Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Depression

Sometimes people ask me what depression feels like, and this is what I say.

Depression is like a cat burglar – it creeps up behind ready to steal your most precious things, and although you see the shadow from behind it doesn’t occur to you that it might leap. And yet when it does you realise it’s been behind you for weeks. You started off running away from it, but as time goes on you get tired and can’t run as fast, and it catches up, jumps and covers you completely.

Depression doesn’t make me sad. I cry a lot more and at much smaller things – and at nothing. I cry a lot in self-pity – if only I were good at something, talented in some way. I wanted to do so much with my life – depression makes me think nothing I do is worth anything. But sadness isn’t the main character in my depression drama.

I spend hours asking myself what the point is of anything. The lethargy of inaction, giving up aiming to do anything productive because it won’t do anything anyway. When I’m ok I can see the ripples of my actions spread across the water of my everyday being. When I’m depressed there are no ripples. Every activity drops dead in the water, and I wonder why I bother doing it in the first place.

Depression makes me nearly scared. If I had the mental energy I’d be scared of everything, but as it is I don’t have the energy of thought to get properly frightened about the state of the world, because I know if I do it’ll be overwhelming.

The main fear of my depression is the fear of being found out. I feel the dread of having done something wrong, but I have no idea what it is. I feel like an imposter in my own life. A phoney, pretending to be normal when I’m not, but also knowing that I’m actually making a big fuss about nothing – why do I give my experience such gravity when everyone else has just as hard a time of it?

I feel guilty all the time – I have no good reason for feeling the way I do. So many people have so much more reason to be depressed.

None of this is really a response to real life. I can see that it’s not reactive. I know it’s my brain going screwy again, and that I need to do something about it, but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to admit that it’s managed to engulf me again. If I pretend it’s not there it might go away…

Will it…?

 

 

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Sinking

Depression.  It creeps up so slowly, like a thief of joy, evilly stealthy. It subtly affects my decision making and socialising. Writing ceases as I have less and less to say. And then, at some point, it becomes so obvious that I wonder how I couldn’t have noticed earlier.

Depression takes the world and adds a touch of black to every colour, greying it into a slightly dead looking place. It muffles noise, making it hard to hear the encouragement and joy of other people. It puts a barrier between me and my life – I’m one step removed from everything, and my inner autopilot takes over.

I sit in the window of a coffee shop, trying and failing to write. I watch the world go by, seeing friends greeting each other, and wonder who else is putting a brave face on the fact that walking is hard work.

I got stuck in the gym earlier. I was in the changing room getting ready to go, and forgot what I was doing. I sat for five minutes, holding my sweater, trying to remember what to do with it. I look at things and it takes me too long to see them. I can’t keep up with the world, and I miss the days of hypomania when the world couldn’t keep up with me.

I don’t know whether this episode is going to be a short lived one, or whether I’m in for months of battling. That’s the bitch with bipolar. You can never tell. I hope and pray it will be a short blip and I’ll be fine in a few days or weeks. I hope and pray I can get through it on my own, without making miserable the lives of those around me. I hope and pray for the ability to keep hoping and praying.

Day by day. Hour by hour. Step by step, until the colour comes back.

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Scared of the Sun

This post is related to my previous post Fear of the Fog. I realise that the titles may now come across as slightly cheesy, but what can I say – I’m an alliteration junkie (please comment below with other words for ‘junkie’ that start with ‘a’…)

This past weekend I have had the joy of going away on our church’s women’s weekend. We had 70 women all in one place, being challenged by some amazing talks and taking part in some inspiring worship.

I also managed to have some relaxed and elongated time with my best friends, Beauty ICE and Lawyer ICE. Our normal prayer times are odd hours, grabbed from between jobs and school runs, so it was lovely to have some proper conversations, intense sharing, and laid back company with colouring books, knitting, and large bars of Galaxy chocolate.

On the Saturday, Beauty ICE and I went for a walk around the grounds of the conference centre, chatting and reminiscing. During our last women’s weekend away I was in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown as I swung quickly and wildly from hypomania to depression. Beauty ICE (who from now on I’m just going to refer to as Natalya because it’s easy and there’s now no reason not to) was the person who bore the brunt of supporting me at that point, and I can categorically state that I was not fun to be with. My brain had suddenly swung into a major low before getting over the high – the result was all the negative self talk that comes with depression, but at four times the speed. It was hideous.

