How I stop the sh*t from hitting the fan (a.k.a) relapse prevention.

Relapse. Feels like a dirty word. A personal failure that happens when you thought you had your shit together. Statistically, it’s more likely than not that you will relapse at some point in time.  Depressing thought but all is not lost, here’s a little more about how I stop the shit from hitting the fan.

 

Use a (free) sleep and mood tracker:  There are many free trackers for logging mood and sleep patterns. Stepping on sleep problems early (for example being strict with bed times, using a short course of sleep medication as recommended by your doctor) can avert a full blown crisis. Secondly, having information about thoughts and feelings leading up to mood changes can help identify subtle negative thought patterns which can be challenged using techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce their impact on mood.

 

I know my triggers: Extreme stress, too much alcohol, poor sleep. Day to day I cope with stressful events pretty well. We all have stress in our lives and living completely stress free can potentially hamper our creativity (anyone who has waited until a few days before an important deadline to start a project will know what I mean). I’m talking about major stressors. I can trace pretty much all of my depressive episodes back to specific life events (giving birth, a 2 week bout of being in bed with flu, grief). As for alcohol, if I have a few nights of 2 or 3 drinks each night it makes me depressed and anxious. Even at Christmas I try to moderate my alcohol intake as much as possible as the fun never seems to be worth the drop that happens afterwards.

 

Use healthy coping mechanisms: When you know what your triggers are you can utilise positive coping mechanisms to balance them out. I like to exercise, especially when I’m stressed. Out goes the negative energy and in come happy chemicals**. I also like to knit (the focus of making sure I don’t mess it up takes my mind off everything else), keep a journal and read. Find something you enjoy and deploy it often!

**This has backfired once during the early phase of a hypomanic episode. I did my usual zumba class and stayed awake until 1am that night. Lights, latin music and jumping around are not good for the overstimulated mind.

 

Accept that not every bad day or different emotion means that a relapse is going to happen: If you have kids, do you remember when they were born and you were obsessed with their toilet habits? Have they pooped today? What colour was it? What does green poo mean anyway? If they haven’t pooped should we talk to the doctor Before you had kids did you give any thought to other peoples bowel habits? Probably not. This is my way of saying that when we focus on one small thing we can become bogged down and miss the bigger picture. When I’ve one bad day (tired, hormonal, bad day at work), I often decide a relapse is coming. I’m on that downward spiral, I haven’t noticed and there’s nothing I can do. Then I wake up the next day, laugh that I had a bit of a shitty day yesterday and go about my business. One bad day does not make a relapse. Feeling elated because you had a great time with your family at the weekend does not mean hypomania is coming. Recognising and accepting the contrast between different thoughts and feelings can be hard if you’re prone to over-analysing but it’s important to know that everyone (regardless of mental illness) goes through a spectrum of emotions.

 

If the shit does hit the fan, remember that you’ve done this before. You can handle this. You can follow your plan to the letter but there’s no foolproof way of avoiding relapse.  It’s going to take some time and effort but you can and will get through. Scale down your expectations, if showering and brushing your teeth is the only goal you can achieve then that’s okay. Lean on your support network and be kind to yourself. Slowly and steadily things will be rebuilt.

Demi Lovato and the fragility of mental health and substance misuse.

I was saddened to read of Demi Lovato’s suspected drug overdose this week. Whether or not her relapse was related to her bipolar diagnosis is impossible to know. We do know that mental ill health and substance misuse are a bad combination. The statistics are frightening: in the UK, 75% of individuals in drug services and 85% in alcohol services have a co-existing mental health condition. More on this here.

 

A significant issue in considering mental ill health and substance misuse is the chicken and egg nature of the problem. Did the substance misuse start first or was the mental ill health the cause of the substance misuse? Long waits to access specialist mental health services mean that self medication with substances can provide an outlet from troublesome symptoms. The chaotic lives of some substance misusers make engagement and ongoing treatment problematic. If you’re homeless, how do you receive appointment letters? If you aren’t earning, how do you afford the bus fare to get to appointments? When the day is structured around relieving immediate discomfort, are you going to regulate your sleeping and eating patterns and remember your meds? The answer is a resounding no.

