How visiting a friend in hospital can affect our own Mental health.

On Monday night I visited a lady I know in the psychiatric ward.  There were a few feelings and emotions that I had no choice but to acknowledge, both before the visit, during and after the visit.

Anyone who has been in the psych ward will know the deep emotional connection we can have with it, the smells, the sounds, especially the aggressive sound of the alarm bell ringing, signalling staff members from other wards that help is needed, the staring faces, the atmosphere of sadness.

Whilst in the ward a few things occurred. First, a nurse who was on duty greeted me, asked me who I was seeing, told me she liked my earrings, all the while not recognising me as the same patient whom had been in her ward a mere few weeks ago. The blank look she gave me spoke volumes, sending a clear message, “I did not see you, really see you as a human, as a person whilst you were in hospital.

Sitting with my friend was a revelation.  As I experience my Bipolar with manic highs, sitting with someone who was suffering with her illness in an aggressive and frankly scary way shook me to my core.  She is an extremely clever lady and whilst with her she rattled off all the names of the people who had proposed to her, the list was never ending, starting with a list of celebrities, going on to a list of people she had known since childhood, her memory for names and places amazed me.  She has not yet accepted that she is ill and currently is refusing medication. She shouted at me that she was the Messiah and they are trying to kill her and silence her voice.  All in all it was  a scary experience.

It naturally made me draw comparisons, the exhaustion I felt after the visit, the low mood, the sadness I feel for her all compounded the emotional reaction I experienced from being in the ward as a visitor. It gave me more awareness of how different Mental Health Illness are experienced, it gave me gratitude that when I am unwell I am not aggressive, in fact I am the opposite, love flows freely, this is not diminishing anyone who suffers from the manic highs, rather it can be just as dangerous and terrifying as living with the illness experienced with lows or anger.

The thought kept and still does keep going around in my mind, asking myself if those who visit me in hospital feel the same or similar emotions after being with me?

The visit, though fleeting left a lasting impression, has affected my mood, things have seemed bleaker, regular situations  I have had to deal with this week have become mountains, my thinking has been black and white with regards to daily struggles, and once again I am experiencing transference to my therapist.  She is occupying far to much space in my mind, the feelings of love I have whilst feeling vulnerable are unhealthy  to the extreme, the panic knowing that I will not see her for 2 weeks overtaking me.  I believe all these are the result of a highly charged visit to the psychiatric ward.

We have to be so aware of “where we are emotionally” before carrying out certain activities, for example visiting the psych ward very soon after being released from one yourself, taking on to much and saying “yes” to everything is a warning sign.  There are times that we are able to help, be there, support and encourage those who need us, but when living with a Mental Health issue caution must always be taken.

Ethics of the Fathers 1:14 states, Hillel says ” If I am not for myself, who will be for me? but if I am only for myself who am I? If not now, when?” The genius of these words are so clear, and can be interpreted on so many levels. Each person will have their own way of looking at these words, taking their own message.

The message I see in these words is ” If not for myself who will be?  Who will look after me if I do not look after myself, who will keep my emotional health and wellbeing at the forefront if not me?”   He continues, “But if I am only for myself who am I?” It is interesting that Hillel started the verse with self care, self love telling us that  only once we have looked after ourselves, made sure we are healthy and well, can we then be there for others.

Saying No!

My therapist has a few phrases she loves to say, wise and always practical, she will often remind me of two vital components to living a healthy life, ( its been 4 years, and yet she perseveres, got to give it to her, she doesn’t give up) these two things are:

Self Care and the stories we tell ourselves.

I have been asking myself, what was  it that made me land up in the psychiatric ward last week? There must have been a build-up, a pressure boiler getting hotter and hotter, a story  occurring that eventually led me to my massive Bipolar manic episode.

My episodes are usually few and far between, and are usually over within a few hours. So what was different this time? Why, on this occasion was I unable to stop the racing thoughts, the need to be moving, the terrifying (for myself on some level , for others too) manic behaviour I was unknowingly displaying?

I think the answer is in those two words, self care.

The ability to say no is a skill that the sensible among us have learnt, to know your limits, to be able to say ” I would love to help you out, give you that ride, cook those meals for you, help organise the party, be class mum, take out that sick person, babysit your children, etc, but right now I need to focus on myself”

Its interesting, even writing the above, I felt selfish, as I type the thought  kept running through my head, ” but what if they are relying on you, need you to do that, the fact that they asked you means they thought you were the one to approach”.  The saying goes, “if you want something done, ask a busy lady”. Perhaps that busy lady is indeed so busy because we all keep asking her to do things for us?

