The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Holding Patterns and the State of Me

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I need to talk about me for a second. And Uni.

As a lot of you know, Uni’s spent the last six weeks being ill on and off and it’s worn both of us down. I know stress is THE trigger for my bipolar, especially personal stress relating to animals or people I care about. Uni is the big one because she is, ultimately, reliant on me. This is a dog who takes me everywhere but needs me to take her to the loo. I love animals, especially mine, but I’m a crazy cat lady for a reason (aka: you can leave a cat with food, water and an open cat flat knowing they will survive without you). I got the cats when I was still working because I knew, if I had to go on a trip to London or disappear for a few days, they’d still be okay when I returned.

Dogs aren’t like that.

Uni and I we have this partnership, it’s worked beautifully for six years. She has pre-existing medical conditions but we managed them nicely and it was fine. Now, though, it’s become much more complicated.

Worse, I can feel my carefully constructed barriers being worn away by the littlest things: not sleeping well, not getting enough exercise, obsessing over certain foods, the scary, inebriated woman who managed to trigger me (like full on shut down) when she started drunk-raging at a poor cyclist. I live alone, I have people but most of them are blind, in Norwich or have families and their own lives. Uni being sick is the final nail in the coffin, especially as I’m unable to work her for another week, minimum, and she’s going as far as the pen to pee. Tomorrow is the exception (I have a reason to be in Norwich, selfish as it is, and don’t feel comfy leaving Uni that long) as is Monday (when we’re going to see Guide Dogs at Redbridge, just outside London—and talk about Uni and her future/how we can deal with what seems to be a continued issue).

Worse, I feel like I’m the one under house arrest. I’m not, of course, and can go anywhere I wish, right this second, if I wanted to. As long as I’m back within four-five hours (which when it takes a round trip of nearly two of those to do Norwich, doesn’t leave me much time). I can have a coffee, run essential errands but that’s about it. It feels like a chain around my neck and I’m so sensitive to constriction, it’s bad enough that half the time I’m the one who imposes rules on myself.

There’s Dereham, of course. Everything I need is in close proximity, from coffee to Morrisons, but it’s not the same. All the people I know/want to talk to are in Norwich. The baristas who make my coffee are in Norwich, Wagamamas is is Norwich. The safe places in which I find comfort and sanctuary are all in Norwich.

The other issue is my continued singular status. The vast majority of GDOs have families or partners. This means they can continue their lives, knowing their sick dog is, at least, being watched over. I can’t do that. Worse I’m having to play the visual impairment card which I hate to do: Lovely Vet ordered Uni some specialist food and I had to ask if she could have one of her staff deliver it as there was no way I could get to the vet/or carry 15kg of dog food. She was more than happy to do so and I was so glad because it felt like taking the piss, asking far too much, even though Uni was literally down to her last can of food. It, and more tins, arrived this morning so at least she can eat for the next week.

That, in itself, was reassurring enough to allow me out to grab a coffee. Anxiety remains a bitch.

Lovely Vet’s nurse even gave me a life home on Friday because Uni’d just been admitted and I didn’t have my cane. We’d been in Starbucks when she started being unwell, so I called the vets and hopped on the next bus back to Dereham. I hadn’t planned on her being ill so hadn’t thought to bring my Sightsaber with me (most blind people don’t use dog/cane at the same time). I could have gotten home but the circumstances weren’t the safest, even though I’m competent. White canes aren’t just about helping me divine what’s in front of me, they’re also a marker to other people I’m blind, affording me a tiny amount of leeway. Dogs, BTW, afford more.

Dogs, BTW, afford more. It’s like watching Moses part the Red Sea, truly a beautiful thing.

But I’m entitled to a life (I’m saying this more to remind myself). Uni is a mobility aid, not a pet (which sounds harsh but it’s also true; her existence revolves around helping me get around as well as the sideline in emotional support which is an added bonus but not her official function). I like the freedom my Sightsaber affords but me I prefer a dog; the company, the reliability, even with the added stresses. Yesterday I found myself at my usual bus stop, used the ten minutes I knew I had to get in touch with Guide Dogs, and suddenly found myself worrying if I’d missed my bus. Uni is a big visibility factor plus she pays attention allowing me not to. I can do other things but this call took up all of my attention meaning I saw a similarly coloured bus go by and wasn’t sure if it was mine (the added pressure of needing to get back home to her didn’t help). I had a bus driver waiting for his own ride help me out and it turns out the 8 was simply running rather late.

But it scared me because I like to be self-reliant and, at the same time, have had it hammered into me over decades that asking for help is somehow weakness, despite the number of times I’ve been asked if I need help whilst ‘waiting while blind’. There’s a general rule of thumb amongst the sighted that any obviously blind person waiting in the street and looking calm or bored must need assistance. Especially when walking purposefully somewhere and not looking in the least bit lost or confused.

