I can hear movement in the house as I lie in bed, trying to convince my mind and body that it is time to get up. The front door opening and closing as my partner leaves to take his regular walk across to the local newsagents, music coming from my daughter’s room, her feet making contact with the laminated floor, probably dancing yet again, and the low tone of the television coming from the living room.
I can hear life circulating around me as I struggle just to hold on to the idea of keeping my eyes open. It seems to take me forever to be able to get out of my bed. I wasn’t late to bed last night, not late at all. No, this is the joy that is Seroquel (Quetiapine), an anti-psychotic medication used in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. I am very anti-medication when it comes to dealing with my Bipolar Disorder, preferring to deal with it in a more holistic fashion, though at times I have to be pragmatic and accept that I may need a small amount of medication. This in itself is acceptable in my mind, what isn’t acceptable is the sedation that is a chronic side effect of Seroquel.
I lie in bed, in some sort of perpetual on-going battle, trying to prize my weary eyes open, before they predictably close once more. Trying with difficulty to hold an eyelid open, to scan the room with one semi-focused pupil, before all predictably goes dark again. To tentatively grab hold of a thought, any thought, aware that my brain is trying to painstakingly wake up but just as my fingers curl themselves around a whimsical wisp of cognition, so I once again lose this too. Eyes shutting, breathing becoming shallow as I sink back between the plush pillows of my now rather untidy dishevelled bed.
By dinnertime, I am awake, having seemingly lost half a day. Peering through blurry eyes filled with clusters of sleep, at the kettle, willing it to boil quickly, so I can have my much-needed first dose of caffeine. My whole body feels weak, my legs threaten to give way, and I feel disorientated and nauseous as I fill my ridiculously large cup full of water and swish a solitary teabag around with a teaspoon and then fall haphazardly into the nearest chair. I’m thinking about breakfast, but as that means standing up one more and dragging my body back into the kitchen, I think I shall just sit here for a while.
It takes at least an hour or half for what I have christened ‘med-head’ to wear off. During that time, I desperately need peace and quiet as I endeavour to wake up. Time to simply sit on a chair undisturbed as I fight my way back to some semblance of consciousness, without also having to process or make my head understand any form of direct or vague communication. Time whilst I eat my breakfast, time whilst I make more tea, time as I once again lie lazily in chair.
I eventually look at my to-do list of what I need to write today. I know I could really benefit from writing a few articles and putting in some hours on either of my books. Instead, I just sit here, procrastinating as I try in vain to find some much needed inspiration. I plainly forget all of the things I know about writing and more importantly, those things that I know help me to write – all the hints and tit-bits of wisdom I gratefully soak up seem lost, lost in a dark bottomless pit of frustration
fuelled fury and agitation.
I look around, reading the titles of books sitting seductively on my bookcases. Flicking through notepads that are complete with lists of ideas for possible blogs and articles. Looking within for memories or anecdotes or conversations I have heard or looking outside, marvelling at the eternal magnificence of Mother Nature in all her glory, hoping she will bestow some genuine wonder and motivation.
Finally, it is others, most notably my partner who gratefully hands me a piece of inspiration, an idea to play with. Suddenly my mind comes alive with the possibilities, my fingers magically hitting the keys of my laptop, ideas flowing, my synapses now sparking with delight in a plethora of bold and enticing colours.
There is nothing that makes me feel that I have achieved something, than turning out a piece of work when faced with such a struggle to get the words to flow. To save the piece of work and give it its title, when earlier on in the day it seemed like such an impossible feat is something that not only makes me realise that I have been productive but also ironically reignites my creative sensibilities.
Once completed, though I now feel the urge to continue to write, the practicalities of life intervene. I have to go to the supermarket.
I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), a personality trait coined by Psychologist, Elaine N Aron that affects 15-20% of the population. She herself is a HSP and therefore over a period of more than twenty years, she has extensively researched this trait, which is now known scientifically as Sensory processing Sensitivity and has gone on to publish many books on the subject. As suggested by its name, put simply it means that that those of us who share this trait, process and absorb ‘stimuli’ at much higher levels than non-HSP’s.
Therefore, for me going to the supermarket for instance is not a pleasant experience. I am a HSP who is greatly affected by noise and it’s one form of stimuli that I find incredibly difficult to tune out. I do manage to, to a degree – if I am on my own by using headphones or if someone accompanies me – by going within and distracting myself with stories, either using age-old characters or creating new ones who often have highly elaborate adventures.
However, when one couples being a HSP, with also having Bipolar Disorder and social anxiety the picture becomes a little more complicated. One of the issues with Bipolar is not being able to filter out external stimuli and often becoming over-stimulated. For some people this may be only an issue within mania, the overstimulation driving the mania further forward whereas for me, it is a constant problem, although obviously increasing when mania does indeed strike.
When I return from the supermarket, my sense of relief is palatable. The noise is finally gone! The truck loads of people with their constant chatter, the music and the overhead speakers blaring out announcements or calling people to checkouts, the noise of trolleys being pulled along slippery floors and shelves being stacked high. Checkouts and the constant bleeping as things are scanned, the noise of polythene bags and groceries being thrown into them. Children playing or sometimes crying, people talking, laughing, shouting…
It takes a couple of hours for me to recover. I need time for my emotions, arousal and anxiety levels to slowly start to simmer. I feel incredibly over stimulated, overwhelmed and exhausted. I would honestly rather live in solitary confinement – at least then I would be given food and would not have to go out and catch it myself!
Eventually my system does calms down. Now I want a drink, a glass of wine or a bottle of whiskey, always Scottish, the proper stuff. I gave up drinking many years ago. Like many people who have mental illnesses, I would use alcohol to self-medicate but eventually the alcohol caused problems in its own right, additional problems that needed to be tackled. My approach was to eradicate it. However, the urges do not simply go away and more than this, the relaxation qualities are still very much craved.
I fight the need for a drink, I read instead and then after I feel fulfilled from a literature point of view, my partner and I relax and watch a film.
Finally, it is time for bed, time for the dreaded and frustrating pills. ‘To take or not to take’ tends to be the constant question most nights. If I take them, I sleep, but in doing so, I cannot wake up at a decent time and disappointedly miss a considerable part of each day but if I decide to not take them, I will not sleep and then who knows what might happen.
Therefore, I take my usual dose and go to bed, at 12pm. But unlike you, you fortunate souls who will rise at 7-8am, I will not see the sun come up or hear the male birds warbling. I won’t hear the postman call or watch the children going to school. No, I shall be unconscious, as part of my very precious life slips by, so if by any chance anything exciting does happen……………….please let me know.