming month is as uneventful!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Status Update: July 2011

A tad late, I confess, but we've all been a bit distracted of late in the UK, by these bloody riots ... big thanks to the powers that be that they seem to be over ...

So let's see ... I believe I had 1 upswing & 1 downswing in July (notice how I can't seem to use the words 'mania' or 'depression'? Curious ...). The upswing wasn't too severe, though it did run a bit extreme toward the end. The downswing ... 3 or 4 days of utter misery, followed by a couple of days of numbness. It also happened to coincide with what should have been a very happy event. Thankfully I didn't ruin anyone's day.

And what of the mechanisms? Well, the meditation / reiki is still not on track, but better than last month. It's something that took me ages to get into the habit, & not long to get out of. I fear it's going to be the same this time around. Food-wise, I'm monitoring my caffeine intake - neither cutting it out completely nor allowing myself as much as I used to have - & it seems to be working well. I've eaten salmon as often as I can, & my scientifcally reliable other half informed me that folic acid also helps with mood regulation, so with that in mind I've been nomming on marmite on toast (good thing I love marmite!).

I'm also keeping myself very busy with making stuff, writing stuff, & playing stuff in my spare time - it's been a bit hectic at times, & I may need to remind myself to take some time out to avoid getting too stressed! But generally, life is good.

So in summary, I'm still not episode-free, but they weren't severe. This pleases me. I'll keep up the experiment. Stay tuned ...

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Things I Love

When you suffer from severe episodes of depression, I think it becomes rather important to make sure you fill your life with things you love. These things can help to keep your spirits up, & to distract you when the depression starts to really hit hard. As with just about everything on this blog, it won't work on its own, but along with all the other bits of advice, it helps ...

Here's the stuff I love:

LARP. Live Action Role Play, for those of you not 'in the know'. Don't know what it is? Watch the movie 'Role Models'. Here in the UK, we are lucky in that most of the LARPs that run over here are much better in terms of the quality of plot, costume & weaponry, but basically, it's the thing they do in 'Role Models'. LARP incorporates my love of theatre with my love of costumes & my love of the outdoors. Dress up in a cool costume, run around in the forest & pretend to be a faery? You couldn't stop me! My local LARP event is Skullduggery LARP & it is awesomeness incarnate. Check the links!

ACTING. Yeah, I'm an actress. Amateur, admittedly, but I've been told I'm pretty good at it. More importantly, I love it. I jump in on any bit of local theatre I can (except pantos & most musicals - I hate those).

WRITING. My writing is sporadic at best, but when I'm in the zone I am IN THE ZONE. One day I'll get something published ... perhaps. That would be so cool ...

MAKING STUFF. My love of costume has morphed into a love of making costume, & since I've even been making stuff for other people, at their request, I've ventured far enough to make myself an online shop & be something of an entrepeneur. Look for Pixie-Led Creations on Facebook or Folksy, or just follow the link on the right ...

MUSIC. Music is one of my life's essentials. Anyone who knows me will know  that I can't walk a distance, drive a journey or work a day at work without my Ipod to keep me company.

BOOKS & MOVIES. I put these together because they both involve the same thing for me: good stories. I love a good story, especially a good scary story, & my living room is practically a library of books & dvds. I am also partial to a good pc game ...

I look back at this list & think a) 'fitting the creative bipolar stereotype much??' & b) 'wow, nearly all of these things in some way involve an escape from reality, isn't that a bit worrying?' No. I have enough to worry about, thank you. The link between creativity & bipolar interests me, & I may be a big kid (undeniably), but I think this stuff helps, despite this common theme. Now, if I start thinking I really AM a faery & refuse to come out of the woods, then you have my full permission to worry.

Making It Work For Me!

I'm coming to the end of a very good week, & upon reflection I'm thinking that I've been running a little manic for most of it. I've been feeling very active, very alert, & have constantly been doing something - making stuff, mostly. After some encouragement I've set up an online shop to sell the hairpieces & costume bits that I like to make (but more about that later), & this week I've been working on a few bits to put in the shop. The alarm bells started ringing when I ran out of thread on the the thing I was working on & found myself without a project for the time being, but felt completely unable to STOP. I spent an hour dithering around looking for a new project, & ended up bouncing on & off of computer games, very grumpy & unable to settle. It's the inability to settle that makes this kind of mood infuriating, so if I can stick to a project I will - like glue! Now I'm coming to another no-projects-left period (which I'm hoping to end tomorrow when I hit the boot fairs with a vengeance, looking for new stuff), & so I'm here, knowing what the problem probably is & seeking distraction.

