“Sharing Stories” – A battle of postnatal depression, by Emma Burns.

“I have suffered with my mental health since I was young, and diagnosed at the age of 12. My mum had been a heavy drinker since I was 3 and I’d been in and out of foster care on several occurrences by the time I’d actually been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In the years before this, at primary school, I had just been called “soft” and picked on because I cried all the time or overreacted to the smallest of things and then just I’d sit there in silence just thinking.

Fast forward to when I was diagnosed. I was in year 7 at high school and not living at home with my mum because yet again she had fallen off the wagon and become physically abusive towards me. I was given counselling again from a child counsellor I had seen a few years earlier. She was great, I could let of steam, scream and shout all while being allowed to be the child I hadn’t ever been. By the time I was 14 I had been back home and back in care several times, again my mum was physically abusive towards me on several occasions. I felt like a yo-yo, back and forth, up and down. In school I was a loner, I didn’t have many friends; there was a few that were aware of things and supported me, an in addition of having a mentor. I was the one that people made jokes about; I was different, I didn’t live at home with my mum, other people didn’t really understand my situation and they’d make fun out of the fact that my mum was an alcoholic. I felt isolated, like no one liked me or wanted me around. I began to feel nervous about being around people, although generally I appeared to be this bubbly person who was always happy (I was good at putting on a mask) – no one saw how things had actually affected me over the years, they didn’t understand either as most of them couldn’t relate, only those really close to me knew what was going on. I continued through school bobbing in and out of depressive and anxious bouts, controlling it fairly well from 15 when I had a stable foster placement where I was treated well.

When I was 16 I fell pregnant, I wasn’t with the dad… ‘Oh s**t, what am I going to do?’ I thought about all my options and after a few days of knowing I was pregnant I was madly in love with this little blob inside me, I moved back home to my mum and everything was great throughout my pregnancy, my mum had stopped drinking and was being supportive and we were getting on great. My little girl was born in autumn 2007. I was 17 years old, I had this tiny being in front of me needing me, completely relying on me ‘I can and will do this she needs me’… I wanted to be the best mum I could and prove everyone wrong about ‘teenage mums’; I breastfed her so I knew she was getting the best I could give her, all her things were new, she was always immaculate, I wanted to be the best that I could… After 3 weeks of horrific pain and a baby stuck to me permanently I gave up breastfeeding, I’ve never felt so bad in my life and that is where it all began again.

I felt bad, I felt guilty, like I had let her down… I hadn’t – I had done my best – but it didn’t feel like that at the time. I went to see my doctor straight away this time as I didn’t want anything to effect the way I looked after my little girl, I was prescribed fluoxetine, an anti-depressant. Diagnosed with postnatal depression and pretty much just sent on my way, I was taking the medication for a few weeks and I felt worse, they actually made me feel like I wanted to do myself harm, and after another two weeks I came off them because the side effects were horrendous and made me feel worse physically and mentally. After a few months of battling by myself, using the strategies I had learnt through the years; once again I was ‘okay’. I continued to be okay for a good while afterwards too, and when my little girl was about 10 months I met someone; we had known each other a while, he was older than me and my mum disagreed… He made me feel special, I felt lovable for the first time in my life and I felt like everything I had been through was worth it for this. I finally felt accepted and it was amazing.

Shortly after getting together, to everyone’s surprise and a few people’s horror we moved in together and quite soon after that I fell pregnant again. We were on cloud 9… Unfortunately after 3 weeks of knowing I was pregnant I had a miscarriage (I was bitten by a stray cat which caused septicaemia and led to a miscarriage). We were heartbroken and again it made me feel bad as it was my job to protect this little life and I had failed to do that, I know it wasn’t really my fault but at the time I felt like it was. After the miscarriage we moved in with my partners parents to save up for a bigger house and a few months later I found out I was pregnant again. This time we told very few people, just to save heartache having to tell people if anything had happened. It was a worrying 9 months but in spring 2010 I gave birth to my second daughter (my partners first). We were delighted and everything was perfect, again I breastfed but this time with the notion of stopping when I needed too with out feeling guilty about it because I had done the best I could do. Roughly 10 days after our daughter was born I received a phone call that would haunt me for years to come.

My Nan, my rock, the most inspirational woman I had ever had in in life had lung cancer and had been given a maximum of 6 weeks to live. Due to the severity of the cancer and her age there was nothing they could do for her. Five short weeks later, she passed away in hospital surrounded by all of us. The next few weeks and months would be the hardest I had ever faced in my life, in the first few days after her death I just cried. I have never actually felt as broken as I did right then and I had been in some pretty low places over the years. I had to try and pull myself together for sake of my partner and my girls – I couldn’t carry on like this, just basically functioning and doing what I HAD to do. About 6 months after my Nan passed away we moved house again, a fresh start, or so I thought. I fought with my Nan’s passing for a fair few years, but I never dealt with it I accepted it, I ran on autopilot, forgetting important things, leaving the housework and just generally not being myself; I ended up going to the GP because I needed help to deal with my grief. It had been 3 years, I didn’t want medication this time though but my doctor strongly advised it, I was prescribed citalopram and was referred for counselling which actually helped. I faced a lot of demons in those sessions, dealt with why I couldn’t let go and why her death had destroyed me like it had done. A lot of it boiled down to anger stemming from childhood, my Nan was always there for me.

