World Mental Health day 2021 – lessons from the other side.

10th October 2021 brought us World Mental Health day, and it wouldn’t be so for me without sharing a few thoughts.

I’m a little late in sharing this as I spent yesterday catching up with life and spending time outdoors, I have been stuck in the dark for the majority of the week with a bad head. It was nice to see so many of my friends and family and other people I follow on social media sharing their support and their experiences, reaching out to others or just sharing a lovely quote or two – clearly time has bought more awareness and less stigma over this day as many moons ago, it was unheard of for so many people to speak out over their own personal sufferings.

So for this WMHD, I have decided to share some of the lessons and important musings I have had over the past ten years which have all led to providing emotional wellness and stability when it comes to my mental health.

  1. Speak Louder. Talking helps. There was a time in my life when I was very young where I felt ashamed to admit to anybody that I was struggling at risk of being singled out, labelled or rejected. As it turned out, the more I opened up about it the less I felt either of those things. The more people who talk, the more people realise they are not alone, the more it encourages others to speak out too.
  2. Recovery is not a straight road from A to B. How many times have I felt myself picking up and almost in reach of being 100% well, only to wake up the next day to have crashed down to rock bottom again? I have no idea. Way too many times to keep track of. I can only compare this to the illusion of the false summits of a mountain; just as you think you are about to reach the top you get over the peak to find it is not actually the summit and theres another humongous hill to climb (and more often than not, the second summit is yet again, another false summit). It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s normal, and it’s normal in everyone’s journey, not just yours. As one of my lovely therapists once said, ‘Count your stars not your failures’. We often focus on that one relapse, but forget we have had many successful days before that one slip. Healing will never be straight forward, because life doesn’t work that way. If it was we would all be self entitled idiots who never learn from anything.
  3. Be mindful of your environment. This is often an external factor that we can change, but most likely to forget that we have any control over it. Jobs, friendship circles, relationships. If they are dragging you down rather than raising you up, honestly, the worst thing I repeatedly did throughout my 20’s was tolerate it. There have been so many situational influences that have made my illness so much worse and I only had myself to blame in the end for not walking away because I thought it was more complex than it actually was to act on it. It’s really not THAT complicated that you are putting up with a job that has eventually lead to you having panic attacks on a grubby bathroom floor in between work projects. Or tolerating friendships in a bitching/bullying environment so that it shatters your self esteem. No one needs that. Unfortunately, young Megan must have thought that was exactly what I needed at one point, but they were lessons that led me to having a loving, supportive home life and close circle of people whom I trust today.
  4. Mental health isn’t an excuse. Own your mistakes. A bit of hard hitting advice but it’s true that too many people use their mental state to excuse their actions when it comes to hurting others. You suffer, yes, but we often forget that everyone around us do as a consequence. Depression, anxiety and other chronic conditions are hard to live with, yes, but it does not excuse shitty behaviour. Yes, your mental health state might be the reason that you said the wrong thing, let somebody down, hurt someone with your actions but it does not mean it’s a valid excuse. The same reason that being angry does not validate the right to scream in somebody’s face and make them step on eggshells around you; we still have a choice in how we deal with everyday situations. Every single person has hurt somebody in their life unintentional or not and even when we aren’t in our right mind at the time, we need to own up to those mistakes we make. Admit it. Apologise. Make amends if you have to. Learn from the situation. Try again. Which leads me to the next one…
