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.

 

 

There is no one available to take your call…..

So, its been a while since I have heard those words, speaking to someone on the phone is a rare, strange, antiquated idea.  Why speak, when you can text, instant message, snapchat, tweet, WhatsApp  etc. etc.

Sending someone a message asking if they can talk usually is met with silence whilst they stroke their chin thoughtfully pondering the correct response to such an unusual and absurd suggestion.

Therapists, especially therapists, NEED! to answer immediately to a message, its a thing us in therapy know, if they don’t answer when we NEED them it is to quote Anne (with an E…great Netflix show!) “truly tragical”.

In our minds, at certain times, especially when we are feeling low or vulnerable sending a message to our therapist is our call out, we want to feel remembered, that we are of some importance to them, that they are there for us. Its a little like a child  meeting a teacher outside of school, children worldwide are continuously shocked that a teacher has a life outside school ( who knew… huh !) Surely the teacher/therapist is sitting, quietly awaiting her pupil/client to show up, contemplating everything that was discussed at the last lesson/session. Her thoughts completely focused on that particular person.

Some things a therapist does not have are these:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Shopping to do
  • Chores or other issues to deal with
  • Work
  • Other clients
  • Appointments
  • Their own issues and worries
  • Other places to go/other people to see.
  • Holidays
  • Self care time
  • Illness
  • Childcare

And the list goes on.

The last couple weeks have been stressful, lots of different sad situations coming my way, so obviously am feeling a wee bit vulnerable.  If I messaged a friend and they did not reply, I would (rarely) A. pick up the phone to them. B. wonder if I had done something to upset them, and then pick up the phone and call  them. C. Get mad at them and then pick up the phone and call them. D. Forget about it and then eventually pick up the phone and call them.

The relationship to a therapist is obviously unique, as much as we would sometimes like them to be, or on a bad day even have a little fantasy that they are our friends ( or mother/father… but that’s a whole different conversation) they are not, and they have boundaries which can not be crossed.

It is difficult though to remember that even if your ( or mine.. because ultimately I am actually talking to myself here) therapist does not reply immediately, or one day later or two, or even acknowledges your message at all, that does not mean that they  think you (or me) are:

  • Annoying
  • Needy
  • Demanding
  • Pathetic
  • Have no boundaries
  • Selfish
  • Not important
  • your issues are meaningless ( to those they see with “real” issues).

And any other millions of tangled messages your brain sends to you, hitting you over and over again, bringing down your self love and self esteem.

I know that I and others, will scribble a message and press send, swearing or “shouting ” at the therapist, telling them in our frustration that we don’t need them, want them, they are no good anyway etc, then quickly try to “delete for everyone” in the warped hope that maybe they would have glanced at the message, and seen you have deleted a message, and as a consequence we hope they have thought of us, even if for  a fleeting moment.

So, next time your feeling low, and really really need some care from your therapist, here’s something to try…. write a blog!

 

Anxious??

Hello dear reader.

Its been a while, a part of me has yearned to write, but another part has been taken up with, well, living. Recently though anxiety has been on the forefront of my mind and tonight an invitation and a conversation pushed me to write.

Long ago friendships are those that will last forever, even if you don’t speak for years, only send a WhatsApp once a year or so, and on each of those times promise faithfully that the next year you will meet, e mail, and be super old fashioned and use the telephone. The friendships we have had since school are enduring and time does not erode the depth of them.

The invitation to the Bar Mitzvah in Switzerland landed on my door mat a couple of days ago, and all I can think is “I have to go” “It would be so amazing to reconnect to a friend who is and always has been so dear to me” and “ I know I will ask my other friend from a time oh so long ago if she would like to come on a girly trip with me ”

Then I pause.. the word airplane comes to mind.. my heart drops, it thuds the heavy beat of anxiety, my face falls, how can I even contemplate travelling by airplane? Driving on a motorway, staring white faced out of a speeding trains window is enough to make me switch to full panic mode, the chest pains, the shortness of breath the feeling that surely the car will be involved in a pile up, the train will be in a fatal collision, the panic of travelling by airplane is something I have long avoided.

I speak to hubby, I make him tell me how many flights take off a day throughout the world, how many crash, how much training pilots are given, how does it stay afloat, is there a chance of survival if the plane crashes, how many terrorist attacks have taken place this year on flights… he looks at me in bewilderment and reminds me he is an accountant not a aeronautical engineer.

The anxieties I have now are pretty new, a couple of years at most, the irrational fear of pigeons, of escalates with their yawning mouths, ready to slip you up.

I have thought that I am a severely anxious person, and one quiet day at work, taking one on line self diagnoses anxiety test after another I had labelled myself as severely anxious, unable to move from my bed due to the crippling fear of the world.

Thankfully, I have a very sensible therapist, whom advised me to print out the results and we ran through the questions together, well, it wasn’t very long before I realised with her help that actually I do not wake up in a cold sweat on a daily basis, full of fear and anxiety about the cruel world outside my front door. I am anxious, but no where near as far as Dr Google assured me I was.

So I ask myself, how anxious are we really? There are of course millions of people who suffer crippling anxiety, for whom opening their curtains in the morning is a feat that requires all their inner strength, but for those of us who assume we are highly anxious I think we need to take a step back, observe our surroundings, look at the reality.  How likely is it that I will step on to an escalator and go tumbling down, when was the last time a pigeon launched a ferocious, life endangering attack on me  or anyone… nope never opened a newspaper to the headline ” The country is on high alert as pigeons go on the attack”

The last few weeks I have come in to contact with some severely ill people, people who do not know the direction their life will take, who do not know what tomorrow holds, and have been inspired by them, by their determination, by their strength. I look at them and realise, that our lives are to short to be driven by anxieties. We control some of our destiny, we can take control of the things that are stopping us for living the life we should be.

I will endeavour to get on that plane, I will not look out the window, maybe I will take a tranquiliser or have a drink or 10 but if it is meant to be..I will be in Switzerland in a few weeks!

Chuss and have a great night.

Sara x

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

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