But back to the bipolar/mental health issues. My conditions, collective, don’t instantly mean I can’t have a dog or get another one. It just means I have to avoid the things I know which trigger me. In this case it’s things like certain people, stress, unfamiliar situations, broken things and the associated adulting, violence and shouting, crowds. I find being around friends helps, as do familiar places and my stash of Valium. I know lots of GDOs with mental health problems, including the ones I have which is reassuring; it reminds me that no one is going to punish me for being ill. They just need to treat me with a little more care because I fracture so easily, especially at the moment, because I’m so worn down.

The weirdest thing has been how angry everything’s made me. Rage is, apparently, as much of a side-effect of anxiety as the stereotypical hyperventilation or my shut down response. At the same time there’s also the autistic meltdown aspect. I’ve spent the last month having to be so careful with people and Uni, either because morons feed her without asking me, or just because I don’t want them touching her in case of transmission. On Friday a woman started petting Uni, post shitting, while I was trying to emergency dial the vet and I had to reign it in, cautioning the woman to leave her alone and go and wash her hands immediately as Uni was sick.

No one would touch and obvious sick human but apparently animals are okay because they’re cute.

Sigh.

My worry right now is that this whole mess is going to push me somewhere I cannot afford (mentally, physically, financially, psychologically) to go. I can already sense the signs: the restlessness, inability to concentrate, my self-worth/esteem plummeting. I feel like I’m a horrible, selfish person, for not staying home with Uni but, at the same time, I’m not safe left alone for long, especially not when I feel forced to do so. The worst part of it is trying to find the line between my psychological self-harming (in which I try to get rid of Uni because I feel I don’t deserve her; honestly some kind of physical self harm would be so much easier to deal with) and the fact that she’s genuinely ill. Right now, she’s unable to work and something inside of her has broken, something tied to her love of her job.

My instructor and guide dog friends know the signs, so do I, when I can’t cope but this isn’t about me, it’s about Uni. It’s been about her since she first started throwing up nearly two months ago. But my hatred of myself, my low self-esteem, keeps questioning if this is just me over-reacting even though it really isn’t. Six weeks of illness means something really is wrong and, unfortunately, if Uni was a white cane that broke, well I would have replaced her by now (and I actually said that to Guide Dogs). At the same time I also know not having Uni, it’s basically going to push me into a very nasty place. Even while she was under observation, exactly where she needed to be and perfectly safe, I couldn’t focus, couldn’t write. I was just waiting for phone calls or making them, trying to wade through the red tape always involved with the trinity of GDO, personal vets and Guide Dogs as an organisation.

I felt naked. I felt even worse for using Saturday, knowing she wouldn’t be back, and spending the day out, on my own. Because guilt is a bastard. I knew waiting at home, though, would be even worse and at least I could do the errands I needed to, get my flu shot and eat a decent meal.

The other problem is still a mental one but it’s bothering me more and more; it seems like my memory problems are permanent. This realisation isn’t a new one (and is probably tied to long-term use of either the Quetiapine or the Ambien I’m trying to, slowly, stop taking) but it’s really affecting my ability to write and live day-to-day. I described it to someone this week as having a week-to-view double page spread in a diary with random cigarette holes burned all over the page, obscuring details, conversations, events.

I know who I am and my rigid schedule (currently in tatters) helps me keep some semblance of normality, as does my digital diary telling me where I need to be and my physical one which tells me where I was. Most of the time I don’t know what day of the week it is, let alone the date. It’s why I have a FitBit which shows me the time/date as a default. I can still force things into my memory, into my long term storage, like passwords and people’s names but it takes a shitload of repetition for that to happen.

This is partly why my longer-form work has stalled; I’ve fallen back into short stories again because that’s all I have the memory/energy for. Short stories are walking to the shops, writing novellas are climbing hills and anything longer, well that’s ascending Everest. Added to that I’ve noticed my balance is getting worse, as is my ability to follow people visually (my Zumba instructor, for example, vanishes like the Flash until she stops moving) and I can’t make my body move how I always want it too. I’m wondering if some of this might have been made worse by the Great Swan-dive Incident and that two day concussion. My brain is already damaged (I have periventricular leukomalacia) so I don’t know how much of this is related to my fall, my medication or age. The point is, it’s not getting better.

But at least I know who I am and how I like my coffee.

I’m not sure, right now, how this will affect my writing. I have a feeling, at some point, I might need to get a co-author in to help. I can world build but I can’t retain information long enough to sustain a novel (plus there’s the stress of editing, the issues of proofing while blind and all the stuff between writing and actual publication). At the same time my ability to actually get sentences down on paper is problematic; words are getting lost and misspelled more than is usual, even for me. Frankly I’m ashamed of this than I am my ability to not write longer things. This is why, for now, I’m not publishing (the financial/psychological toll is the other issue). I’m just trying to write with as little pressure as possible. I have ideas, I have short stories that I’m submitting to calls but I’m tired and need to take it easy for a little while. It’s not burnout but it’s so easy to slip and fall back into the darkness. I don’t want to do that.

And Uni remains my main priority until we either get her health under control or look at other options. So yeah, hopefully I should know more next week but for now, this is the state of us. Thanks for reading.

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