Monday, 30 March 2015

Bipolar and me

Every day is bipolar day for me.  But according to social media today is "World Bipolar Day 2015" so it seems fitting to dedicate a post all about being bipolar.

I'm a relative latecomer to this, only being diagnosed retrospectively following a brush with psychosis.  My official diagnosis is something along the lines of "Bipolar affective disorder current episode severe depression with psychotic symptoms".  So, at its worst, bipolar robbed me of my sanity and left me psychotic.  Treatment took many weeks (months) and some very powerful psychotropic drugs.  Getting through that took its toll on everyone around me, but we got there.  Now, I live with a milder form of bipolar, the type which brings me periods of moderate to severe depression, followed by periods of slight mania (doctors like to call these "hypomanic episodes").   Most days, you would never know anything was wrong.  Social services haven't come to remove my child, and while I'm not economically active at the moment I'm pretty sure if I wanted to hold down a job I could.

Being bipolar has given me a new identity, and placed me in a tribe to which I feel a deep sense of belonging.  It has helped me reconcile some of my past behaviour.  While I would never use it as an excuse for my recklessness, it certainly helps to explain much of my teens and twenties!

It might just have helped me be that straight-A student (top of my year upon leaving high school and graduating university).  I never found studying difficult, and I always had something clever-sounding to say in lessons (and debates, and public speaking events...).  I cared a little too passionately for my friends, and always went that extra mile to help them out and to make them smile. Occasionally this landed me in deep trouble!  And I hate to think of all the times I could have been caught doing something seriously naughty due to teenage love / friendship.

Now, well into my thirties and a wife and mother, I think my manic periods manifest in different ways.  I take on a lot of different responsibilities, always volunteering for this or that, and bake a ridiculous amount of complicated cakes.  I play with my son with gleeful abandon and have developed a healthy attitude towards regarding other people's opinions of me. None of this is likely to land me in trouble as such, but I do wonder what would be different without the bipolar.

So, I choose the crippling depression and the long, dark, days.  I choose the tears and the anguish.  I choose the nothingness and the blank stare.  I choose the excruciating trips to the GP.  I choose the concerned phonecalls from family.  I choose it all - just as long as I get an equal share of joyful, energetic and happy days.  An equal share of loving without limits and living without boundaries. 
(The kind of thing I am want to do during a particularly hypomanic period!)

Monday, 23 March 2015

"As featured in..."

Kathryn is always keen to share her story of mental illness and wellness, and to increase awareness of postpartum psychosis in particular.  She is a media volunteer for the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis, and has also taken part in the Time To Change "Can you tell?" campaign for Rethink Mental Illness.  Kathryn is happy to hear from any journalists or editors with an interest in mental health.

Bumps & Grind blog has featured in:
- TOTS100 "Good Reads" A Trip Down Psychosis Memory Lane, March 2014
- Mumsnet Bloggers Network featured blog
- Mumsnet Bloggers Network "Blog of the Day", From SAHM To WAHM, June 2014
- Guardian Society Blog Round-up, Presenting at a Conference, June 2014

Kathryn has given television interviews to:
- ITN evening news (on birth trauma)
- Channel 4 evening news (on postpartum psychosis).  See health editor Victoria MacDonald's feature here:
- Good Morning Britain (on postpartum psychosis)
- Channel 5 evening news (on being discharged from psychiatric hospital)
- ITN evening news (on postpartum psychosis and discharge from hospital)
- Victoria Derbyshire programme's live debate on mental health (

She has also given print interviews, including to Rethink Mental Illness' "Your Voice" magazine.

Kathryn has presented on "Motherhood and Madness" to Bournemouth University's Festival of Learning conference on maternal mental health.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Some god-awful attempts at poetry

Written in a fit of poetic splurging during The Boy's naptime earlier today.  If there is any rhyme or reason to this, they represent Illness, Recovery and Parenthood.  Be gentle. 

Psycho world
The world is spinning away from me.
I hear voices I recognise, see faces I know,
But the harder I look, the more intently I hear,
The further and further they go.

The world is spinning away from me.
I've lost my grip on everything.
All that I know, all that I ever knew,
Has disappeared into a box marked 

The world is spinning away from me.
The fear takes control of my head,
If I open my mouth, or reach out my hand,
I'll know for sure I am dead.

The world is spinning away from me.
The safest place to be is inside my head.
The best I dare hope for, the best case scenario,
Is that this is Hell and Earth continues on in my stead.

But slowly, so slowly...

The world begins to come back for me
The drugs gradually do their work.
Allowing my mind to realise
This was life after all, 
A hellish, dark, tortuous pit,
But specific to me and my worst fears,
And - thank goodness - not the end of life as we know it.

Nothing and no one can touch me now.
I've been to the back of beyond
The bottom of the pit
The arse-end of society.