I've got to say though ... I've gotten LOADS done this week! When it works for me, it really works ... now if I could just find a way of MAKING it work for me ...

Friday, 1 July 2011

Status Update: June 2011

So looking back over my 'incident diary', I've had 2 bouts of depression in the last month. Both early in the month, about a week apart, both lasting for 3 or 4 days. Neither were particularly severe.

I've tried cutting back on caffeine & discovered how it helps to have a little extra caffeine when I'm down. I've been eating as much salmon as my lovely boyfriend cooks for me (don't look at me like that, his dad's a trained chef - of course he's going to be the better cook!). I'll confess the reiki has been a bit of a fail - I've tried to do it regularly but there's just so much other stuff that needs to be done ...

Well, it's a rather unexciting start .... but a start nonetheless. The lack of evil, devastating depressions or crazy loon fits could point to stuff working ... or it could just be a quiet month. Only time will tell ...

This month I pledge to try harder with the reiki, monitor my caffeine intake, & eat LOTS of salmon. Especially that last one.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rules Were Made To Be ... Well, you know.

I've just clawed my way back from 2 rather nasty potholes in my emotional road. 2 weeks, 2 bouts of depression ... yay for me. Still, thankfully neither were as serious as they can be, & I emerged on the other side relatively unscathed. This is undoubtedly in part thanks to my lovely boyfriend, who did his best to keep making me smile with little thoughtful gestures like making me tea, cooking me my favourite dinner (mmm, salmon ...) & giving me backrubs. It's very hard to remain convinced that you're worthless & horrible when someone is constantly demonstrating that you're lovely & special. Thanks Tony.

During the second bout, however, I recalled reading on one of those nutrition sites I linked in my blog about diet that caffeine can help elevate a low mood. I never thought of caffeine as doing this - it might be obvious to you, but to me caffeine has always been an energy thing. But hey ho, you live, you learn. So when I realised my mood was plummeting & things were going to get worse before they got better, I broke my caffeine rule & had a bottle of Coke. I didn't expect it to do much.

It did, though. No dramatic change, I wasn't suddenly singing about rainbows & hugging everyone, but my mood did lift a little. Enough to get me out of the worst depths of my depression & begin clawing my way out again. Enough to prevent me bursting into tears at work & having to suppress the urge to take a sharp object to myself.

It looks like I'll be amending the caffeine rule to something like this: cut down on it generally, but keep it in mind for a helpful boost when my mood drops.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Status Update: May 2011

It occurs to me that doing all this researching & experimenting in ways to control my bipolar disorder won't really count for much if I don't tell you how I'm doing on that front. So I figure a quick update at the end of each month should sort that out.

So ... May 2011. Well, let's see ... I had a rather odd couple of weeks in the middle of May, I suppose what would be called a mixed episode ... my thoughts were fuzzy & muddled, I wasn't sleeping very much & I felt very agitated a lot of the time; I thought I was due for an upswing, but it went totally the other way around, & then - as I said previously - I ended up suffering migraines. Once the headaches cleared I was ok, though.

Not the best way to start this, I suppose, but I don't get to pick & choose, more's the pity ...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Alternative 2: A New Diet

In the documentary 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive' (linked on the right), Stephen Fry talks to a woman who manages her bipolar disorder without drugs, by paying close attention to what she eats. Now the psychiatrist who diagnosed me said that food has no effect on bipolar disorder, but a) he was talking about it triggering, rather than preventing, episodes, & b) the woman in the documentary was also a psychiatrist! So it sounded quite promising to me, & I promised myself I would look it up.

Well, I have, & I have to say it sounds good. I've added a link to a couple of the better sites I found, but the general gist is as follows:

Fish!!!!! Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna etc. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which apparently help with regulating mood, as well as keeping your heart healthy. Bonus! Personally I was jumping for joy after reading this, because my favourite food is salmon. Smoked, baked, fried ... i love it! Now if I can convince my lovely fantastic-cook boyfriend to cook it more often, I'm on to a winner ...

