Hiatus over??

Well it was a forced hiatus. Sorry I was away for a whole bloody year and more, but I have been reading and keeping up with all you amazing bloggers surviving and (somehow) thriving and being generally inspirational 🙂

I was super ill. I had a massive manic period, followed by a bout of deciding to stop eating, followed by getting better and realising that I had to do something to get my family out of the trap we’d found ourselves in, so I returned to work. Fuck mental health my god if there is anything that will put a person into poverty – which yes, exists in in developed countries too, all things being relative – it is shitty mental health.

Did I also mention I melted off my hair nearly a year ago? I was trying to go blue and made the mistake of leaving the bleach on for too long. So as well as feeling like crap I had Doc from Back to the Future hair for ages (well I still do but at least I can tie it back into a pony tail now!). I literally did not leave the flat for 4 months till I had to at Christmas.

So far so good ish? It’s a senior role, it’s tough and I have been in floods of tears and had to take days off when I just could not get out of bed, but I am doing it and have lasted beyond six months in a role for the first time in Fundraising since I was 30 (I am 38 this year – actually in less than a week). I have so much I want to share on my blog and so many ideas for things I want to do – but the good thing is that I am on Fluoxetine which has helped with the crippling anxiety and paranoia I was getting on top of the lithium and quetiapine, and we stopped psychotherapy because regressing was was actually making me worse.

We are MOVING HOUSE which such a big deal I cannot even begin to tell you how much I have come close to committing suicide because of our horrendous neighbours (and you know, it is serious not just an expression – their shit dance music is blaring and keeping my baby awake as I write but NOT FOR MUCH LONGER WOOOO). Once I am into my new house, hoping work does not kick my ass too much and so on, I want to return to this blog properly.

The most important thing is that my beautiful baby girl is thriving and doing so amazingly well. I am proud to say she is a typical toddler now at 2 and so gorgeous she makes my heart burst every time I look at her. So, more to follow, I will return to this slowly. Thanks for hanging in there with this blog of mine 🙂

Sleep, just a little, would be amazing…….

I was proud of myself today – I drove to see DH and his dad in a different town to visit the market where they were working.

I feel sensitive to everything sometimes. I feel crowded in and panicked and stressed. Even the tv show on is making me feel so edgy. It isn’t something I want to watch either but normally I find a way to tune it out. It’s hard living with the in-laws and no end in sight to when we can move back home, but I cope with it sometimes better than others.

The worst is when this affects what I do with my baby. I find it hard to leave the house so going out with her is stressful, but I do do it. People buzzing round me in the shops and on the tram is hard work but I do it. But I have noticed there are certain things that happen which I find freak me out/stress me out beyond reason:

– the whole weaning thing

– getting her down to sleep

How do I parent effectively without letting these wretched illnesses take over and hit me on two key areas of my daughter’s development?

Sleep
I’m going to focus on the sleep for now. Weaning, and the uber anxiety I have around that is a whole different story. It is, of course, part of the whole picture but for now sleep has been the most pressing. I’m finding ways of living with the whole weaning thing.

We haven’t had much sleep in this house recently. The poor lamb had a temperature and prior to that a stomach bug. I was feeling pleased with the sleep routine we had established and she was getting pretty good at sleeping through the night. I am trying to be relaxed and laid back about most things but sleep I feel quite regimental about. It’s so important for people without a mental health problem to get enough rest, but then add the bipolar, BPD and now PTSD into the mix and bam, I need to make sure I get enough sleep or I could end up horribly sick again.

So when she’s wailing away in her cot and standing up and refusing to lie down and just rest at 3am I feel beyond frazzeled. More often than not DH has done the night shift so I don’t have to worry. But now I find that I am getting obsessed by the fact she’s gone back to sleep in our bed four nights in a row, she won’t go down now until gone 9pm and is wide awake again 4 hours later and I just don’t have a clue how to make it stop.

It’s awful to say but I find myself focused so much on the ‘how do I make it stop’ at 3am rather than ‘how do I project calm and reassurance’ and ‘what can I do for my baby to make her comfortable’. The latter two of course solve the whole sleep issue for everyone. I do end up doing the former, and then end up having to leave the room after none too gently poking DH awake to get him to take over. Then I feel guilty because there’s a howling baby that I helped put in that state and an exhausted husband who has to get up and go to work in a few hours whilst I slope off and make myself a mug of warm milk and have some quiet time to calm me down.

I have been told, and read, that babies who had traumatic births and long labours tend to be the ones struggling with sleep issues/separation anxiety. Of course my baby girl had to go through both with a stay in NICU so I do believe there is some validity in that argument. Some babies also aren’t great sleepers either. Basically, teething is also a bitch.

What I find is that these things, which the vast majority of parents go through, are then magnified and multiplied in my head into 1000x worse than they probably are. I can easily see how, if pushed too much, it is at risk of becoming a child protection issue. With the latter I am fortunate in that I receive plenty of support and talking therapy to help me, and DH is as ever such a star, but I find the paranoia blooming in that area as well – basically I am terrified to do anything that may be perceived as hurting or harming my child. So that colours my parenting too. My talking therapy is actually around me reducing the distance I have put between myself and my daughter and to reduce the anxiety I have that I will hurt her somehow. Apparently common among people who were abused as kids, but it manifests itself in so many different ways as a parent.  Here it is because I am trying to over-control something which really can only be controlled to a certain extent. I am rather obsessed with it all.

The result is becoming quite toxic. I am sure the majority of parents living with a mental health problem don’t have to camp out at their in laws, facing an uncertain future financially and wondering where they will end up and how they will raise their child amid such randomness. I do hope my circumstances are not the same – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and it definitely exacerbates what I am living with. My in laws are very nice, well meaning people and I will be ever grateful for them giving us a roof over our heads – but lordy I have nothing in common with them whatsoever! And holy hell when they clunk around and disturb the baby when she is asleep I am not responsible for my feelings at that present moment in time. But we can’t move. We are stuck as our apartment is not a suitable environment for a baby right now.

