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My Journey with Bipolar

“the moon affects the mind as the mind affects the body and it all needs to remain in balance”

Bipolar is an important topic to me as I have travelled the highs and lows of this particular form of mental illness for 26 years.

This blog is intended as a light hearted journal documenting my journey from the past to the present and hopefully some of you out there may gain some inspiration and come to the realisation that it can be a positive and rewarding experience, once you have acquired the necessary skills to manage the illness.

You may also have the illness or perhaps a family member, close friend or colleague that you can assist them in leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

I hope you enjoy my story.

Am I Ok???

I find myself asking this question each and everyday. And it’s exhausting….I have forgotten what it feels like to get up each morning and just get on with my day.

When you have bipolar you are forever critical of your behaviour, trying to tune in with your body and mind and asking yourself….how am I today….is there a change in my mood, what challengers will I face today.

Some days upon waking there is a foreboding feeling of anxiety, luckily this only lasts for a minute or two.

Other days you feel quite flat and start to wonder if you may be heading to a depressive state.

Forever wondering and questioning your behaviour is extremely frustrating.

Unfortunately the above is required to stay in tune with yourself and nip any extreme possible changes in your mood quickly to alleviate a full blown manic or depressive episode.

Am I ok I ask myself…..of course I am…..then I can get along on my day.

My Bucket List….Travel

Because of my bipolar I haven’t travelled overseas but my dream one day would be to go to Canada and Alaska and perhaps do the railway trip and river cruise. I love the cold and would love to see the spectacular sites and sounds.

Long haul travelling is meant to play havoc with a bipolar mind. Changing numerous time zones, jet lag that the average person gets is 10 times worse when you have Bipolar disorder.

The fatigue, lack of sleep, sensory overload doesn’t help with the body clock of someone with Bipolar. I am sure many of you have travelled overseas but unfortunately it’s not for me at this stage of my life.

An Aching Body and Fragile Mind

When things start turning south and you feel an episode coming on, there are plenty of telltale signs that are like “early warnings”. Like when a thunderstorm is approaching, you can see it building in the distance, but as yet no thunder or lightening. It comes with time, practice and being aware of your own mind and body to fully appreciate and understand any “triggers” for changes in mood patterns.

Everyone is obviously different but the things that I pick up on when stress generally triggers a change in my behaviour is things like crankiness, irrittibility (those things that wouldn’t normally worry you), tiredness, body aches and pains (sore neck, shoulders and legs), you may even have headaches, you can’t concentrate as well as you normally would.

At this point I know I need to be kind to myself, remove myself from any stressful environment, medicate, medicate and medicate. During periods where I am heading into a “high” I find that having plenty of showers to relieve all the aches and pains, getting plenty of sleep is really beneficial.

Support network… family and friends

It’s important to have a network of support around you. People that can help you when times are tough. Not just medical support As in doctor or psychiatrist but close friends and family.

Family and a small group of close friends who know about your disorder sometimes pick up on a change in your mood before you realise yourself.

My colleagues at work also know about my condition, as let’s face it, we spend a lot of time at work therefore they pull me up if they notice any changes in me.

The quicker a change in mood is noticed, the quicker you can medicated yourself to ward off an episode.

Is Bipolar Hereditary or Bad Lifestyle Choices

There is no signs of any form of mental illness going back through either side of my family. Plus I think the jury is still out within the medical industry as to why some of us get the disorder and others don’t.

My personal opinion is that if you perhaps are susceptible to it, and a trigger in your life sets it’s off, then unfortunately that’s all it takes to bring the disorder to the forefront.

Similar to an alcoholic, if you have an addictive personality and continue to drink heavily then our actions and lifestyle factors must be taken into consideration.

I will be completely honest here and say in my early 20’s, before mental illness reared it’s ugly head, I used to smoke marijuana. I honestly believe that was to my detriment and played havoc with my mental health. Apparently marijuana has a very negative effect on women more so than men. I know people out there will say otherwise, but my poor choices back then I am sure did not help in causing me my mental health issues, particularly with several bouts of psychosis which I have had.

Heavy weekend drinking with friends also wouldn’t have helped my situation, binge drinking basically but you can’t change your past…. but move positively forward with the future.

