Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Looking Back on a Productive and Positive Week

Saturday, June 16, 2018

I am at Tynemouth Metro station this morning. The weekend market is relatively quiet so far. Bustle without the hustle. I have a large Americano from the excellent Regular Jo’s coffee stall, and the table to myself. [Later, I was happy to share with two very dapper gentlemen I’ve spoken to before.]

I’ve caught up with my diary and written to one of my oldest (ahem, longest-standing!) friends. It is time to open my Midori notebook and think about this week’s blog post.

It has been a busy but very positive and fulfilling week for me on the mental health front. I spent an hour last evening editing the latest in a new series of articles by a great friend, renowned author and family coach Julie A. Fast. Julie’s posts are always amongst the most popular on our site. This latest one focuses on managing paranoia.

Fran and I received several messages this week from people who have read or are reading our book, or have connected with us in other ways. We’re not in the advice business but it means so much when our words resonate with others or if we have been able to shed a little light on someone else’s situation. It sounds trite but that really is what it’s all about for us.

And we gain so much in return. At the moment I am working on what will be my sixth article for Bp Magazine. (You can find the first four on my author page. The fifth will be posted up in a week or so.) My latest topic is the glamour (in the sense of enchantment) of euphoric mania. I am working from our own experience (as many of you know, Fran was in mania when we met back in 2011) but am also drawing on the experience of others who have shared with me and are happy to contribute. This kind of collaboration expands my knowledge and hopefully makes for a more rounded article. Fingers crossed on that score!

Speaking of collaboration, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I am working with some fabulous people at the company where I work to get some new mental health initiatives off the ground. It is early days but we are beginning to pull some ideas together.

It is hard to overstate how much it means to me and I am determined to make the most of the opportunity. It has already led to new connections and conversations, new training including a half-day session next week on neurodiversity and an excellent dial-in last week on resilience, as part of Carers’ Week.

That I can do this at all is down to the support and encouragement of my boss Judith. When people care for those around them as much as she does — at work or in any other environment — anything is possible. That is the culture our newly formed mental health team is looking to foster. I drafted Vision and Mission Statements this week for us. They may be amended or someone may come up with something better altogether! But for me they capture the essence of what we are about.

OUR VISION is a working environment in which we all feel safe, supported, valued and heard.

OUR PURPOSE is to foster a workplace culture and practices free from mental health stigma and discrimination, by raising awareness of mental health conditions, support services, events and organisations, encouraging relevant education and training including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), and providing appropriate support to colleagues, including signposting to internal and external services.

Okay. I’ve just about finished my coffee. It’s time to take a look round the market. Who knows what I might find. I am curious to find out. That’s kind of what life’s about, I think.

[I was delighted to find a superb vintage tweed jacket by Haggart’s of Aberfeldy on one of the stalls. Exactly what I have been keeping an eye out for.]

 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Effective Strategies to Manage Paranoia in Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder

By Julie A. Fast

In part one of this blog, Exploring Bipolar Disorder and the Sister Diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, I talked about psychosis in bipolar disorder and how some of us with bipolar also have a separate diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. Bipolar with a separate psychotic disorder is called schizoaffective disorder.

In part two I explore the topic of paranoia, a psychotic delusion. All people with bipolar disorder live with the possibility of paranoia. It’s more common than most realize. Paranoia is quite a friendship wrecker. I lived with paranoid thoughts and behaviors for many years before I learned how to control them. I still get paranoid but I’ve learned not to take it out on my friends the way I used to.

As a side note, please know that people can have paranoid behavior without having a mood disorder. Paranoid personality disorder is an example. This article is relevant to anyone who experiences paranoia.

How I Manage My Paranoia

I’ve taught myself to know what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I explain how I use this process in my Health Cards Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder. It is the only way I have found to manage my bipolar disorder as I can’t take many medications. Before I learned this system I was a tiny boat on a raging ocean of moods. I still have mood swings but I know now what they are and am able to control them. You can learn to do the same. If you’re a friend or loved one of someone with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, you can also learn to use this system to help. Here is how it works.

