‘Yes it really did take me this long to get ready’….

Those people who don’t acknowledge the desperate symptoms of depression, or in fact struggle to acknowledge the pain of mental illness full stop please read on! 

I am known for being pretty quick at doing things, not least getting ready, either to go to work or out for the evening. I often surprise myself how quickly I can get to work if I oversleep! 

For the last week I have experienced deep depression and over the last 3 days this has been very intense. I haven’t been able to function anywhere near what might be considered ‘normal’ for me.  Today I have spent the majority of the day in bed and put all my energy into getting ready to go out tonight. I can already hear people say ‘you can’t be that ill if able to go out’. I am not going to a nightclub or even to a restaurant but instead going to a low key dinner organised by some friends of my Mums. Cancelling plans is obviously an option but often the guilt involved with doing so can be even more difficult than the effort taken to go out.

This morning after another difficult night I woke about 8am but was still feeling  drugged from the night before and managed to rest again for a few hours until 11am. Even then getting up seemed completely impossible. My head felt like lead and the physical pain in my body and head was really intense and then as I started to feel more human the thoughts and flashbacks that have haunted me through most of my waking hours over the past few days hit me again. I don’t seem to feel anything in particular when I am this depressed but instead am all consumed by a horrid numbness that is so debilitating. 

When I finally managed to surface it took a long while before I could manage a conversation. This is such a hard thing for me as I am a normally a sociable person, I love a good chat and even more importantly when I am depressed I need to talk so badly as my thoughts can be even more destructive if I don’t talk them through with someone. When the depression affects my ability to communicate it can mean that the depression is fuelled further by the negative thoughts.

After only being up for a couple of hours I went back to bed. My head hurt from the effort I had made to get up and my body ached so much. We were being collected at 7pm and so I needed to have a shower which I am ashamed to say hasn’t happened in the past 3 days. I thought if I showered at 5pm that would give me plenty of time but when 5pm came I just couldn’t get out of bed and it was another half an hour at least before I managed to get up.

I sat on the bed whilst drying my hair instead of standing up looking in the mirror. Looking in a mirror when I feel as wretched as I do about myself certainly never helps the depression and just adds to my anxiety. I grab a pair of jeans and crave finding a comfortable hoody to feel safe in but instead try and make an effort with a nice top and jacket. I can’t believe that just showering, drying my hair and getting dressed had taken over an hour as each step involved having another lie down to find enough energy to carry on. 

Yes I can do putting on a front, smiling and pushing myself to engage in conversation but only those closest to me know the impact that has, the recovery time that I will need afterwards and only a few can see the pain in my eyes from having to push myself to do anything. 

Depression for me is more than intense sadness. It is the most awful pain that seems to follow me everywhere. If I manage a distraction it only lasts a short time before being brought back down to earth with such a bump. Be gentle with those people you know who are depressed. Try not to judge those who seem to be doing ‘normal’ activities – you don’t know how long it took them to get there.

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Let’s keep the #mentalhealth conversation going everyday

So tomorrow is #timetotalk day which as with all these initiatives is a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Mental Illness and especially the issue of stigma which sadly is all too real for many people today. Whilst it is vital for charities to set aside days to focus on and generate much needed publicity it is also important that those of us who are able to keep that conversation going everyday of the year where possible. 

#timetotalk day should not be the only day of the year to talk about mental health but just another opportunity from a possible 365 days each year. I for one will try to remember that every conversation that I have has the potential to change lives. 

Firstly talking about mental health in the same way we do with other illnesses and conditions helps to lessen the stigma that  there still seems to be. Many people have been surprised when I have mentioned depression in the same way that I might talk about asthma and I know that this can make a difference overtime. 

Talking about our own stories and journeys of mental illness can also have a huge impact on those we meet whether at work or even at the local gym or coffee shop. We should never underestimate how hearing someone talk about their experiences could encourage someone else to seek help for someone they know or even for themselves. It is important not to forget what an impact a personal testimony has the potential to have. 

At the Church where I am a member I have just written an article for our monthly magazine to raise the profile of mental health within the Church. I have researched websites that can signpost people to information and support and even if just one person is helped by this then it is definitely worth doing. 

I hope events for #timetotalk go well tomorrow and that it opens up the opportunity for many more conversations during the year ahead. 

My recent bipolar journey

Thanks to my followers for sticking by me even though I haven’t blogged for ages.

