The agitation and anxiety was exhausting. Even although my body and mind were crying out for rest, I simply couldn’t settle. The simple act of me being still was about as likely to happen as a baby lying still in the midst of the most excruciating bout of colic.
I often used to wonder to what extent my extreme behaviour is down to my living with bipolar, and what is actually just my personality.
When I’m really happy, is that because I have a joyful disposition? When I’m sad, is that because things really do suck?
Is it just that? Or is it that I live with a mental illness?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a spectrum. A moods spectrum.
It’s a pretty simple concept. At one end of my spectrum it says ‘very happy’ and at the other end it says ‘very sad’.
In between that you can fill it in with mood levels of your choice.
‘A bit pants but at least it’s nearly the weekend’.
‘Happy-ish but I’ve still got a pile of ironing to do tonight which is pretty pants’.
‘Pants’ is the adjective of choice for me when it comes to mood. For me it just says it. You can use your own. The mood spectrum will still work, I promise.
Every single person in the world is on my spectrum, and every single person in the world experiences high and low mood. We all feel ups and downs.
At times these ups are absolutely brilliant!
You may wake up one morning and the sun is shining. It’s Saturday so you don’t need to go to work. You get dressed and discover you can fit into your skinny jeans again. Whoop whoop!
Why not celebrate by meeting a friend for coffee? A skinny latté with no hint of a double chocolate muffin on the side though obvs. You’re a sizzling little hottie in these jeans!
You may even find you walk differently. There may be a sexy little swagger going on that you didn’t know you could pull off?
You may find yourself saying hello and smiling at strangers you walk past on the way to meet said friend.
You come home and chill out in front of a good movie, put on a face mask, lay out your clothes for tomorrow and tuck yourself up in bed ready for another great day ahead.
That’s ok though, isn’t it? You’re happy for goodness sake! It’s lovely in fact, and you’ll have brightened up other peoples’ day with your positive energy.
On a day like this you’re either whacking that ‘very happy’ bell at the end of my mood spectrum, or you’re within touching distance of reaching for the mallet.
How wonderful! Happiness can come from the simplest of things yet can have such an impact on our behavior and demeanor.
Me on that spectrum?
Hmm. Thought you’d ask that.
Ok. So I chose the examples above because I can remember very clearly a day back in 2008 when all these happy little things came together for me.
The sun was shining after a really dull and grey few weeks.
It was Saturday, so I wasn’t working. Weirdly, I don’t work in the traditional sense any more, but, assuming I’m not ill, I still love Saturdays. They feel different, don’t you think?
I fitted into my cute little skinny jeans for the first time in ages.
Today was a good day! So, what to do?
At first I thought about meeting my friend for coffee and a catch up. I hadn’t seen her for a while. I’d been feeling pretty low so had been avoiding people.
I then happened to look out the window into the teeny but very sweet little garden at the rear of my rented house.
So. At first glance the garden looked pretty good. I’d been looking after it in a kind of “I’m not a gardener but can randomly prune a poor unsuspecting rose bush” kind of a way.
Oh my days though. Before I knew it I was out there with my notepad and pen making a list of exactly what this garden needed to make it wipe the floor in the ‘Best Small Garden’ category at Chelsea Flower Show.
The trellis needed a few little repairs. Small nails and hammer on the ‘to buy’ list.
The roses looked ok but was that a greenfly? Maybe not, but better safe than sorry. Greenfly spray on the ‘to buy’ list.
The little bushes in the flowerbeds were fine, but surely this garden needed variety? A mixture of grasses, flowering shrubs, crocuses, tulips or pansies or whatever the hell was in season and a couple of uplighters all went on the ‘to buy’ list.
I could go on, but sufficed to say, this ‘to buy’ list went on to include the likes of garden tools, flower tubs, a barbecue and new garden cushions.
To put this into perspective, the garden measured around 4m x 4m, was entirely paved, and had raised brick borders on three sides. And crucially, it looked perfectly lovely as it was.
Good. So that list looked pretty comprehensive. Pleased with that.
But if the garden was going to look so fabulous, the house would need to be brought up to an equal standard, surely?
Let’s just remind ourselves at this point that this was a rented house. Improving the value of my home was entirely irrelevant given that I’d be handing it back to the jolly grateful owner at some point.
I’m now on page 3 of my ‘to buy list’, and added the likes of 2 cafetières (one small, one large), a set of pots and pans (mine didn’t match), an entire set of white towels (my oatmeal ones didn’t match the bathroom), and a couple of faux fur throws.
Mother of Pearl! Why hadn’t I done this before? What must people have thought when they’d been to the house? Mortified.
There definitely wasn’t going to be time for coffee with my friend. This stuff needed done and now.
Off I went in my little Black BMW Z3. The roof was down and my freshly washed hair was blowing in my face. It was actually mainly sticking to my lip gloss. Hate that.
Garden centre shopping? Check.
Department store shopping? Check.