What I Think, Say and Do When Paranoid

What I think when I’m paranoid. Please note that I use the word ‘think’ but with delusions it really is more of a feeling than a thought.

Something isn’t right with my friend. She is upset with me and doesn’t want to tell me the truth.

People are meeting and having dinner parties and doing things without me. They don’t want me there, so they don’t invite me.

Friends think I don’t know what is going on, but I do.

Someone is upset with me. I can feel it.

No one is calling me. They are upset with me.

This is not a safe place. I have to get out of here.

Someone is following me in the car.

What I say. This is where I used to get into so much trouble! I would either say these things out loud or send an email.

I write an email or text and accuse someone of not wanting to contact me.

I ask friends, “Are you made at me?” or, “Is there something you want to talk to me about?” Or ”Is something wrong?”

I tell people, “I’m not stupid and I know that there is something wrong and you should just tell me the truth!”

J’accuse!

What I do.

I can’t look people in the eye.

I obsessively pour over emails and texts and search for hidden meanings.

I can’t sleep.

I look in my rear view mirror and see that cars are way too close. Someone is following me.

I look for recording devices. Maybe someone has hidden cameras in their kitchen.

I cut myself off from people I feel are harming me by not talking to me.

These are just a few examples. I’m interested to know if you have experienced anything listed above, either as a person with bipolar or as a friend. This paranoia symptom is often missed as it can be subtle. The internet has made paranoid communication much easier and people are very quick to accuse when it takes just a few seconds to send a message.

What if the Paranoid Feelings are Real?

I live in the creative world now and I often see my work used by other people. This is deeply distressing as you can imagine. The difference between this and what I describe above is that in most cases people actually have plagiarized my ideas. I tend to keep quiet about this as it can lead to actual paranoia, but sometimes I do have to take action. The main difference between paranoia and noticing that someone is using one of my ideas without credit is that paranoia is NEVER real. Can the two get confused? Yes, if I am paranoid I can think that someone is using my work who isn’t. This is why I use my Health Cards and never say anything unless I have facts to back me up. Even then, I might not be right!

How I Changed

One day, after a really terrible situation where I sent an awful email to a friend and effectively ended our relationship, I realized I had to change. I write about this experience in my Bp Magazine article Relationships and the Bipolar Trap. Was it easy to change? No. In fact, I still have to watch myself very carefully even though it has been almost twenty years since I sent the letter to my former friend. Here is what I do now.

  1. I memorized what I think, say and do when I’m paranoid. I can’t trust my ill self, but I can trust my well self. The well me creates the Health Card (you can simply create a list of what you think, say and do) and I then use it when I start to get paranoid. Yes, you can teach yourself the signs you are paranoid and you can learn to stop the episode from going too far. It is NOT easy. I first had to see my paranoia was a problem and then had to stick to documenting my behavior so that I could use it later.
  2. I made a promise to myself (and for the most part I have kept it) that I will NEVER, and I do mean NEVER, send a text or email or any form of communication that is accusatory. I stick to my own feelings and my own experiences. This has helped greatly. I no longer say You did this! or You are thinking this! Stopping this one action — the writing and accusing — has saved me a great deal of trouble and saved many of my relationships.
  3. I accept that I still get paranoid. My symptoms are still here but I have learned how to minimize the symptoms.
  4. I do not use any hallucinogenics. This means no cannabis (THC is a strong hallucinogenic and even when I tried low THC, or what was labeled as no THC, I got psychotic.) I keep away from any spiritual journey drugs such as magic mushrooms or Ayahuasca. My brain is too fragile to handle anything that is hallucinogenic.
  5. I tell my friends what to look for. In the beginning I needed a lot of help from others. I needed people to say, “Julie, you asked me to remind you if I thought you sounded paranoid. I am reminding you now.” This helped me a lot. Eventually, I was able to control it on my own.
  6. I keep away from people who are paranoid. I don’t have friends who believe in conspiracy theories, government cover-ups or chem trails. This doesn’t mean they are wrong and I am right. It means that this kind of person is not safe for me. It makes me ill to be around another person with paranoid thinking and talking.
  7. I put my thoughts in a journal and they STAY there. I am always shocked to go back and read what I wrote when I was sick. I think, “Good heavens. I was really paranoid. I am SO glad I didn’t say anything!”
  8. I take meds if needed. They help a lot.