At 3am I am petrified that the boundaries will drop. I end up feeling like a failure that I have to step away so often. It’s why I feel I am regressing in my head, the creeping sensation that something is trying to crawl under my skin and into my brain. Why I had to go and find a quiet spot to sit and write these thoughts out, just to bring some sense of calm and order back to me, similar in a way that my autistic cousin has to go and find some peace. There is so much chaos that I struggle to even bring order to something as simple as laundry, something as straightforward as giving my daughter a bottle, or even putting her into bed. I can’t manage it sometimes. My reaction is way above what it should be.

I have renewed respect for single parents every day who are going through this alone with no one to turn to. DH always picks up the slack, so our daughter is never left wanting and I get some quiet moments to myself. My advice would be always to talk about it. Don’t be afraid that you will be judged. I know I feel like I am the only parent in my version of hell but I know I am not. Talking helps, whether it is with your GP if you have no one else to turn to, your health visitor, your parents, your friends. Never feel like parenting is some kind of competition and look for the signs that you may be spending more time worrying over something than is normal. It’s difficult to know what is normal, I know, but there are triggers. Your partner should always be the first port of call, but some are non existent or may as well be non existent for all the use they are. I am blessed in that regard. So for me, it’s off to the doctor again next week to explore this further and letting DH follow his parenting instincts taking care of the baby at night and me letting him just get on with it.

The responsibility of being a parent, and a mother, is huge and I really don’t want to ruin it because I can’t cope. She is the most amazing thing that has happened to me and she deserves the best ❤

And please wish me luck in reclaiming some sleepy time 😀

Verbosity

I’ve been asked to do a presentation to some schoolkids on working in fundraising and my experiences. One half of me got so excited and then the fear and anxiety took over. Will I get the verbal diarrhea I’ve become used to, talking to a group of twenty teenagers, or will I manage to somehow muddle through? How much do I push myself and when do I leave well alone? These are still questions that I am finding answers to in my journey living with bipolar.

Here’s the thing – there’s so much I want to write about and talk about, and so many thoughts that crowd my head I find it hard to articulate. I have started three different blog posts and finished none in the last few days.

I never used to have this problem. I used to be so articulate my mother would get frustrated as I could zone in on a hole in an argument and dissect it with ruthless teen precision. I was on debating groups at school and won prizes for elocution – I passed all my RADA exams. At work I would get my point across using as few words as possible and often was doing public speaking engagements to promote the charity or discuss fundraising with professionals. Written or spoken, I knew that effective communication was one of my strong points and a point of pride for me in a world full of pain, confusion and turmoil.

Then, after my last unmedicated episode five years ago that all changed. I remember sitting in meetings, horrified at what was coming out of my mouth but unable to stop it from happening. What I wanted to say and how it ended up sounding were two very separate things. Sometimes it was to the point of being incoherent and I had to really really stop and think about what I wanted to say. I have had this problem before in previous manias but never so pronounced.

What I have noticed is that, unlike previously, the word confusion hasn’t gone away. It’s not as bad as when I was in my full blown mania but I no longer have the word power that I used to. I will say something and DH will look at me funny and ask me to repeat it. Or I start saying something and stop mid-sentence. The latter is sometimes because I’m processing something in my brain and  I return to it later if it is a tricky topic, but in general the amount of half-finished conversations I have these days is waaaaay higher than ever.

Yep, I have become verbose. Verbosity – one of the things I dreaded the most. So in reaction to this, I end up saying nothing at all for fear of opening my mouth and a ton of crap coming out. In my worst moments, I end up not speaking for days and DH and I communicate via text. Well he talks to me and I type back until I am ready to talk again.

I notice now that even more than before, so many thoughts crowd my head. It’s not so hectic now I don’t work but I sometimes have so much I want to say and yet can’t find the words at all. Stressful situations add to it. It gets frustrating and I end up hating myself, having lost a part of me that I used to rely so heavily on for self-esteem and pride. I used to think it was stroke survivors or people with other physical conditions that had to battle daily with this. Sometimes I look back and marvel at my naivety and, I guess, ignorance!

Writing is a form of release. The pressure of talking is taken off me. I type very fast (thanks to my early years as a legal secretary) and so lots of these thoughts can then translate onto paper. DH can tell what kind of phase I am in simply by what I write and, perhaps more importantly, how I write. Some of it will be garbage and some of it is real thought and emotion. So we sift through it together and make sense of it all later. He sometimes reads my unfinished posts and helps me tune them to something relatively sensible, or something to keep just for the two of us to revisit later.

It’s hard with a baby to find the time to type, but when I do have the time I always feel a bit better afterwards. Sometimes I will explore issues on my posts that I simply cannot articulate to DH so it is easier to write and then get him to read. It helps him understand what is going on in the chaos of my mind too and as a tool it’s hugely therapeutic.

So I’m very grateful for this blog and for forums – you can just write about a feeling, or a state of mind, and revisit it again later. You don’t have to go through the agony of speech.

If I could just write what I want to write to those students that would be wonderful. I know realistically that’s pointless so now I have to weigh up with my doctors whether it is worth going to do it or not. How much of a step am I prepared to take. I am warring with the old me and the new me and trying to find a path in the middle. Some days it isn’t easy. But perhaps I can regain a bit of myself by sharing positive elements of my past experiences? And I find it so interesting talking to young people, they have a fresh and vivid view on the world that helps tint mine in a happier shade.

So who knows? Perhaps I am not as hopeless as I think I am. It’s just finding the most effective way to make peace with myself and that is definitely still a work in progress.

Holidays – the destressing MYTH!

Forgive me the delay in posting this. As you’ll see I actually wrote it last week but due to problems with my phone I only just managed to get it onto my laptop now! But, as I am still struggling with the after effects I think it worth posting 🙂

So here I relax on a Sunday morning, cuppa in one hand and enjoying the quiet serenity of the early hours. It’s a special time for me and sometimes the only chance I have to catch up with myself before the bustle of the day begins. Sometimes the dog will join me, curled up by my side or on my lap and sometimes he will prefer to remain snuggled under the duvet, where my husband and my daughter are also still tucked in (the little minx already knows at the grand age of nine months how to twist her daddy round her very little finger!). Sundays tend to be the days where I have my rest, along with a lie in. So why am I up so early rather than cuddling with my family in bed?

One word – holiday.

