Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hypo Averted.

Well, that was an interesting experience. I'm new to this bipolar thing and even newer to monitoring myself to assess where I'm at so a recent experience was a steep learning curve.

It all started with a documentary on a topic that I'm really interested in, so I got very excited about it. To add to the excitement, some people I know appeared in the documentary, so that made it extra exciting! It wasn't until about 2am the next morning when I was too excited to relax and sleep  that I realised that I had tipped over from excited to kind of hypomanic. The next day at work was unpleasant as I'd ended up only getting four hours sleep. I was 'buzzy' and irritable and knew I had to do something, so that night I raised the doses of my meds, and took enough to knock me out by 8pm. I've been on the higher dose for 12 days now and seem to be evening out so I might start reducing back to maintenance dose in a day or two.

At a visit to my psychiatrist six days after this started I told him what had happened, and what I had done. He said I had done the right thing with my meds. Go me! Maybe I'm getting this thing figured out after all!

So for this time at least, the score is Me: 1, Bipolar: 0 and I'm going to celebrate this small victory.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Inequality In Mental Health Care

This week in Australia a famous footballer spoke out in the media about dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and struggling with demons from his past that included sexual abuse and witnessing extreme violence. He is a well liked young man both inside and outside of the football community, and I have no doubt that the admissions he made to the media will have a positive impact far and wide. He really is a quality young man, and one I have admired for a long time. Long before he dropped his bombshell this week.

I am pleased to know that he will get every bit of help and assistance he needs and he has the full support of his employers - the football club. He will have the best psychiatrists and psychologists at his disposal, time off whenever he needs it to attend his therapies and a boss who knows what is going on, and is supporting him. There will be no interruption to his income for any time he needs to take off as footballers are paid by yearly fixed amount contracts.

Now this is the bit that makes me sad. This young man has everything he could possibly need in terms of treatment and support at his fingertips simply because of the fact that he is a footballer at a wealthy football club. Not many employers are able to provide that kind of support though.

For the rest of us, out here in the real world, dealing with our mental health issues isn't quite so easy. Many of us have to hide our illness from our employer. We juggle appointments around work, are forced to lie to bosses if we need time off - which for some is unpaid. Then we have to find the funds to finance our treating professionals and medications. For the folk in the real world, mental illness can be a cause of financial hardship or even homelessness.

It makes me sad (and angry too I guess), that these two scenarios can exist in society side by side. Where two people can have completely different opportunities, and therefore, completely different outcomes due to their circumstances and available resources. All might be fair in love and war, but it sure isn't in mental health care.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Family Support

Every counsellor, psychologist and psychiatrist I've ever been to asks about family support.

"Who do you live with?"
"Do you have any family close by?"
 "Is there someone in your family you can talk to or get support from?"
 "Are your family members supportive?"

One even wrote in my notes: "lack of family / social support is likely to hinder recovery."

Kinda gives you the impression that a supportive family is important to those of us with mental health issues.

It is.

But I don't have one.

I'm single, divorced actually. My parents are deceased, and I only have one sibling, six years my senior. He has never been supportive of me for any reason, so I have never hoped for his support with my mental health problems. We have been estranged for several years, so whether he would be supportive or not is a moot point really. I fumble through on my own, and every now and then I remember to give myself credit for managing my illness with only my treating professionals to rely on.

Last year when I was diagnosed as bipolar, after twenty years of suffering and misdiagnosis, it was no surprise to me to discover that genetics plays a strong role in the illness. There is a strong history of mental illness in my family, including one suicide and a couple of close relatives having spent time in psychiatric hospitals. Accurate information about these family members and their conditions may have helped me get diagnosed earlier, so my thoughts turned to my brothers children, and I considered how knowing about my diagnosis could be of assistance to them should they ever find themselves faced with mental health issues.  I was torn between keeping my diagnosis to myself, and telling my brother so that they would be armed with knowledge. My psychiatrist felt it was important to tell them considering the strong family history.