 

I don’t do illicit substances (if my boss is reading this I’m sure she’ll be relieved) but I do drink. When I’m having an episode I tend to drink more. I’m sure that the motivations of each individual to misuse substances are different but here are my personal reasons behind using alcohol to cope with bipolar:

 

When I’m hypomanic, I love a party. I’m outgoing, chatty and definitely up for doing shots of tequila (yuck) at 3am. Hypomania gives me a super human tolerance to alcohol. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun especially if you’re with the wrong crowd as Lovato was reported to be.  What’s fun and exciting at first ends up in a slow car crash when you inevitably fall off the hypomanic cliff.

 

When I’m depressed (and I’ve been depressed waaaay more than hypomanic), sleep tends to go out the window. I sleep 4-5 hours a night, waking at 2am and then wanting to drift off around 5:30am when I need to get up. I’m anxious and sad. Drinking helps me to relax,  sleep and socialise when I’d rather hide in my room with the lights off. I don’t binge drink when I’m low but get into the habit of having one drink several nights a week, more on weekends. I completely get how 1 or 2 can turn into 2, 3 or 4.

 

Alcohol doesn’t help, not really. It’s a depressant, it stops your medication from working (in some cases its downright dangerous to mix your meds with alcohol). If you’re using other substances to self medicate then you’re adding to the adverse effect.

 

Situations like Lovato’s illustrate the need for a watertight crisis plan. This needs to be done when you are well. Who is looking out for you? What will they do if you hit a crisis? What do you want to happen when you’re unwell? Mine has various sections- a note of my early triggers (not sleeping, not eating), giving authorisation for my husband to discuss my care with my doctors if I’m acutely unwell, what I would be happy to undertake treatment-wise (would I agree to hospital admission- yes, would I ever have ECT, no). The plan needs to be shared and agreed by everyone involved. Not only does the plan help those around you in a crisis, it gives you a sense of security. I know if the sh*t hits the fan I’ve got a strong team who will step in even if it might not be what I want at the time. That support is worth its’ weight in gold.

 

Get well soon Demi Lovato, we’re all human, we all relapse, it’s what we do in the aftermath that counts. She needs support, she needs a crisis plan and above all she needs no judgement.

 

If you are struggling with substance misuse, it’s important to see your health professional. You can also find more information here.

First dates: The one with the bipolar girl and the shrink

Ah, dating. Does anyone remember dating? The kind of fun pre-marriage/being over the age of 25 dating. The sort with good food, good booze and late nights. Rigorously planning what to wear/how to do my make-up and yet 9 times out of 10 having a strop when I couldn’t get my eyeliner right or the weather fucked up my choice of footwear.

 

Of course back when I dated (8 years- wow!) I didn’t have a bipolar diagnosis. I did have a depression diagnosis which I could generally keep well hidden with selective participation and the odd gin and tonic. Dating is tough. Dating with anything that makes you less than textbook “normal” is tougher. You can probably imagine my anxiety today at having a second date. It was an afternoon appointment and the weather was rainy making outfit choices hard. Also I need to wear my glasses at the moment as my eye is playing up again. The odds of making a good impression based on looks weren’t in my favour.

 

Still, better show up and make conversation. I tried to run through some subjects I could talk about other than my mental health and my job. Learning Spanish, yoga, books and Mo Salahs’ shoulder all seemed like safe options. True to form, I was too nervous to eat beforehand so by the time I had to leave home I was getting a little hangry.

 

I was early (as always) so I had to hang around looking anxious whilst occasionally squinting at whoever was coming through the doors to see if it was him. The squinting probably made me look demented instead of the thoughtful/intellectual look I hoped for. Then again, I was reading a 2016 copy of What Car magazine that was lying on the table infront of me so really there was only so much I could do to help myself. And why was it so warm? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sweating while they were waiting.

