But You Don’t Look Ill ….

Many tweoples will be familiar with the above ‘spoonie’ statement (for those who aren’t, please take the time to read The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino http://shar.es/bnEDF ) and I consider myself a spoonie, albeit one that is fortunate enough to still be able to work. Or I have been able to until recently when too many life events collided to trigger my biggest acute episode in 12 years.

A brief synopsis (there is a point to this I promise):

I’ve had a problem with depression for as long as I can remember and been on a plethora of meds since the tail end of my teens when I started at A for amitriptyline which has a lovely logic to it. Despite a perpetuating low mood however, I always managed to work and gained significant self esteem from my achievements. Following an assault, I started to self neglect which resulted in a series of hospitalisations, some voluntary, some …. not so. Work stopped paying me, income went from £2,000 a month to £53.00 a week plus DLA. I lost my house, car, dignity, self respect and didn’t work for two and a half years. I finally picked myself up, managed to get work and regained a level of normality which included finding a husband.

About five years into life take two, I had a short bout of depression which had been preceded by a period of extreme pressure at work which I appeared to thrive upon. It was only when the person in the next door office, a Consultant Psychiatrist, asked if I had bipolar rather unipolar depression that I noted periods when I was ‘in the zone’, ‘a bit buzzy’ or saw things a bit more acutely (I can smell an ant fart* at 20 miles and memorise film credits without realising it).

So, back to 2011 and a diagnosis of manic depression to go with the diabetes I’d picked up a couple of years previously plus a hiatus hernia, dupuytren’s contracture in both hands, coeliacs and three lots of surgery in less than twelve months and I start dropping some of the plates I’m spinning whilst working for our great British NHS at about 170mph. This results in a 3am trip to the GP Out of Hours based in my own hospital with strong suicidal ideations. After all, if I can’t function ‘my way’, then there are no other options and I possess enough drugs to floor a baby elephant. With the agreement that hubby would take time off work to stay with me to avoid an admission (‘I’m not going in there, it’s full of nutters’) we go home.

Today was my 8 week Occupational Health review. The Consultant was great; I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing care from my GP, Crisis/Home Treatment Team, Consultant Psychiatrist, CB Therapist, CPN and OH. When I came out of the office, I started to bump into people, colleagues and peers.

Now call me paranoid (no don’t, the anti psychotics are working perfectly well thank you) but the ‘you look really wells’ and ‘are you still offs?’ were occasionally accompanied with that ‘but you don’t look ill’ look that the spoonie theory relates so well.

So this is a bit of hurrumph* and a bit of awareness raising for those of you who may not understand that mental ill health is every inch as hard as physical ill health and deserves as much respect. Underestimate it at your peril, particularly in today’s economic climate and with the current rudderless government. There is excellent information around on, generically, the traits of a manic depressive episode and MIND and ReThink are particularly recommended. Everyone’s experience, however, is different. I personally like this blog post, http://bit.ly/oNoWrD by the FABULOUS Natasha Tracy (@natasha_tracy) which articulates my presentation far better than I ever could for which I thank her.

* Thanks to @Zoe_Smith for her olfactory insight
* A good hurrumph in the morning sets you up for the rest of the day – Socrates (quote care of the lovely @NormanTonner)

Committing Fraud

I am a fraud. There, I’ve said it. But before you go running off to the Daily Fail to dob me in (I’m working and disabled so I must be on the rob), let me clarify this revelation.

I’ve been an out and proud ‘service user’ since long before my involuntary admission for clinical depression in the late nineties and been the poster girl for all that is bipolar since a diagnosis (and medication) tweak six years ago. I’d previously admit to a little wobble when I was given the bipolar label (I know the label shouldn’t matter, but I work in the NHS) as it made me question where the ‘good’ me stopped and the ‘ill’ me started. After all, when I was a depressive, it wasn’t me that couldn’t get my arse out of bed, it was the ilness. I wasn’t moody or intolerant, I was depressed. But I was also creative, driven, had a photographic memory, could smell an ant fart a mile off*. So at work, wasn’t it fantastic how I could do what I could do with all I had to cope with?

Now, don’t get me wrong, now knowing that those ‘good’ bits are parts of the illness don’t make either the depression or the increasingly difficult mania any more manageable but they give an element of context within reason. It still frustrates me that the context is normally based on ‘isn’t that what Stephen Fry’s got?’ (no, he has cyclothymia actually) but it’s better than it’s ever been.

Or is it?

You see, for me, the old ‘you just need anti depressants like a diabetic needs insulin’ quote rang hollow a couple of weeks ago when my psychiatrist told me she just wanted to try me out on olanzapine, an anti psychotic. Now, I’m not currently psychotic (I have been in the past) but I immediately started to think about how people perceive psychosis. And by people, I also mean me.

After all, when the government each year survey the population and find out that 40 odd percent of them wouldn’t let someone who has had a mental health related admission babysit their child, they clearly don’t mean me, do they? What will my boss think if she finds out? Will I be allowed to act autonomously again? Will hubby let me have access to the joint account again (well, he hasn’t actually taken it off me ….). What will my mother say? How can I tell my friends? (I’ll need a reason for the weight gain). I labelled myself and I didn’t like it.

One of the wonderful tweoples who is bonkers enough to follow me and who I follow back, tweeted about how sometimes her struggles seem trivial against those of others in our little ‘mentalists’* group. It saddened me that she thought that way, that I may have contributed to that thought and that we appear to have developed a hierarchy amongst ourselves. A ‘my cat’s blacker than your cat’ mentality.

Sometimes it feels like the ‘Time to Change’ campaign may need to do some work on their own members …..

D

Note: All asterisked phrases are copyrighted and used with permission from Zoe Smith

Coming out on September the 11th

Well, the time has come to commit finger to iPad in the delusion that I have anything remotely interesting to say about myself and my life. I frequently read the excellent blogs of others such as ‘Diary of a Benefit Scrounger’ and ‘Mental Political Parent’ so thought I would give it ago.

The date is important to me in part of my recovery too. I came to the conclusion during 9/11 that I was in love with the man I was later to marry and that I was capable and deserving of love in return. I was watching events unfold on television and, as one of Thatcher’s children and a someone who thinks the announcer in the Trafford Centre is going to say ‘Mine will be the last voice you will ever hear. Don’t be alarmed’, I needed to speak to those who mattered in my life. It was then that I realised that this man who I had met through an Internet dating site, had been on two dates with but I wasn’t sure about, was one of these people.

Whilst the horrors of 9/11 should never be forgotten, we shouldn’t forget that on that day people got married, children were born and most of us were reminded to count our blessings.

D