Monday, April 2, 2018

Guest Post - The Gremlin Within - By Ali from Talk and Cheese

I have never felt love or happiness in the way that I do now. Thank you Handsome Doc. Thank you MK. Just thank you.
The three of us share love, laughter, tears and joy.
We share our home too.

We share our home with bi-polar. My bi-polar. #bipolar
The good days are good! Well of course they are, the clue is in the name.
The bad days? They’re really not so good. They’re decidedly ‘ungood’. In fact, they stink. I wish they would just do one.
The chalk and cheese of life. 

The emotional weighing scales in my DNA seem to self calibrate of their own free will. And living with bi-polar inexplicably grants these scales permission to tip at any given time.

To be absolutely clear, I am not bi-polar. I live with bi-polar. Bi-polar Disorder Type 2 to be precise. 

This mental illness does not identify me though. I’m still the same me as I was before my diagnosis. But I live with it. Quite different things, don’t you think?

It’s my curse and my blessing, weird as that may sound.
The hypomanic episodes feel like an absolute blast at the time. Who wouldn’t want to feel excited by everything in life? Over excited. Who wouldn’t want to feel capable of doing anything? To have no fear of failure? Motivated. Inspired. Energetic. And happy. Happy happy happy. Oh that happiness! Sweet joy! Yeah but guess what? You’re not real. You’re a fake. Jog on fake happiness, you’re not welcome here. Do one. 
This blast though… This blast carries with it an underlying terror of the inevitable low which will follow. The desperate, black low. The loneliness. The exhaustion. The inability to communicate on any level. The feeling that I am not part of the real world. Why is it that everyone else is living a life in which I am a mere onlooker? I’m a film extra in my own life story. My life is not my own.

And then there’s the sadness. Yes that’s it. More than anything else it’s the sadness. The grief and the sadness. The grief of the euphoria which has been and gone. Simple, agonizing, quiet sadness.

There’s a gremlin in my head. He tries to push thoughts of the impending darkness out of my mind. He teases me that this hypomanic state is just fabulous, and where I belong. And do you know what? He does a good job, but over the years I’m slowly beginning to learn to fight this mischievous little gremlin. I’m learning to answer him back. Slowly.
He’s still very much alive though. He’s had more comebacks than Liberace sadly, but I’d like to think that he’s no longer a ‘shoe-in’ to win. He’s met his match, although still knows all too well how to creep up from behind and pounce when I least expect it. He’s like a leopard hunting his prey – he comes in camouflage.

But hang on, to the outside world I have a privileged life, don’t I?
The answer to that is yes.

I’ve found love in a way that I never knew existed.
I live in a beautiful house in Surrey.

I’ve been blessed with a wonderful son. My pint sized legend, MK, who brings me such enormous joy every single day in life.
I have no money worries.

We go on at least two luxurious (and at times entirely chaotic and hedonistic) holidays a year.

As for me personally? Well… I guess I’m relatively inoffensive to look at. (Unless I’ve pulled one of those lonely all nighters).
How can I possibly live with a mental illness? What kind on ungrateful self-absorbed person can feel sorry for themselves with a life like this? 
Me. Yes me. It’s beyond my control.

Even during my darkest days, I never lose sight of my blessings, but they mean nothing at that point. Nothing has any meaning when I’m battling through a depressive episode. 

I shop in Sainsbury’s, where I can at times be heard humming a happy wee tune as I push my wonky trolley up and down aisle 15 (aisle 15 has everything by the way – when I can’t find some random thing I’m looking for the shop assistant always directs me to aisle 15. Always. Fruit, fishfingers, fromage frais and fresh donuts. Aisle 15. Try it).
I ‘do coffee’ and ladies lunches.
I laugh.
I’m occasionally funny (well, mildly amusing).
I walk tall (despite being just 5’2”).

I exchange pleasantries with Mrs Meikle the school lollipop lady.
I even high fived Mr Harper, the school caretaker, when I walked MK through the school gate last week. On reflection, that really wasn’t cool. He high fives every child as they skip through the gates. He does not, I repeat, not, high five the parents. Ever. It was bad judgement on my part and I think surprised me as much as it did him. I’m sorry Mr Harper
So how can this seemingly ‘normal’ and capable mummy be mental?
She just can.

I use the term ‘mental’ in a tongue in cheek context. I feel I have earned the right to be self-depreciating.

This is of course not an illness that should be trivialized in any way, but during my lengthy stay in a private mental health unit, humour got me through it. It’s almost like gallows humour I guess. It never takes away from the gravity of the illness though. Never.

Somehow though, sitting in the smoke filled patients’ lounge (pre-smoking ban) and having a competition to see how many songs we could come up with that had the word ‘crazy’ in it seemed fun. I got “Still Crazy after all these years” by Paul Simon. Pleased with that.

Acute post traumatic stress disorder having just come back from fighting in Iran. Poor Adrian was a mess when he came in. 

