The Great Name Change of 2016: The Last Hurdle (AKA WTF Aren’t We Done Yet?)

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a list of who I needed to notify. It was a long one but I’ve been doing it in dribs and drabs updating as I go. My GP hadn’t updated my records, for example, and after a month (and because I happened to be in there) I asked them if they could do it. Ten minutes later I’m officially Asha Bardon on my prescriptions/NHS records. Fifteen minutes later I got them to remove the miscellaneous middle name they’d forgotten to remove.

It does turn out that GP records/mental health services and hospitals don’t talk to each other which means on my next visit to the Norfolk and Norwich (also coming up), I’m going to have to go through this all over again with them. At least the mental health people done it their end.

Hopefully, a deed poll and my passport should be it and the hospital records will update. Done.

This morning, as my railcard is due for renewal, I had to ring them and ask how to change my name (as I don’t yet have confirmation from the DWP they’ve even received the stuff I sent them; that’s for Monday). I need my benefit paperwork reissued in my new name because, now and again, I actually have to whip it out. In the case of a railcard, it’s easy: they’ve seen my Certificate which confirms I’m in fact blind so the deed poll which I emailed over should enable them to simply update the name on my account, allowing me to then buy myself a nice, new railcard.

That’s the theory anyway.

My big task for this week is to tell the Land Registry. In theory this should be easy, in practice it looks like I’m either going to have to make an appointment and go to Peterborough (!!!!) or go to a solicitor (again) and get the forms filled out/my title deeds updated. At this point I’m not sure which is easier so I’m going to wait for a local solicitor to ring me back with a quote/ring the Land Registry to double check. I like double checking and the awesome thing is, due to my own preparedness, I have all the proof of identity paperwork you could ever need from bank statements to council tax bills.

I’m, honestly, quite proud of myself just on this one front.

Seriously, changing your name is actually quite a minefield and I’ve done it in nearly three months. Yes, I still have to ring the DWP (boo!) but once I have the paperwork, it means re-applying for my Blue Badge at the end of the year should be easy. I am, however, a little scared of the cost possibly associated with this Land Registry business (I have a healthy fear of solicitors/the cost of legal services). But I signed up for this, I knew what I was getting into and it’s still worth it.

Interesting point of note on another front. Remember how I said Paypal doesn’t let you change your name? Turns out they do, it’s just horribly worded on their website. I rang them up after, due to opening a shiny new account, they decided to hold some money I’d been paid for a short story for THREE WEEKS (which is forever in Internet Time). Now having had a Paypal account since ’02 (holy shit!), I didn’t realise Paypal is basically like a bank/your credit rating: the more transactions, the longer you use them, the more they trust you.

As Asha I was a new customer and they, for all intents and purposes, had no idea who I was. So I explained my situation. No problem, they said, send us your documents, we’ll update your original account to confirm Lesley is now Asha and continue purchasing crap from the internet as you usually would. Once the funds in your new one clear and you’ve withdrawn them, close it and just update old account with new email address and you’re done.

I have my fourteen-year credit history back.

YES!

Seriously, of all my online accounts, my Paypal account is one I’m particularly attached too.

I am, however, just a tiny bit knackered. Also, due to the whole medication withdrawal thing, I have a tiny bipolar-fueled obsession. It’s not mania but I do associate it with a mix of my various mental illnesses. I do actually have OCD, fueled by the joy of the autism spectrum (my psychiatrist called them ‘tendencies’). Sometimes they’re smart (get a tattoo/get debt free/become a journalist), other times they’re questionable (buy a PS4). They’re also slow burners but do eventually go away (like the PS4 one). Unfortunately, while they’re here, they take up my entire line of thought, to the point of distraction.

This is fine if it’s something cheap/achievable. This one is totally nuts.

I want to tell my family about my name change.

Except I’m not wanting to do this out of pride (I wish), I want to tell one particular family member I don’t like that much just to see their face, hear the reaction in their voice … and possibly get disinherited. That bit, well it doesn’t bother me too much, but as far as I know, thanks to locked down social feeds/the fact my phone hasn’t yet run off the hook, they don’t actually know yet.

I was planning to wait a bit (incoming orphanhood) but this desire, it’s niggling at me. To the point where that and a mix of anxiety woke me up at 1am and valium can’t do anything for obsession. I know it’s a bad idea (as gratifying as it might be) but that doesn’t mean it’s going to fade overnight.

And so we continue on. This last mile has got to be the easy bit, right? A couple more people to phone, a possible solicitor visit (sigh) and that’s it?

I really hope so.

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Exhaling

154638_10151350439671449_1979273517_nI was lying in bed as I do on Sunday mornings. There’s no reason to get up early, the supermarket doesn’t open till ten and there’s no immediate need to get coffee. D was curled up on my side, Uni at my feet (because it’s their bed not mine, apparently) and I suddenly realised I was feeling better. The spider web of confusion and misery had gone.

I know when this all started, though not the reason. I know exactly when I hit rock bottom and exactly who helped me climb out of the pit. I’m still climbing, I think, but my mood as been a little better (so the raised dose must be doing something).

It struck me that I felt like I’d just broken the surface of the water, having held my breath and am now exhaling. I’m alive, the air tastes beautiful and all the cats have been so affectionate, even Ceri who isn’t the biggest fan of being picked up and snuggled. That said, I can’t tell if this is it for my current mood or if I’m going to slip and fall again. I hope not because I’m not good at climbing.