During November last year I very quickly became depressed and also experienced horrendous anxiety. During the last few depressive bipolar episodes I have been frightened by the pace that I have become unwell. This episode was no different and I very quickly developed awful paranoia, debilitating suicidal thoughts and the black cloud was heavier than ever. 

Although the symptoms seem to come on more quickly than they did a few years ago, I am grateful to my GP for also acting just as quickly. She upped my PRN medication, referred me back to the community mental health team (CMHT) and helped to facilitate reduced working hours as part of a reasonable adjustment. My employers were amazing and acted quickly on my doctors recommendation, ensured I had enough support and probably most importantly for me allowed me to carry on with my job which is hugely important during an episode if at all possible. 

It quickly became apparent that the referral to the community mental health team wasn’t going to be as quick as it had been in the previous year. I was hearing from other contacts and healthcare professionals that patients were waiting weeks in all areas to be contacted even when the referral was marked as urgent. I was surprised that the number of referrals had increased so much that the waiting time for someone who was actively suicidal had increased from 1 day in late 2015 to at least 7 days in late 2016. 

One of the consequences of this delay is that the local accident and emergency department takes the brunt of the loophole. Those people who are not quite in crisis when referred by their GP end up crossing that line into crisis and often end up in accident and emergency before they are seen by the community team.

I am hugely grateful to my family and friends who supported me whilst waiting for the CMHT to respond and even though I reached crisis point during that wait I wasn’t a statisitic in Accident and Emergency because of the network I am so lucky to have around me. 

In a weeks time I am meeting with the trust to look at this serious loophole, discuss possible solutions and most importantly see if the issue regarding Accident and Emergency not being a suitable place for people in a mental health crisis can be addressed more successfully than it is at present. 

I want to know why prevention doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of professional’s thinking in so many mental health areas and why there seems to be a reluctance to provide any consistency in care for many experiencing mental illness. I am also interested in the role of the crisis team as I am hearing more and more how the support from some crisis teams is not what it should be. 

By Christmas I had thankfully turned the corner and the care that I received from the CMHT once I was contacted was helpful. As always I dreaded January but it has been a really positive month and the hope that I found at Christmas through my faith and the love and support of those around me has strengthened me even further than I dared hope for 2 months ago.

300 days without depression…

To be honest if anyone had said to me on the 28th December 2015 that I wouldn’t experience any depression at anytime during the next 300 days then I just wouldn’t of believed them. 

Last year was a pretty difficult year for me and at times the depression I experienced as part of many prolonged bipolar episodes was deep and painful. At times I wondered if I would ever get through.

I am not saying that the last 300 days have been a bed a roses but I can honestly say that I am coping pretty well and every month I seem to be able to discover a new strategy or find someone to chat to who helps me see something in a slightly different way. I am still plagued with anxiety and recently over the last month or so this has been pretty unbearable. Panic attacks have woken me in the night and some days increased stress at work have meant too many escapes to the toilets to hide away from everyone.

I am often asked what is different? What has changed? How have I managed to stay so well for so long? In someways I would love to give an answer,to share the newfound wellness knowledge with everyone and maybe help 100’s of people have 300 days free from a depressive episode but sadly it isn’t that straightforward. 

Bipolar is an unpredictable illness, one which could quite easily catch me unawares at anytime, anyplace. I am sure that some of my coping strategies do help and that I can’t be 100% sure that if I stopped all the positive changes I have made over the years that I would have had such a stable period recently but I need to be realistic.

To be totally honest I am really scared about having a period of deep depression again and the recent anxiety and stress has caused me to worry more about this. I think that instead of dwelling on the possibility of getting really ill I am actually trying to strike a balance so that if/when this happens I can deal with it as positively as I can, although I am also aware that depression alters the way I think about everything and therefore postivity is often hard to find in these circumstances. 

I also want to, if possible, look forward to the next 300 days and the new challenges, life experiences and good times that might be ahead and if I can have the next 300 days depression free then that would be amazing but if I do become really unwell I will try not to give myself too much of a hard time about it, I want to give myself the time and space to recover and let people help where they can. 

One of the most important messages I have communicated to myself in the past year and to others is that mental illness is not a choice, sadly this is still a myth that needs to be dispelled in so many areas of society. 

Hope ….

I write this blog after being well for nearly 7 months. This is the longest period of wellness that I have had for years (maybe even since my diagnosis) and gives me real hope for the future. Just 9 months ago I was nearing the end of an awful year as far as my bipolar goes and I was not sure how much more I could take.  I had lost hope.

