My 2018 World Mental Health Day

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How was your World Mental Health Day? Mine happened to be pretty shit.

It doesn’t really matter, because mental illness doesn’t respect particular days, especially those deemed meaningful by human beings. I’ve spent enough birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries in hospital with a mental illness to lend weight to this theory.

Paying homage to mental health (ours or others) on a designated day seems like a nice idea on the surface, but I’m not convinced it does a lot. I suspect it makes people who don’t suffer a mental illness feel good if they remember it or mark it. But is this just another version of tokenism? Does it really make any difference to the lives of people living with mental illness every day of the year?

A very smart woman who ran the SANE Peer Ambassador training workshops I attended recently made the excellent point that we don’t have World Physical Health Day.

And that is because every single day is World Physical Health Day. It would be far better to reach a point in history where caring for ourselves and being sympathetic towards those around us with mental illness is as matter of fact as caring for our physical health. We shouldn’t need World Mental Health Day.

Here’s what today looked like for me:

10 am

‘You look flat’

There is only one person I trust to make this assessment, and it’s the one who spoke to me. My psychiatrist. He and I have known each other and worked together for just over twelve years now. And I have trusted him with my life many times.

For the last four days I have felt flat. It started with a sluggish Sunday. But everyone has those. Right? I am exhausted. That’s ok, understandable. It’s been a stressful couple of months. However, in the space of those few days ‘I’m exhausted’ morphed into: ‘I am exhausted by life.’

I have been on this runaway train often enough to know that feeling exhausted by life is the last stop before suicidal ideations set in. And that is where it turns into not ok. By yesterday, when I made the appointment with my psychiatrist, I was feeling worthless. Black thoughts crept in and crowded out the positive, the motivated, the real me.

Thankfully I have the insight to recognise these feelings and thoughts as imposters. These are symptoms of depression setting in. They have been waiting in the wings for their moment. My Bipolar Disorder is here to collect, on all the stress and sleep deprivation I had no say over in the last few months.

In the past I went to war against these thoughts and feelings. So naïve to think I could somehow out think or out feel them. Such a rookie error. As is waiting to see how it will all play out. That tends to land me in hospital for months at a time. So, after four sluggish days, feeling flat, off, down, irritable, and with my memory and concentration beginning to fray I walked into my psychiatrist’s consulting room this morning. That’s when he proclaimed, before asking me a single question, that I looked flat. And I felt relieved, because I knew I’d been right to come.

I listed my symptoms. He looked at my chart. Then, reminiscent of a pilot attempting to correct a plane out of a nose dive, he said:

‘Let’s increase the Lexapro by 10mg and halve your Lithium dose until your mood comes back up. As soon as your mood lifts, go straight back onto the full dose of Lithium. And keep your appointment for next Friday.’

‘Good. Let’s try that.’

Then we speak of the heavy truth between us:

‘And if I crash before then….’

‘Then you will call me and come into hospital.’

Neither of us want that. Neither of us want the months in hospital possibly having ECT, because I’ve become catatonic. Yet we both know it’s still a possibility.

So, in honour of World Mental Health Day 2018 – here are my thoughts on what will get me well again:

Insight. Communication. Early intervention with a medication adjustment. Fingers crossed. And luck…so much fucking luck…

Making Sense Of It

Treatment

What Does Someone With A Mental Illness Look Like?

Sick Not Selfish

Wedding Breakfast Spoiled

Lessons For A Control Freak

 

Wriggle Room

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Clarence, our pet python, always leaves himself plenty of wriggle room. Even when he’s just doing the grocery shopping

Picture your life. When everything is going fairly well. How much space between your skin and its boundaries? Are you booked to the hilt? What happens when the unexpected stressors hit? A sick child, a death in the family, a redundancy, a relationship break-down? Do you have the wriggle room to absorb some of the shock and stay afloat? Or does the thought of these boulders coming at you make your chest constrict, because you know that if anything else is piled on top of you now, you will go under?

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Lessons For A Control Freak

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Image courtesy of Flow Magazine

I have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with control. I rely on having it a little too much. Throw me an unexpected traffic jam, and I’ll feel no more or less anxious than the next person. However, when control goes AWOL from the bigger areas of my life my stress levels sky rocket.

I have been seeing my psychologist for years now. Some visits neither of us have to work hard to tweak things. But whenever there’s a larger life issue I’m struggling with, my distress almost always comes down to my lack of control over an undesirable situation. For me one of the worst-case scenarios are sleep deprivation  combined with the stress of a sick child. The reason this combination is so triggering is that it is kryptonite to my defences against a bipolar episode. (Sleep deprivation especially accompanied by stress is a major risk factor for developing manic and psychotic episodes)

This said, I firmly believe the universe sometimes sits back stroking its chin and assesses where I’m at. And then as though giving me a cosmic performance review, it points out areas for improvement, and gives me the opportunities to practice the life skills I lack. Clearly, I still need a lot of practice accepting a lack of control, because I have been sent the following homework:

Continue reading “Lessons For A Control Freak”