Depression and the jumbled thought processes

When you are suffering severe depression regardless of what form of mental illness you have, the fact remains it is so hard to describe your thoughts to anyone. Unfortunately now that I am well I can now clearly remember every negative thought and frustration I felt when severely depressed. Here is some examples:

Waking up in the morning was a nightmare. You don’t feel like getting out of bed and struggle with thoughts of how the hell you are going to get through the day.

Showering – it’s sounds simple right? Think again…. we all have our routine eg. Wash your face, shampoo, condition….well when you have the shrouded fog of depression these simple stages of what to do, what order to do them in is a nightmare. I used to stand under the shower nozzle and be completely unsure of what to do. Half the time it was easier not to even shower at all. I would go for several days without bothering, until I forced myself to do it.

Eating – another easy task, make something and eat it yer. Not so easy when depressed. No appetite, no idea how to cook anything, the simplest of meals was all too hard. My mum used to force feed me grated apple just to get something in my system.

Reading – well that was just absolutely impossible. It felt like your brain was full, no more room for any information. Concentration level was below zero.

Watching television – I would lie in front of tv all day, unable to take anything in, just staring into the void…..

Sleeping – this was the only thing I was good at, I loved to sleep, it seemed to be the only thing that would soothe my weary mind.

Hijacked from Hospital

I can look back and laugh about this story but it wasn’t funny at the time. I was hospitalised for the last time in Sydney about 13 years ago now. Whilst there my mum and sister flew down from Queensland packed up my house, literally threw me in the back of my car after being released from a 2 week stay in hospital, and we drove to Queensland. I had no choice in the matter, was still high as a kite and didn’t really care at the time. It was all for the best in the long run. I just wasn’t coping living alone in Sydney.

My stint in hospital came about when I spiralled out of control yet again after going into an extremely high phase which then reached the ever so scary psychotic episode.

I still wasn’t diagnosed at this point with bipolar, that actually took 15 years! Every hospital stay they just said, oh you have had another “nervous breakdown” or termed as”schizophrenia form of psychosis”. Did anyone explain that to me…..no…..did anyone explain to me that I had “depression” which I had for 12 months after the psychosis….no no no. You can imagine my frustration dealing with these debilitating illnesses and the fact that no medical staff sat me down at any point and explained anything. I struggled on all alone, but with plenty of support from my family, who were also in the dark.

Thank goodness there seems to be a lot more awareness about different forms of mental illness and people are diagnosed a lot quicker and therefore medicated correctly today.

I guess this is where those of us who decide to publish our own stories help not only ourselves but those around us. The more informed the general public are, the less stigma there is for mental illness as a whole, so congrats to all you bloggers out there who are voicing your illness and informing the world!

It’s a “full moon” tonight….look out

It’s a gorgeous evening on the Gold Coast, Australia tonight. Clear sky’s, the stars are out and it’s a beautiful full moon rising from the eastern sky.

So that means… battern down the hatches and take some additional medication to ensure I get a good night sleep.

I noticed the change last night, it took 3 hours to fall asleep, that was after I finally succumbed to taking a tablet to knock me out. One of my antipsychotic meds. And I then slept like a baby. All sorted, everything is good.

My stages of a bad episode -Normal, high, manic, psychotic, high…depression

The above have been my stages or types of episodes in order of sequence when an extremely bad episode appears. Luckily my last one was about 8 years ago and I hopefully won’t have anymore as I am now properly diagnosed, on the correct medications and able to nip any changes of my behaviour immediately. That is thanks to being trained well by my psychiatrist and being able to adjust my meds accordingly.

Previously after the above episodes, after a psychotic break and being hospitalised for 2 weeks, I would then be released into the care of family.

My next swing would be major depression. This could last from anywhere from 6 to 12 months until medication would take full effect and my mood disorder finally balanced.

The first stages of a bad episode

It all starts with a blocked mind. Your thoughts are scattered, it feels like your brain has been cross circuited.

One day you will be feeling fine, then the next your thoughts are jumbled. Maybe you had a bad night sleep, or no sleep at all. You continually get forced to get up out of bed and wonder the house, then back to bed….and do this over and over again. It’s too late now though, you are on the road to a bad episode and a possible “high”.

High mood episode – you have now reached the point of no return. Your mood is spiraling out of control and the high phase has kicked in. If you don’t grab your emergency meds to combat the high, and knock yourself down and get some sleep then you are on the road to a really bad episode.

