All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 09. The power of positive thinking

Day 09: Are there any benefits to bipolar for you?

womaninreddress

Samantha was wearing a red dress when I met her in Adelaide. I like red dresses! :p

As with everything in life, there are always good things and bad things. Ice cream tastes delicious (good thing) but has a tendency to increase the size of your waistline (bad thing). Owls are noble, good-looking b’stards (good thing) but have a tendency to freak people out when they turn their head all the way round (bad thing). Paper is a useful material for writing things on (good thing) but has a tendency to cut you in such a way you’ve never felt pain of the like of it before (bad thing). The trick to life is being able to pinpoint the good things amidst the sea of badness that often floods our contemporary life. Some people can do it (good thing) other people only ever focus on the negative (bad thing).

I’m one of the former people. No matter what is happening to me, I am always trying to find the good things out of an experience. With PTSD, however crippling it may be (bad thing), it allows me to remember in detail everything that ever happened to me, so if I was ever to give evidence in court about that particular time in my life I could do so without fail or fear of misremembering (good thing). With social anxiety, however crippling it may be (bad thing), it allows me to be a highly emphatic individual who is deeply caring and considerate toward other individuals (good thing).

Similarly, bipolar affective disorder, however much it is seen as a bad thing by wider society (which it can be), has a wide array of benefits that has the propensity to take the suffering out of things.

For example: if it weren’t for the heady giddiness of a manic phase (bad thing) I would never have met my friend Samantha (good thing). If it weren’t for the madness of my multiple suicide attempts (bad thing) I would never have become as knowledgeable about the subject as I have (good thing). If it weren’t for how sex obsessed I become whilst manic (bad thing) I would never have given as much cunnilingus as I have (good thing). If it weren’t for the self-harm I sometimes indulge in (bad thing) I would never have begun my quest to draw intricate artworks onto my body in red pen (good thing). If it weren’t for the crippling lows of a depressive episode (very bad thing) I would never have started writing this blog (very good thing).

But more than anything, for me, the major benefit of bipolar affective disorder is the state that is known as hypomania. Sure, it’s one step below a manic phase (bad thing) but when I’m hypomanic I’m confident (good thing), productive (good thing), talkative (good thing) and debonair (good thing). My creative juices are at their maximum (good thing). I’m able to focus my energies on meaningful activities (good thing). I can multitask like a demon possessed (good thing). And I’m irresistible to women (good thing) and able to indulge in sexual activities that my social anxiety would otherwise hinder (good thing). In fact, when I’m hypomanic, however exhausting this state can be (bad thing), I’m much more likely to be the Addy I’ve always dreamed of being (good thing), the Addy that I would be proud for people to meet (good thing).

So if you’re someone who always looks at the bad things in life, who always seeks out the negative in everything, who obsessives over what has gone wrong rather than what has gone right, I strongly suggest you do a little bit of work to change your thinking. There is nothing like finding the positive amidst an ocean of terribleness, it enriches your life, it puts a smile on your face and allows you to walk with your head held that little bit higher each day.

And if a bipolar affective disorder suffering, PTSD haunted and social anxiety crippled individual such as myself can do it, anyone can!

So why not try it? :-)


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 08. Should I dislike my bipolar affective disorder?

Day 08: What do you dislike most about the disorder?

Manic Depression (by eddietheyeti)

Manic Depression (by eddietheyeti)

You’d think this question would be an easy one to answer. That after a lifetime of suffering from a debilitating mental illness, I would have a cavalcade of reasons to hate the illness, but if truth be told, I don’t. I’ve long accepted my suffering of bipolar affective disorder, I’ve long come to terms with the ups and downs the illness forces on my mood and I’ve long tolerated the limitations it places on my life. I fail to see why I should dislike a particular aspect of the illness, because there is ultimately nothing I can do about it. Me hating something about the disorder will do nothing for my suffering and will do nothing to change the lot I have been given in life. It just seems like a complete waste of my time and energy to hate something I can do nothing about; which is quite surprising coming from me, given how critical I hold myself in all other areas of life.