For most people, the word holiday generates feelings of excitement, relaxation, fun and wellbeing. A chance to experience new places, feel the sun on your skin or just enjoy revisiting old haunts and exploring new ones. Absorbing culture, history or pushing new frontiers, physical or psychological. Then one returns feeling at peace with the world, ready to return to daily life and saunter merrily into the office bronzed and feeling a million dollars. Or filled with a sense of accomplishment, eager to take that determination and drive forward umm, things, in the office. Well, that’s what we are sold anyway.

For many of us though, the idea of travelling induces feelings of panic and stress. It creates the opposite effect of health and wellbeing a couple of weeks in the sun (or snow) can bring to most. It is in short, a worst nightmare to be away from familiar things and comfort zone. I don’t think this is unique to people with a mental health condition of course, but it can exacerbate pre-existing problems and create unnecessary anxiety.

I’m one of the latter. I never used to be. I grew up in a foreign country and travelled long distances regularly. As a young woman I loved the escape that visiting new places bought me, seeing new cultures was inspirational and it gave me a sense of freedom and purpose to be buzzing all round the world. I sa  so many incredible places and met many wonderful people.

Of course with hindsight now that desire to travel so regularly was bought on by my bipolar. I ran up tens of thousands in debt travelling, whipped on by this relentless need to escape and living in an alternate reality where money grew on trees and no corner of the world was too far flung for me to discover. It was also a product of the abuse I experienced as a child, with those BPD traits rearing their head as every situation that could be translated as awkward or difficult resulted in flight mode. I’d retreat in my head, planning my next move, my next escape. I had to permanently be on the move, running away.

These days, I am the opposite. The idea of leaving my safe space nauseates me. Even going to see friends in the next town along is a big deal. The only time it isn’t is if DH is with me. Then I look forward to it. But we don’t get away much and often I travel on my own. And I get so scared. And angry that something is taking me away from my safe place. I like my safe place, it keeps me alive. When I leave it takes me ages to settle again. A few nights of disruption and nightmares. Anxiety and general panic at the thought of having to leave the house again. Having to fly somewhere. I never used to be a nervous flyer. Now the mere bump of turbulence makes me want to vomit and run screaming off the plane with my parachute on. Or trying to get luggage. Will it appear on the carousel? Will I need to spend my precious pennies on new clothes? Even going through passport control is scary. I am super paranoid about the uniforms behind the desk, convinced they will march me off and declare my passport invalid.

But I do it. I force myself to do it. It would be all to easy to retreat into my own private world, but I can’t.

I am now a mother. And that is the only reason why. How do I want my daughter to grow up? Scared of her own shadow? What example do I want to set?

Now, the above statement is worthy of many blog posts alone so I will go into it another time. But I need to get out and about for my daughter’s sake. I want her to be used to travel, to going different places, to experiencing new cultures, so she can make more informed decisions as an adult. If I had my way I would live like a hermit with just DH, her and the dog for company and never see another human ever again, living in a beautiful wilderness by the sea somewhere.

But I can’t do that to my daughter. So I have to force myself outside.

Just to interject, I know I am not the only person who finds holidays stressful and it of course is not limited to people with bipolar. One of the mothers on Sister Wives yes I am a stay at home mum who watches rather too much TLC today talked about how stressful she was finding preparing for a 4 day road trip to Missouri. Which I can well imagine must be a logistical nightmare, not to mention trying to keep however many children entertained on such a long road trip!

I think the difference is that all the stresses we undergo living with bipolar are then amplified So for me it’s anxiety around travel, paranoia and so on. You know. So it blows everything out of all proportion.

I also was worried about what to DO for the whole time I was there. I even have this with my parents coming to visit, or going to see my mum. What the eff am I going to say? How will I entertain them? What will I do to make the time go as fast as possible? I find dealing with people the most stressful thing ever, even those I am closest to (aside from DH and baby), and wish the time to fly as fast as possible.

We went to see my baby’s godmother, who has a daughter and a baby just a couple of months older than mine. Finances and other illness-related things meant that I hadn’t seen my closest friend for some years. Skype I find very difficult too and I communicate best by text. So we have had some long FB and WhatsApp messages over the years. I girded my loins, booked the plane tickets and braced myself for travel.

 I fret and become very anxious about a week before I travel and then once underway I find it much easier. It’s also great having my daughter there as she is such a distraction, but hard on DH who has to put up with my extreme anxiety which is pretty much guaranteed to manifest in shouting and trying to control everything around me which is not controllable.

However, once underway it is normally ok. Except I didn’t realise at Schipol Airport they don’t let you take prams through security like they do at UK airports. Now, my strategy for coping with travel is to be super organised. But I am a bit lazy with stuff for the baby and load up the pram with blankets etc so it doesn’t all fit in the nappy bag. I had such a shock and ended up struggling through security with everything hanging out all over the place. I had the sling which we found useless from the moment we bought it but still I thought I would persevere with it and use it to no effect whatsoever and was practically in tears wishing I had packed her harness carrier thingy instead.

I was sweating and crying with me and a wailing baby on arrival at the gate. Also why do some people feel free to dispense completely USELESS advice to parents? In the baby change I was asked ‘oh don’t you have a baby carrier’ well yes thanks ever so for pointing that out to me when I have a wailing infant in one arm and four bags oozing baby paraphernalia out of the other!! Why don’t you go and put it over the tannoy for all the other parents who might just benefit from your pearls of wisdom?!

Anyway……

Then we made it to the gate and me and daughter calmed down and enjoyed watching the planes and people come and go. I felt a bit better, confidently waiting for them to announce the bit where infants and parents could get on first. Oh except in egalitarian Sweden that doesn’t seem to be the case and I was left struggling halfway down the corridor with everything trailing, baby literally under one arm at a funny angle trying not to bump her head on the seats as we tried to find our place. Kind passengers were picking up my stuff after me and helped put everything up, otherwise I would have been completely and utterly stuck. We collapsed into our seat eventually, both baby and me feeling somewhat traumatised by the last couple of hours.

The rest of the flight passed without incident, aside from the baby flinging across the plane the banana I had lovingly mashed for her in case she got hungry (another point of anxiety/paranoia) and narrowly missing some poor man’s trousers!

