Bi-Polar

Alternative Therapies

 

Many years ago when I was ill for the first and second time, I knew little about strategies for regaining my sense of well-being. I was only offered tablets but, while in hospital, I did go to relaxation sessions. However, there was nothing more on offer. This was in 1989 and the early 1990s.

How much has changed now. Mental Health is on the agenda and discussed openly. Only this weekend, a Times Journalist wrote in the Times Magazine about his descent into and recovery from depression. Sports personalities also discuss their own predisposition to this debilitating condition. We are often surprised as we have only seen them as successful sportsmen.

However, stress and over activity can tip successful people away from being at the top of their game and they can find this difficult to cope with.

Over recent years I have used yoga and, more recently, Mindfulness, to bring myself back to some sense of normality. I have also found a therapist who is trained in several techniques. I have had Indian Head Massage, full massages and facial massage. The latter is wonderful when anxiety is at its worst and I wake up to puffy eyes.

But the most recent therapy I find beneficial has been Reflexology. This, I found more relaxing than a body massage. After one session about two years ago I walked home completely disconnected with the world around me, save for a wide smile on my face. The feeling of well-being was immense. I stopped at the cash point, inserted my card, requested the cash and took my card. I walked away without the money only to realise half way down the street but when I ran back it had gone. Luckily my bank was able to resolve the problem.

A few years ago I visited a Reiki therapist and found it helpful. The therapist then moved away. My love of reflexology over the last few years has caused me to forget that experience but when I discussed my recent acute anxiety with my therapist she suggested that I try Reiki again and, at the end of my reflexology session, she gave me five to ten minutes of the technique.

We have decided that I will have 50/50 Reflexology and Reiki for the next few sessions. I try to visit her once every three to four weeks but during a bad phase I will go more often. I am not rich but I have learnt how to economise in other areas of my life to enable me to afford these treatments. They are the gold dust.

Reiki is apparently particularly beneficial in dealing with anxiety.

I will be writing about my Reiki treatments on this blog so watch this space.

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Bi-Polar

‘Down Days’ or normal life?

What are ‘Down Days’?

I follow a mental health blogger, Natasha Tracey, and, while some posts don’t resonate with me every time, most of what she talks about I can identify with completely.

Many people will refer to being ‘down’ and they do not have clinical depression or a Bi Polar diagnosis. Sadly, these comments do not help those with serious mental health conditions as they trivialise what is, for those of us with such disorders, something debilitating and immobilising.

In her latest blog, Natasha talks about someone referring to ‘Down Days’ and she makes the point that hers are not days but more likely weeks and months. You can read her blog here and, if you find it of interest you can follow her and receive updates in your inbox.

http://natashatracy.com/bipolar-disorder/down-day-bipolar-mean/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+natashaTracy+%28Bipolar+Burble+by+Natasha+Tracy%29

I, too, don’t have ‘down days’. I know immediately that my mood has dropped. It will follow a period of busyness, project building, possibly excessive spending which, at the time, seems absolutely necessary but, in the time that follows, reality tells me that I did not need whatever it was I spent my money on.

I used to ruminate about recent spending but have learnt over the years not to take off labels, to keep receipts and seriously consider returning items, if that is possible. If I decide to keep some dubious purchases, I have discovered that a few months or a year or two down the line these items can be used and are not a waste. If you suffer from this behaviour, take heart that all is not lost.

But back to ‘Down days’. I recently had an email from a ‘friend’ who referred to her ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. She does not have Bi Polar or mental health issues. Her ‘high’ was related to a holiday or some success and her ‘low’ was linked to losing a relative to cancer. And this is where the boundaries between what is normal and what is a serious mental health condition become blurred. Hers were the ‘normal life’ happenings with natural emotional responses. Mental illness is something else altogether.

I do wish those who do not have mental health issues would not trivialise the emotional states of those who do by referring to themselves, as if they suffer the same states. They do not. The extremes with Bi Polar are so great that normal living becomes almost impossible. A high state can result in losing sense of reality and psychotic symptoms such as believing you can achieve the well-nigh impossible or drift into some paranoid state whereby one believes the people waiting on the street are police about to arrest you, when in fact, they may be Jehovah Witnesses discussing where next to visit. The ‘crash’ that follows a ‘high’ involves much regret at spending or actions taken and are far deeper than simple ‘down days’.

I know that some people suffer rapid cycling and can experience both high and low states in one day or in a few weeks but most people with Bi Polar will go through a period of wellness when their activity increases, their happiness is unbounded, optimism is high and life is good. That is fine until the mood slips slightly higher and the behaviour is more erratic.