The worse thing isn’t the mood, it’s the guilt at the number of people I’ve worried. The number of days when I was genuinely suicidal and the lack of control I had. It’s a horrible feeling, that lack of control. There is very little you can do and the worse part is I had no one, outside of my network, to turn to. They well you, the mental health and wellbeing teams, to ring the crisis hotline but what’s the point? They regard you as suicidal only if you’re cutting yourself, if you’re thinking of killing yourself in a very manifest way. Oh and there are no beds in the entire country.

So what’s the point in even calling them?

Worse I always present as an aware patient, it’s to do with my autism. The stereotype of suicidal is that you’re a mess, incapable of living day to day life and you’ve ended up in A and E for whatever reason, or the police have been called. Oh and I can’t actually walk into the path of an oncoming car or off a bridge for one reason: Uni. She’s trained to stop me doing that exact thing and, even at my lowest moments, I would never EVER make her participate in my death. It’s not fair on her and would be the most selfish thing I could ever think of doing. My choice is my choice, but I have no right to make it for her.

That’s not me. I can’t actually walk into the path of an oncoming car or off a bridge for one reason: Uni. She’s literally trained to stop me doing that exact thing (we even did a test) and, even at my lowest moments, I would never EVER make her participate in my death. It’s not fair on her and would be the most selfish thing I could ever think of doing. My choice is my choice, but I have no right to make it for her.

Social services, like everyone else, they don’t factor in things like assistance dogs.

Uni has been super clingy, curling up at my feet and following me around. She even wagged her tail at D yesterday which made me realise thing are improving between the two of them. The littlest things can be the most relieving.

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Acknowledging Depression

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I wish I could say I was feeling better. I was supposed to see the Wellbeing Service this morning but the appointment was rain checked. A part of me is frustrated, I wanted a chance to talk to someone. The rest of me is glad because it means I don’t have to do the questionnaire above. Variations of it appear in all parts of the NHS and it covers things like employment, phobias, anxiety, and, of course, suicidal intention and self-harm over the course of the proceeding fortnight.

The problem is, it assumes those last two things can be easily quantified into ‘yes’ or ‘no’ which is bullshit. I don’t cut myself (the ‘traditional’ form of self-harm). I also grew up in a family who worked in the NHS; I read medical textbooks for my own amusement, endured some horrific procedures and am pretty good with first aid. It also means I can be my own worst enemy. Oh and once I take my meds I become a zombie with zero recall the following morning. A couple of months ago, I woke up with a bruise that went up my entire leg; I have no idea where it came from other than to assume it was somehow self-inflicted.

I’ve spent the better half of a week being triggered by the merest mention of suicide (Ta, Eastenders, which I don’t even watch). I found myself wondering whether my stash of quetiapine, diazepam and three days worth of sleeping meds is actually enough to even do anything. I doubt it but I don’t like how I find myself gazing at the pile of tablet sleeves sitting on my desk, surrounding my phone and my computer. If I say anything, my GP will put a hold on the meds (at least the sleeping tablets/diazepam) and not having those will make me much, much worse. I can ring the mental health crisis line but there’s no point, there’s nothing they can do and there are no beds. Plus I have an

I can ring the mental health crisis line but there’s no point, there’s nothing they can do and there are no beds. Plus I have an unchangable appointment that I’m not moving for anything. Again, my local mental health team, they can’t cope. I’d have to actually try something/cut a few veins before they’d even look at me. All because I’m too ‘aware’ and I wish I wasn’t; I’m not raving, I even smile and laugh, but it’s hollow and makes me feel even more guilty because I’m not ‘properly suicidal’. Shouldn’t I, at the very least, be serious rather than messing about with people’s time and emotions?

I’m a huge fan of Charlotte Walker’s blog, she’s one of the few people who openly blogs about life with bipolar. The highs, the lows and her brutal honesty helps when bipolar comes with such stigma. Few people talk about the suicidal thoughts, the side-effects of medication (which everyone seems to ignore in favour of the fact they’re mood stabilisers) and knowing someone else is going through the same thing, it’s almost reassuring.

I walked/dragged myself to Zumba last night and all I could smell was the rain and the whiff of weed; hypersensitivity is one of the signs that all isn’t well. I had to leave because the sound was just too much for my sensitive ears and would have given my a migraine if I’d stayed.

Right now I’m exhausted, looking after myself is almost too much. Changing the bed after vomiting animals (thanks guys) has wiped me out. I’m doing it in stages, while I try to decide what I’m actually hungry for. I went as far as the garage for coffee, chocolate and rhubarb crumbles and that was me done for the day. The weather is miserable and probably not helping, after all who wants to wander in the rain?

I was supposed to have this appointment, the cancellation was almost a relief. Except I’ve done nothing bar listen to Epic Rap Battles of History, started at my computer and watched S5 of Game of Thrones. Oh and get the last of my Kickstarter rewards in for my backers. Except it’s going to be two weeks minimum before I can even think about packaging everything up and, while I know it can be done in a calm, ordered and speedy fashion, I’m just to freaking tired to even consider it.

I want chocolate, sweet things (hence the rhubarb crumble) but the quetiapine has made me crave everything and I’ve put on so much weight. I look at myself in the gym mirrors and actually cringed last night. I know sweet things are the prime side-effect but it doesn’t feel like they’re working, so I maxed the dose. I can’t take any more than 750mg but it also means I now have to talk to my GP about trying something else, which means being re-referred backed to a psychiatrist and possibly losing my CBT place. If my meds are switched, I’ll have to either lower the dose and gradually replace the quetiapine or just go cold turkey (my usual method) and hope new meds will help.

