A Step Back From The Edge

By: Nic Fleming

It has been almost 8 months since my last blog. It is hard to believe how much time has passed. I literally could not write- or read for that matter.

So yes, I have been exceptionally unwell but I would like to share some aspects of my experience over the past 8 months or so and my ongoing recovery with you.

As a sufferer of bipolar disorder and a number of other psychiatric conditions, at times I feel like an utter train wreck- the bullet train gone wild then right off the tracks and on its side into a ditch.

But in recent times I have made a discovery. Even at the age of 44 it is possible to learn skills to manage my condition outside of the medication merry-go-round.

It is an amazing concept that I have begun to embrace with both hands.

For about 20 years I was addicted to hard core opiates which I now accept was a way of self-medicating and relentless avoidance. Opiates are powerful mood stabilizers but I have been clean for almost 7 years now. I guess I was what they call a functioning addict. I am not really sure if functioning is the right word- more like a surviving addict because I am still here to write about it.

What I find odd is that I actually thought once I got clean everything would fall into place and I would be able to smell the roses.

That certainly wasn’t the case at all. In fact, my mental health deteriorated even further after I got off drugs. Having suffered mental illness for most of my life whether I was on drugs or not I have clambered for air every step of the way like so many others.

For a very long time I believed that medication was the solution to having bipolar disorder and I would be fine if only I found that right combination of meds. The belief that medication was the solution was shattered 8 months ago after yet another series of bipolar episodes. For months I experienced Mania, Depression, mixed episodes…the whole nine yards.

I deteriorated badly and was hospitalized in January.

During that hospitalization I was still so emotionally unstable I literally could not function at all. In all honesty I cannot recall much of that period of time. I floundered in a realm of disassociation and delusions. I tried new medications again and had no improvement.

Not long afterwards I was readmitted as things had only deteriorated further. In the end I hit the wall. Something awful happened and everything collapsed. I realized that I had to do something urgently in addition to medication because I was barely living. I was still just surviving. It is no way to be.

I’ve had a few psychiatrists over the years, and I am sure you can you can relate to my perception that they are all unique. However in my opinion the underlying theme is the same. They tend to focus on medication.

But as an inpatient there was a significant event that lead to something new. The hospital referred me to a community mental health organisation and they aligned me with a psychologist. They came around to the house and worked with me. They pushed me towards positive action where I could not push myself. Unbelievably I have never had a psychologist until this year. But I knew without a doubt I had to do whatever I must to help myself.

So I went along and have begun building a relationship with a psychologist and it is tough. It was not easy to take this step, but she has helped me understand that I will need a great deal of therapy and that we can only unpack segments at a time.

At the moment we are working on an acute basis. It’s a start and I find it is very useful to have an objective person to talk with. I have been in to see her in crisis, during elevated moods, and depressed and mixed states.

As such we are not even contemplating processing trauma- not yet. And I drag myself there even when I don’t want to go. She told me if you have to come in your pajamas then do it.

I haven’t gone in my pajamas thankfully, but I will if I have to.

In addition to one on one therapy I have begun to attend outpatient groups for acceptance and commitment therapy and trauma and recovery. 

Wow! There are so many triggers. But so much opportunity too.

There is so much you can learn to help with grounding yourself when you are in crisis. But it takes practice. And oh boy, it was really difficult to take that first step.

A psychologist at the hospital made a great suggestion to me yesterday for a way to remind myself to practice grounding. I told her I put reminders on my phone but that had not really been working. She suggested I employ visual reminders such as coloured sticky dots in places around the house and pretty much wherever I look on a daily basis to use as a cue. I really liked that idea; it resonated with me immediately.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that by building supports around yourself you can get on the road to recovery and accept living with bipolar disorder. I feel hope for the first time in decades.

So what am I doing today? Writing this and then going out to buy sticky dots and find mindful places to stick them.

I have never been so keen to go to an office supplies store in my life.

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