After the counselling I felt great, I weaned myself off my medication with my doctors guidance, I even went back to college to get some qualifications. Once I left college I applied for every care job in my area and within a few months I got an interview, a week later I got the job. I loved it, I’d always wanted to work in the healthcare sector and the aim was to start at the bottom and work my way up. I’d been there almost a year when I again fell pregnant, we were over the moon as we’d been trying trying for quite a while. During the early weeks of pregnancy, work was fine, but due to the complex needs of the people I was caring for and the fact we were extremely short staffed that soon changed. I began getting agitated and upset in the mornings before I went to work and I would dread every shift, yet I loved what I did, by the time I was 15 weeks pregnant I had thought about handing my notice in for the sake of my mental health several times; I was taking my work home with me, which is never good in my line of work.

I worked until I was 19 weeks pregnant when I finally bit the bullet and handed my notice in. I thought it was for the best but in hindsight it wasn’t, although it was stressful it gave me a distraction from my own mind. For 12 hours I was this big ball of fun, the joker, I got on with my colleagues and had fun whilst working. Ironic really considering what was really going on in my head! The rest of my pregnancy went well and I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I have ever laid eyes on. From the minute he was born, I worried. I wasn’t depressed, just anxious. Like the girls, I breastfed him and to my absolute amazement, I managed just over 6 months, I ate well, I slept so well (our son slept through from day one) and I was generally happy. When I stopped feeding him myself, I expected to feel guilty like I had done before this time I didn’t, I was fine, it was amazing! I finally felt like life was going my way…

Shortly after this my mum was on one of her usual drinking binges and was unhappy because I wouldn’t let her see the children; we’d had an on-off relationship for the previous 8 years due to her inappropriate behaviour and drinking which led to me me stopping her from having contact with them. She did the unthinkable and tried to have my children taken off me, luckily everyone saw through her lies and the children are still where they should be, at home with mummy and daddy… This again raised that horrible darkness that I hated so much! It made me question myself, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ How can someone that is supposed to love me do this?’ 

Now almost 7 months later I’ve been lower than I’ve ever been in my life, until recently when I realised I can’t keep myself down there, I don’t want treating with medication so I have to make myself feel good! I have done it before…  I need to be proud of myself and what I have been through! I need to realise that I have everything in the world to be happy about and that is my little family.

I will get there eventually, I have support from good friends and family. In a way I’m glad of the life I’ve had, and made me who I am and I will find that person again. For now I will keep going; Life is precious.”

– By Emma Burns.

 

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

When mental illness gets the best of you, we remind ourselves of who we are.

 

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The solid floor, cold against my tear stained cheek was my body’s point of reference to centre myself. I open my eyes and allow them to explore the tiny flecks of iridescent colours shimmering upon it’s textured surface. I feel my chest beginning to expand again and finally I can breathe. I pull myself up, slowly, and grab a towel to dab the wet under my eyes, carefully cleaning the mascara and making myself look presentable. Then I take one last deep breath and go back in.

I enter, and go back to the task I had abandoned. I try and concentrate – I’m merely transcribing from one place to the other, but I can feel the exhaustion pulling me under from my brain working on overdrive. I’m so tired.

It’s a funny thing mental health. Our tiredness is not the same as the socially accepted common occurrence that every single person goes through on a daily basis. Our tiredness, is the exhaustion that makes every cell in our body scream defeat. It’s being overwhelmed by taking in the colours and the sights and the sounds and the smells of our environment. It’s not being able to reply to a text message and socialise. It’s spending days fabreezing our dirty clothes in the wonderment of how many days we can go trying and failing to convince ourselves to take a shower. When we say we are tired. We don’t mean we are tired. It means we cannot go on.

It takes 20 minutes of the most simple task, and I can feel my mind ebbing away again. The million thoughts stumbling in to each other, getting tangled in their meaning and producing one generic output of of white noise. I stutter, and I can feel the heated aggressive energy buzzing in my chest again, clutching its burning hands around my heart and slowly squeezing the life out of me.

Breathe. You have got this.

I close my eyes and take a breath in, my lungs struggling to take in the heavy air. I’m suffocating. My breathing accelerates, my chest getting tighter and tighter.  I’m trying my best to regulate it, but I’m too exhausted. I calmly get up out of my chair and go back to the bathroom. I have to let it pass. It will be over soon. You have got this.

Locking the door behind me, checking it again just in case I am disturbed, I rest my back against the door and let my knees give way, sliding down to the ground. I feel it speeding up now, short whimpering bursts of inhalation, my lungs desperate for oxygen, I am choking. I cover my mouth with my sleeve and give way to it, trying to breathe hard through the fabric in an attempt to achieve some sort of regulation. You have got this.