It took me a couple of months to decide, but I decided to tell. I wrote a brief letter outlining my diagnosis, the family history, and my reasons for sharing this information. I included a outline of what bipolar is. I didn't want my brothers children to face years of misdiagnosis should they fall prey to our shared genes, so I put it out there knowing I would receive no support, no sympathy or understanding but in the hope I could spare someone even part of what I have been through. I didn't expect much, a curt "Thank you for the information" would have been nice, but the response I got:


Absolutely nothing. No response at all.

So, I gave my brother deeply personal and stigmatising information so that it may one day benefit his children and he couldn't even be bothered saying thank you. I'm sure our parents would be proud.

Monday, 13 May 2013

All that it takes

I don't know about other mental illnesses, but bipolar is so exhausting. For me, the most exhausting thing about it is all the pretending. Pretending I'm OK, pretending everything is fine, pretending I am living a normal life. On top of the pretending is the surviving. Just getting through each day so I can go home, retreat mentally and gather my strength for the next day. And if its not the bipolar doing it, its the meds.

I'd like to have an active life. I'd like to swap my flat shoes for heals, pop on some make up and dash out to dinner after work now and then. Weekends away would be nice too, but I. just. can't. I'm too tired.

I'd like to go bush walking, or mountain bike riding, or dancing the night away. There is so much I'd like to do but if I achieved even half of it, I'd know I was hypomanic.

And if its not the disorder inhibiting life, it's the meds!

Bipolar. Its exhausting.

Sexual Assault in Mental Health Facilities

This story went to air on ABC News in Australia. It is disturbing, distressing and alarming. I have managed to avoid hospital admissions due to my mental illness, even though my GP has wanted to admit me in the past, I lied to her and promised I would have a family member come to stay and look after me. The truth is, I have no such family member and I just went home and... well I don't know what I did, but I survived to tell the tale.

Anyway, the point I am getting to, is that after reading and viewing this, there is no way I will ever go into a mental health facility if I can help it. No way.

                                                    You can find the full report here.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Weight of Bipolar

I had an extended appointment with the Practice Nurse at my Doctor's rooms today to put together a health care plan. You see, I've been so (mentally) ill over the past few years I haven't been able to take care of myself properly. I'm significantly overweight with a BMI of 37, unfit and my cholesterol is bad. You might wonder how this happened, it's not so hard to eat well and do some regular excercise right?  Wrong.

When you are so ill that it takes everything you have to simply survive each day, preparing a meal is a massive undertaking. Meat and three veg or a simple stir fry takes a few steps to prepare. Then there is the dishes that cooking creates. Put all that together and it's just too much. I don't mean too much work, I mean too many thoughts to string together to get it done. When you are having so much trouble thinking straight, putting even a few small steps together is near impossible and so is thinking up something healthy to eat that is simple to prepare. The other issue is the depression and the constant feeling I can only describe as a dull 'craziness'  that kept me confined to bed or the sofa. Exercise doesn't even make the priority list when you can barely move because your body feels like lead, and you feel too crazy to leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

It amazes me in hindsight now that I am (hopefully) recovering, how difficult simple things like self care are when you are ill. I know there were days when I had to venture out to the shops and I must have looked mentally ill. I know that might not be politically correct to say, but what I mean is that my personal grooming wasn't good and I was just holding on to sanity by a thread, fearing I would lose my grip at any moment. That showed outwardly I'm sure. I know that mental illness is not always visible and many people living with mental illness live successful lives. I'm simply referring to my own recent experiences.

So anyway, today I felt like I failed at life. I sat down with someone to make a plan for doing what most people can do naturally; look after their health. I know it's a positive that I am well enough to take this step, but I still feel a sense of failure about it all.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Butterfly Nebula

I recently discovered (well, I didn't but you know what I mean), a planetary nebula called The Butterfly Nebula. It's beautiful and I want to learn more about it, but it's special too because it is what is known as a bipolar formation. Who knew bipolar could be so beautiful?