Mental Health Awareness Day.

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day.

From a personal view every day is mental health awareness day, and not only for me, but for the millions of people who live with a mental health condition.

It is an admirable endeavor, creating a day focused on Mental Health Awareness, but I find the similarities to other times where awareness is heightened and then forgotten about are clear, take Christmas for example where homelessness is the big “thing”, organizations like Shelter campaign tirelessly for the homeless, adverts tell us that £20 can pay for a meal, clothes and a shower for those on the streets, and then, Christmas comes and goes and those campaigns are forgotten about until the next year.

The same goes with Mental Health awareness, in one day we will all experience mental health in some form, whether it is healthy, positive mental health or unhealthy, developing in to illness, or need for some form of psychiatric help.

To a large extent unless a family member/community member/dr or friend takes action when someone’s mental health is suffering a person can go through incredible pain emotionally and physically, the age old stigma we have all heard, when discussing mental health sadly still applies, “why is mental health treated any differently to physical health” we all know that saying, we have probably used it in some form ourselves, yet the stigma is still strong, in fact I have been told not to write about mental health, to keep it quiet, as it is a shameful secret, and I wonder, and ask myself why, why after all these years, with all the information, mental health organizations, and awareness days is it still a shameful secret?

There are positive aspects though, and one of those is the organization I work for JAMI. JAMI is an organization focused on Mental Health Recovery, it focuses on the positive, the recovery rather than the negative. We have social workers, Occupational therapists, benefit advisors, support groups and so much more. I am honored to work for an organization where I see on daily basis clients arriving, feeling welcomed, knowing that no one will judge them, no one will view them as “different”, where people are treated with the respect all humans are entitled to.
It is an honor to work for an organization such as JAMI, and I have learned so much through my position here, I have learned that deep down we are all the same, we all crave care and love and respect for who we are.
Each person who comes through the door at JAMI know they are wanted and welcomed, no matter what stage of mental health they are at.
Mental Health awareness day is of course a necessity but until we all are able to stand up, be counted and accept our own and others mental health, there is still a long way to go.

New year, New Anxiety

Anxiety seems to be the flavour of the month.

My Anxiety levels have shot through the roof over the last few weeks.

It is an interesting thing anxiety, as I have got older and had a child new, random worries pop in to my head, and create a nice cosy living space in my mind, settling down, rearing up and stretching at different times, for example a couple of my new anxieties include, pigeons, the sly creatures.. they hide out, under cars, behind dustbins and in trees and then swoop down when you are least expecting.  Escalators, oooo escalators are pure evil, I imagine a hook nose professor, deep underground in his cave, cackling and rubbing his hands together with glee as he invented them, they loom up, mocking you, daring you to step on, go down in to the abyss.

Right now, with the Jewish New Year having just passed, and the holiest day of the Jewish calendar arriving ( Day of Atonement) anxiety levels are sky high, which, considering its all happening up in the sky for the big man is quite appropriate.

God-of-Miracles

The Jewish New Year is vastly different to New Year in the traditional sense, we pray, a lot… a very lot, we eat, then we pray some more, on the day of atonement the order of the day is to stand in Synagogue from morning till night and pray for forgiveness for our transgressions, and that we be blessed with whatever our heart believes we need.

Around Christmas and New Year worldwide, suicide levels rise, anxiety soars and behind closed doors people cry, cry out of loneliness, cry due to their financial situation which can stop someone being able to fully enjoy the day, people cry for those they have lost, and those they ache to be with at a time where family and friendship is all around us.

 

close up of girl covering face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

New beginning’s are so hard, children find it hard to adjust to going back to school after a long holiday and adults struggle with a forgotten routine, if we add to that the stress of knowing that we stand before God on Rosh Hashana ( the head of the year) and Yom Kippur ( Day of atonement ) it can be overwhelming.

My anxieties are rampant, how much bad have I done this year? how many laws did I break, who did I gossip about, who did I hurt, will those scales in heaven tip in my favour, will it be a productive, healthy year and the list goes on and on.

Bipolar in general does bring with it anxieties, people who have Bipolar tend to become anxious, and have, in addition to Bipolar, general anxiety disorder, so I know I need to keep an eye on the manic thoughts.

There is a concept of Jewish Guilt, we feel it all the time, I know people who have left the religion who still feel guilt years later when living their lives in a secular way.

