Do you try to be ‘normal’?

We all hear the phrase “there’s no such thing as normal”, but what I mean by normal is someone who does not have a mental health condition like I do. You could then argue that everyone is on a spectrum of mental health, but I think living with a condition like Bipolar disorder is different from having an episode of depression.

It’s comparable to living with diabetes. I have to take my medication to stay stable and avoid hospitalization, just like a diabetic takes insulin. However, it’s not the fact that I have to take medication that makes me feel less normal. Popping the lithium pills at night and aripiprazole in the morning, strangely enough, feels okay to me. I think it’s the very least and most basic self care that I do even on my bad days, as I know deep down that hospitalization sets me back a few years in terms of health.

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It’s weird though, as when I was pregnant and off all medication, I felt happy and healthy…but I wasn’t sleeping and becoming increasingly reckless and that resulted in a psychotic manic episode in week 28 of my pregnancy and sectioning.

So it’s not the medication that makes me feel abnormal. It’s the depression and anxiety and the fact that I have to battle to do things that those without bipolar seemingly have no trouble with.

Am I trying to live life like I think an average healthy person does? Is that a losing battle as I will always have bipolar? How do you just accept your condition and not feel totally different from everyone else?

It’s classified as a disability, but not visible, so is it unreasonable to want to feel able as that’s what others see?

Then maybe it’s just about lifestyle. Like a diabetic has to watch their diet and exercise, I have to have a relatively low stress lifestyle – plus watch my diet and exercise.

I think it’s the benchmark that I’m aiming for that is confusing me. What am I aiming for when I think of a life where I have overcome my symptoms of bipolar? I think the trap I tend to fall into is to look at what healthy people’s activities are, rather than their ways of thinking. And it’s very difficult to know how healthy non bipolar or those without mental health difficulties think. That’s where psychology comes in. If you think healthy, then you will be healthy on the inside.

Then there’s the question about personality. I feel like I’ve been this way since childhood, but I have to remember that my true personality shines when I’m in a good mood and that just because I have an anxiety disorder, does not mean I have an anxious personality. Bipolar is a mood disorder, so just because I am manic does not mean I am happy all the time and conversely depression does not mean I don’t have a sense of humour…even though it feels that way sometimes.

Tell me your benchmarks for recovery. How do you know you’ve overcome the bulk of this condition?

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That mummy guilt

I have that guilty mum feeling a lot of the time. I think over the last few weeks as I’ve been doing less and sleeping more, my husband took over the basic childcare. I actually am a slightly tearful at the fact that I don’t look after my child like I think most mothers do.

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My husband gets Star ready every morning, whilst I get ready, or whilst I’m having a bit of extra morning sleep (which is really procrastinating waking up), but I helped Star brush his teeth today. We had a big day as I was facepainting at the local toddler group’s Eid party (a muslim festival), plus I had made some food for the one dish party – but my anxiety was more on logistics. For example, how would I cross the busy road with Star on one side and with bags in my other hand. Obviously I managed to cross the road fine. I realise I have a lot of anxiety linked with time pressure, so as I allowed enough time, we were fine. It’s all a knock on effect from getting up on time, which I kind of did this morning.

So why do I feel like a rubbish mum? Because I usually have naps when Star does in the afternoon. So when we were back at home I thought Star looked a bit tired and I certainly felt tired, so I thought we would lie down for a nap. I thought it was 1pm and as Star had eaten a bit in the party, he could eat on waking up.

Nope. Star was in a halfway mood where I knew he was tired but he wanted to play. Or maybe, on reflection he wanted to eat lunch then. By this point I was in nap mode and had tried to wind him down, then I resorted to my mobile phone and YouTube cartoons. I thought this would last half an hour or so, but nope, over an hour later he finally fell asleep next to me watching cartoons. It was then that I realized I hadn’t changed his nappy for a while, but that would have to wait till he wakes.

So no proper lunch, a delayed nappy change and YouTube. He is still asleep whilst I write this, so it means a very late lunch on waking, followed by a nappy change and then finally some playtime with me. The other thing I feel I’m not good enough at.

