A history of the Madhouse documentary

I watched this BBC documentary today called A history of the Madhouse. Be warned that it is not for the sensitive viewer and if you don’t know much about the history of asylums and the treatments they performed, you might be quite shocked and horrified. I was, even with my limited knowledge. Dorms with 32 beds, every inch of the place locked up, padded sound proof cells, abuse by nurses, early forms of ECTs with no anesthesia, insulin treatment, lobotomies. The poor crazies (and actually not so crazies) at the time really got it in the 30s to 50s especially. Some went in for one week of observation and only left 5 years, 20, 30 years later. Locked up and isolated from the world. Most of these people weren’t even mentally ill, just unwanted or problematic. Patients were not seen as people but as research projects. Many died from lobotomies and insulin treatment that sent them into comas to ‘reset’ their brains. We look back on these treatments and regard them as barbaric. Others, like a more refined form of ECT and Lithium, are still used today. Some of us owe our lives to the poor people who were subjected to these atrocities year after year.

I think of the private clinic that I frequented and cannot even imagine how it must have been to be locked up in an asylum. Margaret Thatcher can be thanked for them finally being closed in Britain. Problem was, the community care everyone was raving about didn’t really work since most of these poor people didn’t have a vocation or basic life skills. Many of them ended up on the streets or at the Salvation Army, which I suppose is better than the streets at least. Thatcher’s plan was to destigmatise mental illness, to have society view it as illness rather than madness. How she must be turning in her grave to see that these prejudices still exist world wide.

The documentary made me wonder, will some of the treatments that we are subjected to today also be viewed as barbaric 50, 70 years from now? Will people be appalled about how we’ve been medicating our lives away just to function within society’s norms? Or will what is done now be considered as ground breaking, pathing the the way for more specific and sophisticated treatment? I know that some research is being done at the Mayo Clinic about isolating genes and then determining your exact bipolar type so that treatment can be tailored for you needs. But how long is this going to take? Another 50 years? We can only hope that it’s sooner, since those of us with mental health issues are not having such a bloody good time of it.

There is hope, I suppose, one never knows. In the meantime I am extremely grateful to the people who had to subjected to life threatening and debilitating treatment like lab rats, so that I can sleep a bit sounder, or function a bit better.

The bipolar roller coaster

A friend of mine who also suffers from bipolar disorder recently got an absolutely gorgeous tattoo of a roller coaster on her back (of which I am extremely jealous). (She also writes a blog definitely worth reading and much more eloquent and witty than my own) I just realised again today what an appropriate symbol of bipolar disorder a roller coaster is. Just three days ago, and for two or three weeks before that, I was in a completely state of self destruction and hysteria, mixed up with some calm for blissful half hours here and there. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it out the other side. The walls around me were not caving in, I was actually pushing them out, and I didn’t know how to stop myself.

What had brought me there? Switching anti-psychotics? Family drama? Recovering from my grandfather’s death? Work pressure? Romantic disappointment?  Probably all of the above to some degree. Especially since it all happened more or less at the same time. And today, not three days after a long series of gut wrenching mini-meltdowns, barely picking myself up each time, I seem to have turned a corner. I had a beautiful calm day, hanging out with friends, going to the beach with the dogs and having pizza and wine. I’m chilled. It was a good day. I didn’t even have to take an Alzam (for anxiety).

So what brought about this turning point in the epic roller coaster that is my bipolar life? The higher doses of Geodon (anti-psychotic) and Epitec (mood stabiliser) kicking in? The calming effect that the Alzams have had on me over the last few days? Getting a good 12 hours of chemically induced sleep last night? Reevaluating my life and realising things were getting out of hand? Having people pray for me? Trying to channel my energy constructively instead of destructively (I even wrote a song!)? Probably all of the above to some degree.

That’s what makes it so tough, isn’t it? Trying to isolate the variables is useless. There is no real knowing what causes what and what different things will trigger or what will bring you back from the edge. When I went off Seroquel and onto Geodon I was extremely hypomanic for about a week. I went away with friends and they kept saying that they’d never seen me that happy. It was true, I was having the weekend of my life. The weekend after that, I had a family weekend and stayed up until dawn two nights in a row. But what goes up most come down (except for Jesus, as my Sunday school teacher friend pointed out), or sideways, or upside down, or through a tunnel, or to some extreme state, if your roller coaster is a bipolar one.

