WordPress is confusing me…

I think I am showing my age, I can’t figure out how these wordpress settings work to set this up the way I like it !? As a result of this (and generally being allergic to change) I am going to keep blogging at blogger for the time being… so if you have landed here because I have commented using my wordpress account then feel free to head over to http://www.thecolourofmadness.blogspot.com and check out my stuff there 🙂

xx Kate

I’m Not Lazy, I’m Bipolar

I often get asked the question “your kids are all at school now, why don’t you go back to work full time?” and it always leaves me floundering a bit for a socially acceptable explanation. It’s hard to tell people that I struggle with a mental illness and while I haven’t had a major hospital requiring episode for nearly 2 years, the truth is I am scared to work full time, scared I will over commit and become unwell again.

Every single time I have worked ‘full time’ hours, as in 9am-5pm 5 days per week, I have had an episode resulting in having to cut down hours. One or two full days a week seems to fit well for me, it gives me something productive to do and a social outlet but it doesn’t cause the stress build up that can trigger my illness.

“But lots of people with chronic depression work full time jobs.” 

Yes, yes they do. My hat goes off to them because I honestly don’t know how they do it. I have tried to work while depressed and had mixed results. If the depression at the time is relatively mild and not accompanied by anxiety, then I am able to plaster on a fake smile and make small talk in all the right places for 8 hours and then collapse into a heap afterwards. It exhausts me and gives me no energy reserves. My children and husband suffer because they have to deal with a wife and mother who can’t participate in family life, cries uncontrollably, yells too much and stays in bed all weekend.

When I am severely depressed most of my journey to work is spent convincing myself not to drive into oncoming traffic, work itself becomes pointless as I am unable to remember anything, concentrate or communicate effectively with colleagues, my inner dialogue chastises every thought and every thought’s, thought. I am useless, hopeless and I think about my pre constructed suicide plans at least 30 times per hour.

My anxiety spikes because I am aware of how completely awful my work performance has become and I become paranoid that I will be fired at any moment. The anxiety causes my hands and legs shake until I can no longer use a keyboard or construct a basic sentence, I am terrified somebody will realise I am not ‘ok’ and if someone actually asks how I am I am likely to burst into tears.

I literally attempted suicide in the car park outside an office building I worked in once because I couldn’t face going up there again.

“But what about hypomania, that makes you super productive, right?”

Ha! Yes, and no. Mild hypomania can be wonderful, everything seems crystal clear as though you have cleaned a dirty window or put on glasses for the first time. Your energy levels are up, you are exercising more, dressing for success, getting involved in more social events, and not needing as much sleep as usual to wake up refreshed. Work has suddenly become much easier, words and ideas flow in conversations and meetings, you enthusiastically take on more and more projects, everybody notices your excellent work ethic and bubbly attitude and are a sure thing for that next promotion.

The trouble with hypomania is it usually either fizzles out before you have finished all those new project submissions, or it increases in intensity. Intense hypomania is where everything becomes very, very fast. All those wonderful ideas are still coming only they are happening so quickly that the part of your brain that filters out the plausible from the outlandish takes a little holiday.

You are energetic and excited and EVERYONE needs to hear your AMAZING ideas so that they can be implemented as soon as possible! You are talking fast, really fast; your bosses boss whom you have approached directly to save valuable time and company resources, is having to get you to repeat yourself two or three times so she can understand your words.

To prove to your employer how your brilliant idea will best suit the company you have spent the last three nights at home awake until 5am on the computer researching patents, emailing CEOs in China and creating business plans, brochures and designing logo’s and buying websites.

Despite you feeling like a million dollars, at this point your family has probably realised that something isn’t right and are hopefully enacting some sort of pre organised action plan, if you are in therapy your therapist will have advised you not to go to work and sent you to a psychiatrist for a med review.

If you ignore this advice and carry on in your quest for glory, one of two things will happen. Either the intense hypomania stops dead in its tracks leaving you fatigued and in way over your head paving the way for a depressive episode or it escalates further into full blown mania.