I have come a long way in my approach towards my panic attacks. There came a time, many moons ago in the abyss of the lost soul, when I didn’t know that I had mental health issues and I punished myself for being different than everyone else. My attacks were more frequent then, and often lead to incomprehensible bouts of rage towards myself – screaming fits, self-harm and any other form of punishment I could find which ultimately made them worse. Today, I felt myself taking a more gentle approach – I allowed my body to release whatever nasty energy it needed to release, soothing myself whilst the waves came. It took some years to befriend myself, and that came with recovery. These days I still to have urges to self harm, once an addict always an addict, but as I ponder through this current panic I find myself thinking ‘Why don’t I?’, and I hear my inner voice in return saying ‘Because you have no desire to punish yourself. Not any more.

This thought was a huge revelation.

My breathing starts to slow and steady after a minute or so. I lower my dizzy self to the floor and feel the cold on my cheek again. I wrap my arms around myself an remind myself that it is okay. I have myself, and I am comforted by the thought. Then when I am ready, I pick myself up off the bathroom floor and return to my desk at work.

I struggle through 5 more panic attacks before I admit defeat and email my manager to tell her I am sorry, but I just can’t be here. I pick up my stuff and run out. The aftermath of that I know I will have to face up to later, but not right now.

Life has been a struggle. My partner left in January, and I have been getting used to life on my own. The guy who I shared my home with, the person who I called the ‘Love of my Life’ is now nothing but an empty space in bed. These days, I drift off to a dreamless sleep besides a ghost of a future that I can no longer hold in the palm of my hand. That road has been closed off. I have to find a new path to walk down now.

The debt letters from what he left us in frequently greet me when I get home late at night from a long exhausting day at work. Another reminder on snooze, that won’t make me forget how much devastation this person who I thought cared about me once upon a time left me in. The 5p’s I now have to regularly scrape up so I can feed myself at night, bills being more of a priority than ever. There is bitterness and anger embedded in me now. This is not me. Hardship changes you as a person, but I have to keep telling myself now to let it change me for the worst. Let it go.

I let it go for a few hours, and then it burns up in me all over again watching my Daughter sob in to my arms when she can’t understand why I won’t let her see him.

Work is heavy at the moment, and sometimes too much for my bones to bare. The 5.30am alarms, the 3 hour car journeys to and fro. The intense workload that I’m fighting and fighting and fighting through. It’s no secret that over the past month I have had to indulge in a sneaky nap on my desk at my lunch break. The effect of my meds on my memory doesn’t help. I walked out of work last week wondering around the street looking for my car, that exhausted that I’d totally forgotten what my car actually looked like. It’s bloody BRIGHT RED for Christ’s sake. I had to flip through the images on my phone to remember what it looked like.

And to top it all off, I am now riding yet another bipolar wave. The increase in my medication has triggered an unwanted physiological response in me that I cannot contain. Anxiety screams in my face. I got home after my fateful escape from work to my empty home, and after a few tearful ponderings, I realised throughout it all how strong I actually am.

I still fighting to give 110% when my illness only provides me with enough to give 50%.

I am still building upon that relationship with myself, and that makes all the difference.

I am a mother to a beautiful striving girl, and I am still pushing for the both of us.

I am a warrior and I will keep pushing on.

I grab a glass of whiskey, and I smile through the tears. If I didn’t have the ability to laugh at my sorry arse through this, then I’d have no chance of getting through to the other side. I am a wolf, and I will getting running – it’s what I am built to do.

 

to be continued…

 

‘Sharing Stories’ – Depression will always be with me, by Keigh Ahr.

“Not all stories about mental illness are dramatic. Some, like mine, are rather mundane; no hospital visits, no incarcerations, no shattered lives. Yet even a simple cut on the skin, or a garden variety cold, can lead to more serious conditions if not treated properly. That’s how I choose to view my own struggle with depression – what should have remained a minor problem became, through years of neglect, a significant burden that threatened to harm myself and my family. And I suspect my story, due to its very lack of dramatic detail, is actually quite common.

During my teenage years, I began experiencing moments of acute sadness and anxiety. I knew these episodes were different from the ordinary feelings of unhappiness and stress I also felt, because my behavior at these times would be far different. I would stop talking unless it was unavoidable; lay in bed on weekends for hours, lights turned off, in nearly catatonic paralysis; have no appetite and difficulty sleeping, and the lack of food and rest only worsened my condition. Some of these episodes had a triggering event (bullying, a bad grade, not landing a role that should have been mine in a school play), but others would arise for no apparent reason, like an earthquake in my mind. These episodes would last a couple days, maybe three or four, and often came with a conviction that the feeling would never end. I was a fool for believing I could be happy – now I know the truth, that I’ll be miserable like this the rest of my life. And then suddenly, the mood would stop, rarely due to a triggering happy event. I would feel “normal” again, and marvel both at my past behavior and sudden recovery. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, and my lack of comprehension made me very afraid. I hid from that fear, hoping against all reason that the dark moods would never return.