 

He was slightly late and I was even hangrier by now but managed a good 5 minute chat about the Liverpool/Real Madrid match and then tried to move on to books or yoga. Unfortunately he had other ideas and steered the conversation to asking how I was really feeling at which point I burst into tears (note to future self- always carry a snack in your handbag). Thankfully he had a box of tissues and I settled myself. At the end of the hour, he said he’d write and see me in around 4 weeks which I thought was delightfully quaint and old-fashioned.

 

I really like this guy, he seems like a decent psychiatrist and I think we’ll work well together. But it’s tough. Discussing thoughts and feelings is incredibly difficult when you’re dealing with someone you have only met once before. You try to go in ready to make a decent first impression, a bit more polished than usual and like you are bringing your A-game. Even if really you’ve spent the first part of the day staring into space whilst lying on your bed. You have to be ready to admit how things are really and even to hear advice you don’t really want to hear. A random stranger is shining an incredibly bright torch into the recesses of your mind and what you really want to do is look away. Like any bad date, I left feeling like it was me and not him. Perhaps I’ll never feel normal and maybe I’ll end up alone in a house full of cats whilst I knit and prance about in nice shoes like a modern day Miss Havisham. I comforted myself with a large bar of chocolate, a cup of tea and some online shopping when I got home. It’s at times like this I realise how grateful I am for my husband.

The un-committed blogger and other guilt trips

Hey everyone,

I’ve been on a hiatus of late due to an eye problem which needed reduced screen time. Happy to say it’s a lot better now so I am hoping to pick up where I left off (that is, intermittently sharing my semi-coherent thoughts with total strangers). Ah the joy of over-sharing.

 

It’s Wednesday night, I’m wearing my Christmas Pyjamas (don’t judge, the rest are in the laundry) and I’ve just eaten a large bar of Fruit and Nut. Sometimes I think I’d like to video blog but that would involve (a) learning how to use the technology required and (b) making some more effort with my appearance (or at least putting a bra on under said pyjamas) which, after an entire day at work, isn’t going to happen.

 

If my blog were a school report, I’m pretty sure it would say “has potential but must try harder.” Thinking about it, you could say the same for many aspects of my life. Occasionally I become aware of my “failings” and resolve to address them, creating a vision of my end goal then breaking it down into small steps to help me realise the vision. Bonus points for creating a Pinterest board outlining the vision. This is what experts on time management tell us isn’t it? Small, achievable steps adding up to reaching a bigger goal.

 

I’m not about to say that goal setting is bad or that we should forget self improvement and aim for mediocre but I have to say that for the most part, my desire to improve is driven by guilt. And guilt isn’t actually a particularly powerful or healthy motivator. Guilt just leads to more guilt when you realise you can’t/no longer want to achieve a goal. Or (even worse) guilt motivates you, progress on achieving the vision begins but before you even reach half-way you’ve started planning what the next goal will be and then burn out and lose all motivation to do anything.

 

My current goals include learning to speak Spanish, planting a herb garden and blogging more regularly with the aim of making some real change to mental health care by reaching out with the blog. Wanna know which of these I am making progress with? None. I did make some progress with Spanish but as soon as I started to gain confidence I somehow ended up researching GCSE Spanish night classes and then lost interest because all I really wanted to do was learn how to order a gin and tonic.

 

I’m still not fluent in Spanish, the plant pots I bought for the herbs are still empty and the blog isn’t really changing anything at the moment! I’m still adding to my “To Do” list. This time though, I’ve giving myself permission to give up or lose interest. After all, if I achieve everything I want to achieve, I’ll only find more to do! I’ll be back (maybe soon) with more noncommittal blogging.