So this time, I had huge reason to be thankful for my stable state of mind. We walked, thanked God for the change, and had fun whilst we walked. We laughed and we yelled and we let our hair down with gay abandon, and arrived for dinner rosy cheeked and giggly, ready to eat, drink (juice) and be merry. For the first time in a long time I felt more than ok – I felt good.

But bipolar is never far away. I can never forget that it’s there, and it’s still not been long enough for me to relax and let my guard down. By the time we got to the evening meeting I was in panic mode. What if this was hypomania? Playing on swings, running through puddles and throwing snowballs isn’t exactly normal behaviour for me, and I didn’t even notice. The more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. I was on the verge of phoning every medic I knew just to check whether I should be doubling my medication, getting to A&E, checking myself in somewhere. Somewhere along the line, bipolar stole the fun.

Fortunately, sitting between my ICE ladies is the safest place to be. I can stress, I can cry, I can talk about the same things over and over again, and they never get stressed out about “what it might mean”. By the end of the session I was fine, and headed off to the team quiz in my normal, fiercely competitive way.

But it never goes. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to stop that level of overreaction and get to the stage where I can enjoy the good days and sit through the bad days without panic of relapse. But there is a fine line between self-awareness and paranoia, and whilst the former is sensible and necessary for continued health, the latter steals the joy, reminding me that I will never be normal again.

This post doesn’t have quite the happy ending I’d hoped, but it’s real. I’m coming to terms with the idea that this is what life is like now.

scared by the sun

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Fear of the fog

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It doesn’t take much to worry me when it comes to my mental health.

Today I feel low. I feel unmotivated, unable to concentrate, like I’ll never manage to achieve anything that’s of worth, and altogether too exhausted to go up to bed. Staying awake into the night and writing long diatribes is a key sign that Churchill’s famous black dog might be following close behind me. I find myself too scared to stop writing and go to bed, because then I might think, and that could lead anywhere. Or I might find myself completely unable to think, which is even worse.

The thing is, the fear of it can be just as bad as the actual thing. The memory of having been so ill not all that long ago (eighteen months can feel like forever or yesterday) makes me hyper alert to any possible symptom. The thought of being that unwell again induces a level of anxiety I normally only experience in an episode of depression, so I end up on a roundabout of doubt – am I anxious about becoming depressed, or anxious because I’m depressed?

As is always my key tactic, I try and work my way back to see if there is an actual cause for feeling low. I search the calendar for hormone surges or forgotten traumatic anniversaries. I look back over Facebook and Twitter to see what might have nudged me off kilter – social media can be cruel in its reminders of what I haven’t done or become. If I can find a solid reason why I might feel like mud, then there’s more of a hope that it will pass without effect, that it is just a normal bad day, like normal people have.

There’s nothing like experiencing what normal people experience to remind you that you’re not actually normal. In a bad few days a normal person can curl up, eat chocolate, and watch a movie that provides an excuse for a good cry. For me, any longer than a couple of days and I start getting antsy.

So, I start putting things in place. I stop listening to the news, and exchange sad Joni Mitchell music for something brighter. I make sure I go out, even if it’s just to the supermarket cafe, so that my four walls don’t become overbearing. I get up, I get dressed, I eat – I make myself do all the things that most days I hardly notice myself doing. I talk to friends – if my best friends don’t hear from me for a day, they come knocking.

It’s an effort trying not to get depressed when depression is one of the things you most fear.

But who knows, it might all be better tomorrow.

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Gone are the Words

I’m having a hard time writing. Depression makes my brain feel like fudge. CableGuy’s response to this was “yummy.” Me – not so much. It feels like everything is moving slower than it should. Unless it is a word or sentence that I want – then is slips away into the shadows, impossible to trace through the dense sludge.

I really wish that I could take my depression and describe it in writing. In my head it’s a piece that is, in turns, heart-breaking and heart-warming, with a trace of cynicism and a soupçon of humour at my own expense. But it seems impossible at the moment, and – even worse – like it will never be possible again. And somewhere under the lack of motivation resides a fear, that I might never be able to write again, and therefore lose a part of myself that I might never get back.

One of my biggest vices is jealousy of other writers. I spend most days wishing I had written things by other writers who say things better than me. Or (an even less attractive trait) have more readers than me. Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery fame has a good rule of thumb – if I’m jealous of another person’s writing, take a moment to feel it, but then share it. Because jealousy is just love in disguise. Jealousy is loving but then wanting. Generosity is than loving and then giving.

