The lasting effects of an Oscar winning performance!

So Christmas is over for another year!
As I was so unwell during the month or so before Christmas I was very worried about how I would cope and whether I could even enjoy myself and build on my positive Christmas memories that I had been doing so well to create over the last 5 or so years.
As a Christian I also wanted to be able to participate in the Church Christmas programme which included singing and helping to lead the children’s Christmas Eve service which I enjoy so much but that can be so hard when I am unwell.
I also had the added difficulty of experiencing awful anxiety and panic in shops and other crowded places which means shopping and some social occasions also were out of the question.
So with a few very supportive family members and close friends and the trusty internet I prepared for Christmas practically and with the prayers, support and love of those at the Church I managed to participate fully in the Advent and Christmas services and with my amazing family I also enjoyed and have treasured memories of a lovely Christmas Day.
Yet this has also come at some cost. I have written before about an Oscar winning performance and how in some ways it is massively important for me to keep going with things, put on a brave face and to some people pretend all is well but on the other hand I have to get the balance right as the consequences can be hard to cope with if I don’t.
On Christmas Day evening about 10pm I felt this wave of panic and exhaustion. I put it down to overindulging and tiredness and I had such a lovely day that it didn’t spoil it in anyway. It did though mean I was worried and woke up a couple of times that night in a panic and when I woke on Boxing Day I wouldn’t of been able to pretend to anyone. I was depressed and every part of me felt like it weighed 20 stone. I was so relieved that I had made no plans as getting out of bed took hours and leaving the house was a no go area. I couldn’t even get dressed but I battled to do a few jobs, setup my new laptop and did cook a meal but everything took twice as long as normal but I tried to convince myself that exhaustion can have this effect.
Yesterday was not a lot better although I achieved jobs in the house but I couldn’t step outside and realised I had not got dressed since Christmas Day evening. The thought of seeing anyone apart from my husband or my mum was frightening.
This morning I knew I had to break the cycle for my own peace of mind and so I got up and went to Church where once again felt so pleased that I had done this and fought the illness in my own small way. Yes I sometimes smiled when I really wanted to cry but it gave me confidence that I thought I had lost. I even managed a trip to little Waitrose and cups of tea at Mum’s & a close friends.
I some ways the Oscar performance both before Christmas, Christmas Day itself and today meant that I came down with a crash but it also gave me a boost when I really needed it and that will probably help in the long run. I now have a week before I return to work and I hope the small positive steps continue and the depression lifts for longer each day.

One of the hardest weeks ……

After one of the hardest weeks I have had this year I thought I should blog as hopefully it might help to get things down and I haven’t blogged for ages! Last weekend I was struggling but trying to stay positive and I had got my sleeping into a sort of routine again. I had a fairly positive weekend – caught up with friends, went to Church – the depression was coming and going and my anxiety was also still causing problems. Whilst in Church I realised that music was slightly distorted and that I occasionally heard sounds that others didn’t.
On Sunday night I hardly slept at all and probably going into work at all on Monday was not a great idea. The depression was so bad it felt physically painful and my head was full of so many negative and painful thoughts that I couldn’t focus on anything.
I was only working till 3pm instead of 5pm as it is one of my reasonable adjustments when I am not well but work is also very stressful at the moment and so I knew I needed to take a break. I felt as though I couldn’t work out what was real and what wasn’t.
I am only under my GP who is brilliant and I knew that I couldn’t face A and E so therefore I put all my strategies into place and had 2 days off work which is very unusual for me. It did though mean that I could take PRN medication at night at slightly higher doses than normal without worrying about being dozy in the daytime. I did worry about being on my own during the day but I saw people and friends and family kept in touch.
I spoke to my doctor who then agreed that getting back into a routine might help so I went back on Thursday slightly more rested but with a fit note to work till 1pm until I finish for Christmas.
It has been a very dark week, one where I have wanted it all to end on many occasions but there is a bit more hope this weekend and I have shown that I am coping better with such severe symptoms and also made the right decisions as far as my care was concerned.
I am massively grateful to those who have sticked by me this week – hoping I can look forward to Christmas and a well needed rest.