Sure I’m not a fan of the volatile, and at times violent, mood swings. Nor am I a fan of the grandiose thinking or immortal God inducing manic phases. And I’m certainly not a fan of the crippling, almost impossible to survive intact, depressive episodes. But what can I do about it?

It would be true to say that I also dislike society’s stigmatization of bipolar affective disorder. That everyone who suffers from the illness is a psychotic, insane crazy person who isn’t to be trusted or seen as a functioning member of the human race. That we are lesser human beings, unworthy of being loved and/or cared about by another individual. I also dislike the grotesque stereotyping that we are all creative geniuses because of our bipolar alone, or that, because Stephen Fry is bipolar, we must all somehow be exactly like him. If truth be told, I dislike society’s view of bipolar more than I do any particular aspect of the illness, it’s insulting, degrading and hardly conducive toward creating mental health parity.

Perhaps it’s because I accept the bipolar more than I do my other mental illnesses, perhaps it’s because in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t affected my life in the way PTSD or social anxiety has, but for the love of me I just can’t bring myself to dislike the disorder, or any particular aspect of it.

Does that make me a terrible person?


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Roadblocks to Recovery: #2. Social Anxiety Disorder

To say that being without hope is a strange feeling would be an understatement. To be without hope makes me feel hollow, that something important is missing from my soul. I feel empty. Lost. A little confused. Being without hope is not something I would recommend. It’s painful, disconcerting and altogether mystifying. Yet it’s one of those things that’s easily lost, yet interminably difficult to replace once it’s disappeared from your life.

In this series of posts I am dissecting what is preventing me from navigating further down the road to recovery; all the things that have created roadblocks and zapped the hope from my being. Hopefully, I will be able to shine a light on what I need to do to rekindle hope, and with it, myself.

Social Anxiety Disorder

anxiety

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
~ Stephen Fry ~

It’s true that social anxiety disorder has provided me with several positives in life. My love of writing, reading and literature. My love of movies, television and the moving image. Even my love of photography, a gloriously intimate act that can be performed quite beautifully in solitude. But for the most part, social anxiety disorder has been the devil that has destroyed me.

Since it’s onset in my teenage years, it has had a profound effect on my ability to make friends and retain relationships, to the point that I now find myself an isolated individual incapable of even talking to people, let alone making friends with them. Social anxiety disorder was also instrumental in destroying my educational career, affecting my A-level choices, ability to cope with examinations and my return to college in 2007 was also hampered by social anxiety, to the point I lost that course within weeks of returning (although glandular fever and abuse also played a large role in the loss of that particular course, it would be plain wrong to suggest social anxiety had nothing to do with it). Even now, as I contemplate returning to university, I find social anxiety rearing its ugly head as it convinces me I would be unable to perform the course or survive around so many other people. Social anxiety disorder plays havoc with the view that I have of my own body, feeding into preexisting body dysmorphic issues that have plagued me my whole life. It also renders simple, day-to-day activities, almost impossible to perform. For example, going to the supermarket has become a strenuous action that shouldn’t be anywhere near as complicated as it is. I have to go at a certain time of the day (early afternoon, when the supermarket isn’t as busy) and I have to go to specific supermarkets, ones which have self-service checkouts, so I don’t have to make ‘small talk’ with the checkout operators as they scan my food.

Everything in my life is controlled around my social anxiety. From walking down the street to the actions I perform whilst there, everything is ordered so as to keep my anxiety as low as possible; no communicating with people, no socializing under any circumstances, no pushing myself into situations that I deem uncomfortable. Activities that I used to enjoy, that I used to garner so much pleasure from, have become no-go areas; for example, I can no longer go to the cinema due to the number of people present, I can no longer attend munches, which in 2013, were one of my few lifelines of social interaction. Even blogging, an activity I used to relish, has become super-difficult for me to perform. I worry continuously over people judging the words I have written, stress endlessly about commenting, even on my own blog, let alone other peoples and find myself censoring myself for the first time in eight years out of pure stress over what people may think of my output.