It’s incredibly important to listen to others if you have the symptoms of paranoia. Your brain is not your friend when symptoms are raging. I had to ask for help with all of this.

Tips for Friends, Siblings, Family Members and Health Care Professionals

Make your own thinks, says and does list so that you will not get caught in a Bipolar Conversation. You can then decide how you want to approach the issue. I believe in preparing scripts to use when a friend is not doing well. For example,

Julie, you have been very honest with me about your bipolar disorder and I appreciate this. Right now, I feel that we are in a situation where the bipolar is doing some of the talking. I am concerned about what you are saying and feel you are in a mood swing. I’m here to discuss this with you.

Or

I know that these thoughts come up when life is stressful. I can tell you that I have not changed and you have not changed. The thoughts you have and the feelings you are experiencing sound intense, but please know they are not related to us. We can work on this together.

It helps to have a plan in place that you discuss when your friend is stable. You can ask, “What would you like me to say when I can tell you are paranoid?” And then use the words another person created for you.

Do you have signs of paranoia? Is paranoia causing problems in a friendship with someone who has bipolar? Please know that paranoia rarely goes away. It is a symptom that needs to be managed. Doing this as a team makes a lot of sense!

Julie

PS: My next post will be on trigger management. I’ll cover how I recognize and remove triggers to manage the paranoia as well as other aspects of psychosis.

 

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.

 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Frustration and Codependency: Getting It Wrong Is Okay

When Fran and I were developing the ideas for our book I kept a series of “Scrapbook” documents. In them I recorded anything that occurred in our lives which seemed relevant and might prove useful or helpful. Excerpts from our conversations, social media chat, and emails; snippets from my personal journal; ideas and questions; links to websites, books, and other reference material. This post is taken from notes made in December 2012, with a few minor edits for clarity.


Frustration and Codependency: Getting It Wrong Is Okay

Thursday December 13, 2012

Last night at 11 p.m. I was waiting for Fran to get home and come online. She messaged me to say she was home and was going to send [her friend] a happy birthday message. I was happy to hear that and thought she wouldn’t be long ... then she messaged that she was going to check my Facebook Wall. I started to get impatient. I felt Fran could have come on cam with me while she did that. But I put on some gentle music and did some meditative breathing while I was waiting.

Fran came on cam a little later around 11:25 or 11:30 and the first thing she said was that she had found the “two minutes of calm” video I’d posted and had meditated to that (and in fact rather longer than two minutes). I did feel pissed off then, partly because I had thought Fran and I could have done that together (which we did, later, once I had regained my composure).

Part of me recognised that — of course — Fran was and is free to do whatever she wants to do before coming online to meet with me, and she’d been out all day and must have wanted and needed a little space to herself first… But another part of me was feeling aggrieved, thinking that she knew I was waiting for her and would be eager to see her. It was a classic pouty moment!

Of course, it didn’t last too long! Fran was great with me and allowed me to feel what I was feeling, until I was ready to let go of it. THAT is why we work so well together. We understand how these things work. The day before she had been all uptight about not having heard back from [her friend] about accommodation for their trip to Barcelona and I gave her space to feel and express that so she was ready later to talk with [her friend] and get things sorted. That is what we do for each other.

All that led onto something else that is really important regarding our book.

Fran said the book needs to include difficulties the well one (caregiver) experiences as the ill one moves towards wellness: the shifts in role, the sense of abandonment. The sense that all this care has been given and what is the caregiver going to get back in return? It fit what had just happened: me feeling Fran should want to be with me as much as I wanted to be with her, whereas in fact she was taking care of herself and paying attention to what she needed in a very healthy way.

It also fit with my abandonment responses at different times, when Fran has wanted and needed to find her own space. We have plenty of examples to draw on! This is a really important topic.

