This is not what I expected for my blog this week, and it has got a more serious note than I would normally write in, but with the death of Robin Williams, and the discussions about mental illness that have come from it, I thought it would tie in well.
Firstly, Bipolar Disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. If you have Bipolar Disorder, you will have periods or episodes of depression – where you feel very low and lethargic, and mania – where you feel very high and overactive (less severe mania is known as hypomania) (cited from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Bipolar-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx ).
I am a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder. It was somewhere in the early 2000’s that I was diagnosed, and the reason I left the British Army. My councillor had told me that my depression was due to hating my job. I believed her. Why wouldn’t I? The rest of the unit was in Bosnia and every day consisted of long tedious guard duties. Imagine my surprise when I left, only to discover that the depression was still a massive part of my life.
There are days that I can literally bounce off the walls. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I promise that I’m not. When on a manic phase, I want to do everything there and then, and I have no time to walk around such things as walls. Thanks to this habit, I have needed to replace several pairs of glasses over the years. I can’t control the urge to run, skip, do the Gangnam style (which makes me look like marionette puppet receiving an electric shock), and talk really loud- I could drown a screaming banshee out. I suffer from a massive lack of self –awareness here. I think I look stunning – really I look like something the cat dragged in. I think I can sing like Celine Deon – really, the cat has better tunes than me. I think I’m cool, and at this point, nobody can convince me otherwise….Until I come back to the real world with a crash and hang my head in shame for the embarrassing situations I have created for myself.
Then there are the other days, the days in which the ‘Demon’ has full control. Let me tell you something about him – he is one mean S.O.B. His remarks are cutting and when he’s around, its as if I’m in a dark hole with no way out…hell, half the time, I cant tell if I’m even standing up the right way.
One comment I frequently hear is – ‘I don’t know what you have to be depressed about when things are good ‘.
Let’s put something straight:
Life can affect our moods, but it doesn’t control them.
Try and imagine how hard it is for us when things are good and we can’t enjoy them. It creates confusion, heartache, and loneliness. Do people really think that we don’t know that we should be happy, or content with what we have? Even when I’m depressed, I can still logically appreciate the good in life – I just can’t feel that appreciation. When something goes wrong and I’m on a manic phase, I know that I should be worried or stressed, but I just don’t feel it. We are all slaves to our emotions, but someone with mental health issues suffers with extreme emotions, usually at the most inconvenient times.
I have a certain amount of control over my mood swings now, but this has taken me many years to reach the point I am, and I’m still learning. How have I got to this point?
- Be honest with yourself:- Part of depression is putting yourself down. For example: I’m a crap mum, I can’t do this job, I’m pathetic, I’m useless….the list could go on, and on, and on. Know your limitations. Know your strong points. Nobody is perfect, and everyone has faults, know yours. That way, when that voice in the head is berating you, you know what is lies and truth.
- Deal with the truth:- If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. This isn’t always possible.
I was really blunt to the point I often hurt people’s feelings. I wanted to stop doing this, but found that it compromised my integrity as I value honestly. I got around this by making a compromise….diplomacy. Be honest, but not to the point it will hurt someone.
For example, I am in the house ready to go out and my friend says, ‘Do I look good in this?’ They don’t. Is it wise to tell them this straight out? Not really as it can lead to loads (and I mean bucket loads) of tears. I would now suggest something else they would look better in. If we are already out and they asked, I can’t tell them the full truth as they can’t do anything about it, if I do, we are back to tears. Instead, I pick up on the good points, such as, ‘The colour really suits you.’
- Paranoia is a massive part of Bipolar and other mental illnesses. It can disrupt relationships, whether they are romantic, work place, or friends. It can quite honestly drive you crazy. Either confront it, or let it go.
Everyone in my life is aware that I suffer with paranoia. If I start obsessing over something said or done, I have two choices: either let it go, or confront the person. There have been many times that I have approached a friend asking if I have done something to upset them. I inform them that this is their chance to tell me if I have. If they are upset, I go through what happened with them. If they aren’t (which is often the case), I LET IT GO.
I know this is easier said than done, but take some control. At the end of the day, you can’t stop the feelings, but with a bit of determination, you can stop certain thoughts from controlling you.