 

 

 

Condemned woman enjoys last (chocolate) meal a.k.a Dechox for British Heart Foundation

Some people like to run marathons, climb mountains or shave their heads for charity. Not my, I don’t run anywhere because when I do I look like Big Bird from Sesame Street (picture it in your mind, you’ll know what I mean), there are no mountains near where I live and quite honestly my hair is already quite short so shaving my head wouldn’t really be a big deal.

 

For this reason, I decided to channel my spirit animal (which is a sloth if you wondered) and raise money from the comfort of my sofa hence my decision to give up chocolate for the entire month of March.  To me British Heart Foundation are a charity who reach everyone in some way be it through promoting healthy lifestyle so we can look after our hearts or putting money into researching heart conditions in children. They’re a great organisation and I am proud to support them.  I decided that to do the challenge justice I should first have a gigantic chocolate binge on 28th February, you know, a final fling. 2 giant Cadbury bars were consumed and I felt satisfied and yet slightly nauseous.

 

It’s only day 1 and I’m tired and hormonal and thinking “why the f**k did you think this was a good idea?!”. I’ve also eaten 4 shortbread biscuits that my husband kindly bought me (so much for hoping I might lose some weight during this process!). I’ll keep you updated on my progress (and tell you how many people have been murdered in the process) and if you’re feeling generous please feel free to visit my JustGiving page to donate and a very very big thanks to those who have donated so far! I appreciate your faith in me!

 

 

The books that changed my life (And my mental health!)

I’ve been slacking a bit with my blog lately. Actually, I’ve been slacking in many aspects of my life as my energy levels are pretty low at the moment.

 

Moving swiftly on, you probably know that World Book Day is soon to be upon us (at least you’re probably thinking of what sort of character costumes you can dress your kids in for school with minimal money and effort!). I like to think of reading as my first love and I fully believe that if new book smell was a perfume, it’d be a best seller. So what better was to honour the day than by sharing with you the 5 books that have changed my life (and my mental health)?

 

  1. Counselling for Toads (Robert de Board): The classic childhood tale “The Wind In The Willows” is brought to life by author Robert de Board as we follow Toads’ journey through depressive illness and his therapeutic journey with a counsellor. This book is a staple on the reading list for many counselling courses (but designed for people like me with no knowledge of psychoanalysis) and was recommended to me by a close friend.  To call it a self-help booklet doesn’t do it justice and the concepts of transactional analysis explored in the book are insightful and at times, unnerving when you apply them to your own inner workings. I’ve scribbled pencil notes in the margins of my copy and referred to it many times. A short read that delivers food for thought.
  2. Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy): Hardy is like marmite thanks to his long descriptive paragraphs, you’ll either love him or hate him. Far from the Madding Crowd isn’t as dark as Hardy’s other novels but follows his ongoing themes of love, tragedy and farming set in the fictional county of Wessex. I read it in 3 days and it’s one of the few books I’ve read since. Hardy was visionary in his portrayal of strong female lead characters (oh and if I have another girl, I might consider calling her Bathsheba).
  3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies (Rob Willson and Rena Branch): There’s a huge wealth of evidence behind the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for treating a wide variety of mental health issues- from anxiety to anger. This book provides a toolkit which introduces the concepts of CBT and helps the reader work through various activities to challenge negative modes of thinking. I found the sections helping you to identify the causes you really care about very helpful when wandering out of that intense period of parenting that is the toddler years.
  4. The Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey): Save for emergencies, pay off your debt and have enough cash to give generously to the people and causes you care about. Ramsey’s approach to financial management uses a 7 step approach he calls the “Baby Steps” and has kick started my journey to responsible financial management (including getting rid of all my credit cards so I can’t spend recklessly during a hypomanic spree!). Look him up on YouTube to hear some of his epic rants or check out his website.
  5. The White Queen (Phillipa Gregory): Coming from Scotland, my knowledge of English history is incredibly limited. Gregory’s Tudor Court novels awakened a strong interest in history for me and shone light on the original strong women who tried to control their own destinies in a male dominated world. I’ve since read many (non-fiction) books on Tudor history and feel incredibly lucky to live close to many of the locations referenced by Gregory in her novels.