The low period that follows such a ‘high’ period is not just a ‘down day’. It can suddenly envelop you in total inertia, lack of motivation and anxiety which can lead to an inability to get out of bed each morning. Even when up and moving, the brain and body are so slow that taking a shower is a major undertaking and simple activities such as making a cup of tea become increasingly difficult. The weight on my shoulders is so great that, after a cup of tea and a small breakfast, I am so exhausted I have to lie down and this repeats itself through the day as I try to overcome the lethargy and feelings of ‘walking through treacle’. Minor day to day happenings can appear insurmountable.

I dread the warning sign that I am sinking low as, unless I am very lucky and can stop it in its tracks, I know I am in for at least a month, possibly two when normal life will cease. It is, as I have said, more than just a ‘down day’, more like a ‘down month’. Luckily my medication means that I rarely go into deep depression for longer periods and I employ strategies to bring me back to a fully functioning human being. However, I am not complacent. I know that I could sink for longer periods as I did in the past.

But I have had help and advice, counselling and support.

So I know the following:

SLEEP is the key. If necessary I will take a small dose of Zopiclone for a few days to regulate my sleep pattern. I can increase my medication slightly .

RELAXATION is absent but must be reclaimed. I have a reflexologist who also has trained me in ‘tapping’ techniques. One or two visits will set me on the path to recovery.

EXERCISE is vital. Mornings are rubbish so an early lunch and then a long walk in the afternoon is called for. I combine this with sitting in the sun watching the waves roll in – the joy of living at the seaside.

CREATIVITY is absent so I try to write in my notebook each day. The entries make sorry reading later but I do include TO DO lists and the POSITIVES of each day. Re-reading these entries demonstrates how each time I sink low I need to explore why this has happened and how I can reclaim my equilibrium.

YOGA is essential for my wellbeing but is something I have often neglected before this phase. I start with 20 minutes on a blanket and try to increase it each day. This can strengthen the muscles which when we are inactive become weak.

DAYLIGHT is another essential. Sitting outside in the daylight, walking or gardening all helps.

DEEP BREATHING – also used in yoga – helps anxiety and aids relaxation.

LISTENING TO MUSIC is a recent addition to my strategies. Listening to classical music has been found to have positive effects on the brain. Uplifting music and dance tunes can also help. You may find yourself singing or jigging away, perhaps even dancing. Creating your own music ie playing the piano or another instrument can take you out of yourself.

As a writer, I need to WRITE but this is hard at these times. This when I turn to blog posts such as this which I hope will help others. One thousand words is an achievement. Of course, I would prefer it was a chapter in a long abandoned novel but it is keeping the creative writing juices lubricated.

COMMUNICATION – is so important, with family, friends but is one of the hardest parts of the illness. Keep TALKING even if only to yourself while out walking. I try to talk to someone every day when I am out for a walk. It keeps me connected.

Depression is often a state of disconnectedness where we have lost some of our ability to relate to others and the world around us. However, it will return. It will pass.

What helps you cope with these low periods?

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Bi-Polar

There is always hope

I was told once by a consultant that the important part of coping with depression is to ‘keep striving’.

Keep striving, doing the things that help.

Keep striving to be active.

Keep striving, doing normal daily activities.

Keep seeing people. Don’t shut yourself away.

Keep talking to those nearest to you.

Keep looking after yourself.

I would add:

keep writing ‘to do’ lists and ticking off what you have achieved.

keep a routine – this can be the hardest and often is the first to fail

keep in the moment – as in Mindfulness

keep hoping and don’t give up.

 

As my doctor said, ‘you know this will pass,’

And I have found that it does, eventually.

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Bi-Polar, Uncategorized

Suicide in those with Bi Polar

Living at the coast I am well aware of the power of the sea and how it should not be underestimated but in coastal areas there are other dangers, one of which is the accessibility to cliffs for someone wishing to end their life.

Recently this happened near to where I live. The person was Bi Polar and had stopped taking her medication a week prior to the incident. The dangers of ceasing taking medication when one is Bi Polar are profound. A friend whose Bi Polar son passed through a difficult phase, was advised by a doctor to cease taking one of his mood levelling medications. Within weeks he had committed suicide with devastating effects on his family.