- If you struggle to remember your good points, write them down. That way, every time that voice starts yammering away in the background, you can look at that list. Counteract every bad thing with two good things.
- Know your triggers and be prepared. This can take time to work out as you need to honestly observe yourself.
Social interactions can initiate a low period with me, and I often avoid them. However, this isn’t always possible, so to deal with it, I get prepared. I make sure that I have a few hours afterwards to run through everything that happened. I digest it, file it away, then have a few hours/days of peace to ride the low.
These techniques won’t get rid of it, but it will reduce the affects. Whatever your triggers are, find a way to ease the impact.
- Routine is important, especially with cleaning. A messy house makes for a messy mind, but when low, cleaning becomes an un- surmountable task; someone might have well have told you to climb Mount Everest. If you get into the habit of cleaning the toilet every morning, it will be easier to do when low. It becomes like flushing the chain – a natural habit you barely think of.
My level of cleaning still goes down when I’m low, which in turn depresses me more. To overcome this, if I know a depressive bout is coming, I spring clean the house first. This way, it doesn’t reach such a devastating level before the low has run its course.
- Learn what can help relieve the low. Some people talk, some go for a walk in nature. I listen to music.
But be aware, music can have a massive impact on us, so plan your track carefully.
First thing first, I need to acknowledge that the Demon is running riot again. I need to feel the pain, acknowledge it. So I listen to music that makes me cry, such as, ‘All by myself (Eric Carmen). This is devastating, and a problem if someone comes around when I’m doing it as I can’t talk to them, so make sure you have time to complete this process.
Next, I listen to music that makes me feel less alone and stronger. Pink is my favourite for this. She is a Bipolar sufferer too, and it reflects in her songs.
Next I listen to motivational music. One of my favourites is Russel Watson – Faith of the heart.
Whatever you do, take yourself through a process from the bottom up. Reprogram yourself, find and flame the strength that is hidden inside.
- Realise that, whether you like it or not, depression is part of your life. If you need medication, use it. It does not make you weak. In fact it makes you stronger as you have the guts to get help. However, this doesn’t mean that you can sit back and ignore the situation. Tablets give you a break, and are useful if the depression is situational such as grief, but for a long term sufferer, you have more work to do.
- REMEMBER you are not perfect. That voice will go on and on about your shortcomings, but you are only human. You are unlikely to be super mum, or the perfect friend/colleague. Always treat people how you wish to be treated, but remember that you have needs, too. Your needs are no less important than theirs.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy is extremely useful. However, the waiting lists to get into this are huge. By the time I got my appointment, I had taken myself through the process. There are loads of books out there, many of them no better than the other. Find one that suits you and work through it. It takes time, and you won’t see immediate results, but persevere – it’s worth it.
- Warn people about how you are feeling, and how it might change your behaviour. Give them tips on how to deal with it. Remember, depression isn’t only hard for sufferers, but for those that love us too.
- Remember, you might have a mental illness, but it doesn’t excuse bad behaviour. So many times I have heard people say, ‘I can’t help it, I have Bipolar’. Mental illness does not force you to be horrible to people, and you are accountable for your actions. If you are irritable, take yourself into another room, or go for a walk. Do your hardest not to take it out on those around you. It’s not their fault that you’re suffering, or that your tolerance levels are low. If you slip, apologise, and don’t follow it by a ‘but’. Allow them to be upset. Having said that, don’t beat yourself up with it.
- And finally – Hope is paramount in surviving depression. Every cloud has a silver lining, even if you can’t see it right now. Keep searching for that cloud, and have faith that you will feel better soon. You may not feel it, but acknowledge that it is there and that feeling will come again.
Bipolar is about finding, and maintaining balance. I can only give you a few tips on how I cope, and everyone is different. Find your way. Learn to survive in a world that is slightly different to those around you. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to look into yourself, no matter what you might find. Nature only has so much say in who we are, the rest is up to you.
This is a fictional account that I wrote a few years back when trying to understand Bipolar Disorder. I hope it helps with your understanding of depression. J
Trapped behind the glass, the despair runs through me. She is back. I watch as she slowly destroys the future I have been making for myself, ruining everything I have fought so hard to achieve.
