I can still enjoy myself and have a mental illness


Some people believe having a mental illness means you can never enjoy yourself. That it’s impossible to laugh and have a joke. Living in a constant state of dread and self loathing you’re unable to function, ever. You must sit in darkness in a corner of a room swaying back and forth and of course, exhibit the stereotypical clutching of the head. Some in their ignorance, believe this to be true, others that know better expect you to live like this.

I am not a ‘swayer’ or a ‘headclutcher.’ I’m the sitting on the sofa unable to move staring into space or in tears type. I do have dark moments when I sit with the curtains closed and feel like I could never properly function in society again. Like everything in life, this feeling is transitory, an impermanent state. I start to feel more like myself. Then I feel like going outside, then seeing a friend, then levelling up to going out to social occasions. Although I appear to be stable and well, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have a severe mental health condition, Bipolar. It catches me out when everything is going well, and I know this stability could only be fleeting.

What I want to spell out is that you can have a mental illness and have a social life. Although I’m too ill to work a full time job, it doesn’t mean I can’t go to a party every once in a while. A night out doesn’t constitute to working 30+ hours a week. Having a couple of drinks in a pub on a sunny Sunday afternoon is not the same as working an 11 hour shift and doing the same all over again 8 hours later. When I have that inkling of stability, I embrace it. That party I was invited to a couple of weeks ago that I was going to turn down, I’ll go to. I won’t think twice about not going. Socialising is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind, so I see it as part of managing Bipolar.

There is a movement right now that seems to be cultivating the idea that if you’re mentally ill you must live a miserable life. If you’re unwell you must act like it, at all times, with no exceptions. Don’t even think about spending a penny on something that might be seen as a treat, or give you a glimmer of happiness. If you’re mentally ill and you’re seen enjoying yourself, you’re a fraud, and faking it. We are being made to be seen as lesser than the general ‘normal’ public. I don’t believe any of this stigmatising bullshit. Only I know my limits and how I’m managing.

I have good days when I can laugh and dance and socialise. What people don’t see are the bad days when I can’t get out of bed. The bad days when I’m suicidal or hearing voices. Never judge a person for enjoying themselves. We should be congratulating them for embracing their good days.

How to deal with the “So what do you do?” question when you’re not working


You don’t realise until you stop working how much small talk revolves around what you do. You’re at a party (yes you can have a mental illness and still go to parties, but that’s for another post) and you strike up a conversation with someone and the inevitable questions begin. They want to get to know you, and for some reason it begins with;

“So what do you do?”

“Where are you working at the moment?”

It’s a loaded question. That feeling of dread begins to creep over you. You find yourself making excuses for not working;

“I’m in between jobs right now.”

If you can’t work because of a mental illness, why should you feel ashamed? It means you are taking your health seriously and not working yourself into a crisis. There is more to life than your job. Work doesn’t need to define you. If you find yourself unable to work completely it means you’ve been struggling for too long. I had to give up work and I’m not ashamed any longer. Why I gave up my full time job There are so many more things that define a person; their hobbies, their passions, their personality to name a few.

I go for full honesty, every time. I say fuck their sensibilities and how talking about mental illness might make them uncomfortable. If someone wants to get to know me, the real me, then they are going to have to understand I suffer from a mental illness. An illness that is severe enough to stop me from working. If I lie it’s only going to negatively impact on my self esteem. I’m only hurting myself by not being truthful.

This isn’t an easy approach and I know many people find it stressful to talk about their illness for fear of being judged. If someone judges you for your illness and not working they are not worth getting to know. They’re not worth you investing your time into that friendship. The more you talk about mental illness, the easier it gets. The more people hear about these experiences, the more open and receptive they will be.

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Why I gave up my full time job


I had a breakdown a few years ago. I had a full time job at the time. I worked as a Family Worker for a local council. This meant I ran a Children’s Centre that supported vulnerable families in the local community. It was a busy job, with a range of responsibilities. I ran activities for children and their parents, ran postnatal groups and children’s behaviour management classes, baby massage sessions and supported parents on a one to one basis. I loved my job. I felt I was contributing to society and helping others.

It all came crashing down and I could no longer cope with life. I was on sick leave for six months when I decided I was too ill to return and resigned. I was later diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Even though I had a diagnosis, I had lost all my confidence and felt I couldn’t return to a caring profession. Including the six months sick leave, I was out of work for nearly two years. It crushed me. My work had defined me and I was immensely proud of what I did day in and day out.

I eventually felt it was time to find a job. I needed something that was calm and stress free. A job where I could do my shift and leave without worrying about it when I got home. I found a job at an independent coffee shop and it was exactly what I needed. There was little responsibility, I had no families or children that I worried about the welfare of in the middle of the night. I worked there for just over two and a half years. I felt like it was time for a change and moved to another coffee shop. What I really wanted to do was quit coffee shop work entirely.