Full blown mania at work isn’t fun anymore, you stop looking like a brilliant all be it slightly eccentric up and comer and start to look just plain crazy. You can’t remember the last time you had more than two hours sleep or ate something that wasn’t put directly into your hand. Your hair and make-up aren’t quite right anymore, you accidently wore your sneakers with your dress because you were too busy that morning writing long lists of famous people to pitch your life changing ideas to and got distracted.

Your mind is whirling so quickly that it can’t keep up with itself, ideas don’t even make sense to you anymore because they have all moshed together, hallucinations begin. You need to tell your boss that you have to go home, he says that’s fine so you head out to the car. Why are you still sitting at your desk? Didn’t you leave? Did you imagine that? Oh you are in your car. No its your desk? You can’t even tell what is real anymore.

You half come to your senses and realise you are in the sick room, your manager and team leader are both with you discussing whether or not to call an ambulance, the room is spinning. You try to talk, to explain, but the words come out too fast and too jumbled to make any sense. Someone comes to pick you up and all your colleagues stare at you in disbelief as you are escorted out of the office.

“But now that you are on a medication regime, you should be able to work full time like everyone else, shouldn’t you?”

Unfortunately, it’s not that cut and dry. Medications certainly save many people’s lives but they can often feel like a deal with the devil, you get to keep your sanity but not without serious side effects. Insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, tremors, cognitive and memory issues just to name a few; these can be quite disabling. Many people spend years trying to find a medication where the challenges of the side effects don’t outweigh the issues caused by the bipolar in the first place.

“So how can we support people with bipolar in the work place?”

That plaster cast on your broken leg is a visible reminder that you are unable to run at the moment. Mental illness is invisible, it is understandably hard for people to remember that someone may be struggling when they don’t have a visual representation of illness to remind them all the time.

Having bipolar disorder does not make you a bad or lazy person, it doesn’t mean people need to tiptoe around you or fuss over you constantly either. While we don’t want to be singled out from our peers and colleagues we ask that you understand that living with this illness can be extremely challenging and working full time hours is simply not a viable option for many of us.

What we do ask for:

 

  • Increased awareness of our challenges and some of your time to listen and learn a little bit about our condition.

 

  • Be willing to express concern if you feel our moods are intensifying but don’t assume every scowl or sad expression means we are about to have an episode. People with bipolar have normal feelings of happiness, frustration and sadness each day just like you do.

 

  • Flexibility, we have doctor appointments, therapy appointments, specialist appointments that we must attend and these are often only available during work hours. We can become unwell suddenly and may require time off without warning at inopportune moments. We don’t mean to be difficult, but having one or two days off now can prevent several months off and severe productivity losses later on.
  • Respect our privacy, if we want to tell colleagues about our condition or give you details about our recent visit to the psych ward we will, but otherwise we would appreciate you keeping these things on the down low.
  • Patience, some of us might be taking several different medications that make us unable to function very well before 10am or after 3pm. Our memories might also be affected and we may require a little more prompting than other staff do.

 

So please understand, while you can’t see my mental illness, it is something that affects my life every single day. I enjoy working part time and challenging myself with new projects and my decision not to work full time has not been made because I am lazy or out for a free ride in life, but because it is the best one for myself and my family.

Animal Therapy

As a natural born animal lover and someone who has spent most of her life working in the pet industry, I may be a little biased when I say that keeping animals as pets does wonders for the human psyche. But there have been a number of studies done over the years stating that frequent interaction with animals improves both mental and physical health and some even say that owning pets can make you live longer.

Of course we see evidence of the important role therapy animals play in helping people with physical disabilities every day and we all think of the classic golden Labrador when talking about seeing eye dogs.

Now I am starting to see more and more dogs of varying breeds on visits to shopping centres, some say “hearing dog” on their little jackets but many of these are un specified ‘service animals’ and play big part in helping those of us with mental health issues such as anxiety stay grounded and perform tasks such as grocery shopping more comfortably.

Another great example of using animals as therapy is ‘hippotherapy’ which is despite the name, is actually the practice of using horses as therapy animals – it might not be quite as cool as using hippopotamus’s, but it is still very cool! I personally know a few families that have had wonderful success when their Autistic children with severe language and sensory processing disorders have gone on to develop strong bonds with a horse as they learn to trust each other through touch and body language.