Although social anxiety has always played a tremendous role in my life, I’ve found that since my hospitalization earlier this year, it has only become worse. Since coming out of hospital I have been isolating myself more and more, refusing to go out unless I absolutely (unequivocally) need to. I have become, for want of a better word, a recluse. A hermit. Someone who refuses all social interaction due to the worry over panic attack, due to the worry over what other people may think of me, due to the possibility of making a complete and utter fool of myself. I don’t know why being in hospital escalated the symptoms of my abuse. Perhaps it was being forced to share a ward with other individuals. Perhaps it was the control being taken from my life. Perhaps it had nothing to do with hospital, and that’s just become a convenient excuse. All I know is that over the last few months, my social anxiety has been so out of control, so impossible to contend with, that it has become (even more so than it used to be) a serious illness that has a profound (and monumental) debilitating impact on my life.

It is holding me back. It is preventing me from living. It is sucking the hope from my being on a daily basis. It is destroying what belief I have left.

So what can be done? What possible avenues can I explore to try to fix this particular, debilitating aspect of my mental health? Well:

Firstly, there is talk therapy. I have spent very little time in my life talking about social anxiety. Psychiatrists have been uninterested in this aspect of my mental health, preferring to focus on the (perceived) more serious illness that is bipolar affective disorder. Psychologists, equally, have ignored this part of my illness. Instead choosing to focus on my moods and blaming my ineptitude (and lack of effort) for my isolation and inability to communicate and/or make friends. What I need, more than anything, is a psychologist who understands what social anxiety is, how it impacts on someone’s life and the damage that it can cause if left unchecked. I’m hoping that the psychologist I am planning to see will have this understanding, but only time will tell on that.

Secondly, there is exposure therapy. Of all my readings on social anxiety disorder, this form of therapy seems to have a particularly positive effect. For those not in the know, exposure therapy is when someone is slowly exposed to the source of their anxiety and/or trauma in the hope it will lessen the impact and help the individual cope with what is causing the pain. In the sense of my social anxiety, this means exposing myself to situations where other people are present, where I am forced to socialize and communicate with strangers, in the hope it will lessen the control social anxiety has on my life. Perhaps this means attending psychosocial rehabilitation groups again, perhaps it means forcing myself to go to the cinema (under controlled circumstances), perhaps it means just going to the supermarket during the busiest time of the day. Whatever I decide, exposure therapy could work.

Thirdly, there is CBT and DBT, which I’ve heard can work wonders for people with anxiety disorders. As I have attempted to self-teach myself these practices, to little or no effect, I feel that I need to work through these treatments with another individual – perhaps a psychologist – who understands them better than I.

Fourthly, there is simply being more kind to myself. I am immensely hard on myself in all walks and manners of life. In fact, it would be fair to say that I hold everything I do up to intense scrutiny. From the blog posts I publish, through to the meals I cook, and the speed in which I walk, everything is criticized, analyzed and torn apart by my perfection seeking mind. I need to learn to be kinder to myself, to understand that not everything I do needs to be perfect, that nothing anyone does is ever perfect. I need to find a way to look at my body with acceptance rather than revulsion; I need to find a way to blog without tearing myself apart; I need to find a way to act without criticizing myself into oblivion. I need to be kinder to myself; for if you can’t accept yourself, how can you expect anyone else to accept you? If you can’t love yourself, then other people cannot love you. It’s as simple as that.

Fifthly, there is seeking advice from people who are either living with their own battles with social anxiety, or those people who have successfully managed to control the impact it has on their life. But for that I need to get past my own insecurities over commenting and emailing and teach myself, once again, how to communicate with strangers. For the knowledge of other people is often the greatest knowledge of all – or at least, that’s what I’m led to believe.

