The Clouds – Psychosis and Caring for the Psychotic

Castles in the Air - the Other Side of Psychosis

For some years I have harboured considerable resentment towards certain people for abandoning me when I needed them most.

When I was ill.

When I was psychotic.

Psychosis and I are old, old friends. I’ve had bipolar disorder my whole life. I was 25 before I was diagnosed and almost 29 before I started to get a handle on things.

In that time I experienced psychosis at different times and in different ways. Sometimes it was mercifully fleeting. Other times it didn’t seem to know how to end.

In fact, it got progressively worse until something broke.

Because of this I thought I knew about psychosis.I was never foolish enough to believe I could understand the psychotic mind.. I thought I understood what it was and what it meant.

I recently realised I was very much mistaken.

While I have ample experience of what it is like to be psychotic, I had never seen the view from the other side until recently. I didn’t know what it was like to deal with a person going through psychosis, and as such I couldn’t understand how so many people had so readily abandoned me throughout mine.

Some came back when I had recovered, most didn’t.

I am still very angry about that, I am still haunted by questions that have lingered for years:

How could they possibly not see that I was ill?

How could they leave me instead of getting me help?

Why didn’t they love me enough?

If anything, recent events have only reinforced my belief that it should have been blindingly obvious I was in deep, serious trouble.

That I was ill, rather than a bitch/slut/whore.

In hindsight, it’s obvious they something was seriously wrong. It’s obvious they should have something about it. But hindsight is remarkably clear-sighted, and there are two things I had never taken into consideration that simply over-ride all common sense when a loved one is psychotic:

Exhaustion

Heart Break

Trying to look after someone who is in the midst of a psychotic break is utterly exhausting and, quite possibly one of the most heart breaking things I’ve ever experienced. Until recently, I’d never had to do it, not really. I knew people who, like me, had been psychotic in the past, I’d even spoken to them on occasion when they were suffering a relapse, but I’d never been in the thick of it.

I’d never been the person they talked it all through with, every detail, every fear, every anxiety, every panic, every delusion, every insane thought that popped into their head and suddenly became real.

I’ve been psychotic.

I’ve never seen psychosis.

Not until recently.

One day I became so frightened by the things I was hearing from a friend I was forced to call the police. I couldn’t get to her and I needed someone to check on her. Physically she was perfectly fine, but mentally she was in real trouble. I’m no psychiatrist, so I can’t diagnose her, but I recognise the symptoms of psychosis when I see them.

It scared the living shit out of me. I was terrified for my friend. I was also terrified for myself.

It was like staring into a mirror and having my past-self reflected back at me, dark and distorted.

Castles in the Air - the Other Side of Psychosis

I know psychosis, I’ve lived it. I know it’s terrifying to endure. I never before realised how horrendous it is to watch.

It’s soul destroying, it’s heart breaking, to see someone you love in that sort of state and be utterly powerless to help. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you do, their reality in no longer connected to your own. You can’t soothe their fears, you can’t convince them of the truth. They’re in another world, and the rules are different there. The rules are cruel and unjust and constantly changing.

Trying to understand the reality of another person’s psychosis is to court insanity yourself.

Don’t try.

Seriously, don’t.

I’ve spent weeks attempting to understand my friend’s current state of mind and damn near lost my own mind in the process. I had to take a step back. I had to stop trying to unravel the ununravelable and have a breath. I had to resign myself to the fact I could listen, but I couldn’t enter that world. I couldn’t walk beside her and take her hand. I couldn’t throw my arms around her and hold her while she cried. I couldn’t kick the crap out of the demons coming after her.

Because she was in another world,.

And I couldn’t reach her.

No matter how hard I tried, and believe me, I tried, I couldn’t reach her.

She floated away from me, a cloud in the sky, boiling with thunder, and all I could do was watch her go and pray she came back down.

When she lands, I’ll catch her, I’ll be here.

Until then, all I can do is listen to the thunder.

And it’s deafening.

It’s terrifying.

It makes me want to run as far and as fast as I can.

But I don’t run. I won’t run.

I will never run from her thunder.

Castles in the Air - the Other Side of Psychosis

I know what it is to be a storm cloud in the sky. I know what it is to have lost your tether, to be floating away, further and further away, from everyone and every thing you know and love.

I know what it’s like to gaze down at the world you used to know and find it foreign, completely unfathomable.

I know what it’s like to find everything about the world below impossible to comprehend except for one thing, and it’s the most important thing:

Everyone is leaving you.

You’re lost, and terrified, and all they can do is run.

The cowards.

The bastards.

What the fuck is wrong with them, how could they do this to you? Don’t they know what you’re going through? Don’t they understand?

Don’t they love you enough to just listen to the thunder?

I know what it’s like to watch them run. It drives you further into the sky. It makes the thunder louder. It sparks the lightning.

It is the very worst thing a person can do to you.

It’s selfish, it’s cruel, it’s a hateful, hateful thing to do.

It is also, I have realised, completely and utterly understandable.

I never realised how draining that thunder can be, how exhausting. I didn’t know that just standing there, facing down the storm, takes the most overwhelming amount of courage. You’re afraid, every second you stand there, you’re afraid that the person you knew isn’t coming back, that you’ve lost them forever, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’re afraid you might float away with them.

That the madness is somehow contagious.

You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t understand. Nobody does. Nobody can know what it is to be in that cloud, not even if you’ve been in a similar cloud yourself.

A psychotic reality is formed from the mindscape and experiences of the individual. Not only is it constantly changing and evolving, it is also utterly unique.

A psychotic may have some understanding of what it is like to be in the cloud, but they seldom understand how the cloud works. And if a person cannot figure out a reality built from their own mindscape and experiences, how the hell are they going to fathom one constructed from someone else’s?

Psychosis is incomprehensible.

I get it, I do, I know why you want to run.

But before you do, please take a minute to read about my cloud. It’s not the same anyone else’s, I’m not describing psychosis, not really. I’m describing my psychosis, my cloud. If you know someone in a cloud of their own, it will be different. If you have a cloud yourself, it will be different. But if you can get a glimpse of mine I think, perhaps, you might understand the thunder a little better.

You  might find it easier to stay.

These things I say and do, that seem so foreign and strange to you are as real to me as everything you consider to be reality. If I told you reality was wrong, that your world wasn’t real, would you believe me? If I told you the person you’ve been talking to on the bus every day for the last year doesn’t exist, would you believe me? If you were chased home by a man with a knife trying to rape you, and all I said when you told me about it was, “Don’t be silly!” would you laugh?

Would you find it funny?

Would you get the joke?

It may be terrifying to watch someone go through psychosis, but it’s far worse to be the person enduring a psychotic break.

Listening to the thunder isn’t nearly as bad as being in the cloud.

Believe me.

It’s hell.

In the cloud I know, with absolute certainty, what is real and what isn’t. But nobody agrees with you. Everyone tells me what I see is wrong. What I hear is wrong. I’m lying. I’m imaging things. I’m paranoid. I’m crazy.

What I see and hear and feel is real, but everyone acts like it isn’t. Everyone pretends the monsters aren’t there. Everyone laughs as hands close around my throat shake me until I die.

I KNOW I’m right, down to the very core of my being. If my depended on it, and it often does, I would stake my entire existence on the fact that what I know to be real is in fact reality.

Perception is reality.

If I see it, it’s there, if I feel it, it’s there, if I hear it, it’s there.

Whether you agree with me or not makes no difference – the cloud doesn’t change simply because the outside looks different to the inside.

My reality is as real as yours. But mine shifts and changes, moment to moment. There isn’t a single person in the world who knows what I know, sees what I see, believes what I believe, and I’m not really careful, all those people telling me I’m wrong fracture away from me.

They break.

Reality breaks.

Because it’s just not possible that EVERYONE in the world is ignorant or stupid enough to be blind to the truth. The truth that I see and hear and feel and touch. The truth they all deny.

Which means they are all lying.