But if you don't like fish, the cod liver oil supplements you can buy in the supermarket will do the trick. So will seeds & nuts like walnuts, sunflower seeds & so on.

The fish thing was the main example given by the woman in the documentary; she said that she would eat fish at any given opportunity as well as taking supplements. However, a lot of sites report that there isn't enough evidence to support this, so at the moment it's a possibility rather than a definite help. Still, if it means I get to eat more salmon, I'm willing to play guinea pig ...

St John's Wort is a common herbal treatment for depression; however it can play havoc if you're on the contraceptive pill, which I am, so unfortunately I won't be trying this one out. If anyone has any experience with this, though, I'd love to hear it.

Diets high in fat or salt are also mentioned as being problematic, because they might interfere with some medications. I'm not on medication - yet - so I'm going to pass over this for now. But there's more information in the articles.

Avoid stimulants & depressants. This means cut down or avoid alcohol, which is - as I'm sure everyone knows - a depressant. No problem for me there; I rarely drink. It also means cutting down or avoiding caffeine & sugar. Now THIS is a problem. I don't drink much, I don't smoke, & I don't do drugs, & I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but my one vice is Coke (the fizzy stuff that comes in cans, not the white stuff that gets you thrown in jail!). I love it. I've tried to cut down on it several times in the past because it is ruining my teeth (I have way too many fillings already), with, variable success. I'm definitely drinking less than I used to. But if I'm going to test this out, I think I'm going to have to cut down on it even more. I also drink a lot of tea. So it's decaffeinated tea for me from now on, & ... does anyone know a good caffeine-free alternative to Coke?

A Link Between Bipolar Disorder & Migraines?

The reason I started wondering about this was because I've suffered from migraines since I was around 15, but after a long time of fiddling with my diet I haven't had any for well over 6 months. But then a couple of weeks ago I felt the usual symptoms of an oncoming mood swing - mainly, needing less & less sleep & feeling a little bit giddy. I thought I was going to have an upswing. But, as occasionally happens, I had the opposite, & hit a big nasty cloud of depression. Then I came down with a migraine. The silver lining there is that when I have a migraine, there's very little I can think about other than the pain in my head, so it sort of stopped the depression in its tracks. When the migraine lifted, I felt better in general, but after a couple of days the depression hit again. Then I got another migraine!!! After ages not having any, to have 2 within 2 weeks, along with the depression, struck me as pretty suspicious.

It's pretty easy to say that migraine sufferers would of course feel the occasional bout of depression, because migraines are just ... well, horrible. But in my example, the depression hit first. This isn't always the case - usually I don't get migraines whenever I'm depressed, & when my migraines were frequent I can't recall them coinciding with any of my mood swings (but it's difficult to accurately recall as up until a few years ago I didn't really register the mood swings as being out of the ordinary, & even after that I wasn't really sure what the mood swings were). So I thought I'd Google it. Hooray for Google, the bringer of all wisdom ...

Unfortunately it didn't bring me all that much. After ploughing through several articles, some of which were so academically written it was like they were in another language, I got the general idea that YES, there is a link between bipolar disorder & migraines, but NO, nobody really knows what it is & why. I've linked one of the articles for your perusal.

Apparently both bipolar diorder & migraines are what they call 'comorbid' conditions, & can & often do occur in the same person at the same time, but without causing or affecting each other. It appears to be a simple case of having the right (or wrong) sort of brain - a brain that is home to bipolar disorder would also be a suitable habitat for migraines as well. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, my in-depth reasearch begins & ends with what I dig up online.)

So there is a link, but so far no real information on that link exists, pending further studies. I shall have to keep an eye out for further studies; If anyone hears more on this, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Alternatives 1: Reiki

The reason I'm choosing this as my first alternate 'treatment' is because I'm a trained Reiki practitioner. To those in the know, I'm trained up to level 2. To those not in the know, that means I'm trained enough to practice it professionally, but not to teach it. I got the training partially because I wanted to have a go at practicing, & partially because it goes so well alongside my Wiccan beliefs, & partially because I seemed to have a bit of a knack for it before I even trained at all.

