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 26. Your future hasn’t been written yet…

Day 26: How do you see your future beyond the state you are in currently?

the-future

As with anyone’s future, nondescript decisions made today can have a lasting, and monumental, impact on one’s future. You might decide to walk a different route to the supermarket, slip on a discarded piece of fruit and find yourself with a shattered ankle leading to months, if not years of reconstructive surgery. Alternatively – and on a slightly more chirpier note – you might accidentally bump into someone in the supermarket, be spellbound by their exotic eyes and find yourself, in several years, marrying them on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas. No-one knows the direction one’s life is going to take. Every decision we make has an effect, every path our lives take has an impact. That’s the beauty of the future; the unknown.

So how does one write about the unknown? How do you decide, for better or worse, what your future is going to hold? Well, the answer is simple, you pontificate on three possible outcomes – the reality, the unlikely and the dream – each of which being a possible route your life could take.

The Reality

However much I am chagrined to write it, this is the most likely scenario in my future.

I will spend the next forty years of my life living in a town that I can’t stand, constantly waging a war with PTSD, social anxiety and the ups and downs of bipolar. Occasionally there will be periods of euthymia, periods where things work out, where things go my way, but for the most part I will feel depressed at the nothingness of my life and spend numerous months contemplating what might’ve been. Certainly there will be times when things get too much and I attempt to take my own life; but these attempts will fail and force me into the realization that I cannot achieve anything, that nothing I do is right and thus, it isn’t worth trying. This will cause me to give up and just live a routine based, monotonous existence where I make no effort whatsoever to change my lot in life.

Eventually I will give up on support services, leading me to live as a recluse, with little to no human interaction, causing my voices to become deafening to fill the gap. In time, my physical health will fail and my ability to walk and cycle will dissipate, this will render me housebound, causing my depression to increase ten-fold. Unable to leave the house, with no-one to love, I will slowly wither away and die a lonely, forgotten soul.

After several months the stench emanating from my apartment will cause someone to call the police and my decomposed body will finally be found. Autopsy reports will find that I died of a broken heart and I will be buried a pauper, in an unmarked grave, with no-one to mourn me.

The Unlikely

The likelihood of this outcome ever occurring is slim to none, but as they say, never say never!

One sunny, inconsequential day I will be walking down to the supermarket when I look down and notice a lottery ticket sitting on the pavement. Attached to this lottery ticket is a note indicating that it has been left to be found; a random act of kindness from an unknown soul. I pick up the lottery ticket and pocket it, thanking the person who has left it with a cheerful nod. Later that week, after randomly remembering the ticket, I check it against the numbers and discover – much to my surprise – that I have won $100 million! After performing what could only be called a merry jig of celebration I toast my good fortune with a glass of coca cola and head to bed knowing that my future can now be anything I dream it to be.

After collecting my winnings I go on a mini-spending spree, updating my wardrobe with stylish, eccentric clothes, donating several million to charities and treating myself to a first class round the world plane ticket. I visit India, Thailand, Canada, the US, take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express and spend several long months touring Europe before heading home to Scotland, via my parents house in South Wales. Whilst in South Wales I decide to visit the Doctor Who production office where I score a walk-on cameo in an episode, a walk-on cameo that leads me to meet Jenna Coleman, whom I dazzle with my debonair wit and eccentric attitude to life. Enamored, she dumps her boyfriend and we begin a torrid love affair that eventually leads to our marriage. Shortly after, I write a film-script and decide to direct the film myself, casting my wife in the lead role. The film is an outstanding success; the critics love it, the general public adore it, and it sweeps the award ceremonies like nothing before.

Deciding to settle down and start a family, Jenna and I purchase a small cottage in the Highlands of Scotland and get down to making babies. Nine months later we are the proud parents of twin girls! Eighteen months later a little boy joins our fold. In between all the baby making, I have knuckled down to write my Inverness Chronicles, and shortly after, the first is published. It immediately becomes a phenomenon of the book world, unlike anything seen since Fifty Shades of Grey or the Harry Potter books. Within ten years I have written the remaining novels in the series, each received with critical acclaim, and slap myself on the back for finally getting my act together and writing what I have always wanted to write.