A couple of new sets of lingerie and a new pair of skinny jeans? Check.
Back into the little Z3, lip gloss now wiped off so that the hair scenario wouldn’t happen again, and home to empty the completely overloaded car of my beautiful new things.
Next I set about transforming the house and garden.
By around 8.30pm everything was looking pretty bloody good.
I sat in the garden for at least 1 and a half minutes to savour it’s splendor.
I then took myself back into the house to relax on the sofa, new faux fur throw casually draped over the arm, and to watch a chick flick.
Around 30 seconds later I popped back out into the garden, then back into the house, checked that the new pots and pans were still sitting perfectly straight on their stand, refolded one of the fluffy white towels that was not quite square, then took myself back to the sofa.
My new lingerie! Best try that on. And best try on my entire wardrobe and do a good old clear out while I’m at it.
Back to the sofa.
But what about the money I’d spent today? I hadn’t worked that into my accounts. Was there going to be enough money on pay day to clear the Amex that had taken such a battering today?
Money used to always be a source of enormous anxiety for me. Working in TV is notoriously insecure at the best of times so I could never be certain when the next job was going to present itself.
Even when I was earning well, the level headed me was very good at living well within my means to save money for any lean times.
You’ll notice I said the ‘level headed’ me. What I mean by that is, me when I am well.
Me in a hypomanic episode is a completely different thing. As you now know.
The truth is I was not in the position to go on such a mammoth spending spree. Not only did I not have the money in the bank to pay off the credit card, but even come pay day, there still wouldn’t be enough by the time I’d paid my extortionate London rent and all the other boring things we all need to consider.
The OCD tendencies from which I mildly suffer had manifested through the endless lists and the need to strive for the absolute best. For perfection. A perfection that I would never find.
And what about the spending of money that I didn’t have? It was as if I was living someone else’s life. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy these things but was on such a high that I thought ‘what the hell’, I can deal with this. I can deal with anything!
The agitation and anxiety was exhausting. Even although my body and mind were crying out for rest, I simply couldn’t settle.
The simple act of me being still was about as likely to happen as a baby lying still in the midst of the most excruciating bout of colic, only where the poor little baby would writhe around crying, I would race from room to room with absolutely no purpose at all. Being still was not on the agenda.
Oh and I never did see my friend, did I?
Instead, I spent the entire day alone, albeit that I talked (far too much) to every single person I came across. Shop assistants, people in the queue, people perusing in the same area of the shop as me and anyone else that would listen. Or not listen. They all got talked at.
The thing is, hypomanic or depressive episodes manifest in different ways for everyone.
We are all basically doing the same, bipolar or not. We’re feeling our way through life, making the most of the joys and coping with the challenges.
I’m no different in that respect.
The difference is that for me the joys can sometimes become such extreme highs that I’m out of control and unable to find the pause button.
I am unaware of reality.
I am more focused than an African Lion about to pounce on a zebra.
I forget to eat.
At times I will red button anyone who calls as if I don’t get through my list the world may just end.
At other times I will call every single person I can think of to talk ‘at’ them for hours, and at 100 mph.
I sometimes go on a spending spree that I can’t afford.
In all honesty? And I’m so ashamed to admit to this. I disregard the feelings and needs of my nearest and dearest if there’s even the teeniest of chances that they will interrupt this hypomanic state. This need to do whatever it may be at the time.
Bipolar is where mood swings are so extreme you are unable to function.
For me though, the saddest and most tragic thing about that morning is that having woken up with so much to be thankful for, my hypomanic actions gave me no real joy or happiness in the end.
The ‘fake happiness’ had come to call again, and it has no substance.
The fact is that the day after that particular episode, I slumped into a devastating low which lasted for a couple of weeks.
I had debt to worry about.
I was even more isolated from friends and family than before.
I didn’t give a toss about the bloody cafetieres.
I got absolutely no joy in wearing my wildly expensive new lingerie.
I felt sad. That agonising sadness filled my entire body with a heavy blackness that seemed to treble my bodyweight so that walking from the bedroom to the bathroom was physically challenging.
The loneliness. The loneliness was that all too familiar thing of craving company, but being unable to call or speak to anyone.
I had to hide away from the world. From the world in which everyone else was living, laughing, crying, learning, growing and experiencing, whilst to me it seemed like an alien place a million miles from my existence.
In the space of a day I had flown so far off my mood spectrum that I didn’t even get a chance to strike the ‘very happy’ bell with the mallet, only to retrace my footsteps the very next day and head towards the ‘very sad’ bell.
I didn’t stop when I reached ‘very sad’ on my spectrum though. Not until I had crawled on my hands and knees off the abyss and beyond. That ‘very sad’ bell would have been ok. Beyond it was not ok.
I had reached a land where once again I was that misfit with no reason to live.
Every day really can be like Chalk and Cheese.
Thank you blogs. Thank you support network. Thank you meds. Thank you therapy. Where I’d be without each and every one of you is unthinkable.
Keep well. x