Worse I can’t write. Well, I can but all the words feel forced, hollow. I look at my work, my short stories and the personal rejections and all I can feel is that I’m the worst writer in the world. How could I submit such drivel to pro-markets? I know, really, my work isn’t that bad but it’s so hard to actually look at a favourite story and be devastated when every market I send it to isn’t interested in a purchase.

I quit like Kate Elliott’s comments, they make a lot of sense. I’m trying to follow them as much as possible. All my projects are suspended (short stories and novels) except for my Patreon and I’m trying to be kind to myself (Isis hugs help and she was waiting for me when I got home, so pleased to see me I nearly cried). Uni is sitting on me because she knows something is up, the cats are shadowing me for the same reason. I’d like to think it’s because the cats care but, in truth, they wouldn’t notice if I was here unless the bowl was empty. Uni, at least, gives a shit.

The only thing I know for certain is this will pass, eventually (the key word here and bane of my life), and that I hate that damn questionnaire beyond question. All I can do is wait, acknowledge this is part of my illness and hope it eventually lifts. Except that waiting isn’t my strong suit and there really is no telling how long this is going to last. Worse case: I could be like this for another two weeks or more.

I don’t want to be like this but I want to be a statistic even less, so I hug my animals and hope for the best.

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Remembering Why

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Just before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I got this tattooed on to my right arm. When looked at from the perspective of someone shaking my hand, they’re the chemical formulae for serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is what decides if you’re depressed (when you don’t have enough of it) and dopamine, well too much makes you (or, rather, me) manic.

I got it to remind me not just to take my medication (which is making me feel miserable right now, due to the side effects of weight gain) but that it’s a better thing than dancing between high and low. It’s also there to remind me that walking the narrow path between the two is something I have to do on a daily basis. Mania is wonderous, you never want to end. The creativity, the ease of everything, it’s like being able to fly, but at some point you’re always going to come crashing down.

Hard.

Worse, you never want it to end. But, in two weeks, maybe three, that glorious feeling evaporates and, if you’re lucky, you don’t break anything in the fall.

Depression is almost easier, you use the darkness, rely on the banal tasks to get you through the day. Eating, doing laundry, feeding the animals, going to bed and waking up just as tired. I make a point of meeting friends, of being there for the people I care about and hugging as many animals as I can get my hands on. Then I count down the days. At least, you know it’s going to end and, unlike mania, it will be an easier thing because you’re not crashing, you’re climbing up out of the pit. As long as you remind yourself that a new day is a new start, it’s okay. Any scars, mental or physical, you accumulate on the war are simply proof of survival. I’ve actually lived through worse.

At least, you know it’s going to end and, unlike mania, it will be an easier thing because you’re not crashing, you’re climbing up out of the pit. As long as you remind yourself that a new day is a new start, it’s okay. Any scars, mental or physical, you accumulate on the war are simply proof of survival. I’ve actually lived through worse.I find music I love, television which entrances me (hence my

I find music I love, television which entrances me (hence my Game of Thrones rewatch), and wait through the days. Living on my own actually helps because it forces me to do the things I’d otherwise relegate to a partner, I don’t have anyone so if I don’t do the basics, I’ll starve … or the animals will eat me.

I also try to keep some kind of schedule.

Monday: Early starts in Norwich. Coffee and Game of Thrones, lunch and time with friends. Sailor Moon Crystal.

Tuesday: Zumba.

Wednesday: Whatever. I’m trying to use Wednesday as the unplanned day where I can chill out, have lunch with Uni, do errands. Get a massage. Free run the hound. Wander the shops.

Thursday: Zumba.

Friday: An early start with appointments, maybe coffee with friends. Home, knowing the weekend has arrived and I can sleep in.

Saturday: Coffee and a lie in. Start my house cleaning. Do the washing.

Sunday: Another lie in, perhaps an early night. My writing crit group meets in the afternoon. After that I’m free to write or just watch TV, knowing no one else needs me to do anything. I’ll put the washing away, hang clothes, empty the dishwasher.

And we begin again.

What I didn’t realise, though, was that the little white tablets I take to regular my mood aren’t infallible. No one bothered to tell me, instead they were touted as a miracle which would finally put my mood on an even keel, like a seesaw with someone sitting in the middle to keep the weight of the kids on either end from sending me stratospheric or into the earth.

Then I got stressed. Physical stress, mental stress, it doesn’t matter though both just makes it worse. Stress means those little tablets, they might we well be placebos. Last year I had five manic episodes and I’m still dealing with the fallout. I’ve just had my CBT confirmed (mainly to deal with crushing anxiety) which should start this week and that’s a great thing, even if it’s taken sixteen months to get anywhere. People keep telling me to hang on but I’m so used to waiting a long time for things … but I’m not suicidal, I’m patient. I have to be because the cogs of the local mental health surface are so rusted over they’re barely moving.

Unfortunately, I’m also about to do something which, at worse, will trigger another manic episode. It’s a necessary evil, pre-planned to be as easy as possible. My credit cards are tucked away, details removed from websites so I can’t just purchase stuff. The amount of effort involved in prep has been stupid, from dog-related stress to making sure I’ll have food in the house. I can deal with the actual event in my sleep but it’s the rest of it that’s going to be a headache. I’m worried more that I’m going to end up with an unexpected manic episode than I am about physical pain because the mania is, hands-down, actually worse.