The guilt is overwhelming, the fear ( even though I truly believe God is loving and wants the best for us) of anything and everything is eating me up and wearing me down.

Wishing one and all an anxiety free, peaceful , healthy in both mind and body new year .

Lots of love

Sara

 

Fighting it

Right now I’m fighting.

Fighting with my brain.

I managed almost a year with no episodes, the longest I have ever gone since being diagnosed.

Last night, out of the blue I had an episode, there were no warnings, my train of thought had been stable with no hint of mania or rapid thoughts, there was nothing  out of the ordinary to give me a chance to get home, get the help I know I need when I’m about to have an episode, take more medication and sleep it out.

This snuck up on me, though I should have realised as I wrote my last blog on therapy anxiety that writing about my therapist often means my Bi Polar monster is  yawning and stretching, getting ready to do battle with me, the obsessive thinking about my therapist , the googling her name etc… all classic warning signs, except there were no other signs, it hit me full force, one minute I was in the kitchen, doing what I needed to, next minute I was pacing up and down the bedroom freaking out on the phone to my 2 people who are my “ go to” when I’m unwell about the blinking cow that the meat I had just opened came from, now I’m a meat lover, could never actually be vegetarian!!  Give me meat anytime of the day and I’m your friend for life , so me freaking about the cow was super odd.

My episode only lasted an hour or two.

As I wrote in my blog my Bi Polar has changed . Last night it came on suddenly and just as suddenly receeded, I did not need to take an extra dose of meds or call a psychiatrist.

Today there are those thoughts, racing, irrational thinking but I am constantly, every minute fighting it and WILL NOT let it beat me!

My stratagies are

Keep busy

sleep

eat

relax

read

Acknowledge  the thoughts and then let them go.

I would  be really interested in hearing your strategies are ? How do you, when you know your thinking isn’t right, stop a full blown episode happening ?

Lots of love

sara

Religion, mental health, leaving the path and more….

The subject of a direct link between a person suffering a mental health issue, and religion ( the orthodox way of practicing religion)  has always fascinated me.  In the Jewish religion, especially amongst teenagers, a vast number of people whom have a form of a psychriatric illness are leaving religion.

The close knit community I live in is an orthodox one, one where you follow the rules, you dress the same or similar to what is considered the “norm”, you know your neighbours, their family, the school they send to and the synagogue they attend, and a whole lot of judgements are presumed based on the above.   This is in no way a criticism, it is a fact of community, all small communities have their norms and this is just how it is in ours.

For those who find abiding by cultural norms, and are able to follow the unwritten rules this lifestyle can provide great comfort, you know where you stand, you know your role, you fit in, you will feel loved, accepted and can gain immensely from fitting in. But, what happens to those who don’t? what happens to those who despite being raised in a orthodox close knit community feel the need to break free? Feel stifled and caged by the laws and rules that they are born in to? Those who have perhaps been raised in a strict, cold home where following the rules is of utmost importance, and the ability to express any individuality is frowned upon. We live in a world where knowledge is just a click away, any child who wishes to know about the world around them just need to ask a computer, and if raised in a home where questions are frowned upon, where answers, love and warmth are not given readily the questions become secrets, secrets become lies, lies become anxiety and mental health is a downward spiral.

Religion can be a beautiful, wonderful way of life, it can bring stability and warmth, knowing that at any stage of life those around you will be there, by your side, helping, supporting you in any way you need.  I also believe that serving God, to the best of our abilities can be uplifting and provide a life of happiness and love. The Mitzvot (commandments) make sense, the laws are given for our benefit.  Women are not (contrary to popular opinion!) tied to the sink, downtrodden and belittled in Judaism, rather our role is so diverse, and we (sorry guys!) do have all the power!!

We live in a time where more and more teenagers and adults are opening up to others, bringing to light sexual abuse, sexual abuse which was not so long ago an hidden, horrendous and forbidden secret, many people in their 40’s, older and much younger are having memories, or strong desires to finally see their perpetrators bought to answer for their perverse and sickening crimes, when the perpetrator has been an orthodox person, or in some cases a Rabbi, a leader of the community, the victim is full of anger, and that anger is directed to the community, the religion and God, as the person who carried out their sickening desires seems or seemed like a man of God therefore it follows that people who follow this persons God are just like him, and mental health issues arise, upon remembering or opening up, or even keeping the secret inside, boiling over and over follow.