Sixthly, well, I can’t think of a sixthly at this time, so these five goals will have to suffice for now.

Whatever happens with my attempt to manage social anxiety disorder, I know that I will not be able to live the life I deserve (see, starting to be kind to myself already) until I have learnt to control my anxiety. It is, without question, one of the biggest (and most severe) roadblocks on my recovery journey – and one I need to tackle quickly and definitively.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery':


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 07. 10 things not to say to someone with bipolar

Ten things not to say to someone with bipolar

Bipolar Disorder (by Chickenese)

Bipolar Disorder (by Chickenese)

1. Are you bipolar?

‘What is wrong with this?’ I hear you ask. ‘Isn’t that a reasonable question to ask someone?’ Maybe so, but…

I am not bipolar, I suffer from an illness called bipolar affective disorder. To say I am bipolar implies that bipolar is all that I am. It implies that bipolar is the sole definition of my life and I will never be anything other than bipolar. Whereas in reality, I am so much more complicated than that.

So best to ask “Do you suffer from bipolar?”

2. You do realise it’s all your fault, don’t you? 

Ummm, no, actually it’s not. I didn’t do anything to deserve suffering from bipolar. It’s not a punishment or the consequence of some hitherto forgotten transgression in my life. It’s a mental illness. And any mental illness that someone is unfortunate enough to suffer from, is not that person’s fault. Far from it.

3. You’re completely psycho!

See also: you’re nuts, you’re bonkers, you’ve got a screw loose, you’re crazy, you’re effing insane you are, you’re [insert synonym of choice here]! Granted, some of my close friends and family may get away with playfully ribbing me by using these terms, but they’re doing so without any malice. If anyone who doesn’t know me says such grotesquely stigmatizing words to me, they’re likely to be the victim of an epic (carefully worded) rebuke.

4. Everyone has mood swings sometimes!

Yes, this is true, but not everyone has their moods alter so dramatically between mania and depression that their very life can hang in the balance. There is an almighty difference between the mood swings you might experience as a result of day-to-day life and the mood swings of bipolar, and trust me, were you ever to experience the epic highs and suicidal lows of bipolar affective disorder, you would understand the difference in a heartbeat.

5. Oh, so you must be a creative genius!

Oh, so because I’m bipolar I’m a creative genius? Wow. Stereotype much? Granted there is a well publicised link between creativity and bipolar, but that doesn’t mean everyone who suffers from bipolar is a creative genius. We’re not born with a paintbrush in one hand and a typewriter in the other.

6. Stephen Fry can control his moods, why can’t you?

Someone said this to me once, it incensed me, for one simple reason: I am NOT Stephen Fry! Stephen Fry suffers from bipolar, and he deals with it as best as he is able to based on what is happening in his life. Just like I deal with my bipolar as best as I can do based on what is happening in my life.

7. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

If you can’t see the problem with this question, you need to undertake some form of empathy course. Sure, if you’re close friends with someone and having a heartfelt conversation over several alcoholic beverages, ask away. But if you don’t know someone, just don’t go there, ever.

8. But you seem so normal…

When this was once said to me, I was rendered speechless for several minutes. How exactly is someone with a mental illness supposed to act? Should they be dancing naked down High Street with a weasel in one hand and a cardboard owl in the other? People with mental illness can be as normal as you and I, and they have every right to be. After all, as I established above, you are not your mental illness; you are so much more than that.

9. Have you taken your medication?

Another perfectly reasonable question, to be sure, but one that has all sorts of negative connotations. It implies you’re forgetful. It implies you can’t handle living your own life. It implies you’re useless. It implies that you need someone to tell you what to do. And it endlessly reminds you that you need medication in order to function as a human being, which isn’t a very nice thing to be reminded of.

10. Are you cured?

Bipolar affective disorder is a lifelong mental illness. There is no cure. Remember that, always, else you risk being seen as ignorant and stupid.


