Anne* is a volunteer for our Futures In Mind Service, and here she details her experience with bi-polar disorder and how she manages her condition.
When I was 21 years, nearly 40 years ago now, I was diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder, then known as ‘manic depression’.
The things I was taught included:
- Take your medication as though your life depended on it
- Practice Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
- Talk about your problems
- Write your problems down; the best way to do this is to pretend you are writing a letter to a loved one to tell them how you are feeling. Include your fears, worries and all anxieties
- Practice mindfulness – focus on your breathing, what you can see, what you can hear, what you can touch, what you can smell and taste. The aim to bring you from a dark or anxious place in to the present moment; not worrying about the future or what you can’t change
- When overwhelmed, so some Square Breathing – in for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts. Hold for 4 count before repeating.
Thank God the Psychiatrists knew what I had to learn to make a part of my life a way of life, because I didn’t have a clue what to do about any of it! I prayed daily too, but I know that’s not for everyone – it helps me.
Bi-polar, as you may know, means that the mood swings from highs to low if not controlled. I always felt a bit cheated because I have only ever had one high episode and the others have been lows! It was very severe depression when it used to hit.
During my life I have suffered around 6 really bad depressive episodes and my Psychiatrists have worked very hard throughout to find the right medication to control my illness, and then they had to adjust those drugs at times when another episode would occur.
“When hit badly I wouldn’t speak to anyone apart from my mother and even then, it was very little. I was lucky because she would come every day against my will to see me. She would make me eat and just be with me although I was very unresponsive. I would lie in bed and never get up and go downstairs. I would never answer the phone or the front door. I shut everybody and everything out and just laid in bed hoping to die. This at its worst could go on for 3 around 3 months. No appetite, no hope, no interest, no motivation.”
My saving grace is that I never gave up on the medication, so once a bad episode had passed I would religiously still take the prescribed tablets and I have not had a bad depressive phase in the last 10 years. I would not dream of stopping that medication and I will take it up until my last breath.
I had to work hard in pressuring my Doctors and Psychiatrists. As soon as I could feel my mood changing I would pester and ring and ring until I could get appointments. It worked in my favour and I was able to prevent the swings becoming too bad and then the medication would be increased or decreased to get the balance right and bring me back to “normal”. The reason I had to pester so much was because it wasn’t always easy to get Psychiatrist appointments quickly, it was nobody’s fault, just the way the system is sometimes but I found the more fuss I made the more I would be likely to make the medical people “sit up and listen”. I was determined never to drop in to one of those awful depressions again.
My GPs have been excellent and I was referred for a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Course which at first seemed pointless but I realised that you have to work hard at it and practise and it has become a wonderful coping mechanism. MOODGYM was recommended by a very good Psychiatrist. I became a member, it costs very little for a year’s membership and took me through exercises and learning that makes you bring out all the demons and things that trouble you.
“The best thing I learnt is what you think is what you feel, and if we change the way we think, then we can feel better about ourselves, those around us and life becomes happier and easier.”
So, to feel better I had to change my thinking. I learnt to capture and challenge bad thoughts, about the past, things that have happened, thoughts about the unfairness of what somebody said to you yesterday for example, failings, times that you have been hurt. Once captured I learnt to look for evidence to see whether the thoughts were even accurate, appropriate, worth all the trouble and grief they are causing. Often there is little evidence and the thought has become “warped” or without foundation, it is something negative that you need to let go and out of your system.
“Every time I would have a bad thought I learned to cope by teaching the brain to think of something I loved doing, small things like walking the dog, seeing your best friend, or you can think of a place you love, the beach, the zoo or whatever is pleasant and positive. The brain becomes bored with that process and the bad thought stops occurring. That’s how it was with me but it took time.”
Mindfulness and breathing exercises are two other coping mechanisms which have helped me no end.
I feel very fortunate that I have not had a depressive episode in 10 years and it is a combination of all of the above that I have to thank for that. I was able to hold down managerial jobs for 35 years and medication, CBT, MOODGym, Mindfulness and of course my lovely Mum and Hubby who have been there for me throughout everything.
I spend a fair bit of time on You Tube practising mindfulness meditation, it helps me with everyday life to remain calm and focussed. Mindfulness helps me to stay calm and content every day and I found a really simple way of doing it – to reiterate what I said in my first paragraph.
I feel so lucky that I can manage my bi-polar disorder using all the brilliant things I have been taught my Psychiatrists, so a big clap for them. Bi-polar rarely even effects my life now. We all have bad days and good days but I consider myself very fortunate to be managing the way I am.
*Name has been changed