Anyway, I’m over the guilt now as I spoke to hubby about it and he said I’m doing fine. I did really well this morning and am starting to feel more comfortable in the mum and toddler group with some lovely welcoming ladies there. I just wasn’t on the ball with Star’s needs, but I’m always with him, so I can’t be all that bad. I was telling myself it’s neglect, but I love him and he is not being harmed. With Post Natal Depression and Anxiety a lot of the times your needs are important too. I needed the nap to function, so that’s what I had to do.

Are you fulfilling your basic needs?

I’ve just come out of three days either side of the weekend, where I spent the majority of my day laying in bed wanting to fall back asleep. The motivation had gone and anxiety had done it’s job in making me avoid absolutely everything. It’s utter self neglect. I find it too much effort to even drink water or go to the loo when I’m in that state. But, I managed to eventually take my morning Aripiprazole before noon and wake up when Star gets home with hubby.

I had social plans for the weekend and I had to be with Star, so I was ok for those days. Then I saw a post on Instagram by @lisaoliveratherapy about Showing up for yourself, and I realized that’s exactly what I wasn’t doing. I had plans for my days, I was just overthinking them. I wasn’t fulfilling my basic needs for my own wellbeing.

What are these basic needs?

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  1. Sleeping enough. This I know is not a problem thankfully. I went through a horrid patch of insomnia from the end of my pregnancy till 4 months postpartum, but now I generally get 6 to 7 hours in the night. My problem is too much laying in bed.
  2. Staying hydrated. I’m on Lithium, so I need to keep fluid to look after my kidneys. But I don’t on my down days. However, I now enjoy getting to 2 Litres of water a day with my new 1 L water bottle, as I only have to refill it once in a day. I’ve noticed it reduces dry mouth, which produces extra saliva – so I can speak a bit more confidently now too.
  3. Eating plentifully. I love food. But I need to lose excess weight. So I’m doing intermittent fasting of generally 16 hours on water only, then 8 hours where I can eat what I like. I’m trying to go for higher protein and healthy fats, as well as more vegetables in my meals. Again, on my down days I find it hard to prepare any food – so it’s sometimes bread with peanut butter when I’m starving and drag myself out of bed. I meal plan for the week too, to make sure I get a good variety of food.
  4. Moving your body. I think it’s an element of social anxiety that keeps me indoors. But I’ve stuck YouTube on for dance tutorials when I’m at home sometimes, and I will try to get back into my yoga style stretches in the evenings. I’m yet to join the walking group, but I am due to go for a walk with a friend soon. This is my biggest challenge, the physical side of things.

Showing up for the day by committing to my morning habits and then looking after these basic needs is a great first step for recovery. There is obviously a lot more to life to bulk up a day, like spending time with yourself doing what you enjoy and what’s necessary (chores) – but that all comes when you can take care of yourself.

My plan for my plan

I have a plan. I have a plan for every weekday and a loose plan for the weekends. But when I don’t stick to my plan I tend to beat myself up about it and find myself not able to enjoy the rest of the day – i.e. lying in bed is the only solution in those cases.

Waking up feeling positive and not anxious is something I’m striving for, and having a realistic plan which incorporates my goals is a good start but I need to meet my plans more to feel confident in the mornings.

My plan is in timetable form. I recall calling the PANDAS helpline (a charity for mothers suffering with post natal illnesses), and the mother I spoke to talked about how her bipolar was managed by having a routine for everything. I have a plan to have a routine, but my self confidence gets in the way.

What do I mean by that? I overthink the day ahead and procrastinate getting ready for it. I need assurances that I’ll feel comfortable doing my planned activities in what I’m wearing, and that I’m fully prepared for it. It’s the control side of me that takes over and the fear of failure. I think I don’t like uncertainty. But who likes feeling uncomfortable?

What is it that makes me feel uncomfortable? Essentially, it’s my own critical thoughts or judgements about myself. I find myself judging others, but now I have a technique where I catch myself. So instead of an ‘Evaluation’ I go more for a ‘Description’. For example, I assume there is something wrong with being fat when I see a fat person, but that is an evaluation – so I replace that with the thought that I’m observing a different shaped person. I sound horrible, but I am horrible to myself – that’s why I have bipolar depression. Lack of self compassion and being too hard on myself.

