Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Caregivers Need Care Too

By Janet Coburn

Originally published in May 2017 at Bipolar Me.

While there are professional caregivers, family members often provide care and support for those with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.

My husband of 35 years is my caregiver. He does a spectacular job – making sure I have my meds, taking me to my appointments, running the errands that I have no spoons to do, keeping the house quiet when I need to sleep, making sure I eat at least one nutritious meal a day.

It’s a lot. And there are things I can give him in return. Things he needs.

Appreciation. When my father was dying of cancer, my mother was his primary caregiver. One day she came to me, wanting me to tell her that she was doing a good job. She knew that she was. She just needed to hear it from someone else, someone who could tell her that her excellent care had been noticed and appreciated.

Appreciation – validation – is the thing that caregivers need most, to replenish themselves, to allow them to keep doing the things that are so vital for their charges. And it’s the easiest to give. When you’re in the depths of depression, it may be difficult to remember to say “thank you,” but it means a lot to your caregiver.

Now I’m mostly out of my depression (usually), and I say “thank you” a dozen times a day. And he always responds, “You’re welcome, friend.”

Alone time. Primary caregiving can be a full-time job. I know that one thing I need in the process of healing is alone time. Dan needs it too. He needs time off, even if that’s just time to retreat to his study and watch a movie or go outside and dig in the garden. I can always reach him if I really need him – for example, if I have a panic attack – via cell phone if nothing else. But, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty vessel. That’s part of the reason that he’s able to give me so much of what I need.

Couples time. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex. It means time spent together, doing something other than dealing with mood swings and trauma. It’s a little gift we give each other. Sometimes I sit through a movie I don’t really care for, just to give him the gift of snuggling on the couch. He got me color-and-bake ceramic mugs that are great for creativity and distraction. One rainy afternoon we sat together and each colored one side of the mugs.

Life stuff. Dan does most of the chores and tasks of daily living, but I do what I’m able to. I earn money. I pay bills online and do most of the other computing, except what he does for leisure. I help with cooking to the extent I can – sous-chefing, finding recipes, breading or mixing or inventing dressings and sauces, making grocery lists. He can ask me for help too.

Sharing my spoons. When I do find myself with a few spare spoons – a little extra energy occasionally – I try not to be selfish with it. When I have spoons to spend, I like to shower and dress and go out for lunch. But the other day, I showered and dressed and went for a walk in the woods with Dan, something he’s been longing for. My spoons ran out pretty rapidly, but he appreciated that I made the effort and shared one of his delights. It was another gift that cost no money.

In other words, when you have a caregiver, don’t think it’s all one way. Your caregiver needs care too. Small or large, what you are able to give will be appreciated.

About the Author

Janet Coburn is a freelance writer/editor with bipolar disorder, type 2. She is the author of Bipolar Me, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, a through other outlets. Her second book, Bipolar Us, will be published later this year by Eliezer Tristan Publishing.

Janet writes about mental health issues including talk therapy, medication, books, bullying, social aspects, and public policy, but mostly her own experiences with bipolar 2. As she says, “I am not an expert and YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary.”

 

Friday, 8 November 2019

A Few Thoughts on Friendship Whilst Waiting for a Friend

I’m sitting at a table in Newcastle’s City Library. At my side is the library copy of High Tide, Low Tide, the book I wrote with my best friend Fran. I never tire of seeing it on the shelf. It’s a proud moment for any author; second only to not seeing it because someone has taken it out on loan.

I’m waiting for a friend. We’ll meet for coffee and then go for a drink or two; maybe something to eat. We’ll catch up with what’s going on for us. We’ll laugh, share old memories and make new ones. It is at moments like this that I feel most blessed. There were times in the past when I had no one to meet up with. I shared a quote on Facebook yesterday:

I don’t chase after people anymore. If they like spending time with me they will do so. (Barry M. Sherbal)

I posted it as a reminder to myself. Over the past year or so I’ve realised that chasing after people is unhealthy — for them and for me. I’ve done a lot of it in the past and the results have rarely been pretty. Some friendships have survived. Some haven’t. With some the jury’s still out. Letting go of the neediness and insecurity hasn’t been easy for me. In fact it’s been really hard and I’ve put in a lot of work. I am not altogether “there” yet but it has brought peace, and the realisation that in fact yes, I am worthy of having people like me and want to be with me. I don’t have to chase or coerce them into doing so.

