In January I had the dubious pleasure of travelling down to London, to do some filming for Time to Change in their See the Bigger Picture campaign. Despite my, very, amateurish stumbling through the filming it was eventually finished – apologies to everyone kept waiting and grateful for their patience. The reason I became involved in that project is my belief that mental health issues need to be out in the open.
There is no need for stigma. There is no place for stigma. The days that have passed since mid-March have clearly shown how necessary the work of all mental health charities and support groups is, even if Government funding is not provided. The real importance of mental health care has suddenly become apparent, sadly too late for many people. This is not simply about the ability to work, it is about the ability to enjoy life, it is about the capability to stay alive. I know the pain and despair of not wanting to live.
These are very difficult times for all people. They are particularly difficult for people with a mental health illness and for those whose mental health deteriorates.
With my Bipolar Disorder I have found my mood spiralling into rapid cycling. Thoughts racing so fast you can’t catch them. Lots of ideas. Lots of impossible plans. Lots of projects never to be finished. Lots of time to trawl the internet and spend money for essentials that will never be used. I have a wonderful collection of unopened Amazon boxes that have been building up since the middle of March. Then there comes the uncontrollable crash, without any warning.
It’s like the batteries have burned out, the energy has simply stopped and then the crash to the floor, not wanting to move. Just wanting to curl up, pull the blanket over and survive. It becomes a challenge to get out of the house let alone speak to people or shop. Emails can’t be opened.
Simple things become difficult, sometimes impossible, when anxiety levels have raised beyond control and when the whole world is a different and very strange place.
I told people when this started that it wouldn’t bother me as I was used to self-isolating and they were now entering my world. I was wrong.
Routine and support are crucial to get through my life. When routine has gone then support is crucial.
Problem is you can only get support if you know you need it and it is there for you.
These weeks have been hard. There have been times were life has been a struggle and when a stable mood is difficult to maintain.
So what helps? It helps having a family who know and can check on you. At times it may feel like your privacy is being invaded. But I am fortunate they are there and they despite their intrusion they keep me going.
I have the benefit of friends who know and care and keep in touch, just a text means a lot.
The reason I have that support is because I talk to people about my mental health, because they know. It is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability, when you can talk then you can find understanding and support. That can save your life. Openness and not stigma in society will save lives. Being open and seeking help and talking have not just helped me, they have probably saved – my life. That and lithium.
There is other support, to some it may be as important if not more so. When there is no family or friends to share a mental illness with, then there are support groups, websites that offer guidance and help. There is support there.
I work with BipolarUK and co-facilitate the Liverpool group. I am proud of the work this group does and of all the people who attend and have attended, it is hard to walk into a room of strangers and say that you have a mental illness. It may help to just find others going through what you are, or what you have been through. You can cry and there will be an arm around you - even if at the moment it is a virtual arm. Just talking to someone can make things easier and make you realise you are not alone. You are not. And some people can live normal lives even if mentally ill as most of that support group do. There is support out there, even from strangers.
When I showed my 13-year-old daughter the Time to Change video, the only thing she was ashamed of was the orange cycling jacket I was wearing, and she was right to be.
But what I found out was that she had showed the video to her friends at school and was proud of what I had done. She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with her dad being mentally ill.
Whilst some people can’t accept their illness, and pretend it doesn’t, exist I do, and I have realised it does not change who I am. The support is there because I can tell people, but there is support out there even for those who don’t feel able to tell family or friends, or have none. It is that support, and the lithium/lamotrigine/quetiapine, that has kept me going in these strange and dangerous times.