Which books would be in your top 5 life-changing reads? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed above? Please feel free to comment below.

Disclaimer: There are way more than 5 books that have changed my life but I assume you don’t have all night to read my thoughts about them!

 

 

The chicken and the egg: Fatigue and mental ill health

I’m full of the cold (again!), hubby has a chest infection and the little person isn’t well either. I’m so, so tired. Yesterday I had a nap and guess what- I’m still tired. I’m taking some pretty sedating medication but come on, I feel like I’m 62 not 32. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve put my kid to bed and woken up beside her several hours later still fully dressed, make-up smeared on my face and contact lenses still in. I’ve had enough.

 

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at any given time, 20% (1 in 5) of us feel unusually tired. Think of how many people you know, that’s a LOT of tiredness.

 

Tiredness (or fatigue) is a common symptom of depression however there are multiple other causes of tiredness including physical problems such as anaemia, coeliac disease and thyroid disorders. You can find more information about physical causes of tiredness here. Around two-thirds of people who see a GP for tiredness have an underlying physical or mental health disorder which may be contributing to their symptoms.

 

It’s impossible to break the cycle of constant tiredness without reflecting about how and when the tiredness started. When I try to pinpoint what came first, the depression or the tiredness it seems like a chicken and egg situation: my depression makes me tired and being constantly tired makes me feel depressed.  My tiredness (and that of many others) is likely due to several factors: work, stress, sedating medication, looking after small children and underlying depression.

 

Something that resonated with me was the concept of an activity roller-coaster. Going from intense, full on activity during the week to low activity at the weekend causes increased fatigue because you’ve put all your eggs in one basket then have nothing left at the end of the week leading to burnout. Whilst it’s only natural to want to push yourself and do more, trying to self-insure against the bad day that might come tomorrow by cramming in as much activity today creates unhealthy patterns. When the bad day inevitably comes, we blame our illness and start a cycle of negativity by thinking of all the things we aren’t doing today but should be (see, there’s that should word again).

 

So what is the answer? Are we doomed to live in a cycle of energy abundance followed by crashing lows of energy depletion? I sure hope not.  Careful planning of what activities to do on what day (seeing free time as time to be free, not time to do more housework), tweaking my medication regime (I’m slowly weaning off the sedating drugs**) and appreciating the need for rest even if I feel fine are my strategies to tackle the tiredness. That and the occasional bar of chocolate!

 

Got any tips for fighting tiredness? Please feel free to comment below.

 

** remember, adjusting your meds should only be done as part of an agreement between  you and the clinicians treating you.

The key to happiness is…

…low expectations and cutting out the word “should”.

 

I’m struggling with the motivation to write a blog post this week. In fact, I’m struggling to motivate myself to do anything that isn’t wearing pyjamas or eating carbs. I’m not alone, most people I know are sharing with me that they’re too tired/broke/fat/whatever to do anything right now. I should write a blog post, I should exercise, I should eat a meal that isn’t mostly sugar but you know what, I can’t be arsed.

 

If you’re still reading (congratulations, I promise this is going somewhere), I’m not about to offer you any great advice about how you can motivate yourself and there also won’t be any inspiring graphics about how if you drop your phone and smash it you don’t then take a hammer to it and break it properly, you pick it up and carry on (no shit, I’m bipolar, not completely lacking in fucking common sense). I am however going to tell you that the word “should” is a swear word and needs to be dropped from your vocabulary. I may even consider starting a campaign to remove it from the dictionary.

 

Several years ago, I was having weekly therapy sessions in a bid to sort out my slightly disastrous mental health. I was convinced that if I somehow discussed every tiny detail of my life, we’d find some small thing that started off the whole process of being mentally ill.  I’d fix it either by talking about it or inventing a machine to travel back in time and change my entire life history. Spoiler alert: neither of those things happened. I’m bipolar because, well, genetics/environment/all that stuff and I didn’t invent a time machine because I’m really crap at physics. What I did get from the experience was a hatred for the word “should”.