Which means they’re all in it together.

Everyone is conspiring against me and, at the same time, reality bleeds from one nightmare to the next, your mind leaping around in time to show you the worst moments from you life again and again, to dredge up ancient pain and make it fresh, to catapult you far into the future, to the ultimate end of everything that could possibly go wrong.

And the ultimate end is always cataclysmic.

The world is conspiring against me, every pain, every trauma, every horror I’ve ever experienced, or feared, or imagined, is real and really happening, and it’s all really happening right now. All at once.

That is my cloud. That is my psychosis.

Can you imagine what that is like? Can you imagine how exhausting, how terrifying that is?

When you’re up there in the cloud you have no choice. You have to brave the storm.

So you people, down there, safe and sound in the real world, you people who think it’s too upsetting, too frightening, too annoying to listen to the thunder of your friend, your family member, your colleague. You people who think the clouds aren’t worth it, who can’t take it any more because you’re too tired, to angry, too afraid…

You’re not in it. You’re not in the cloud. The cloud is hell. You don’t have to endure hell. All you have to do is listen to the thunder. All you have to do is stand there. If you love your cloud, you will be there to catch her when finally falls from the sky.

Because she will fall.

And the fall could kill her.

I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary as hell. I really didn’t get it before, I only saw it from my perspective, only knew it from the view of the person left floating off into the night, alone, terrified, and stuck in the cloud. I didn’t know how hard it was to stay. I know now, and I’m sorry it’s so difficult. Truly I am. But clouds are devastatingly fragile.

They need you far more than you will ever understand.

I know you want to be anywhere else, dealing with anything else.

But if you love your cloud, you will stay.

If you love your cloud, you will listen.

I’m still not running.

I still won’t leave her.

And if I can stand here, and weather the storm, and be here when she falls, if I can evade my own cloud long enough to battle through and listen to someone else’s, you can.

You have to.

They don’t have a choice – they didn’t chose to float away.

You have a choice.

And if you chose wrong, you will lose them forever.

If you chose wrong, you will only be adding to the thunder.

Castles in the Air - the Other Side of Psychosis

The Eight Year Odyssey, Fucking Truffles & Being ‘TOO MUCH’…

The Eight Year Odyssey and Fucking Truffles

Another year and another Valentines Day have passed and anyone who knows me well will know I spent most of Sunday quietly muttering, ‘Fucking Truffles’ to myself repeatedly.

Fear not, I’ve not developed an unhealthy proclivity for truffles, quite the contrary, despite the fact I find them delicious I’ve been unable to bring myself to eat one for eight years.

Eight years on Sunday, as it happens.

You're Never Too Much, The Eight Year Odyssey, Fucking Truffles, and Why You're Never Too Much

Warning: Long Post Ahead!

You see, on V Day, eight long years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend.

This in itself is not an unusual event in my life, I’ve lost count of how many boyfriends and how many breakups I’ve been through, not helped by the fact I broke up with one of them about fifty times before we finally called it quits for good.

The reason this particular breakup is noteworthy is because it marks, more so than anything else, my descent into HELL.

For while there have been many men (and a fair few women) and many breakups, this one is the only one I regret.

That might sound harsh, and certainly when you take into account that the guy in question ISN’T the one I loved more than life itself, it may seem odd. But you see, breaking up with the other guy, the one I would, at the time, have given ANYTHING to be with, was, in hindsight, the best thing I could possibly do.

He wasn’t right for me.

He was, in point of fact, an unmitigated jack ass.

But Truffle Man, well, Truffle Man is another matter.

Some explanation is needed before I continue. In late 2005 I went through THE BIG BREAKUP. You know, the one that made me try to kill myself a few times. That was followed by the worst and longest period of mania I’d ever had. For the better part of 2006 I was out of control. Somehow, I still managed to graduate with a 2.1 from Manchester University and in September moved to Bangor to begin my MA. Shortly after arriving in Bangor I embarked on a long-distance, long-term relationship with TRUFFLE MAN.

I knew Truffle Man from Manchester as we’d been on the same course, although we didn’t know each other well. In what I have come to recognise as typical Hazel-Coming-Down-Hard-From-A-High fashion I decided I needed a new boyfriend.

When I say my behaviour had been out of control I’m not exaggerating. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Starvation. You name it, I’d done it that year. I lost six stone in just over 2 months and went for days, sometime well over a week without eating a thing. I exercised relentlessly. I fucked anyone I could find and I drank myself to sleep at night. I didn’t do a lot of drugs, but there was the odd incident, and I’m not proud of the fact.

When I came down from that high I was alone, sober, broke and, perhaps worst of all, still as heart-broken as I’d been the day I realised it was finally and completely over with my ex.

Mania didn’t help me get over the breakup. Mania hit pause, used up every ounce of energy I had, and then abandoned me, frail, poor, and lacking in several good friends I’d had previously.

I’d never acted in such a way before. It would be almost a decade before anyone even said the word bipolar to me, and in my exhausted and shattered opinion, the only explanation was that I didn’t have a boyfriend.

I would never have acted in such a manner if I’d still had a boyfriend.

The reality is that, while the end of my relationship kicked off that particular bout of mania, I wasn’t immune to mania while I’d been with him. In fact, the worst bout I’d had prior to that had occurred while we were together, and led to me cheating on him. He’d cheated on me previously. On balance, at the time, it seemed reasonably justified, but even so, it was out of character.

It was also the beginning of the end for us. I couldn’t forgive him for cheating (and he went on do to it some more) and he couldn’t forgive me.

I will not say that my mania broke that relationship, but it certainly didn’t help it. My depression, on the other hand, and the paranoia that comes withi both states, was simply something he couldn’t deal with.

It was ‘too much’ for him.

I was too much for him.

Even so, we were together three years and while we were together I was relatively stable.

So, when I came crashing down from the next big high and cast about looking for something to tether me to the ground, I hit upon the notion of a new boyfriend.

Not a quick fuck. An actual boyfriend.

Truffle Man would not come to be known by that moniker for some time, but in the interests of maintaining his anonymity, I will use it. He was kind, sweet, funny, and easy. By that I mean easy to be around, easy to talk to, and easy to charm.

He is without a doubt the sweetest, nicest person I’ve ever been with.

Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t perfect. He had a temper that ignited over the smallest things. He was overly sensitive, threw tantrums if he didn’t get fed every four hours and was obsessed with Richmond Skinless sausages, and cheese sandwiches.

He also liked to eat meat pies in bread rolls.

Strange eating habits aside, we got on well. But from the start the relationship was unbalanced. I was incredibly broken after my last breakup and miscarriage, still carrying a phenomenal number of secrets around with me, still not speaking to the majority of my family with any kind of ease, still protecting my father at the expense of my own sanity…

And I was still bipolar.

I didn’t know it yet, and I have no doubt that the new relationship went a long way towards stabalising me, but it didn’t do it overnight, and it didn’t do it completely. My drinking was still a problem. I actually quit completely for three months straight after Truffle Man suggested I was an alcoholic.

It wasn’t that I believed him and was worried, it was more that I was pissed off at the suggestion I was less than perfect and had to prove him wrong.

He certainly wasn’t right. At least, not entirely. But there were times I used alcohol and fags as a crutch. He despised my smoking and made it very clear he couldn’t be with me if I smoked.

I quit.

Just like that.

I went from 20 a day to none overnight and I didn’t think twice about it.

I no longer needed the fags. I had a new boy to play with.

This is how my mind works when it comes to addictions. When I need something I need it. When I don’t I don’t. There has never been a long stressful period of me struggling to quit something. I smoke or I don’t. I drink or I don’t. I think perhaps he thought the ease with which I gave them up meant I had never been much of smoker to begin with.

The poor boy didn’t have a clue what he was getting into.

Added to this was the fact that I was his first, and he…

Well, he was in no way mine.

We were together for a year and a half, and I have a lot of fond memories with him.