 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018: A Midyear Update

This is a midyear update on a post I wrote back in January: Seven Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2018. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on!


1. Read Two Books

Back in January I selected two books to read (actually, to reread): Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read maybe half of Talk Like TED, so I’m going to declare this one as “ongoing.” Fran and I are reading the first Outlander novel by Diana Gabaldon which counts too! I have recently thought to reread The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, not least because of its relevance to an article I am researching on the glamour (“magic or enchantment”) of mania. This was inspired by a quote from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

And called her like that maiden in the tale
Whom Gwydion made by glamour out of flowers

The ancient tale of Gwydion and Blodeuwedd is central to Garner’s story, which I have known and loved for years.


2. Bring My Weight Back Under 180 Pounds

I cannot tell a lie, I am not doing at all well with this one! My weight is holding more or less steady, but around 191 lbs give or take the pound or so which represents the normal “noise in the signal.” This noise is present no matter what a person weighs or whether their weight is fundamentally stable or trending up or down. This is why I weigh every day. It is the best way of tracking the genuine trend though the noise. I have (mostly!) stopped having sandwiches (or anything else to eat) late at night, which is my main failing when it comes to establishing a healthy regime. It’s clear I need to pay closer attention to what the numbers are telling me. (And to Fran who is doing a lot better at this than I am these days!)


3. Have One Weekend Away From Home

This one is achieved, although not in the way I might have expected. (That said, the possibility was at the back of my mind at the start of the year.)

My mother died on March 8 and I travelled down to Liverpool with my family at the end of that month for her funeral. Despite the circumstances — or perhaps because of them — it was a meaningful trip for me on many levels. My key memories are of walking by the riverfront with Pam, Mike, and Emma on the morning of the funeral, and the three of us reminiscing at the hotel the night before.

After the funeral I spent some time on my own, walking beside the marina. Some lines came to me which I will share here. Not poetry, perhaps.

Wandering
Wondering

How do I feel
What do I feel

Release
Relief

Re birth

Stillness
Silence

Un known
Un homed

Un tethered

Still
Calm

Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018


4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements

I’ve not (yet!) had been invited to give a talk like I did at last November’s Talking FreELY event but I was asked to perform at the recent Laughing Lasses pantomime here in Newcastle for Mental Health Awareness Week. I read two of Fran’s poems, A Wild Hair and Urgency, and excerpts from our book High Tide Low Tide.

I have also been invited to read at a fundraiser for mental health charity MIND in November, which I am really looking forward to. (Thanks, Aimee!)

Last week I took up the opportunity to read two of my poems at the Newcastle Literary Salon’s event on the theme of Love and Loss. I read Valentine’s Day (massacred) and What Happened to the Lovetrees? which fit the bill perfectly. It was the first time I have performed any of my poetry in public. I think I did okay.


5. See Three Movies at the Cinema

I saw Darkest Hour at Newcastle’s lovely Tyneside Cinema. I enjoyed the experience but found the film itself disappointing. Gary Oldman was feted (and won numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Actor) for his performance as Churchill. It was certainly an amazing performance by the makeup department but I simply didn’t feel it. The cinematographic technique of having the camera zoom out rapidly (and vertically, twice) was cumbersome and unnecessary. Likewise, the couple of battle field vignettes added nothing to the story. A few historical inaccuracies are to be expected, but the scene where Churchill took to the Tube to mix with the “common folk” was beyond ridiculous. On the other hand the critics loved the film — so what do I know?

Fran and I have watched several good movies together (via Skype) on DVD and Netflix. My Best Friend’s Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding were great (our nod to A Certain Other Wedding). Ditto Notting Hill, an old favourite of mine. The TV drama Shetland is brilliant, by the way, if you get chance to see it. That’s what we are watching at the moment. It could almost persuade me to go live on a tiny island in the North Sea. Except, yunno, Wi-Fi.