A person suffering a mental health issue in the community, has so much to loose, their siblings shunned by matchmakers, the family shamed and more, although the secret of mental health is slowly being talked about and accepted in communities more readily there is a long way to go, so a person who may have anxiety will have the added burden of keeping it a secret, leading to anger, depression and sometimes suicide, by leaving the community and becoming secular they are more free to express themselves in a way they feel is right for them.

So, why are teenagers and adults, especially those with mental health issues leaving the religion.  Below are some interesting points I came across, whilst researching the link between religion and mental health:

“Early 20th-century interest in religion and mental health was sparked by Freud’s view of religion as intrinsically neurotic. Freud described religion and its rituals as a collective neurosis, which, he suggested, could save a person the effort of forming an individual neurosis. For example, in an early paper, Freud (1907/1924) spelt out the similarities between religious rituals and obsessional rituals. He argued that guilt is created when rituals are not carried out, and assuaged when they are, so a self-perpetuating ‘ritualaholic’ cycle is set up.”

From the above, we can assume Freud was not a admirer of religion, and prescribed rituals, the guilt a person feels, when struggling with religion, when having questions about the way they were raised, questions concerning God and Judaism brings with it guilt, which in turn can bring with it mental health issues.

The way we are raised, how we are taught about God goes a  long way to either enrich or demean our mental health, is God a loving, forgiving one, has He put us here for our own benefit or for His? Does he really exist, what is our role in the world, etc. all these questions and the way we seek out answers go a long way in assuring we have positive mental health.

The below paragraph spoke volumes to me:

Religious factors, it has been suggested, are not always beneficial (Loewenthal, 2007; Pargament, 1997). For example, those who believe in a punishing God tend to have poorer mental health outcomes than those who believe in a benign, supportive God. However, some common suspicions about the harmful effects of religion have not always been borne out. For example it has been suggested that religion often fosters guilt, and this may serve to raise levels of anxiety, depression and obsessionality. Empirically, the effects are not so straightforward. True, generally there is an association between religiosity and measures of guilt and obsessionality, particularly in religious traditions that encourage scrupulous detailed observance, such as some forms of Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. However, measures of guilt do not predict anxiety and depression, and measures of religiosity do not predict clinical obsessionality (obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD) (Lewis, 1998). Greenberg and Witztum (2001), in their studies of OCD among orthodox Jews, concluded that religion offers ways of expressing the disorder, but does not in itself foster the disorder.

Living according to the strictest of rules can therefore bring with it guilt, which results in many different mental health issues, but, if we live with these rules through love and devotion, in a positive way, realising that God is there for us, and guilt should not be a deciding factor surely our lives would be enriched.

Lastly, having been in the psychiatric ward, a huge part of people leaving religious lifestyles is living with people who to the day you entered the ward, have been aliens to you,  a strictly observant teen or adult may never have encountered the outside world, may never have spoken to anyone outside of their faith, met people who can dress how they wish, eat what they wish, see what they desire, and speak freely, to a vulnerable person, whom may not get many visitors, may not feel supported by the community due to the secrecy of the nature of their illness this life seems an answer to everything, the anger they feel towards those living close to them, and leading an observant life, is shown by leaving the community, publicly dressing and acting in a way they know will be shameful to their family and community, usually though they are crying out for acceptance and love.

Lots of love

Sara

 

 

The change in my BiPolar

This month has been stressful, there have been good times, as I write this we are on the journey home from our holiday which we timed to coincide with a family Bar Mitzvah in the town we holidayed in, the holiday was lovely and relaxing , countering the stress I had been experiencing during the last few weeks.

In a  recent previous blog,  I wrote about the time of the year my son was born and passed away and my feelings surrounding that time, I have also written previously about my daughter, my beautiful girl who has not lived with me for 10 years now.

For as long as I remember I would expect, even anticipate a BiPolar episode, usually starting during a stressful period, to occur when my daughter visited, time of the year my baby had died etc, starting with the racing thoughts, the brain battle of little green monster fighting his way through, gradually spreading his claws throughout my brain, making me think and act in a manic/ hyper way, sometimes subsiding after a very short time but other times completely taking over to the extent that I believe I am on an incredibly important mission, am the queen, try to book tickets across the world and so much more, usually followed by the saddest, most intensely disturbing thoughts , leading me to find myself racing around a cemetery in a complete panic or believing  that people wanted to hurt me.