Then it all went horribly wrong…

I think it started when I went to Austria for a month over the summer of 2007. I was excavating two sites with my mentor from Bangor, who is Austrian and also teaches at Vienna University. I wanted to go. I desperately needed to go. But my reasons for this want,.this need, were not something I could explain to Truffle Man. All he could see was that I was going to be away for a month and, due to very limited financing for the whole trip, I was limiting conversations to text messages.

I didn’t want him calling me.

I can understand why this upset him. I can understand, in hindsight, why it pissed him off.

I should perhaps have told him everything I was feeling, it might have made more sense to him. But if there was one thing I knew back then it was that he didn’t want to hear about the ex.

I say THE ex because really, despite the guys and the girls and the parties and the insanity, there was, at that point, only one.

One ex, and another man I still loved who was all but a ghost to me at that point in my life. I’d buried him so deep he might as well have been dead.

They had both broken me, but I was so overwhelmed by the last one I’d all but forgotten the first.

As it turns out, he did far more damage, but I digress.

I needed to go to Austria for several reasons. Firstly, I was an archaeologist who didn’t feel like an archaeologist. Id done some digs and a reconstruction project while I was in college, but at Uni I’d failed miserably. I’d been on one excavation at the end of my first year, right after my miscarriage, right when I was at the lowest I’d ever been at that point, and it flipped me into the aforementioned manic episode.

The one that led to me cheating on my ex.

I’d come home from that dig a failure in every respect. I was useless as a girlfriend and I couldn’t handle two weeks away doing what everyone in my chosen profession does.

I was pitiful.

I refused further digs for the rest of my undergraduate degree, but by the time I was at Bangor I was feeling better. I was in a steady relationship with a good guy, my mentor was (and is!) a wonderful teacher, and I had something to prove.

I was an archaeologist.

I could do it.

And I could be a good girlfriend.

I could be trusted to go away and behave myself.

Trying to explain any of this to Truffle Man was out of the question. So off I went, on the heels of a huge row we had right before I left. I had an absolute blast for the first two and half weeks. I made loads of friends, loved the dig, smoked myself silly every day, had a few drink each night but never too much, and behaved myself completely.

Half way through week two my mood spun around and kicked me hard in the arse. I sank into a pit of despair so fast I didn’t know what had hit me. I struggled through the remainder of my time away, started calling Truffle Man despite the extortionate call charges, and counted down the days until I got home.

My return was hardly what I’d hoped for.

I stopped smoking the day I left, but he knew I’d been smoking while I was gone. We argued as soon as I got back, partly about the smoking, partly because I was complaining about how annoying one of the guys on the dig had been, and partly because he was just pissed off I’d gone in the first place.

We went to New York very shortly after and the trip was a disaster. I had friends out there I had promised to go and see, and their return to the UK was suddenly happening a lot sooner than expected. We went on very short notice and he lent me the money for my half of the trip. I thought nothing of it at the time as the University owed me a cheque for my tuition fees which, due to me working in the library and teaching, they were waiving. This amounted to nearly £2K so paying him back wasn’t a problem, it was just unfortunate we left a week before the cheque arrived.

The trouble was, I was still depressed. I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. I hated America – it was too hot, too busy, there were too many people, and I was so fucking tired.

I dragged my arse around trying desperately to stay awake and, half the time, failed miserably.

He was, I think, disappointing by the experience, especially considering how expensive it had been. Things got worse when we got back and I found the cheque I’d been waiting for had been sent to my father, who had cashed it himself and decided to keep it.

This left me with no way of paying him back.

I mentioned some Truffle Man’s flaws earlier, one I neglected to list was his miserly attitude when it came to money. He hated spending money on anything, and even before I owed him anything, he got pissy with me if I spent any. I do now recognise that my occasional bursts of mania while we were together led to overspending he was right to be concerned by. But the majority of the time I wasn’t manic or over-spending, I was simply doing the normal things I was used to doing on a daily basis. He didn’t like going to Costa while we were out and getting a coffee, it was a waste of money. He didn’t like stopping in a nice cafe or pub for lunch when we were of on an expedition somewhere or shopping.

And if cheese sandwiches weren’t on the menu, I was in deep, deep shit.

This attitude always pissed me off, not least because of his need to eat so regularly. It meant we either couldn’t be out of the house for more than 4 hours, or I had to feed him and put up with his moaning about the price of lunch. I took to carrying an endless supply of Yorkie bars around with me, but they only went so far.

Statue of Liberty, New York, You're Never Too Much, The Eight Year Odyssey, Fucking Truffles, and Why You're Never Too Much

After New York, things went down hill fast.

He resented every penny I spent. I can understand this, I really can, and looking back I should have made more of an effort to pay him back, but at the time, money just didn’t seem important. I was flipping the other way again and my depression had quickly become hypo-mania. The overspending kicked in right when I suddenly owed him several hundred pounds. By the end of the year I was fully manic. and I wouldn’t be coming back down from that high for more than a day or two at a time until the end of 2008.

I finished my MA and took a job as a site assistant down south.

That was the final nail in the coffin that had become our relationship. We were already doing long distance, Manchester-Bangor, and in fairness to him he’d done the majority of the travelling.

There were too many ghosts in Manchester for me and I didn’t like to go back at that point.

The notion of me moving all the way to Bury St Edmunds really pissed him off. I think this was partly due to the fact he’d been working part-time at Tesco since finishing his degree, while I’d done a post-grad course and then got a full-time job doing something I loved. He was, I think, frustrated by his own career (or lack there of), simultaneously pissed off I was moving so far away, and a little envious of what I was doing when I got there. It did prompt him to apply for a better position at Tesco and I’m delighted to say he’s gone from strength to strength within the company since and is now doing very well for himself.

But back then, he hated my new job. And he was growing to resent me. I owed him money, I was too far away, I was moody, depressed too much for no reason, I’d abandoned him over the summer and smoked the whole time I was away, the list was getting longer and longer and the things he’d always liked about me were vanishing in a haze of depression and mania.

In his words, he felt like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t in order to be with him.

I really didn’t understand what he meant by this at the time, but looking back, I can understand it. He felt my manic-self was the ‘real’ me. That was how I’d been before we were together, it was (in his opinion) how I’d been while I was away in Austria, and as time went on I was becoming more and more that person, my ‘real’ self, and less and less the person he’d been with all this time.

I understand why he thought I’d been pretending – or trying – to be something I wasn’t.

He didn’t know I had drastic shifts in mood, behaviour, and personality, as a result of a mental illness that was, back then, completely un-treated.

From his perspective, I was reverting to my true self and he’d been wasting his time on a fake person trying to be better than they really were.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the paranoid I’d know in my last relationship came back with a vengeance and I was suspicious of everything he did. He worked with women, his friends were all women, and he would go to the cinema or off out somewhere with women. When a new girl started at his work (or he met her when he changed jobs, I can’t remember now) that paranoia went into overdrive. He talked about her all the time, he went out with her on his own, just the two of them, and no matter how many times I asked him not to, he just got annoyed with me.

I became convinced he was cheating on me.

In my defense, I had been through all of this before and it was my own private nightmare, back to haunt me. Whether he was or not, I have no idea, but the whole thing deteriorated rapidly. When he came to see me we did nothing but fight. When I went to see him all I wanted to was to be elsewhere. Eventually I couldn’t stand speaking to him on the phone, and the thought of going to see him made me physically sick.

It wasn’t that I’d stopped caring about him, it was simply that I was utterly convinced he was fucking another woman, and I didn’t have it in me to fight for him.

I’d fought for my last relationship and it damn near killed me.

I was tired, and pissed, in a new place with new people and mania pulling at my strings.

He wanted me to move to Manchester.

I wouldn’t have moved back there if my life depended on it, but he couldn’t see that.

I might have done it, too, but for the fact he wasn’t ready to move in with me.

I’d have been living alone in a city I’d nearly died in, a city my ex still lived in at that point, and doing some god awful job I hated.