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The Light Will Stay On (The Walkabouts)

The last seven days have been a particularly difficult and trying time for me. My mood has been low. My PTSD has been off the charts. My abdominal pain has returned with a vengeance. And my anxiety has been super difficult to control. So in a valiant attempt to end the week on a high, I’ve decided a spot of music is in order, and this classic piece of Seattle-based rock has never failed to soothe my soul. Hopefully it will do the same for you. Enjoy! :)

The Light Will Stay On | The Walkabouts


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Roadblocks to Recovery: #1. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reading through some of the blog posts that I wrote in 2012 and 2013, quite possibly the most prolific blogging period of my online writing career. Some of the posts were depressing, some were uplifting, some funny and others steeped in inspirational content. But the defining characteristic of each blog post that I read was hope; hope for me, hope for a better future, hope for my recovery journey.

Over the last twelve months, ever since I slipped into a deep depression that refuses to lift no matter what I do, I realise that this hope has evaporated. I no longer have hope that I will ever recover. I no longer have hope that my life will be any better than it is now. And that’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever written, for if my life is never going to get any better than what I have now, I may as well kill myself, because what I have now is nothing.

My “life” (if you can call it that) is a monotonous routine of the same-old, same-old every single day. I roll out of bed in the morning only because I need to go to the bathroom. I fiddle online. I listen to the radio. I watch DVDs (almost at the same time each day) and I yearn for something (anything) to happen so as to break the routine that I have fallen into. Sometimes I try to break the routine myself; go for a walk, cook something new for dinner, break up the route I take when walking to the supermarket, but nothing cracks the protective routine I’ve fashioned for myself.

As I read those blog posts yesterday evening I began to wonder why I have such trouble breaking my routine. Why I have no hope for recovery. I started to wonder about all the roadblocks that have been created that are preventing me from continuing my recovery journey. All the niggling frustrations that have been concocted to prevent me from living the life that I want to live. And it is these roadblocks that I need to explore, to try to work out why they are causing such problem and what (if anything) can be done about them.

For until I navigate these roadblocks I will have no hope, and without hope, there is nothing.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

PTSD

The first roadblock that is preventing hope from re-entering my life is something I wrote about recently: PTSD. My PTSD is a complex beast. It is not just from one incident, but rather several life-threatening and traumatic incidents that have occurred over the last eight years of my life. From being emotionally abused, to being raped, to being forced to live a homeless, sub-human existence, the memories of these events permeate every facet of my life, forcing me to live in a constant hyper-vigilant state. There are so many triggers, so many things for me to avoid, that ‘living’ is something that seems almost impossible. Even simple acts like someone chewing gum, talking to people or writing comments on blogs can cause crippling panic attacks and hours of re-living the events that have defined my life over the last several years.

Even without these triggers, my PTSD can come flooding back unbidden. I have already mentioned recently the near constant conversations I have with the ghost of my abuser, frantically trying to make sense of what she did, why she did it and why I deserved it. Conversations (nay, screaming matches) that can last for hours at a time, no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it. At night, my sleep is constantly disturbed by the near-endless nightmares of being raped, and that is when I can get to sleep, as my efforts are often affected by the memories of my time sleeping rough as my mind constantly asks whether or not I ‘deserve’ to be sleeping in a bed.

Living in such a hyper-vigilant state is exhausting both physically and mentally. Constantly having to be aware of everything that is going on around me, constantly avoiding things I want to do and places I want to go, in case I find myself triggered, in case I succumb to the crippling effects of a panic attack. It’s mindbogglingly tiring. So much so that I often have very little energy to do the things I want to do. I have trouble walking down the street without being overcome with exhaustion, I have trouble keeping my mind focused on even simple acts such as grocery shopping or watching a movie.

No matter what I do, the PTSD has a direct impact on every area of my life. And no matter what I do, nothing seems to alleviate my suffering. I’ve tried everything; from CBT, DBT and mindfulness, to talking therapy, exposure therapy and psychotherapy. Nothing works. Nothing does anything to alter the hyper-vigilance, flashbacks or endless replaying of my previous trauma.

