I’m doing the things I need to in order to stay well and thrive – except I’m not thriving – I’m surviving. Bipolar, I thought, I can usually deal with as I have done for decades, but the acute anxiety – that’s been on another level for me. I realise now, in the past I was obviously experiencing acute anxiety which was part of my manic episodes – I simply revved it all up with alcohol or drugs. It’s been a long time between revs let me tell you. I gave up drinking many years ago and the prescription drugs are quite obsessively controlled because I am very aware of my addictive nature and risk taking when experiencing depression or mania. I am quite paranoid about drugs now and hopefully always will be. Having an addiction to Heroin at age fifteen and being forced to withdraw in an institution cold turkey certainly left its mark on me.
So my Bipolar (mine because all of us who suffer with it do so differently) is something I’m trying to tone down with some lifestyle adjustments and medication. I can ‘feel’ the little tell tale signs. I’m becoming very attuned to the kind of stress that triggers it. What I don’t like is that my major trigger is my current living arrangement. I live with my husband and my mother – I am mums full time carer. I find it extremely stressful because I don’t have the freedom to just do what I want – there are so many things to consider and plans have to made if my husband and I want to do anything together. This of course is not my mums’ fault – it’s just life. It is also exacerbated by the fact I don’t trust institutions or institutional carers. Several times bitten – forever shy.
Right now I’d love to say that my life is completely calm. However it’s been a very stressful few years and put simply – I feel I m only just now on my way to feeling more ‘calm’. Three years ago I was nursing my mum and dad (who lived with us). They had been suffering for weeks from unexplained and unbearable pain. A series of events resulted in them both being diagnosed with cancer within a week of each other. Yeah I know right – you’ve got to be fucking kidding. Dad ended up in hospital because the pain had become unmanageable at home. It was at the hospital after several tests we were finally given the news. He had Melanoma that has metastasised to the brain, adrenal glands and spine. In fact the pain was from a fracture in the spine caused by the spread. We were told that he had days or weeks to live. Within two days he had fallen into acute delirium and we never really ‘saw’ our real dad again.
I nursed him for weeks with the help of select family members until he died. Of course throughout this I also became the carer of my mum. She had just been given her own cancer diagnosis, has an acquired brain injury and now she had lost her husband of 54 years. I was also working on a fruit farm – it’s hard work with lots of heavy lifting and lots of mud – and yes the mud is important when you are stressed and dealing with crap. So here I was trying to juggle a life with my family, mums chemo treatment, my job and my daughter who was living with us at the time became pregnant to a bloke she’d only recently started dating after a disastrous relationship with a wankfester. There was an awful lot going on.
I was aware of my moods throughout this period. I was thankful for the mania when it kicked in because to tell the truth, without it I honestly don’t think I could have coped as well as I did. The difficult part for me was dealing with the depression and the awful anxiety. It was interfering with everything at the time but I had to just keep soldiering on. I should also mention that I have three autoimmune diseases – yes more than one. I should be so lucky!! Now you won’t be able to get that Kylie song out of your head. You’re welcome.
Anyway – it’s safe to say that while I was dealing with the stresses of life at the time – my autoimmune issues went through the roof and my depression was getting worse and I generally felt like a walking zombie. I plodded along because who else was going to? There’s no magic fairy coming along to take the load. I was aware of feeling somewhat out of pace with everything and feelings of strangeness. Like a fear of something but I didn’t know what. It took me quite a long time to realise that what I was going through was acute anxiety. I even thought I was having a heart attack one particularly bad night. My husband was trying to decide whether to call an ambulance or drive me to hospital himself. I went to the medical centre and they did an electrocardiogram which thankfully found that I had not had a heart attack. It wasn’t until many months later that I realised this was very normal for people who have anxiety disorders. It wasn’t that I was in denial. I simply didn’t think it was possible that there could be another thing wrong with me. It was exhausting enough hiding (however unsuccessfully) the bipolar and dealing with the autoimmune issues without this crap on top.
When the anxiety started I wasn’t altogether a big fan. Depression I can usually deal with in my own way and hypomania too. Anxiety though scares the crap out of me – it makes me feel even more unpredictable than bipolar. It seems to come visiting when there is just too much going on in my life and when I worry – vicious circle huh. It’s a bit like an alarm bell to let me know that things are about to blow up. Of course when this happens it’s not just me that pays the price – it’s everyone around me. Living with that kind of guilt is really crap. Living with me can be really crap too – I know that.
Anxiety prevents me from sleeping. Mania on the other hand sees me choosing to not sleep. Insomnia is a symptom of a stressed mind or body. My lack of sleep and the level of anxiety I was experiencing finally blew up in a spectacular display of dangerous aggression closely followed by a breakdown. I simply had to admit that this was all too much for me and sought medical help. I still try to maintain a semblance of control even when I seek help. While most would see it as baggage from my past – I call it knowledge from my past experiences in the institution. I have never (as an adult) taken mood stabilisers, antipsychotics or the like – until now and I truly believe I need them.