And for what?

A guy who was cheating on me.

I wanted the open fields and the freedom of the digging life.

I wanted peace.

We eventually broke up after a week or two of skirting the issue, and it wasn’t well done. I couldn’t face the long drive to Manchester just to end another relationship and he didn’t have the balls to dump me to my face. So it happened over the phone, while I was at work, on, you guessed it, VALENTINE’S DAY.

February 14th 2008.

To say it pissed me off was an understatement. I was furious with him for his philandering ways (I had no proof this was actually happening, but I KNEW, in the manner one KNOWS things while manic, and that was enough back then), and pissed off that he wouldn’t man up and get over himself. To my mind, he was jealous of my new job and the fact I was doing exactly what I wanted to do while he was still living with his parents and working at a supermarket.

I couldn’t think of anything worse than living with my parents and working at a supermarket. I couldn’t understand how anyone could endure such an existence. But my family life was complicated and his was very simple. I had ambitions and dreams and he seemed quite content as he was at that particular point in his life.

I on the other hand, was going places, in the manner only a person in the full grips of mania can go.

And boy did I go.

You may be wondering why I call him TRUFFLE MAN.

Well, it went something like this. Very shortly after I moved – early January – I realised something was wrong. I could see the end looming on the horizon and I was TERRIFIED.

I didn’t want to lose him.

This was partly because he was a nice guy but, I think, more due to the belief that having a boyfriend kept me normal. After my last period of mania I was utterly convinced the only reason I’d acted the way I had was because I didn’t have a boyfriend. Sure enough, I got a boyfriend, and everything calmed down. The mood swings weren’t gone, but they weren’t nearly as bad, and my mania was short-lived and seldom destructive to anything save my bank balance.

On the contrary, it got me through my degree, the great bursts of energy and insight making up for the times I went weeks without doing any work.

But the end was nigh. I could feel it coming. In a burst of proactive avoidance I ordered a single red rose and a box of truffles to be delivered, by courier, to my beloved’s house on Valentines’s Day. I can’t recall what the note said specifically but it included a declaration of love.

I then promptly forgot about it.

I got so caught up in the paranoia over what he was up to and the excitement of my new life I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT THAT FUCKING ROSE AND THOSE FUCKING TRUFFLES.

I didn’t remember until the conversation in which we broke up.

He started by thanking me for the rose.

He ended by telling me he never wanted to see me again, not even to say goodbye properly.

The Eight Year Odyssey and Fucking Truffles

For the remainder of that day I could be found wandering the Fens screaming, “FUCKING TRUFFLES!” at passing pheasants, like a chocolatier suffering from a serious case of Tourette’s.

My first big breakup was followed by a long period of severe mania, the likes of which I’d never seen before. My second was followed by a bout of mania so bad the other seemed like a happy memory.

And it just didn’t end.

I lost friends. I lost my job. I lost another job. I lost my flat. And then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened.

I was forced to move back in with my parents.

I lasted a few months, and then it all blew up in my face. The truth about my father came out, he left, my mother was distraught, my family in tatters, the thing I’d spent half my life and broken my brain trying to prevent had happened despite my best efforts.

I was a failure.

And I was utterly alone.

I fell into a pit of depression so deep it took me over six years to climb back out.

Looking back over the last eight years there are a lot of things I regret. Too many to mention. I’m happy now. I’m stable. I have a diagnosis, medication, coping mechanisms in place. I’ve been through a lot of therapy and I’ve written away my woes. I understand myself, and my condition, and I’ve come an incredibly long way from the frightened, broken little girl I was eight years ago.

I have perspective.

And I know that where the men in my life are concerned, losing them was the best thing for me.

Except one.

Despite the horrible way it ended, despite the fact I’m sure he still hates me to this day for breaking his heart, and despite the fact I’m not sure I was ever actually in love with him, I do regret losing Truffle Man.

I’m not at all sure that loss was the best thing for me.

Then I consider how he handled me, and I know that while he might have been a nice guy, a good guy, which is certainly a unique occurrence in my history, he still wasn’t the guy.

I know this because of something he said to me on a regular basis. Something I have come to recognise as the plaintive cry of a person who isn’t capable of handling mental illness when it’s staring them in the face.

When it’s threatening to take away the person they profess to love.

“It’s too much. You’re too much.”

One of my lovely bears was telling me about her recent breakup the other day over on The Bipolar Bear’s Facebook page. She said it had ended because of her illness, because he couldn’t cope, because it was too much, she was too much.

She said she knew he was right, it was all her fault, she was too much for anyone to cope with, nobody could possibly put up with her.

It made me so sad.

Sad, and angry. Not at her, but for her.

I remember thinking this way. I remember feeling this way. I remember the conviction that I was far ‘too much’ to deal with and the belief that anyone who was willing to put up with me must be a saint.

That belief led me right into my next relationship with a man who was so utterly dysfunctional he made me look like saint, and yet everything was always my fault.

Because I was too much.

I told my bear on Facebook how backwards this view is and I wanted to share it here too. I understand why Truffle Man felt this way – I was un-diagnosed, untreated, and totally out of control.

And he had no idea I was ill.

Feeling my behaviour was ‘too much’ is understandable in those circumstances. Perhaps a better man, or at least a more experienced man, would have realised there was something wrong and got me some help, rather than getting annoyed and abandoning me, but he was who he was. He was young, and inexperienced, and for him, back then, I was entirely too much to handle.

That doesn’t mean I’m too much for everyone. It doesn’t mean I’m a burden. It doesn’t mean I should count myself lucky if someone is willing to put with me and settle for that person simply because they will endure my faults.

Love means looking after people when they fall, not kicking them when they’re down.

Love means loving the entirety of a person, faults and all, not limiting yourself to loving them when they are well.

For better or worse, in sickness and in health.

There’s a reason they put it in the fucking vows.

So, the next time someone blames you for everything that is wrong with a relationship and tells you, “You’re too much!” do please direct them to this post.

If they feel that way it’s because you’re not getting the help you need. That isn’t your fault. That is their fault. As a bipolar bear we are not always capable of recognising when we are ill, when we most need help. We are not always capable of asking for it, finding it, or accepting it.

We need the people who love us to help us recognise we need help, help us find it, help us ask for it, and most importantly help us do the work and stick to the treatment.

Because that’s hard.

It’s the hardest thing about this illness.

And when you love someone, you help them through the bad shit so you can enjoy the good shit together.

You're Never Too Much, The Eight Year Odyssey, Fucking Truffles, and Why You're Never Too Much

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder Is For Life Not Just For Christmas

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder is for Life Not Just for Christmas

Not long after Christmas I posted on The Bipolar Bear’s Facebook page. As is my daily tradition, the post consisted of a meme: a nice picture with a quote about bipolar disorder. I often add my own comments and thoughts to these quotes and on this particular occasion I was commenting on recovery. I was talking about hope, and how important it is to belive that, no matter how bad your illness gets, you can find a way back. You can recover. You can get to a point where your illness is manageable and you can live a full and happy life.

One of the comments on the post quite upset me. Not because it was negative or horrible, but because the person commenting was genuinely shocked by my post. They were amazed I was ‘better’ because they thought there was no ‘cure’ for bipolar.

Bipolar Disorder is for life.

I was supposed to be ill forever.

You don’t recover from bipolar, you don’t get ‘better’.

This, I feel, is taking the Black Dog metaphor a bit far.

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder is for Life Not Just for Christmas

The Black Dog of Depression

We also know that Christmas (and winter in general) are a bad time to be bipolar, or suffer from depression of any kind. The aptly named SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is so-called because it hits during the winter season. Churchill made the association of depression and black dogs famous., and the phrase ‘black dog of depression’ is a long-standing metaphor that dates back to at least the eighteenth century, and the correspondence between Hester Thrale, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell.

But just because a puppy bought at Christmas should be kept for life, the Black Dog that moved in during the holidays does not have to be a permanent house guest.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder.