This way of being worked for me in some way when I was younger, to achieve, but it didn’t help me to be happy. So finding new ways to undo many years of harmful thinking takes hard work. It’s a combination of thought techniques and practical life skills.

I feel like I have the tools to challenge negative thoughts, I just need to practice them more. My new plan is to wake up earlier (with the help of my husband), so that I can start the day with Star and feel confident in what I’m wearing for the day – as that helps lessen that worry. As always, being physically active will help me, as that’s the goal I have yet to meet. It starts with a walking group this week, so wish me luck.

Simple techniques

I’ve been struggling this week and I can’t find any particular reason for it. Just the way recovery goes – up and down. I physically am unwell with a cold, so that tends to get me down.

I wake at 7am naturally but lie in bed for a few more hours, usually listening to the morning activities of my husband and son – then feeling guilty that I’m not getting involved in engaging Star in active play (he’s turning to the phone quite a lot unless distracted). Then I guess I’m finding ways of recovering my mood from that as the day goes on. It’s also half term, so I find it difficult being out of my usual weekly routine, which I’m still building up. The main part I need to build up is doing the morning walks – but that’s all dependent on me waking up on time. I’ll get there.

The things that are working for me:

  1. Consistently doing something for my mind – this is my Positivity Journal and Gratitude Journal. Each day (usually after I’m dressed), I write down a few positive things I have achieved or experienced the day before. I try to find something that made me happy and something that made me proud. The gratitude journal is simply three things that I’m grateful for…my car, my husband cooking dinner, hot water, etc. It’s nice to look back at from time to time.
  2. Learning what I think self care is for myself. Self care varies from person to person. As good as it is walking in nature, on bad days, leaving the house is hard enough – so I realized I need things I can do at home that are easy and do not encourage my need for perfectionism. For example, drinking a cup of tea or doing some mindful colouring. Writing here feels good and is easy. I think it’s finding things that I don’t criticize myself for doing imperfectly or not good enough.
  3. Psychological techniques like OBSERVE and STOPP. These are basically pausing to observe any negative thought like a story, breathing and taking a step back, and then either continuing your activity mindfully, or putting your thought on ‘trial’. I don’t usually do the STOPP technique as much, but when I find myself judging others (which is a reflection of myself), I ask if it’s a description or evaluation.
  4. When I have a random worry, I ask myself if it’s a real problem now or a hypothetical one. If it’s the latter, I just let it go. If it’s real, then I take action to solve it with the what, when, how questions.
  5. I am getting to have a consistent night time routine after dinner, so hopefully I will be able to do my evening things more regularly on a day to day basis.
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It’s easy to get down and feel like I’m going back to the beginning of my depression, but reminders like this list show that I’ve come a long way from the days when I’d just lay in bed or not want to do anything. Incorporating little things I value, like a youtube spiritual talk over lunch makes a difference. Again, I like to build the habit so that it’s consistent. I also went out with a good friend and Star this week in the sunshine, which I really appreciated – support systems are so important.

The black and white of recovery

So I’m back, and I’m pleased to say I’m a little further in my recovery.

I was overthinking this blog a bit, but then my key worker suggested it was something that I could try again – so here I am, trying blogging again.

My CBT therapy ended in September last year, and since then I had been trying the techniques I learnt, however I was getting down as it all seemed to be facing my fears straight on. I need baby steps. The therapy itself was very good, I just felt like I needed more of someone to advise me on psychological techniques. So I looked into private therapy…costly.

A book my therapist recommended has helped me a lot and I would like to find time to reread it. It’s called The Happiness Trap and is basically an introduction to ACT, Acceptance Commitment Therapy. They say it’s ‘third wave’ CBT as it involves mindfulness. It is accepting your thoughts as just thoughts or stories, and continuing life by doing the things you value, mindfully. I struggled for a long time with what I value or accepting that there are things I value which involves me facing my anxieties – particularly leaving the comfort zone of my house.

A few months ago I started a recovery track with my Community Mental Health Team, which is where my key worker is from. There are various groups to attend for mental wellbeing and the course I am attending has covered various psychological techniques in more detail. This was a good boost to my CBT and a refresher. I think I like conciseness when it comes to knowing what to resort to in terms of techniques, so acronyms work. STOPP and OBSERVE are two that I’m using – let me know if you know what these are, I’ll expand more on these next time. I’m also catching the thoughts that I ruminate on as hypothetical problems or problems that I can solve later at a scheduled time.

