Challenging myself

For a few years now, I have been confined to the house and only went out if I absolutely had to. Lately, though, I have started cycling and going to the gym and have found it has made a difference in how I feel.  Even though I ache the next day, I have noticed that I have a bit more energy than before, so I decided to take on a challenge and visited a climbing wall to do some bouldering and top roping.

Shirley Bouldering 2Oh my goodness, it was SO exhilarating to heave myself to the top of the wall and manage to complete the climb. I am very unfit and overweight so it was indeed a challenge, but I had fun trying out all the different walls.

While climbing, my attention was completely focussed on what I was doing and where I was putting my feet. I had to keep assessing what I could reach and what strength I had to move upwards.  I never noticed my racing mind or troubled thoughts, I never felt the heavy pull of depression.  I felt pleased with myself each time I mastered a new route.

The routes are colour-coded and you have to only use the one colour foot/hand holds.  I was on the black route in this photo.

Once I had mastered the smaller walls, I just had to go for the ultimate challenge and climb the big wall. I think it was 30 feet high. (just a small one apparently!).

This was my chance to really push myself out of my comfort zone and experience the feeling of success. I can’t begin to tell you how good it was for my mental wellbeing. I was on top of the world and the feeling of satisfaction and joy stayed with me all day!

Today, my arms ache and my legs are stiff, but it was totally worth it.  If you are thinking about doing an activity to push yourself, even just a little bit, I totally recommend it – I still feel energised and pleased with myself today!  Go for it 🙂

Me on a climbing wall about 20 feet up
I made it all the way to the top following the green route!

 

 

Caffeine Nap

I suffer from extreme daytime sleepiness partly because of a sleep disorder and partly due to my bipolar meds. Because of this, I have trouble staying awake in the afternoons so I tried all sorts; drinking coffee, having naps, getting some fresh air and even had a go at mindfulness, but nothing helped to helped me fight extreme sleepiness. I heard about a caffeine nap so thought I would give it a try.coffee-171653_640

The idea is to drink a cup of coffee or caffeine product quickly, then have a nap immediately afterwards. It sounds contradictory, and initially, made no sense to me, but the science behind it proved otherwise.

The theory is that it takes around 20 minutes for the effects of caffeine to kick in and the recommended time for a power-nap is 20 minutes. Combining the two together means the caffeine is just kicking in at the point of awakening from the nap. The caffeine cancels the groggy feeling often felt when waking. It also prevents us from napping too long, making us feel even worse.

I decided to give it a go. It took a bit to get used to as I would tend to fall deeply asleep for an hour or more and the caffeine wasn’t enough to wake me. I found the best way to deal with it, was to set the alarm for 25 minutes. This allowed me a bit of time to fall asleep and also time for a brief nap to happen.

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I did find myself still groggy upon awakening, though, so I made the coffee stronger. I also stood up and walked around then made myself busy immediately after the nap to get the blood flowing again rather than just sitting for a while. This helped tremendously and I felt refreshed and awake again.

I have been doing the caffeine nap for a while now, and I find I am more alert for hours after the nap and survive until bedtime without needing another nap.

For people who also suffer from extreme sleepiness, it is worth trying.

Painting for Mental Wellbeing

Living with a serious illness sucks, but I have to make the most of it. I am too unwell to work, at least for the foreseeable future anyway; never say never, though. Filling my time, therefore, can be a challenge. I need to try and keep my brain occupied, but have to battle fatigue and concentration problems.

I have taken up painting as a new hobby, but as I can’t afford, or have room for canvas and paints in my tiny little home, I have taken up digital painting on the laptop using Corel Painter 2016. It’s not cheap, but boy, was it worth the money. I am sure I would have spent the equivalent in paints and canvas over time.

What a fantastic piece of software! It has hundreds of brush types in dozens of different mediums. It has taken me months of experimenting to get the hang of it. If you are interested in taking up digital painting, I cannot recommend it enough. Tip – they have regular sales with significant discounts – buy it then!

