Staying Well with Bipolar Disorder

According to research by Rethink Mental Illness, there are seven key things to ensure that you stay well when you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have been diagnosed as bipolar for around six or seven years now and so have obviously developed a range of coping mechanisms that work for me personally, so I hope the following can be even a little bit helpful! The key things to remember are:

 

  1. Spotting early warning signs
  2. Looking after your well being
  3. Being in control
  4. Doing what works for you
  5. Making decisions about medication
  6. Talking to people who will really listen to you
  7. Getting support from your friends and family

 

So where to begin? Well finding the warning signs of bipolar disorder early is extremely important and can be a key part in assisting with your recovery and finding the right coping mechanisms. Personally, I was originally wrongly diagnosed as having depression and put on Citalopram – which is an antidepressant and therefore a terrible idea for someone suffering with bipolar as it just sends you spiraling horrendously the other way! However, eventually I received the correct diagnosis and have now come to manage my condition pretty well meaning I can balance my friends, family, relationship and a full time job with no (well okay, with few!) breakdowns!

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Warning signs are totally different for each individual and so learning to recognise your own can avoid severe and/or dangerous episodes or even hospital administration. To find these warning signs, start to reflect on the times that you have been unwell and struggling in the past. My mum and other close family members have been an essential part of helping to find my own warning signs as they will notice things that I may not. As outsiders who spend a lot of time around you, it can be easier for them to notice small changes from the outside looking in. Ask your GP or other mental health professional if they can also help you to find out more about warning signs as well as timing is crucial in preventing dangerous build ups and breakdowns.

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Actually looking after ourselves and doing things that we want to do can be extremely difficult. It shouldn’t be, but too often do we punish ourselves for allowing ourselves to relax and enjoy the things that make us happy because we are “wasting time” when we could be doing something more productive and worthwhile. When will we realise that we are worthwhile!? Looking after our mental health is just as important as looking after our physical health and although it may not seem like it, sometimes taking a long, hot and relaxing bath is just what we need!

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Self care isn’t all Lush baths and whale music though! It can be something just as simple and boring as remembering to take your meds for the day, catching up on that tv show that you had fallen way behind with (I’m talking about you The Walking Dead!) or even just doing grocery shopping and allowing yourself to buy some tasty snacks as opposed to the trolley of vegetable that you tell yourself that you should be buying. Do what you actually want to do sometimes and it can really go a long way in terms of looking after yourself and preventing any breakdowns. Balancing your mood and mental health is extremely important for any one of us, but especially so if you are suffering from bipolar disorder as our moods can sometimes be so unpredictable and hard to control. However, if you have been struggling through the condition for a while it is likely that you are now able to anticipate any of the warning signs I mentioned earlier and work on getting yourself well again. So what are you waiting for? Go eat that Dairy Milk that’s been sat gathering dust in the fridge!

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When I was first told that I was suffering with bipolar disorder my first major concern was control. What if I can’t do the things I enjoy anymore without raging into a fit of mania? What if I can’t leave the house anymore through depression? What if, what if, what if!! It took me far longer than I am proud to admit to realise that “what if” really can go and screw itself in the ass! All of these issues have always been a part of me, things don’t just appear, nor do problems just create themselves as soon as you have a label slapped on you.

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No, mental health issues sure don’t make life any easier, and no they sure as hell don’t make remaining in control a barrel of laughs either however you can do this. Hell, you have been doing this – you’re still here aren’t you? That means a lot! You’ve already beaten so many odds just by making it this far, don’t get too het up on “staying in control” and certainly don’t worry about the things that you can do nothing about – try instead to live in the moment. Focus on you – love the things you love and make sure you always find enough time and space for yourself.

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There really is no “one size fits all” model when it comes to dealing with bipolar disorder. This is why it’s so important to listen to your own body and mind so that you can learn what works for you personally. Want to know what brings me back from the edge of a breakdown? Sleep. Family. Friends. Oh and tea, never forget about tea!

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Medication can be a minefield of important decisions, and no, it isn’t for everyone. However, it is important to keep an open mind when it comes to deciding whether choosing to utilise medication is the best course of action for you. So many people are scared of mental health medication, mainly due to the huge (unwarranted might I add!) stigma surrounding it. The general consensus by the public seems to be that if you rely on medication for your mental health then you are just weak, useless and not actually willing to even try to get better – quite frankly, these people are morons.