So ... what is it? 'Reiki' is a Japanese word which, roughly translated, means 'Universal (Rei) Energy (Ki)'. It's a very gentle, non-invasive complementary therapy which works around the channelling & redistributing of energy. The theory is that our illnesses & injuries manifest in our personal energy fields (or auras, if you're so inclined - & I am, so let's go on with that), either as patches of excessive energy or thin areas (hot & cold spots respectively), so by rebalancing these spots we can have an effect on our physical bodies, encouraging them to heal naturally.

Reiki is also used as a relaxation aid because it is really, really, REALLY relaxing. Having a treatment of reiki is an appointment where you don't get frowned upon for falling asleep during (in fact, it's usually seen as a good sign!). So it's amazing for treating stress & anxiety, & if anyone is troubled by these, I highly recommend you seek yourself out a reiki practitioner - it is AWESOME.

There are those who would consider reiki to be a cure for many things in & of itself. Personally, I'd say not. It's very gentle & works very gradually, & if someone were to say, stop taking their meds in favour of reiki, they'd probably do themselves more harm than good & give the reiki practitioner a much harder job in fixing them (not to mention their doctor!). However, if this person were to receive the reiki treatment whilst staying on their meds, they might discover that before long, they wouldn't need the meds any more. It depends on what the condition is, of course - & I should stress I'm not a doctor. But reiki can work wonders alongside conventional medicine, for all kinds of illnesses. Whatever the problem is, if you can get your head around the rather hippy-ish ideas of auras & energy channelling, I'd say reiki is always worth a try.

Plus most reiki practitioners practice other therapies as well as reiki, so you'll in all likelihood get to have more than 1 type of therapy at a time! Bonus, right? If you're curious, check out - Valerie Lowe trained me in reiki, & I have to say she's both a lovely lady & a great therapist.

So will this help with bipolar disorder? Theoretically - given the theory about energy imbalances - it should. If bipolar disorder is chemical imbalances in the brain (which I believe is only 1 theory, but let's go with it for now), that would correspond with energy imbalances in the aura, right? Before I was diagnosed I had a fair few short treatments where the therapist commented on my aura around my head being either 'buzzing' or 'cold', both before & after I'd had one of my 'moods'. At the time I didn't think much of it. I know that when I treat myself, it helps to calm me down when I'm feeling agitated, & if I'm feeling a little down it can cheer me up - albeit in a sort of dreamy, sleepy kind of way.

However ... I have to admit that if I'm already really low, or alternatively if I'm really sped up, performing reiki - especially on myself - is nigh on impossible. It involves getting into a meditative state, & I doubt I have to tell you why that won't happen if my mood is running to an extreme. If I'm hyper, I just can't sit still or concentrate enough. I just can't. & if I'm depressed, sitting still is easy ... but emptying my mind of all those nasty, self-indulgent, self-destructive thoughts? Not going to happen.

So I guess this means reiki would be good as a preventative measure, something to get into the habit of doing regularly. I'm very bad at doing things regularly - I forget to take my pill all the time, I can never follow tv shows without missing at least a couple of episodes, hell, there's been a month gap between this post & the last - so up til now I haven't really tested this theory. Well, now I'm going to make a real effort to do so. Wish me luck, curious reader ... in due time I shall report back & let you know how it goes.

By the way, I'm aware that I've recommended that reiki be used alongside conventional medicine, whilst having already told you that I'm not taking conventional medicine. All I can say is, like a certain little girl in a blue dress, I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it ...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

'Coping Mechanisms'

I've heard this phrase a fair few times now, & it never fails to amuse me. It just seems to me to be putting a fancy name to something that is - to me at least - more common sense & reactionary than anything planned or well looked into. Still, my counsellor has praised me for my 'coping mechanisms' several times now, & seems to think they're worth sharing with others, so I guess I'll share them here. Again, this is mostly stuff I just started doing as a reaction to what I was going through, with only a few bits & pieces picked up from books or classes. I'm sure most of it will strike you as blindingly obvious ...