  5. Forgive yourself. For crying, for putting up with more than you deserve. For resting. For taking medication. For making stupid mistakes. For showing yourself up. For being late multiple times. For saying no to people. For snoozing that alarm. For going home early on a night out. For letting somebody down. For being depressed. For feeling anxious, or guilty or bereaved. For being Bipolar. For having ADHD. For hallucinating, or obsessing or being so paranoid that it doesn’t shatter just your life but it hurts others too. You will never be able to move on or fully recover if you do not give the kindness you would give to others. Everybody needs forgiveness, and the easiest way forward is to start with yourself.
  6. People will only be ready to help themselves when they truly want to in their heart, not just in their head. There is a huge difference (which is also reflected in relapse rates) in just passively saying you are ready to give it a go versus truly feeling ready for it. An alcoholic is more likely to stay sober if they eliminate all the alcohol out of the cabinet, over when they say they are ready to give it up but are still secretly keeping it at the back of the cabinet ‘just in case’. You cannot rush healing in yourself, nor other people. It will come at a time when their heart says ‘okay, let’s do this’.
  7. Nobody is going to do it for you. It takes effort from you, and no one else. The first time I ever sat down to talk to a professional, I sat down looking for answers to my problems thinking the secret of my happiness was in that person. You can imagine the panic that arose in me when he sat there and did nothing but stare at me, smiling knowingly for what seemed like hours until I eventually cracked and was forced to talk to fill the awkward silence. It took a few more years until I finally learned that a therapist wasn’t there to provide the answers. They are there to give you a nudge to come up with them yourself. No one else can speak for you. No one else will make those appointments, take your medication for you, and you certainly won’t find the answers at the bottle of a bottle. I honestly feel this stalls getting well for many people, until they come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own greatest advocate.
  8. If they haven’t been through it themselves, they might not understand. And that’s okay. I’m sure we all have people in our lives that always want to listen and who truly seem to get it, but on the other hand it comes with knowing certain others who cannot seem to tolerate your struggles and look at you like you were born on Mars. Talk, but it might help to choose a selective few who you know can compassionately connect with you. Find yourself the strength to forgive the people who do ‘pass it off’ as nothing (it really isn’t their fault!) and hope the best for them that they do not ever experience similar.
  9. It will never truly go away. Another difficult one to deal with, but the more we accept this truth the more we will understand and accept it the next time it comes around. We know the value of discovering the tools and developing healthy coping methods for if we ever have another relapse, have a panic attack or ever fall in to a depression again. Mental health struggles really do change you as a person. So if we are to live with this, we might as well befriend it. This mentality has helped me deal with my panic attacks, instead now of trying to stop them, I sit with them and just let them be. They don’t last as long as they used to. I don’t kick myself down like I used to. I recover faster when they are over instead of staying in bed for days afraid of the next one. I embrace my brighter days more, and take them for granted less. This has helped me really, truly live my life, because being well and happy is not guaranteed, so we might as well embrace the joy we have whilst it is here.
  10. Nature is the best medicine. To conclude, I thought i’d slip in a very personal one. Being in touch with nature and the outdoors has really put things in to perspective for me. I get out as much as I can. Adventure. Feel the sun on my face. Go exploring. Feel the earth beneath my feet (literally, these days its not uncommon for me to step outside my house barefoot in the mornings just to feel the ground under my feet for a short while, and this is coming from someone who wore socks in the house permanently a few years back!). Chase the moon. Count the stars. Immerse myself in the universe and feel how tiny I actually am. It makes my worries and my struggles shrink so they feel more manageable. My favourite thing to do in my spare time is spend time in the mountains, get the cool air to my face and feel my heart beat from the effort of a long climb uphill. It is the quickest way for me to feel grounded both physically and mentally. You find something that can really make you appreciate your life and make all the fight seem worth it after all. It makes you want to stay. It really does.