Autumn Anxiety

I have not posted or even tweeted much for a while as I have been very busy with work but also dealing with increased anxiety. This is mostly because work is very stressful and I am struggling with the massive increase in pressure and uncertainty which every working day seems to bring.
I am experiencing physical symptoms like a racing heart beat, palpitations and the anxiety comes in great waves which can also catch me off guard. These symptoms along with worry and panic don’t make for very comfortable nights or for that matter days.
I am also anxious because I have been well for so long (since March/April) and this period of ‘wobblyness’ comes at what is always a difficult time of year for me. October and Autumn/Winter in general has many painful memories and often, although not always, the most likely time for a relapse. I think being scared of relapsing is one of the biggest factors in my anxiety and one that is hard to rationalise but talking about it certainly helps.
As ever I have put in place my WRAP and whilst I certainly don’t need to step into full blown crisis mode (far from it) I can be proud that I now have the coping strategies to acknowledge and deal with potential difficulties earlier than ever before.
I also have lots to look forward, starting with a holiday in France in a weeks time, a short break in November and a lovely family Christmas. Small steps are definitely in order!

Birthdays – from dreading them to enjoying them! #recovery

On Thursday it was my Birthday, a day that in the past would have maybe been horrendous or I would of gone through the whole day pretending to enjoy whatever I was doing when inside I was willing everything to end.
I sometimes wonder what has changed, a birthday even 5 years ago was not that enjoyable.
I suppose the main thing is that when I was much younger I really had little control over my birthday. Family events were difficult for many reasons and I craved so much the ‘normal family’ celebration that I was always disappointed or in some cases completely traumatised by the days events. My birthday always fell in the school holidays and when I was younger I often wished it didn’t.
Going out for a meal for my birthday was also something I didn’t enjoy, I had (and possibly still do have) an ambivalent relationship with food and because of our family setup I would have more than one intense meal out which I rarely could fully enjoy.
Over the last few years I have been able to look back and recollect some good birthdays from my childhood/teenage years such as a party in my garden for probably my 5th birthday, celebrating turning 10 on Brownie Pack Holiday & turning 17 whilst on holiday with the family during a stable period. All of these have taken time to remember as often the bad times crowd the good ones.
During my adult life illness has often plagued my birthday – if I have been unwell I have just wanted to shut myself away or often made myself 10 times worse by pretending that everything was perfect. If I have been ok I used to spend the lead up to my birthday worrying I would get ill and therefore spoiling it not for me but for those around me who go to so much effort.
So what is different now – if I am unwell I can often eventually say I am and I am under no pressure to do anything I don’t feel up to doing. Yes some people will be disappointed and that does throw up some guilt but on the whole I feel so much more able to be in control of what I want and need. I also feel that in the past I thought I didn’t deserve a birthday, I certainly hated receiving cards or gifts of any kind as felt so unworthy. I still find this difficult but I can enjoy it and this is more evidence of how far I have come.
Birthdays are also only 1 day, a day that could happen on any day and are often a chance to catch up with people. Trying to relax is something I find hard but I am starting to do this and last Thursday was definitely a birthday to cherish!

Dealing with stress at work, my survival guide!

As some of you may know I am dealing with huge increased stress at work at the moment and obviously with a diagnosis of bipolar I am scared I am getting ill or may get ill in the future. I am though lucky that at the moment I am very well and so I have been able to put some strategies in place to safeguard myself and to also go someway to stop being so frightened.

One of the most important things I have done is to recognise the symptoms of stress and deal with these as they occur. I have felt my anxiety rise which is probably the most frightening symptom as I often experience horrendous anxiety when I am ill. I have used the same coping strategies as I do for any anxiety I experience and given myself praise for coping with the anxiety (something I wouldn’t do if I was ill)!

I have recognised that stress is serious and just because it isn’t a bipolar episode I still need to take care of myself and recognise the symptoms. I have kept in constant contact with my doctor and asked friends and family for their reassurance, advice and support.

I have also drawn on support at work. Whilst certain people or situations have caused stress I also know that the organisation have procedures and policies to assist where necessary. I have done everything I can to make the time at work easier and drawn on HR support, team support and support of my close colleagues where I can.

I have used my WRAP which really comes into its own in times like this and it is even more important to take care of oneself and the mundane eating, sleeping etc are vital. Last week I wasn’t sleeping that well because it was hot and so I took something to help me sleep after just a couple of days as I knew and recognised that sleep was even more important during this period of stress.

Last weekend has also given me huge confidence and something to remember during the week that has followed. I took 16 Brownies to the Zoo, helped lead a Church parade and Messy Church and I felt fantastic! If I was ill the whole weekend would of been a massive struggle and at difficult times during this week I have remembered this. I have found that because I have a diagnosis of bipolar certain people have said I must be experiencing a bipolar episode when I have raised concerns over the stress I am under. When this has happened this week I have been able to remember last weekend and even tell people what I did and how I felt which has given me and others the confidence that I am not experiencing bipolar symptoms.