That doesn’t mean there is no recovery.

The very nature of the condition – a cyclical shift between moods – is reason enough to hope that at least some of those moods will be good ones.

Not depressed.

Not manic.

Not that god-awful flatness that comes in the middle, when you’re either so exhausted from the highs and lows you just don’t give a shit, or medicated into oblivion.

Just the normal, humdrum, everyday ups and downs that the majority of people so take for granted.

You know, life.

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder is for Life Not Just for Christmas

The right balance of medication can and does work. There will always be exceptions to this, but in my experience, people who persevere, are willing to engage in their treatment, and keep going until they find the right balance of meds, will get there eventually. It may not be perfect – the strength of these medications is such that the side effects are almost as bad as the disease – but they can enable you to live your life. To work. To have healthy friendship, healthy relationships.

Key to this also is therapy – real therapy, with a psychologist. Again, this isn’t a quick fix. It takes a long time, a hell of a lot of work, and I’ll be honest with you, it hurts like fucking hell. The temptation to give up is overwhelming. Just as you reach the point where it’s really helping, you also hit the point where it hurts almost as much as being ill did. You wonder, is it worth it? And the perception that there is no cure, and therefore there is nothing to do about bipolar but endure it, doesn’t help.

If you will never get better, what’s the point in taking meds? What’s the point in going through the agony of real psychotherapy?

What’s the point in doing the work?

THIS IS SUCH A DANGEROUS PERCEPTION, THIS IDEA THAT WE CAN’T GET BETTER!

We can get better!

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder is for Life Not Just for Christmas

Proper diet, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, alternative therapies like reiki and acupuncture, and other methods of learning to understand and manage your condition can all help you recover.

Recovery does not mean you are cured. It doesn’t mean there is no possibility you will relapse. It doesn’t mean the bipolar has magically gone away and is never coming back. But the reality is that just because you have had episodes of severe bipolar depression, or severe mania, doesn’t mean you will have them again. You may never have another episode of either as long as you live. You may manage the shifts in your mood so that, while still present, they are not nearly so extreme.

And when they’re not so extreme, you can learn to cope with them. You can put things in place to ensure that any damage you do to your life if you do get ill again, is minimal. You can ensure you know what the signs are, and how to recognise them, that your friends and family know what the signs are, and have effective strategies for helping you.

Not judging you.

Not yelling at you.

Not blaming you.

Just helping.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get better.

The Black Dog: Bipolar Disorder is for Life Not Just for Christmas

BIPOLAR SURVIVAL GUIDE: WINTER IS COMING How to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter is Coming Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide Beat the Winter Blues by The Bipolar Bear

A few weeks ago I posted this meme on The Bipolar Bear’s Facebook page. One of my followers commented on it, and we got to talking. She was really struggling with the winter blues, .and the more we spoke the more I realised two  things:Winter is Coming Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide

1) There are so many people who struggle with winter depression, not only Bipolar Bears who have seasonal cycles and struggle with the long dark months of winter, but also those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression in general.

2) Having struggled with winter depression for many, many years, and finally cracked how to manage it so I don’t actually get it anymore, I realised I should probably share this wisdom, such as it is.

The result of this was me putting together a brand new and completely free Bipolar Disorder survival guide specifically aimed at beating the winter blues and helping you to prevent and/or manage winter depression.

Unfortunately, the last couple of months have been unimaginably busy for me (this is in part due to my tactics for managing winter depression!) and I’ve only just managed to get it finished and up and running on the site… actually it’s been there for a week or so, but I’ve only just got around to writing the post, so , sorry about that!

Winter is Coming

There are a lot of reasons we struggle during winter. Part of it is the seemingly constant darkness, part of it is the cold and the prevalence of cold and flu viruses. Part of it is undoubtedly the holiday period. I’ve put together Winter is Coming, my top ten tips for surviving the cold and long dark, and actually making winter a time you can enjoy again!

It’s available for free here on The Bipolar Bear’s website, all you need to do is pop in your email address and it will be sent directly to your inbox, no muss, no fuss!

Winter Is Coming Bipolar Disorder and Winter Depression Survival Guide

Do be sure to come back and comment below to let me know what you think, or head on over to the Facebook page and comment on there!

Dear Mister Cemetery Man: You Suck

Yellow Rose

Dear Mister Cemetery Man,

I would like to take the opportunity to tell you on this, the worst day of the year, that you suck.

Majorly.

You suck ass biscuits.

Why is today the worst day of the year? What has happened today that was so terrible?

Something cataclysmic occurred on this date four years ago.

My Nanny, without doubt the person I adored more than any other (until my niece came along and they had to share the title), died.

On this, the anniversary of the day she left my life forever, I like to do something positive, something she would be proud of. Two years ago I managed to make that National Novel Writing Month, and I have continued the tradition since.

Today I was unable to do that, due to work commitments. That already made it a bad day, but it grew steadily worse from the moment I opened my eyes.

I awoke to find my mother already leaving the house to make the trip to see my Pop, and take him to the cemetery to visit my Nanny’s grave. Undressed and bleary eyed I was not even capable of asking her to wait five minutes, and even if I had been she wouldn’t have been able to do so. Regardless, I would have had to have driven myself, as I have a MASSIVE backlog of work that needs completing. Mum was spending the day with my sister and niece. I had to spend the day working.

So I remained at home as she left to find flowers and visit with her much-missed mum. I sat at my computer, exhausted beyond reason and incredibly sad, and toiled away hour after hour, trying desperately to finish all my work.

I reached 4pm and decided enough was enough – I’d been working every waking hour for nine days straight and I needed a break. So I got in my car and trundled to the shop, arriving to find it was closed because–in my upset and general state of exhaustion–I had forgotten it was Sunday. Unable to purchase the heather pot-plant I was intending to buy for the occasion, I was forced to make a second stop at the petrol station for fuel–coffee, that is, to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel. I then made a further stop at the small Tesco on the way out of town to purchase some flowers. Not ideal, but at least I managed to get them in the right colours.

From there I embarked on the forty minute journey from my house to where my beloved Nanny was buried. It is at this point, dear cemetery man, that you come into the story. For while the journey was treacherous–filled with pot holes, oncoming darkness, and descending fog so thick I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of the car–I persevered.

I arrived, only to find you had done something that nobody has every succeeded in doing before.

You kept me from my Nanny.

I realise she’s been dead for four years, but that hasn’t stopped me, not once. I have made it there every anniversary, every birthday, every Christmas, every Easter, and many, many other days in between when I have simply felt the need to go and say hello.

Come hell or high water, when I have wanted to get into that grave yard, I have found a way to do it.

Not so today, oh no.

Today you excelled yourself.

Today you so successfully BARRICADED yourself in among the restfully sleeping dead.

There was no way in.

I saw your lights on and your curtains twitching.

I know you saw me, standing at the gate, pathetic bunch of flowers in hand, tears streaming down my face as I desperately tried to find a way in.

Had I been a group of youths, or an angry man with an axe, I could have understood you ignoring me.

Had I appeared in my usual attire, resplendent in black and adorned with a top hat, I could understand your reluctance, especially as it is one a day after Halloween.

I was alone.

Dressed very demurely.

And I simply wanted to lay some flowers on my Nanny’s grave.

The way was shut.

So thank you, Mister Cemetery Man, for making an impossible day so much harder. If you dislike dealing with grieving family members intent upon seeing their loved ones, I would question the wisdom of choosing to take a job as groundskeeper at a cemetery and, further still, living within its boundaries.

I shall be back, and you can rest assured that should I see you we will be having words.

You won’t like them.

Sincerely,

One Pissed Off Goth

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition: A Guest Post From Nutrition Therapist Rebecca Boulton

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition - Bear with Salmon

Good nutrition affects not just your physical health but your emotional and mental well-being as well. Nutritional imbalances can contribute to a diagnosis of Bipolar and the condition and symptoms of it can be made much worse by consuming the wrong types of foods. Food cravings can also be worse in people that suffer with this condition as the stress can cause a build-up of the hormone cortisol. High levels cause our cravings to increase as your appetite for sweet things intensifies. Bipolar is also affected by the neurotransmitters in our brain, dopamine and serotonin.

Dopamine

Our pleasure neurotransmitter is secreted by the brain’s reward centre, if reward is perceived. For example, if you eat something sweet or satisfying, your brain will release dopamine which makes you feel pleasure.

Research shows that the brain circuits involved with reward are much stronger in people with Bipolar. You are also more likely to go for short-term rewards found in sugary, salty and processed foods and struggle with addictive eating behaviours that are not good for your physical or mental well-being.

Serotonin

Serotonin plays an important part in mood regulation, and medications affecting serotonin in the brain are used to treat people suffering from depressive illness and depressive phases of bipolar disorder.

Your body produces serotonin from certain amino acids to help you feel relaxed (which is why it’s known as the ‘happy hormone’). If you are deficient in these amino acids you don’t produce enough serotonin and may experience strong carbohydrate cravings. 90% of your serotonin is produced in the gut so poor gut health also contributes to low levels of serotonin.

So, what can you do nutritionally to help manage the condition and control your weight, mood and cravings?

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition - Blood Sugars

Keep Your Blood Sugars Balanced

Going too long between meals, eating the wrong types of foods, and not enough fibre, protein, and fats, can all lead to blood sugar imbalances. Low blood sugars cause your body to crave something sweet to boost your insulin levels. This can affect your mood and energy levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels consistent can help you feel more mentally and emotionally balanced. Here’s how you can help to keep them stable:

  • Eating regular meals – every 4 hours
  • Reducing carbohydrates (especially wheat and gluten)
  • Having protein with every meal and snack, to slow down the release of insulin
  • Eating plenty of healthy fats, which are essential for hormone balance and stabilise moods
  • Eating plenty of fibre, for a healthy digestive system, and to help slow down the release of insulin, which shoots blood sugar levels up

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition - Omega 3, Salmon

Increase Your Intake of Omega-3

Eating food sources of omega-3 has been shown to reduce incidences of depression. Research has shown that bipolar disorder is the number one illness most associated with lack of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Good sources include oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel), walnuts and flaxseeds.

pumpkins-186479_1920

Swap Refined Carbs for Wholegrain Versions

Carb cravings are commonplace with Bipolar, so ditch the refined carbs and focus on good sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, oats and root vegetables, which will keep insulin and energy levels consistent.

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition - Nuts

Reduce Nutrient Deficiencies by Consuming a Wide Variety of these Vitamins and Minerals:

  • Magnesium – It is thought that people with Bipolar disorder may have a deficiency of magnesium in their blood. It has a very similar chemical make-up to lithium, which is the drug most commonly used as a mood stabiliser. Poor sleep patterns are also common in Bipolar sufferers, and magnesium helps to promote good sleep patterns. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.
  • Folic Acid (B6) – One of the family of B vitamins, B6 plays an important role in the production of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Good sources include avocado, banana, beans, meats, poultry and nuts.
  • Vitamin D – Essential for cognitive function and brain development, a deficiency of Vitamin D can cause cognitive impairment. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, the best source of vitamin D is via the skin from direct sunlight (experts recommend at least 15 mins a day in the sunshine). Foods sources include eggs and oily fish such as salmon and fresh tuna.
  • Tryptophan – Foods rich in this amino acid, such as turkey and fermented soy, can help to boost levels of serotonin.

Bipolar Disorder and Nutrition - Alcohol

Avoid Stimulants That Can Send You on an Emotional Rollercoaster:

  • Caffeine – Can trigger mood swings, mania, and anxiety in Bipolar, and should be avoided. Try a good quality organic decaff, naturally caffeine-free rooibos tea, and fruit or herb teas as an alternative.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol can affect Bipolar mood swings and also interact negatively with medications. Their sensitivity to dopamine also means Bipolar patients are more likely to become addicted to alcohol and other substances.
  • Sugar – The highs and lows caused by excess sugar intake could add to Bipolar mood swings, particularly mania, and therefore should be avoided. Try natural sweeteners such as honey, fruit, and dates.

Rebecca BoultonRebecca Boulton is a Nutritional Therapist who helps busy women take control of their bodies and emotions through simple diet and lifestyle changes.

Website: http://simpleandcleannutrition.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simpleandcleannutrition

Instagram: https://instagram.com/simpleandcleannutrition/

Writing Therapy and the Power of Emblematic Exorcism

Writing is my therapy

When I was diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder I in 2010 I was relieved. I’d been very ill for almost fifteen years. Finally having an answer seemed like a gift from the gods. Yet my relief was short-lived. I rapidly discovered how scare information concerning the management of my condition was. Mental illness is a very personal affair. Clinical accounts were just that, clinical, while personal accounts were again, just that, personal, to those who wrote them. Both forms of information were of limited use to me.

At some stage I stopped researching and I began to write.

It’s the best thing I could possibly have done.

I picked up a pen in a last-ditch attempt to comprehend what was happening to me. I sought a path to recovery, or at the very least a way to ease my symptoms.

It worked remarkably well—far better than I’d expected.

Writing was a means of pouring out my feelings, fears, and frustrations, and leaving them on the page where they could no longer hurt me. I soon discovered it wasn’t just me who found writing so cathartic – writing therapy has been clinically proven to relieve the symptoms of many psychological conditions, in much the same way as art or music therapy. I delved deeper.

I needed something that could bring me back from the brink, calm me down when I was in the throes of a panic attack, or soothe me to sleep when I was manic and had been awake without eating for nine days straight.

Writing was (and is!) the answer I had been so desperately seeking.

As it became habitual to write what I felt every day I developed a written record of how I felt in all my mood states. This was invaluable, as it gave me what I had previous lacked—insight into my manic states, which I seldom recall.

Over time I began to use the power of writing to not only record how I felt, but actually change how I was feeling.

I channelled my feelings, through creative writing, into particular characters and stories. This not only gave me a creative outlet I desperately needed (especially during my high moods) but also gave me something to focus on other than my illness. It gave me a sense of purpose to sit down each day and write a page, a chapter, or on some occasions many, many chapters. I took my issues and gave them to my characters. I then took those characters and found a way for them to do what I found so impossible: solve the problem.

I’ve come to call this process Emblematic Exorcism.

My debut novel, Chasing Azrael, was published in 2014. Writing it was the first time I used Emblematic Exorcism. At the time I wrote it I was suicidal, severely depressed, and struggling to come to terms with my diagnosis. I didn’t understand it or what it meant for me and the rest of my life, which made it even harder to want my life to continue.

I was a cold, distant, terrified ball of anxiety, prone to bouts of rage and uncontrollable fury.

Chasing Azrael by Hazel Butler Writing is my therapy
This bled out onto the pages as I wrote. The characters in Chasing Azrael became personifications of every aspect of my struggles. They twisted up and turned themselves into something resembling a story and I, over time and many edits, transformed them into a book. Perhaps the most important facet of this process was the protagonist, Andee, who is—in literary parlance—a dynamic character. That is to say, there is something fundamentally different about her character by the end of the novel.

Her characters develops (for the better).

Through writing Andee’s story I was able to take the issues I was having and resolve them.

In saving her, I saved myself.

I’ve not attempted suicide in four years—that’s the longest suicide-attempt-free run I’ve had since I was thirteen (I just turned thirty).

It may sound like an odd thing, but it’s surprisingly powerful, so much so that I’ve worked on the process of Emblematic Exorcism a lot more since. I’ve written many stories, and most of them involve something personal to me in some way. Currently I am working on the second book in my Deathly Insanity series, Death Becomes Me, which is even more of an Emblematic Exorcism than Chasing Azrael.

