(TW: Mental Health, Suicide, Self Harm)
I do what I can to make this blog a positive place, and it's certainly my intention to largely focus on the fun and whimsical aspects of my life. However, something happened recently which reminded me of some less fun stuff, and I felt compelled to talk about it.
For those of you who don't know I have Bipolar Disorder. I'm coping fairly well the bulk of the time. I'm medicated, I'm working on a care plan with my doctors and I'm doing a decent job of exorcising toxic influences from my life. I haven't self-harmed in four months, and it's been a long time since I was unable to go to work due to depression. It's mostly been good. Mostly.
That last two years, in some ways, were really great. In others they were challenging. Very, very challenging. In fact 2014/2015 were nearly the death of me, more than once. That's not a joke or a turn of phrase, I mean it very seriously. On two occasions in the last 15 months my suicidal thoughts almost became more than thoughts. I don't really want or need to get into the details of those hideous days. Misery is a self-nourishing monster, and sometimes we can break the cycle ourselves, and sometimes we can't. I'm in therapy and taking 100mg of quetiapine/seroquel daily, and this goes a long way to helping keep me safe. However, I would like to recognise some of the non-medical things that have stopped me from going to the darkest places in my mind.
This sounds like a cliché, but my band Trash Panda has been such an incredible outlet. Not just because writing songs about my heartbreaks and depression has helped me make sense of it all, but because I have made amazing friendships with these three boys, and knowing that I get to spend several hours a month making loud noises with them can help me push through dark days, and they're always there when I need them.
My Friends, Both "Real" and "Virtual"
I've been geographically isolated from a lot of my friends since I moved to the countryside, and that's been a challenge. I still see and talk to my uni and school friends when I can, but modern life is tricky and I'm terrible at staying in touch with people. I have kind of found my refuge in social media, especially within the blogging community. It's crazy that even five years ago it was considered a bit unusual and creepy to make friends on the internet, but right now, I don't know what I'd do without my "web friends".
I have so much love for animals in general, but obviously there is a spectacularly special place in my heart for my own pets. I have seven bunnies, a beautiful dog called Buffy and a small tropical fish tank with bala sharks, tetras, minnows and a shrimp called Sid. Not only do they make me happy with their clowning, cuddles and mere presence, but taking care of them provides even my worst days with structure. During those grim periods where I don't want to face the world, I know I have to get up and feed my creatures and make sure all their needs are met.
I have read a number of studies about the psychological benefits of doing creative things. For me, I find a huge sense of pleasure and accomplishment in doing creative projects, regardless of what they are. Even just the activity can help engage me, especially when I'm having a manic episode.
When I can't work up the energy to make things, YouTube videos can provide a distraction from my mutinying mind. Mindlessly watching playlists doesn't solve or cure anything, but it can give me something to focus on when I'd rather not concentrate on myself, and a little laugh goes a long way.
My family, I think it's fair to say, aren't particularly clued up about mental illness. I went to boarding school when I was eight, and I've spent years hiding my mental struggles and breakdowns, so we're working on our communication. They're going to get involved in my developing care plan, and I'm trying to be more open about what I need. All that aside, being at home has been the best thing for me, especially last year when I hit some really deep lows. Rather than living alone and bunkering in when my depression really hits, having my family around me forces me to function a little better. They don't always get it right, and we all have a lot to learn, but they're trying. And more than that, they're my family. Even just watching TV with my mum or chatting with my brother about trivial stuff can make me feel a bit more normal, and that can help set me back on balance. And as much as we argue and rub each other up the wrong way, a hug from my family can really help on days when only a hug will do.
If you have any concerns about your mental health then please, please get in touch with your GP. It might not be a quick or easy process, but you deserve to have your mental health addressed and taken seriously. Don't suffer in silence.
If you want to learn more about my mental health why not take a look at my health blog, GREEN ABOUT THE GILLS?