ELIZABETH WATKINS has written a little book about her experiences of living with mental health issues. We know that Panorama readers will be interested to read about the things that Elizabeth has been able to do to get through the rough patches, and how she’s kept well enough to stay out of hospital. Here is an excerpt…
It has been over twelve years now since I have needed to be admitted to a mental health unit or a hospital for bipolar disorder. Overall, apart from these episodes of being unwell, I think that I have lived a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. What I would like to do here is to talk about some of the things that I have done which have helped get me through the periods of depression both nowadays and in the past.
Over the years I have had a huge amount of support from family, friends and medical / psychological professionals and more often than not in patient treatment. However, I realise that sometimes it is so very important to remember that I have been blessed with an inner strength and an exceptionally strong will to live. These are qualities I am lucky to have.
When I am unwell, decision making becomes near impossible. Choosing clothes is a hit and miss affair. Usually the clothes I do choose are drab and boring.
My daily menu consists of identical meals: Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a microwave meal for dinner. I am grateful that my family often are prepared at this stage to help me with dinners of healthy food and comfort me as I cry.
I always aim to stick to some sort of routine, impossible though this seems. It gets hard to get through this daily existence that often I would prefer death even though my strength and slight amount of optimism prevents me from suicide. Often I have to be reminded that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and soon, yet another episode will pass.
Rather than stay at home, where it is easy to isolate yourself I would force myself out the door and to the few places I would allow myself to feel safe. I go to bingo three times a week. Win or lose it doesn’t matter; my win was getting there.
I have a caring son to remind me constantly that soon this will pass and the tears will stop flowing.
I watch as many comedy shows on TV as I can. At first I find no humour in them but with lots of perseverance I gradually find myself amused and actually appreciating these shows. At first I can’t even concentrate at all. In time I realise my down episode is about to leave me. My return to normalcy is as sudden as its onset
I begin accepting my friends and family again (whom I have tried so hard to shun) back into my life. I start to enjoy the sound of laughter again – surprised when often this laughter is my own. Slowly my joy of living returns – all about me I see Mother Nature.
Some of my coping mechanisms are simple and become regular. I use word puzzles to try to exercise my mind and force myself to keep my mind active.
My personal advice to anyone with a mental health issue is always to discuss things fully with your doctor, including your medication.
Always accept support from whomever offers it – be it friends and family. Even if you don’t consider you need it. Healthy people are happy to accept support in their average days and so should you.
Finally, try to keep up with your important appointments and try to follow as much advice you are given. Stick with routine!
All of the above will speed up your recovery and as you gain knowledge of your particular illness and its symptoms you will be able to trust yourself to have a lot more personal control over a lot of the most debilitating symptoms of your illness.
People should strive to learn as many methods of coping as possible. Some of these (in my case) have taken years of experience and ongoing thirst for knowledge of any help available to me.
I hope something amongst my words will help you in some way. If even the smallest part of relating to my journey of a lifetime with my own experiences has helped just one person, I feel as though my goal has been reached.
For a while the mind levels out smoothly. Life is much easier to handle and it feels good to feel like all the people that surround me. Once more, everyday tasks become easy to carry out. Thoughts are clear and decisions are no longer difficult. Everyday functions become simple. Pleasure, suffering and frustrations are all coped with.
So well in fact that it I need to be careful because these good turns may lead into mania and then yet another depression. I have learnt fairly accurately to predict the timing of my own episodes. I try hard not to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head all day.
This is how many in fact cope with depression. Of course this kind of ‘self-help therapy’ does not actually have a good impact and has the opposite effect.
This is an extract from the story Maze of Mind by Elizabeth Watkins. If you’d like to read the full story, please email Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.