Years ago, before I was even diagnosed with bipolar I remember reading an article about a girl with manic depression who had to be hospitalised for her condition three times. She was fairly blaze about the process and I remember feeling particularly pleased that through all the depressive phases I had never had to enter an institution.
Two years on and three hospital visits of my own and all smug feelings have gone by the wayside. It still shocks me now and again to remember that three months of my life have been spent in a psychiatric ward. I still have very little insight into what went on in those few days before I was sectioned and even now reading my updates on Facebook and twitter from that time leave me anxious and alarmed.
There is no question of the fact that I was not myself and that I genuinely believed that I was ill. There were of course physical symptoms I know that to be the truth but I remember feeling so afraid of everyone around me. I had fallen out with all of my family and have never felt so alone in all my life as I felt while lying in that hospital bed in Kettering.
When I arrived at the ward I was convinced that I was in some kind of dream like state and that I would wake up soon. I was unpleasant and irrational and in many ways I do not blame the staff for banging me up in isolation though I wish it could have been done with a little more dignity.
When I started this project I had no idea of the drama the year before me held. I was convinced that it would all be just a bit of fun but the illness got the better of me and I lost control of everything.
I have been lucky in that I have survived all stages of this illness. Though I am still feeling a bit flat the worst of the thoughts have left me and I have been told that any future episodes of mania when I climb to the level of psychosis should be avoided.
What is strange is that in spite of the support that everyone has shown me I still feel ashamed of what went down in September. I was ill, maybe not in the way that I thought I was but I was ill all the same but in my head this does not feel like enough of an excuse.
People have been good to me and not once has anyone judged me, to my face at least for all the wrongs that happened when I was high. My friends and family stuck by me even when I was turning them away and for this I am truly thankful. I hope that the coming year will be better than the last and though I am often known as having diva like tendencies I am hoping that 2011 will be comparatively dull. I think I have had my fair share of drama for a lifetime at least.
The dress project is coming to a close and I find myself in a reflective mood. It has been an interesting year and though there have been times when I would have killed to cloak myself in denim and even fantasised about a pair of sweats I have enjoyed it tremendously.
It is strange to think that cyberspace now owns so much of my past and so many of my secrets. Being open about my own experience of mental health has not only been helpful to me but it has also been of aid to my friends and family and even to acquaintances who for years have had little idea of what the hell is wrong with me.
I have written this blog for the most part like a diary and I hope that you have found it as entertaining as you have enlightening.
The dresses and the generosity of all of my readers has never ceased to amaze me and I cannot wait to write a cheque for Mind and to present the profits to the staff at the Stretton ward.
In some ways I am sick to death of dresses and I wonder whether it will take a ring on my finger before I wear another. I am looking forwards to wearing my traditional uniform of a mini with a cashmere polo neck or a fitted pair of wide leg trousers with a black t-shirt. This project has forced me to leave my comfort zone of clothing and wear styles and even colours that I never would have done before.
It has been a pleasure to dress for you all and to share with you what has at times been a hellish year. Thank you for all of your support and for being a kind and understanding readership. I will return with another project in 2012 which will involve 366 pairs of my favourite things and I promise you that none will be Uggs.
I am struggling to get back to what I once was. I look at old photographs, read old letters and even look through old blogs just to see what it was that I used to be. The tablets do not seem to be working, or only perhaps it is that they are working and that this flat, lonesome and shy girl is who I really am.
I miss the days when I was the socially outgoing girl who was making a life for herself doing the job that she loved. I miss walking into a room and feeling as though I had presence.
The tablets, the new ones have made me put on weight and now I look in the mirror and feel sick at what I see.
I am pushing myself to get back to normal and though I did not necessarily feel ready I forced myself tonight to go back to my flat and to spend the night alone in my home. It would be so easy to stay with my parents and avoid the void that takes over when I am by myself.
I am in my thoughts too much and they are not good thoughts. The boy is back home for the holidays and thanks to my lack of car and if I am honest my own lack of ability to communicate of late I feel far away from the friends that I have.
Over the past few days it has been made devastatingly clear to me just how little I have left to say or to give in the way of conversation. I have spent the better part of the last few months in a hospital which is not something that many people would ever want to hear of.
I want to be back to being me but in spite of my efforts this wish seems so impossibly unattainable. I look in the mirror and all I see is a fat and lonely girl who has become brain numbingly dull.
The depression refuses to lift and it has left me ever so lonely at a time of year when things are meant to be a joy. I am sad and so low, I pray that this will pass, it cannot surely last.
