When the world seems calm, your life is running at a manageable and productive rate and family and friends are good, ultimately, your life is balanced. Ok ladies, that might be your impossible dream but for me things were like that.
As you know my passion lies within the work of mental health. I have a lengthy background of bipolar, which was triggered back in 2008 by a very rare poisoning of the nervous system named ‘serotonin syndrome’. The tablets I had been given created too much of the ‘happy serotonin chemical’ in my brain so my nervous system literally went ‘hay wire’. My brain short circuited so one minute I understood language and then couldn’t make decisions and found it difficult to respond. I used to lip read at times. I was left with mental confusion wondering what time or day it was and jumped to high heaven at any noise, sound or anyone who stepped too close to me. I used to curl up like a petrified child covering my ears screaming for people to stop talking. It can also shoot you into psychotic episodes where you feel you are not living in reality and can hallucinate. This is not mentioning regular seizures, hand tremors, sickness, headaches and heart racing. This lasted for six weeks and in the last month I suffered the symptoms for two weeks.
The recovery period is testing and at times intolerable. Your system is trying to straighten itself out before the Psychiatrist can fully assess you in terms of long term medical treatment. However, your seconds feel like hours and days become desperation. The mood dips are hard, fast and impulsive and leave you feeling as your only option is peace. You don’t feel you can live because you are totally engrossed in the torment.
This second bout of serotonin syndrome came about because I was given antibiotics which interacted with my bipolar mood stabilisers. Unfortunately the general hospital didn’t have mandatory training in mental health and I was unable to see a psychiatrist throughout my admissions. After organising to see a private psychiatrist I was diagnosed with serotonin syndrome within 10 minutes.
I have not written this piece to complain about the NHS system. I have written it for an important life reason.
I chose to write this piece because I spent weeks asking for that little voice inside my head to speak up. If we are all honest, in troubled times in our life there is something there, a little glowing orb, wiling us not to give up, reminding us of our family and friends, telling us to be strong, listening to our praying and spirituality and responding to our begging and pleading with either kindness or a big kick up the arse (debatable) but we always hear that ray of hope that pushes us forward.
You see, that’s what it’s about. It’s all about hope. And most importantly it is internalised hope. It must come from you, not from what others tell you to be hopeful for. In a moment of crisis in our life, reaching out to others sometimes doesn’t always ‘do the job’, it has to be something within us that we hold on tightly to. If you feel self-worth and of value you know you’ve got something to fight for.
I looked and assessed my life. I have spent seven years battling numerous diagnoses, medication changes, long term private and NHS hospital admissions, CBT therapy, ECT and it’s gone beyond that. I have difficulty developing new relationships (who really wants go out with a mentalist!!) and I am very aware that when I have an episode I impact on other people and it can be very isolating. I look around and see friends in their homes, having babies, getting married and genuinely feel so, so happy for them. But then I see myself living with my family, no man to care for me and difficulties having children due to taking lithium as a mood stabiliser. Not to mention the reality that my life long illness will forever be triggered by stress and I don’t know how I will cope with that.
I’m not going to lie. My thoughts were very dark and they stayed in that depth for weeks. My illness delivered suicidal thoughts thick and fast. However, I had a crisis, a crisis team, community support and additional medication to stabilise me. My family and friends were protecting me and reassuring me and I was receiving the best treatment possible.
But you know what? I used the service I always preach about and they were absolutely frickin fabulous. The one and only ‘The Samaritans’. It’s like talking to a family member who just listens and listens non-judgementally. I talk and cry and pace and sob and it’s all ok. And then someone, external from your usual network, says something that cuts through your impenetrable shell and a light bulb goes off. A wonderful gentleman working for the Samaritans listened to me sob for about half an hour before saying this:
‘Fliss, this isn’t you. It’s your illness. Never mix the two up. Everything your describing are symptoms of withdrawing from your serotonin syndrome and bipolar. It’s not you and never will be. Never, ever forget who you are.’
That man made me peel myself away from the pain and heartache and remind myself that the pain was attached to the illness. It didn’t have to be enraptured around my heart and creeping around my organs. My internal suffocation was created by the illness, not me. I told myself not to think of how others perceived my happiness but what inside of me, deep inside of me, gave me hope. It was helping others, writing, triggering change, making people laugh, laughing at others, sending rude, sarcastic messages, bright yellow sunflowers. artistic cards bought purely for the sake of it, butterflies, my 11 year old niece borrowing my clothes and the beautiful lime yellow stilettos shoes I haven’t had a chance to wear. I also thought of men who hadn’t wanted me and instead of feeling like a failure I thought ‘f**k’ it – their loss!
I am not going to lie. My self-worth and internal fight isn’t quite there yet but I’m realistic and I know if I fill my days with little distractions that I enjoy and can manage my stress my confidence will come back and I will, once again, tackle anything I want to.
Today I realised I was a strong woman because I wrote this article. And I’m damn well proud of it!
Be strong ladies. Never be afraid to speak up. I recognised I needed a little help, made a desperate call and sometimes admitting your broken is throwing out the lifeline to be saved. Don’t forget we are resilient and with every stage of recovery we will drain our minds of the negativity and fill it with new, wonderful and inspiring memories.
My writing is one of the strings on my instrument that hides in my little place of hope, just for me to feel and only for me to listen to.
I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that tolerance, resilience, a strong heart and a will to live for the things you love with get you through anything. Always hold on.
Thank you for reading my heartfelt piece and please do spend time reading the support resources.
Don’t grin and bear it. Share it.
- GP IS ALWAYS FIRST PORT OF CALL
Never be afraid to ask about the side effects of your medication and read the paperwork. Knowing what to expect can help manage any difficulties and if you do encounter concerns, contact your GP to report them.
- If your GP cannot offer you psychological therapies google ‘IAPT’ in your local area (Improved Access to Psychological Therapies) and find out what free services are on offer.
FANTASTIC 24HR PHONE LINEN WHO WILL CALL YOU BACK and there is no limit on call time. They are completely confidential are a non-judgemental, kind ear where you can talk about anything at all. Go to website to get local number.
- If you are experiencing mental health problems or you suspect someone else is visit http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support or http://www.youngminds.org.uk/ for young people. – Excellent source of mental health information with helplines.
Excellent ‘Caring for yourself guide’ for carers and people support those with mental health problems.
- To access your local CRISIS TEAM google ‘local crisis intervention team’ and find the contact number