Over the years we travel with our family unit, exploring every mile of Scotland and Canada, happily wiling away our lives in marital and familial bliss. As old age begins to take hold we curb our traveling urges and settle back into our cottage, allowing our children to dote on us until, eventually, we die within hours of each other. Our funeral is held in the small Highland village in which we live and it is attended by hundreds of mourners, all come to celebrate our lives with song, frivolity and numerous jigs of remembrance. We are buried, side by side, in a cemetery overlooking a loch.

The Dream

Although ‘the unlikely’ scenario would be a rather brilliant future, my dream future would be markedly different.

After years – if not decades – of hard work, determination and sheer-bloody minded stubbornness, I eventually reach a place in my life where I am no longer governed by anxiety or PTSD. Free from the crippling aftereffects of abuse, and with my new-found ability talk to other human beings, I celebrate my return to “life” by sparking up a conversation with a beautiful librarian. Charming her with my self-deprecating humor and dry, unadulterated wit, we agree to go to dinner where the courtship continues. After several months of dates, of varying activity, we fall deeply in love and, out of the blue, I propose to her as the sun sets on a beautiful beach. She accepts, and, unable to wait, we marry within months.

Our relationship – born out of a shared love of books, arts and culture, film and writing – continues to go from strength to strength. She accepts my bipolar, assists me with relapses into anxiety and helps me manage my occasional flare-ups of PTSD. To reciprocate, I shower her with affection, encourage her to pursue her dreams and assist her however and whenever I can. After a year or two, we discover she is pregnant and nine months later are the proud parents of a beautiful girl, whom we name Amelia, in honor of our favourite Doctor Who companion. We settle down to raise our baby, my wife returning to work whilst I stay at home to look after the child whilst writing in my spare time. This writing eventually pays off when my book – The Ghosts that Haunt Me – is accepted for publication. To celebrate we fall beneath the sheets and, nine months later, are the proud parents of a beautiful, bouncing boy, whom we name Alexander, in honor of our shared love of the Buffy character.

As my writing career continues – with successive books being published to middling critical acclaim – I decide to write an autobiographical account of my journey with mental illness. Using my blog as inspiration, All that I am, All that I ever was is published and soon becomes a minor phenomenon. Its publication leads to a new career as an inspirational speaker; recounting my journey to audiences of troubled teens, providing them with hope that their future can be something wonderful, and needn’t be governed by labels or psychiatric conditions.

When our children are a little older we decide to move from Australia to Scotland, where we buy a house in Inverness. In between school and work commitments – my wife taking a job at the local library, myself taking on public speaking engagements – we travel the length and breadth of Scotland, allowing our children to soak in and explore the rich countryside. We go Nessie hunting on Loch Ness. Ramble through the history of Glencoe. And spend weekends otter hunting in the wilds of the Outer Hebridean winter. We are not rich, we don’t live in a big house or stay in five-star hotels, but we are happy; blissfully so.

As time winds on my physical health starts to deteriorate and eventually I succumb to the ravages of cancer, a byproduct of my years spent as a smoker. My funeral is held in Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Sheil, and my ashes scattered in the waters of my favourite loch. Although not jam-packed, there are a number of close friends and family members at the funeral, celebrating my life’s good, bad and ugly moments.

In time, my wife and children overcome their grief and go on to lead happy, productive lives. She finds a new man to spend her elder years with, they pursue their dreams with relish and conviction; their hopes and goals being met time and again, out of the determination and self-belief their father taught them.

It means your future hasn’t been written yet.
No one’s has.
Your future is whatever you make it.
So make it a good one, both of you.
~Back to the Future~


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 25. This endless monotonous repetition of nothingness

Day 25: What state are you in right now, when did it start and what are your goals and hopes about it?

fd5a606c6a0097343cccabaebb79fdd8A little over twelve months ago I attended a camp organised by the mental health organisation I frequent. From beginning to end it was an unmitigated disaster. Shortly before the camp my GP and I decided to change my medication regime, so when I was present at the camp, I wasn’t present, as the new medication I had started to take was unleashing all manner of side effects on my person. My participation at the camp – in part due to my social anxiety – was also lesser than what I’d hoped it would be, with my time spent sitting on my lonesome or helping out in the kitchen prepare each of the meals we were to have. I rarely said anything. I rarely opened up. And I rarely, if ever, participated unless I had to.