The impact it has on my life is devastating. And the PTSD I’m afflicted with is clearly a major roadblock on my journey to recovery. For as long as the PTSD has such a hold on me, I will never have hope for recovery, let alone be able to recover to any reasonable degree. But what can I do about it? People suggest I should “move on”, “get over it” or “move forward” from the trauma. I’m told to simply stop replaying events. I’m encouraged to just “deal with it”, but these suggestions are nothing more than platitudes that I already know, platitudes that ignore the devastating effect that PTSD can have on someone. It’s not easy to just “get over it” or “move forward” when you are constantly being reminded of the trauma to the point of panic attack and inaction. It’s not as simple as just “moving on” or “dealing with it” when your subconscious mind constantly dregs up memories that you don’t ask to remember. When I’m lost to a PTSD flashback, when I’m trapped in a conversation with the ghost of my abuser, when I’m experiencing nightmares of being raped or being assaulted whilst sleeping rough, I’m not even conscious enough to acknowledge my own name, let alone tell myself to just “move on”. It’s just not going to work. Period.

So what can be done? Well, if I had the answer to that my PTSD wouldn’t be causing as much of a problem, but I need a plan of action in order to rebuild hope, so I have to come up with something. Anything. So:

Firstly, I need to undertake some extensive talking therapy. I firmly believe that psychoanalysis from someone who is trained, someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who has experience of PTSD, will do me the world of wonder. I’m hoping this will come courtesy of the psychologist I have recently been put in contact with, if it doesn’t, then I need to find someone else. Regardless of how much it costs.

Secondly, I need people in my life. People have always been more powerful to me than medication. The most stable I have ever felt in my life (late 2006) came at a time when I wasn’t medicated, when I wasn’t receiving treatment, but when I had friends. The simple act of just being around these friends, spending time with them, sharing my life with them, enjoying life with them, changed the structure of my brain and enabled me to see myself for who I want to be. They distracted me from my issues, took my mind off my troubles and enabled me to enjoy life. Yes, people would help, that much I’m sure.

Thirdly, I need to consider PTSD specific medication. If there is such a thing. I don’t know much about the world of medication when it comes to PTSD, but it’s something that I need to research, something that I need to look into. For if medication can help, I’m more than willing to give it a go. So if anyone has any experience of medicating PTSD, please leave a comment below, your experience would be greatly appreciated.

Fourthly, I need to write more about the incidents that have caused my PTSD, for by talking about them in a safe environment (such as my blog) I may be able to look upon them in a new light. I may be able to alter the way my brain interprets them, alleviating the control they have.

Fifthly, well, I don’t have a fifthly, so four items will have to suffice for now. At least it’s somewhere for me to start rebuilding hope.

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.
If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 06. What I wish someone had told me…

Day 06: What do you wish you’d known when you were diagnosed?

Nearly two years ago I attended an event in aid of Mental Health Week. Prior to a screening of (the excellent) Silver Linings Playbook, three nervous individuals took to the stage to talk about their recovery journey in front of one hundred and thirty expectant people: I was one of those three individuals. The speech I delivered was based from a blog post I had written, namely a letter to my younger self, that delivered sage-like advice about my impending bipolar diagnosis. As today’s prompt in the 31 Days of Bipolar Challenge is asking for a similar diatribe, I have decided to link to this post and urge everyone to read the letter I read out to those one hundred and thirty people, for it is a piece of writing I’ve always been proud of, and one of my personal highlights of this blog.

♥ READ: A LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF

But, it feels a bit odd (and like I’m cheating) to be answering a prompt with a simple link to an old (albeit excellent) post. So for people craving new and invigorating content, I present a postcard to my younger self that answers today’s prompt as simply and directly as possible:

Postcard to Younger Self

Click image to enlarge

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