So I got an Islamic Counsellor to help me also. As one of my values is spiritually linked, I thought it would help me and it has done, but I’ve put it on pause for financial reasons and also as I’m practicing techniques via the recovery track too.

Routine and planning has helped me. I have a structure for each day in the week with the same start time in the morning. In terms of waking up when I need to, I’m achieving about 50% right now. Physical activity is also the main area I need to improve, so I’m joining a local walking group this week. I was doing yoga stretches in the morning, but I found it was making me start my day quite late – I want to incorporate it into my day again, so I might try in the evening.

Diet wise, I’m doing Intermittent Fasting – let me know if you  know about this and if this has helped your mental health. There are no negative side effects that I can see, so I’m persisting with the hope that I’ll gradually feel healthier and lose some weight.

I want to read more, but consistently, not sporadically – so once I am used to my current weekly plan, I’ll see where I can fit that in. I’m with my son 4 days of the week, and he’s in nursery or looked after by my mother for the other 3 days. For 2 days I try and do some graphic design work and have recently enjoyed learning InDesign.

The 4-2-4 breathing technique has helped me too – I partner it up with OBSERVE (The B is for Breathe), or whenever I get a wave of anxiety.

Finally, I’ve applied to do some mental health voluntary work – so I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Overall, my mood is lifting as I’m doing more of my valued activities, the anxiety is more under control. However, I find it hard to be spontaneous at home when I have spare time (like this Bank Holiday today) – so I resort to writing here if Star is asleep and now I’m allowing myself to watch tv without feeling guilty. Self care when Star is around includes drinking tea/coffee/water, breathing, writing my positivity and gratitude journal. When he’s not around I do a bit of colouring or logic puzzles.

Let me know what has worked for you.

Feeling confident when things are black and white in recovery, but there are a few bars of anxiety holding me back.

Thoughts vs Actions

I started sessions with a psychologist just before Christmas and it’s given me insight into how my mind works.

It seems that I have a ‘rule’ set up that eats away at my confidence and I feel is linked to my psychosis. It is something to do with people being able to know the details of my life (i.e. how much of a success or failure I am), just by looking at me. Therefore I have to look a certain way, depending on what scenario I am in.

It’s obvious that this is not true, however the fear of what others think of me is what has been keeping me in bed and not just inside the house, but not being able to do household activities. So to counteract that, I have been keeping a log of my successes each day to prove to myself that I am not a failure, so that my confidence improves by building this evidence.

To combat the perfectionism issues I have, which get in the way of me starting tasks and cause the mental rehearsal, I’ve been Daring to be Average. This means that I tell myself it’s okay to make mistakes and do a less than perfect job. It’s helping me do things like cooking more and baking a couple of cakes.

I’ve also realised that going out in public more is what will improve my confidence levels, as well as seeing where the day goes rather than planning every miniscule detail – then beating myself up for not being able to have the perfect day that I had planned.

My waking time is still 10am at it’s best, but today was just after 9.30am. So I will attempt the same time tomorrow morning. I have a plan for the days I go out to town, to the children’s centre or to my mum’s house, then the other days I am keeping to practice my photoshop skills as well as reading and doing some household cleaning. I have a meal plan for the week, so I know what I am cooking everyday and what Star is eating.

In terms of comparing to others or looking at others, I realise that I feel bad when I see people (mainly mothers with pushchairs) doing things that I feel I should be doing. So again, by doing more I will feel less like this. So less avoidance, more action to reduce the negative thoughts. I also realise it is a thinking/cognitive bias, where I see what I look for and do not notice the other end of the scale.

Then we spoke about aiming for something in life and planning too much, and I was told to not always strive for the perfectionistic door, but to open the other doors which could lead to so much more than the brick wall that has to be overcome behind the perfect door.

The main plus is that my anxiety is slowly but surely getting under control. The mornings are hard but I look at it like the anxiety as a pet dog that just wants to pull me away from my focus, and that seems to be working.