By the way, at Stockholm airport they kindly provide you with little prams for the wee ones whilst you wait for yours to be unceremoniously dumped somewhere in the vicinity of your carousel. But hey, at least I didn’t have to carry her round half the airport. Well I did, because no one told me I could get a pram until a bit later! Can you tell I am somewhat bitter?!

I sound like I am frothing at the mouth a bit with the whole plane thing but it demonstrates so well every agonising step in my brain. Looking back I was close to panic the whole time we were negotiating our way to and from the plane and the only thing that didn’t have me crumpled on the floor in tears was the fact that I can’t let myself go because of my baby being there. The situation was escalating so badly – before I even arrived at my nice holiday destination – that I was about to call DH to turn around and come pick us both up as I couldn’t do it any more.

As for the rest of the trip? Well, I never sleep well away from DH at the best of times and neither does our daughter. So I had about two hours of sleep the first night and five the second. The importance of sleep can’t be underestimated but I could barely talk by the end of the second night. It was truly wonderful to see my friend, and the baby in particular had a great time, but I also realised that actually, I can’t travel without DH again. It was a learning for me about how to manage this condition.

I have been unsettled ever since we returned. I had a huge panic attack yesterday whilst out with the baby in the centre of town. I haven’t slept properly. I had to take my anti anxiety medication which, to be frank, fucks me over big time so I try to avoid it and yep, today I was like a zombie.

I also realised that holidays for me are not the stress free adventures that most people have. I think if I went en famille with DH, daughter and dog then it might be different. My anxieties will travel no matter where I try and go. But I have to find a way through it as I don’t want my daughter to have any limitations or feel she can’t do something. If that makes sense. So I have to find a way through it so she doesn’t miss out. I don’t want her looking at me thinking that women can’t travel alone. That sounds a bit ridiculous but I want to be a good role model.

Holidays and mini breaks and travel? I’ll have to keep sucking it up for a while longer. But perhaps I’ll take the marketing hype with a pinch of salt in the future!

Animals and therapy + me and my dog :)

There have been many lovely blog posts recently about people and their pets. These furry friends have been a vital part of their rehabilitation and care whilst living with a mental health condition. It is subject so close to my heart I am only surprised at myself for not writing about it before, so here is the story. As usual, all relevant links are at the bottom of the page.

Animals are amazing. As a small child I always adored them and preferred their company far more to humans. I remember the best holiday ever was going to a horse riding camp for a week and I used to sneak into the stalls and cuddle the horses and ponies rather than spend time with the other children. We didn’t have pets growing up but as soon as I got my own flat the first thing my ex and I did was get a dog. She was just the sweetest doggie ever and I still miss her every day. It’s still a period in my life I find hard to write about so I won’t elaborate for now.

The use of animals in therapy is well documented. Excellent charities such as Pets as Therapy in the UK use them to improve the lives of those who need it most, whilst research has demonstrated the therapeutic benefits of animal assisted therapy many times over. A quick Google brings up the much-cited 1998 study by Barker & Dawson who looked at the effects of animal-assisted therapy on the anxiety levels of hospitalised psychiatric patients. There is also a very interesting 2007 publication by the State Hospital in Scotland which provides guidance on establishing animal therapy in a healthcare setting, based on their own experiences as one of four high secure psychiatric units in the UK. There are numerous studies all demonstrating how helpful animals can be to help psychiatric patients on the road to recovery.

And if the main criticism is that those benefits can sometimes only be short-term? Well, I would take a short-term boost for a few hours any day of the week compared to playing doom scenarios over and over in my head.

So, to my own experiences. I had one dog who was such a blessing. At the time I had no idea I had a mental health condition but what I always recognised was how I felt a little bit more at peace whenever she was curled up next to me, or making me laugh. Sadly I had to leave her behind when my first marriage ended and leaving my dog was far, far harder than leaving my ex-husband. I was actually traumatised for weeks, waking up looking for her on the bed and feeling devastated when she was not there.

When I met my now DH, we always knew we wanted a dog together. Our lives were so turbulent, however, there was never the right time. It wasn’t until I reached the end of another (as yet then undaignosed) manic episode and plunged into a deep depression that he manoeuvered things so we got a dog. His motivation was two-fold, one for us and the other so he knew I had company during the day to keep the dark thoughts at bay. DH was so worried about leaving me every day to go to work that a dog would be his security blanket. Except I didn’t know his ulterior motives at the time – I was just excited at the thought of having another puppy to cuddle.

It was an easy decision; both of us had owned dogs before so we knew the work involved. I badly needed some extra company and something to take my mind off the chaos that I believed I had created with yet another mania and subsequent depression. I was a bit scared it would be too much responsibility, but on the other hand I needed to do something to prove to myself that I could do something useful and worthwhile. Dog ownership encompassed both of those. We decided against a rescue at that stage as I couldn’t cope with a dog that needed someone skilled and patient to help with the dog’s rehabilitation. Also I couldn’t deal with the thought of only owning the dog for a couple of years or so before it passed away. So much though we had hoped for a rescue, we found there wasn’t one that really fit our needs.

We agreed on a breed, found a breeder and went off to pick up our little ball of fluff with great anticipation. It was such a high point in our lives to have something like this to look forward to. And what a ball of fluff he was!

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Yes, we were crazy enough to go with a Jack Russell as our dog of choice. I was super apprehensive; they need an awful lot of work, they get bored easily if not kept occupied, they are hugely energetic. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with him and agonised over being a good owner.

Well, that was three years ago. It was not easy having a puppy when I was so sick, that’s for sure. I remember laughing so hard at his antics with DH and then all of a sudden becoming hysterical and sobbing uncontrollably whilst the poor dog wondered if he had done something wrong. He was such an enthusiastic little thing that we often were unsure if he was getting enough exercise, despite not wanting to over-exercise him. But it was the best thing that we could have done for me. I remember so many times just as I was about to lose the ability to talk or go into a moment, he’d just know and start being derpy dog or come and nudge his way onto my lap to give me a cuddle. DH also felt assured as, if I took it into my head to go walking in the middle of the night (not an uncommon occurrence in the midst of an episode) I would have the dog for company and protection (he’s a good guard dog too!).