It is easy for me as a compliant BPD sufferer to say we should never, ever cease taking our medication even if we feel particularly well. In fact this is the dangerous point in this most evil of diseases. Sufferers pass through a well phase, feel they can cope with anything and stop taking their tablets. The effect is to cause a sudden sharp dip in mood when the person will become suicidal.

While not wanting to cast an opinion on the role of relatives in this case, those close to the patient should be alert, particularly if they appear resistant to taking medication which is common. If you have a relative who appears reluctant and complains that the medication makes them drowsy and complains about other side effects, this relative is probably vulnerable to believing he or she can do without it.

Those close to me know I am such a fan of my medication they need not worry. This is because for years my non-aware GP failed to refer me for psychiatric help despite the fact that I had received regular checkups at my previous address and all this was documented on my notes. The result was a few years of miserable times coupled with manic highs when I risked much financially and fell out with people. When I was finally referred after the intervention of my partner’s GP, I was put on Quetiapine and immediately felt the effects (once the initial dizziness and muzziness had passed). Eight years later and this has changed my life. I sleep well – Quetiapine has a sedative combined – and the regular sleep has made a difference. Whereas before I had weeks without sleeping or only sleeping 2-3 hours and long periods of early waking – that awful jump start at 5am and the sinking feeling in the stomach that reminds you how depressed you are – I now sleep a regular eight hours and wake refreshed. At night, I fall asleep quickly which prevents rumination and anxiety.

I am not saying it is all plain sailing. There are difficult life events and periods when I may wake on and off and wake up anxious but I use Mindfulness and take a herbal remedy such as Kalms for a week or so until  the symptoms subside.

Years ago I often had suicide ideation – when you do not make plans but the idea is there that one day you might use that way out but this has passed. This is partly because of the medication and partly that I have seven grandchildren and made the decision some years ago that I would not want them to live with the knowledge that their grandmother had taken that route out of life. I want to be a role model for them so they have been my salvation.

My writing is also my therapy and absolutely free. I make sure I write something every day even if it is only a diary entry – when low sometimes the creative juices dry up. However, depression is common amongst writers and research has not established whether it is because depressed people turn to writing as therapy or whether writers are more vulnerable. It is a solitary occupation so writers need to have networks to keep up social interaction.

I feel intense sadness for the family of the person who chose to jump from our nearby cliffs. I can only guess at their heartache and the possible guilt they may feel that they did not recognise the signs or take any action. In mitigation I would say that Bi Polar sufferers are canny hiding their symptoms and mood swings. I am sure that, in this case, the nearest relatives were kept completely in the dark. We are quite private people. We may talk a lot at times and disclose much but we do not wish to burden people with tales of our darker mental states. Also those who sink to such low levels become quite secretive and quiet.

It is therefore no wonder that relatives find themselves unable to prevent such a tragedy. Beyond investigating if medical intervention and monitoring was sufficient – and lets’ face it the mental health services are in disarray with lack of funding, all of which is a disgrace to our present government –  all I can say is they should take some comfort from the fact that this was an action of choice albeit an unfortunate one.

If you know someone who might have stopped taking their medication you need to speak to a medical professional ideally someone with experience and expertise in mental health. Some years ago, it was planned that there would be a point of contact in each GP surgery – a mental health professional or counsellor who could deal with distressed patients or worried relatives on a ‘walk-in’ basis. As far as I am aware this has not happened.

It is time for the government to place importance on mental health services with a view to preventing such tragedies in the future.

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Early Warning Signs (EWS) and how to deal with them

There was a time when, following a move and a new GP, I struggled with my Bi Polar and would pay visits to the surgery in the hope that some help would be forthcoming. When I related my symptoms I was told that I was being super sensitive to the feelings and frightened of descending into previous illness that had resulted in hospitalisation. I often wondered if she had read my notes.
After attending a Living with Bi-Polar course I learnt that these thoughts, feelings and behaviour are important for they are our EWS (early warning signs). While these may differ between us, many are commonly experienced by sufferers of BPD.

If you are reading this because you suspect you may have the condition I hope you will be heartened by the knowledge that all these feelings will pass but there are some things you can do to make yourself feel better in the meantime. However, if you identify with the symptoms you should consult your GP who may refer you for further assessment.

My trigger is usually a period of stress even if I think, at the time, that I am coping. Sometimes, I have a fall, a sign my balance is off centre or that I am not concentrating. I may have been exceptionally busy with normal activities but not manic. Holidays and Christmas can cause this.