Even though the job wasn’t as stressful, I was still struggling with my mental health. Every other month I was finding myself too ill to work and had to take time off. I had come to the realisation that working full time, or even reducing my hours to part time, was too much. Being tired is a trigger for manic and depressive episodes for me. I’m stubborn and keep going even when I’m struggling, which is a trigger. When I’m ill I need time to recuperate, and I was finding myself trying to work through it, and putting a face on at work. It was detrimental to my health and caused me to spiral further into an episode. Bipolar is a severe illness and I needed to take time to look after myself. This meant giving up work for the foreseeable future.

Five years ago I would never have made this decision. I was too proud and work orientated. I realise now acting this way was only damaging my health. At the moment I am working as a freelance writer and sell my artwork. This means I can pick and choose when I work and on what projects. I have already turned down work because of my health. I still struggle with not having a conventional job. There is a voice telling me I’m a failure, that I’m a pathetic loser. I try not to listen. I know I might not ever be able to hold down a nine to five job, or do full time shift work again. I’m slowly accepting this and making my peace with it. My health comes first. I want to be able to be stable for long periods and enjoy my life and even have children at some point. This can happen now I’m focused on managing my mental health.

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My experience of Talking Therapies


n April 2012, I had what might be called a breakdown. I didn’t just give up, my mind refused to do anything. I couldn’t handle relationships or work, I didn’t want to speak or eat; I just wanted to sleep my life away, and at my darkest moments, end it utterly and completely. It was like nothing I had experienced before; it was this inexhaustible emptiness that wrapped tight around me. It’s hard to explain how different this low was compared to other bouts of depression I had suffered from before. My mind felt as if it was tearing apart at the seams, it was far too intense to deal with and I needed urgent help. As had happened before, I was prescribed antidepressants, but this time I was also put on the waiting list for talking therapies.

During my early twenties, I had sessions of CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy) for panic attacks.  It helped me immensely, as I was suffering from an environmental mental health problem that I could try and control – or at least ease through calming and self care techniques. I can’t say the same for the the counsellor I saw this time around. He seemed nice enough, but I could never really connect with him. I found him patronising, using the same old worn out cliches

‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘I see that this upsets/angers you’

I abhor both of these phrases. If I haven’t told you how something felt already, I’m not going to tell you, or you’re getting a one word answer. And as for the other phrase, of course I know I’m fucking upset/angry, how is telling me that helping me in any possible way, other than me wanting to hit you! I’m not an easy patient, as I’m trained in counselling techniques and I knew exactly what he was trying to tease out of me.

We talked about my past multiple times. The therapist seemed so desperate to explain away my depressive states as environmental. I was honest that it wasn’t always easy growing up, but it was rewarding and I gained many positive attributes because of it. I felt life experiences in my childhood were being thrust upon me, to upset me and to be the explanation as to my depression. It would have been wrapped up like a nice little package for the therapist, an easy fix. I was however resolute. My childhood was unique, interesting and full of adventure, it wasn’t a cause for anything but my desire to help others and to treat others how I would wish to be treated.

I remember discussing my fluctuating moods, and how I often felt that they were out of control. We talked about how quick to anger I could be and how I rarely felt just ‘happy’ or ‘a bit sad.’ The therapist discussed with me that I may have Bipolar disorder and that he was going to refer me to a psychiatrist. I returned for my appointment the following week to find he had changed his mind. He wasn’t sure I had Bipolar and wanted to explore other avenues. He believed that using CBT techniques would help me control my depression and that I was exaggerating my tendencies towards anger and ‘hyperactivity’ as he called it, because he had never seen these behaviours. So we discussed my ‘all or nothing thinking’ how ‘my world was either black or white’ and ‘my high expectations of myself.’ He believed if I acknowledged all of these and tried to change the way I thought, my depression would lift. What he didn’t realise was I had heard all of this before, and it hadn’t changed a thing. It also wasn’t noted that antidepressants were lifting my mood far too high, and throwing them away within the first couple of weeks of being prescribed the medication.

This session upset me the most of all. I had to stop at my parents house because I was crying so uncontrollably I couldn’t drive. I went to two more sessions before I decided to stop going. I felt the counsellor was asking me questions with the expectations of a particular answer; and when I didn’t give it I was made to feel my explanation wasn’t satisfactory. I was continually being asked questions I didn’t have an answer for such as ‘What do you think is making you behave this way?’ was the one that finally made me to decide to not go back. I thought, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be here talking to you! I was finally referred for a psychiatric assessment at the end of 2012 by my new GP and was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder in the December.

I’m not saying talking therapies isn’t helpful for everyone. The problem was that I needed a trained psychologist and not someone who had only completed a course in CBT. I was suffering from a severe illness and I needed greater intervention. I didn’t need someone to talk to, I needed a diagnoses that would provide me with the answers I needed.

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Why I shouldn’t be labelled as brave for speaking about my mental illness


Since my diagnosis of Bipolar in 2012, I’ve been open about it. Family and friends knew what I was struggling with from the very beginning. I’m glad I took this approach, it’s meant the people that are supportive and open minded have stayed in my life, and we have grown closer. People that couldn’t handle the idea that I had a serious mental illness left my life, and I’m happier for it. I’m blessed that I have so many people that care for me and want to understand my condition. Not everyone is as lucky as me, and have been shunned by family and close friends.

