Firstly, well done and thank you for making it to the second instalment of my blog. You've either found it interesting, informative, educational or you're just one of those people that slows down for crashes. Either way, I appreciate you doing so.
Mental illness. Easy right?
Suffer from symptoms, go to the doctors, see a specialist, get diagnosed, have treatment, pop a few pills, feel better and live happily ever after. 'Easy peasy, lemon squeezy'. Nope, for me it was more 'waiting frustrating, lemon arrrrrrrrrrrgh......ing''
The journey of mental illness is completely individual to whoever is experiencing it and there is no doubt that journey can be a turbulent one. At times it is lonely and can feel like you're the only one walking the path you are on. Then at other times, the involvement of others can feel overwhelming. From my experience, it's important to see this journey as fluid from the start. Recognise you're going to find it easy some days and feel like it will never end on other days. Your route may change along the way because of a block in the road and some days you might find a brilliant new shortcut. But what ive learnt over the years is that no matter how bad you are feeling at a certain moment, remember that the feeling is temporary and will pass. Yes, this is a lot easier said than done when you are in the eye of the storm, however remembering how you dealt with these feelings before and knowing that you survived, really does help build resilience to whatever twists, turns, ups, downs and morons you encounter along this journey.
From the start, I tried my best to split the journey into smaller stages, and within these stages, I set small obtainable goals. The stages I had in my head were as follows.
ACKNOWLEDGE - that something needs addressing and talk to a trusted person about this.
SPEAK - to a professional about my feelings and behaviours and seek a diagnosis.
FORMULATE - a 'Treatment Plan' with their help.
DO MY BEST - to put in place the things that will help me be the best version of myself and cope as well as I can do with what life throws at me.
That in a nutshell would be the ideal journey from symptoms to recovery and I very, very nearly did exactl.......... who am I kidding? Instead I went for the tried and tested version 2.0
IGNORE - every symptom and justify my behaviour as "what everyone does now and again" or an 'off day, ignore all of my friend's and loved one's advice and plea's to get help and ignore my body telling me that 7 hours of sleep a week is not enough to live on.
BREAKDOWN - and shut off from society, go to prison and magnify every symptom I had to start with by increasing my stress levels by 1000%.
GIVE UP - on life and decide there is nothing I can do to get better.
FINALLY, GET HELP - and do everything I should have in version 1.0
As I said at the beginning the journey was never going to be smooth. The thing is though i learnt from my mistakes and I actually started to use version 1.0, admittedly to differing degrees of success and speed, but I used it non the less and that has eventually led to me sat here writing this. I will break it down a little for you.
ACKNOWLEDGE, well this was kind of a no brainer. I couldn't help but acknowledge there was an issue after my stay in the luxury 5 star HMP Dovegate and pumped stomach at Stafford Hospital.
All the same, my first goal was to talk . I actually sat down and started to talk to my family and friends about my behaviour, my mood swings and the rest of my symptoms. The instant overwhelming feeling of understood support was something i had longed for. I say understood support because support had always been there, but I had never explained to anyone exactly how I was feeling.
My next goal in acknowledging was to be true to myself. I had got to the point where I had started to believe my own lies and carefully crafted cover stories. I realised that in order for me to get the best support, i had to be true to myself and acknowledge when I was feeling good or bad. I started to write a mood journal and this helped me track what it was that potentially was making me feel a specific way. It also helped me in stage 2. Reading them back now, some of it also looks like pages from The Shining.
SPEAK to a professional. With the support of my loved ones, I found this step a lot less daunting and my initial appointment with my GP was one of relief. I remember crying more than I ever had to anyone and thinking I'd never, ever cry that much again.
Shortly after i was referred to a specialist on the Mental Health Team and in my first consultation, I cried more than I've ever cried before.
Bi-Polar had been mentioned when I had seen the crisis team in prison, and after numerous months with the specialist, I was given a diagnosis of Bi-Polar Type 2. I must admit it was a relief to have a label for it. It seemed to be more of a relief for the people around me. Either way, it was now out there and was something I wanted to embrace.
FORMULATE -a 'Treatment Plan'. We did this through a prescription of Quetiapine, CBT talking therapy and health coping strategies that could implement myself at home. These took the shape of following my passions and spending time with my son or as simple as recognising when I'm not feeling too good or crying more than i had ever cried before.
The CBT was incredibly helpful and I always came away from those sessions extremely motivated. I wish I could say the same about the medication. 90% of the twists and turns in my journey, my relapses and my struggles come from my relationship with these innocent little pills.
The first 4-6 weeks on these tablets make me feel like I'm living on the set of The Walking Dead. I'm asleep but awake and awake but asleep and I never seem to know when which is which. Except the world is still going on around me. I still have to get up and wash and dress. I still have to turn up to work with a smile on my face. I still have to see friends and family. I want to be creative, draw, read and write like I usually do, but the weight of my eyelids and my limbs won't allow it. It's for these reasons ive stopped taking my medication before. It's the reason I have self-medicated with going out and getting drunk with friends in the past. But when I have gotten past those 4-6 weeks of Zombie life, everything starts to get clearer and more level. So no matter how many times I stop taking my meds I know that I will get back on them again. This Journey isn't easy but I know I've got through it before and I become more resilient each time.
In my experience, it's best to discuss these with the doctor beforehand, to be prepared, and let them know if the side effects persist so that the dosage or prescription can be changed. The best progress is made when you are an active partner in your treatment, working with the doctor or therapist.
There is no simple ‘cure’ for mental illness. Treatments are generally effective however in managing and reducing the impact of symptoms. Whatever the diagnosis, recovering from an episode of mental illness means more than clinical treatment. You play an essential part in getting better.
DO MY BEST. I do, I truly do. Even when I think I'm not, or I'm hard on myself for taking two steps forward and one step back, I am doing my best.
The truth is that only I know what it feels like to be me and only I can really tell anyone how I'm feeling and only I will experience my journey fully. So it's important that I put the things in place to help me when I'm not doing so well. To make those small goals, to make them SMART , to inspire me and to help achieve something no matter how small.
But it's also important to have that select group around me that will support me when I feel I can't carry myself.
Because sometimes you'll be king or queen of the sat nav and navigate each and every turn of life the way you want to. Other days you'll be on your own in the dark, wind and rain with a soggy map that's just blown down the road.
But that's ok because You've got through it before and you're still here trying your best.
Yes, I struggle, yes having Bi-Polar has been hard, but my view on the world is more interesting for it. I feel I see things differently to most, and who knows what wonderful path my journey will take me on next.
This is only the beginning.