Last night I took a really positive step. I couldn’t have done it alone or rather wouldn’t have done it on my own and I can’t pretend it was an easy step to take but I do know it was a worthwhile one and it has left me feeling uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the management of my illness. Last night, I went to my first Bipolar support group meeting! My therapist, Evelyn, recommended that I go before Christmas but, though I intended to attend last month, anxiety got the better of me and the same would have happened again this month were it not for my wonderful friends taking away all other forms of stress, like who was going to look after my kids while I was there… My mum came to the meeting in support of me and it was a valuable experience for both of us; my mum, having never experienced mental illness personally, often can not relate to a lot of the issues that I deal with and though she is tremendously supportive and believes in my illness she finds it difficult to understand (I can’t really blame her, I find it difficult to understand half the time!) – there can be an awkwardness in how she deals with my symptoms, I am sure she is not the only parent of a person with Bipolar disorder that copes this way. Having her at the support meeting last night not only gifted her a new understanding of the management of my illness and a little insight into the difficulties of living with this day-to-day but I feel it also brought us closer together.
The meetings are on the first Thursday of every month and I am aiming to attend all of them, some valuable management techniques were learnt last night. It was also curiously comforting to meet others afflicted with the same illness as myself and realise that they all looked perfectly fine, there was no sign emblazoned upon their forehead declaring their disease, they were just people… Kind, friendly people… I don’t know what else I was expecting, of course they’re just people, I am, but I suppose sometimes I wonder if other people have more obvious signs of their illness than I do – it can be such a subtle, abstract thing that its hard to reconcile with normal expectations of illness.
The group welcomes a different speaker each month from some professional capacity within mental health. This month it was a psychological therapist named Tracy Williams who gave a lecture on Mindfulness. I practice a lot of mindfulness already, my cognitive behavioural therapy with Evelyn is essentially the same thing; teaching you to be more aware of things like early warning signs, stress, knee-jerk reactions and to stay in the present rather than dwelling in the past or surging towards the future. It teaches breathing exercises to reduce anxiety and take stock of over-zealous emotions. It can sound a little ridiculous and I can imagine many people rolling their eyes as they hear about it, I can hear my dad in my head mumbling about ‘new-age rubbish’ and that it may well be but a lot of it really works and, whether ridiculous or not, if it works it works! I learnt a few new things that I’m going to try out such as Mindful eating, where you attempt not to let your mind wander whilst you eat – you remain focused on each mouthful and savour the flavours and textures in every bite and taking 5 mindful breaths when I wake up each morning. It was a very interesting and informative meeting, it was tough being in a new environment with new people and it’ll probably still be difficult next month but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.
In the spirit of good management of my illness I have drawn up a plan for the upcoming school holiday next week; the lack of routine always hits my Bipolar hard and I end up with a swinging mood that could rival Tarzan in the jungle. My therapist and I have agreed upon a plan to combat this, I have written a rigid schedule for each day of the holiday; where, when possible, the children and I get out of the house and do something entertaining (but cheap or free so as not to spark my reckless spending, high mood self!)
I have set a time to get out of bed every day because without this I rarely have the motivation to move. I thought that 8am was a fairly acceptable and manageable time as on school days I get up between 7 and 7.30am and it is a holiday after all! I tried to make it bright and eye-catching and then sat down with the kids and we came up with ideas of fun days out; Feeding the birds, going swimming, a walk around the hills where we live… making sure to write out more activities than there are days so as there is still an element of choice and leeway if the weather is bad. I tried to make my schedule exciting for the kids so that in an attempt not to let them down I will do my damnedest to force myself to move no matter how lethargic I feel.
Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t; but it is worth a try, if it doesn’t work I will just have to find something else to try because that is what managing my illness is about. I have to take the time to be mindful of my needs and ask myself, what is it that I need? what works for me? what can help me? Its going to take time and its going to be disappointing when things don’t work out but hopefully it’ll all be worth it in the end…