I’ve always known that I just have to ride it out. It becomes the difference between yourself and suicide, the knowledge that it will pass eventually. What I’ve learned this time is that I CAN ride it out, with the right medication, rest, and support from people who understand and/or who care about me. People who just let me be a pretty fucked up version of myself without judging me. I don’t think it will ever be easy. It’s an illness after all, and a pretty terrible one, lets be real. It’s not suppose to be easy. But what I realise when I go through this ever so often is that I am stronger than I even know. I could probably rule a small country by myself. Be it by the grace of God or sheer willpower, I am a ninja, and every time I come back and kick life’s ass, I can confidently give it the finger and say ‘there, you lost again sucker!’ That doesn’t mean that it won’t take some time for me to nurse my wounds and recover emotionally from this ride to the depths of darkness and back. My soul, and my pride, is a bit bruised. After all, I hate roller coasters.

 

When a handful of pills a day doesn’t keep the bipolar at bay

This is a repost from almost ago. I haven’t been very bloggy this year. I got bored I think. Or lazy rather. I respost this because the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not experiencing anger right now, but excruciating emotional pain. And I feel so sad for myself that despite everything I am back here again, just like every year this time. Because bipolar cycles. That’s what it does. I feel like I’ll never win. And even though I have a wonderful support system, deep down I am truly alone (sorry friends reading here. You mean well and I love you for it. But it is true)

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One of the many fun things about having bipolar disorder is that sometimes, no matter how diligently you take your meds, work out, eat healthy etc, you still go some shade of crazy. And I’ve had many things recently to go crazy about.

At the moment I’ve reached an anger. An anger about the fact that I take 10 prescription pills a day, which equates to 280 pills a month, spend loads of money to take the ones that don’t turn me into an overweight zombie, and am still cycling all over the place. I’ve reached a point where I wonder if it is even worth taking all these pills that make me dizzy and sleepy and mess with my digestive system and make my eyes go funny. There are those who say that if I wasn’t taking my meds, things would probably be much worse for me, and yes, that is most certainly a possibility, but there’s no way of knowing is there. I’m never stable for more than two months at a time anyway. The only reason I haven’t stopped taking my meds is because, if things go pear shaped, I have to start all over again, starting on low doses and working my way up and through side effects. I just can’t take it anymore.

I’m not suicidal, I’m not depressed, but worse than that I am in this hypomanic limbo where I am stable enough to somehow manage my daily life, but not stable enough to not fall apart every night when I get home from work. I feel a constant need to lash out. And no, kick boxing won’t do the trick. Exercising sometimes makes me worse, because I get more worked up from more adrenaline. I can’t listen to music either. I can’t focus enough to read and I certainly shouldn’t be drinking. I can’t live on Alzams because I’ll definitely get addicted. So far changing medication, again, seems to have little effect. Life keeps throwing shit at me, as life does with everyone. So what am I suppose to do? Bitch into cyberspace? Not many other options it seems.

I feel like the medication is messing with my reactions. I don’t even know how I would react off medication. Since I was diagnosed two years ago I haven’t gone off them. My whole life has become about getting the chemical cocktail in my head right. What kind of life is that? I want to be able to freak out and feel like everyone else. And even though I think all these things, deep down in my little heart I can hear myself, and everyone around me, preaching to me “it’s an illness, like diabetes”, “you can’t go without medication”, “things would be worse if you weren’t on medication”, “just ride it out”, “don’t lose perspective”, “things will look up again”, “stop focusing on the negative”, “don’t be such a martyr (that’s my own voice)”.

My response to all these little nuggets of wisdom?

Skrew it, thank you very much.

Trigger on trigger on trigger

Today I had the pleasant experience of being broken up with. The relationship was still fairly new, but I was very much smitten. My spirit feels crushed. Two weeks ago I cut my father out of my life,  and in August my grandfather,  who was my father in many ways, passed away. All of this during the peak season in my industry where my workload has doubled and while navigating med changes. Is it any wonder that I have become a bit unhinged?

Often I don’t know what triggers my mood changes, and often it can be the smallest things, like a friend making a bad joke.  Sometimes it is huge life events that just keep piling up. And what people don’t understand is that, when you have a mood disorder, your feelings are so much more intense than other people’s emotions. I was feeling very rattled and sad earlier,  bawling my eyes out, and now I feel ridiculously calm. I have recently upped my geodon and lamotragine. I don’t know if my responses are within the ‘normal’ range. What I do know is that my coping mechanisms are not very healthy, and I also don’t want to change them. Because I am a sucker for the punishment. Lashing out and becoming self destructive is actually enjoyable to me. What is up with that masochism?

At the moment I crave just existing.  I would go so far as to say that I wish I could just be hospitalised. But life can’t stop when you’re the only one taking care of yourself.  What I do know is that I am one of the strongest people I know, by the grace of God alone. I often wonder what the straw that finally breaks this camel’s back will be.

The main reason I haven’t completely self-destructed is because I wanted to make this new relationship work. Now that’s gone. I’m standing in the edge now. I am tired of balancing. There is nothing at the bottom to break my fall.