Whilst in hospital a close friend came to visit, “Sara” said Abigail in her strictest tone of voice ” You have to stop doing so much for everyone else, do you think that by saying yes all the time, you are maybe covering  up for some kind of insecurity?”. Her perception really surprised me, at first a little hurt by her words but quickly recognising the absolute truth in them.

Do we say yes to people all the time, even when we are falling apart, even when we are crying inside for someone to give to us, even when we are just so tired of doing and doing and doing until we fall, exhausted and worn out in to bed because we have some constant voice in our minds, replaying the narrative that most of us have learned throughout our lives, “good people are the ones who do for others”. We see on all forms of media, the good of humankind, those that risk everything, those that stop at nothing to help the vulnerable, the suffering, the children who are hurting and hungry and that voice will tell us, in order to be seen as “good” this is what you have to do.

No one wants to, or should want to live a selfish life, we all need and aspire to do the best we can with the tools we have been given, but I have learned the hard way over the last few weeks, PRACTICE SELF CARE!

The stress I have been under wasn’t anything radical, we all deal with daily stresses, and need to be able to develop inner strength to cope with them, but it was a drip drip build up, it was a friends illness, a stillborn for someone else, another illness, being confided in about a the state of a friends sadness with her marriage, hearing about loss of finances for another, just doing, doing and doing more.

My body and my mind were telling me to say no, to let them know gently that right now I could not be present, I needed to look after me, but the insecurity inside, the part that drives us to try and please everyone, that part won.

So, what will I do next time? will I be able to say no when that person asks that favour? I hope so, even if it will be uncomfortable, even if my brain is rebelling against the words my mouth is speaking, I hope that I will be able to look deep inside, see what I need to do to be my best self, perhaps take on a little less, indulge in some me time, close the curtains, dont rush to answer those phone messages, learn that, hey, you know what, they will find someone else to do that thing that “only you” can do. Have a haircut, massage, nails done, a day away from everyone an everything.

Most of all, tell, tell the person who loves us most that we need to be selfish, if that person is ourselves, or a spouse, parent or friend, tell. We all need appreciation we all need physical and emotional acts of love.

Please take care of you.

Sara.

 

 

To be or not to be…PC

We are living in a extreme world, going back 40/50 years it is as though we have executed an 360 degree circle.

In the 50’s, people who were different were made to feel ashamed, having to hide away their sexuality, their desire’s, their confusions for fear of being ridiculed, tormented or even locked up.  Today we live in a completely different world, some would go as far to say that being a certain gender, a stay at home mother, a man and women being married, girls wanting to play with dolls and boys wanting to play with trains, is frowned upon.

Gender neutral school uniforms, the ability for 11 year old children to go to a Dr and ask for gender reassignment surgery, books such as sleeping beauty being considered “dangerous” (as the prince did not give consent before kissing the princess) postmen and policemen not being called men anymore, the same applies for policewomen/ postwomen, who are now known as police person, or post person all point to a society that has done everything it can to move as far as possible away from the “norms” of the 1950’s.

We are afraid to say anything in fear of insulting someone. We have to stop and think before we call someone male/female girl/boy.  Government forms now give the option to add ” other” where it asks if a person is male or female.  All in all we are living in an extreme world, where one has to be careful every time they open their mouths.

So why, I asked myself when seeing the picture below on Facebook, is this ok.

psych ward pic

The idea is to fill out the answers with friends names, and then post it on their walls, in turn they will post others names and send on etc.

The picture above, which went around the Facebook galaxy at an alarming speed is so full of insults, hurtful words, and misconceptions. Lets look at another picture, one which I put together myself this morning, the only things I have changed are the ward and a couple of other details, take a minute and compare the two.

Cancer

Just writing the above made me shudder. Would any of us, ever share the above, inviting others as a joke to fill in the blanks with people’s names? If not, why then is it ok to share the first one, both are illness’s, both destroy lives, both bring destruction and heart break in its tidal wave.

There is an underlying attitude that it is ok to poke fun of mental health illness. Perhaps it is ok for those suffering themselves from a mental health issue to have a joke, as it is ok for example, me as a Jew to make a joke about Jews. But again there is a very thin line.

The underlying attitude that people who suffer from Mental Health illness’s are somehow “crazy” and different, people whom are to be feared stems in no small part from posts like the above on Facebook.

In a generation where we are so careful not to offend, perhaps we need to take a look at why ridiculing those with mental health issues is ok.

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

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