Image: taken in 2020 on the summit of Y Garn, Snowdonia, Wales.

We need your stories!

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For the past couple of years people have been submitting to the blog their experiences of mental health from a wide range of disorders and issues in the Sharing Stories series…So far, the stories have managed to speak out to those in need and even give others the confidence and support get the help they need –  opening up about their own experiences.

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.

Register your interest to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to take it from there.

Sharing saves lives

M x

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

These days: Living with Bipolar disorder, by Russell Myers.

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  “What do you say when telling people about your mental health problems? How much do you reveal? Do people really want to hear your life story? Will they think you’re looking for sympathy? Do they want to know how your birth Mother left when you were young? How you always felt different and isolated from others despite the appearance you put up? You know what though it’s just all so bloody Freud isn’t it? I can see myself on Freud’s couch as he asks me to tell him about my Mother before prescribing me cocaine to alleviate the on-going madness in my head. Thing is that’s all in the past and I learnt a while back to not let that control my life. So instead how about I tell you about what it’s like to live with it.

I have bipolar, manic depression, extreme moods or whatever else you wish to refer to it as. It’s a funny condition bipolar not funny ha ha but in that it’s a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and ever changing moods.

It’s certainly interesting living with it each day and I’ll be honest there are some days I can’t bear it. Some days I just want the pain to stop, the noise in my head to just be quiet for a few moments. I want that solitude of silence but I know that silence is alone and in the dark. A dark place where a thousand voices whisper inside my head. A place where my own voice struggles to be heard above all the others.

The paranoia creeps in and a numbness begins to crawl over like a black cloud of hopelessness. The voices continue to whisper, turning over and over in my head “you’re worthless, pathetic, a waste of space, nobody wants you, needs you, you should die, nobody will notice or miss you”. The voices are convincing to because it’s your own voice, one your familiar with but it’s lying. It tricks you, deceives you, convinces you and it takes all of the little strength you have left to not cave into their lies. They want to drag you into their pit, that hole of despair, the place where depression dwells and it wants to suck the life from you. I hate these days.

Hang on though there’s something else……

Bipolar can take you another way. A place of excitement, fun, laughter and joy. Bipolar can bring you mania and wow that’s just fantastic in every way. The need to start a business selling unicorn tears, learn guitar, buy a boat, walk to Spain, become a Shaolin monk or learn to unicycle so you can get yourself to Edinburgh or any other random or unachievable idea you can create in your head. Thoughts race through my mind at a thousand miles an hour and logical thoughts have no place there. It’s not about what I can’t do but about what I can do and that I want to do it now. It feels great, amazing, fluid, beautiful, exciting yet erratic, destabilising and narcissistic. A cycle begins of promiscuous behaviour, excessive spending and in the past drug use with no sense of danger only a hunger for adventure.

There’s no room for manoeuvre, no patience for those that don’t understand what I’m trying to say, achieve or those who don’t think I should follow my dreams. I am too important for others not to get it and I never understand why they don’t. This lack of understanding by others gives birth to something else, a monster that is the most difficult to control. The monster that is rage and anger that builds up quickly and manifests in a way that is both terrifying and uncontrolled. I become something I am not, verbally abusive and aggressive towards myself as I punch myself around the head and face with my fists or any heavy object that’s nearby before collapsing exhausted and crying. Then I feel it again, that dark place, those pitch black claws grabbing me and pulling me back down. I really hate those days.

However there’s the other days. The days when I can go out with my friends, I can cook dinner, study for my degree, look after my son, laugh, love and live because despite those days I am not my condition, I am not bipolar, it’s just part of me and something I live with. For despite it all and regardless of those days I am above all of this; a Father, a Son, a Friend. I am strong and brave and stubborn and it’s due to this; that these days are the ones that I keep in my thoughts when I’m having one of those days; because it’s these days that I cherish the most, and it’s these days that will be my strength when I need them most of all.”

-By Russell Myers.

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 Blog.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

Hypomania in Bipolar disorder, by Samantha Pottinger

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“When I went to my GP I described my behaviour and feelings. I was expecting to be diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, given that I’d gone from one extreme to the other in such a short space of time. The best way I could describe it was like the feeling of an overexcited child at Christmas.  My favorite foods and drinks tasted amazing, music sounded better, I would be overwhelmed by the beauty of scenery, my nephews and niece looked cuter, colours would look more distinct. I would get fits of the giggles and struggle not to burst out laughing whilst walking down the street. My mind would be racing and instead of having no business ideas I had so many I couldn’t switch off.

Hypomania does not mean that one feels happy all the time, it’s more like an obsession with engaging in hedonistic activities and an intolerance of displeasure. It can result in serious irritability and impatience. Although being overwhelmed by positive emotion is certainly more pleasant than being overwhelmed by negativity, it’s still uncomfortable. In a hypomanic episode I feel overstimulated and overexcited about everything, I really resent my job for taking up my time up and stopping me from doing the things I enjoy (whereas in a depressive episode my job is one of the few things keeping me going).  At work I get over excited by all the interesting books I see and take out several but then I don’t read them because I’m too restless and can’t sit still. I can’t watch films either because I have too much energy. I end up spending too much money because I get overexcited about everything I see and then end up getting frustrated for having to wait so long for the next pay day.  I have lots of pent up energy and get really frustrated if I can’t release it. I can even remember being jealous of people saying they were tired!

Although hypomania has its disadvantages, it can be quite a pleasant feeling. I think my hypomanic episodes are the reason I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in taking illegal drugs, I see my ability to feel high naturally as a blessing. I become more creative and my brain is a lot sharper and I’m sure my hypomanic phases helped give me the energy to fit my studying in with work and are responsible for some of my good marks.