6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori

This one is accomplished! After a few false starts last year I have settled on using my “big” Midori Traveler’s Notebook for planning and writing my blog posts. I started early in the year when I filled one insert with daily updates on Fran’s month-long trip to Mexico. Since that time most of my posts for our blog and all my articles for BP Magazine have started life in my Midori.

Once drafted, I type up my notes and edit them on the PC but writing with my fountain pen in my Midori allows me to “just write” more freely than I manage when at the keyboard or on my phone.


7. Shoot a Roll of Film

I am a little disappointed in myself that I have nothing to report on this one. In retrospect it would have been good to take my father’s Kodak Brownie 44B camera down to Liverpool when we were there for my mother’s funeral but it didn’t occur to me at the time. This is one I definitely want to focus on (pun intended!) in the months to come.

Did you set yourself any resolutions, objectives, or “things to do” for this year? If so, how are you doing with them?

 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Who Are You, Really?

By Charlotte Underwood

What is our identity? Isn’t it just a compilation of every moment between our first breath and our last? It’s our name, our background – our story. Our identity has to be who we are, surely?

“You are the author of your life” is a quote that really changed my thinking. Our life, our time on this earth creates our own novel, where we are the main character. Each event, each heartbreak and tear of joy creates a story that tells others who we are. We have the ability to shape our lives, to make a novel, the book of our life, as simple or as extravagant as we desire.

However, I do have this problem, this little tick that sticks like a thorn in my mind. Who am I, really?

I struggle a lot with understanding my identity. It’s not a split personality thing, more of an uncertainty of my true self. Years of abuse and bullying have left me confused with my own self. It seems that as soon as I think I am being true to myself, I get uncomfortable in my own skin.

This is where my story seems to become a muddle, where the plot does not thicken but seems to go around in circles. It becomes especially hard as I suffer with mental illness. How can I know who I am, when I have always been ill? Surely my true self is the one before these feelings that plagued my mind? But when was that, what version of me was that?

I know it is typical to go through many relationships and jobs and change your life goals but for me this seems to be an annual thing – I can’t seem to commit with complete confidence. I’ll start a new course and learn a new subject in certainty of my future career but months in I’ll get bored and move onto something new. It explains why it took me so many relationships before I could settle down and get married. Although I am certain that my husband and I will last forever I worry that in twenty years, will I change my mind and get bored like history tells?

I have a huge level of envy for all those who seem to have a life plan, who know what they want, go after it and become successful for it. I mean, I am twenty-two and can’t drive, haven’t finished college and have no idea what I will be doing in three months’ time. Shouldn’t I have it figured out by now?

I am hoping that by working hard on my mental health this year and trying to put myself first, with the addition of a load of self-care, that I can start to find out who I am. It can be so hard when you live with constant self-doubt, but even more so when you feel like you are in a race against your peers and your car won’t even start.

All I know, for now at least, is that life is short and can end suddenly; that’s just fact. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe it just proves as a reminder that we need to reprioritise our lives, focus on really living instead of living for others. So what if I am ‘falling behind,’ maybe my life just holds other things? Right?

As my father always said, “The only thing that really matters is your own happiness”.

 

About the Author

Charlotte Underwood is a twenty-two year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and writer who aims to inform and education on mental health. The goal is to be a friend to those in need. She believes no one should feel alone. Charlotte blogs at charlotteunderwoodauthor.com. You can also find her on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

Monday, 28 May 2018

Under Ophelia

By Jen Evans

How came you to this place and why?
It’s never as simple as a stone.
She sways unto the voices,
hearing all and heeding none.
she is collecting a myth —
a tiny island
away from ghosts,
and each twig procures a remedy.
She missteps with one foot in the water.
Is there nothing colder
than my lord’s love?
This is warmer and deeper.
She summons the sand,
his hand smoothing salt on her neck.
How the sun dried each grain to their bodies.
She never wanted to bathe.
And the sun gave her a parting gift.
Too much light isn’t enough for some.
Another foot in the river.
Oh for a simpler life,
a smaller hamlet further from the shore.

 

In memory of Heidi Sue. My best friend and soul sister.
May 28, 1972 – December 30, 1993.
Love Jen