Self Awareness
I can't help this. I have always been very self-critical, & now that I've got a diagnosis it isn't going to get any better - in fact it'll probably get worse. But as far as my moods go, I try to just be a bit more aware of how I'm feeling & acting on an objective level; if I'm in a good mood, or a bad mood, or feeling irritable, are these reasonable reactions to what's going on around me or might they be a sign of something more?

It's tiring, though, constantly doing this. I seem to be second-guessing myself an awful lot. But hopefully I'll get used to it, or become more aware of the warning signs so I don't have to keep this up all the time.

Stress Management
Coping with stress has never been one of my best skills, I'll admit. But after being sent on a stress management course by my doctors I did pick up some tips that do help with depression and anxiety, even when they are due to the disorder. It might sound obvious to some, but I bet there are others to whom these sort of things never occured. I'm talking about getting enough sleep, taking 'me' time, cutting down on stimulants like caffeine (I found a lovely side effect of doing this to be the almost total disappearance of my migraines, by the way), avoiding stressful situations where I can, & so on.

Challenge Negative Thoughts
This is what gets me through some of my depressions. When my brain is throwing all sorts of terrible thoughts out at me, telling me I'm useless, I'm to blame, I'm a waste of space, trying to challenge those thoughts can give me a bit more perspective. Questions like 'Are other people really going to be thinking this about me?', 'Am I expecting too much of myself?', 'Is this going to matter in a year's time?'

Another fancy phrase (which I found in a book about exorcism, of all places), which is apparently an actual therapeutic technique for helping people get control of their behaviour (with things like OCD & other compulsive behaviours). All it is is putting the blame for this behaviour - or thoughts & feelings, in my case - on the disorder, & not on myself. So when I'm in the depths of a depression & feeling like I'd be better off dead, or if I'm beating myself up over some stupid stupid thing I did while I was ... in one of my odd moods, I try to remind myself that no, those thoughts aren't mine, they're the depression talking. & that stupid thing wasn't a result of me being an idiot, but of a weak moment caused by the disorder.

This isn't about shifting the blame - I'm not about to go out & rob a bank & try to plead insanity - it's about putting less blame on myself, & not making myself feel terrible over something I actually can't entirely help. Yes, I can do more to try & manage the situations, or to cope with the moods, & I am going to. So this isn't me making excuses & letting the moods take me wherever. It's about forgiving myself the slip-ups & moving on.

Self Suicide Watch
This is the freakiest thing. When I get really depressed I start to slip into the worst, blackest thoughts, thoughts of self harm & suicide. When I catch myself thinking about these things, when they really start to take hold of my mind (& they do, like fish hooks they latch on & refuse to let go), I try for a bit more of that objectivity. I talk myself down from the proverbial ledge. If I did kill myself, what would be left after me? I think of the people who would mourn me, the suffering I would cause them, even the silly little inconveniences I would cause my boss & colleagues by suddenly not being there any more. I think of all the things I would miss in the future that I'm looking forward to. I think about who would get lumbered with my bills, who would look after my cat, who would have to sort out all the stupid little details like selling my car & cancelling my phone contract. Daft things to consider, I know, & sometimes I am painfully aware that the only way I talk myself down is by guilt-tripping myself into sticking around for fear of inconveniencing other people, but that's how it is when the depression gets really bad. If I can't convince myself I'm worth living for, then I'll use any tactic that works.

Talking To People
When I first started seeing a counsellor, I was surprised to find just how much the simple act of talking to someone about this stuff helped me. It was such a relief just to lift the weight off of my shoulders a little, so to speak. It didn't stop the problem, of course, but it somehow made it a little easier to bear. Now that I know the problem & have been open about it, I have had so many messages of support from my friends, & each one has made the burden a little easier. & this is after only a few weeks!

Not to mention the value of a sympathetic gesture here & there. If your friends & family know you're having a tough time of it, they'll try to help. & personally I find that even the deepest depression has to recede a little when my boyfriend responds to a text from me about 'having a bad day' by having a hot bubble bath, a cup of tea & my favourite meal all ready for me when I get home from work. I might have convinced myself the world hates me, but such concrete displays of care & affection cannot be denied.