I didn’t think Jack Russells were cuddly but I was sooooo wrong! I have to say this little one is just the best dog ever. He has been my faithful companion and friend since I moved to The Netherlands and has seen us through our hard times and better ones. He is far and away the baby’s favourite living thing and she giggles madly every time he makes an appearance. He gets us out of the house and moving – some of my best moments have been watching him pelt up and down the beach on a gusty winter’s day. When we were in Scotland he was the one to show us that we needed to leave; he is so in tune with us and our feelings. I love it when he curles up at my feet at night or snuggles next to me as I sit on the computer.

Oh he’s a super scamp and supremely naughty – really cleverness which then manifests into boredom when I don’t do enough with him and that’s actually him reminding me that we need to get out and about. He cannot do enough for food and has made his way onto the kitchen table so many times I have lost count. Perhaps it makes me a bad owner to laugh at that but hey, he’s toilet trained and a very good natured dog who goes to bed when told and provides so much entertainment for the baby that I can’t complain.

Dog ownership is of course not for everyone. I’m not advocating that everyone who has a mental health condition rushes out and gets a pooch, nor that it will work for all. A dog is for life and you need to be sure you can cope with the responsibility. It worked for us, however, and if you find yourself needing an excuse to get out for half an hour a day, have some companionship when you feel down or a warm furry friend to keep you warm at your coldest, then you could do worse than consider a dog.

Mine has saved my life time and time again by snapping me out of a black moment and bringing me back to reality. My JRT is so much more than a therapy dog. He’s one of my best and most loyal friends and I am blessed to have him in my life. What a character he is! And an essential part of my bipolar treatment and self-management. I loves him ever so ❤

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http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/ps.49.6.797

http://www.tsh.scot.nhs.uk/Person%20Centred/Docs/Animals%20as%20Therapy%20booklet%20-%20Aug%2007.pdf

https://www.petsastherapy.org/

Bipolar and Postnatal Depression

I am sorry again it has been some time since a post. Things have been quite crazy and I find I don’t have nearly enough time to devote to my blog as I would like! Sometimes if I am not feeling great then I find it hard to get the motivation to do anything and unfortunately that phase has lasted a few months this time. But here I am! Please note I discuss suicidal thoughts in this blog so if that is a trigger or distressing I’d advise not reading on.

I posted some time ago about being away and how bad things had been. I said I would share when I could a bit more detail, in the hope that whoever reads this might avoid the huge mistakes DH and I made. How badly we misunderstood and underestimated bipolar and postnatal depression.

I was excited for a short burst of time after having made a catastrophic decision to leave The Netherlands and move to Scotland. See, I thought I could have it all. My new baby, a new shiny job, nice house, nice car, nice life, self-respect for having a decent job. Husband able to stay at home and enjoy the baby. And look at me, the great provider, the super mum. My ego needed a boost. Nothing could possibly go wrong could it?

Before I am too hard on myself, we had the very best of intentions. Our tiny apartment had the neighbours from hell who were driving me literally mental with their partying day and night. Money was so tight as to be unfunny. I figured I might have at tops 3-4 years left of work before my next episode and DH wanted to be in a position where he had the qualifications to be able to provide for us. Neither of us wanted to see our baby in childcare from such a young age – nothing against mothers who did it but for us we wanted one of us to be with her. And, seeing as I had the experience and the qualifications to land a good job then it was logical I would be the one to do it. I didn’t want to have a big commute and my Dutch is really really bad so I couldn’t find work locally.

That meant a return to the UK where DH could study and stay at home, and I could find work at a convenient location so travel time would be minimal. I could earn enough to keep the family in the UK happily as well as send money back to cover any extra bills back home. I had in my head we could move back as soon as DH had finished at uni. I got offered what I thought was the ideal job in the ideal location. My confidence took a great boost, something sorely needed after the disasters at work over the last few years.

See, it all adds up on paper doesn’t it? Of course it does. How dumb could we have been to not realise NEVER to make any life-changing decisions until AFTER the baby has arrived?! In our defence, we were just trying to provide our child with what we thought was the best possible life. But did I pay any attention to the horrendous statistics – that I blogged myself – about postpartum depression? Which, as a woman with bipolar meant I had a significantly increased chance of getting (around a half to two thirds of women with bipolar are at risk of postpartum depression – see below article)? Of course I did not. Looking back, underneath I was so uneasy about the path we had chosen. So was my DH. But foolishly we did not discuss it with each other, although one word from either of us could have ended the madness. Lesson to self – communicate more with my partner and vice versa.

Anyway. We went. After a traumatic birth and time in NICU for our baby. I was, and remain, besotted with her. I had no idea such a small creature could bring me such joy. As we packed up to leave (which was left to the very last minute, as if we did not really want to bring ourselves to do it), I carried her and crooned to her and just loved every minute of being with her. This was a far cry from the woman I thought I would be, frighted and anxious of holding my own child, fearful that I would somehow damage her and be repelled by her somehow. As we went through the move process and wound our way towards our new destination in the UK, I savoured every moment I had with her, fully expecting to be still as engaged as I was at that moment. Not realising the pain I would feel at leaving her, when she had not been out of my sight the moment we left the hospital. Not realising how much support I needed from professionals to manage this bipolar successfully. Not realising that I had so much work to do to address issues from my childhood and the impact that would have on me now. Not realising how bloody long it takes to physically recover from pregnancy and giving birth! Not realising either, how utterly shit  mental health services would be in the UK. I mean I wasn’t expecting it to be up to the Dutch standard. But it wouldn’t be that bad would it?

We signed up with the GP and explained my circumstances. I was referred straight away to the psychiatric team. All good so far, we thought. We just had to wait for the appointment to come through.

I started work. The first couple of days were actually ok. Kind of a honeymoon period. I felt really quite dizzy and crap, which later transpired to be my thyroid medication being too high and the dosage was promptly reduced. I had two months of sickness as a result of that but that is by the by. By the end of my first week at work I knew I had made a hideous mistake.