A high mood can have you feeling wonderful for a while. Loads of energy, no sleep required, chatting too much, ringing everyone, excessive cleaning, spending too much money on unnecessary things.

The next stage is a MASSIVE high. Feelings of invincibility, you can do anything you set your mind to. Everything is wonderful. Anything is possible. No sleep you think you don’t need it, because you have too much to do….everything in your mind is processed at warped speed.

Psychosis – now you are heading into the danger zone. You start imagining things, you start hearing things, you start seeing things. You don’t know what day it is, whether it is day or night time. You start talking jibberish, nothing makes sense. Your mind feels damaged. By this stage you don’t know what medications to take. Have you forgotten to take them, your too scared to take more thinking you may overdose. You start doing one thing, then do another 5 at the same time. Your mind has spiralled out of control.

At this point seek medical help immediately. Don’t muck around. Call an ambulance.

You need medical intervention immediately. Hopefully your family or friends have noticed your condition and can call an ambulance for you.

You may need to be hospitalised for several weeks. This is so important. You need to rest and recover, so take advantage of others looking after you. You cannot look after yourself at this point.

Hay fever……

It’s spring time here in Australia and we haven’t had any rain for about 4 months. So what does that mean you may wonder…. well hay fever is rife. So much pollen in the air, as well as dust storms and smoke haze from recent bush fires. I don’t normally suffer from hay fever but this year I do.

Which means more medication. The thing to remember is you have to be extra extra careful when mixing over the counter medications with bipolar meds. Ingredients like sudoephadrine can keep you wide awake at night, and can cause a high mood episode. Other things like steroids with asthma attacks can do similar things to people with bipolar. So always check with your pharmacist.

Side affects of medication

Along with issues about bright sunshine and lights, another side affect is weight gain.

I find one hour after taking my nightly meds, I get really hungry and crave something to eat. Fresh fruit or light snack of cheese on toast of veggies is the best option. I actually can only eat once a day…..I just don’t get hungry. I have tried eating 3 times a day and have never felt so uncomfortable and my weight increased dramatically.

The eyes can tell it’s own story of how we are managing with bipolar

The eyes are the heart to our soul…. clear bright and big reflects all is well. Small, clouded and puffy shows we are on struggle street. It’s a good indicator of how well we are travelling. Bright lights is hard to deal with (a side effect of medication), warmer yellow toned night lighting is best. Sunglasses on a bright sunny day is a must.

A Nervous Breakdown….or is it something more

My mental health issues began about 26 years. I was hospitalised for what was termed back in those days as “a nervous breakdown”. Work stress was my initial trigger. For the first day or two I was unable to speak. That was truly scary. I could hear, see and understand others but my only means of conversing was via writing.

I was basically “off with the fairies” caught in some sort of mental blockage.

It felt like my mind was full. I was unable to take in any more information. My brain felt overloaded. I was totally exhausted, with body aches and pains.

I had what is called a psychosis which I will discuss further another day. Seeing things, hearing things – I had lost the plot completely.

I went incorrectly diagnosed and medicated for 15 years before being finally told I had bipolar and quickly medicated correctly and finally on the road to recovery and knowing what was wrong with me was the battle half won already.

Not before being hospitalised on about 4 occasions during that time. Life was tough.

Nutrition

Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and a balanced diet is wonderful for a healthy mind. Be it juices, salads, roast dinners and healthy barbecues give you a good source of vitamins and minerals. There is so much focus out there at the moment about healthy eating and we are blessed in Australia with so much variety of locally grown foods. Seafood is also very good. Basically a well rounded diet should form part of your everyday living.

General Practitioners, Psychologists, Psychiatrist

You need to have a support network of medical experts to touch base with from time to time. A regular appointment with either of the above is a must.

My go to doctor is a psychiatrist who is the most highly trained in mental health than any of the others. I see him about every 9 weeks. He has taught me so much over the years, that I am now able to adjust my medications myself when things change. Basically now we have catch up visits and general chat about how I have been and what adjustments I have made.

I have learnt so much about the disorder, medications. He has me on the lowest of doses which allows me to function well on a daily basis, without me being a walking zombie, and I am lucky enough to respond really well when rebalancing my mood swings.