So, I now share part of one of Glennon’s descriptions of depression and how it affects her life and her writing. I chose it partly because her experience is so like my own, but mainly because she said it better and I am jealous. She writes about it in exactly the way I would like to be able to. So rather than loving and wanting it, I’ve decided to love it and share it. Here is a small section of her masterpiece, but please do read the entire essay here.

About depression…

“Every once in awhile – something scary happens to me. A black, heavy, murky fog sets in over my heart and my head. When this happens, I do not alternate between super high and super low. During these awful times I alternate between super low and super numb. The fog is so thick that even when I get still and try to find my way home to myself – I can’t. During these times, none of my usual tricks….quiet time, sunshine, exercise, friends, prayer . . .none of them help me find my way through the fog. I can go through the motions of the day . . . I remember what to do – pack the lunches, smile at the kids, sweep the floor, hug my husband….repeat. I just can’t remember why any of these things matter. The love, the life that usually infuses each of these tasks with meaning is gone. I become like a robot. I have completely lost myself. All I want is to disappear into a dark room. Gone is the joy, the drama, even the suffering that makes me, me. This state of mind has nothing to do with my dramatic personality. It is more like a complete loss of my personality. I’ve suffered this loss three times in my life. Once when I was much younger and suffering from bulimia and alcoholism. Once after my second child was born, and again about a month ago. I have come to believe that this loss of myself is what is commonly accepted as depression.”

About writing…

“I’m hesitant to medicate away my depression because I worry that my depression fuels my writing. What medicine does for me is help me to relax into life a bit. Craig’s perspective is that when I’m on it, I am the same Glennon, I just “struggle a little less.” I agree. I struggle a little less. And I also lose the feeling that if I don’t write I will die. This is how I feel when I’m depressed. Since I lose my joy and meaning, I come to the blank page to create meaning and joy, to get it back. Because I become desperate to make sense of things. And that desperation, I’m afraid, is what makes my writing good. So it scares me, I guess, not to be depressed. A lot of really good writers are depressed. But, as Craig says – “Honey, don’t a lot of good writers also kill themselves?”

The fact that Glennon can take the meds and still write like this gives me hope. Please, please, do visit Momastery. And please do read the whole of Home To Myself – much of what she writes about earlier in the article describes bipolar life to a tee.

Even though she doesn’t have it. Sickening.

I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous….. Loving and sharing, not loving and wanting.

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Friends

Sometimes it takes a true friend to know what it needed in a situation. I think I got it right today.

I brought my friend these:

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and these:

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She is one of the most fabulous people I know, and she has given me permission to play a part  in so much of her life. She has helped me get out of my pyjamas on my very worst days and I was there when she gave birth to her daughter, so there isn’t much that’s sacred or too much information.

She is suffering from depression, and every day seems like hard work for her. She needs to talk sometimes, but actually there don’t always need to be words. Sometimes talking is too much, especially when the only thing that’s different is that nothing’s changed. Today didn’t feel like a talking day. Today seemed like a flowers and salty snacks day.

Sometimes all it takes is someone to let you know they’re thinking of you, standing ready to remind you that there is hope.

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Storms

This is an oscillating internal dialogue between suicide and hope. You’ll be glad to know, it ends with hope. But if it’s a subject likely to trigger you in any way, please open another tab and find something – anything – supportive and uplifting.

There are times when I feel like I can’t carry on. Depression is so wearing, and the side effects of the drugs supposed to control it make me wonder why I bother with them. MiniMe and MicroBob – those two amazing little people I gave life to and would give my life for – hardly raise a smile, and grate on my nerves, driving me to distraction and causing undeserved shouting in their direction. My darling Cable guy stands alongside, knowing and worrying without really understanding, and wonderful friends do chores and provide tissues, hoping this is a phase that will pass soon. I hope too, but the world is just too painful and life is just too hard. Sometimes life feels like death, and death seems like peace, and all I want to do is quietly slip away.

Of course, there is no quietly slipping away – however you go, a huge tidal wave follows in your wake. It’s not like a party where you can sneak out the back door and nobody notices. Making an active decision to ends one’s own life has repercussions that go far beyond the black suits and eulogies. As much as you try to persuade people that there was nothing they could have done, and that you love them and don’t want to leave them, at the end of the day they are left with nothing but guilt and a tear stained note. Suicide is messy.

But the idea of death runs amok in my head. I sometimes wish that I could die in some completely blameless way, so that everyone around me can grieve and move on. And there are times when I feel angry at my wonderful little family, because they are the reason I can’t end it all now. I have to tell myself constantly that it will get better, that it’s worth fighting through the dark days.