It hasn’t been easy and I am exhausted, emotional and sometimes physically unwell but I am taking a day at a time, doing all I can to take care of myself and can draw strength from the last few weeks.

Haven’t blogged for ages … This is why!…..#uberbusy

I haven’t blogged for absolutely ages but I have had the most amazing month! Firstly I am well! Really well – no depression, no hypomania just steady … calm and well! Not only that I have coped with being ridiculously busy, quite a bit of stress (good stress!) and the odd panic attack in a way that I haven’t coped before.
As some of you may know I am a Christian and very involved with my local Church. I first went along when I was not even a year old and 34 years later it still plays a huge and wonderful part in my life. I am now an Elder and run the Messy Church with my sister in law amongst other things. I was married in the Church 5 years ago which was the happiest day of my life and the church has journeyed with me and supported me during every stage of my life and especially through my bipolar diagnosis and traumatic life events. This amazing fellowship and congregation of inspirational, devoted friends has just celebrated its 75th anniversary and boy have we celebrated! It has been wonderful to remember the laughter, some tears and worship that has taken place within the Church and been lovely to celebrate with the local community and members past and present. As the Church looks forward to the next 25 years or even 75 years I am also able to look forward knowing that I have the most amazing support network in place starting with my husband, family and friends and am so lucky to have the Church as a constant support as they also learn more about mental illness and as the stigma and barriers surrounding his sometimes difficult topic are broken down by friendship, fellowship and prayer.
Last weekend after the Church’s celebrations were over I joined with 47 others to celebrate the 50th Wedding Anniversary of a very special couple. Carole and Mike welcomed me into their home, family and friendship groups nearly 15 years ago after Carole was my tutor at college when I returned to re-take my a’levels at the age of 19. This followed my first hospital admission and I was so unwell. After supporting me at college Carole and I became friends and she has been there through so many difficult times and spent many hours in accident and emergency and psychiatric hospitals with me as well as providing me with somewhere to live at times. As I have slowly journeyed through recovery and got better at managing my episodes Carole has been there and helped me learn so much about myself and my illness and had been a major player in helping me get to where I am today. Last weekend 48 of us celebrated at Butlins and I am immensely proud of Carole and Mike, and their love for each other and for their family and friends is an inspiration.
The message from this blog for me is a reminder of the wonderful support I have, the people I have rooting for me and the fact that at the moment I am doing well and that taking a day at a time is the way forward for me. I am well at the moment and yes I am terrified of getting ill but I need to live in the now and I am going to try so hard to do this.
Massive thanks to all my family, friends and Church fellowship – love you all.

Keeping busy but not too busy! #recovery

I haven’t blogged for a while mainly because I have been mega busy! I am really enjoying being well however at the back of my mind is a nagging worry that won’t go away. I am worried about getting ill again and that this exceptionally busy period that I am having at the moment ( which I hasten to add is very enjoyable) might prove to be a trigger. I find myself regularly checking for symptoms and lying awake thinking about my day and whether there are any signs that I am going downhill that I missed.
Thank goodness that apart from being tired which isn’t out of the ordinary I am definitely not feeling depressed or even low, I am not overly anxious and have no hypomanic symptoms.
Due to the fact that I have this constant nagging worry & the fact that looking after myself is so important I have come up with a few things that I am going to do everyday. I am hoping that these things will lessen the worry and reassure myself that I am doing ok. My list so far is:

-Letting myself have a short ‘Worry’ time each day and then try to leave my worries for the rest of the day.
-Have at least half an hour (hopefully more when I am less busy) of ‘me’ time each day where I write a blog, read or watch TV.
-Have regular breaks at work and make sure I eat 3 times a day
-Talk to family and friends and listen to them if they think I am overtired or if they have any concerns
-Remind myself of my WRAP regularly but without obsessing about possible symptoms

I have come such a long way over the past month or so and I am hoping that this will continue for the foreseeable future but I also don’t want to be dragged down everyday that I am feeling well by worrying about getting ill.

It’s a WRAP!

