I haven’t visited Twitter or posted on Bizpolar in months, and I want to explain how my work here fell off a cliff entirely out of the blue.
After being on an NHS waiting list for over two years, I was recently given a place for therapy. I was told that it is exploratory psychoanalysis, and it may open up more issues than it immediately solves. I was told that I was very lucky to receive a place at all, and should really value everything that my therapist tells me and what I learn as a result.
The reason why I stopped writing is simple: my therapist told me to. In my first session I explained about my passion to document my working life as someone with Bipolar disorder and how pleased I am with what I had been starting to do. He told me that it was unhealthy behaviour, and was immediately questioning my sense of identity. Do I consider myself disabled? Why am I ‘creating’ this Bipolar online identity? Do I even have Bipolar at all?!?
He advised me to back off this blog and my tweeting, to pursue ‘healthier’ behaviours and interests. But I’m wondering now: is this truly any of his business? Why did I jump to do exactly what he said? If he told me to divorce my husband or quit my job, would I have done that as well? I feel like I have been diminished and am under his control. And now, after a few sickness absences since starting my therapy, I am wondering whether it is harming more than it is helping. As a new ‘service user’ I am now being made to feel weaker and sicker than I did before. All of my thoughts and activities are under a critical eye. At a time when I have been doing fine for a while, did I even need medical treatment? With these NHS waiting lists and lack of help when you actually need it, is this a system that is supporting mental illnesses effectively?
So I am going to begin looking closely at my weekly sessions with him and will be beginning to chronicle my experience, to try and analyse what is happening.
"What was your biggest failure?"
I was recently interviewing for a new job when this question came up and I was quite taken-aback by it. At the time, I made up a suitably interview-spin response about not getting onto a PhD course which led me to actually start on my current career path. But it has got me thinking seriously about this subject: admitting and learning from failures in life is important and probably essential. I think I have spent a lot of time either trying to forget about the really bad times in my life, or ‘working through’ and ‘moving on’ from these moments with various therapists. Also in my career and my day-to-day job, I am constantly trying to convince others that I am a successful and beneficial member of the team. So if I am ignoring my failures, is that a failing in itself?
Therefore I decided to consider my biggest failures and what I have learnt from them:
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I recently read a really great blog post about managing Bipolar symptoms on a daily basis: 'How to Reduce Bipolar Disorder Mood Swings'. I fully agree with many aspects of the post, especially in regards to keeping to medication and having a good sleep pattern. These are the initial building blocks of maintaining a positive and productive lifestyle for most people with mental health issues. I cannot stress this enough as the main priority.
However, whilst reading over her points, it struck me that I employ very specific habits and ‘survival tactics’ to my everyday life in the office, which may also be good to share. Being at work can be difficult, especially on a day when you are feeling a little more vulnerable or volatile. Over the past few years since my Bipolar I diagnosis, I have been working out ways to keep up a successful career and it has a lot to do with managing symptoms, so that hypomanic states do not escalate, and thoughts of sadness do not lead into a full-blown depression. After rather long periods of sickness and disability absences from work, it occurs to me that staying in the workplace and trying to make it work, is often the best thing.
So what do I do on a day-to-day basis?
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For many years, I have lived with the stress of not only living and working with a mental health condition, but also with trying to hide it from my employer and colleagues as well. I believe that I have been successful at both of these, but it has been difficult and an addition stress to my life. I recently disclosed my illness to my company and have learnt many things along the way which I would like to share to help others.
Working with Bipolar Affective Disorder can be very challenging in the basic act of managing to ride the moods effectively whilst continuing your every day working role. On low days, leaving the house, travelling to work and walking into the office can seem like too much, and I might have called in sick. On days where I feel high, anxiety and self-consciousness also have a negative effect, where I feel noticeably edgy and unable to think straight due to racing (and often paranoid) thoughts. Taking time off work sick in both instances can become a repetitive cycle of stress: the symptom triggers off the fear of going to work or being discovered at work, which then leads to withdrawal, which fuels the fire of more fear and anxiety. Time off work can put you in the hands of HR concerned with absenteeism, which is exactly what happened to me, so the night before the disciplinary meeting, I called up Mind and got expert advice.
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Although this account is new, I have been on Twitter in both my individual professional capacity, but also representing my company through their marketing account for some time now. I have been very impressed by its capabilities and – although still very much a novice to social media – am a strong advocate to its immense benefit.
But whilst Twitter connects and helps people worldwide of any background or disposition, I want to argue that it works particularly well for people with Bipolar disorder. There are four main reasons why I believe that this is the case:
- It enables effective output across changing moods. I think this is the most useful thing about Twitter – you can ride your moods with it. Through Tweetdeck, you can write and queue lots of interesting links, important opinions and statements. So when you are going through a time where you are more energetic and inspired, you can get lots down and plan in advance for less motivated times. In other ways of working - writing a diary for example - it is all in real time, and so productivity lulls when you are too down or too up to be as able. Twitter rides these storms well.
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