But although there is one aspect of all this which seems like pointless semantics, it is actually more important than it is possible to state: There is a difference between wanting to die and being suicidal.

Not wanting to face the world tomorrow isn’t the same as actively wanting to end it all permanently. That isn’t to say that things aren’t bad – life feels hopeless at the moment, and I can’t imagine it ever changing. I feel hemmed in and trapped, and feel like a small child wanting to throw myself on the floor and say “I just can’t do it any more!” But while I can keep the difference in my mind, there is hope.

There’s this story I know. It’s about a man who had to do something he didn’t want to do, despite knowing that it was his very purpose. His name is Jesus, and lots of people who talk about him will tell you about a Sunday, when he rose from the dead and made sin a thing that never need stain us again, and provided the gateway to a Heaven unimaginable and a Father infinitely loving. It’s an amazing story.

But how many people hear the story of the Thursday before, when this man threw himself down and wept and sobbed and shouted “I just can’t do it! Please don’t make me! I can’t face it!” Even knowing that his next action would save every single person from death, changing the world beyond recognition, doing away with all that comes between a sinful people and a holy God, this man Jesus said all the things to his father that I am saying every minute of every day.

Jesus didn’t want to carry on with the Father’s plan for his death, but he did it. I don’t want to carry on with my Father’s plan for my life, but each day, hour, minute, second, I do it. Likening my situation to that of Jesus feels like a huge supposition, but I can carry on by telling myself that, if nothing else, He knows how I feel.

And after every Thursday, there always comes a Sunday, however long it takes.

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Jitterbug

I am, today, what we refer to in our house as ‘jazzy’. This means that I talk fast and move fast and have a constant feel of the jitters, but not high as in manic. That said, my laundry is all done and dry and piled, the whole second floor has been vacuumed, and my kitchen hasn’t looked this clean since Beauty ICE came in and blitzed it to her own, slightly obsessive compulsive standard.

Unfortunately, the physical energy doesn’t last, and I’m beginning to slump, but the brain is still going strong, and thoughts are zinging around quicker than hummingbirds disappear when you’re trying to take a photo. So this is when I write, and hope that there are at least a couple of nuggets of wisdom (or good writing) in amongst the flow of thoughts that just keep coming.

I’ve been working really hard to understand what my affect (posh doctor word for mood) is. I’m not even at a stage of figuring out why – the what would be enough for me. I fairly frequently seem to be thrown something that could be described as a mixed state, but less stable – I have some symptoms of hypomania and some symptoms of depression, which fits the definition of a mixed state, but it’s not consistent, and certainly doesn’t always last the four days dictated by DSM.

So, following my bipolar support group meeting last night, I have spent doing some research, and discovered the concept of ‘rapid cycling’. This describes to a tee what it is I have been trying to deal with. Why has no doctor ever mentioned this?! I have been beating myself up over it, berating myself for being melodramatic over everyday mood swings, and yet it turns out that it has a name and that other people struggle as much as I do! Funny how not feeling alone in suffering can suddenly make things so much easier. (Note to self – write insightful post about how Jesus experiencing our suffering and having suffered himself is what makes our relationship with so close and comforting).

I’ve also discovered an explanation of mixed and rapid mood cycles that differs from everything else that I’ve read. I found it on a website called psycheducation.org. I’d not discovered it before, and had what I think of as a healthy scepticism, but was comforted by fact no-one was asking for money, it wasn’t sponsored by any kind of insurance company, and that the doctor who wrote it told me to be sceptical and check both his professional standing, and all his sources. The page that most fascinated me is this one. It suggests that affect can be charted and monitored not on a single axis, but in three different areas – mood, energy and intellect (the ability to form and connect ideas). Classic mania would involve these three all being top of the graph, and classic depression seeing all three at the bottom. But each of these three aspects can increase and decrease independently, causing mixed states and rapid cycling.

So, to use myself as an example: last night, intellect and energy were fairly high, but mood wasn’t quite so high. So, at my bipolar support group, I talked fast and couldn’t really sit still, but mood wise I wasn’t completely out there. I talked about sensible things, and concerns I had, just a bit faster than normal (although I’m sure it was that everyone else was really, really slow…!). This morning, mood was lower, but I was still agitated and talking and thinking at speed. Since early afternoon, the energy has followed the mood – I’m now exhausted, but still having to chase thoughts through my head to catch them. To see how this might look on a pictorial graph, go here again.