Let’s just leave the job as it was not worth in any way shape or form leaving my baby behind. Let’s just say I didn’t fit in. And I saw the writing on the wall well before my bully of a boss began to try and discredit me. All of these things do not help someone with bipolar in the workplace whatsoever, but when you add the chances of postnatal depression to it, the situation becomes unmanageable. But suffice to say, it didn’t work on a personal or professional level.

I think postnatal depression just kind of sneaks up on you. It’s a gradual thing. Well DH noticed it a lot more than I did before it twigged as to what the problem might have been.  I was in tears every day at work. I felt physical pain in my chest every time I saw DH drive off with my daughter in the back. I felt like I had FAILED as a mother – how could I have left her? Every day when we got home I would get her out of her pram and then cuddle her and sing to her, but after about five minutes hand her back to DH and I couldn’t hold her as I was too afraid to. I turned into that woman I was so frightened of becoming when pregnant.

I was afraid of my own child. A four-month old baby.

Why was I afraid? I was convinced she didn’t love me. She only wanted DH. I was not what she needed, that somehow by going back to work I had rejected her and she picked up on this. I would lie on the sofa looking at her and DH together, marvelling on the one hand at how amazing she was and then crying because I couldn’t bring myself to go near her. I simply couldn’t relate to this growing baby which I had left pretty much still as a newborn and was now gurgling, laughing, chatting and wriggling at alarming speed on her playmat. I was stuck in a past and couldn’t drag my brain with me to the present that my daughter now inhabited. And it was all I could do to get out of the house every day. The only time I found a bit of peace was when she would be asleep in her cot next to me, tiny hand holding my finger, and I lay there looking at her, marvelling at her perfection. We have a sleep sheep that makes the sound of the doppler, and it reminded me of hearing her heartbeat when I went into labour and I remembered the time when she was still inside me, both of us soothed by the sound of each other’s heartbeats. Most of the time though, I just wanted to die.

I don’t think this is the same as hallucination but in a very depressive or very manic state I have very strong visualisations. And I hear things. For many weeks all I visualised were huge metal spikes coming out the ground to impale me. I could hear the noise of the spikes clanging loudly every time they shot out of the ground and thumped back in again. Almost like a cartoon or in a computer game. But very, very real in my head. And I could hear it almost everywhere I went. I had to stop driving for a while as it was so distracting. I also thought about driving off a cliff edge too. And also grabbing my daughter and driving off somewhere with her, anywhere where no one could reach us. I even wanted to leave my DH as I just needed to be with my baby so badly all alone.

In my head, this went on for quite some time. I had better days of course, where we would all go out for a walk and even maybe venture out to do some swimming at a special baby class on the Sunday. Our activity together. I felt like we needed that for her to love me. But there were many very bad bad days.

The turning point came where we were all in bed and I went, mentally, into a different place. Often in life, and even now, I fell like I walk a very fine knife-edge. The smallest thing could just tip me over the edge. And I don’t know what it was, but something that night did.

Before I continue with the story, people might wonder where the mental health professionals were in this scenario. Well, funny that. They were nowhere to be seen. I got HALF AN HOUR with a psychiatrist for an appointment that was supposed to be an hour. I had to have my lithium dose reduced as it was making me too sick to continue on the very high dose I had during pregnancy. A side effect of lithium for me is extreme anxiety when it is too high. Bear in mind I was used to seeing a psychiatrist weekly or bi-weekly during pregnancy and once a month prior to my pregnancy, more if I needed it. So to get one half hour appointment on the NHS was beyond a shock.

I was pescribed anti-anxiety medication to use on an as-needed basis, shortly before my episode. It is one of the strongest and I had to be careful as it could make me very dopey. And then my next appointment, for mid-January, was cancelled and I was offered one in APRIL. When I hadn’t even had a proper assessment in the first fucking place! I was so shocked and really quite afraid. How could I be on such strong medication with no support? We knew something was very wrong with me and we knew that I needed help.

Anyway, that night I went to a different place. It was a happy place in my head, that I remember. My daughter was with me too. DH was on the verge of calling an ambulance when I conked out from the anti anxiety medication. Which did its thing in that it cut off all feeling from everything, but at the time that was what was needed. And when I came to in the morning we talked properly for the first time in weeks and agreed that we needed to go home to The Netherlands. Within three weeks of making that decision we were on the boat back.

Depression is a creeping, twisting thing. DH has depression now as a result of what we went through. It was an isolating experience as it was just us, no support network, no friends, no help from health professionals. We are in a worse place than when we left. Depression seeps through your pores and gnaws at your insides, making you question every little thing you do – when you can actually find the strength to do something.

Postnatal depression is, of course, similar. For me, my guilt over leaving my baby was amplified beyond all reason. My GP explained that all mothers have to deal with guilt when they return to work but, because of my biploar and the depression things were out of all proportion. I was unable to communicate, to continue to bond with her. I felt shut off from this wonderful creature, desperate to come back into her sunny, happy universe but incapable of understanding how to do so. I never once wanted to harm her in any way – in fact it was because I was so paranoid about harming her that I couldn’t bear to touch her some of the time.

Bipolar and postnatal depresssion lead you to an exceedingly dark place, a deep pit I am still trying to climb out from. I have guilt at leaving my baby. I have guilt at putting DH through such difficulty. I have guilt at wrecking our lives when actually what we left was not so bad, but trying to get that back again is incredibly hard. I have guilt at ruining us financially – this very much a bipolar symptom that reared its head with me in January. I felt cold inside, physically icy cold. My mind felt black. Even surrounded by the natural beauty of where we were, I saw black everywhere I looked.

This has left its scars. I thought DH and I might end up divorced. I know it crossed his mind – he says fleetingly but I am sure he thinks it still. The last two nights I have been very close to my knife edge again and I know he is at his wits end. I know he doesn’t see a way out of our current mess. And I find that I don’t have the strength to pull him through along with me. He did strongly refute earlier that he had been thinking of divorce and I believe him. We are in this together or not at all. We still love each other greatly. Every time we have been tested (and there has been plenty and I’d kind of like it to stop!) we come out stronger. And I know this will be no different.