Years passed, turning into decades. A lifetime of graduations, jobs, hobbies, lovers, friends and family. Times both good and bad, pleasure and pain, victories and defeats. But even in years when I was generally happy and relaxed, those episodes of acute sadness and anxiety never completely left. I’d feel an episode come on, and would be powerless to stop it. The same conviction would return: This time it’s for real – I’m never getting over this. My behavior during these bouts became more irrational. Have tickets to a ball game I was eagerly anticipating? An invitation to a good friend’s party? When I was depressed, I not only couldn’t make myself go, I relished the sensation of disappointing myself. And then, just as before, the feeling would vanish, and I couldn’t believe the decisions I had made. By my late twenties, it didn’t seem right to continue experiencing these bouts of mental anguish. I sought counselling, which always proved effective (by the third session I’d feel energized and empowered) yet temporary (a new attack would come within months after the last session). Still, I had become a functional, productive member of society, and resigned myself to accepting these periodic bouts as just part of what made me who I was, as permanent and unchangeable as the color of my eyes and skin.

I then met a wonderful, patient women. We married, and brought forth two delightful children. These were good times, but while the attacks may have been less frequent, they certainly did not diminish in intensity (I’m grateful to have never become physically violent during any of these episodes). And when I regained my composure, I could no longer ignore the impact of my episodic emotional violence.

The truth can hurt as it sets you free. When the person whose happiness is so important to you says that she’s tired of walking on eggshells around you, or that your children are afraid of you, and her words speak to a reality you’ve already seen in the eyes of your family… those are words you cannot ignore. You are forced to react. You can respond by finally embracing those feelings you’ve feared for so long, and let the consequences be damned, even if you turn into a monster.

Or,

You get fed up with thirty years of denial. You realize you’ve been sick for a very long time, and won’t be getting better until you get help. It was the only choice that made sense at the time.

I’ve been in counselling on a regular basis, and taking antidepressants for a decade now. I had been concerned about the medication making me feeling ‘unnatural’, artificially happy perhaps, but that hasn’t been the case; I still feel as much disappointment, frustration, and sorrow as before. And if I’m not careful, I can still succumb to those agonizing bouts of despair that plagued me so frequently in the past. What’s different now is that I can sense when those feelings are creeping into my psyche, and have the ability to keep them from taking hold. I’m not cured, and doubt I’ll ever stop treating this disease. But my wife loves our weekend getaways, my children enjoy going to superhero movies with me, and my hope is far more powerful than my fear. Life, yes, is good.

I began this story comparing my depression to a minor injury or disease, as a means of summarizing what has been, for the most part, a fairly uneventful experience. But that comparison trivializes the impact depression has had on my life, so at the conclusion I want to pivot towards a different medical metaphor. I don’t know many diabetics (and apologize to any of my readers should this coming analogy not be true to your experience), but depression seems to me a similar chronic condition. There is no cure, and ignoring the problem can be literally fatal, but with proper medication and attention you can live a normal life, however you choose to define that term. Depression will always be with me – I don’t like that, but like a diabetic, I can’t wish my condition away. But I no longer fear it.

Thank you for reading. May you enjoy health and happiness you deserve.”

 – By Keigh Ahr

You can find Keigh Arh’s blog here at The Diligent Dilettante.

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

‘Sharing Stories’ – Our Volatile Years After Bipolar Diagnosis; Raising a teenager with Bipolar, by Kat.

 

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“As I read and learn more and more about bipolar disorder, I realise that my daughter Jessie has been textbook. The volatile behaviour in children with bipolar is extreme and common. Physical violence and verbal abuse is not short lived as it is with ADHD. Whereas rages in ADHD children usually last 30-40 minutes, they can last for hours with bipolar kids.

Jessie was typical in that she experienced the rage and aggression, and rarely the euphoria or elation. Discipline was fought, and she couldn’t deal with disappointment at all. She would fly into violent rages, smashing my things. Foul language and screaming abuse at the top of her lungs became Jessie’s way of communicating. I used to wonder if she’d just become a spoilt brat. Her behaviour was so out of character, and so extreme. In fact, she was actually behaving as kids with bipolar do. And understandably so – kids don’t have the understanding or maturity to cope with emotions bigger than themselves. I was parenting the way I always had, but Jessie stood up to all discipline and raged at any disappointment. Life was incredibly tumultuous in our house, and at that time I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. Any parts of me left exposed were being squished between other rocks and hard places!

The abuse and destruction were what I found the hardest to cope with. I don’t stay in abusive relationships. But, you can’t leave your child. And she was no more than a child – she was just triggering things in me. Therefore I was hearing her as if I was listening to an adult. I had no control though and there’s nowhere to escape to to get away. Jessie would relentlessly follow me around the house, wherever I went – literally! She’s be in a rage, calling me every name under the sun, throwing things, smashing things and damaging my things. She was a baby the last time she saw her father, but I couldn’t get over their behavioural similarities and ways of thinking.