It is filling a large hole in my time; I spend most of the morning painting. For someone who finds it hard to concentrate on things like books and tv programmes, it is unbelievable how much I can do. On those long sleepless nights, painting is also perfect for relaxing me and taking away the anxiety of not being able to sleep. Charlie Profile Pic 2nd attempt

The feeling of satisfaction when my creation is complete is worth the effort. It has done wonders for my confidence and mental wellbeing. Although I a loving painting landscapes from reference photos, one of my biggest achievements was painting a picture of my cat, Charlie. There is a photo of him on my ‘About’ page for comparison.

If you are thinking about it, go for it! Here are a couple of my landscape efforts:

Sunset River and Trees_bak

Sea View Bushes

Medication Withdrawal

One-two, buckle my shoe …

Thump, slam, crash. Scream out loud. There it goes again, and again, yet again.

Three-four, knock at the door … scream out loud.

The knocking is inside my head, in the space between the front of my skull and between my ears. It is there that the pinball machine resides.

The metal ball-bearing is rattling around inside my skull. Each time the ball-bearing strikes, it generates an electric shock. It is a mild shock, not life-threatening, or indeed life-ending; just mild. Like the sound coming from the dripping of a tap … just mild, not deafening.

Every little electric shock makes my body jerk, just a little, not wildly. Thump, slam, crash. One-two, buckle my shoe. Scream.

Optic nerves are shrinking. Every time I move my eyes, a hissing sound rushes through my ears, and a searing pain shoots through the nerves from my eyes into the bowels of my brain. This excites the ball-bearing, and it crashes around wildly … sting, sizzle, fizz goes the electric shocks. Over and over again. Scream.

Every time I move my head, even just a little, my eyes hurt and my ears hiss … Three-four, knock at the door. Scream.

Like the persistent dripping of a tap – every single drip increases in intensity. The pinball machine moves to the next level. Lips tingle and guts wrench. Every last molecule is ripped from my gut. Feet can only shuffle, and my head hangs limply.

My doctor took me off Venlafaxine; it’s a week without any antidepressant, and my body is starting to experience the horror of discontinuation syndrome.

There it goes again, and again, yet again. Scream.
Mild, yet so intense.

The Cruel Lie – You Just Need to be Strong

Mental illness is just that – it is an illness. Just as a physical illness makes you ill, mental illness does too. Illness is no stroll in the park for anyone, no matter who they are or what they are dealing with.

The thing about mental illness, though, is it carries a sting in the tail. People seem to think that if someone has a mental illness, it is as a result of some kind of weakness. Physical illness is unfortunate, but mental illness seems to be perceived around the world as of their own making, and therefore they must be weak to have ended up ill in the first place, and weak for being trapped in the illness.

It’s just not true! New discoveries are being made every month that reveal the functions within the brain, that when not working properly, results in a mental illness developing. Strength and weakness have nothing to do with it.

Living with any serious illness takes strength and courage just to get by and function on a basic level each day. Mental illness is no different, except that it comes with an additional sting in the tail – it makes you physically ill too. Nausea, exhaustion, fatigue, IBS, muscular pain, joint pain, headaches. Weight, blood pressure and blood sugar are affected too. Then there is the impact on sleep… everyone experiences different problems, so the list is endless.

When someone is in the throws of an episode, the image of them sat in in their pyjamas unable to get washed and dressed because of the debilitating mental illness, is easy to scorn. It is so easy to think they must be weak just to sit there, staring at the wall in torment. It is easy to think that they just need to be told to pull it together and be strong, and they will be able to get up and function normally again.

The truth is; they just burned up their last bit of strength to push themselves out of bed when their brain and body were screaming at them not to. There is not an ounce of energy left in the system, and no reserves in the tank – that got burned up yesterday. Washing, dressing, eating, functioning, coping and working are all physically and mentally out of the question.

Distress And SufferingThe brain and body are all burned up, and they can do nothing but exist in an empty shell and sit with the torment they are experiencing. They will use inner strength to exist from minute to minute and hour to hour. As soon as they have some energy again, believe me, they will push themselves hard just to manage basic functions. That is the way it is in an episode of mental illness. It is cruel, severe and robs people of the opportunity to engage in the world around them.

It might take days, weeks or months for recovery to start. All they have left is their courage and the memories of what they used to be able to achieve in a typical day.

So, someone with a mental illness who is crying in pain and screaming in distress is not being weak; they are dying inside because they have no strength left.

Telling them to ‘you just need to be strong, and you will get through it’, is hurting them even more.