So I have my tattoo, there to remind me, there to help me remember the line I have to walk, a tight-rope. Balance was never my strongest suit but I’m getting better at it because falling or flying is worse.

I just need to remember why.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Dealing with Writer’s Block

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This hasn’t been a good week for writing, which is annoying as I need to get a story done by the end of the month for a competition call, then work on another story for an anthology call I’ve been looking forward too. I’ve mostly been rewatching Game of Thrones from the beginning (oh the foreshadowing!!) and bingeing on House (go Netflix!). It frustrates me, staring at a blank screen and knowing the words are there, I just can’t access them, especially when there are deadlines to meet.

My way around this is to have fall back projects, once I love, like my blind lawyer stories. These are the ones I allow myself to write when there’s nothing else I feel like writing. I know some of the ‘not feeling like writing’ is down to my illness. I had an idea for a short story, endured the glorious manic morning that comes with inspiration, then the idea died like a lead balloon and left me feeling vacant and a little lost. I know that if I can just get writing, the normal flow will resume, it doesn’t matter what I write, only that I do it.

Because I’ve all but cut out alcohol (barring a single pint now and again), my medication is working. This is great because it means the quetiapine is doing its thing unimpeded. Unfortunately, it’s also making me drink gallons and crave sweet biscuits (I have OCD traits which mean I fixate on people, things and, especially given my upbringing, food). I was hoping the latter had been balanced out by the amount of exercise I’ve been doing but not so. Plus biscuits cost money and I’ve run out of both for the week.

Oh and my other obsession is wanting to get myself a snake. Like a real one. A corn snake. I’m in love with the idea and know someone who has two they need to rehome, except I’m not sure the cats would approve. I know you have to feed them actual mice (and you can buy them frozen) but I love snakes, I always have. I also recognise this obsession is a slow burning one, similar to my desire for a tattoo. I waited a long time before acting on that need and was all the better for it. Plus I’m not sure I can afford the extra financial burden of new pets (insurance, food etc). Not right now. Even as I want them, or the romanticised version anyway.

Feeding something a dead animal … there’s no romance in that, only survival. And the smell of death.

I had my thyroid and glucose levels checked and they’re fine, my heart is as strong as an ox. However I’m now battling with my weight again, which makes me sad. Plus my IBS, caused by scar tissue from gastic surgery and the fact sweet biscuits, chocolate and coffee, are my prime triggers aside from stress. Oh and I have been stressed, trying to arrange emergency boarding for Uni on very short notice. The IBS, in particular, has been making me double up in pain like I’ve been kneed in the gut.

Stomach pain is not, in case you were wondering, conducive to being able to write either.

Of course, if I just gave up these things, the pain would go away and it would all be good. But I can’t. I need caffeine to battle the large amount of sedating medication I’m on (quetiapine and my sleeping tablets). I’m no longer an eighteen year old who can pull all-nighters. Even if I even try that, and mess with my sleep patterns, I can trigger a manic episode. Sleep is important, which is why I need to spend one day a week sleeping for fifteen hours just to reset the clock, so to speak.

Today I’m just exhausted. I spent all day in Norwich doing stressful things yesterday, battling my writer’s block and by the time I got home, all I wanted was a cider (just one) and my bed. In that order. I feel better but just going to grab a coffee has used up all my spoons so I’m going to skip Zumba tonight and try to write today, while finishing up Season One of Game of Thrones. Despite being awake, I feel tired.

I just need to rest and chill out.

I know I can write this story, which needs writing, in less than a week if I put my back into it. The story is one I want to write as well, it’s just finding the state of mind to do so. It’s a fascinating story and I want to love it, I want to dive into a new world and relish swimming in it. But today I’m tired.

But today I’m tired so we’re going to take it nice and slowly.

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The Problem with Words, Visual Impairment and Bipolar Medication

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I’ve just finished a massive project and despite going through it, I’m mortified to find it still riddled with errors. Some of this is down to my inner editor (my brain is adept at replacing blurry images with best guesses) and the rest is simply due to how close I am to the text.

Previously this would never be a problem, when I was working for magazines there were editors to proof-read, plus my vision was much better. Now I’ve hit my thirties, it’s deteriorated at a rapid rate, even if I can still see ‘more’ than most of my friends. I’m still blind and have noticed it’s becoming increasingly difficult.

My vision is breaking down, my eyes hurt and I’m getting more eyestrain-related migraines than I used to. I know I could simply cut down on my time on a computer but … well, no, that’s never going to happen. It’s particularly hard when you only have a half-working eye to begin with.

Worse, my medication has wrecked my memory, meaning my previously pristine grammar is now tarnished. I can’t remember the basics and often get the simplest things, like it’s and its, mixed up. My brain is flagging it up and an error and I no longer know which is right.

Now I’m not so sure and it’s embarrassing.

I started using Grammarly a couple of months ago, mainly for little things like blog posts and Facebook. Now I’m running documents through. Yesterday I realised I’ve spent the last week mixing up ‘alliteration’ with ‘iteration’ and I hung my head in shame. Words and meanings, that’s my thing, the only thing I can do well. I used to be able to spell anything …

Unfortunately my bipolar medication doesn’t come with useful notes on specific side effects like ‘may find understanding of grammar and spelling is reduced’. It’s not a great mix, especially when I make more efforts than most to go through my text and nix any errors. There will always be a couple that escape the net but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

All I can do is find my way around it, such as feeling chunks into online checkers and seeing what gets spat out.