 

At the end of every therapy session, my counsellor would ask how I was going to spend the rest of my day. The answer tended to be the same on around 90% of occasions: “I should exercise, I should do some house work, I should do the ironing.”  Normally, she’d tell me to spend some time resting to get back into the right head space, wish me well and that we’d see each other next week. There was just one occasion when she challenged my list of “shoulds”. “Instead of saying SHOULD, you need to start saying COULD.”

 

I wasn’t sure I understood at first but she explained it like this, when you’re saying you SHOULD do something, you make it negative. You make it another item on your to do list and when you don’t do it, you give yourself a guilt trip. When you say COULD, you introduce the element of choice. You could do the housework, you could exercise or you could rest and drink tea. “Could” makes you feel like you have a choice as to how you spend your time and it also removes the prioritisation from the to do list. “Could” levels the playing field.

 

“Should” is what our parents/our boss/the government say when there is something they want us to do. Adults should exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. People who want to live longer should stop smoking. You should work overtime if you want that promotion. Now lets replace the should with could. Want some more energy? You could try exercising. Want to live longer? You could smoke or drink less. Want to further your career? You could do some overtime or you could spend your spare time developing your skills to get to the next goal. Alternatively you could do none of those things because you’re quite content with your lot and can’t really be bothered to change anything right now. Try cutting out the should for a week and see if it makes you feel more motivated (I also like to google de-motivational quotes to amuse myself in the knowledge that other people can’t be arsed today either).

 

As for me, right now I could read a book, I could unpack the dishwasher or I could have a snack. I think I’ll do all three…

 

A word of thanks: I’d like to say a huge “Thank you” to my friend Mark who provided me with the inspiration for today’s blog after hearing me complain that I didn’t feel motivated!

 

Resolutions in reverse: 5 small things for a happier, healthier 2018.

Happy New Year! You’ve survived Christmas, eaten your body weight in chocolate (well done- that’s an achievement) and drank more alcohol in the last month than in the other 11 months of the year combined. What better way to kick ourselves when we’re down than by making a long list of resolutions to change our lives for the better.

Thanks, but no. Not me. I’m so sick of making resolutions which see me either deprive myself (chocolate, looking at you…), rob me of my already stretched time (gym three times a week, nah, I’ll slob in my PJs after work instead) or are frankly unrealistic (declutter my entire house by January 31st…only if I divorce).

Instead of promises that’ll be forgotten by February 1st, this year I’m going to do 5 small things to help me feel happier and healthier. Tip: don’t do them all at once, you’re destined to fail that way! Choose one small thing you feel will make the most difference and start there.

5 small things for a happier, healthier 2018:

  1. Just add (2 cups of) water. I love tea, I drink gallons of it. On a work day my body is at least 75% tea. What I don’t love is dehydration: headaches, tiredness, poor concentration and dry skin. I’m not giving up tea but I’m adding in a glass of water first thing in the morning and one herbal tea after my evening meal. Bonus points for putting the glass of water beside your bed the night before so you don’t have to get of bed to fetch it in the morning. Rehydrate first thing, avoid headache later.
  2. Sort your outfit the night before. Morning. My least favourite time of day. Why didn’t I iron that top last night? Where are my work shoes? H lo reduce the morning rush by laying your outfit out the night before. Clothes, shoes, underwear, EVERYTHING! Looking like you’ve got your s**t together by arriving at work smart and polished: priceless.
  3. Pack a snack. If like me you get a food mood when you haven’t eaten for a few hours, it’s worth always having a snack in your bag. Low blood sugar is linked to anxiety and increases the chance of you having a panic attack. It’s hard to grab a healthy snack from the corner shop so instead take on me with you. Rice cakes, fruit, nuts, you name it. Pack it and bring on the smug!
  4. Take 15 minutes to do something you enjoy EVERY SINGLE DAY! I know, you’re cold/tired/bored/sad/busy and can’t possibly fit anything else in. Making time to do something you enjoy resets you mentally and boosts your self esteem. Here’s the best bit, it doesn’t NEED to be healthy. Wanna spend 15 minutes drinking tea and eating biscuits? Do it! Fancy a 15 minute phone call to your bestie while drinking a small glass of wine? Go for it! How about 15 minutes to read a chapter of that really trashy novel whilst wearing your PJs? Nice! Do something for you every single day. Not only will you enjoy it at the time, you’ll also have something to look forward too when your day isn’t going so well. And of course if you DO decide to do something healthy for 15 minutes (power walk, meditate, eat an entire bowl of fruit) I won’t judge you.
  5. Say no. Small, powerful, a complete sentence. “No” might well be the most underused word in the English language. Unless you have toddlers of course. That small word can make a big difference to your life if you tend to take on too much and end up overstretched. I do, especially at work. “Can you just…?”  Or “While I’m here…” No. No, no, no and no again. I’m an adult and I’m responsible for my emotional and physical wellbeing. If I’m already stressed and doing one extra thing is going to make my day even worse then I’m gonna say no. And maybe if you start saying no to some stuff it frees up time to say yes to stuff you actually WANT to do!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my resolutions in reverse. Like I said earlier I don’t believe we should kick ourselves when we’re down so choosing the darkest, coldest and poorest month of the year to launch into a programme of reinvention is never going to work. Like the story, the tortoise wins every time.

The Unwanted Christmas Gift

No, it’s not socks, you’re going to have to read on.

Here I was, sitting in a small consultation room whilst the psych took notes. It had taken 4 months just to get this “emergency” appointment and like many much-anticipated events there was relief that finally it was happening.

The psych eyed me from her chair, a petite woman who spoke calmly and quietly. She seemed nice. Still, I was terrified of her. I hadn’t actually met her before today’s appointment which added to my awkwardness. Thankfully, she “had already read all the notes” sparing me some of the gory details.

I only had two questions: what is wrong with me? how are we going to fix it?

“You have bipolar disorder.” It wasn’t unexpected but I still burst into tears. It had taken a year to get this diagnosis, lots of watching and waiting for me to become ill again so the psych team could see my symptoms first hand and decide what the hell was wrong with me.

It was a chain of out of character behaviours and events that led to bipolar first being mentioned. I’d felt like I was “flying”, over my depression and making up for lost time. Yeah I got over excited at times but thought of it as a good spell away from the crushing lows of a major depressive episode.

My husband would say I was “on one” when the early exercise sessions, overcommitting myself at work, not eating and sleeping for only a couple of hours at night happened. I’d spend more than usual (including buying a box of Emma Bridgewater mugs in what may be the most middle-class hypo manic episode ever), be louder, drink more and flirt more than usual (my normal social anxiety would be replaced with a ride or die party girl). Hypomanic me was fun. More confident, more creative, more productive than ordinary me.

Of course, there was a flip side. I’d burn myself out to the point of exhaustion then end up in bed for a week after pushing myself to the limit mentally and physically. The first hypomanic week felt great but as it rolled on I’d get anxious, paranoid and demanding, afraid of my excess energy and that I would end up doing something stupid like buying the Mercedes I’d been eyeing up for ages. For the most part, I was able to curb my behaviour at times, surrendering my credit cards to my long-suffering hubby and taking the pills the GP prescribed to make sure I got a few hours of rest at night. During the times I couldn’t curb my behaviour, the feelings of shame and guilt about my actions and behaviours added to the inevitable low after the fall, fuelling a negative cycle of hate and depression.

What a shitty Christmas gift I thought. Although we knew what it was, it wasn’t so easy to decide what we were going to do about it. The goal (apparently), is to avoid hypomania for as long as possible. The more episodes of hypomania, the worse the prognosis that things could progress to a full blown manic episode. Right now, I think bipolar could be the gift that keeps on giving and not necessarily in a good way.