Over the last 7 months I have thankfully found that hope again, it hasn’t been easy and I have had to make some difficult decisions, changed things in my life, have had hard conversations with myself but the hope has returned and that is just the best feeling!

Life isn’t really easy and carefree but it is good, fulfilling and I am very happy. I do have to give myself a reality check often (sometimes daily) to monitor how tired I am, how much sleep I am getting, whether something I want to do might not be the best idea. I have to avoid things because they might lead to increased anxiety which in turn might trigger an episode and some days I am definitely still walking on egg shells.  But having said all that, the hope I longed for at the end of last year has returned with the help of my family, friends and for the first time some superb mental health care.  

After a turbulent few days as a citizen of this country I wish the hope that I have found for myself could somehow be transferred into the lives of everyone in the UK.  Let us celebrate the fact we are so fortunate to live in a democracy and remember those with no hope and no chance of ever having a vote or having their voice heard. Let us unite in hope and try and bring some peace, compassion and love into the most difficult of situations. Let us celebrate our differences and not let politics divide us. 

None of us know what the future holds in this great country just like I don’t know what the future holds for me and bipolar.  What I do know is that hope can return and change situations for the better and for the moment that is what I am holding on to.

When life throws a few curveballs ….

I am well! A great place to be and what is even more wonderful is that I have been very well since Christmas. I have coped amazingly well during the early winter months of this year and seem to really feel in tune with myself.

I have had wonderful support and when I have experienced mild anxiety I have been able to use strategies well and not been as phased by set backs as sometimes in the past. Earlier this month I saw my GP and for the first time in years she didn’t make me a follow up appointment but instead let me decide when to make another one. 

This past week or so has though been a reminder of how fragile I am and how difficult it can be to cope with things out of the ordinary. Over the last week an inquest has taken place of a dear friend who took her own life nearly 4 years ago. After such a long time it has been very difficult and a poignant reminder of how serious mental illness is, how unsatisfactory some of our mental health services are and most importantly how wonderful my friends and family are in helping to care for me when I am unwell. It has also reminded me of how instrumental unpaid carers are in the lives of those with mental health illnesses and of course it has brought back to me the lowest times of my life and the times when life was certainly not worth living.

As you can imagine this has left me feeling somewhat fragile and so when I received an email 3 days ago informing me that I needed to reapply for my job I was thrown into a deeper state of anxiety and had to throw every ounce of strength I had into staying positive, supporting my team and ensuring I followed whatever process necessary to apply for the right job in the new structure. This I know is common place in many jobs nowadays but difficult all the same and when restructures happen on a large scale it is difficult to have a personal approach so it often seems very corporate and scary.  I think I am ok and have a job to apply for and hope that the opportunity to outline my skills and experience will prove positive and add to raising my self esteem. 

Although not always easy this last 2 weeks has shown me how far I have come, the importance of my life and even though I had a complete wobble this evening and couldn’t be bothered with trying to be sensible as was just totally exhausted I can still see the light that has been present for the last few months. 

Thanks to all those people who stand with me through the struggles and to all those who support the many others in their struggles. 

Mental Health Care needs a Miracle #inthemind

This week the BBC are screening quite a few programs as part of their ‘In the Mind’ series. 

I will be tuning in to see the programs, and this weeks programs have also coincided with a ‘Taskforce’ report into the lack of good mental health care available and references to the ‘Cinderella’ service are widespread.

As a NHS trust Governor I am all too aware of the pressures within mental health care and only in the last year have I personally received good crisis care after being under mental health services for years. NHS Trusts are having to drastically change the way they offer services to save money and not only does this mean there is a postcode lottery about who is able to accessgood care but the system is so stretched that if too many people are accessing the service at a particular time then people living in the same area can have hugely different experiences. 

On recent visits as a governor I have been encouraged by what I have seen which have also backed up my own experiences in the past year, but I realise that this is sadly not the case for the majority of people I meet and speak to. I am hearing everyday how in every part of the country people are waiting months for mental health care, receiving inadequate crisis support and inpatient care that is far from therapeutic. 

So television series and media reactions to reports are all very well and certainly put mental health care at the top of the agenda, but how long for? How long will it be before this weeks television is a distant memory and the people that feature in documentaries are long forgotten about? Will the taskforce reports bring better care for those who need it most? So many questions that I have asked so many times. 

Like many people I have been campaigning for improved mental health care for years and have sadly been on the receiving end of mental health care for 20 years. I have seen the increase in awareness raising of both mental illness and the lack of care avaliable but I have yet to see much change. Will this week be the start of something different and more positive?