So what are my early warning signs of bipolar depression? First I begin to wake up tired rather than refreshed and find it difficult to get up. I am aware that something in my life is missing and that is the sense of joie de vivre, being able to enjoy simple activities and generally looking forward to what life has to offer. I begin to lose interest in activities I previously enjoyed. Over a few days I notice I am feeling overwhelmed with a range of daily activities that I would normally take in my stride. I begin to forget things and find it difficult to plan ahead. Time becomes short and I cannot fit in what needs to be done. This causes some anxiety and I become aware of a few worries. These increase over a few days. My sleep is disturbed. Whereas my medication usually knocks me out, suddenly I either cannot get off to sleep or I wake with a start in the night. Early waking might happen but if I am lucky my medication will allow me to drop off again. While I have been enjoying my food when well, now I feel sick in the mornings and may feel giddy or uninterested in food. I may have difficulty swallowing, particularly where tablets are concerned. As a writer, one sign is that I stop writing or find it difficult to engage with a manuscript that previously had excited me. I begin to spend more time sitting on the sofa but achieving little. I get things out and do nothing with them, start to read an article but fail to finish. A number of half read papers start to pile up. By now the kitchen is untidy and my normal attention to cleanliness is notably absent. Dishes in the sink and cold cups of tea sit forgotten on the table, made before I wandered off to do something else. I am now feeling unsociable and am reluctant to answer the phone or make arrangements to meet with friends. If one of my friends cannot meet up I may experience a feeling of relief.

Now none of the above is a serious warning sign on its own. As the peer specialist told us, ‘it is when several EWS are observed and they hang around for a while.’ The key is being aware. Unsurprisingly most of the delegates on my refresher course last year identified with many of the above signs.

Luckily I now recognise these signs and rather than ignore them which my GP thought I should, I know that I need to take some action.

There are a few strategies which can bring you back on to a previous mood level before depression takes hold. Some cost money and others are there for free. The following ideas are a mix. You may not find them all helpful but some should suit where you find yourself at the moment.
• Getting out for a walk, however short, in the fresh air and, hopefully, sunshine, will boost endorphins.
• Writing a mood diary and recording daily activities will get you writing.
• Reading poetry takes less concentration and might help. Try humorous poetry.
• Set achievable goals especially when tidying up neglected areas. Choose a few shelves or one file at a time. To plan to tidy the whole house will result in failure and increase your despondency.
• If you can find a reasonably priced therapist book a reflexology session for deep relaxation.
• Experiment with ‘tapping’ techniques. Tapping therapy or EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is explained on various websites. If you are unsure it would be worth paying for half an hour of therapy for a demonstration and help with setting intentions.
• Write a To Do list every day with achievable tasks. Keep it short and cross off those completed. This aids memory too.
• Phone or visit a member of your family.
• Watch ‘happy’ television programmes and avoid the news which can increase anxiety.
• If reading is a problem, watch an interesting documentary dealing with a topical debate.
• Write down three positives for each day. These could include cooking a meal, phoning a friend or watching tv. A walk in the sun, sending an email to a friend or writing your diary also qualify.
• Take the pressure off yourself. Instead of berating yourself for not getting out of bed in the morning, give yourself permission to stay in bed for a short time. If it is a choice you will feel better. You will soon be getting up more smartly when you feel better.
• Accept you have an illness and that this phase is part of your illness. I was told this a year ago and found it liberating.
• Tell yourself that your brain worked hard and was overstimulated before this phase. Depression is often the brain’s way of ‘having a rest’. Let it rest and don’t fight it or force yourself to do things you find difficult at this time. Make a choice to rest your brain and keep occupied with physical activities that are possible at the moment. This is NOT giving in or being lazy. It is allowing your brain to recover.
• Listen to music or play an instrument.
• Do some stretching exercises each day. Practise yoga and feel the difference.
• Remember depression does pass.

Some of the points above I have already written about on my blog eg the idea of writing down 3 positives each day. Other points here will be expanded on in future posts.

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Overspending during depression and bi-polar highs

There is a common problem with those who suffer mental health problems that sometimes they get carried away with their spending and overspend often to the point of landing in debt.

It is a well known fact that we think that buying the ‘next thing’ will make us happy and using a £5 off voucher if you spend £35.00 in the supermarket is actually saving you £5 when, in fact, you are probably spending more than you would if you did not have the voucher.