But how do animals improve our mental health?

  • Unconditional love and devotion

This is the big one, something that is impossible to achieve with humans. Animals, dogs in particular will always love you and forgive you no matter what, even if you were too tired to take them for a walk today – or yesterday, even if dinner was two hours late and even if you got mad at them 15 minutes ago for chewing your brand new slippers. As soon as you say their name that tail will start wagging 100 miles an hour and

  •    They don’t talk back

Unless of course you have a trained parrot, in which case any back chat is usually exceptionally cute and sometimes hilarious bordering on the inappropriate. But in all honesty, if you are unable to introduce your pet parrot to your grandmother then you have most likely brought that upon yourself!

But the ability to be able to simply pour your heart out to your feline friend and then be validated by soft cuddles and purring instead of judgement and opinions can go a long way.

  • Ability to pick up on emotional cues

Animals have this innate ability to tell when you are having a bad day and then respond to it appropriately. Who can stay angry for long when those big puppy dog eyes are staring at you with such devotion? I know when I am sad or depressed my animals always respond, my little Pomeranian ‘Deigo’ is particularly in tuned to my feelings and on bad days he will sneak up onto the bed next to me and just cuddle quietly into me giving me the odd reassuring lick to tell me he loves me.

  • No Judgement

So you haven’t showered in three days and just ate a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while binge watching seasons 1 and 2 of The Gilmore Girls. So what? As long as your furry companion can cuddle up on the couch next to you then as far as they are concerned, just let it be.

  • Responsibility

Owning a pet, while extremely rewarding, also forces us to be responsible for something other than ourselves and this is important. On days when the depression is winning our pets still need us, their whole little worlds revolve around us and even if getting out of bed seems impossible we still need to feed them, walk them, talk to them and love them. While it can feel like a chore, being forced out of bed to take little LuLu outside into the sunshine for a pee is actually very good for us.

During my many years working in the pet store we had tons of regular customers, we saw these customers go through all manner of life events, we saw how the bond of a dog could be lifesaving after the death of a spouse, we watched the hilarity of merging blended cat families together, lent fish out for weddings, watched custody fights over blue tongue lizards after divorce, supplied information to help convince tentative landlords that keeping a pet turtle would be fine in a rental home, we even babysat an axolotl while one man did a 3 month tour over in Afghanistan.

Some of our customers were unable to keep pets at their own houses but came in every week just to visit. One older lady came into the shop every single morning at 9:30am Monday to Sunday for over 5 years and never bought a thing, her visits were part of her daily routine and helped keep her mental health on track. Pets are simply a huge part of human society, they need us and we need them.

As my regular readers know, my own animals are a big part of my life, I live on a farm and keep many pets. They are just as good as my children at helping me keep structure and routines in my days, better possibly because they can’t tell me what they need verbally so we need to be more in tune with each other and communicate on a deeper level.

I also love the way they don’t judge me if I’m still in my pyjamas when I take them for a walk around the farm and they don’t yell at me for forgetting to buy cornflakes or neglecting to remind them their major history assessment worth 50% of their grade is due the next morning…

So I believe that having animals in your life is an important part of maintaining good mental health. For people with fur allergies fish are excellent pets, I can literally spend ½ hour just staring at my big fish tank watching all the goings on – it’s a bit like meditation for me! Even if you can’t own a pet yourself then go to your local pet store and pat a bunny, visit the zoo or even ask if you can walk your neighbours dog while they are at work. I promise, it will brighten up your day!

Unlocking Your Passions

Passions are so important, they are what make us the wonderful unique individuals that we are, they give us a sense of purpose, a sense of hope and reasons to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. Sometimes the black cloud of depression can make lose track of the things we feel most passionate about and we are left feeling lost. But with a few simple steps and even when the days are at their darkest we are still able to unlock some of that inner fire burning inside us.

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So what are you passionate about? 

The answer to that question is as individual as you are and as human beings we are all passionate about something, often about lots and lots of different things. But I bet if I asked a room full of depression sufferers to list 10 things they are passionate about most would struggle to come up with enough answers.