I appreciate those who want to be in my life and want me in theirs. These are the relationships I value above all and within which I feel the most valued.

My friend has just messaged to say she’s on her way. Time to return the book to its place on the shelf and head out to meet her.

 

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Chapter and Verse: A Few Thoughts on Poetry, Creativity, and Mental Health

I met up recently with fellow blogger Aimee Wilson and we got talking about poetry and mental health. She showed me the blackout poem she’d created at a writing class run by Northumberland Council.

Watch it
permission
rather
I would
demanded
tolerance was not to be tested
increasingly restricted
reality reliving   particularly happy distracting
not dared to return
approved of
given up hope

Poetry is a new avenue for Aimee but she writes prolifically for her blog I’m NOT Disordered. As she says, “I find writing so beneficial for my mental health.”

We agreed there can be a close relationship between mental health and creativity. I shared with her how Fran had never written or been interested in poetry until she met me in May 2011. At the time, she was highly manic. Our early emails and online chat conversations were full of wordplay and had a free-flowing stream of consciousness quality that I found intoxicating. Sparked by that, and my own poetry which I shared with her, Fran began to write.

She wrote prolifically. Her poems were long; sometimes rambling, often brilliant. She wrote blisteringly of her experiences as a woman living with serious mental and physical illness in a small island community that did not understand her or what she was going through. She posted most of her work on social media. She held a live book reading and went on the radio. We talked of finding her a publisher.

Fran’s mania was eventually reined in by a change of medication, precipitating a winter of crippling depression and suicidality. Her creativity ceased as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown. It took months but eventually she began to re-emerge. The following description is from our book High Tide, Low Tide.

The wild, personal, and passionate poetry which flowed during Fran’s major episode of mania ceased when she fell into depression. Her creative voice was silenced for months. When it returned it was completely transformed. The haiku forms that emerged as she began to climb out from depression were more than descriptions of the island scenery around her. They were Fran’s attempt to find a reason to go on living.

boat on the water
slicing the calm
foaming leftovers..

quiet day
loud heart
stillness..

high tide
low tide
edgeness..

what else is there to do but live life..

These poems were written on Centennial Beach, a short walk from where Fran lived at the time. She would return home, show me her latest poems, and then share them on her social media page. It was her way of reaching outward again. As she said later, “I was trying to save my life, to get out of the house onto Centennial and wait for the haikus to come. That was all I had.”

As her mood stabilised Fran found less of an impulse to write poetry and it’s been a long time since she did so. This saddens me because I loved the insight and wisdom her poems expressed, but they are red flags for mania and her health is more important to me than poetry.

Aimee’s principal diagnosis is borderline personality disorder (BPD) but she could relate Fran’s story to her own mood instability. We agreed it will be interesting to see if she adds poetry to her options for self-expression and self-care.

I don’t have a mental health diagnosis but my writing interests and outputs have changed a lot over the years. A collection of my poetry was published in 2008, but I stopped writing poetry much earlier at the age of twenty-three. Since then I have written only two poems. Ironically, the first arose in response to a period of writer’s block. The second was inspired — triggered, really — by attending my mother’s funeral in 2018.

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

Between 2001 and 2005 I wrote articles and short stories in the fantasy genre for Reunion: The Alternative Tolkien Society. Most are still available on the society’s website. In recent years my work has been in the mental health arena; our two books High Tide, Low Tide and No One Is Too Far Away, and our blog.

Do you write poetry or prose, or do you have a different creative outlet? Has your creativity changed over time? Does it follows your moods or aspects of your mental health? We’d love to hear your experiences.