The reason I mention the camp now, twelve months after the event, is because it triggered a depressive episode that I am still floundering in. To this day I’ve never been able to work out exactly why the camp triggered such a depressive episode, but trigger it, it did. Ever since I attended that camp my mood has been low, my concentration has evaporated and my ability to function has been questionable at best. To say I’m suffering from an elongated period of anhedonia would be an understatement; nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me pleasure. Not movies. Not TV shows. Not reading. Not photography. Not writing. Nothing. All of the things that I have turned to in the past, all of the things that saw my soul sing and my passion inflame, do nothing for me. They don’t raise a smile. They don’t elicit a giggle. They just produce a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘meh’ sound.

Without question this has been the longest depressive episode of my life. As it enters its fourteenth month, it eclipses even the depressive episodes that permeated my mind during my homelessness, the longest of which was nine months. I have tried mindfulness. I have tried distraction. I have tried medication. I have tried positive thinking. I have tried everything that, in the past, made a dent in my depression. But on this occasion nothing, and I repeat, nothing has worked. I have just continued to be lost to this endless fog of self hatred, monotony and self loathing. Getting out of bed; only occurs because I need to go to the bathroom. Leaving the house; only occurs because I need to purchase food. Cooking this food; only occurs because I should be eating, not because I actually want to. I do nothing for the pure pleasure of doing it. I achieve nothing each day aside from the occasional vomit of words onto my blog. My life is just one endless monotonous repetition. The same actions day-in, day-out. Boredom personified.

Things have got so bad that even hope has left  me. I no longer believe that life will be any better than this. I no longer believe that happiness will find me. I no longer believe that my life will be anything other than this eternal, all consuming, depression. And I hate it. Even when I was homeless. Even when I was living in a park, eking out an existence with the help of soup vans and sheer bloody minded determination, I had hope. I clung to television shows. I clung to my own belief. I clung to anything that helped me get through the next hour, the next day, the next week. I had hope that my future wouldn’t always be this endless battle of survival and starvation. But now? This episode, these fourteen months of despair, desolation and depression, have stolen my hope and replaced it with a black hole of nothingness in the center of my soul. How can I hope for a better future when all I have in the present is pain? How can I hope for something more when all I have is just one endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.

My only goal concerning this episode is for it to end. I want it to end. I want to be able to wave a fond farewell to the pain, desolation and despair and be able to live my life with some semblance of enjoyment and meaning. I want to feel something beyond the agony and torment of depression and isolation. I want to feel the flutter of excitement ignite in my soul as I formulate blog posts; to revel in the act of writing and creation. I want to be able to watch a movie and actually laugh; actually feel something for the characters whose lives are acted out for my own personal enjoyment. I want to be able to read fiction again; to delight at the words as they dance in my mind. I want to be able to do so much more than what I’m currently capable of. Whether it be running barefoot through the grass, dancing under a sprinkler or skipping through the world at large. I want to be able to laugh again. I want to be able to feel again. I want to be able to hope again. That delicious, unquenchable emotion; hope.

Hope_and_Despair_by_yuumei

‘Hope and Despair’

But how do I accomplish this goal? How does one rediscover hope? How does one end an endless monotonous repetition of nothingness? My doctor has been tweaking my medication for months, dutifully striving to find the correct balance for my current ennui. I see my support worker on a weekly basis, each time striving to discover new avenues to approach this episode. I’ve also started to see a psychologist, and I have six appointments with her to try and find ways to combat this all-consuming episode. So it’s not as though I’m doing nothing. It’s not as though I’ve given up completely. I am trying to dig my way out of this depression; it’s just my shovel work doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Yet.

The only thing I am clinging to is the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, no matter how much it feels like its going to. I’ve been depressed in the past, and bounced back to euthymia or hypomania with barely time to breathe. So it stands to reason that this episode isn’t going to last the remainder of my life, however much it feels like it’s going to. Sooner or later things will shift, my mind will rediscover contentment and everything will be rosy in Addy’s world once again. I just wish it would happen now. Or at the very least, tomorrow.