I came across the article below which, forgive me if it is wordy, does explain some aspects of why we overspend. At this time of year when we are feeling drab and the nights are still closing in before 4.30 it is easy to think that going out shopping and buying something we have always wanted or a holiday that we see others enjoying will be the answer to our low mood.

http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2015/01/14/why-we-spend-are-you-falling-for-these-costly-biases/

I did read something about spending to make  ourselves happy. It is on a previous blog on happiness. Apparently we buy something and experience some temporary feeling of satisfaction so we think it has worked. In fact the feeling soon goes away and sometimes our mood can plummet when we realise that the purchase did not act as the magic bullet. The realisation that we have spent £x and got no long-term reward can send us into a decline of regret and evoke feelings where we ‘beat ourselves up’ for falling for this ploy once again. The temporary easing of our anxiety can bounce back to hit us full in the face, worse than before.

I am now subscribing to the minimalist theory. A few pairs of black leggings, a good pair of boots and a few tops and layers are seeing me through the winter. I have a lovely skirt I bought in the Mistral sale which I wear to go out and my previous purchases for winter come out occasionally. There is NO need for any more new clothes so the January sales will not be seeing me this year.

Try it and see if you feel better by NOT spending.

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WRITING AS THERAPY FOR DEPRESSION

What came first? Writer’s block or depression?

So I said to my psychiatrist that I am now wondering whether it was Writer’s Block that brought on my latest bi-polar depression. Of course, the depression may have caused the block. But when I think back, a rejection in October hit me hard and I distracted myself with a manic decorating spree. When the depression hit me in January, I thought that was the reason that I was no longer writing but now I look back, I stopped writing prolifically before the depression struck. Yes the occasional blog but not what I call ‘real’ writing. Even the blog posts became less frequent.

In Issue 61 of Mslexia, Roselle Anguin discusses the therapeutic effect of writing but her statistics and research throw more light on the link between writing and depression. As a group, writers have a high incidence of mental health issues but writers are also better equipped to cope with these issues, even to heal from them. A previous survey in Mslexia suggested that 69 per cent of women writers have been treated for some kind of mental health problem, in contrast with 29 per cent of women in the general population. The survey discovered writing could make women feel more positive, relieve depression and alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Writing, of course, has therapeutic benefits for non-writers too. But if you suffer from mental illness and you are not a writer, you are missing a vital strategy to engage with your feelings and express emotions such as fear and anxiety.

Fortunately my depression has lifted and I have started writing again but I have been thinking about the ‘chicken and egg’ situation of whether depression causes, or is caused by, writer’s block. All writers have days when the words don’t flow but when even a pen and notebook do not stir ideas and the computer stays switched off for no explicable reason, it is clear that the block has taken over your life.

Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, suggests several tactics for releasing your creativity and dealing with the inner critic who repeatedly tells you that you cannot write and, if you do, what you write is rubbish. One of her methods is the ‘morning pages’. Just take your notebook and write three pages of drivel after which you should be able to write the ‘serious’ stuff.

This could work with depression too. That is, once you can stay out of bed for sustained periods although I have tried taking the notebook to bed and it has worked. Just write anything that comes into your head without worrying about it being part of your next or present Work In Progress WIP) could ease anxiety and is immediately liberating. Writing down your fears can make them seem quite trivial which can be enlightening. After all, in your mind your fears are mammoth and sufficient to stop you undertaking normal daily activities. So they must be real. But the truth is most will be much less than you had imagined. Your fears, once written down, will not seem so dire. If they are grounded in fact and you have problems that will seriously affect your life, writing them down may help you find a solution even if this is only temporary. Redundancy, for example, is a real threat to your income and the house, bills and food but being proactive and listing a few plans such as visiting the Job Centre for a Careers interview could ease the dread.

Writing can also be used in other ways. Writing down five ways to make yourself better, five things you like about yourself, five strengths, five things you want to do in the next six months. All of this is using the power of the pen to empty the mind. This in turn will allow in more positive thoughts – probably one or two of your plans will reach fruition.

For those with Bi-Polar, keeping a diary of activities, meetings with friends, reflective thoughts on the past day and an indicator of mood can help track mood levels and, if there are changes, you can look at what you were doing a few days before the mood changed. This has been one of the most helpful strategies I have used since being diagnosed with BPD. The diary can be useful when seeing professionals too as you can, prior to the appointment, overview what has been happening in your life.

But I never write, I hear you say. Forget that, take a positive stance and promise yourself that you will start writing. Just a few words is all it takes. A shopping list, a few nice menus and a sentence or two about your feelings that day. Then start planning, making lists and writing more reflective accounts.

It is worth it so give it a try.

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