Being on a first name basis with many of our local police was just how it was for a couple of years. Jessie’s experiences were undoubtedly traumatic for a 10-11 year old. Calling 000 became a necessary safety measure for us both. It came to the point where I’d ask for an ambulance and the police would turn up. Every time. I only just realised why as I’m writing this – maybe only the police can section someone under the Mental Health Act, not paramedics? Police drove Jessie to hospital a couple of times, but due to self harm or talk of suicide, she usually travelled by ambulance. This could happen up to 3 times a week.

On two of those occasions she went against her will – carried out by police with wrists and ankles cuffed with the plastic tie-like cuffs they sometimes use. I’ll never forget it. At 11 she was carried out this way after being put down on the lounge with a knee pinning her head down until she settled enough to cuff her. Jessie was spitting at the officer, trying to bite her, fighting to free herself and swearing at and abusing the officer. The officer tried to get Jessie to settle, but she was out of control. She had got to that point where the brain flips and reason can no longer be seen. It was so distressing, I was in tears. And by the end so was Jessie.

Police applied for an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) for me against Jessie when she was just 11. She’d chased me with a big knife, but fortunately my bedroom door came between us. It still has 8-10 stab marks in it. Police would arrive to what looked like the aftermath of a cyclone! Jessie had destroyed so many of my things, and the unit was being damaged. With the strength that comes with such rage, Jessie was a danger to herself and to me. We had the Sergeant come a few times to say something had to change. Well no shit Sherlock, but an AVO wasn’t the answer! Thankfully the court agreed. Jessie needed help. Psychiatric care was what she needed, but her aggression and volatility along with her young age made her ineligible for any of the many programs we applied to.

It was such a horrible time, and there was no respite. Our caseworker, Stella, from The Benevolent Society was truly our saving grace. There were times when I said to her that I couldn’t do this anymore. I’d had enough, Jessie needed to go into care where she could have good parents. For so long I seemed to get more wrong than I did right with Jessie. Consequently my confidence in parenting plummeted. I didn’t know this young person. How to deal with her was something that actually felt impossible at times.

Stella would remain calm and talk to me. Not once did she accept my parenting resignation, neither did she ever actually refuse my request for a better home for Jessie. She didn’t need to. She listened, she heard me and acknowledged where I was at and why. During our conversation she would teach me about Jessie’s behaviour, and remind me that I’m a good mum. By the end she would ask me if I still wanted her to make some calls. Of course not! I always felt empowered and determined after these visits where my frame of mind was so defeatist at the start.

I completed the Circle of Security parenting course with Stella. Doing one on one I was able to do that one in a lot of depth, relating it to specific situations I encountered. It’s a BRILLIANT course that every expectant parent would benefit from. It gives parents the opportunity to learn what babies need emotionally to grow into confident, resilient, well balanced people. The principles apply to children of all ages though, and I found it invaluable. It is all about positive, calm engagement and recognising, understanding and attending to children’s emotional needs and behaviours. This is the parents’ manual we all wish we had!! It should be way more widely promoted! Another brilliant course is the Triple P Positive Parenting course for parents of teens. The principles are very similar as Circle of Security, but you learn about the teenage brain and what changes it is going through. Positive communication skills are also taught along with practical example responses.

It’s now been 3 years since I’ve needed to call 000 and home life is very different now. We have other challenges we are currently faced with, but the highly volatile days are in the past. These days Jessie apologises to me if speaks to me in an angry tone, or storms off slamming her bedroom door. She’ll then talk to me about what upset her and why. Our bond is strong and has proven to be enduring which I really love.”

 – By Kat. 

More of Kat’s stories can be found at her blog FamilyFurore, where she shares her personal experiences with raising her teenage daughter who has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.

 

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

Tonight, I swam.

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Tonight I stepped out, placed my toes in the sea
Felt the waves on my skin, how cold they might be
Looked out past the shore, past the river than ran
Tonight I went swimming, the night that I swam.

I plunged in the deep, to the dark and the blue
And swam in the water, the ocean anew
No light was I leading, for only the sky
Was lit up with stars, the only light by
The waters I swam through, no current aflow
Could have swept me up with no direction to go

But tonight I went swimming, this night that I swam
I swam through the rivers, I swam through the damn
I swam through the mountains, I swam through the sky
For even the songbirds, the birds I swam by!

Still the waters so deep, could not swallow me whole
I swam all my might no direction to go
Until all my shackles, my shackles were free
Tonight I went swimming, I did it for me

Clouds.

clouds

It is January 2017, and the new year has delivered a depression.

I woke up one morning, and my life was full of clouds. Have you ever felt the air around you grow dense, so much that it’s notibly weighty when you breath it in, almost like you was inhaling a thick glug of syrup, the feeling you get when trying to suck a milkshake through a straw? Every breath I felt today, felt just like that. My heart was bursting with it.

I looked around at my life and everything in it was covered with a sheet of that heavy air. I had my face pressed up to the tinted glass of the window, the sky and the roads and the people passing by stained by a dull grey hue, and me here trapped inside a box at a distance with the outside world doing nothing but re-filling my lungs with the same poison I was exhaling out.