Physical Symptoms
Stress, anxiety & depression, whatever the cause, trigger certain physical symptoms in a lot of people, & sometimes countering those can help ease the feelings too. Personally I suffer shortness of breath & chest pains when I'm feeling very anxious; I get very sluggish & lethargic when I'm depressed. I've found that controlling my breathing, forcing myself to take long, deep breaths, can counter the breathlessness & chest pains when I'm stressed, & forcing myself into activity when I feel the sluggishness coming on helps to fend it off too. Not always, but sometimes, if I catch it quickly enough or if I can gather the willpower to get out & do something. I picked this up from the stress management class I was sent to; it wasn't something I'd really considered before.

So that's what I'm doing at the moment to keep on top of things; there is one more thing, but I'll save it for the next 'chapter'. It could be a lengthy one.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

So ... What's It Like?

So what's it like being bipolar? It has its ups & downs (hahaha, I'm a comedy genius).

For anyone who isn't sure, bipolar disorder is the 'new' name for manic depression. So it's periods of mania, or elevated moods, & periods of depression, & sometimes a weird mix of the two. My own experience is by no means as severe as some; I've heard some real horror stories about people who are so severely afflicted that they can't function properly, are constantly on the verge of suicide, or get totally out of control with their manic states. In comparison, my case is mild.

But that's me being objective. Ask me if it's mild when I'm in the middle of a depressive state & I'd probably either punch you or cry. Or both. When I'm depressed, everything is falling down around me, everything is going wrong & it's all my fault. I'm too timid, I'm too stupid, I'm too weak, I'm fundamentally flawed in such a way that I am a drain on everyone & everything around me. Every mistake I ever made comes back to haunt me. As well as this, I get physically exhausted; it is a monumental struggle to summon enough energy just to get through the day. I'm slow, clumsier, weaker, & I have trouble thinking clearly. It's like I'm thinking & moving through soup. Everything - EVERYTHING - is just ... too ... hard.

On the flip side, sometimes I feel great. There's nothing wrong with feeling great ... except sometimes when I'm feeling good I start to notice little things that aren't quite right. Like I'm talking too fast, or too loud, & people are giving me funny looks. Or my thoughts are racing too fast, & I have trouble making myself understood because I can't get the words out as fast as I'm thinking them ... so I get tongue-tied & frustrated. I can't get things done as fast as I feel I should be able to either; it's literally like my body can't keep up with my brain. Sometimes I get shaky & feel wired, like I've had too much coffee. If I'm sitting still, I get fidgety, I feel like I have to do something, anything, RIGHT NOW, to use up all this energy I have. Sometimes it sort of reverses itself & instead of feeling good, I feel irritable, frustrated, always on edge ... which turns to panicky & anxious, which occasionally turns into depression ...

Now what with me being me, I don't always show a lot of this. I've never been good at showing weakness. I can tell people there's something wrong with me, but I don't like them to see it. So I hide it when I'm feeling depressed, & if I catch myself going in the other direction (& I don't always) I try to rein that in too. I think it's fair to say that unless it's very bad, most people won't notice when I'm in 'one of my moods'. For better or worse ... it's probably my tendency to hide it that meant it took so long for me to get help. I've been struggling with what I considered depression or mood swings for ... oh, 8 odd years now. At least.

What's it like knowing I'm bipolar? Well, initially it was a relief just to put a name to it. People fear what they don't understand, right? So I want to understand this. Then I can stop being afraid of it & start dealing with it. At least, that's the plan!

But sometimes it does seem slightly absurd to me. I'm bipolar? Sometimes it's hard to believe that what I'm suffering qualifies. I can function; I can hold down a job & a relationship, I have lots of friends. If I'm bipolar, shouldn't I be worse than this? It turns out that bipolar has many levels of severity, like most other things. I watched a documentary called 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive' with Stephen Fry, & it made me realise that it's not so clear-cut ...

Still, it's weird. Sometimes it sems that life, the universe, whatever, has ben trying to give me little clues for a while now. I've been a big Emilie Autumn fan for a while now, & she's bipolar; she sings about it & writes about it constantly in her work. I never stopped to wonder why her music resonated with me so strongly until now. I'm into live action roleplay, & for a while I was playing a manic-depresive Malkavian in a Vampire: The Masquerade game, & I had to take a break from that because it was making me feel kind of  weird (in effect, I suppose I was triggering myself? If that's possible?). All over the place, I was starting to hear about more & more people - both celebrities & people I know - who are bipolar. And now this ...

When my counsellor suggested it, I was surprised. I didn't think she was right. When I looked into it a little, I thought she might - MIGHT - have a point. Then I went through a lot of wondering if I was deluding myself - a touch of hypochondria, or maybe I thought it was king of cool, kind of kooky as I like to be? But then I thought of the drugs, that at some point I'll probably have to start taking, & keep taking for the rest of my life. I thought of the Stephen Fry documentary, & the part where they discuss the dangers of getting pregnant when you're bipolar, & of course the fact that it's often passed on to the children (I want kids one day, but now I'm not so sure it's a good idea). Not to mention the suffering of some of those poor people interviewed ... a guy who threw himself in front of a speeding lorry ... a woman who sometimes gets so depressed she can't make herself even move ... Yeah, ok, this is not cool. In the end, I just resolved to be as honest as I could when I spoke to my doctors, & let them decide.

So I'm bipolar, & at first I was scared. What does it mean for me? What's going to happen? How will I cope? I figure the answer is simple: I've been coping with it for a while now, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. Only now I have a name for it. & now that I know what it is, hopefully I can find other ways to cope, & things will be easier.

Wow, that was a long one ...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

So it's a beginning of sorts ...

Well, after several people suggesting I write a blog for whatever reason, I finally gave in & decided to give it a go. The final suggestion - the one that pushed me over the edge, if you like - came from my counsellor, and here's why.

On March 23rd, after nearly a year of visiting my GP, two counsellors & a psychiatrist, & being sent to stress management classes & repeatedly offered anti-depressants, I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. It was a weird moment; over the last 8 years or so I've gone from being understandably upset after a big life crisis to being 'kind of moody' to being very aware that I suffer from bouts of depression to having inklings that it might be more than 'just' depression (the 'just' in no way suggesting that depression is in any way a minor or trivial thing, because it's NOT) to the moment when my counsellor suggested - about two months before the diagnosis - that I might be bipolar. The months following that were a struggle to get to see an honest-to-goodness psychiatrist (I heard the phrase "I can't diagnose you, but ..." from FOUR different people) while I went from thinking that it couldn't possibly be bipolar disorder to thinking that it probably was bipolar disorder & right back again ... over & over.

Now I'm told that it is, & according to the psychiatrist who diagnosed me, it's a 'pretty textbook case'. So, that's that, right? Now they put me on drugs that I'll have to take for the rest of my life & I'll turn into an emotionless zombie, right?

Wrong. Oh so WRONG.

First of all, I'm sure the drugs that are used to treat bipolar disorder don't really turn people into emotionless zombies (at least, not any more). I've done a bit of research so far, & I've heard lots of good things about going on the drugs. But personally, I have always had an aversion to drugs. I don't even like being on the contraceptive pill, & if I get so much as a headache I'll suffer for as long as I can before I pick up the painkillers (possibly a bad attitude for someone who suffers from migraines, I know). But that's just me. I prefer the natural approach; alternative therapies, holistic healing, & all that jazz. So when the psychiatrist asked me how I felt about taking drugs, I told him I wasn't thrilled with the idea. His response surprised me somewhat; rather than the expected monologue about how I needed the drugs, how the condition wouldn't go away on its own & would get worse, etc, he instead told me that he thought I'd developed good 'coping mechanisms' & could go without the drugs ... for now. One day, I'm going to get worse, & I'll almost certainly have to go to my GP & ask for a prescription for some of those shiny mood stabilisers sooner or later (I'm hoping later).

My counsellor, on hearing about my diagnosis, echoed the psychiatrist's opinion on my 'good coping mechanisms' (I love that term), & then asked me what I planned to do next. I told her I planned to research the condition, look into alternative ways of coping with bipolar disorder, & see how things went. She applauded this, then suggested I blog it, so that perhaps someone else out there, who hasn't got these awesome 'coping mechanisms' that I apparently have, might be able to take some use from it - or at least a little comfort that they're not alone. Having always been a bit of an outsider, a bit of a weirdo, & all those other charming terms, I rather like the idea of knowing - & letting others know - that I, & people like me, aren't really as weird or alone as we might sometimes feel.

And lo, a new blog is born.