So. What’s changed ? Why during the last 8 weeks, when I became very ill, had the anniversary of my baby’s death , had my daughter visit and more have I not had an episode ? What has changed that has stopped me from even having an inkling of green monster rearing his ugly head?

I believe it is a combination of things, and I wonder how many others with BiPolar disorder can relate to this.

A few months ago I had something called EMDR to deal and come to terms with some horrendous things that I had sudden memories of, things which had stayed hidden in the deepest storeroom of my mind for so many years, EMDR has been one of the most difficult kinds of therapy I have been in, but having reached the other side it has been a journey of self discovery and learned strength, it has changed the way I feel about aspects of my life and journey.

It was suggested to me that my BiPolar was trauma based, and I do believe that to be true now.

The second part of the recent lack of manic episodes is the fact of having a fullfilling job which I love and one in which I  feel I am giving back to society.

Having a stable life and minimising my episodes is  goal I have always strived for, I know I still think in a certain way, the obsessive thoughts, the high anxiety about the world in general, the low self esteem etc.

I do feel that seeking the root of where a persons BiPolar started could help to lessen  the symptoms in a big way.

No, I do not think my BiPolar has gone and i know it will always be there. So I will keep taking my meds and hoping that another Episode will not occur but now I have the strength to overcome it.

“as mad as a hatter”

Those were the words a gentlemen used when describing a person with a mental health issue. To put it in to context, we recently joined a family we know for a meal, the subject turned to work, and on explaining that I work for a mental health charity and describing what we do, the conversation moved on to treatment and recovery, at which point  the gentlemen proclaimed ” who would want to marry someone who is as mad as a hatter”.

Those who know me will know that I do not hold back, if I am upset, angry, happy, surprised, nervous and so on it will pretty obvious, so for me not to answer his statement without literally leaving my chair, climbing across the table, knife in hand, snarling like a rabid dog was pretty impressive. Instead I tried to calmly explain that people ( like myself, except I did not tell him that as he would probably have started crying, terrified what the crazy lady at the table was capable of) who have mental health issues are in fact the same as every other person, that mental health issues, and physical health issues are cared for with medication, lifestyle and therapy, sadly though he could not grasp the concept and I do not believe he will ever change his views.

If I had the inclination or time this is what I would have told him.

People with Bi Polar do not, as a matter of course, drive planes in to mountains.

The chances of a person experiencing either a manic high or low hurting anyone else besides for themselves are nearly zero, we are more likely to self harm.

We live full, interesting and stable lives, just like anyone else.

You do not need to walk on eggshells around us, we will not collapse if you hurt our feelings.

A person with a mental health issue, can go years without a relapse or hospital admission.

Yes we may need to take medication, but hey, who doesn’t for one reason or another.

Because of our mental health issue, we are usually stronger and kinder people as we have seen and heard things a lot of people would not.

When we are unwell, we can appear to have super confidence ( when manic), talk very quickly, have illusions of grandeur, and put ourselves in extreme danger, as we are at our most vulnerable, we may loose sight of reality, this does not mean we are as mad as a hatter, it means we are unwell.

Please do not compare as a girl I was recently with did a person feeling low, or having a bad day to a person who is having a period of full blown depression or Bi Polar low, there is no comparison to make.

Do not say as an off hand remark “your so OCD” or even say it about yourself, you have no idea what it is to actually have OCD.

Its not ok to call people mental, it is the same as calling someone who has lost all their hair due to cancer baldy or something similar.

Realise you, or your family members can all develop a mental health issue, just like they can develop any other kind of illness.

Until people stop being afraid of us, until mental health can become a topic that no one is afraid to talk about, no one is “put of” by a persons mental health history nothing will change.

When someone has a physical illness people rush to assist, with meals, hospital visits, help with the children etc, it should be the same with mental illness, yes, it can be scary visiting a psychiatric ward, but as I know to well, the people there are suffering, afraid, and feel alone.

Finally, we are not mad, we are not crazy, we are you, we are us.

Lots of love

Sara

 

 

 

 

 

A life in the day of

I have until now been very hesitant to write about my bi polar, happily noticing that more and more people are reading my blog ( thank you !) I was unsure if it was a good plan to disclose something so very personal, something that has led  me through the greatest personal discovery journey I have been on, along the journey there have been many stops, some break downs needing emergency work, some happy stations some stations have been in the darkest towns , empty and lonely, ( picture tumbleweed and creaking swinging doors ) and the journey goes on, continuing, showing me new ways to travel new ways to choose the path to take .