For I don’t know how much longer I can take this endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 24. Personally, I feel like I’m due some euthymia

Day 24: How much of your life has been stable/euthymic, depressed and hypo/manic?

depression

Over the years it has become noticeable that my baseline mood state is depression, but that doesn’t mean my life is always spent in this most painful and debilitating of states. After all, according to several psychiatrists, I am bipolar, so my moods are going to deviate from time to time.

The only period of true mania that I’ve experienced came in June/July 2007, when I went psychotic in Adelaide. From what little I can actually remember, I spent my days trawling bars and clubs for beautiful women, whilst imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and eating very little. I streaked down Rundle Mall on the promise of playful spanking, I talked incessantly to whomever would listen to me, slapped multiple backsides to announce my presence and generally spent my days (and nights) convinced I was an immortal God. Even hurling myself in front of a moving train wouldn’t have damaged me, such was the extent of my delusional thinking. It was exhausting, it was exhilarating, it was painful, it was pleasurable. It was, without question, one of the most fucked up periods of my life. And if it weren’t for the fact I was raped – which I’ve long believed to be the trigger that ended my mania – God knows how long it would have lasted and what would have become of me. By the time it ended I had barely slept for several weeks and felt both dehydrated and malnourished. In fact, the depressive episode I collapsed into was comforting in its monotony and familiarity.

As for hypomania, I have experienced this state on several occasions, and have long considered it my preference. When I’m hypomanic I am everything that I’ve ever wanted to be. I am charming. I am debonair. I am talkative. I am creative. I am driven. I am committed. I am motivated. When this state is surging through me there is nothing I can’t achieve, and everything I set my mind to is tackled with such panache and energy that it will often result in my best work. I wrote my novel, The Ghosts that Haunt Me, when I was hypomanic. I edited said novel when I was in this state. When my mood turned to hypomania in mid-2008, I was able to find work in a matter of weeks and performed said work to such a high standard that I received praise from every manager above me. When I was hypomanic in 2009, between May and July, I had my written work published twice; once in a national magazine and once in a local newspaper. A feat I’ve never been able to match during my euthymic or depressed, baseline, states.

All in all, my main periods of hypomania (that I’ve been able to identify) have been: September 1997, September – November 1999, April-June 2000, late 2003, August-November 2006, January 2008 (although this could have been more rapid cycling), June-October 2008, May-July 2009 and the last couple of months of 2012. All of which back up my belief I’m at my best when I’m hypomanic, as each of these periods coincides with periods of tremendous productivity and achievement, whether it be traveling to combat my anxiety (1999) or engaging with social activity and building relationships (2006).

hypomania

Personally I feel I’m due another bout of hypomania soon, although, the same could be said for euthymia, which I haven’t felt since 2005! Back then I was working full-time, committed to my relationship with Louise, developing plans for the future and generally living what many people would consider “a life”. I had no major financial issues, stressors in my life were few and far between, and I was engaging in social activity whenever time allowed. I was even making new friends and forging stronger relationships with people in my life.

In fact, things have been so bad for so long, I can barely remember what being in this state actually felt like. I remember it through a haze of memory, as if looking back on that period with rose-tinted glasses. Things were probably not as good as I remember them being, but because things were so normal, so safe, I remember it with tremendous fondness and exaggerated comfort. I was stable, I was “normal”; I was everything I dream of being now.

But alas, things are no longer like that. My life, as with much of it, has become consumed with feelings of hopelessness, pointlessness and depression. Everything is difficult. Everything isn’t awesome. It is a state that I should be used to by now; a state that I should know intimately given how much time we have spent in each others company over the last twenty years. Our dalliance in 2000 brought on feelings of worthlessness and despair. Our tryst in 2006 cemented these feelings. Whilst our flirtation in 2011 brought on multiple suicide attempts in a matter of months. Depression has been such a part of my life that I no longer live in fear of it; we are one, depression and I, a civil union that will see me till death us do part.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 23. Why do you blog about bipolar?

Day 23: Why do you blog about bipolar?