I am dismayed as she trespasses on my life once more. How does she still have the power to take control? Have I not fought long and hard to banish her from existence? Each time I think I have destroyed her, she returns as if to discredit my pitiful struggle, reminding me that no matter what I do, she will always be there watching and waiting.
I despise everything she stands for. How can someone who is so weak and pathetic still manage to dominate me? She has no will to live her life, yet she still insists in controlling mine, only allowing me out when she hasn’t the strength to survive it alone.
As I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror, hate for her fuels my determination. She will not win. Although in captivity, I am and will always be the stronger of the two. Whereas fear dominates her life, hope and determination govern mine.
As a child I was unable to detect the destructiveness within her. Believing her cruel words, I allowed her to control the direction of my life. This is no more. I am now aware of whom she is and the damage she causes, and with each breath I fight to expel her from my life.
My increasing abhorrence for her and all she stands for only causes to fuel my desire to be free, helping me to break the bonds that she has secured me in. I will one day kill her, even if it’s with my last dying breath.
With relief I am finally free of the restrictions she has imposed on me. I approach her knowing that this battle will now be won. Even if I lack the strength to eradicate her for good, I can at least lock her away where she will be unable to harm me any longer.
As I hurry past I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror. I know she will be coming soon and my heart races in response. Even out of her sight I can feel her loathing for me. She is getting ready to try and kill me as she has many times before.
If she succeeds nobody will miss me as I am invisible to the world, or at best someone to be pitied. She is well liked as she is confident and sure of herself. There are no words that can hold her back, and she fights against the injustices of her life with a passion and determination that I cannot muster.
She is an unlikely killer, but one just the same as she would take my life without pity or guilt.
As I race down the dark endless corridor, her disgust follows me. She understands that she is strong and that I am weak.
I know I am pathetic and this knowledge keeps me from becoming like her. I trust in the condemning words of others and she hates me for this, believing that I am the element that has always held her back. She desires that the bond between us could be broken, but it is too strong. We are tied more closely than family or friend could ever be, ensuring that I will always be in her life.
She has fought against me since the moment we became aware of each other’s existence. Never once embracing me, but condemning my right to live.
As she draws closer I understand that she is right. I am weak. Unlike her I hang my head in defeat when faced with the trials of life, knowing that there is no way I can raise to the challenges that have been sent my way.
So many times she has been forced to come to my rescue, carry the burden as I am unable to shoulder it. She never cries whereas I always do. She never doubts herself as I always do. I understand why she hates me so much as I also despise myself.
She believes that I should be able to control the torment within while not understanding that the anguish defines who I am.
She is humiliated by me. I understand this as I too, am ashamed of who I am. But that does not mean I want to die. Even with the pain I feel, I want to survive and I will fight to have that right.
Has not her abhorrence of me been the reason she has fought so hard? Am I not responsible for the success she has achieved? Without the reminder of how feeble I am, how would she strive to be superior?
In my heart I know that she will never acknowledge this. For years she has tried to deny my existence, keeping me hidden from the world, trying desperately to find a way to kill me. As of yet she is not strong enough. She can only manage to hide me away in darkness, but I am aware that she is getting stronger.
Sometimes she forgets that I lurk in the background and this allows me the chance to come out into the light. When I do, I catch a glimpse of the panic surrounding her awareness that I am still there, before she fights to banish me once again. Although I am weak I can win my freedom, if only for a short time.
As she draws closer to me, my will to fight starts to dissolve. As usual, I will lose this battle and once again, I will be held in captivity. I fight as I believe that I too have a voice. She believes I have no right to speak, that there is not a place in this world for me.
She is forcing me into the darkness again and I push against her, saying such hurtful and condemning things as I try to break her resolve.
As always, she triumphs, and I am pushed into my cage where all I can do is wait patiently for an opportunity to escape once again.
I am weak and full of self-loathing, yet she lives in fear of me. Even when she is in control she avoids the mirror in the dread that one day I may be looking back at her with enough strength to break the restraints she has bound me in, knowing that she can never truly kill me.
For are we not two halves of the same person? Forever destined to fight the war for control.