I lost my dignity, my humanity.
But - guess what?
Life is not a one-shot game

You are allowed to fail.
Allowed to go back to the beginning
And start again.

The confidence that comes,
When you've reached the bottom
And survived.
Is unbeatable.

The knowledge that this gives,
The peace that comes from knowing
How futile keeping-up-appearances can be.
Is unshakeable.

Who can touch me now?
I'd like to see them try.
Come at me with words, deeds, targets, tests...
All of it matters less
Than the beauty of 

It's not about who you become
How life changes
What it teaches us.

It's about the new person
You have introduced
Into the mix of life.

It's not about you any more
Your hopes and dreams fade
Into your tiny bundle of EVERYTHING.

It's about all of them
From their most basic need
To their most incredible dream.

It's everything for them,
Your unspoken word and
Your every waking thought.

It's parenthood, you see,
The circle of life if you like
And you won't mind one bit.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Political leanings

In April, The Husband, The Boy and me are heading to Washington, DC.  As voracious consumers of American political dramas, we can't wait.  I've been fascinated by US politics ever since a year spent at the University of California, during the Bush-Gore-chad debacle.  I was captivated by the enigmatic professors (where students would line up to get into the lecture halls, spilling out onto the aisles - in contrast with the drab, empty lectures back in Edinburgh).  I was hooked on constitutional law, political theory, Revolution and the rights of man.  The USA may not have been the birthplace of modern politics, but it sure as hell felt like its spirited adolescence.

The UK of 2015 feels like a world and an age away.  The initial excitement and possibilty of new coalition politics has given way to the usual apathy and a race to the bottom.  There are precious few big ideas and those that are making the electoral rounds are about tinkering with budgets rather than positive transformation of people's lives.  

With so little of substance to choose from, UK voters are tempted by the single-issue parties and personalities who thrive on the collapse of ideas: nationalism, anti-immigration, Boris, Farage and the rest.  I'm not sure this is what Francis Fukuyama meant when he wrote about "the end of history".   If this is the zenith of liberal democracy, then give me revolution.  Give me anything, but this half-hearted fight over who can privatise the NHS more stealthily and how the South East's housing crisis can be resolved by placating foreign investors, baby boomer second home owners, and private landlords.  Give me honesty, and a leader who is not afraid to make the difficult choices to safeguard our future.  Give me strength.

If political philosophy were ever needed, it is needed now.  We need reminded about why we have representation in the first place. Why should we get out of our mortgaged-to-the-hilt, energy inefficient, consumerist homes and vote? Why should we ask our representatives in power to pool our resources and make the necessary decisions to educate our children and treat our sick?  Why should we pay taxes and ask Government to spend *our* money at all?  From a position of privilege, it is easy to rail against government spending.  But imagine, as a thought experiment, you were about to be born into this world and you didn't know where on the wealth/race/gender/religious spectrum you would arrive at.  You might be rich, or you might be dirt poor.  In this circumstance, behind John Rawl's "veil of ignorance", what sort of world would you rather it be?  One where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?  Or one which has a degree of social equality and redistribution built in?  I know what I would rather face, and I think most people, if pushed, would agree that social justice is the fundamental building block for our way of life.

Rawl's theory of social justice is one of the most compelling arguments for politics.  So why have we turned our backs?  Why have politicians become so self-serving, and how have we let them?

One answer is neatly put by Runciman, in a recent short book.  We have come so far from Thomas Hobbes' nasty, poor, solitary and short (pre Leviathan) world that citizens see no need to worry about politics and politicians:

"The danger of modern politics is that stability produces disengagement.  Citizens who are protected from the most destabilising threats of violence start to lose interest in politics altogether: it becomes the background noise in their lives.  But violence never goes away entirely.  Instead it gets franchised out to government agencies who take advantage of our inattention to abuse the power we give them.  They do it because they can."
- David Runciman, "Politics: ideas in profile"

I'm not sure where all this leaves me. I'm excited about the DC trip, but I'm under no illusions: I realise politics is as corrupt, lobbyist- and money-driven there as it is anywhere else in the western world.  I'd like to "be the change" I want to see in the world, but I don't really know where to start. Join the PTA? Become a local councillor?  Or continue venting my frustrations here on the blog?  It can't just be me, can it?

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mindful how you go

One of the best things to have happened to me in the last six months is discovering "mindfulness".  I'm only a few decades late to the party, but so glad to have finally found it.  It's hard to exaggerate the benefits I've experienced from just a few minutes of guided mindfulness therapy - and published research suggests this is not uncommon.  I had my first taste of mindfulness therapy at London's Dragon Cafe.  Their free (and hugely popular) "Mind Works" course was an incredible introduction, both to the science and the practice of mindfulness.  