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Hopefully enabling other people who are battling depression to realise they are not alone.
Hopefully enabling people who are prejudiced against mental illness to gain a better understanding of what it is, and the damage it can do.
Hopefully enabling me to have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I wrote the above words on the 21 October 2007, the day I began my blogging journey. Back then I was naive to the world of blogging and trod wearily through the maelstrom of syllables, words and sentences that joined together to form the blogosphere. It was the start of a new endeavor; a new chapter in my life that saw me journal for the world to see, rather than hiding it away in the A5 notebooks I’d written in previously. I was opening myself up, sharing things that I had never before shared, and it was difficult, painful at first, but endowed me with a sense of freedom that I never thought possible. I was writing about depression. About self-harm, suicide and, later, bipolar. I was talking about my innermost demons, all the chaos that I had lived with for nearly fifteen years was being shared for the world to read, and comment on, should they so desire. It was an enlightening experience and soon it became my world. The blogging bug had well and truly infected me with its venom.

My reasons for starting to blog were outlined in a short introduction post, and eight years later those reasons haven’t changed. I continue to blog so that other people who are suffering from mental illness realise they’re not alone. I continue to blog so that people who are prejudiced against mental illness gain a better understanding of what it is, and the damage it can do. And I continue to blog so that I can gain a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

I blog because it enables me to do things that I love (write, help other people, share my story) from the safety and security of my own living room.

I blog because if I didn’t, my life would be hollow, empty of point, purpose or direction.

I blog because someone has to.

I blog because I love it. And that’s the only reason I need.


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 22. Side effects of medication

Day 22: What meds gave you the worst side effects, how did/do you treat it/them, and do you still get any side effects now?

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Without question the worst side effect I’ve ever experienced came from Sodium Valproate (Epilim). Although I’d been taking it without any major consequence for several years (on and off, depending on homelessness), earlier this year it decided to revolt against my system in a huge way, by inflicting excruciating acute pancreatitis on me. The pain was unbearable and led to me being hospitalised for nearly three weeks whilst my body fought the pain. This then led to me developing a cyst in my pancreas, which has bothered me on/off for the last three months. For a time the abdominal pain was utterly intense, but fortunately it has been decreasing over the last few weeks and now only bothers me once or twice a fortnight. Hopefully, within the next couple of months, the pain will disappear entirely – because I’m really, seriously, over it!

Other than this rather serious side effect, I have to say I’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to medication side effects. I get headaches quite frequently, and my digestion is seriously effected, with frequent bouts of diarrhea alternating with periods of constipation. I also receive tremors in my extremities (mainly hands and legs) as well as the usual lack of motivation, energy and drive that accompanies most psychiatric medications.

Of course, as with most people who take psychiatric medication, I experience weight gain as a side effect, mainly from the Olanzapine. Even though I lost quite a lot of weight during the pancreatitis episode, I’ve put it all back on (and then some) over the last few months. Without question it is one of the worst side effects, as I suffer from quite extreme body image/dysmorphic issues at the best of times, without having the large rolls of fat that cover my body to contend with as well. It seriously damages my self-esteem and confidence and I wish, I really utterly wish, that weight gain wasn’t a side effect of psychiatric medications because of the sheer damage that it can cause to an already vulnerable individual.

But it could all be worse, so I’m not complaining – well, except for the pancreatitis, I’m complaining about that because it was bloody painful!


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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 21. Manic depression vs bipolar affective disorder

Day 21: Are you content with it being called bipolar affective disorder, or would you rather revert to manic depression, or rename it completely? Why?

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Personally, I’ve never understood why manic depression was renamed to be bipolar affective disorder. Manic depression is a far better description of the illness than bipolar will ever be. Firstly, you have your mania, and secondly, you have your depression; the two major episodes of bipolar covered with the name of the illness. But you also have your manic depression, which covers everything that happens when you’re between the poles; all the chaos and mayhem that occurs when you’re not manic or depressed, but lost somewhere in between.

And what is wrong with calling an illness after what the illness actually does? Bipolar sounds too clinical, too scientific, manic depression is much softer, more relevant. In fact, I relate to manic depression more than I ever have bipolar, and to me personally, this is what the illness will always be called.

What do you think?