Obsessive compulsive disorder where the obsession was related to people. Dave was a deeply troubled man, who in fact obsessed over me when I was discharged from hospital. Very frightening, but also desperately sad for him and for those close to him. 

Actually I often wonder what became of Dave. I hope you have found some relief, Dave. Some relief from your torturous illness. And thank you Dave. Thank you for being a part of my journey and for teaching me tolerance.

Today it’s Saturday. I like today. I’ve been well since Thursday, and am still feeling at peace with myself.

Prior to that however, was a 3 day low.
It hit me pretty badly this time. That said, it’s all relative. We mustn’t confuse it with the times when the gremlin told me that suicide was the best option. With the times that I believed him and mapped out various plans on how best to go about it. He lost in the end though. Well I’m here, aren’t I? I’m here. Thank you Dr Ciani. Thank you meds. And thank you therapy. You have saved me, quite literally. Thank you. 

I must just add that this gremlin is not a ‘voice in my head’. Bi-polar Disorder type 2 presents no psychotic behavior. To become deluded, to hear voices and to hallucinate is a very different thing to having either hypomania (a high), or a depressive episode (a low). 

This recent low though. Eugh! I could feel it coming on, having spent the previous three days as high as a kite. It wasn’t so much that I exchanged pleasantries with Mrs Meikle the lollipop lady, more that I had to quash the urge to hug her and swing her round tell her how much she suited fluorescent yellow. Oh and how well she wore her lollipop. How she carried it and moved it with such effortless grace and finesse.
I’m hugely relieved and proud that I managed to quash that urge. It was a close call though. Could’ve been awks.

I was top of the class at pilates. I was planking like a… well… a plank. The rest of the class had rolled up their mats, popped out for lunch and savoured a twelve course tasting menu whilst I was still holding that plank.

Poor Handsome Doc was talked at for 3 hours straight after a long, draining day at work. He’s a very successful consultant anaesthetist and intensivist. He deals with devastation and loss on an almost daily basis. My 3-dimensional plan of the way we ought to landscape the garden just HAD to be explained in agonizing detail right there and then though. The Tokyo Pop Sofa by Driade in black would offset the raised flower beds, all of which would be filled with just white flowering shrubs. Green and white only in these bad boys. And as for the Pieris Japonica Sarabande? It favours shade. Ideal for our south westerly facing garden. Who knew?
I’m sorry Handsome Doc. You are my hero and my rock. Your unwavering love and support during these challenging episodes is nothing short of incredible. You get me. You get ‘it’. Thank you Handsome Doc. Just thank you.

This low, however, was less fun than the exhausting high. When the doorbell rung I fled into the bedroom like a stealth bomber and stopped breathing until the coast was once again clear. Phew! That was close. I’m sorry Jen (at least I think it was you at the door), but do call again and I promise you I will run towards the door this time, not away from it.
I disguised my pyjamas (rather stylishly, I’d like to think), amongst various Ugg boots, puffy jackets and beanie hats when I took MK to school. Well I had to, didn’t I? It shaved off a good 7 seconds when it came to collapsing back into bed at 9am. The bed which I stayed in for 3 solid days, other than a few trips to the fridge for yet another 1.75l bottle of Coke Zero, the trips to the loo (which were frequent due to the excessive consumption of said Coke Zero) and of course the school runs.

My hair was crying out to be washed to the point where I’m convinced there were various species of wildlife nesting in there.

Showering? Are you serious? Not happening. Not today, not the next day, and most definitely not the next.

Tears? Oh my days were there tears? At times there were spells of silent misery. The tears were tumbling but I couldn’t utter a sound. At times I wailed. I wailed and sobbed and hugged my knees for comfort searching for any kind of relief from the desperate sadness I was feeling.
But guess what? It passed. It passed as it always does. The sun came out to shine again on Thursday and has remained bright since then. Thank you sun. You heal me.

For now I am at peace. How long that will last before the next episode I simply don’t know. For now though, I am at peace.
The blessing of bi-polar? I am kinder than I used to be, more tolerant of other people, and perhaps most importantly, I’m in touch with my emotions. I think (hope), I can tune in the emotions of others. Of people who may be fighting a battle themselves. 

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with an accurate diagnosis and receive the most wonderful treatment. Medical and chemical treatment, but also beautiful treatment from those close to me. Thank you friends. Thank you family. You know who you are and you know what you do. Thank you.

I’ll be on a hefty dose of meds for the rest of my life – mood stabilisers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Each of them have some pretty miserable side effects, but that’s ok. I am one of the lucky ones. Thank you Dr Ciani. We got there in the end. 

I’ll always dip my toe in the water of hypomania and depressive lows, but on a far milder scale than I used to. Where once I would fully immerse myself in that pool and tread water for days on end, it’s now just the slightest of toe-dips. I barely need to dry my feet afterwards. 
I’m winning. I’m beating this mischievous gremlin. He can, as I said earlier, do one.

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