Depressive episodes are certainly unpleasant but for me, the fact that I went for the therapy meant that I’m left with useful mind tools for when I see it recurring and I can empathize with and help others.

My doctor mentioned (but didn’t diagnose me with) a milder form of Bipolar disorder called Cyclothymia. Some people find labels helpful, others don’t. Personally, I feel that we are all prone to fluctuations in mood as we go through ups and downs and transitions in life, (who feels ‘neutral’ all the time?) I think that being a HSP or ’empath’ as I’ve talked about in my blog just means they are a bit more pronounced in me.  It can make life a bit more challenging to deal with but as you become more self-aware, you can learn to manage better and stop your condition from over-ruling your life.

If you have or think you might have a diagnosable mental health condition, don’t be afraid to seek support from your GP, mental health organizations or read some mental health blogs. But remember there is nothing wrong with or ‘freaky’ about you and having a mental health condition does not make you not inferior.

You are not alone.”

-By Samantha Pottinger.

Samantha incorporates her experiences with mental health and bipolar disorder in to her health blog Samantha the Sane Vegan.

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Get involved! 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.

Sharing saves lives.

M x

Bipolar; The rollercoaster I didn’t pay to get on, By Allison Padgett

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“You’re crazy! You’re a bitch! You’re a mess! I wish you’d just get your shit together! Why can’t you be normal? Just get out of bed! It’s like you’re two different people! It’s all in your head! You’re just lazy! Good for nothing! Worthless! Pathetic!

These are just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years in my struggle with my mental health. Some of these things have been said by friends. Some of these things have been said by loved ones. And some of these things I’ve said to myself.

Have you ever had a bad day? I mean, a really bad day. You wake up late. Forget the most important thing that you needed for work at home, but you’re already late, so you have to make up and excuse not only about your lateness, but about your not bringing that important thing. Your boss calls you in the office to “discuss” your performance or lack there of. You then begin to cry, but it’s only eleven AM, so you have to keep working and act like someone didn’t just make you feel like an idiot, when you know you’re not. Then, you start doubting yourself and start believing what was said. Next, no one asks you to join them for lunch because you look like you’re having one of your “days”. You try to work, but the thoughts play in your head like a CD stuck on repeat. You accomplish nothing, but more failure and your closest coworker gets mad at you for not holding up your end of the bargain. You try to tell them that you’re sorry. You try to tell them that you’ll do better, but they don’t believe you and you start not to believe yourself either. Finally, you go home only to think more about being worthless and wishing you could just die. You think that you’re probably just a burden on everyone and should just quit. Quit your job and life, itself. You’re hungry. No, you’re not hungry enough to fix anything, so you sit in silence and try to go to sleep early. Ha! The Sandman laughs in your face. Sleep doesn’t come because you continue to listen to that CD. Over and over. You believe it. You know you’re just a pathetic human being. Then you finally fall asleep miraculously, only to be awoken by a nightmare that you’re being thrown in a dumpster filled with other people “just like you”. Then, much to your dismay, your alarm goes off and it’s time to start the struggle of life for one more day.

Sounds like hell, doesn’t it? It sounds unreal.

It was a day in my life. On my “down” days, I felt like this. Sometimes even worse. So your worst day, is a day in the life of someone with bipolar disorder when they cycle down. Oh sure, I cycle up, too. Here’s what that feels like…

You are woken up by your alarm and today, you don’t feel like throwing it across the room. Could it be? You’re not sure yet. You get ready for work and today you feel like listening to the radio. What? You get to work and say hello to everyone you see. Good Morning, everybody!! You start your workday and do your work without interruptions of doubt. All of the sudden, while chatting with your favorite coworker you both realize that it’s almost time to go home. Already? Awesome! You drive home, windows down, singing your favorite song and thinking that sunlight is pretty great. When you get home, you cook your favorite meal and enjoy it in front of the TV, watching your favorite rerun of Friends. (The Prom Video, obviously) Then you take a nice warm bath, look in the mirror one last time and smile. Today was your day! Today was an amazing day! You pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read and then fall asleep easily, without the constant feeling of worthlessness.