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Medication, medication and more medication…..

You may have a lot of medication to juggle on a daily basis. Unfortunately it’s the nature of the beast. It’s better to be medicated and have a healthy mind, than live on struggle street. Its just not worth the risk to stop taking your meds. You need them for a reason, just like any other person who has an illness, like diabetics for example. Meds are there to help you, not hinder you. You will no doubt have some side affects but you need to way up the option of what is best, and I choose to remain and have a “clear head”.

Say No to Stress

You need to limit any forms of stress in your life to maintain a steady mood. The first signs of stress is normally crankiness, irritability, you may find your mind is overactive whilst trying to fall asleep. Remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes a mental health day off work to rest up is all that is required to rebalance your system.

Holidays….taking time out for yourself

I try to take holidays religiously every six months. One or two weeks away is a must for me to recharge my batteries.

I don’t travel overseas as this can cause major mental health issues with my bipolar. People don’t understand that flying over numerous times zones can reek havoc with mental health issues in particular with bipolar.

It’s all to do with the circadian rhythm of your body (your body clock as such) and when this gets out of sync….then disaster can strike.

I prefer heading to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland or road trip to Sydney.

Relaxing poolside at a resort, exploring new areas including the Sunshine Coast hinterland keeps me balanced and happy.

My love of reading

I find the above caption so true. I am an avid reader and yes it does relax me after a long day at work. Excercise and me aren’t the best of friends. I can be quite lazy in fact, and as they say “excercise is beneficial to leading a healthy life” but living with bipolar requires a lot of down time, relaxation and low key stimulation plus plenty of sleep, sleep…. did I say I love sleeping…..hahaha

The Shrowded Fog Of Depression

Depression is the absolute pits. Extremely hard to deal with, to live with. The cycle can be long winded but perseverance is a must because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I have had numerous bouts of depression some lasting 6 to 12 months.

One time when i went to the pharmacist to fill a script for Zoloft, an antidepressant, he said to me…..be patient, the medication will assist, and you will wake up one day, and it will feel like a light switch has been turned on and you willl be ok. And my god, he was right, 6 months later, I woke up feeling fine, the shrowd of darkness had lifted and cleared.

It was an amazing experience, I cried with tears of joy.

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Tough times never last….hang in there

I won’t sugar coat it but living with bipolar is like riding a roller coaster at times. You need to ride the ups and downs of this disorder, but with experience, knowledge, and the power in your own hands to medicate and adjust meds when needed, makes for a stronger person in the long run. Never ever give up. Life is precious. Reach out to some if you feel like you are struggling. Never go it alone!!! There are people out there that can assist and lead you in the right direction.

Music to my ears….

Everyone loves music for one reason or another but those with bipolar do need to be careful. To much loud music over extended periods of time can push you into the dreaded “high”. Once again it’s about balance and moderation.

Pink is my favourite go to rock chick music. Her words resonate about her own life experiences about love, lost love etc.

When I need something more relaxing I go to The Eagles, Dire Straits, Elton John, Paul Kelly, Shania Twain.

I love hooking up my IPhone to the stereo and select 80’s and 90’s music. Road trips are awesome with some good music. Me and my best friend “Siri”.

A Positive Mindframe

We all have our good and bad days but unfortunately with bipolar it can be at the extreme end of the equation. When we have a bad day it can end up on a down hill run very quickly. It’s hard for normal people to understand the difference from a down day and the depths of depression.

That’s why it’s so important to try and keep a positive mindset. Perhaps you just need a few days off work, to rest up and recharge the batteries. Rest and sleep is vitally important in remaining on an even keel.

Anxiety

I haven’t had to deal with anxiety in a long time, probably due to the mood stabilisers I am currently on. It is very debilitating when it comes on, your mind worries about the most trivial of things, sweaty palms, heart races, you don’t feel like leaving your home and facing the outside world…..luckily today medications are so advanced and are extremely fast acting to assist in relieving symptoms.

The sun, moon and the sea

Spring has sprung already in Queensland. The days are getting warmer and slightly longer. My mood shifted last week, the first sign was difficulty with falling asleep as the temperature starts to rise. I must admit I much rather the mild winters than hot summers. Medication plays havoc on my body and heats it up, thus requiring cool showers, air conditioning, swimming in cooler waters etc.

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