Would you tell someone suffering with colitis, HIV or (hey we don’t discriminate sexually here) chlamydia, to not take their medication? Of course you wouldn’t because that would be a totally ignorant and moronic thing for you to do. Medication is an important part of recovery for most health conditions and yet again I find myself screaming “mental health is no bloody different to physical health you tit bags!!” Everyone has to find their own personal formula for recovery and personally, I have chosen to use medication to deal with my anxiety and bipolar disorder. My anxiety stems from childhood abuse and so until I have fully dealt with this, it sure as hell isn’t going anywhere unfortunately (more on that in another blog, long story short – you get 6 sessions of therapy on the NHS which sufficed to say is not enough to deal with lifelong trauma and its impact on your life). And so, I use medication to allow me to live a relatively normal life. Yes, I will still have occasional panic attacks however thankfully they are extremely rare nowadays which means I can continue with my job in service. My day job? I’m a barista which I absolutely adore, a job that involves dealing with (A LOT) of people on a daily basis in an extremely small and enclosed environment – something that a few years ago I couldn’t have even considered as a possibility. But I love people, I love learning about their lives and getting to know my customers and I really do enjoy my job – so why shouldn’t I take medication to allow me to continue doing what I love?

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My bipolar is a bit more complex and irritating to be quite honest with you as it manifests itself in many different ways. I’ve tried everything I can think of when it comes to controlling my mood without medication – restricting certain things in my diet (I read some bullshit post online, don’t ask), therapy, exercise, mood tracking apps – you name it, I’ve done it but without medication this just seems to be useless for me!

My main symptoms that restrict me from living a normal life with my bipolar disorder are insomnia, lack of motivation during depressive periods and hyposexuality. In short – I can’t sleep, if I’m sad I physically can’t bring myself to do anything, and during periods of hypomania I get intense and overwhelming cravings for sex and sexual consent (again, more in a future blog post about this symptom – but trust me, no it is not a good thing!) My medication has helped me to not erase, but certainly deal with these symptoms much better meaning that my condition is managed correctly. I’m not saying that medication will be the magical miracle cure that you have been looking for because it might not be, all I am saying is that you shouldn’t be afraid to try it and explore your options. Speak with your GP, they can help you find what is right for your own personal recovery.

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The people around you are the most valuable resource you will ever have in your arsenal in fighting your mental health condition! However, it is important that you are surrounding yourself with the right people. People who are dismissive of your condition and your feelings are toxic as hell for your well being and should be avoided like the bubonic plague! Try and surround yourself with people who are keen to learn more about your condition so that they can help you as best as they can. I have a small group of these people including friends and family and I truly do consider myself so lucky. Don’t allow people who make you feel worse about yourself the luxury of sticking around in your company – you’re worth so much more than that!

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As I say, there will never be a one fits all formula for you to feel totally okay and put together 100% of the time, bipolar is never exactly one to allow that kind of thing – it’s a bit of a bitch like that. However, once you have experimented with what works and what doesn’t you can finally start to get a bit of a better handle on your life and live it with those that truly matter. Stay safe my lovelies, and thanks for baring with me during my mega break from blogging/YouTube – it means a lot. Hopefully, the blogs are back now, YouTube will need a little bit of a longer break until I find my camera again that I lost while moving house – not ideal! Have a wonderful day guys, much love.

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Chester Bennington: This really doesn’t get any easier does it?

As someone who has suffered with the anxiety and depression that comes alongside bipolar disorder throughout my life, suicidal thoughts have never exactly been a stranger to me. Don’t get me wrong, they come in varying degrees of severity and although sometimes they can be mild, they are always there in the back of my mind. Suicide to me, usually feels like a house that I will one day eventually have to buy and move into as that is just how my life has to pan out. But even then, I don’t actively have plans to go out and act on these thoughts, any time soon at least.

I always try to tell myself that you have to go through hell to appreciate the good stuff in life, and when I am struggling my hardest then I always convince myself that I must be in line for something pretty damn amazing as soon as this shit storm passes! I laugh at myself, I use humour to hide what this hell actually feels like. Because if people are laughing along with me then they can’t see me drown. It’s silly, I know this, but it is how I have always been and I never want to “burden” people with my crappy thoughts. My mind, my problem.

As a kid I loved Linkin Park and there music helped me feel a bit better in the prison that was my teenage mind, so of course when I heard the news about Chester Bennington a few days ago I was deeply saddened and shaken. When I hear about people older than me, especially people that I have always looked up to, struggling with their own mental health, even loosing their own battle to suicide, it leaves me at a loss. All I can think is that this really doesn’t get any better does it? It doesn’t get any easier, I am always going to have these thoughts, and daily fights with myself just to keep breathing.

That is not to say that I never thought that anyone over the age of 30 could suffer with mental illness, its more that I hoped with experience, things would get easier. It seems I am wrong. Looking at the Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2017 we can see that this year there have already been 6,639 suicides in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The highest suicide rate in the UK being that of men aged between 40 – 44, even though female suicides are at their highest levels in decades also.