Sounds like a pretty good day, right? Sounds like what most people would call a normal day. For me, these days are precious. They are coveted. I yearn for these days. I beg for these days and when they come they’re gone too soon.

I haven’t always been bipolar. I’ve been to so many doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve been told I’m depressed. I have anxiety disorder. I’m just hormonal. I need to exercise more. I should just eat better. I have toxic people in my life and if I rid myself of them, then I’ll be fine. Fine, they said. But, fine never came. Fine felt a million miles away.

So, I started doing research. I listened to some of those closest to me. One ex said I acted like two different people. He named them “Allison and Callison”. It took 10 years before I knew what that meant. I’m not two different people, but my brain just might be. So, I called an emergency mental health hotline. No, I wasn’t having a true mental health emergency, but I needed someone to listen to this epiphany. I needed someone to listen. I needed some one to listen to ME. Not judge me. Not try to over analyze me. And not throw the latest pill at me and tell me it’s been a miracle for other patients. So, he listened while I explained what I knew in my heart was finally right. I think I’m bipolar, I said. I had actually said it. Bipolar.

The next step was making an appointment with yet another psychologist. But this time was different. I had an idea of what to say. I’d never been completely open with any provider before, but this time I was. I explained my lifelong battle with my brain. And she listened. She gave me a test. It wasn’t long. I had to answer about twenty questions. I answered all, but a select few, with a resounding YES. I didn’t know what the test was for, but I knew whatever it was, it understood me. The results? Bipolar Type 2, with hypo-mania. YES!! I knew it. But, wait. What the hell do I do now? Another pill? No. That’s not why I came. Pills don’t work for me. I should know. I’d been on every single one. But, she was adamant that this pill was for bipolar disorder. This pill was “right” for me. I gave in. I went to the pharmacy and filled it.

Then, I waited. They always say to wait two to three weeks before you give up.

I waited three days. Yes, three days. On day four I woke up different. Good different. Something felt good. Not high, good. But, I just felt good. What? No self loathing this morning? No hatred of all things morning? Ok. That’s great. Now, I’ll need to go on and get up. I have things to do. I got up. I showered and dressed and then I had an errand to run. I hopped in my car and immediately turned on the radio. I rolled the windows down and began driving. About three miles down the road I came to a stoplight. One of those looong stoplights that if you don’t hit at just the right time, you’ll sit forever. So, I sat. I looked around at all of the other people in their cars. Some just sitting. Some on the phone. And some smiling at me. Why were they smiling, I thought. Oh, shit! I’m smiling, too. Then, it hit me! I’m happy. And I began to cry. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I felt what most people call normal. And right there at that stoplight, I knew my struggle had just gotten a little easier. So, I cried some more. I cried for the years I’d missed not feeling this way. Then, I stopped crying. I stopped because I wanted too. I stopped because I could.

So, what now? I had a diagnosis and a medication that managed it. I felt like someone or something had given me back my life. No, wait. I felt like someone or something had finally given me life.

And, so goes the beginning of my life with bipolar disorder. Is it always as easy as it was that fourth day? No. Is it ever as bad as my worst day? No. I still cycle up and down. Just not as frequently and not as high or as low. I’ve had to add some medications and I’ve taken a few away, but right now I’m managed. I still deal with the stigma. How many times have I heard someone laugh at someone else’s expense and joke that they must be bipolar? A lot. I just kind of look down and smile to myself. They don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know that every single day is a battle. But, they also don’t know that I’m finally winning.”

– By Allison Padgett

Thank you to Allison for submitting her story. To read more of Allison’s journey upon Bipolar, homeschooling and living with her Husband’s Brain tumour diagnosis, please support her blog at https://immamabutimstillme.wordpress.com

WE NEED YOUR STORIES….

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

How Bipolar type II has affected my life, by Jenna White.

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“My personal story with mental illness begins when I was 13 years old. I began to feel different than the rest of my peers and I showed signs of both depression and mania. I was put on mood stabilizers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills to quell the mood shifts. I began to self-mutilate, choke myself with scarfs and pop different pills in the medicine cabinet. Neither my Mom or Dad understood mental illness and chastised me endlessly with a hint of concern.