In short, it is a deliberate awareness of and focusing on the present moment in time: sitting on the chair, eating, breathing, moving, whatever the exercise may involve.  The key is lack of judgement: when the mind naturally wanders back to our anxieties, we forgive it and simply bring it back to the present moment.  It is a form of meditation, but without necessarily involving any deep breathing or chanting or yoga mats.   There is a huge literature out there, but for an easy introduction to mindfulness, I would heartily recommend the "The Little Book of Mindfulness" by Dr Patrizia Collard.

I think, in centuries past, mindfulness happened in humans as a matter of course: hunting for food, surviving, invoking rituals and praying to the unseen forces of nature that governed existence.  I'm guessing that our hunter-gathering ancestors had little time to worry about the past or fret about the future.  They lived solely in the here-and-now, doing the necessary to sustain life.  Modern life has become easier and easier to survive.  But, perversely, we have more and more time and inclination to worry.  Without needing to think where our next meal is coming from, or if our babies will survive the cold night, our minds have free rein to worry and stress and fret as they will.  

For someone prone to depression and anxiety there is no shortage of worry-fodder.  Working my way through a series of graduate jobs, for example, I spent my twenties agonising that I was a terrible employee and it could only be a matter of time before I was discovered to be an intellectual and professional fraud.  The anxiety was crippling: unable to think clearly or communicate with anyone, unable to make even simple decisions, and ultimately unable to function.  

And throughout all this anxiety ran a deep seam of self loathing.  There's a roof over my head, food on the table and a loving family.  What had I to be stressed about?  Why couldn't I enjoy life's simple pleasures (and there were many) without constant anxiety about the past or the future?

I'm no expert, but I'm starting to think that our modern life is partly to blame.  We have so many things vying for our attention, so many competing demands, it is hard to find the pleasure to be had right in front of our noses.  

Unlike our ancestors, who focussed on the present out of sheer necessity, we have to carve out time and learn how to be mindful.  And we need to be kinder to ourselves when we don't always get it right.  Mindfulness, when practiced properly (which generally means being guided through it by a qualified practitioner), ultimately leads to increased self-acceptance, and self-compassion.  Which in turn leads to increased gratitude and compassion for others.

Do check it out if you can!
If you're lucky enough to be able to get to The Dragon Cafe:

Online resources:

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Feeling motivated

Hello again, it's been a little while...  I won't bore you with many details of the last 6 months.  Sufficient to say I've been around the mental illness block a few times.  On the one hand, quite pleased with myself for seeking help proactively, and engaging with services (particularly a very effective Community Psychiatric Nurse and GP trainee, as well as a private psychotherapist).  But then angry and frustrated with myself for not adhering to the homework (or the medication), and for failing to be content with my by-all-means comfortable lot in life.  I've even experienced the frustration of feeling acutely depressed while on an extended stay in what can only be described as a tropical paradise (more on this in a seperate blog post)!

I'm learning now not to be so hard on myself, and to accept that mental illness rarely fits a neat recovery model.  I'm learning that it's ok to see the funny side, even when everything seems bleak.  And I'm learning to live and function more effectively with the emotional ebb and flow of bipolar disorder.  All humans are bipolar to varying degrees - some of us happen to experience more extreme highs and lows.  Or react in more extreme ways.  And that's ok. 

So - chin up, best foot forward.  I'm doing the best I can, being mum to an increasingly hilarious two year old, and partner to an ever-patient man who makes everything I do possible.  Blogging and social media have both taken a back seat, and that's been no bad thing, but I think I'm ready to re-engage with the world of mental health advocacy and peer support.  There is a lot to do. 

The original purpose of this blog was to document progress towards establishing a local social enterprise cafe.  While it all began with a (in hindsight) flurry of manic over-ambition, the original aim remains. My goals now benefit from both a sharp personal reality check and some invaluable advice from new friends and colleagues in the maternal mental health community:
- the need for safeguarding and professional oversight (don't risk personal health and safety, and that of potential service users)
- the importance of a multidisciplinary team/committee (don't try to do everything yourself)
- a phased approach to project goals (don't try to do everything all at once).

At times over the last six months my brain has been full to bursting with ideas, plans, thoughts.  While being in a "bipolar mixed mood" can be dangerous, it can also be intensely creative and inspiring.  I would love to take some of my ideas and see them through.  It will take hard work, and a lot of planning and perseverance, but I will get there.

More than anything, I want to be useful.  I want to help make the change needed in the world my little boy is growing up in.  Ok, so maybe I can't change the world - but if we don't at least try to improve our local community, to use our experiences to help others, then what's the point in any of it?  In my sphere of maternal mental health, local children and family services are at grave risk of government cuts.  NHS mental health services are stretched to the limit, and the cracks are getting wider.  If voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises don't step in then who will? 

To be continued... I will leave you with one more gratuitous island paradise shot: