Guest Post by Claire – But you were Doing so Well…

Recently I’ve decided to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Claire who talks about having Bipolar Disorder and making sense of what other people may say to us when we’re unwell. Please check out her blog by clicking here.

claire

Learning to live with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder means learning to live your life quite differently. You have to get used to what triggers you, to make the most of the days where you feel well, to recognise the signs of slipping into depression, and equally raising into hypomania and for those who go there, mania.

The people around you also have a steep learning curve, and despite all their efforts, sometimes it’s really hard for them to understand that your recovery will not be straightforward.

Many of us with mental health issues have felt as though our families and friends don’t understand us, or that they don’t support us. In recent month’s I have started to realise that a lot of the time it is less that than it is near impossible for them to wrap their head around the reality that life really is a roller-coaster for us.

My reality is bipolar disorder, but I know many other illness’ have similar patterns and many people hear phrases similar to one’s I’ve heard from people. These are a fraction of phrases I’ve heard in the past few years from friends, family, and others. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard at least one of these at some point…

“But you were doing so well…”
“You’ve done this on purpose to ruin my careful diary planning”
“Just stick a smile on your face”
“When I was depressed I didn’t…”
“You look fine”
“But you’re laughing”
“Well if you can write a blog, you can work”
“I wish you would come out, just for a bit”
“but I miss you”

I could write these all day, but you get the idea!

Some people are very well-meaning with what they say, and it’s maybe just the wrong thing to say and shows it’s just hard for them to understand exactly what it’s like in your shoes. I find this a lot with family. I know they try very hard to support me, but unless you’ve lived a week in my shoes it’s impossible to know how this feels, to know how one minute everything can be fine the next I can either be in a foul mood or bouncing off of the walls and often for absolutely no reason. The psychosis must be terrifying for them, to see someone afraid of things that aren’t there.

With my sensible head on as I write this, I can understand that as a carer, someone who loves me this must be awfully scary. They must hold onto the moments where we are well so tight and then when we start to get sick again it must be devastating. As the person who is sick, we know it is going to happen, we prepare ourselves for it. But I think our loved one’s hold onto some hope that the last time was the last time.

Often some people just get plain sick of us, and that’s where the more snarky and nasty comments come in. I find these often come from people we had considered friends and it can be soul destroying to find that these people we had found a source of comfort and support are no longer there for us.

From their point of view though, it must be very difficult having friendships with people who consistently cancel plans, aren’t always happy, and I’m being honest here can be quite self-centred at times!

Before the comments get inundated with abuse I am just playing devil’s advocate here, I’m trying to see what they must see. I’ve fallen foul of friend loss because of my illness as much as the next person. I think it helps for us to step outside of ourselves sometimes and see the bigger picture, to see what other people may see.

You then also have the people who are dealing with their own problems, remember that one in four of us have a mental health issue. Not everyone can handle dealing with somebody else’s aswell as their own, or they don’t own up to having one, or won’t realise they have one.

We live with an illness that cripples us, but can be so consuming for us that sometimes we forget to see that it does affect those around us aswell. There could be a whole host of reasons why someone reacts negatively towards you and your illness. Of course, some people are just plain rude and uncaring, and in those cases we are best off without them in our lives.

But for the most part, when you through the rough patch, take a moment to think about why someone has said something hurtful to you. Did they actually mean it in the way you took it? Was it meant as a word of support, a show of love, an act of frustration because they do actually care, do they have an issue you could show them support over?

I know what to write about!

For the longest time now I’ve really wanted to write a book. At the start of every new year when the clock strikes twelve, I think ‘This is it. This is the year I’ll finally do it‘, but I struggle for ideas or somebody else gets there first with the ideas I do have.

It’s really important to me that I write something that people actually want to read. It’s been such a long time coming that if I’m going to do it, I really want to do it properly and make a success of it. I only ever dream big. I don’t see the point in starting something if it’s only going to be mediocre.

I want to be proud of what I do, and write about something that matters to me. I want to make a little bit of a difference in people’s lives, which I hope I also sometimes manage to do here on my blog. Those wishes are quite a tall order though, so year after year I sit here thinking ‘nope, still not good enough‘.

But now, finally, I think I’ve got it. I think I know what I want to write about.

I don’t want to reveal too much as of yet. But what I will say is that it will be mental health based, very personal to me featuring never seen diary entries from my childhood, uplifting and hopefully appealing to many of you on your journeys.

After my bad day yesterday, I really needed some excitement – although I do have to admit, I’m pretty sure the bad day gave me the inspiration, so I guess I should be thankful.

Tools (2015)

If we let them, our troubles will wrap us up and destroy us; parts of us will break and fly away. But there are always tools – even if they’re not right in front of us – to cut the bad out of our lives.

tools

Tools (26th July 2015) Watercolour & Ink. ©

What do you need?

Earlier on, I got into a Twitter discussion with a healthcare provider in Leeds; asking me what it is that I want/need from mental health services in the area.