I began high school and in grade 10, and found the worst boyfriend I ever had. He was mentally, emotionally, sexually and physically abusive to me for a year and a half. I had grown up with abuse so I knew this was over the top but I knew how to handle it…or so I thought. I began to snort hard drugs like cocaine and speed. The boyfriend, Kyle, didn’t want me taking my medication because he didn’t believe in it. I was being broken spiritually and not getting proper help for my mental state.

At 15 I attempted suicide for the first time. I had “tried” before by popping handfuls of random medication from the cabinet but it wasn’t a serious gesture. This time I was in the bath, note written, a full bottle of Tylenol in my stomach and I was on my way. But suddenly I changed my mind and threw the bottle at my mom, evidently she made me throw up and we never spoke of it again.

Fast forward to when I am 19. My mental state was so terrible I was having black outs with a different personality. I had been a drug addict for 4 years at that point and it was all getting to be too much. I quit drugs and moved to Toronto Ontario with a boyfriend and his kid. In Toronto I was admitted to a hospital ward for 2 weeks for a final diagnosis: Bipolar II.

From then I’ve been admitted 3 more times in two different cities. I constantly struggle with medications and dosages which cause me to go into manic and depressive states. My family, social and professional life suffers from my disorder.”

-By Jenna White.

Jenna writes about the personal struggles with having a Bipolar type II diagnosis on her blog, Brandnewbipolar.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

Speak. Louder.

quote-on-stigma-health-56-healthyplace

Recently, The Manic Years has had many of you emailing in your first hand experiences of what it is like to live with difficulties from a variety of backgrounds reguarding mental health. So far, the stories in the feature has inspired people, reached out to many and succeeded on expressing a multitude of inner turmoil that is so often hard to explain for some.

It is clear that attitudes towards mental health is changing, thanks to all the hard work of so many people have advocated for mental health, and the rights of those who struggle. Admitting you have a problem, and even asking for help is getting easier for some as having depression – and many more illnesses – is becoming more normalised.

However, we are still lacking in how information about mental health disorders is delivered, and many thousands, millions out there are still struggling to recognise what exactly they are suffering with;

“I can’t be Bipolar, because I am not happy, right?”

“I feel numb all the time, but it’s obviously not depression. Depression means you are sad, this must be something else.”

“I cut last night. I can’t explain why. I will just hide it and pretend like it didn’t happen.”

This is something I have come across (and even felt myself) over the years. People are being misinformed. People are not educted enough.

It is so important that we take a stand and speak out about our experiences. Go on to one of the most popular health websites, where it explains symptoms of anxiety and you get the standard list of symptoms; Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath. Worry….

Can you relate this to your anxiety? Or is it so much more than that?

It seems that facts and figures aren’t enough, what does this information spread to our ‘non-sufferers’ out there? The people who have never experienced depression/anxiety and the rest as such?

CLASSIC SYMPTOMS; “Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath…Worry.”

THEIR REPLY; “Just take some water. Sit down. Stop over thinking things! Problem solved.

Do you see the issue here?

Sometimes there is no logic behind mental health. There is no one solution. It is so much more. Anxiety is so much more than worry. Depression is so much more than feeling sad. Bipolar is so much more than a sad/happy state. Self-injury is so much more than an act of agression towards one’s self. If people who have never really fully experienced the wrath of psychological problems, then why should we expect people to recognise what is happening to them when they do get ill?

It is so valuable to others who are lost that those who have experienced mental disorders speak out about our feelings and our realities. Sharing not only makes it okay, makes people feel like they aren’t alone, but it also gives people something to relate to. It is the key to understanding when we are suffering. Speaking up, and speaking louder can save lives.

The ‘Sharing Stories’ feature will continue to do that, and I have many hopes that each and every one of your experiences will connect to someone, somewhere in the world and give them not just the knowledge they need for understanding what they are going through, but also the comfort they need to carry on and the confidence to speak out themselves.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured on the blog, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences. They matter, so much. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder.

M x

Buddhism – an anchor in the midst of depression.

Lo and behold, I found myself there again.

It was in between those drifting days in the space within Christmas and New Year, that bizarre time of the year when time slows down yet everything speeds up and the meaning to life is yet to be caught up with. Except my meaning, which had gone AWOL again, and had been in a place somewhere other than where it should have been for quite a few months.