*sighs*

 

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Would I Like to Talk about my Anxiety?

12724643_1763824533839088_612201933_nThis fortnight has not been great. It sounds silly but it’s only when Uni goes her on much-deserved hols (and the cats take over again, as is their right as Rulers of the Earth), that I realise how much I rely on her emotionally. After all she’s a crap guard dog but she does, to her credit, growl menacingly now and again and, at least, tries to eat the Waitrose delivery man as he carries my groceries in.

We’ve established a firm ‘eat them after the food has been unpacked’ rule.

She can do scary when she needs to and that’s all that’s important, especially as she’s as protective of her territory as I am. I protect her from potential dogs which might hurt her (aka any small/yappy dogs that she thinks might even me slightly suspicious) and she protects/consoles me.

Now if she could just get people’s credit card numbers and sort codes when she’s being fussed for the other 98% of that time … but, ah well.

Yesterday morning she got to catch up with Bramble (I got hugs, which helped given the 10mg of Valium I’d just taken post-panic attack). That makes, like, my fifth in two weeks and I am not a fan. Drinking is normally my way out of this (oddly I don’t want to get addicted to Valium) but I’ve made a conscious switch to a very nice Normandy apple juice with fizz in it from M&S. It look like cider, tastes like cider and, for the price of four cans of cheaper hooch, I can get two bottles which will last me a couple of days.

If it helps me with my alcohol … issue, I’m all for it. Failing those, I’m cutting back on coffee and going for a cheaper option, these nice Innocent lemon/lime/apple drinks. Now the weather is sort of warming up, there are mornings when I want a cold drink not a mocha. Plus my meds are making me stupidly thirsty so I’m drinking water like a fish anyway.

But yeah, the anxiety is not good and it’s the most random things: loud noises like the doorbell unexpectedly going off and the Oven of Doom at Starbucks (it sounds like something counting down in a Bond movie), the kids playing outside who find the need to commentate every time Uni goes out to pee, my phone ringing, Uni’s toileting habits (though she’s under the weather today so I couldn’t pick up even if I tried). Uni crossing paths with D and shaking as she sits at the bottom of the stairs.  Oh and people.

Oh and people.

Not having Uni and it being a little harder to get off my estate due to electric works, it meant I stayed in a lot more. That, in itself, didn’t make me anxious, in fact it was almost comforting. I was able to settle and focus on finishing Ash Seeketh Ember (it’s nearly 30k, with one chapter left for me to write). Normally focus is a huge problem because Uni needs to go out every four hours or so and, if we’re out, she’s distracted by other people, many of whom she knows.

Little things like that, well it has a bigger effect on me than it does her.

For starters people move out the way of a person with a dog. I’ve spent several days walking bang into people without them either moving or, instead, suddenly stopping dead for no reason. With a dog, I’m basically Moses doing the Red Sea trick. Dogs are more adaptive and Uni, barring small dog alerts, can help me move much more fluidly.

At the same time, I’m a lot faster with my cane simply because it’s just me. There are no loo breaks, no need to snuffle at that nice bit of grass or endure people going ‘Aw a dog! Can I pet her?’. That said I’m also getting a lot more assertive by saying no because she’s lying down and it’s taken me five minutes to settle her. This is thanks to Mhairi who’s almost been giving me an advanced course on dealing with people without swearing at them (I’m not actually allowed to tell someone to F off, as much as I would dearly like too nigh on daily’).

Uni’s tartness, it’s a part of her character and I wouldn’t change that for a second. She’s my dog and they all come with their own individual characters, the closer we come to the end of her working life, the more I value her. She’s a curious creature but, at the same time, she’s always looking for me when people pet her, not for permission but to make sure I don’t run off. That’s love right there.

I had a phone call from the Wellbeing Service (I got passed over to them a month ago, right before everything kind of went to shit) and they politely explained I’m going to have to wait for therapy (mainly talking/CBT) which is fine by me. I waited a year for my Asperger’s diagnoses, I waited three for my bipolar 2 and over a decade before I was formally registered as blind. I can do waiting, I just hate that every phone call seems to come at the tail ends of intense periods of anxiety and stress.

So my plan for this week is short story revisions, getting Ash done and proofed and watching as much YouTube as possible. It’s the little things that help, right?

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: The Down Swing

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My friend Kim posted this last night and it really struck home. I’ve had a horrendous fortnight and Monday just sealed it. Uni ate something as we were walking to the bus and, by the time we got into the city, it had started giving her bellyache.

Now Uni is normally a quiet dog but when she starts whining and pawing at me then it’s obvious there’s a problem. The last time this happened she was sick for three days with colitis. This was much more minor but I ended up having to take her out without a bag because I thought she needed to pee.

Cue my first of two encounters with self-righteous members of the public.

See here’s the thing. All non-disabled people get blind mixed up with deaf and so decide to scream rather than take a more gentle stance.

So I got “EXCUSE ME!!!!” and wild gesticulation. I was trying to get Uni back into Starbucks at the time and go retrieve a bag. You’d think the sheer fact I’m obviously taking a four legged friend into a place of business that we weren’t just people on a street.