It makes me wonder if it is me who is doing this to myself, or this is an actual result of some inexplicable force, something great and mighty way beyond my control and beyond any depths of understanding. We look to the skies and to the universe and we try; we try and put some logic on it all by applying the physics of what we have found, a solid mathematical calculation of why the earth rotates; why there is life here, how vast space is, the stretch and the folds of time. We are curious creatures but we have those needs, the need to apply logic to absolutely everything, the need for unshakable evidence and truth, but do not and cannot fully understand the universe and it’s infinite space, no? Maybe there is no logic behind it, there are no terms or rules we can apply to it. Have we ever thought that maybe it is just something that is not made to be understood, that in the end, that the term ‘understanding’ is purely a human creation, and that understanding for some thing which simply does not exist?

The feeling I wake up with, and which walks beside me in my life is exactly this. Maybe there is no reasoning and this is why I struggle with it so much, because we are all creatures who were made to seek out meaning.

I fear the clouds. It forces me to question everything about their presence and mine. How can I possibly be so frightened of something that I cannot physically hold in my hand? My head is straight, I know that my life exists beyond them. My life has not disappeared, I am certain of that. Happiness is beyond the clouds, and life is possible but I cannot shift them, because they have no where to go. The clouds are a burden, they are here and they block my view. Yet if I reach out to them and grasp at the clouds, I cannot contain them. You see, I have these people in my life, my friends, family, doctors who ask me to explain how I feel, and ask me why this feeling overcomes me and casts it’s shadow over my life. I can try my hardest to grab at these clouds and give them to the people in my life. The clouds that represent the sole purpose of it’s existence. But we all know what happens when you open your hands after trying to grab at a cloud don’t we? It finds me stuck here, with no understanding, trying desperately to cling on to reasoning of an entity that cannot be reasoned with.

You cannot explain that to someone when you cannot even explain it to yourself. So I am stuck here with them, floating by. I find myself stuck in time, in this never ending cycle that holds me down in my life.

They say we should learn to accept the things we cannot change, the forces in our lives that we have no control over. I cannot change the fact I have this illness, but it does not mean that this is not hard.

 

It is so hard.

 

 

 

 

‘Sharing Stories’ – The use of medical marijuana in Marfan Syndrome, by Tony.

 

“I am a 27 year old man, I have depression and suffer greatly from chronic pain. Over the past couple of months my health has deteriorated massively, I can no longer walk far or for long, my arms and legs ache daily and suffer from shooting and stabbing pains in my back (from scoliosis) and the unrelenting urge to have to use the bathroom to satisfy my Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I am a Teacher; my work is very physically demanding and that is without the mental demand needed to provide quality teaching sessions.

It is now Wednesday and I have not been able to make it into work this week. My Doctors took me off all my pain, my anti-inflammatory and my depression medication and this week so far has been sheer hell – the feeling of being trapped by the limits of your own body is terrifying.

What would you think of me if I told you I smoked medical marijuana? Would you think I was unsuitable to teach your children? Would you demand I lost my position as a teacher because of the misconception of an ancient medicine?

My first encounter with cannabis was a positive one. I was around 17 years old at a house party and some friends of a friend were smoking weed. I had always thought of drugs (especially from what i’ve seen in the media) as something to stay away from. The night I tried cannabis for the first time was a long time before my pain progressed, but little did I know that that night I was medicating myself; I felt happy, the worries melted away and I felt confident. That night I kissed a girl I had my eye on for a while (it was also her house party)… needless to say my first experience was a positive one.

It’s hard to say how much smoking cannabis is improving my quality of life right now. Off the pain meds – the pharmaceutical drugs – I find myself more at peace with this chronic stabbing pain I feel as I write this. My muscles are less tense, my mind is clearer, I can walk small distances without being in a great deal of pain. It seems to be the only thing thats helping my life at the moment after countless trips to the GP.

I have Marfan Syndrome, a degenerative tissue disorder.

It affects my eyes, spine, heart, skeletal system and all the connective tissue that supports it. My body is constantly in pain – it’s horrible. This illegal medicine is helping me and not getting me high, it helps me to function a relatively normal life with pain, but it’s not available at your GP . It is not available to all the people/children in the UK suffering from one of the many syndromes and diseases that cannabis has proven to benefit; it makes me angry and so sad for the people and children and families that aren’t ‘allowed’ by law to ease their own suffering with a plant – like I said, I used to be against drugs – but let’s talk about drugs, alcohol and tobacco killing *thousands of UK residents every year, comparative of the total number of deaths world wide from smoking cannabis, which is unheard of.

This drug is helping me but I have to keep it secret, the one thing thats helping me and I can’t talk about it for fear of losing my job, my life. It looks like my health is deciding my choices for me these days, how can I deny something that’s helping me? I think you can see at the moment that I don’t have a choice; I’m forced to obtain this medicine from people who grow it. It is not regulated/ tested/ there are no set perimeters that qualifies the usual street skunk as medicinal. I’ve watched documentaries in Colorado where weed has been legalised for medicinal use and I’ve seen dispensaries full of medicine, people treating their many ailments with cannabis, as we did thousands of years ago. These people are getting better, and it gives me hope for the future, when the government puts people before big companies, then we will finally see change. When anybody can grow a plant in their home without fear of prosecution, people may finally be able to take back control over their own lives.