I had got to the stage this year that I had thought that there was simply no chance that I would be spending Christmas with my family. In my head my Christmas dinner was booked in at the Brandon Unit and I could see no other alternative when the thoughts were so bad and my mood was so low.
Things have improved, of that there is no question and here I am today at home with my family just the way that Christmas should be. Admittedly my gift giving was far more frugal than years gone by as I have been finding leaving the house such a struggle.
Though I struggled during the day with a low mood my family were on hand to give me a boost and my sister who is now pregnant came upstairs to lie with me and have a hug when things got a bit tough.
As we all sat around the table to eat it struck me that when I was high I had turned my back on every single member of my family. They have stuck by me in spite of all the drama and tolerated the demon that I became with a love that was unconditional.
If it were not for my family sticking by me, I have no doubt that I would have been in hospital today. One of the saddest things about the ward was that there were some people there who did not get visitors. My own visitors were so persistent that even on the days where I would have happily lay in bed with the curtains closed they came regardless and dragged me from my thoughts if only for five minutes.
Once I am well I am determined that I will find a way of visiting the place and putting on a pub quiz. It will not be much but will be my way of giving something back to the ward which saved my life on so many occasions and without which I would not have made it to today’s celebrations.
Since meeting the boy, who is half Polish, I have been introduced to many treats and traditions hitherto unknown to me. Though I am a big fan of the drink it straight down sweet kick of krupnik and can munch through many a stick of dried cabanossi my favourite tradition by far is the night of the Polish star.
The night of Christmas eve, the boy and all his family gather together to eat traditional Polish dishes and to exchange gifts. I am a lucky girl in that in spite of all my ills the boy and his family are very understanding of the fact that I am a bit of a crazy person.
Though I will never get her to admit it I am sure that the mysterious dress donor is the boy’s mother. And in this case she must have donated somewhere between thirty and forty dresses to the project which puts her on a par with my fabulous fairy God mother.
The evening is spent catching up and munching on delicious Polish dishes which sound awful but taste rather nice. There is beetroot soup known as barszcz which is served with pierogi floating in the soup which taste a little like mushroom ravioli but far yummier.
The dish is followed by raw herring with onions in a creamy sauce with Polish rye bread. It has taken me four years but this is now one of those dishes that I look forward to. We had a new member of the boy’s family at the table this year who was quite the sweetheart and handled the idea of raw fish on his plate like a Polish pro.
Before the food is eaten there is a pretty little tradition where a piece of holy communion is given to each person. Whether you are a Christian or not the bread is broken between each person where good wishes are then given for the coming year. It is my favourite part of the evening and is usually the time when the boy’s grandma manages to slip something sweet into our exchange about my becoming an official part of the family.
The one thing that chafes on me this year is that I had hoped that with a job at Christmas for the first time in four years that I might be able to report upon better news. Though I have the job I have been in hospital for three months and it makes me sad that I do not have better news to tell.
Regardless, the night is a great start to the festivities of Christmas and though the amount of people is at times overwhelming as the boy reminds me I am with family and an accepting one at that. The Polish stars shine brightly in my mind tonight.
I have been terrified that my ability to write, concentrate or work would ever come back. I had been convinced that never again would I feel confident in what I wrote or be able to see the best way to convey information to readers.
My posts have been lacking and the ability to think creatively had abandoned me for so long that I was beginning to think that it would never come back and that the job I love so much would no longer be something that I could possibly do.
Today then, at 6am after little sleep I was overjoyed to find myself the author of an article on Harborough’s MP. It was a simple story which when well would have not taken me long but after the last four weeks it felt like such an achievement to have put pen to paper or tips to typing without the awful feeling of knowing I could not write.
The blogs have been a bit of a struggle of late and for the posts that were far from perfect and at times a little too dull I do apologise and thank you for keeping on supporting the project regardless.
I went in to the office for the first time in two months and it felt like coming home. I am incredibly lucky to work for a company and with colleagues who are overwhelmingly supportive of what I have been going through.
Writing and working as a journalist is quite simply the only job that I would ever want to do. I love meeting new people and being entrusted with their story and it feels so amazing to know that it is a job that I will be able to continue to do.
The psych, the tablets, the support of my friends and family, all of it has meant that I am back to myself and even if only a little at a time that I am back to the wonder of work and the best local paper in the whole of the country, bar none.
There are literally hundreds of dresses in my home. The ones that are ironed and ready for sale now fill three wardrobes and there are many more in bags waiting to be pressed when I have the time.