Also, legally, I don’t even have to pick up after my dog. I do when I came but there will always be times when something gets in the way or I simply can’t find said shit. Or I need to get a bag because my dog has made herself ill.

So I turned and snapped back at the older woman who was trying so hard to get my attention, telling her my dog was sick and I was about go to and get a bag. Yes, I’m very aware she’s taken a shit and do not need you to tell me. Thank you.

Then I walked inside. By the time I got out again thirty seconds later she was gone.

My stress level goes through the roof when Uni is ill, especially as she spent the whole morning needing to go out repeatedly. And it wasn\t even the first time I had to deal with people. I got two old dears who came over as I was getting her to pee for the fourth time who uttered the immortal words.

“We shouldn’t disturb her …”

This is after they’d walked right over, begun asking me questions about how long I’d had her, tried to pet her and Uni suddenly didn’t want to pee anymore.

OMVFGs!

The whole thing just put the icing on my cake of unhappiness, leaving me weepy and desperately needing Bramble hugs/the reassurance of another guide dog owner who is not afraid to, politely, tell people to piss off.

Apparently I’m not allowed to use the F-word, or indeed any expletives, when dealing with the public. Sigh.

I’m trying to be more assertive in my dealings with the public but this makes the fourth time in as many months that I’ve had random strangers decide to scream at me because of my dog’s need to engage in a perfectly natural bodily function. And it’s always scream or an ‘excuse me’ loaded with blame.

FYI: Bus drivers do not like you bringing bags of shit onto their buses because some random person and her husband in a car decided I just had to pick up shit in the one place where there was no bin. I had no idea she’d even gone.

People make my mood even worse sometimes.

Anyways, thanks to all that, I’ve not been in a good place. The rest of it is related to the guide dogs kerfuffle and the stress of Mother’s Day (a massive trigger for my mental illness/PTSD). I’ve been left in a place where I just can’t cope and have been so glad of my small handful of beloved friends who’ve been actively looking after me, making sure I take it easy.

I’m trying to focus on the little things, like the sun coming out or the smell of my vase full of blooming daffodils. Not the nightmares, the self-harm or the quandary of ‘do I?/don’t I?’

I spent the last few days fixating on whether my time is done. Mhairi keeps reminding me I’m stressed and Uni is similarly playing off my emotions. I know this, we do it regularly, except I turn that into self-loathing and the feeling that I somehow shouldn’t have her and don’t deserve her companionship.

Even if I rang my GDMI today, he wouldn’t retire her. She’s healthy, loves her job (her job being getting fuss; I’m the sideline) and he’s aware of my somewhat self-destructive, paranoid depressive bouts. Plus even if Uni was, she wouldn’t work again, she’d simply be rehomed and I’d have to wait a minimum of six months before getting a new dog.

And I’d have to go through class again. Right now that’s not even a thing I can do, some messed up am I from my first time doing it.

Then she hugs me and smiles (it’s a creepy dog teeth thing most people find disconcerting but is actually Dog Love) and everything feels a little better. Bramble hugs are even better but I know, when I curl up with Uni, that she loves me more than anyone else. Uni reserves her true feelings for me, she thumps her tail and we play catch and I know no one else has this kind of relationship with my naked dog.

I know, realistically, that I need to eat well, not drink alcohol (erm …) and wait it out. The downswing will pass, it always does but when it’s triggered by things I can’t control, that makes it seem so much worse than just normal bipolar-triggered misery. This is stuff I can’t control and I’ve never been good at handling that.

Today I’m making a point of chilling out, I’m doing things I enjoy, I’m going to Yo Sushi! for lunch, then to Waitrose to pick up a couple of nice things (ham, cheese, good bread). I’m going to write short stories and celebrate another rejection and the promise of being able to submit another piece to one of my favourite markets.

I’m going to look after myself and get through this.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Hey, My PTSD Triggered and I Can’t Write (Fiction)!

These two help.
These two help. A lot.

Well, crap.

This weekend has been all about my PTSD. Normally I can keep it locked down because I know my triggers and actively try to avoid them to the extent of all others. Control is everything, as if the medication I carry on my person and the friends who know why certain things have such a devastating effect on my mental state.

I was anticipating a nice weekend of lie ins and writing, chilling out with Netflix and just trying to get over the last of my chest infection.

On Saturday afternoon, a disturbing period in my past got raked up and then I had to endure the annual Mother’s Day hell of ‘be nice to your parent because society/family say you have to be’. It was never going to be a positive mix.

And my ability to write went up in smoke.

Like literally.

Then I bought some alcohol because it tastes better than Valium which put paid to my editing.

I don’t drink and edit, so I didn’t edit and I couldn’t write either.

To summarise: while I was training with Uni, I endured a slew of abuse from my instructor. He started, innocently enough, by enquiring why I thought it was okay to use a disabled loo (erm … well I am disabled; also I had extensive gastric surgery which has left me incontinent and without a gallbladder). To deflect, I asked him if he’d ever tried getting a dog into a stall in the ladies but I was mortified he thought it was okay to enquire about something so personal.

Then I qualified and got really sick; to the point where quick visits to Norwich and safe places were the only way I could rebuild my stamina. Especially as I had, technically, qualified. He thought otherwise.