But the truth is everyone has passions. Even you. And unlocking our inner passion is what helps us build up or create our own identities, it can make us feel like we have the power to achieve our goals and gives us the strength to go after them!

How do you know when you are passionate about something?

There is a tingly feeling you get deep down when something becomes more important than just another hobby to consider trying or passing idea. We particularly notice this feeling, which can be similar to that of anxiety, when a topic of conversation changes to something more controversial, your heart rate may rise, your speech may start to quicken and become louder, you seem to think faster and with greater clarity and are driven to make your point.

If you feel like you are struggling to find anything that you are passionate about at all, firstly look straight to the hard core debate subjects, sure they may be considered taboo at a dinner party but when you are alone in your own mind and think about them for a while I am sure you will find there are some surprisingly passionate opinions hidden below the surface.

Some topics to consider:

  1. Religion, yes or no?
  2. Politics, who gets your vote?
  3. Is rap music a good or bad influence?
  4. Should women serve on the front line in a war?
  5. What defines equality among gender, religion and race?

Now think about your answers to these questions for a while and you will find yourself feeling quite strongly about the reasons for your opinions, no doubt they will be based on environmental upbringing, influences from the media and friendships, your own race and gender and of course personal experience.

Now imagine that someone has come along and written a blog post and their views are the polar opposite of your own.

Did you feel your heart rate quicken?

Did your mind fill with 100 thoughts and questions you would like to ask or tell this person?

Congratulations, you have found your inner passion.

Argumentative or just passionate?

If we disagree on a subject I have often been known to tell my husband that I am not “yelling” at him and the truth of the matter is that I’m not actually trying to start a fight or ‘yell’, I’m just very passionate about the subject and I want him to hear everything I have to say on the matter, right now and before he can even start to offer his (assumedly incorrect) opinion!

The line between being passionate and being argumentative is a bit like the line between being assertive and aggressive. It can be quite fine. I am lucky enough to live in a country where freedom of speech is a basic human right and I have the right to passionately discuss my beliefs. But within this framework, I must also respect that other people have the same right and accept that their passionate opinions may well differ from my own.

Productive Passions

Now as much as the odd argument can be soul cleansing, passions do not have to be fuelled only by win or lose debates. Passions can actually be very productive; some people are even lucky enough to find passion within their paid work.

Now think about what you love to do, what are you good at? Can you sing or play an instrument? Do you love to take photographs, write, scrapbook or draw? What brings you happiness and hope? Do you enjoy being of service to others?

If that seems too hard then think about the things and the people that are important to you. Do you feel pride in your home or garden? How do you feel about the achievements of your children, personalities of your pets, family and Friends?

Your passions can be inspiring to other people, they can be personal goals to work towards, or simply doing something for yourself because you just love to do it!

Hobbies can be an example of productive passions and are very important in maintaining your mental well-being. Personally I love to write all kinds of things, poems, song lyrics, articles for the local paper, blogs, my memoir and I’m currently working on a novel.

As a person with bipolar disorder I find I can use writing to escape into a fantasy world away from the clutches of my depressions or use words to poetically describe my inner most thoughts and sorrows. When I am manic I am known to spend hours at the keyboard writing all sorts of short stories, songs and random lists. Needless to say, writing is one of my hobby passions; I don’t get paid for it, but it brings me great joy.

How can use our passions to help others?

We must put our own oxygen masks on before helping other people, but when we are strong enough to share our passions it’s amazing how much we can brighten up the world around us.

I have many friends and family members who suffer from bipolar or depression but use their hobby passions to enrich their own lives as well as the lives of others.

One is a brilliant singer/songwriter and she spends time sharing her passion for music, bringing happiness to herself and others through busking and performing.

My 74 year old bipolar Aunt in the UK performs and shares her original poetry as well as volunteering her time as a phone counsellor to troubled young people.

One friend is an incredible seamstress and makes and gifts beautiful quilts to those in need.

Another finds her passion in being of service to others and she volunteers for the SES and St John Ambulance as well as raising a family and working.

Many of my amazing internet friends share their passion for mental health and well-being by writing online articles and blogs or even tweeting to help end the stigma of mental illness, and it’s working!