I know that would put my mind and body at ease.

I am a Teacher, a Brother, a Son, a Best friend, I am in pain, I am depressed, I need help. But when nobody can help you, sometimes you need to help yourself and I will never feel selfish again for doing something that positively increases my quality of life.

I’m 27, I have Marfan syndrome, chronic pain, joint dislocation, plantar fascitis and a heart condition; I smoke cannabis everyday. It helps me relax and stop worrying about what the future holds for me.

It takes the edge off the pain, for me that means everything.

It makes me feel a little bit more like how I used to be before this condition starting ripping my life apart.”

 

– By Tony.

 

*In 2014, there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths registered in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

* Reports from this year also showed that there were 3,346 registered deaths in England and Wales related to misuse of commonly abused drugs. – ONS, Office for National Statistics (2014).  

 

 

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone else’s life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com, and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

 

The Bad Week – A prime example of how external influences can affect my mood swings.

pingu

It all started when I woke up one morning and it hurt to pee.

Many females are familiar with the uncomfortable sensation, especially if you are one of the lucky ladies such as myself with UTI’s frequently occurring a few times a year (ouch), even more so, if you find them problematic to shift.

Hence, I gave a vocal sigh, started working out in my head the impossibility of how I could fit myself in to see the doctor around my busy schedule, and carried on with my day, little of knowing there was more displeasing incidents to follow. After a busy morning and afternoon running back and fourth from my desk to the Loo’s at work, 6pm finally came around and I kept up out of my seat eager to get in to my car and get home to rest. Silly me decided – that in the circumstance of which I longed to be in my bed – to make the practical decision to also run down the stairs, which the day in the midst of my decending gallop was made more entertaining by my iPhone –  item not insured – joining in with the fun and also leaping out of my hand, landing a rather impressive bellyflop on the marble steps below me.

I knew I had caused some significant damage to the screen before my eyes could dare to take a look at the wreckage, by the audible echo it produced up the stairwell. If anyone has damaged their iPhone screen before, they could easily draw up the mathematics here that I would at least be £50 out of pocket this month.

Hence, I gave another vocal sigh, started working out in my head the impossibility of how I could fit myself in to see the phone doctor around my busy schedule, and carried on with my day, little of knowing there was more displeasing incidents to follow.

I soon shrugged off the incidence as ‘Oh well, such is life,’ and finally got to my car to drive home. I popped my earphones in, and welcomed a voice of one of my many companions for my journey (this week it was a dramatic reading of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park), and got settled in to the story.

At this point I must defend myself here – yes, I am fully aware of the dangers of the distraction brought along with not only fully engaging in an audiobook rather than what I am doing on the road, but also using my earphones to drown out all sounds around me – but I do drive for three hours a day for work, what else is a girl to do in rush hour traffic?

On this occasion, I am ashamed to admit that it must have took me at least 50 minutes to realise the screeching, no – god awful grinding noise – that  was coming from my brakes. The absolute panic arose in me, followed by a frantic effort to type ‘WHY IS MY CAR MAKING A HORRIBLE NOISE’ in to a search engine on my phone and squinting through it’s shattered screen to find that the majority of advice concluded by Yahoo answers was; Stop driving.

Fortunately I made it home, gave a vocal sigh, started working out in my head the impossibility of how I could fit myself in to see the car doctor around my busy schedule, and carried on with my night, little of knowing there was more displeasing incidents the next day to follow.

By 8pm I was tucked up safe in my bed, and whether it was the infection or the build up of stressful events of the day – or both – made the conscious decision to take some time off work, and settled down for the night.

The following day, after many half-arsed attempts from The Boy to get me out of bed, I finally woke. It was 1pm. And I was absolutely exhausted, in pain and felt utter rotten. Yep, my water infection had succeeded in invading my system even further, and I could barely wake myself up. I had a painful day of recurrent fevers, sweating, nausea, and a headache from hell that a small handful of painkillers failed to shift. If I can recall correctly through my fog of a memory of that horrendous afternoon, there was even an episode of tears. The only good fate of the day, being that I had predicted my relentless state and decided to take action and notify work that for that one Wednesday at least; I was done for.

Of course, when you work in clinical research, the heavy workload demands you back on your feet when you get knocked down. With this requirement, having a fuzzy head and a car booked in at the local mechanics, I was driven in to work by The Boy the following day.

My only ever sickness day of the year and of course, shit went down. The emails were piled up, recent developments erupted on studies which had otherwise been laying dormant the past few months, people were panicked. I felt like shit and my kidneys were hurting. Whilst I was juggling three things at once, running to the toilet to throw my coffees up, and multiple people stopping me to politely tell me that I ‘looked at shit as I probably felt’ – I got a phone call of the mechanic.

‘Your brakes are sorted, we’ve also tightened up some jiggly bits [insert car related lingo here as appropriate]. That will be £160 please.’