Is there a ray of light as I climb painfully out of my pit? There is most definitely. Since December I have spent every day and night with my girl and marvel at her wonderfulness. I had no idea how becoming a mother would help with my bipolar journey, improving me as a person and how healing I would find spending time with my child. Every day her laughter and smiles and watching her progress warm me up a little bit more on the inside. All parents rightly say this about their offspring, but really, what a little miracle she is. My daughter makes me want to be a better person, makes me want to get better for her sake.

I wept as I met with my old therapist and case worker last week. To talk through with professionals what had happened was in itself such a relief. We talked a lot about the guilt and the confusion I felt about being a mother. I am seeing a psychiatrist soon and starting my psychotherapy again. I can’t believe how much I underestimated bipolar. If anything taught me from my time back at work, was how not to go about living with bipolar. Not for me anyway. Stress wow, what a trigger. I had no idea. What is very difficult for me is the life I had always planned to live is not open to me. I can’t do it, not the way I thought. So now I have to figure out the alternative path. There will be one and at least I know now what not to do.

There is hope. In the depths of the darkness, it’s easy not to see the little chink of light at the door you think is firmly shut. Which it’s not really. I feel so so lucky that finally, the help is there that I need to get better. I might never work again but I can become the best stay at home mother I can be for my baby. She deserves it.

http://www.everydayhealth.com/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-and-postpartum-depression.aspx

RIP Charlotte Bevan :(

There is always an awful lot of terrible news in the press, with families and friends going through intense suffering and grief. But nothing hit home to me so much as this tragic story of Charlotte Bevan. The moment I heard my heart was sinking, wondering if she had some form of mental health condition that might have led to such uncharacteristic behaviour.

For the latest story, this article covers it:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/04/baby-girl-dead-body-charlotte-bevan-avon-gorge

My heart goes out to the partner/father and family of the mother and baby. I am really shocked by it all. Whilst details are unconfirmed, it does indeed appear that she lived with a mental health problem of some sort. I won’t talk about this specific case too much as they need to be left in peace, but in general terms this highlights in such a stark way how careful ladies need to be, particularly if you have bipolar, schizophrenia, BPD, depression, or any of the many issues the brain throws at us to deal with.

I blogged earlier on in my pregnancy about the staggering chances of postpartum psychosis and depression in the first couple of weeks after birth – 50% chance, 1:2 ratio – not sure I can make it clearer just how bloody high the risk is of a serious incident – so to see such news above is really terrible.

The lack of sleep, combined with raging hormonal changes, combined with massive fluctuations of medication in your system, combined with the shock of being a new mother, combined with the general grind of living with a mental illness, combined with the sheer physical exhaustion your body has been through these last nine months and then pushing out a baby on top of it all…..these things can’t be underestimated. And NOT ONE person will be able to prepare you for it. It’s just something you have to get through. All I can do is share my experiences and hope it resonates somewhere with someone.

I was under 24 hour watch when in hospital. I was monitored constantly. I couldn’t even go down the corridor 2 seconds without being asked where I was going and if I was ok. I know I haven’t gone into the particulars of the birth, and it isn’t really for this story, but my baby was in intensive care for the first ten days of her life and it was like no other experience I ever want to live through ever again.

Because of this, because of my bipolar, because of the very high chance of an incident, I was never left alone. I had blood tests every day, blood pressure checks four times a day, my lithium was put up to almost double the dosage I had been on, and I was on strong antipsychotics. I had hallucinations, seeing ghostly wisps coming through the curtains of the ICU to take my baby away. I was so close to the verge of physical collapse. I was given Lorazepam which did not work at all as I was so frantically needing to be with my baby. I was sleeping 2-3 hours a night, impatiently lying in bed waiting to be able to get up to go see my baby. I probably could have snuck down to the ICU to see her, but I was under such strict orders to remain in my room and try and get some rest I didn’t want to go to the effort of being challenged. They really were scary, those nurses!

Perhaps somewhat controversially, I was also told under no circumstances was I allowed to breastfeed. I had to remain on my medication to prevent episodes of mania, psychosis or depression at bay. Now, the whole breastfeeding thing is a whole different article and I want to go into that at a different time. But this just again puts it into perspective how, as a new mother,  even when we think we are doing the best thing by our children, it might be better to do something else. It’s terribly hard to go against your instincts and what we are programmed to do. Ultimately, though, it’s the best thing for our babies and for us. They were really hard on me for a reason and, looking back on it, I am grateful as I think it probably kept me alive.

I’m hoping that there is not a chance that the psychiatrists advising this lady would have told her to come off her medication to breastfeed. We have no information on this so I won’t go into it more. What I am appalled by is how a woman with a known history could have been left unchallenged throughout the maternity ward and then out the hospital in such a way. I hope there are some serious questions asked here about how they take care of such vulnerable women and how on earth this was allowed to happen. There has been a major failing somewhere along the line for this to have happened.

No words can express how sad this has made me feel and my thoughts are with the family.

I’m researching and it’s quite exciting!

Well it has been a challenging few weeks but today I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. I am applying for a job where I can not just openly declare my bipolarishness to the world but actually have it as an asset and work for to improve the lives of people living with a mental health condition.

OK so I also might not get the job 🙂 but the whole process has been so useful for me. There were some really interesting questions on the application form which got me looking at my bipolar and BPD stuff in a completely different way. I went off to do some further reading and research and read up on things I had never heard of before, but that really impacted on things that have been niggling at me since before I was even diagnosed.

Co-production and social models of disability are so interesting. I often felt through pregnancy, labour and definitely after giving birth that I was being forced to do something the medical profession told me I had to do, rather than follow my instincts. I thought as a new mother, full of hormones and with bipolar, I had no instincts. I was really rather wrong and the whole thing did nothing for my confidence.

Instead, often I think we are disempowered from making our own choices and working together with the clinicians to come up with a more holistic model for our treatment. We are individuals and a one size fits all simply won’t work. We are already battling against society’s impressions of us all running around in Bedlam so why make it even harder for us by not involving us in the decision making process over our own bodies?

The Equalilties Act of 2010 and supporting EU legislation is based around a medical definition of disability – that we are broken and something must be done to fix us. So immediately we begin with a negative connotation that is only reinforced the more you battle the maze of treatment out there. We are passively expected to receive treatment and not question it. Yet when my dosage was massively too high, I had such a fight to try and reduce it down despite feeling like complete shit and running around in a madly anxious manic fog (and guess what – I feel so much better for having it reduced!).