What to do when in bipolar crisis?

*warning, slightly ‘disturbing’ content. Don’t go do this at home. Get help before it’s too late*

There is a reason that there is a question mark after that heading, because I don’t know. I feel that saying I’m in crisis is a good way to sum it up. Last night I had an amazing eve at a concert, but about half way through I couldn’t wait to get home to cut myself. I don’t do it very often, but after going through very stressful events over the last couple of weeks, I have become slightly unhinged. I don’t cut deep, but I cut lots. I vowed to not do it again, but last night I decided, skrew it. My main issue that I don’t know how to let go of the feelings in me that I have no way of verbalising. So I cut, because it distracts me and makes physical a pain that I don’t know how to process emotionally. It’s not like something hectic happened yesterday, I was just feeling strange on the inside. I took something to calm me down but it had the weird effect of making me completely rational and calm about what I was doing. Luckily I couldn’t find a knife sharp enough in my house to do damage, but usually a razor blade does the trick. Please note that I was not trying to commit suicide and know that what I do is not a healthy way to come. At the moment it feels like I’m only coping in unhealthy ways.

I then did something strange that I hadn’t done before. I pulled out a notebook and started drawing and writing with my blood. It didn’t seem so weird at the time, I mean it’s something that artsy people would totally do. I’m still not so sure if it’s really that weird. But I thought about my friends and I know that none of them would ever do something like that, so maybe it’s not such a cool thing to do. Like I say I was really calm, and then I started panicking. I was also fondly thinking of the time I was hospitalised because I’m tired, not of living but of putting effort into life. So I phoned the emergency room, where the very nice nurse on call told me that they cannot admit psychiatric patient without referral but I can gladly come sit with her for the rest of the night. Since I was in no state to drive, she phoned me every two hours for the rest of the night to check that I was okay. There are still good, caring people in this world.

I wish I could say the same of my pdoc. He knows I never bother him and this was the first time I felt that I had a real emergency on my hands, and he always says to call him any time, until I do. Granted in the middle of the night is not a good time, but the nurse insisted that I phone him for a referral but he was very pissed off. This morning I tried to get an appointment or at least a call. He eventually phoned me back and said ‘I don’t know what you want me to do, it doesn’t sound medical, I’m fully booked. You were never on that high a dose of anti-psychs anyway (I recently changed medication, enter fuckup). So I said I was going to increase my dose and hung up. I’ve decided to now, with the help of a more experienced friend, take matters into my own hands, because what am I suppose to do? We literally pay these people R1 000s for consultations and anywhere from R2 000 for meds, and they’re just not there when we need them. Like having an illness all the time isn’t bad enough. I’ve reached a level of maturity where I can (sometimes) recognise that I am sick and try to get help, and then there is no help to be given. Luckily I have a good support system or I don’t know what I’d do.

What do you do when the crazies hit (which seems to always happen in the middle of the night) to get you to day break?

Fact vs feeling – what do YOU want to know about Bipolar Disorder

I’ve been meaning to get this blog up and running again. I’ve gone through a pretty terrible month of ups and downs. I have always been concerned about turning this blog into a personal rant. I don’t want to go on and on about my personal life and my issues all the times. I’ve wanted this blog to be informative and helpful. A place where you can find the answers for your questions from a real person. I want to interact with readers and, most of all, HELP. Because by helping others I also help myself.

So my question is really, what would you like to read here. When you google Bipolar disorder, what is it that you just can’t seem to find? Personal accounts? A space to ask questions? Different perspectives? Insights about the latest research?

I really want to start writing again, but at the moment I feel like I’m lost at see. And writing about my feelings all the time is not helpful, especially to myself, as I get lost in the dark spiral of my depressive thoughts.

I would like to hear from everyone about everything! I challenge you, what do YOU want.

Why this blog has gone quiet

I really wish that I hadn’t lost my enthusiasm for writing this blog (A bipolar thing perhaps? Starting things and not finishing them?). Mainly I think the reason I have stopped writing is that finally my Bipolar Disorder is not the central focus of my life anymore. I am well, and pretty much stable, and have been for a while now. I went through a bit of a euphoric hypomanic thing recently, but kept it mostly under control through exercise. I’m not big on being active, so I was very pleasantly surprised to feel in my own body that exercise does help you get rid of all that extra energy. I did overdo it a bit, but I could have been overdoing something worse so it’s all good. Now I’m back on track, being a normal, boring, stable person.

Because Bipolar Disorder has not been a central focus in my life and I haven’t had to think about it every day, I have cut my contact with anything related to it. I’m not writing about it, reading about it, talking about it or attending support groups about it. For now I feel that that is the best thing for me. I see my doctor once a month, take my meds every day and have really gotten into a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly and eating healthily. I even quit smoking (most of the time)! I also don’t like sharing details of my life just for the sake of it. I want to share things that will be meaningful to other people, or that will create awareness. Things of interest, instead of just talking about myself. So until I learn something significant from an experience, or have  word burning inside me, or come across some really interesting and valuable information, I’ll be quiet for now.