Fuck.

Mother of actual fucks for this to happen on the month I was skint anyway -the very month of my Daughter’s birthday, the month my washing machine brakes down, the month where the floor deliberately decided to shatter my phone screen, the month where I also had to pay an unexpected £20 prescription charge for I’d realised my NHS exemption had expired. Fucketty, fuck, fuck, fuck. 

With my ever so pounding head, I ran to the toilet to chuck again after that, and kicked myself in the shin for not taking that additional time off to stay in bed.

The Boy picked me up after what seemed to be the longest 8 hours a person could ever endure, and I let out the biggest rant of life is not fair and why is it always me! that could be expected after the unfortunate past few days. We sat a typical two hours in traffic together, no audiobooks in tow, and played childish games of One or the Other. He made me smile, the first smiles of the week. We talked, told jokes, made plans. It was the best I’d felt for what felt like mini eternity, and I even forgot about the headache that had seemed to have settled in and made a cosy home in my temples.

And then; he pissed me off.

For his God defying sake, I will not go in to the details of his selfish stupidity – but all in one I felt the wrath of the hellish week that had bestowed on me – much to his disadvantage. I cried. I just broke down and I sobbed. The boy had realised then, how much of a toll this week and him not making it any better and sat beside me (who was on the bed curled up in a foetal position, clutching at my knees like a child).

This is a scene that is expected of anyone, regardless of their mental health status, after such events. What is not expected, is the following…

Me; Stalling in my sobs and staring across the room startled.

The Boy; ‘Are you okay?’

Me; continues to distantly stare across the room, embarrassing display of emotion still on hold. 

The Boy; ‘Megan, what is it?’

He looks at the wall. Then turns back around to me. I break my gaze and catch his eye. Then, startling him in the most unexpected and freakish way, I burst out uncontrollably in the biggest fit of laughter.

I laughed. I laughed so fucking hard, that even more tears ran down my face. My body scrunched up even further; unable to breath through my uncomprehendable outburst of emotion, my body shaking violently next to him.

The Boy just looked at me in silence. He just sat there, bewildered at the manic mess that was myself, wondering why the hell I was in the state that I was when a few blinks before I was a blubbering baby.

A minute passed by, before I was even able to manage to compose myself enough to communicate with him.

Why the fuck are you laughing?’ He asked, a look of concern and confusion across his face.

For I was not laughing for the unfortunate events that had contributed  to my disastrous week, no. I was laughing because in that moment, the light switch which was on my wall across the room, looked like Pingu the Penguin’s younger Brother. 

And in my heightened state, I’d lost all control of my emotion. That guys, is a glimmer of Bipolar mania in all it’s glory. To conclude the night, I later realised that I accidentally had skipped a few of my meds the week before.

Here’s to hoping – for my sake and the sake’s of those around me – that next week bring better days.

The Interval – a glimmer of stability in a mad, mad world.

sun

 

Life is stable.

 

As stable as it could possibly be in my situation anyway. I’m back on my old medication; a very low dose of Quetiapine, mixed in with an anti-depressant for the fun of it, and things have settled pretty well.

I have been discharged from the care of my Psychiatrist and back to my GP. I have been taking my medication as early as possible, to induce the right 8 hours a night’s sleep in me, swapped partying for meditation and writing, and I have been plodding along with life just fine.

I have been through the up’s and downs and the in’s and out’s of Bipolar for quite some years now, and I am learning to appreciate the times when I do find myself drifting on calm waters; because I have spent 95% of my life fighting the struggle for it.

The peace has given me a lot of time to reflect, and concentrate on other things – looking after my daughter – rather than trying to look after myself – building strength in my relationships, and thinking about the next steps I can take to prepare myself for a career leap. It’s been enjoyable, this quiet interval in my life, and one that I know would be wasteful of me if I wasn’t to use this time to focus on bettering myself and my surrounding environment. To an outsider, it doesn’t seem like such a praise to make, to just get on with my days.

But for people like us, it a destination we have taken a long, long road to get to.

It’s a hell of a journey when only a few months ago you found yourself forcing yourself out of bed in the morning, braving work un-showered and barefaced, with barely your hair touched with a brush. When you found yourself locked in the toilets on your lunch break with your tear-stained jumper over your face, suffocating the sobs that burst out of your chest after one of your hourly panic attacks. When you found yourself in that unbearable training session, stuttering at the most simplest conversations between you and the colleague sitting next door, because your mind has been taken over by the incomprehensible fear that is named these days as ‘social anxiety.’ When you found yourself questioning why and what stripped you of your confidence and started gnawing away at your former self – leaving nothing but shattered pieces of You that can’t seem to be put back together again.

But today, I am whole. I am me, and I am going to use myself for all my glorious ways, my kind smiles, my laughs, my childish dances in the moonlight. I am going to make the best of all those whom I love around me, pray for them and sing along with them and make those memories I can store away for one of those inevitable rainy days.

Because they will come, the rainy days. They will knock the wind out of my lungs and have me down on my knees begging for release from this life.

 

But today, I am whole.