For many years there has been “something” always there, always lurking, whether it was being the class clown in school to being way over sensitive as I grew older, from the times when I sat , so many years ago in the corner of a room rocking back and forth having an animated conversation with my grandmother whom had passed away A long time before, to the time when I tried, desperately to dig up the graves in a cemetery belonging to children who had died approx 100 years ago as I was convinced they could not breath. All of these “episodes” went untreated, they were viewed with horror, with silence, with dread of what the neighbours would think. Until at last, after a severe breakdown being diagnosed with BiPolar.

Usually I’m not a great lover of labels, but having the label of BP has given me a lifeline, I no longer feel alone, I no longer worry that I am a crazy, unpredictable person, someone to steer clear of, I accept who I am and acknowledge that even though hundreds of thousands of people are on the same team as me, battling the same mental health issue as me, there is sadly a stigma attached, a stigma which will never go away, a stigma which will stop people living the fullest, happiest life they could be.

Being a person with BP ( not a BP person!)  to me is like having a little extra part tucked away in my brain, if you are so inclined give it a name, let it take on a shape, usually it sits, happily. Quietly, minding its own business, not really disturbing you, but it’s always there, it has an effect on the way you think as a person, things that people may innocently say become mountains in your mind, you replay every word, your sensitivity levels tend to be much higher then other people, and in general you feel more, so, for example you are walking down the street and see a parent yelling at a child, most people will tut, they make shake their head, have some empathy for the child but you, with your Bi Polar brain will become obsessed , you will see every detail of fear on that child’s face, you will go home and your mind will become full of possible scenarios, will the child be ok? Is he being abused ? What is happening to him now? And as these thoughts overtake, the little blob , sitting comfortably at the back of your mind grows, and it keeps growing…. eventually leading to an episode.

So we need to be extra careful, we, need to take care not to listen to horrific news, see disturbing videos, read highly emotive books etc.

On the other hand, this extra sensitivity gives us the ability to be more empathetic , more understanding, more caring and loving.

Bi Polar episodes are different for every person. They can happen weekly, monthly, a couple of times a year or not happen for many years, they also all differ in severity, for example over the course of the approx 16 years that I have had my diagnoses there have been a few hospital admissions, some for a few days and the longest over 6 months, but some only an hour or two.

I tend to experience my Bi Polar with highs, I will go through a highly stressful time, and I will know ( and it takes years to come to the point of knowing ) when an episode is coming, the free-falling, all consuming, erratic thoughts, the inability to concentrate, the fantasy that becomes my reality of being the queen, a secret agent etc etc are all warning signs. Sometimes I can stop the episode before it consumes me, I go to a safe place , I sleep , I take extra medication, but sometimes there is no stopping it, and I am in my ” happy place” in no time at all.

For the people around me it is very difficult, though somewhere, deep deep down I know that something is wrong it is them who have to deal with the consequences. When I steal the car keys from my husband and try to climb out the bedroom window to drive down the motorway, to when I disguised myself convinced I was an Mossad agent and those around me were my soldiers. I know now who my safe people are, those who know from the tone of my messages or voice that I am on the verge of or in the midst of an episode, those 3/4 people are always there and they know what to do.

Bi Polar is NOT a choice, there is no point telling us to stop, to pull ourselves together. We can control it with medication, but still, at times the medication will stop being affective or will not be a strong enough dosage and a manic or depressive episode will occur.

Please know, we do not as some may think commit terror attacks or drive planes in to a mountainside because we have a mental illness, and when such an event happens we are saddened when the media will immediately fall back on the ” mental health issues of the perpetrator ”

We are you, we are me, we are your family and friends.

If someone you know has a mental health issue, do not be ashamed, make sure they are on the correct medication, that they know they are loved and that you are there … no matter what.

My last point is the importance of therapy. Personally I feel everyone should have a therapist, but for the person with BP it is even more important as we have all the anxieties, stress and unknowns that come with it.

My jouney is ongoing, I hope to be able to somehow in my own way stop along the way and open the eyes of those who are blind to the reality of mental health issues and how it affects all of us in one way or another.

Lots of love

Sara

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