It all started somewhere in between my car breaking down and a family member dying; I never had the strength to trace back and pin point exactly when. 2018 was hours away, a new year, new start! But my energies were lying in every single negative incident that made up 2017, every single one, which i’m sure there was something in the fine print that these major mess up moves were supposed to be spread out during the course of ones lifetime not in a single year, I wouldn’t have signed up for it otherwise, surely?

Anyway, the new year was set to be a write off. And then my mind made a flip move on to one that most people with bipolar or some other severe mental health issues do one in their lives; I started practicing Buddhism.

The past few months have been a blur, yet a positive enriched blur. I have followed closely the words of the Dharma, engaged in mindfulness and meditation, a whole lot of books, even more podcasts, taken up the precepts and signed up to my second Buddhist course of the year and attended classes where a lot of tears and a lot of hugs were exchanged (and only two months have passed). My perception on life as it was has pointed itself in the opposite direction. And what a life saver it has all been. I am 10 week medication free for the first time in four years (though I am not so immune and past it all to believe I won’t need them again somewhere down the line!).

To sum up the year so far, I am okay (even though I am still walking through a wreckage of a life that is not yet okay).

For anyone interested, I have listed below my recommendations for some beginners reading in to buddhism. Happy reading 

Buddhist Bootcamp – Timber Hawkeye 

Buddhism for Busy people – David Michie

Teachings of the Buddha – Jack Kornfield

Buddhism for beginners – Jack Kornfield

When things fall apart – Pema Chödrön

   Buddhism is not what you think – Steve Hagen 

Grief.

Some people say, that grief washes over you like waves. Those some people, are absolutely right.

When the morning approaches, it hits my body before my mind even has the chance to wake up and acknowledge the day. I feel it; a solid, heavy burning weight, like my heart has been set alight before I even open my eyes. And then I do, and the anchor of reality sinks me.

This is how I have spent each and every once of my mornings for the past 3 months. Most of these days, I have succeeded to bite down hard and talk myself in to getting out of bed and facing the day. Others, I have not.

One day, around three weeks ago, I woke up and realised that I did not want to live. This was not a passive, drifting thought. This was a certified, stubborn fact. I did not want to be here. The weightiness of Bipolar depression, of a spiral hard hitting life events, a year worth of losses, are an unhealthy concoction for the mind and the spirit.

I went to see my GP just before the truth occurred to me, an she suggested that I increased by anti-depressant up by double. I reluctantly took the prescription, paid for the charge regardless of not being able to afford them and started on my higher dose. Then a few days later, I stopped. I stopped taking my meds altogether.

You would have thought, having lived with this for years exactly how dangerous it is to just stop, that I would have accumulated at least some wisdom to keep me alive along the way. The last time I stopped taking them, I ended up attempting to drive to the hospital to seek help but instead had a brain blip and ended up manically driving to another country instead. The time before that, I also had another brain blip, but this time it happened in an Asda Superstore which resulted in me being chaperoned by an ambulance and being left hovering around in A&E with none of the medical staff not knowing what to do with me. But no, I got to the point where everything that had a point did not have a point anymore. Including taking my medication. They were not working, so what was the point in taking them?

And so I fell. I fell further than what I thought could be humanly possible.

One night, out of panic, frustration, anger at the world and with the impulse to kick and scream and do something at least, I ran out of the house, got in the car and put my foot down. I ended up in the hills, in the middle of the night but instead of screaming or doing something stupid, I fumbled around frantically for a pen and ripped a scrap of paper and wrote the first thing my hand would write, without even thinking of what I was writing. I wrote one word and then froze with it.

FRAUD. 

Fraud. Is that what I have been feeling all this time? A fraud? The answer was yes. I did not feel like I belonged. I don’t belong in a room full of people. I don’t belong in society. My thoughts, my beliefs, my morals were all different and it pushed me further and further from this planet until I got pushed so far I could not find my way back in to it.

I took a train one evening. I got out in to town, I tried to enjoy myself, but it was there, ebbing inside my chest. Fraud. I took a train, but the train was cancelled and moved to another platform. It was busy. The whole of the commuters pushed and ran – why were they running? –  they ran like a flock of desperate souls to this other platform, and they all scrambled on to this train, pushing and shoving and elbowing in the battle, each one of them only looking out for themselves in their fight to get on to this train and get a seat at the cost of other people. I did not understand why they were running for this train like their lives depended on it. I did not understand why they were fighting to aggressively to get a seat. Was it really so important? I stood beside the crowd, watching them like rats in their desperate efforts and felt more like an outsider because I couldn’t understand it. They scrambled on to the train like I had been scrambling on to my last reason to stay alive.