My answers consisted of shorter waiting lists, more tailored care to the individual, and how treatment should aim to give people the tools and skills to manage their problems effectively.

But they’re just my answers, and now I’m curious to see what you guys think. Is there anything that you think is more important? And not neccessarily in just standard talking therapies, but is there anything else in day-to-day life as well that you think would make your time with mental illness easier?

I look forward to your answers – there aren’t any wrong ones!

What it looks like

It’s funny isn’t it; I’ve suffered with mental health issues since I was thirteen years old and I speak to hundreds of other people that do also, either through this blog or in daily life. But yet, my perceptions of it all are still wrong.

I don’t in any way recognise sufferers as being weak or expect any less from them, because I know how much strength it takes for me to go on sometimes; I think we’re the strongest people out there. To live with an illness that impacts life so much and to live with it every single day for the rest of our lives is remarkable. Sure, sometimes our illnesses can be cured or fade with age, but the majority of us just learn to manage.

I go about my normal day as though nothing is wrong. I go to university, I go to work, I see my friends, family and boyfriend. But it’s only when you look really carefully that you notice that I walk to these places. I ‘can’t be bothered’ to come out when everyone’s going to the cinema, or I’d rather see it when it comes out on DVD; because I have a fear of structured seating plans – they make me feel trapped. I can’t leave Leeds unless someone I know and trust drives, and so I find myself walking around the same streets day after day not seeing anything else. I miss lectures when they’re higher than the first floor of a building because that’s a problem also.

But if you see me walking down the street, you wouldn’t know anything’s wrong.

Yet, if I see someone else walking down the street, I still expect to see it. I wouldn’t judge them in any way, but I expect to notice that they’re not OK – which is utterly ridiculous. I have friends (both in the real world and virtually!) that have depression, bipolar, anxiety, schizophrenia – yet when I take it out of context of the people I know, I still have preconceived pictures of what these things look like.

Stigmatisation of mental illness needs to stop and I believe that more than anyone, but my question is – how do we accomplish this with people that don’t understand, if even those of us that do understand still don’t really get it?

There are so many illnesses out there, both physical and mental, that we couldn’t possibly begin to understand them all in a realistic and empathetic way. So how do we not momentarily judge someone in the street because of something they’ve just done/said? We might feel bad about it afterwards, but we still judge in the first place, no matter how much we try not to. It’s human nature.

Creativity and Mental Health

For me, creativity is a massive part of expressing my feelings when it comes to my mental health. Creating abstract representations of my disorders or how I feel allows me to release the negative thoughts and create something interesting in the process.

hope

Hope (2015) 

mha designs

Mental Health Awareness Designs (2014)

I draw, paint, write – anything and everything! It’s the most therapeutic thing in the world; I can sit in complete silence and not have one thought pass through my head for hours when I have a paintbrush in my hand.

Does anybody else have any methods to relieve stress and negative feelings?

Quote of the day

…and then I fell apart, and it was the most beautiful moment ever, because right then, I realised I could put the pieces back together the way I wanted them to be.

Mental Health Art

Just under a year ago in June 2014, I created this series of art work. The six images were each designed to depict a different mental illness or the symptoms associated with it; and they also mock some of the negative stigma that go hand-in-hand with suffering from these disorders.

I designed the series in black and red because for me, they’re the two boldest colours that there are. The black represents the illness, isolation, secrets and negativity that we face from the rest of the world; whilst the areas of red represent the glimpse of hope, which no matter how small is brighter and more predominant than the illness.

We need to stop shaking our heads and silently being at war with the uneducated comments we hear; we need to stop making peace with the idea that mental health issues aren’t as high priority as physical illness, and instead – we need to actively stand strong and fight for better.

nknk

I hope you like them, to view the rest of my art portfolio, click here.

Guest Post for Lifeofmiblog

Here is the guest post I wrote for Michael at Lifeofmiblog earlier this week. Michael suffers with Depression and talks about this as well as many other topics on his blog – It’s fantastic, so please check it out!


dnd

I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Cyclothymia and severe anxiety. I have these things, but it’s important to remember that I am not these things.

You cannot allow the disorders that you have become you, because you undoubtedly lose enough of yourself due to them already. BPD makes me angry, touchy and sometimes aggressive with the people around me; Cyclothymia makes me manic, depressed and all things in between; and anxiety takes away my basic human rights, with crippling fear smothering me and therefore stopping me from doing anything with my life.

These could be (and sometimes are!) soul-destroying things to live with, and so if this is the only way we can identify ourselves, what’s left? What’s the point of being here? Instead, you have to think about the things that you are, instead of the things that you have.

I am motivated and ambitious, I’m sarcastic beyond belief, and I’m creative, artistic and I’m detail-orientated in everything I do. I fall in love easy, but I don’t make good friends often; those that are in my life will be forever. I’m stubborn – way too stubborn – and don’t let arguments go as quickly as I should. But everything I do I do whole-heartedly, putting all my effort into it; and yes – I’m one of those people that are crazy enough to think they can make a difference in the world.