It is a lot to think about, and when I am a bit less raw from the whole labour and newborn experience I will discuss what I went through. In the meantime, here is an interesting article on some research on co-production. I’m going to try and incorporate more into my care regime. It has got me thinking so I hope it helps some of you as well.

http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide51/what-is-coproduction/principles-of-coproduction.asp

Tired. Tired. Tired. Did I mention I’m tired?

Here’s a post I was in the middle of typing when pregnant, around March I think, and then never got around to finishing. So I have finished it now. It might be useful for those ladies considering an increased dose of their medication during pregnancy 🙂 I do talk about thoughts of death, paranoia and suicide in the context of adjusting medication so please don’t read on if that could trigger you in any way. 

I’m sorry it has been some time since I last posted. I have been surprisingly busy and I find these days my brain can only process one thing at a time.

It has been a nice time. I have done job interviews, unexpected as I am so big now people need a periscope to look around me. I’ve seen friends. I’ve hung out at home with the dog. I’ve helped DH with his studies and even picked up my own books once or twice. The online book thing is going well. I’ve had a TON of appointments at hospital.

And I have not slept. I’ve had my medication upped twice in the last three weeks.

Insomnia is a killer for anyone at the best of times. When you’re lugging round an extra 20 kilo and your lithium levels are falling then it becomes a playground for dark creeping thoughts in the middle of the night.

I was very resistant to my medication being increased the first time round. I’ve got a little one to think of inside me. I am the kind of girl who deals very well with a lithium count of 0.4-0.5ish. I don’t deal well at the higher end of the range. I was therefore pretty upset at the thought of more drugs.

As it turns out it is, of course, fine. Basically the volume of fluid in your body increases, which in turn then decreases the potency (for want of a better word) of the lithium in your blood stream. I was reading at 0.2 which is basically nothing. But, because I was irrational and tired and lacking in hormones, I didn’t make the connection to a dip in lithium altering my perceptions. It wasn’t until I was sat with my psychiatrist that I realised all those thoughts of having a suicide pact with DH so he wouldn’t die before me were not in the normal way of thinking.

Because those thoughts weren’t along the lines of ‘oh, I’m going to kill myself now’, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was normal to plan my death, and because I was thinking waaaaay ahead into the future, such as in my sixties and seventies when it might have happened naturally at some point anyway, I didn’t see a problem with it. I created elaborate schemes in my head about euthanasia (legal in The Netherlands), car crashes, train accidents, travelling somewhere where there was a high incidence of plane crashes, so I wouldn’t have to live if DH died before me when I was old.

I also had increased anxiety, and DH retrieved me from the supermarket a couple of times as I couldn’t cope with the amount of people around me. I started, for the first time, to understand what paranoia in bipolar really meant. I was convinced that people walking past me on the street were about to come and do me harm, and that I couldn’t trust the doctors and nurses in the hospital to do what was right for me.

All of it, my psychiatrist assured me, was completely not normal thinking. And all that was because of a dip in my lithium levels.

What was impressive to me was the rapid turnaround in my thought process once they increased my lithium. Eventually I went up to 1000mg per day spread out over five lots of 200mg. It was amazing how much better I started to feel again. What I found as well towards the end of my pregnancy was how high they wanted to keep my lithium count – as high as possible – to avoid any potential psychotic episodes immediately after the birth. I really am a girl who doesn’t do so well on a higher count, so it goes to show how massive the changes in my body were that being around the 0.8 mark was absolutely fine for me in my last month or so.

Throughout all of this, my baby, of course, was completely 100% unaffected by it. They are tough little creatures, babies, designed to survive some pretty extreme conditions. As an expectant mother none of that matters whatsoever so there is no point in trying to reassure yourself in that way!

I have also resolved to not be one of those mothers that dishes out completely useless advice. Unless you’re the one living it, it’s almost impossible to understand what someone is going through, so therefore the only thing to do is emphathise (as a bipolar mum to be you are not alone) and offer a shoulder of support. The only advice I will give is keep an eye on those lithium levels. If you start to suddenly see the sky turning purple with pigs serving champagne, find yourself plumbing the darkest parts of your brain, doom scenarios marching through on a frequent basis at 3am, or even convinced that the old lady in the apartment opposite you has a incredibly sophisticated camera setup just to record your every move with the ultimate aim of taking your baby away (yes, that was me to the last two), then please get to your GP or psychiatrist asap and talk it out. Cortisol is not good for our growing little ones and particularly not for you.

So, to sum up:

– monitor your lithium every week or two weeks, following your doctor’s advice to the letter
– try and sleep as much as possible. Rest during the day. Take it easy. Get someone else to do the hoovering/housework/walk the dog

And that’s it 🙂 Having a successful pregnancy on medication can be done and I am very glad I continued with my lithium.

I’m back!

I will write more. I am sorry I haven’t posted for months! But such is the joy and bittersweet elation of becoming a new mother. I have a gorgeous beautiful baby girl who is the light of my life and oh crumbs is six months old soon. But my word, the ups and downs of bipolar and pregancy and the whole WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU AFTER  YOU GIVE BIRTH. I want to make a whole website dedicated to it just to help other women – and their partners – who have to go through it all. Labour was actually a hugely cathartic experience. And the sheer bliss and joy of holding my newborn in my hands was the most transformational, wonderful moment.

As to all that happened afterwards, I will leave it for now. Writing is my release so perhaps I will find the words to describe the final months leading up to the birth, and the months after, to give me some form of therapy. At the moment I waver between sheer happiness and crying nonstop at nothing in particular. It has taken me a long time to adjust.

For now though, let’s just say that I have overdone it. My medication has been adjusted. I am back in the UK. My husband has been my rock but even so has come close to breaking. But we look at our sweet adorable baby and feel so humbled and blessed, and we find the strength to get up and go on again. Just a cuddle or shy smile or giggle from her transforms my whole day. Becoming a mother was the best thing that could have happened to me. And, when all is said and done, I look at my little family and know that, once I am out of my thick, black pea soup in my head (the only way I can describe my world at the moment) all is well in the real world.

I will return……