Chasing Azrael was written—in the first instance—without me really thinking about it, the first draft taking less than three months to complete. Death Becomes Me has been a very different experience, perhaps because I’m consciously forcing my characters to deal with some issues from my past that are particularly traumatic.

I’ve cried my way through many chapters.

But I’ve felt better for it afterwards.

Quill and Ink Emblematic ExorcismWhen it comes to treatment and therapy there are no short cuts. There are no quick fixes. There are no easy ways to treat bipolar disorder (or any other mental illness for that matter). Writing therapy offers a powerful alternative treatment. It not only provides the necessary cathartic and psychological release, it can also be extremely fun and very productive!

Pick up a pen.

You’ll never want to put it down again.

We’re All Mad Here

We're All Mad Here Alice in Wonderland

One of my favourite books has always been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by C.S. Lewis. As a child it captured my imagination. As an adult I am no less enthralled. It is one of those stories that seeps into your subconscious and continues to entertain and delight no matter how old you become.

We're All Mad HereMy favourite character without a doubt has always been the Cheshire Cat. This may in large part be due to the fact I’m a Cheshire girl and prone to my own brand of mischief. Certainly there are many other characters in the book I love – the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, and of course, the Mad Hatter – but it was always the Cheshire Cat who was my favourite.

Perhaps the most famous quote from the book is a comment made by the Cheshire Cat:, ‘We’re all mad here.’ There is a whole conversation surrounding this quote, but by and large it is these four short words alone that people recall. The conversation goes as follows:

We're All Mad HereAlice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.

The Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

Alice: How do you know I’m mad?

The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn’t have come here.

Alice: And how do you know that you’re mad?

The Cat: To begin with, a dog’s not mad. You grant that?

Alice: I suppose so.

The Cat: Well, then, you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.

We're All Mad HereWhile there isn’t space here to weigh the merits of the Cheshire Cat’s argument, there is one point upon which everyone agrees – the inhabitants of Wonderland are indeed decidedly mad. Between the drug addled Caterpillar, the various characters in the caucus race, the March Hare, Door Mouse, the Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and of course the Cheshire Cat himself, the cast could hardly be more varied, charismatic and, to put it bluntly, crazy. Even Bill the Lizard and the White Rabbit are a few aces short of a deck.

Despite this it is Alice, the relatively normal little girl who comes into their world and finds them all so strange and unfathomable, who is the odd one out. By ‘real world’ standards, Alice is sane, yet in Wonderland she is presumed by the Cheshire Cat to be mad at first, simply for being there.

We're All Mad HereThis has often caused me to wonder whether, in the world of Wonderland, it isn’t in fact Alice who is mad, while the rest of the world is perfectly sane.

Sanity is a relative concept. We define insanity, disability, madness, even mental illness, by looking at how the majority function, calling that ‘normalcy’ and writing off anything that does not conform to the established ‘norm’ as abnormal. Madness is a characteristic of those individuals who act in a manner contrary to the majority. If the majority of civilisation finds an action, a thought, a response, abnormal, the person responsible may be deemed mad. If there is a physical appearance or capability which is not in keeping with the majority, it may be defined as a disability. Mental illness is no different – those who are bipolar or schizophrenic, OCD or agoraphobic, suffer from eating disorders or anxiety disorders, or antisocial, have borderline, histrionic, or narcissistic personality disorders, are really only groups of people who think differently to the established norm in one way or another, and as a result may act, speak, or live differently.

We're All Mad HereIf we turned the world on its head, if the assertion, “We’re all made here” were true, and found that the majority of the population of the planet were bipolar, people with bipolar disorder would no longer have a mental health illness; anyone who was not bipolar would have a mental health illness, because the majority, the norm, would be for people to think and act and live as we do. Granted it would take a massive majority for this to be the case, but the point remains the same.

The guests at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party are all quite mad, in Alice’s opinion, yet they are all aware of what is going on and understand their world – it is Alice who is lost.

We're All Mad HereSince joining the online bipolar community I’ve met many people with a variety of mental health issues. As I am myself bipolar the majority of these people are bipolar. It interests me to note that in these little communities, we understand each other far better than non-bipolar individuals generally manage to understand us. We relate to each other. Moreover, we abhor those who don’t understand us, or perhaps rather those who refuse to try and understand us.

We're All Mad HereMy family has never understood me. They try, and since my diagnosis I think they have found it easier, especially as I have been actively trying to help them in that understanding, but still they do not understand. I love them for that – for the fact that they try – yet I know people whose parents have disowned them for being bipolar.

I struggle to envisage a mother who would not try to understand her own child, even if that child had a mental health illness, yet there are people who are simply incapable of accepting the reality of a diagnosis. There are people who accept the diagnosis but do nothing about it – they write a person off as mad and tell themselves there is nothing they can do about it. Like Alice, they don’t want to go among mad people.

To us, however – and by ‘us’ I mean those who actually are mentally ill – it is the actions of those people which are incomprehensible, perhaps in some cases even inhuman. We wonder how they can be so cruel or thoughtless, so ignorant or lazy. We wonder if it is simply a case that they don’t understand enough to know better, or if there is malice behind their responses. In a community where everyone is bipolar, the non-bipolar individual stands out like the proverbial thumb. Despite this, we are welcoming – we try to help those who have friends or family members with bipolar better understand the disorder so they can better understand the person they love. We try to give them practical advice, as well as emotional support. We do not, as a general rule, ostracize people because they are NOT bipolar.

The only exception to this is when people are offensive, and these people we tend to pity for their ignorance. The irony of this is not lost upon me. Surely it should be us, the ‘mentally ill’ who are pitied, but I find it difficult to pity people simply because they think differently. I empathise with the fact that mental health issues can be so difficult to deal with, so painful, so hurtful, so destructive, but I do not pity those who are mentally ill. I pity those who go through life thinking the best reaction to mental illness is to pretend it doesn’t exist, shun those who have mental health issues, or even punish those who are mentally ill through verbal, emotional and even physical abuse.

We're All Mad HereIn wonderland, Alice is the odd one out. The world is mad, yet it is a functional madness, a shared madness; it is a way of thinking and acting that is simply not lateral and consequently incomprehensible to poor Alice. She doesn’t understand how the various potions and tablets and mushrooms work, so she misuses them and finds herself made monstrous.

The Caterpillar may be drug addled, but he asks a very shrewd question: Who Are You?

We're All Mad HereThe inhabitants of Wonderland might be mad, but at least they are content in their madness. They know who they are, and they’re perfectly happy in their own way. It is Alice, the ‘normal’ girl in a ‘mad’ world who is unhappy with Wonderland and upset by events and circumstances. She does not even see the majority of the wonder in Wonderland, because she is too caught up branding the denizens mad and trying to get away from them. More so, however, she is unhappy with the ‘real’ world, which is what causes her to enter Wonderland in the first place. Once she leaves, she finds herself far happier, both with who she is and what her life is like. She even finds herself thinking of telling others about the wonderful land she visited and the beautiful madness of its inhabitants.

We're All Mad HereEven madness has a place it can call home, a place where it isn’t even insane, but rather a different norm.

How lucky for us that our home is a place of such beautiful wonder. We should stop and smell the roses more often – even if they are painted red.

The Sandman Cometh: Sleep and Depression

Sleep and Depression

Those who have suffered from depression – and by this I mean any form of depression not only bipolar disorder – will likely know that changes sleep patterns are often a symptom. I have always seen the excessive amounts of time I spend sleeping while depressed, as one of the signs that I am depressed and indeed I still think that is true. On the flip side, I greatly value those times when I do not appear to need a great deal of sleep, yet I’m highly functional. As a consequence, sleep has became a bad thing, at least to my mind. If I fall asleep before 11pm I panic, thinking it means a depressive episode is imminent. Likewise if I wake up after 10am I am convinced I am on the slippery slope downwards.

A while ago I was beavering away on a new novel. This was before Chasing Azrael (or anything else bar archaeology papers) was published, when I was still quite ill and prone to bouts of serious catastrophizing followed by bad depression.