So instead of becoming my disorders, I try to manage these things that I have so that they don’t become a part of my being. I try to control the obstacles and hurdles that my life is constantly throwing at me; it’s not a fair war if you don’t even try to defend and protect yourself. It’s not as easy as I’d like it to be (if it was, mental illness would cease to exist), and it feels like a never-ending battle, because just when I think I have something mastered, something else comes along.

Another fear, another episode, another month where everything becomes too much.

But I keep trying, and that’s the main thing. I keep striving and pushing, waiting for the world to reward me and give me a break. I study as much as I can about my disorders, I research, read and I study for a mindfulness diploma. I learn to meditate, source remedies and techniques to practise, and I write almost every day on my blog relaying my thoughts and letting them all out of my already-cluttered-brain. I paint, I draw, I exercise, I cut out caffeine, and I make an extra effort with those I love.

Researching my disorders has given me an understanding of what’s going on in my mind which is absolutely priceless to me and mindfulness teaches me to think in the moment, not allowing the past or future to influence where I am right now. Meditation slows my breathing down alongside the absence of caffeine, helping my anxiety beyond belief. Creativity and writing makes my mind joyous, exercise makes my body joyous, and people – well they’re a support system that I wouldn’t want to do without. The biggest mistake too many of us make is pushing those that love us out of our lives.

But most of all, regardless of all these things, I remember who I am and what I am. I remind myself of all the things that make me, me. And my somewhat poor mental health definitely isn’t even a small part of that. That’s all I can do. Some may say that it’s all a distraction, but I believe it’s just a part of the journey to recovery. Like with any other illness, we’re all just looking for a cure.

Reality

Tonight I watched the film, Still Alice. I don’t wish to spoil the plot for those of you that would like to see it, but the basic premise is about a woman who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, and it’s a realistic and harrowing portrayal of what it’s like to live with the disease. As you all know, I don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s myself – and I’m under no illusions that I have any idea what it’s like to live with it – but somehow this film struck a chord with me.

It was the lack of control the character had over her brain. The way in which she so desperately wanted things to be better and normal but her mind wouldn’t allow those desires to become a reality.The constant and every day struggle and fight that was happening in her head. The helpless looks on everybody’s faces around her as they had no concept of what to do to help. The way it consumed her and stopped her from doing the things she loved the most.

And so now I lie here, in complete darkness, trying so hard to get to sleep and stop these thoughts racing through my mind. I can close my eyes for a matter of seconds before they’re wide open again, thinking about my own life and the similarities we all have to each other no matter our condition.

At one point in the film, the character bluntly states, ‘I wish I had cancer’ – a difficult sentence to comprehend to the average person. I actually watched the film with my mum, and at this point she almost laughed. I don’t know if it was shock or a nervous reflex, I didn’t ask, but I’m sure most people’s first reaction would be: how could somebody say that? How could somebody say that they want a disease that kills millions? How can somebody be that lost within themselves that that’s a thought that even passes through them?

But right now I’m not going to sit here and edit my thoughts before I write them down. I’m not going to lie or say what I’m supposed to say. Instead I’m going to say that I get it. I didn’t feel shocked or nervous when this line was read out. I felt understanding and almost comforted by the commonality between us. I know it’s a controversial thing to say; I’ve lost and am currently losing family members at the moment to the disease, and one of my best friends lost her mum to cancer just last year. It’s an awful, agonising, painful and traumatic thing to have, or to watch someone else have. I am in no way trying to belittle that and I do not at all wish that I had cancer. But I do get it. I get what she meant.

I understand what it’s like to have your illness belittled over and over again. I understand what it’s like to be made to feel ashamed of it because it’s an illness of the brain and not something ‘real’ like what cancer is. I understand what it’s like to want to die; to end it all because being here is just too damn hard, and surely cancer would just be quicker and less painful – because nothing can be as painful as this.

I can’t watch suicides/attempted suicides in films or TV programmes, and I don’t like talking about them fiction or otherwise. Everyone knows that I’m unbearably squeamish and so most of the time people assume this is why. But that’s not really it. Suicide scares me to watch or hear about or think about in any real capacity because it’s a reality for me. It’s something that I can sympathise with and although have never got to the point where I have ever carried out any suicidal thoughts, I do understand what it’s like to be in that head space. I feel it. It’s hard to explain in words but it makes me panic and my heart beats at a million miles per hour. It’s like watching someone else die a painful death due to a disease that you have yourself.

Still Alice may be about a person living with Alzheimer’s and the harsh reality that that brings, but I think that anybody suffering with any type of mental illness would find similarities between the character and themselves. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Hopefully now that these thoughts are laid out here, I can finally get some sleep! Have a great day/night – depending where you are in the world!