I fell further. I stopped sleeping properly. I didn’t tell people. Occasionally, I mentioned it to my partner.

“I feel down.”

“I don’t feel too good today.”

“My anxiety is shocking.”

“I can’t do this anymore.”

Then we would talk, and I would feel comforted for a moment. Then the next day I’d say, “I feel bad today,” and he’d say –

“Why? I thought you was feeling better?”

If a rant, and a cuddle and a cry on ones shoulder was all it took to make it completely disappear, then I would be the healthiest and most happiest girl on this planet. Depression doesn’t care whether you are rich with love and with the strength given by other people.

So I stopped talking as much. Because that, as all, felt pointless too.

I went on autopilot mode. I wrote bullet lists. I wrote LOTS of bullet lists. I checked them off one after another. Trying to pass the time and distract me from ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ because sitting there with my own thoughts in my own mind was too much. I tried not to think about the present. I tried not to think about Christmas. I tried not to think about the future. I tried not to think about lying there sleepless in the dark, night after night with my mind tormenting me. My heart hurt. Like, physically hurt. I was walking around with a sharp shooting pain which wouldn’t ease.

Why am I getting pains in my heart? Am I going to die?!

No, Megan. You are not going to die. 

Then, few nights ago, to add insult to injury; I lost someone close to me.

This is the first family death to have occurred in my life, as I have been fortunate to have everyone still here up until this week. And it hit me, slowly with the steady pace that realisation sometimes does when it can’t be arsed smacking you cold in the face, but it did, and it came over me wave after wave after wave, just like they said it would.

The pain of losing a loved one is an unbearable ache. It is a burning fire in your chest that sits there uninvited and ever present, and occasionally gets washed over by the deepest waves of sadness whilst memories come flooding up to the surface. Then the waves go, and you carry that unbearable burning in you chest again. Rinse and repeat. With this in mind, I have come to another hard-realisation this week. The realisation that pure pain of depression and anxiety and feelings of ‘doom’ and the so many fragments of the things I have been experiencing over the past months which can no just be summed up in to a one word-diagnosis, felt the same as my grief did.

This is what I have not been well with, all this time. Grief. I am grieving. Not just at the loss of my Nan. I have been grieving these past few months. At the loss of everything this year, at the loss of myself, my home, my dignity, all the other things I have lost this year? I did not know, but I was grieving nonetheless.

And so, the next time someone asks me what it feels like to feel this bad, I can truthfully and most honestly say this. It feels like Grief.

With the push of my partner I ended up filling out another prescription with my meds, and to start taking them again. The doctors surgery wouldn’t release them without another ‘medication review’ (which I had just 5 weeks ago) and so I ended up having to fill up on one the out of hours appointments, thus wasting NHS services again.

“What can I do for you Megan?”

“Um…”

No matter how many times I have been there, said that, admitting that I am not okay and that I need help still fills me with shame, dread and other taunting emotions that, if you look at it from an outsiders point of view, I should not be obliged to feel.

“Have you, or have you feel like hurting yourself?”

“Yes.”

“How have you hurt yourself?”

Please don’t make me say it.

“Have you felt suicidal?”

“Yes.”

“Have you or do you feel like making any plans to act on these feelings?”

“No.”

Which is true – although they might seem like two of the same questions, I have picked up within the last few years that practitioners always ask and separate the following:

1. Do you feel suicidal?

2. Have you made any plans to commit suicide?

Although I made my mind up a while back now that no, I did not want to live – but it didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted to die either.

He gave me two weeks worth of both my medications.

“Two weeks? So does that mean I have to make another appointment in a fortnight to claim my monthly rolling prescription back?”

“I can’t give you more than that just incase you decide to take them all at once.”

Oh. Good point.

And so I started my medication again, and wrote another bullet list.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings. But I do know this. I am depressed. I am grieving. I am not functioning and I am not well. And it has taken me over three months to admit it.

But also,

I am still.

I am.