The Oscar Pistorius trial, mental health and the ignorance of the masses

I actually can’t believe that I am writing about Oscar Pistorius and his trial. I have been avoiding any reports on it because the way people have been treating it as entertainment is enough to enrage me. Unfortunately it’s been nearly impossible as everywhere you go it’s on TV, radio, front pages of magazines and newspapers, twitter, facebook and in every conversation. If you’re not South African, you can read all about the trial online if you want to. However, this post is not about the actual trial. It’s about him going for psychiatric observation and people’s reaction to it. And basically me ranting over how stupid people can be.

Some background: About a month ago Oscar went for psychiatric observation to determine whether he suffers from a mental illness, specifically GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and whether or no he could distinguish right from wrong. The report came in and it was determined that Oscar did not suffer from mental illness at the time. However, what most people neglect to add when they talk about this around the water cooler is that after the incidence he suffers from PTSD and is of committing suicide.

Let me just state up front that I am not condoning murder. What he did was WRONG, no matter how you look at it. What gets to me is how people are now saying, “Ja so he’s not mad hey! chuckle chuckle chuckle” and “apparently he’s going to kill himself now, chuckle chuckle chuckle.” I know I am over sensitive when it comes to issues surrounding mental health. I find these kind of statements incredibly upsetting and insensitive. I suffer from mental illness after all and the only one allowed to call me mad, is ME. Suicide is serious. PTSD is serious. Murder is serious. Human suffering, even when broadcast onto international television, is REAL. What these statements demonstrate is that the masses, your average person, still thinks that mental illness is not real. That it is a joke and something reserved for the crazies in institutions who have to wear straitjackets and have to be locked in padded rooms. They see it as something removed from themselves, while they are surrounded by people suffering from mental illness every day.

On the one hand I feel like I need to speak up when I hear things like this being said, but on the other hand, what is the point of fighting a losing battle, at work, with people who are too set in their ways to change their minds and of then opening myself up to being talked about in the same way? It just blows my mind that people can still be so ignorant in this day and age. I sometimes feel like I’m just screaming this silent scream over and over again.

Any thoughts on how to tackle this problem?

Jagged little pill: has the recovery narrative gone too far?

Putting into words what so many of us seem to have on our minds.

purplepersuasion

I feel that in writing this post, which has been brewing for a long time, I am saying something that some might see as controversial. So let me start by making something clear. This post is not intended to criticise the work of the big charities – I am a proud member of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and have undertaken both paid and voluntary work for both organisations. I have also volunteered for Time to Change and made a TTC pledge at last year’s Mind Media Awards. A huge amount of good work is being done on a daily basis to challenge public perceptions of mental health and to normalise discussions of the topic. Time to Change is entirely right to highlight just how peculiar it is that mental health stigma continues to loom so large given that a quarter of the population is thought experience some form of…

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Hell hath no fury like the enraged Bipolar

My life has been a bit chaotic the last couple of weeks. It’s not that I have experienced crazy amounts of stress and bad things that keep breaking me; it’s mostly been a break in routine. Things are back to normal again now and although it’s not very exciting, it’s comforting to be back in an environment that is predictable and mostly in my control. Then why oh why am I can I feel the raging monster bubbling just under the surface, threatening to break out. It makes very little sense to me that experiencing what feels to me like a delayed response. When I was changing medication, busy, sick, writing exams and travelling for work and doing work from home; the things outside my routine; I felt mostly fine (except for my first few days back on Seroquel). And speaking of Seroquel, I’m still working myself up gradually and am still on 25mg (but definitely increasing my dose tonight), shouldn’t I already be feeling LESS rage instead of more?

When I’m at home, watching TV and crocheting with a cat on my lap I feel like I can breathe, but in the office and out in the world I feel vicious and like I’m being smothered. I’m proofreading a psychiatry textbook and I don’t think it’s helping either. I’m currently on the chapter about bipolar disorder and even though it doesn’t contain any information that is new to me, it’s serving as a constant reminder. I read about hypomania and I get angry because I never feel inspired, goal driven, energetic and excited anymore. I find myself either in the realms of despair or fury.

I normally try to keep the tone of my blog posts upbeat and with a ‘can do’ attitude, and that’s probably why I haven’t written in a while. At the moment it all feels too hard. I’m exhausted from always trying to keep myself together and functioning. I’m tired of feeling angry at everyone and everything all the time.

How do you deal with your rage when you feel like ripping the world to shreds?