So no, it doesn’t get easier. This is always going to be a battle, waking up every day and allowing myself to get up and live my life, getting through each and every minute fighting against my own mind is going to continue to be the hellish experience that it has always been. But although it is going to be a difficult battle, it is damn well going to be a battle that I am going to win.

If you feel like you are struggling and need some support then the Samaritans are always there 24/7, every day of the year. Give them a call on 116 123, the number is free and there is always someone there to listen to you and support you. Never feel alone, and remember you don’t have to be suicidal to call or ask for help.

Last Week I Lost my Best Friend: Losing Pets

Last week I had to say goodbye to my best friend Sweep. If you have been a follower of this blog or my YouTube channel in the past, then you will no doubt know all about my fluffy little man. We have had Sweep as a huge part of our family for the past fifteen years, and got him when he was just two years old! Losing such a huge part of my life has been horrific, and as someone who has been lucky enough to never have really experienced grief of anyone in my immediate family, I must say that I have not really been sure how to deal with it. Because that is exactly how I considered Sweep, he was more than just an animal, he was one of our family and gave us all so much joy simply by being a part of it.

Over the past fifteen years things have changed massively, and Sweep was even around before I stopped having contact with my biological father – something that most people cannot claim as that was an awfully long time ago! He never liked my Dad, and would always growl and back away from him. I swear that dog was like a personal sensor for douchebags – we could’ve rented him out to single ladies on the pull and made a fortune!

But I digress, point being he was the most loving and well natured dog I have ever encountered in my life. He was tolerant of children – no matter how hyper or annoying they could be. Which was extremely lucky for me as child Emmie used to enjoy putting his fur into ponytails and dressing him up like a baby! But he never snapped or growled, he was just happy to be spending time with you and was more than happy to do whatever, as long as he was nearby.

I suffer with bipolar disorder and the highs and lows that come with it. Remember those annoyingly hyper children I was just talking about? Unluckily for Sweep, that meant that this was a personality trait for me way up into my late teens and even early twenties. But he was still more than happy to be held as we danced around the living room, or I climbed a climbing rope with him under one arm as he looked on confused. I loved that little dog, and I know that he loved us all equally in return.

The depression that comes with bipolar disorder is crippling. It is more than just sadness, it is more than just hopelessness, it feels like there is nothing. Nothing left in the entire world, and that even taking your next breath is pointless. I feel alone. I feel broken. I feel worthless. And I feel unlovable. Sweep could always see these moods coming on even before I did somehow, and would always be sure to position himself close to me so that he would be nearby if I needed him. Sometimes just having someone with you is enough to get you through the next minute, and through to the next. Talking isn’t necessary sometimes, and having him there to cuddle up to me made me feel like at least somebody needed me.

Things often took a much darker turn when my moods plummeted like this and when I was (mainly) in my late teens, I would often engage in self harm to help myself to cope with everything going on inside my head. I never, ever performed any of this behaviour in front of anyone else as it was an extremely personal experience to me, one in which I felt like I had failed in my life by having to rely upon it in the first place.

However, I recall one time when I had come home for the holidays from university, my then boyfriend had travelled home to see his family and I was home alone while my parents were out at work. Sweep was in another room, and I had taken the opportunity of being alone like this to get some of the pain out. I began my ritual of unpacking my “tools” from the box I always kept nearby carefully selecting the items I felt that I needed.  When I finally had everything laid out in front of me neatly as I always did and took the deconstructed razor in my hand, all I remember seeing through the tears was that white fluffy figure jump up onto my knee and start licking the tears from my cheeks. He wouldn’t move and just waited until I stopped sobbing, when he eventually curled up next to me and we both fell asleep. I’m not suggesting that anything more severe would have happened that day, but thanks to my little guy, I have a few less scars on my body than I would have had if he had not been there that day.

As he came to the end of his life, Sweep had really started to show the signs of old age. He never suffered, don’t get me wrong, but he could no longer see or hear and he was struggling to stand up for long periods of time. His sense of smell had all but gone and we practically had to hand feed him so he could find his food bowl. It was a shame, but he gave everyone so much joy that they were more than happy to help him in any way that they could. Sweep always went everywhere with my Mum, after I moved out and she would come to visit me in my new place, Sweep would always be in the car with her whether she had just been out running errands or had been to work.

By the end, it was the nicest thing we could do to give our Sweepie a peaceful and painless end and as he drifted off to sleep in our arms I could see the stress and pain leave his face. He looked so peaceful and happy as he lay there. Although he may not be here physically, I always carry his collar around with me and cuddle up with his blanket at night while I watch the television when I get home from work – as well as greeting his box of ashes on the table when I go to visit my mum. It may seem silly to some people, but it’s how I can cope with losing my best friend. I don’t necessarily believe in heaven, but I do believe that wherever my little Sweepie is now, he isn’t struggling anymore. So thank you Sweep, for the best fifteen years of my life. You saved me in so many ways and stayed by my side when most people deserted me. I hope you are happy and free wherever you may be, and I’ll see you soon little man. I promise, I’ll bring you some chicken up with me when I get there!

