There’s nothing like screaming at a friend to fuck off on a beach at 6pm on a Saturday night to really bring home that you’re probably not feeling very well. In general I am not a screamer in arguments, I’m a go and have space and then I will talk to you like a rational human being kind of person, so screaming is a big fat red flag. Orange flags that I chose to ignore in the run up to the weekend away were: an increasingly worrying lack of sleep, irritability, feeling agitated, thoughts about self harm and generally feeling overwhelmed. All these I largely chose to ignore, however I did have a small moment of self reflection the night before that I was feeling nervous about the trip. As many of you know travelling used to be a bit anxiety inducing for me; all the pressure, inability to manage my own time and possibility of becoming unwell or forgetting my meds. These days however I’m generally fine travelling and so whilst I vocalised some of my concerns to my friend I probably did so in a semi casual, ‘o yeah, by the way…’ kind of way as opposed to a ‘dude I’m actually worried about this’ way. The problem with doing this is that when it becomes a shit show they are a bit caught off guard and because I also didn’t take the time to fully acknowledge I was feeling down, I was also caught off guard.
The upside of the saga is that it acted as a sharp and speedy dig in the ribs to get me to ask for some support from my GP. I’ve been putting this off because whenever I’m low I have a tendency to compare it to my first low, which is sort of how I imagine childbirth in that it was so awful I can’t even quite connect to the memory. If this is the basis for monitoring mood then most of the time it doesn’t compare and I shrug off a possible need to seek help and be somewhat preventative. I am also conscious of the time and effort it requires to get a GP appointment these day, particularly now I’m working. I then balance up the additional stress of involving work and having to slot in an appointment during my working day and I’m like ‘hmmm I guess i’ll just wait it out and see where this goes’.
Luckily for me I cried throughout my appointment which demonstrated both to myself and the GP I needed a hand. She offered to write me off work which I declined but I took her up on flexible working. She wrote me up a prescription for more sleeping tablets and encouraged me to take them every night seeing as sleep is my main trigger. She referred me to Psych for a medication review and possibility of a new CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) and generally heard me out on the pressure I felt from full time work and relationships. The fact she took me seriously and noted that it was important I took time out to prevent an episode was so refreshing because the mental health system generally requests you be verging on suicidal before providing support or intervention. When someone takes the time to support you it forces you to do a reality check for yourself and I noted that i felt overwhelmed with commitments and like I wasn’t have much time to myself.
Last week I had the psych appointment which is essentially a triage system for mental health, they work out what it is you need, where psychiatric services need to step in and what community services you can access. By this point I’d had my flexible working which although it wasn’t quite flexible enough was a huge help so I was feeling calmer and maybe like I no longer needed the appointment. I went along and promptly burst into tears so perhaps it was a good thing I went, we spoke about triggers and where the stress was, my appetite and my sleep. She noted that although it had been 1 year of full time work now, some recent changes at work were making me feel uneasy and pressured to hold it together. The last thing you need when feeling down is pressure to do anything so I was struggling with this. I am also used to being surrounded by people who work in mental health, have their own experience or have been part of my experience. So I found it difficult that the two things in my life that were very meaningful and at the forefront right now, my relationships and my work, did not have this same level of understanding. She recommended some counselling, guidance around speaking to work and a referral for a one-off psych appointment to discuss and increase in meds. This feels like a step backwards but as she put it ‘maybe you’re current dose works for when life is going well but when life is challenging it just needs a boost to keep you stable’ fair enough.
A week on and i’m feeling much better, largely because I’ve been open which means people are more understanding and my social hermit status is acceptable. People are able to make small adjustments which probably seem stupid but help; things like not being part of big whatsapp groups that endlessly ping notifications up on my phone, understanding I’m more flakey than usual or that visits may even be just be at someones house rather than doing anything exciting or stimulating. My friends and family know me and these nuances so well that they just slip into this mode fairly easily and that’s so unbelievably helpful.
One good thing to have come out of it is that it’s got me back up and painting which I haven’t done in ages, visiting my friend nudged me into focusing on finishing a piece and I felt so pleased that i’d accomplished that for her when I saw it up her on her wall (literally like 200 years after she actually commissioned it). That painting is like remembering a little part of my identity that has been feeling a bit lost recently, looking at it now makes me think of my amazing friend who always supports me in these things and the fact that I am a painter as much as someone with Bipolar.