World Mental Health Awareness Day

It’s a day that is observed around the world each year because, frankly, our mental health is as important to our survival as physical health is. It’s not just to make the world aware of those of us struggling with a mental illness; it’s about everybody. It’s about being mindful of the fact that we need to look after our mental health.

We all have a physical state, a mental state, and an emotional state and all of these need to be looked after, or poor health and illness can occur. It is pretty obvious if we don’t look after our physical health, we become unwell. The same principle applies to our mental health; if we don’t look after it, we become unwell.

One of the aims of World Mental Health Awareness day is for people like me to start a discussion about mental health to help others become aware that everyone has ‘a mental health’ that needs to be looked after, no matter its current state.

It is all too easy to hear the term ‘mental health’ being discussed and automatically think it is only referring to people with problems or illness. “She has mental health problems,” “he has a mental health illness” etc., but nothing could be further from the truth! We need to compare the phrase ‘mental health’ with ‘physical health’ to get a better idea. We can be in great shape physically and also mentally. We can be in poor physical health and likewise poor mental health. It is a state of being on a sliding scale. Both physical and mental states need to be worked at and nurtured to keep them in a healthy position on that sliding scale.

So, World Mental Health Awareness Day is about helping you become aware that your own personal mental health is on a sliding scale and needs to be looked after just as much as your physical health. My mental health is in great shape at the moment, which is fantastic. Even though I live with a mental illness that is for life, I am still on the same sliding scale as you so I can go through periods of poor mental health and great mental health.

We all know the multitude of things that can be done to maintain our physical health, but do we know the things that need to be done to maintain a good state of mental health? Searching the internet will produce list upon list of ‘tips for good mental health,’ some good and some debatable. My personal advice is, the number one thing you can do to look after your mental health – is to look after your physical health! When things go wrong with our physical health, often, our mental wellbeing can be affected too. Our physical and mental health are twins joined at the hip. One cannot go without the other and in most cases, what affects one, affects the other and vice versa.

From my personal experience, some basic things that can be done to maintain and improve mental health are:

1. Sleep well. Treat sleep as the most important part of your day and don’t skimp on sleep – you need it more than you realise! Living with sleep deprivation can go unnoticed initially, but it will affect your physical health, mental health, emotional health, concentration and decision-making skills. If you think you are great now – think how truly wonderful you could be if you get your full quota of sleep every single night!

2. Eat well. Unfortunately, that means eating healthy foods, not junk! Like it or not, and I don’t, we do need to eat a well-balanced diet to stay physically and mentally healthy. Even small changes can make a difference. The key to making these changes, though, is to know what to eat, and I know first hand, that can be a minefield. But, it is one aspect of things we must do to ensure good all round health.

3. Exercise. Yes, that old chestnut! Unfortunately, it is true. Exercise is important for both our mental and physical health. There is a recommendation that doing about 10,000 steps a day is the right amount of daily exercise for us. That is around 5 miles. To some people it’s just a ‘stroll in the park,’ to others, like me, that’s half way up Mount Everest! A sedentary lifestyle is known to cause poor physical health and shorten lifespan. Exercise is also known to lift spirits, improve mood and mental wellbeing, so it is worth getting those steps in!

4. Get Help. We all need a helping hand occasionally, and it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. The times when we could be asking for help, are those where issues are causing excessive stress or anxiety. Stress is a great thing. Stress is positive, stress is a motivator, stress wins competitions, but stress also kills. If a life or work situation is causing excessive, prolonged stress, it is time to ask for help before something breaks – and it will. Remember – stress kills.

That’s pretty much all I would recommend because long lists are just unachievable. This list alone is challenging because it goes against the lifestyle many of us are currently living. That is why there is currently a world mental health epidemic. The epidemic is set to get worse because of the overly busy, sleepless, stressful, often unhealthy lifestyles that are affecting billions of people all across the planet.

So, the next time you hear the phrase ‘mental health’ it’s not just about problems and illness, it is about looking after ourselves and maintaining a good, healthy place on that sliding scale to prevent problems and illness from occurring!

Dealing with Being Dumped

Picture of a tree, one side green and leafy and the other side bare branches
(c) Can Stock Photo

Dumped by text. I knew it was coming; I was just waiting for the “you’re dumped,” and I just knew it would selfishly be delivered by text instead of in person or by a phone call. That’s the way she is.