 

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin!

It is human nature to want to take advantage of every single exciting opportunity that comes our way. After all, you’re a long time dead aren’t you so you might as well make the most of your one shot at existence right? Well yeah, and that’s a good attitude to have…most of the time. The important thing to remember is that we are only human and we need to remember that we actually have limits! As much as I like to convince myself I am Wonder Woman…sadly I am not – I don’t look half as good in Lycra!

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I know that most of my audience, especially on my YouTube channel, are a lot younger than me and so I think that you maybe might have the same attitude towards education as me. When I was at school, more was always better! Academically, I did quite well but this was in no means a natural thing – I worked my arse off to get the A’s and A*’s that I left with. But I almost killed myself trying!

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I took on extra subjects and extracurricular activities that I thought would help me be better wherever I could, despite the warnings of my teachers that I might be taking on too much. Just to give you an example of my stupidity in this way – I was advised to take three A Levels at sixth form, I came out with 7 qualifications. Fucking 7!! I took on Theatre Studies, Performing Arts, Sociology, Psychology, English Language, Critical Thinking and an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). I mean really? Was there any need?

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Now, of course I am proud of myself and I guess it looks good on the CV however I put myself in a very vulnerable and stressful position when I was only 17. I should have put my mental health first and learnt to set realistic goals for myself to achieve. I have always craved affirmation that what I am doing is the right thing, and that has meant that age has meant authority to me – which is a load of crap but this is how my mind has worked.

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I would love to say that I have completely gotten over this obsession to be perfect and take on everything and anything that comes my way, but of course I would be lying to your faces! However! I have gotten better, a lot better actually. My diary has really helped me, actually my diaries have really helped me – I have so many. I use my main one which I carry around everywhere with me in my handbag, my phone, my mini organiser and several planners and calendars dotted around my house – my bedroom, living room even the kitchen on the fridge.

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It may seem a little overkill, however it is all to help me to remember all that I have already taken on so that I can see what I can realistically complete. I still suck at saying no to things, but now I’m getting a little better at managing my time so that everything that I want to do actually gets done….eventually.

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Unhelpful Festive Social Comparisons

It is officially Christmas in less than a week and so we are officially in the full swing of things now as we count down the days. Christmas comes with many things, sending Christmas cards and gifts (often to people you never say two words to at any other time of the year!), carolling, and more importantly to this blog – comparing ourselves to everyone who matters!

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During Christmas time being with lots of people is inevitable and so it is human nature that we are going to start to compare ourselves and our achievements to those of those people around us. There are of course those lovely people (usually older family members, or the less sympathetic parents) that feel it is their duty to highlight just how well our second cousin Ginny is doing in her new six figure jet setting career on the other side of the world… But I think that we can all agree, that this kind of social comparison is just simply not helpful nor healthy!

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As much as I would love to have the perfect life that I have spent my life dreaming up and concocting inside my head, simply put I don’t. I definitely do not have that perfect life. If six year old Emmie were to look at my life now then she would sit and sob for hours after locking herself in the bathroom….(I did that a lot, sorry Mum!). But that doesn’t mean that my life isn’t a happy one!

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Sure, there are down sides (lots) and there are always going to be negative periods and people in my life that only want to bring me down or make me miserable (plenty this year thank you very much 2016!) but I am proud of the life I am living. This time last year, thanks to my anxiety I could not be left alone in a room for more than a few minutes without panicking and either reaching for the phone or going to find someone to sit with me. I was stuck in relationships and friendships that were doing nothing but drain me and was generally miserable.

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But now? I am living alone and renting my own place where I pay my own bills. I have my own car and have a gorgeous bunny called Gimli and adorable little tortoise called Flash to take care of. Point is, life is what you make it and despite the shit storm of naff-ness that has descended my life in 2016 I have certainly made the best of it which I something that I am keeping in mind when others start to make these pesky comparisons.

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No matter what people tell you about other people in your life remember this, you have a long and unpredictable life ahead of you and this is certainly not “it” for you! There is plenty of time left for you to do whatever you want to do. As cringey and cliché as it may appear there is an awful lot of truth in it! As long as you have a goal of what you want to achieve, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed if you aren’t already there. So hey, when good old Granny is boasting about your lovely older cousin Jeff, why not be happy for him and raise a glass? After all, it could be your successes that she’s doing everybody’s tits in with next year…

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