In the end, it was so bad I refused to work with him, actually ringing his boss and demanding someone else. Our relationship ended when he spent fifteen minutes screaming at me in the street outside a shopping complex. People walked passed, no one came to my aid and he actually thought it was okay to shout at a mentally fragile (which he was well aware of) blind woman who was coming to the end a stressful period of training. Also getting a guide dog is mentally and physically hard as hell, there’s so much to learn and I qualified in just twelve days, as opposed to the ‘usual’ three weeks.

Then, after leaving me for half an hour to sob into my dog’s fur (which felt like a punishment in itself, being left on the naughty step), he took me into the shopping mall to do some final training and ended up leaving me in an unfamiliar corner of the mall. He just lost his temper and stalked off without so much as a by your leave.

Oh and he threw some paperwork at me before stalking off. That was, thankfully, the last I ever saw of him.

This event was the final trigger event for my post-traumatic stress disorder. I kept an eye on this person’s career, dismayed to see them rise in the ranks after my abuse was effectively ignored by Guide Dogs themselves. I now have a much lovelier trainer who I trust and did so much to repair my confidence, he’s a tremendous improvement in his predecessor and has always been there for me, from Uni being attacked to our more recent middle-of-summer-and-hottest-day-of-the-year catch up. This guy even cleaned up Uni’s heat-induced vomit for me … twice.

But back to the weekend. A fellow GDO told me my original trainer had resigned and it all came flooding back. Especially when I was directed to a public, assessable by anyone who knows this person’s name, Facebook group in which he detailed how his treatment of me and other GDO’s I know was tantamount to abuse. He apologies to me, personally, but he has no idea I’ve changed my name and did so in a place where I never would have seen it, except for someone telling me about it.

Oh and Guide Dogs apparently know about this group, he’s certainly told them and appears to be trying to create a place where GDO’s can be disillusioned together. I admit, I’m not enamoured with Guide Dogs, they’re far from perfect and dealing with many aspects of their day-to-day stuff (mainly relating to food and Uni’s vital medication) are a pain in the arse. That said my instruction from New GDMI and the office staff have never been anything but helpful and lovely.

If I’m disillusioned by the charity then it’s all because of my original instructor.

It transcended into ‘trigger territory’ a couple of hours after I discovered the group when he tried to justify his treatment of us by informing the assembled Guide Dog Owners he’d invited to the group—many of whom were singing his praises in a way which made me feel physically sick—that said treatment was unofficial Guide Dog policy. Oh and yes, it was also abusive.

Well duh.

I’ve met lots of mobility instructors. Some are lovely, others harsh but never in a malicious way. They do it because you have to start work with a guide dog on a certain step, with them seeing you as head of the pack and dominant. My experience with this person was distinctly sadistic, a power play that hinged on me being in a position where I was beholden to this person because of Uni.

They had to power to giveth or taketh away—and I genuinely believed he was going to punish me by removing my guide dog, just because he could. Plus screaming at a vulnerable woman in public is, in no way, anyone’s unofficial policy. It’s a terrible thing and certainly shouldn’t happen during such a vital time in the establishment of a guide dog/human relationship.

The kicker was his mention of depression. His own mental state apparently trumps the abuse he heaped on me and others, vulnerable visually impaired people that he knowingly abused for kicks. I accept he was in a shit place but where does he think he left me, exactly? My PTSD trumps his depression because he’s a part of the reason I have it.

So yeah, not good. I’ve actually made an appointment with my current instructor because, as well as wanting to talk about some of Uni’s newer quirks, I want to look him in the face and see if my original instructor is spilling bullshit. The whole thing has left me feeling ill, right in the pit of my stomach.

And then a family member started sending me passive-aggressive texts trying to guilt-trip me into someone who directly triggers my PTSD. I’d just taken my sleeping medication so wasn’t actually in a position where I could do much more than text. They always do this because, apparently, I need telling when I’m upfront. I don’t do phone calls, I certainly don’t do birthday/festive/Hallmark holiday phone calls.

I choose not do pay attention to these things because I have a reason. It’s a conscious choice that I made for my own sanity. And my sanity trumps anyone else’s attempt at making me feel like a ten year old who needs to be told things. I will text but I have a hard enough time trying to remember what day it is thanks to the sheer volume of medication I’m on. Literally I rely on my FitBit just to tell me the date, otherwise I simply have no idea.

And Mother’s Day, it’s a really hard day for me (nearly as bad as my birthday). I need to ignore it because otherwise I’ll fall to pieces. Again my sanity tumps everything else because I like being semi-sane.

My PTSD normally manifests as panic attacks or anxiety. This one decided to bubble up as an intense fear and anger due to the guide dog related stuff. Uni picked up on it and her mood changed, even as she plonked herself down right next to me. Even this morning, still dealing with the aftermath of a slew of text messages, she kept nudging me with her nose, her way of going. Uni might be a tart but she is also, very much, mine and almost painfully in tune with my moods, constantly going: ‘Hey, I’m here. It’s okay’.

I am so glad of her.

I have a best friend, and her beautiful guide dog, who are always there for me. I got to explain this morning and receive reassurance, as well as the benefit of someone who has been through the guide dog selection process and so is familiar with it. Both dogs spent this morning with their noses in my lap or snuggled against me. Bramble, in particular, adores me and she’s one of the most loving creatures I’ve ever met; she knew how traumatised I was and did everything in her power to try to help me get out of my funk. Looking at her makes me want to cry, she’s that compassionate and a completely unique treasure of a dog.