Being in a relationship while having bipolar disorder is not easy at the best of times, but when both parties have bipolar disorder; well, the journey is set to be a rough one. To be successful, having a plan is vital. ‘Know what we are dealing with’ would be a good place to start. To understand each other’s needs is important, but it has to be two-sided; both parties must understand the other person’s needs, not just their own. If this doesn’t happen from the start, the journey is destined to arrive at failure, sooner, rather than later.

Having a daily routine is an important part of managing bipolar disorder. What happens when one person is trying to stick to their routine, but the other one doesn’t have one? There is a potential risk that the person with a daily routine is dragged off course and into the unplanned path of the one without a routine. When this happens, maintenance of mental health becomes increasingly difficult.

Communication is an essential element in the relationship, but general chit-chat is not communication. Real communication is the ability to talk about issues openly in a conversation (verbal, not text) without fear. When one person is fearful of speaking up about a problem, the relationship has no backbone.

Neediness brings challenges to the relationship, too. Sure, we all have needs; emotionally, mentally and physically, and if these are not met, the relationship will spiral downhill quickly. What happens when one person is high maintenance in the needs department, but the other only has two basic needs? The balance is uneven, and one person has a lot of hard work on their hands. Neediness in a relationship is healthy, but it can also be a deal-breaker if it becomes too much.

My needs were simple; in fact, I only had two needs. The first is ‘space.’ I needed space to stick to my documented daily routine (which is actually a treatment plan for a sleep disorder) My second need is ‘alone time’ so that I can have headspace to pursue my creative activities. I also need some downtime to do household chores and gardening! If I don’t get to stick to my routine, I very quickly become unwell and if I don’t get the headspace needed, I end up feeling crowded and miserable.

So what did I do wrong? In general, terms, nothing specific. Regarding routine, though; I gave my power away by letting her drag me off my essential daily routine to her ‘live life as it comes’ approach. Nearly every afternoon, she would text or phone and ask to ‘come for a cuppa.’ That’s ok, but she would then stay for the rest of the afternoon and evening. She had no consideration for what I may be doing at the time or things that I may need to do. My valuable time was not important to her. So, we would sit on the couch, (nearly always) eat take-away and watch TV. I got bored very quickly and yearned for my headspace. But, I was fearful of saying so, as I just knew it would be seen as a rejection, and she would sulk, or worse – throw a tantrum and dump me!

So what did I really do wrong? In my terms, I didn’t communicate as I should have and I didn’t stand up for my own needs. In her terms; despite trying to meet her needs by sacrificing my daily routine and allowing her to take the lead in every decision of what we should do with our time; it wasn’t enough. My afternoon nap is an essential part of my routine and the number of times it had to be sacrificed, because she phoned/texted during it, was too much for me.

In her terms, one of the things I did wrong, was I didn’t give her ‘enough attention.’ She soaked up so much of my time. We saw each other nearly every day. I listened to the things she had to tell me and I tried to be sympathetic where it was needed. But perhaps she didn’t feel she was getting enough because I was privately yearning for at least some headspace. I couldn’t cope with seeing her every day; it was too exhausting.

Another thing I did wrong, was not to be able to cope with her high need for intimacy; every day if she got her way. I did manage to speak up and tell her she was wearing me out, but this seemed to fall on deaf ears. The end result on my part was misery, which led to low libido – so she would be miserable because her physical needs were not being met. Total failure and relationship-killer.

The final thing I did wrong last night was to say no when she asked me to go to her house for dinner. I needed to cut the grass, as it was at the stage of overwhelming me and it had to be done in the evening when it was cooler. I should have sacrificed doing it ‘because’ she had suggested me going to her’s for dinner. Saying ‘no’ was sufficient enough for her to decide her needs were not being met and send me the ‘you’re dumped’ text this morning.

The sad thing is; this is the 4th time she has dumped me by text over 18 months. I was gullible enough to go back to her each time she decided the relationship should be back on again. It has taken me this many times of being dumped by text to learn a lesson that the biggest thing I was getting wrong, was staying in the unhealthy relationship.

Never again!

The word goodbye rubber-stamped on white paper
(c) Can Stock Photo