Mania and ProductivityThis novel came to me in a sudden flash one Friday, fully formed in my head. With the exception of going to Group on the Monday morning I’ve been able to do nothing since then other than work on this new novel. I haven’t slept, I’ve barely eaten, and at one point when I felt myself going literally giddy while talking to a friend about it, I commented that I might be slightly high. I didn’t care though, because I was being productive. Productivity is something I desperately need in my life, or I feel overwhelmed, useless, and become convinced my entire life will be a pointless waste of time punctuated by periods of loneliness and despair.

It is fortunate that when in the throes of my better moods I become super-productive, otherwise I would never get anything done and the misery would become endless.

So there I was, quite happy, until one instant, one tiny instant, when the thought slipped into my head that I might never publish a thing.

Perhaps my writing is terrible.

Even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean it’s worth publishing.

Even if it is, that doesn’t mean it will be published.

Even if it were, that wouldn’t mean I’d earn a living from it.

What was I doing?

I was wasting all this time, there was no point to it, I should have been working on my thesis, or a paper at least, something that would be useful to my actual career.

But who was I kidding? Even if I finish my thesis and get my PhD, even if I write paper after paper, that won’t give me a job, or earn me a living, there are no jobs, and even if there were I’m not capable of doing them…

On and on the thought ran.

In the space of two seconds I went from elatedly typing away, to staring absently out the window without moving a muscle. I sat like that for some time, before I realised what I was doing. I got up to put on a DVD, something to distract me from these thoughts, but as soon as I moved, the anxiety started to build.

I realised I had nothing to watch that I’d not already seen at least once, and of all the ones I had already watched, I couldn’t think which one would be distracting enough.

I spent a considerably longer time crouched in front of the DVD player staring at nothing, before concluding that my whole life was meaningless and I was going to die alone, penniless, and unsuccessful, having spent my entire life feeling like this.

Sleep and Depression

At that point (which was around 7pm) I decided to go to bed. I was too tired, I could barely keep my eyes open, and really what was the point of staying awake anyway? Due to my ‘no sleep before 11pm’ rule, I forced myself to stay awake another half hour or so, and then gave up, took my tablets, and went to bed, convinced this marked the beginning of another long period of HELL.

I had only just climbed out of the last one.

I slept through to about 9am, and guess what?

I woke up perfectly fine.

This makes me wonder if perhaps the reason for so much sleep during depressive periods is that, as the old adage goes, it is ‘the best healer’. Much as we find ourselves sleeping endlessly when we are physically ill with an infection or something similar, perhaps the body reacts in the same way to changes in the brain chemistry that cause depression: the body fights it off as it would fight off an infection, and while it’s doing so, we sleep – because we literally don’t have the energy for anything else.

Sleep and Depression

One of the things we hit on in Group therapy that very same week was that periods of physical illness, especially infection, can often be followed by periods of mania. I’m sure this is not true for all those with bipolar, especially as not all suffer manic periods, however it is certainly true for me. The two worst and most prolonged periods of mania I have ever suffered came immediately after I had severe infections, and had to be placed on multiple courses of antibiotics. Not being a chemist, I have no idea how antibiotics affect brain chemistry, or even if they could affect brain chemistry, but I think the point is not so much the drugs, as the body’s reaction to the infection. When we’re suffering from such an infection, we sleep a great deal as the body rights whatever is wrong. When we are depressed, it would also seem we sleep a great deal while the body rights whatever is wrong.

Several years ago, after a suicide attempt, I found myself talking to a hospital shrink. I do not have pleasant recollections about this man, beyond the fact that he was quite attractive and this annoyed me – we were well before the days of Grey’s Anatomy, and I did not yet realise that all doctors should be stunning. He told me several things: don’t fall asleep before 10pm; don’t stay in bed until after 10am; make sure you leave the house at least once a day; and oh yes, I never want to see you again.

Perhaps it was his derisive attitude, but the advice on sleep stuck, and since then I have always tried to be awake as much as possible, even when at my absolute worst, because I was convinced that sleeping would make me worse and activity would make me better.

I have since reassessed this conclusion and deduced that – at certain times – the reverse is actually the case. There is a danger, when you have been depressed and needed sleep for a very long time, to continue to sleep a lot and do very little after the point you’ve come out of the depression. This is what I refer to as wallowing, and I have no truck with it.

It’s a waste of the precious days when you don’t feel like crap.

Sleep and DepressionI’m not talking about that now though. Now I’m talking about those times when you feel perfectly fine, until suddenly you’re utterly overcome by exhaustion. You think you should force yourself to stay awake, and you do, pushing yourself further and further into exhaustion and lowering your mood further and further until you slip once more into depression.

I wonder, if you had just fallen asleep when your body told you to, and slept it off, might you have avoided that particular period of depression? Might you have, at the very least, lessened it?

Don’t fight the Sand Man; he is your friend.

#31: Dye My Hair Blonde

Dye My Hair Blonde

Fairly high on my list of 100 Things To Do In 2015 is ‘Dye My Hair Blonde’.

As mentioned previously, I’ve now done this (yay!) but since I mentioned it in passing I wanted to devote a full post to this, as it is very important to me. It may seem trivial, or even vain, but there are very good reasons this is so important to me.

Why I Had To Dye My Hair Blonde

I first started to dye my hair blonde when I was about thirteen. Unlike most things I was doing at that age which were all aimed at changing my body and appearance, this was aimed at maintaining my appearance – I was blonde when I was younger, and my hair going darker and turning brown did not feel right. Looking in the mirror, I remember feeling much as I do at the moment – that a stranger was looking back.

Brown just wasn’t me.

Dye My Hair Blonde

‘Me’ Is this bright young thing, with her lovely long, blonde, straight hair. I believe this photo was actually taken before I had developed any issues with my body, and you can tell by the look on my face. Catch me a couple of years later and it’s a totally different story. This image is of someone who has no compunctions about being in front of a camera. Stick me in front of a camera later in life, and there’s always something lingering in my eyes, even if my lips are smiling.

Blonde is me.

A version of me who loves herself.

At one point in my life this became a problem – I loved myself a little too much. This is why the blonde was dyed dark. That, however, is long behind me now.

Now I’m in a place in which I’m attempting to learn to love myself. I’m attempting to get to a point where I feel comfortable in my own skin. I’m attempting o feel like ‘me’ again.

For this reason, I had to dye my hair blonde again. I was simply too much of a stranger with hair any other colour. It’s still not quite the right colour – it’s kind of a honey blonde now, rather than the ash blonde I’m used to, but it will get there. And I’ll be glad when it does.

I’ll be relieved.

Just as I am relieved whenever I succeed in shedding a few pounds, I’m relieved at this small step back towards my usual hair. It feels like positive progress at last.

(My) Confidence is Skin Deep

The picture below was taken this morning, just before I left for my interview. I was feeling reasonably confident, especially with my hair looking nice (I had it done at the hair dressers yesterday). A very good friend of mine read my Doppelganger post and requested a photo of my newly blonde hair. I actually took this photo for her, but I decided to post it on here for several reasons.

First, it seemed silly not to have a visual record of my hair’s progress back to its normal state.

Second, other people have asked for a photo.

Third, I wanted to demonstrate that weight gain is not the only distressing and very visible side effect to my medication. This image was taken on my webcam, in front of a brightly lit window, with full makeup, and as you can see, my skin is still visibly bad.

I’ve had terrible trouble with my skin since going on meds, and this is yet one more thing that knocks my confidence and threatens to keep me isolated and alone. It is also one more reason I am so determined to make my new bipolar diet work. Not only will the diet, exercise, and treatment plan mean coming off the meds, but eating so healthily should (I hope!) do wonders for my skin.

We shall see! I’ll keep you posted with progress shots (this is how much I love you – I HATE having my photo taken at the moment!).

Dye My Hair Blonde