I originally intended to sell the dresses through an online auction but there is a big part of me which would love to sell them at an event specifically organised for 365 Dresses: The Mind Project.
I am looking for ideas from you all about how you think I would be best to sell the dresses. The auction will not take place for some time but I really need your thoughts on how best it should be done.
One of my thoughts was to have an auction in Harborough where all are invited to attend. In my madder moments I had hoped that it could be combined with a mini catwalk where the dresses are showcased by volunteers.
This is a possibility but my concern is that I am kind of doing this project alone and fear the stress that such an event might cause me.
Perhaps this is why an online auction might be better but I do not know whether this would be the best way to make money for both Mind and for the Stretton Ward.
People have been so generous with their donations throughout the year and I want to do them justice. Please post your ideas on how best this could be done, I am in need of help.
Things have definitely been looking up. Today I managed to go out in public which was a massive step. For the most part I have been largely confined to the walls of my home and the ward and so stepping out to Leicester town centre was quite a big deal.
It went fine at first. In spite of the Christmas crowds I managed to navigate my way around quite successfully and did not allow myself to become flustered by the bright lights. We went for coffee in a cafe which was again a big step which seems sad but is true.
The problems began when we went to the supermarket. All of a sudden the crowds felt like they were closing in and I suddenly felt very aware of the pit of my stomach filling up with butterflies. My mother and the boy were a great help and kept me close while we finished the shop but it all just suddenly seemed too much to handle.
I am scared that this is another symptom and that I will never again be the confident woman I once was. Back in the day I was the president of my hall and at one time the social secretary. How can it be that now, five years on I am unable to handle something as simple as a supermarket?
Perhaps I am expecting too much too soon but I do just want to be better and the anxiety when it kicked in felt like a major set back. All I can do is try again tomorrow and hope that it was just a little too much to expect it all to come right at once.
Here my wonderful caring mother continues with her insight into a carers programme which is being run in Leicestershire. I hope that those of you with loved ones who experience mental health issues will find it useful.
I have been to three sessions on this ten week programme and I can say that the first was the hardest one. I did not know anyone and was feeling nervous of finding the place in Melton as well as meeting a group of people in similar circumstances as myself.
The person in charge did a good job introducing the course and asking what we hoped to get from it. The thing I most dreaded was being asked to introduce myself and a little about my situation but instead we were asked to find out some facts about our neighbour and introduce them to the group. This was much gentler.
The next session was easier to attend and was chaired by a consultant psychiatrist who led us through the difference between mental health and mental ill health.
He was very informative and repeated each step so that by the end of the session I knew a lot more about the way the psychiatrist takes on a case and the areas he looks at in taking the history.
He explained the differing ways individuals handle stress and how a person with a vulnerability to developing mental ill health can be affected by events such as a death in the family.
There was a discussion also about different ages of the child and life stages at the time of the bereavement. He also said that every one of us would develop psychosis were we sleep deprived.
Another very significant learning point for me was that the person totally believes in what he thinks is happening. Many people asked questions at the end and I think we all benefitted from hearing the question and the answer.
I am lucky enough to have a spectacularly supportive network of people in my life. One thing that has always worried me when I am ill is how these people can manage the burden of my illness.
My mother has been kind enough to write a blog about one form of support for carers and I hope it will be helpful for those of you supporting loved ones through tough times.
Since Ellie was diagnosed bipolar we have often felt in the dark as to what it meant and what to do about it.
We would observe behaviour that seemed a little odd or unusual and wonder was it the bipolar or was it her personality and what way to intervene or how to intervene in order to help.
I joined an organisation called Rethink who describe themselves thus:
“Rethink, the leading national mental health membership charity, works to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life.
“We provide hope and empowerment through effective services and support to all those who need us, and campaign for change through greater awareness and understanding.”
Part of the service they provide is a person whose job is to support the carer. This person has been a godsend and although I don’t see her that often I know that if I phone her up and leave a message she will get back to me quickly and either listen to the particular problem on the phone or arrange to meet to discuss what to do.
She suggests ways to help us over a hurdle or from her experience talks of the options. She is a great believer in the importance of the person needing to accept that she has an illness that just like diabetes needs to be managed. She also talks about the needs of the carer and the importance of boundaries.
The other very helpful thing Dee has done is to enroll me on a course of ten once a week sessions which make up the carers education and training programme.
It is held every Wednesday morning in Melton Mowbray. One is going to start in Harborough in february or March but I felt the need to learn about mental health as soon as possible in order to be able to help Ellie in this crisis.
For more information about support for carers go to www.rethink.org.uk