I never experienced a manic or depressive episode until I was nearly sixteen. I figured that I was troubled because of sexual abuse, substance abuse and being homeless. After being released from Wilson I was messed up. I took drugs and drank to cope. I believe it was the combination of drugs, my unaddressed issues and an episode of mania that saw me be extremely violent. The only times I have been extremely violent is when I was manic AND drunk. Not a good mix.
I never sought help as a young adult simply because I had no faith in the experts of that era.
I will always remember that it was perfectly acceptable to take hordes of young girls and drug them with stupefying drugs just to keep them quiet – in case there was trouble. It was experts who thought it was perfectly OK to have two or three men hold girls down as young as twelve, sedate them and then force them to be internally examined for a ‘pap smear’ before they were allowed to swim in the pool. It was experts in the field of psychiatry that thought it was OK to do these things and more that are not really relevant to this blog. So call it baggage if you like, but I still don’t trust many of the experts.
I know what I know – myself. I know that experts only know what they are taught and what they observe. They have the diagnostic manual (currently the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM 5) – a manual that is disputed by many of the experts whom are meant to use it. I am not really fussed about the manuals – even though I have them (my bad). Even though I may have been in denial for a number of years I acknowledge and accept that I have Bipolar with psychotic features. I know what I have learned and I observe my behaviour. I monitor myself and I have my ‘team’ around me who will be honest with me. It was my team who encouraged me to seek help for my latest breakdown. So I did. If I have to be compliant with anything in regards to my mental health – it’ll be my team who know me and whom I trust – even when I don’t like what they are telling me. I have to place my trust in them.
The reason I trust them is because they don’t claim to know everything and they don’t believe that every wrong behaviour is due to my mental illness. We all have times of poor behaviour. For example how often have you snapped at someone simply because you are frustrated or tired? How many times have you bitched about a friend who you think is being untruthful with you? If I was to do that back in the day my counsellor would tell me I was paranoid. It’s so frustrating that once you have a label – everyone uses it whether it’s applicable to the situation or not. I do get paranoid and I sometimes need to be told that I am. However there are times when I am dead on. Just like you. Over the last three decades my diagnosis has had a name change several times, the symptoms list has evolved and now we all just swing on that spectrum somewhere.
So back to that awful anxiety. I sought help and I have medication to treat it. I was using a diary containing my mood chart, diet, events going on, medications for anything else but to be frankly honest – I don’t stick to it. When I am fine it’s great and when I’m not then there is intervention. I take my meds, do my best to eat healthy and the rest is up to life really.
You might be wondering about that ‘extreme violence’ – in my late teens I was highly volatile. I broke bones, caused hearing loss, threw a woman into cars and into the middle of a busy highway, smashed houses apart, smashed people apart and smashed the huge thick doors at a pub from repeatedly bashing a woman’s head into them (I don’t actually remember much of this – just sketchy flashes of memory). I also deliberately ram raided a chemist and tried to run a police officer down when he tried to pull me up (I was driving underage). I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift now – I was extremely violent. I was volatile, aggressive and messed up. Looking back I can also see the patterns and know now that I was also manic and often chose to fuel it with alcohol which of course transformed me into hell with bells. I always felt the need to cover up my mental illness with drugs or alcohol so others could blame ‘substance abuse’ and not ‘madness’. It should come as no surprise that I haven’t had a drink for years now and I don’t miss it at all.
I no longer work outside the home – I am a full time carer and get the carers payment. I have reduced all possible stress loads. I still care for my mum with the help of my daughter and husband. I have slow mornings when possible – deliberately. My diet and exercise was mostly on point for quite a while but then I stuff up and have to try and crawl my way back to what makes me feel healthy in body and spirit – basically I try to do all the things I need to do to minimise my bipolar episodes, autoimmune disease flares and the anxiety so that I can enjoy life rather than see it as a continuous struggle. This never stops – I do well, then I don’t and that’s just the way it is for me.
The writing of this blog is therapeutic for me. It’s enabling me to finally process all of my feelings and release them in a healthy way. I also know that there are others just like me who might read this and gain some insights into themselves or it may even help them in some small way. Perhaps we can lean into each other? The process is more important than the outcome for me. Whatever the outcome – I know I will be OK.
I have designed the blog to be into parts of places where my mind goes – it’s how I write. I will also reveal now that this blog has been written while I have experienced all states of Bipolar so you the reader have been given the whole box of chocolates! I wonder if you’ll be able to tell them apart. Don’t worry – the truth is revealed and hopefully in a way that actually makes sense to the reader.
If I have to identify with any label, it is Bipolar 1 because I can no longer tell or feel the difference within myself. The madness is always with me and I am learning to accept all of the facets that make me whole. I have no wish to identify with my childhood trauma and that is what this blog is about – working my way through it and letting it go. I’m an adult and I am strong enough to walk my child self back to the beginning and let her cut the ties that have so tightly bound her for all these years.