This has opened up to me a whole new way of thinking about my mood and how I might manage it. I’m not sure how – or whether – it can be treated, but I do know that knowledge is a great weapon in the battle with bipolar. I’m now trying not to feel substandard, or like I’m making a big fuss about nothing, just because my moods don’t fit the textbook descriptions.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what do you think? Those of you who have been on the bipolar train longer than I have, does this make sense? And – most importantly – what helps? Any little nugget of advice would be most appreciated….

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Stigma on my doorstep

This week I have experienced some of the worst stigma and misunderstanding I have come across so far in my life with regards to mental illness.

Fortunately I wasn’t there to witness it. In the heat of anger, a family member said (or shouted) of me: “she doesn’t actually have bipolar – it’s just another excuse to be lazy.”

There are so many issues within this one comment that I hardly even know where to begin. The hurt and pain that it’s caused has been huge, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen The Cable Guy so angry. But the personal fury aside, the whole situation has made me think about how we tackle stigma in general, and specifically within those closest to us. I don’t get to stop being a part of my family just because they have some ignorant and arrogant views of mental illness. It’s not like Facebook friends who I can just block – I need to figure out how to be related to them whilst essentially unable to change them.

I’ve decided that changing people’s minds about mental illness is broadly a two stage process. First, we have to stop people saying what’s on their mind; secondly, we have to stop them thinking about it. My relative’s comment is a problem in two ways – firstly that they could say it at all (which has left me, and many people around me, incredulous), but also that the thought was there in the first place. As far as I understand it, when most people are angry, they don’t just make stuff up to say. In the heat of the moment, something they think deep in their consciousness, which they usually keep hidden, bursts out, with its barbs and sharp edges set on a trajectory to hurt whoever they are angry with.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, what is the point of changing what people do or say, if we can’t change the way they think? What point is there in my relative apologising if she still thinks that when I say I’m depressed it’s really just that I can’t be bothered to do anything?

Here’s what I’ve come up with. And I must say, I think its ingenious. It turns the current treatment of mental illness entirely on its head.

You know how the NHS is determined that the cure for all things mental health related is CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)? In this case I think it is the answer – but not for the patient. It’s all the people around us that need it! People who don’t have understanding of mental illness need to be taught the practise of what therapists call ‘thought stopping’. This is quite an old idea, but essentially claims that you can change the way you think, and therefore how you feel and behave. The basis of the technique is that you consciously issue the command, “Stop!” when you experience repeated negative, unnecessary or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic (read more here). Of course, to start off with, you might need someone else to issue the short, sharp ‘stop’ – but I can think of plenty of volunteers who will be glad to shout loudly in the face of someone who has just said something incredibly stupid about mental illness.

So, the we are. The newest way to deal with stigma regarding mental illness. Treat the non-patient, not the patient. It makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard recently……

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Let’s talk about health, baby…

I have something to say, and it isn’t easy. It’s about my health, and although I know that being unwell just happens sometimes, I feel so guilty and self-conscious about it. It’s hard for me to say, but I trust you, and I think it would be better for our friendship if you know. But please, keep it to yourself if you can. I’m not sure I’m ready for everyone to know yet.

The thing is, I have high cholesterol. Don’t overreact – I know it’s a bit of a shock, but I’ll explain it all…

My hyperlipidaemia (high blood fats) is a hereditary condition, and requires me to take two different medications to keep it under control: statins to reduce the bad fats, and high dose fish oils to increase the good fats. I will probably have to be on meds for life.

It was discovered quite by accident in a routine set of blood tests. I don’t tell many people about it because I’m worried about being judged. I don’t want people to look at me and only see the high cholesterol and forget about the person I am despite that. I’ve had people telling me that everyone has cholesterol issues sometimes, and I should just think more positively or pull myself together. People have also told me I need to think about what effect my cholesterol is having on my children – won’t they end up damaged?

Funnily enough, it can be especially hard with church friends, because some of them think I should be able to manage my cholesterol without medication, that I should just have more faith and more prayer support – maybe even exorcise my cholesterol. My doctor says that’s not the case, but I still worry about sharing my cholesterol levels and treatment with people I don’t know well. Although I’ve got used to the idea that this is an illness I will probably suffer from for the rest of my life, I worry a lot that other people won’t see it the same way, so I keep it to myself most of the time.

Sounds bonkers, doesn’t it?

Take out the ‘high cholesterol’ and place it with ‘bipolar’.

I wonder how ridiculous it sounds now…..

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