Be Passionate

So there are many kinds of passions, there are the things that drive us to speak up or act, such as fighting for justice, human or animal rights, political opinions and freedoms. There are the things that we love that give us that warm glow inside such as spending time with our families, friends and pets. There are the hobbies such as cooking, crafts, tinkering with cars, playing the Xbox, writing and music.

Write a list of your 10 most passionate passions with a little sentence describing the way each one makes you feel inside. That way on the harder days you can reflect on them and regain a sense of just how strong and uplifted they can make you.

Take notice of the things you love and believe in, hold onto those things that give you that tingly feeling inside and whatever they may be, once you find them, stand up for them and unlock that inner passion!

TRIGGER HAPPY

*Trigger Warning*

People are triggered by EVERYTHING these days!”, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it!”

These were a few of the comments on The Mighty’s FB thread in regards to the ‘trigger’ potential of the new Netflix movie “To The Bone” which is about a girl suffering from an eating disorder.

The Mighty offered trigger warnings at the beginning of the thread and many people with eating disorders recommended not to watch the movie trailer, however on the same thread they also supplied a YouTube link to the trailer. So of course I watched it.

That was my choice to make but in the throws of an addiction (which is exactly what an ED is like), we find ourselves drawn to our triggers the way someone fearful of sharks will watch a documentary about them. If I relapse I tend to seek out doco’s, movies and TV shows about EDs, I don’t know why I do this, perhaps it makes me feel less alone? Obsessions are all consuming.

There are different ways that people can be triggered by things, bad memories can be suddenly brought back to the surface from a simple image or even a sound or smell. These memories can cause us psychological stress, anxiety attacks and promote behavioral relapses.

People can be given ‘ideas’ on how to ‘go about’ certain ED behaviors from shows that discuss and sometimes appear to glorify the topic and there is always the fear that someone contemplating ending their life will be tipped over the edge or learn new methods from a story about suicide.

So yes, I watched the “To The Bone” trailer and yes, it triggered me. There was an image of the main character’s back bone that made me instantly want to be back there, miserable but skinny. That being said the movie looked quite good, stereotypical perhaps (the main character is a teenage white girl) but also potentially educational for people who don’t understand the complexity of Eating Disorders.

A big issue that people had was with the way Netflix apparently automatically streamed the trailer without a trigger warning so unsuspecting ED sufferers didn’t know the subject matter that was coming up.

Honestly though, walking past a café, opening the fridge or seeing a very thin person will also trigger me. The trouble with eating disorders are that other humans are unavoidable, food is unavoidable, so many of my main triggers make up a huge part of the society we live in.

“Facebook friend just checked in to Jenny Craig” No big deal, right? Good on her for taking charge of her health and wellness!

Except every fucking morning when I see this status update from a FB friend I just want to slit my wrists; it triggers the hell out of me.

Because what I see when I read that status is someone holding up a mirror, emphasizing my physical flaws, accentuating my cellulite and tummy rolls, telling me I will never ever be ‘good enough’ while reminding me that I didn’t run yesterday, I claim it is because I have injured myself and need to rest – but is it really that or is it because I am a fat, lazy cow? Why can’t I be more like her? Disciplined, IN CONTROL.

Watching the TV series Orange is the New Black I found myself laughing and crying hysterically, it had unexpectedly triggered me in another way, while I have never been to prison, the institutionalization & banter between inmates reminded me strongly of my time spent on the psych ward, and it brought back strong memories; both horrendous and hilarious.

So are we being too fragile?

This is the dawning of a new era in mental health, an era of awareness and acceptance. Triggers were always there, people have always been triggered but now more people than ever before are speaking up about how common triggers affect their mental illness and in an effort to assist these people to make an informed decision about what they read or watch ‘Trigger Warnings’ are often placed at the beginning of articles or videos.

I know this is MY problem and I have a responsibility as an adult to be aware of what my potential triggers are and avoid what I can and work through my reactions to things I can’t avoid with a therapist so that I can participate in life more freely.

But I also think trigger warnings for topics known to commonly cause distress are very important, unexpected triggers can send a person spiraling back into a mental health crisis and if we are able to reduce that risk for people then it is our duty as civilized human beings to do so.