I thought I would write a blog about my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) as this has been a great help to me and although it isn’t for everyone it might help people to read about mine! I also find that it reinforces mine to myself and than can only be a good thing.
Mine might not be the method everyone uses but it is one way:

Wellness Tools:
(Activities I enjoy or that help me feel better)

Spending time with husband & family
Talking to Friends/Socialising
Mindfulness
Going to Church
Keeping a routine
Using my light box
Reading
Singing
Watching things on TV I enjoy
Listen to music
Doing things I know I can do
Write a blog
Chat on Twitter

Daily Maintenance Plan:
(Things I should try and do everyday)

Keeping a routine
Eating 3 meals a day
Getting some rest
Taking regular breaks at work
Resting at home everyday
Reading for 1/2 hour everyday
Have a shower
Do something I enjoy
Keep my mind active
Mindfulness
Get out of bed everyday

Triggers:
(Identifying those triggers or events that might make me feel worse)

Tiredness
Emotional events
Seeing people that may of caused me distress in the past
Skipping meals
Too much stress at work
Spending too much time alone

If any of these triggers occur I try and implement an action plan:
I try and stick to my daily maintenance plan
Call someone on my support list
Practice mindfulness

Early Warning Signs:
(Subtle signs that I may becoming unwell)

Not sleeping more than about 4 hours
Slight paranoia
Anxiety in certain situations
Becoming very low
Spending too much money
Racing thoughts

If I notice these signs I then try and implement an action plan:
Ask for some help from support list to implement daily maintenance plan
Ask people for help and support
Try to have company where possible
Start using PRN – probably promethazine

When things are getting worse:
(What signs I should look out for when I am feeling much worse)

Wanting to sleep all day but not able to sleep at night
Anxiety getting worse & shaking some of the time
Not eating at all without prompting
Having thoughts of suicide
Hearing or seeing things that others can’t
Paranoia so bad that I can’t leave the house easily

If these signs are present then again I try and implement an action plan:
Call GP
Think about implementing crisis plan
Try and ensure I am not on my own
Talk with people who are able to offer support
Think about taking Diazepam to control symptoms
Talk to work about implementing flexible working

Crisis Plan:
Ensure that GP is involved at this stage and in discussion with me consider contacting CMHT.
Ensure I have medication to help with symptoms
Attend A&E as a last resort but ask for help from support network.
Ask for support in monitoring PRN so that I am safe
Identifying where on the scale my suicidal thoughts are.
Carry my WRAP & care plan from GP with me to show to other professionals I might meet.

This is my WRAP that works for me and helps me to feel more in control which I find really important. I constantly re-visit this WRAP and share its contents with those involved in my care. It has also proved useful at work to ensure I am supported correctly.

In Limbo wondering what my mood might do next!

This time last week I was hypomanic in fact every day last week I could quite easily have worked another full day, my mind was racing and in certain social situations I had increased confidence. This also had negative symptoms as well and for the last 2 weeks the hypomania has presented different symptoms including anxiety. On Friday I noticed that my head and actions had calmed significantly however I have been left with the most frightening paranoia and I am terrified that I am going to enter a depressive episode and that is something I can’t seem to shake off.
I know that sometimes I can experience hypomania and then a period of relative stability however I also know that depression is an option and the last couple of episodes have gone this way and in a dramatic fashion.
A day or even an hour at a time is the best course of action for the next few days. Apologies for short blog but struggling to get my words out or make much sense. Thanks for reading.

I want to abolish evenings and nights!

This may seem ridiculous but I am completely at a loss about how to improve the evenings. This recovery has been very tough – I am frustrated and I know possibly also impatient but the evenings and nights are so hard. I can have a fairly positive day – without any signs of depression. I may get pangs of anxiety during the day but all in all I am pleased with the progress I have made. I then return home or even at the weekends start to settle in for the evening (although I can feel unwell in the evenings even if I am out and not at home) and quite quickly the anxiety sets in and I start to experience waves of depression and even desperation when it is at it’s worse.
I have tried everything – I have rested, tried to read, tried to keep busy or find distractions. I have had baths, practiced mindfulness but nothing seems to work for long or at all and the evenings and nights that follow really bring me down and I am using all the positivity I can muster to keep focused and reminding myself how far I have come. What really frightens me is the speed in which I experience these symptoms. Literally just minutes can pass and that really undermines my confidence and scares me so much.
The nights have also been bad and I had been struggling to get to sleep much before 2am and waking 2 or 3 times in a complete panic and then really only dozing before waking again. This was frustrating during the holidays but I could at least doze in till lunchtime if I needed to but I couldn’t let this continue when I returned to work so I started taking sleeping tablets from Saturday night. I have had 2 better nights sleep but still woke each night once and was fairly distressed. I have at least ensured I am getting 6 hours sleep a night which is vital to sustain my recovery – I am walking a tightrope that seems to be getting thinner.
I have an appointment on 22nd January with my care coordinator which is not ideal but going to ring GP tomorrow as I need to ensure I can talk this through with a professional – I hate feeling isolated on top of everything else.