But not writing, it stresses me out, not being able to even more. I got into Starbucks at 7, having made it through snow and the pre-dawn cold. Monday is my day to sit with coffee (bad move, number one), check Submission Grinder and Codex and catch up on The Walking Dead. It’s an ingrained ritual which sees me update my diary, review stories, write or do edits while listening to Spotify. I value the quiet, the chatty baristas and, right now, the half price coffees.

Starbucks, first thing in the morning, it’s my sanctuary. My own personal coffee shop. I like it.

But this morning I just couldn’t write. Even Valium didn’t help (aside from to take the edge of my anxiety).

I’m painfully aware that anxiety poisons my muse, it’s not actually the anxiety rather it’s being unable to focus or distracted by whatever is bugging me, which prevents me writing. My Asperger’s doesn’t help, in fact the fixation on problems makes my anxiety worse. Blogging helps because it’s not fiction, it’s fact and I can choose the subject matter (hence the slew of blog posts; this one alone is nearly 2k in length and heavy on the catharsis).

Blogging is still writing so maybe I need to clarify that and insert (fiction).

But I also know tomorrow is another day, the words will return, as will my muse and it’ll be okay. I just have to hold on, take my medication and wait it out.

Tomorrow is another day.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Living with Medication

quet

Brain fog is a pain in the behind. It’s a combination of the various meds I take to control my anxiety, sleep and my Bipolar Disorder and I have to plan my life to avoid it (usually by waking up at 5:3oam). If I sleep in, I turn over and dream some more, waking brain fogged some point around noon. It’s important that I get the right amount of sleep as too much/little is a mania trigger for me. I have to take them at night because of the sedating effect, except that they trigger my insomnia so I can’t get off to sleep. Oh and just to be uber-weird one night a week I have to sleep for at least thirteen hours to reset my brain, usually on a Saturday or Sunday night.

/cries.

This week I made a point of sitting down and watching Stephen Fry’s new documentary The Not So Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive: 10 Years On. The original two-parter (which I saw while manic/just about to get my autism diagnosis) is a must-watch (part one/part two) for anyone who thinks they might be bipolar/been recently diagnosed. The documentary is horrifying in the parallels where you watch it and start ticking off symptoms you share both with Stephen Fry and the various people he meets.

It took me several more years before I could see a psychiatrist and get my own diagnosis, being told that ‘there was no way’ I’d be able to see one unless I was manic. As it happened I was manic when I got diagnosed but it was change and circumstance. Plus I’m a very ‘aware’ manic, it’s a blessing from my autism where I have safe-guards others don’t share. I still spend, I still plow hours into novels and stories, skipping around like a bouncing puppy but my obsessions seem limited to things I can actually do/achieve, like getting tattoos, changing jobs and visiting foreign places.

The new documentary still made me feel sick; it covered, for example, the irrational anxiety, the manic highs where you know you’re manic but are impossible to control, it’s riding a rip-tide and hoping you survive and make it back to shore.

The documentary reminded me of several things I know. Diet is important, taking yourself out a situation (such as hiding your credit cards) is a good. My close, close friends can now identify my mania on sight and it’s that phase which is much more dangerous. At least when I’m depressive I just go to bed. It also reminded me that no medication stops the mania/depressive episodes, they just level you out so said episodes happen less often.

I had at least five manic episodes last year. Being conservative.

The big one, for me at least, is that alcohol is a bad idea (my meds say it, like, explicitly) but I still drink. I know it doesn’t help my mania, knocks my meds dead in the water and makes me cycle (which means I go from high to low rapidly, sometimes several times in one day). I have PTSD, helpfully triggered this week by my broken dishwasher, and drinking helps, as do anti-anxiety meds. I like cider so you can probably guess which method I prefer.

Oh and, of course, there are the micro-obsessions which drive me nuts. Here is, for example, a collection of my recent obsessions with notes in parentheses:

  • Buying a PS4 and Bloodborne. Oh and obsessing over the lore. (No, I can’t afford it. It can wait till I get out of debt. This is why there are playthroughs. Ditto Dark Souls III.)
  • Getting my dishwasher fixed. (A Bosch man is coming next Wednesday.)
  • Going to the gym before Zumba twice a week. (Once is perfectly okay, esp as I’ve hurt my arm.)
  • Trying to finish my back pile of short stories and sending them out to markets. When I finish a story it has to go out immediately … (I’m in a crit group; they exist for a reason, as does my submission slot.)
  • Designing a cover for “One Quiet Night”. (It’s not even going to be releasable till the middle of the year when the rights revert.)
  • Making a chocolate torte. (ARGH!)
  • Buying jewellery from my favourite and shutting down soon store. (Nope, just nope.)
  • What happens in five months when I hit the max dose for my current medication? (Yeah … because I really like playing psycho-pharmaceutical  Russian Roulette.)
  • Why am I not working on a novel???

My gods, it’s exhausting.

The medication doesn’t affect me too much, aside from making me thirsty/making my mouth taste of my fillings whenever I up the dosage. Oh and the weird sleep thing. I find tracking my moods and what I do helps a lot. Not only does it make me feel like I’m not wasting time. I also have a record as my memory, yeah okay, that’s the other side-effect. My memory is in pieces. Lists are good, they give me goals and help me remember what I need from Morrisons.

This weekend I’m trying to get a start on a novel project, get my hair cut and try not to be too ill thanks to whatever crud I’ve picked up by being around other human beings. Oh and sleeping and critting a short story. I’m hoping to take it a little easier than usual, gods know I need to.

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