I am choosing not to watch “13 Reasons Why” due to my history of  being bullied and a suicide survivor and I am grateful that I was made aware of the trigger potential of the series so that I could make that decision. There wasn’t a whole lot of effort involved in typing the words *Trigger Warning* at the beginning of this post, so surely others can do the same.

** This post originally appeared on http://thecolourofmadness.blogspot.com.au/ **

So I’m Trying Out WordPress…

I have been a Blogspot girl from the beginning, change scares me and I am generally computer illiterate so when I finally figure out how something works I tend to stick to it. But it seems most other people use WordPress these days and I often have trouble commenting on their posts because I can’t ‘log in’ which is frustrating to say the least. So I am going to jump ship and test this WordPress lark out for a bit and see if it really is better.

For now I will just post some of my blog posts from the old site here and see where the road leads me – head to http://www.thecolourofmadness.blogspot.com for the old stuff and I guess I will link up from there to here.

The Final Imprint

I often wonder what my last post, last text, last tweet, email or status update might be. It’s that final documented statement that ultimately becomes your legacy, at least the legacy of your online life.

25 years ago those final written statements would have been personal or private letters to family and friends, but now we live in a world where social media rules and the final public statement to ultimately define our character could well be that we “ate brussel sprouts for dinner, yuk! ” or that we “like” a video of a cat chasing a squirrel.

What about the more meaningful stuff? The stuff that gets lost in the mundane day to day goings on. Sure the little things are important too, after all it is those that collectively form our opinions about the big things. But often we are so busy documenting every meal and every movement that we neglect to take the time to piece the tid bits together and form holistic opinions.

Carrie Fisher’s second last tweet -once you read it enough times to comprehend the meanings behind her erratic emoji use – seemed so eerie given the manner in which she was taken from us, it was as though she knew what was coming. Quoted below, scuze the format issue…

IsYRbody DKaying➕deth marchi🆖ever closer?®the sands 🅾️F time💲🅾️cruel✝️♓️📧Yshud🅱️arrested➕💲📧♑️✝️2️⃣a 🚗dℹ🅰©beach?Get©gℹ,perspective ➕d📧🅰🕒w/ℹ✝️

Time and time again through my depressions I find myself preparing ‘final’ status updates for in the event that I am suicidal that I can quickly type out if I decide to take the plunge. Stuff just cryptic enough not to give my headspace away if I survive, but elude to everything if I dont.
I suppose I just want to leave behind meaningful words, I give thanks and messages of love and hope, things that say ‘despite what I have done, I am still thankful for the good things and there have been so many of those’.

As much as I can be desperate to die at times, when it has gotten to that point I have never been bitter, I don’t truly hate anyone and I have had so many incredible people in the weird and wonderful chapters of my life, so many amazing memories. All of the challanges I have faced led me to special people, places and worlds I could never have otherwise imagined.

I have experienced joy in its most pure form, enlightenment, love and complete oneness with the universe. But as with all things the light must have it’s dark or else we could not truly appreciate the beauty of the day.

There have been no clear cut “reasons” for me to ever be suicidal, no motives that the casual observer could understand as ‘good enough’ and yet the chemistry in my brain holds reason to ransom and I am time and time again sent emotionally to the depths of darkness and depression. The plunge is cold and exhausting and I know deep down that it will ultimately kill me.

I suppose I just want my words to have meant something to someone, when I pop into the mind of an old friend after I have passed, I want them to look at the final update on my Facebook page and smile, knowing that despite my suicide I was happy and I always knew I was loved. Not just that I hated the slow service in Mc Donalds yesterday afternoon.

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Life In The Eyes Of Lauren

Struggling with mental health, I was sat on a psych ward and inspired to start my very own blog! So here we are, welcome to life’s in the eyes of lauren where I’ll be tackling difficult topics and sharing my personal experiences, mainly focusing on mental health but also social services, the care system, living away from my biological family, school struggles and just life in general! i am writing to help poeple, if that means ive helped one person, ive achieved my goal. I hope you enjoy reading, Good Vibes Only xoxo