There is one thing that frustrates me though that I’m often told; that I’m brave. Brave that I speak out about my condition. Brave that I say things that are ugly and unpalatable. Brave that I never censor the struggles I face daily. I have never shied away from the label of Bipolar. It plays a major role in my life and I will never stop speaking out about it. I hate the idea that you have to be labelled as brave to speak out about mental illness. Would you call me brave if I broke my leg and asked you to sign my cast? Would I be brave if I used an asthma inhaler in front of a friend? Would I be brave if I started raising awareness of diabetes? No, because these are seen as acceptable, everyday injuries and illnesses.

I understand why people would say this to me. Bipolar and other associated conditions are not spoken about openly in society. You’re expected to hide mental illness because it’s the polite thing to do. It can’t be fixed as easily as a broken bone so people aren’t sure how to react towards you. They can’t see it so they struggle to relate and sympathise. When you’re asked “How are you?” and instead of replying “I’m fine” you reply “I’ve just come out of a manic episode and feel emotionally and physically exhausted.” people tend to freeze. They stumble over their words and try to change the subject to a lighter tone. Instead of being spoken about freely, people want it to be packaged up neatly away so it doesn’t interrupt their daily lives. It’s seen as a uncomfortable nuisance, and you’re an attention seeking distraction.

I don’t want to be brave for speaking out. I want mental illnesses to be normalised, to the point where a bad mental health day can be spoken about as easily as stubbing a toe is. I’m not ashamed for having Bipolar, but in our current climate more and more people are. The next time someone calls you brave, or you say this to someone else for speaking out, challenge them, challenge yourself; why exactly? It’s their or even your own preconception of mental illness that creates that reaction. Defy the stigma and root out the cause.

My Eating Disorder Recovery Tools


I have started on my journey to recovery from bulimia, and I’m determined to conquer this dreadful disorder. I talk about it in more depth in the post I have an Eating Disorder. It has taken over my life and that is the hard part; what do I do to fill my time when I would otherwise have been thinking about food or bingeing/purging?

The first thing I did was to write out some distraction techniques and stick them on my fridge. I wrote them out on cute, donut post it notes, because I need to laugh at myself and the situation I’m in or I’d just cry! Dreaming up ideas to distract from the constant urges was easy enough. They are simple everyday activities I can do that won’t cost me anything, and I can do from home:

  1. Have a bath – My go to reaction. I feel safe in the warm water and surrounded by bubbles.
  2. Sketch/Colour  – I can lose myself in a drawing of my own design, or in an adult colouring book.
  3. Listen to music -Singing along to an album that suits my current mood lifts me and can fill me with confidence and willpower.
  4. Play with the cat – A self explanatory endorphin releasing activity!
  5. Phone a friend – Not necessarily to talk about why I called in the first place, but to hear their voice and have a catch up.
  6.  Write a blog post – This blog is my therapy right now. Writing down how I’m feeling in the moment can feel like a great release.
  7. Clean the house – I always feel more positive when the house is clean and tidy. Cleaning all the things that have been niggling at me will distract me.
  8. Read a book – Snuggling up on the sofa under a blanket with a good book is comforting and pleasurable for me.
  9. Go for a walk – Fresh air and natural light always lifts my mood and gets me away from temptation in the house.
  10. Go on a support forum – I find the beat message boards very helpful. I can anonymously lay out my emotions without judgement.

I see these distraction techniques as Step 1. They are for when I’m first beginning to think about bingeing, but have no concrete plans to do so. If I can catch these thoughts early on, maybe I can stop them manifesting into action.

I’ve realised that when these fail, I need a backup plan. At the moment I don’t trust myself when I’m alone. I’m much more likely to binge and purge during the day when no-one is around. I currently work from home, so I find myself alone often. The is not ideal, but I have found a solution. On days when I don’t need to go out anywhere, I will give my debit and credit card to my husband, so I physically can’t go to the shops and buy food to binge on. On days when I want to work elsewhere, or spend the day in town, I can have my cards. This may sound extreme, but it’s necessary in my current mind set. This won’t be forever, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can trust myself again.

I have decided to plan my meals in my daily planner. Having my meals written down will make me accountable. If I binge on food I have to add that, and if I purge, I will add that to. Along side this, I’m writing down my schedule for the day and the moods I’m experiencing. I’m hoping this will keep me on track and make me more aware of when and why I am bingeing and purging. If I can highlight these times, I can make changes to my routine to combat it.

As a final tool to recovery, I’m taking the plunge and asking my psychiatrist to refer me for therapy. I know that my eating disorder is more than just about food, and that I have some deep rooted beliefs about my body image and my self worth. The beginnings of my eating disorder If I can work on these, hopefully I will have the strength to begin to love my body and believe in myself.