Just ride the waves… 

“Sometimes you just need to ride the waves.”

(Whether that’s land or sea!) 

A psychologist once said this to me. This is not a particularly new or mind-blowing analogy. The comparison between life’s hardships and the sea’s monstrous power. I found that these words became lodged in my brain. I used them at every given opportunity. It could have been because I was about to go into a manic episode or maybe I just really liked the idea of “riding the waves”.
Either way this analogy has helped me. If it helps even just one other person I will be happy. It is only very simple. You could use this way of thinking for many types of problems. It could be anything. So, let’s get back to the analogy…

The sea is a powerful being which demands respect. When I look out to the sea I feel something magical, yet also eerie. The sea has the ability to portray so many emotions. From the calm ripples that tickle your feet, to the crashing waves that have the power to drag you down below. The sea holds so much unknown. Which I believe makes it fascinating.

Two things that are absolutely certain about the sea:

1 There will always be another wave.
2 That wave will always pass.

In a way, this could be compared to the way life treats us. You can sometimes feel as though you’re just waiting for the next wave to come crashing in. Instead of enjoying the calm. It is a shame to miss out on that very moment because of what might or might not happen.

When you are caught up in a strong wave, you must keep telling yourself… This WILL pass. You must learn ways to ride it out. You won’t always get it right, but that is okay too. This is all part of the learning process.

Now I am by no means an expert at “riding the waves” but I am learning…

Knowing that a wave will pass does not always make it easier to ride. This is very important to remember.

Imagine you were tossed overboard in a fierce storm out at sea. The rain is hammering down, the current is pulling you under and the sea itself is below freezing. If you don’t die from hypothermia, you will almost certainly drown. Now in this situation you can’t possibly wait for the waves to pass. The crew onboard aren’t going to shout down, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Just hang in there.”

When you are consumed by a deep depression, “just hang in there” doesn’t really cut it. Like the person drowning in the sea, you will need help to fight your way through it. Maybe you’ll be thrown a life jacket. Or maybe the Coast Guard will send out a team on a life boat to save you.

The person drowning needs support.

Support is one of the most important parts of getting through an episode. Whether the episode is depressive or elated.

Support can come in many forms; family, friends, doctors, nurses, medication, hospitals, or even exercise and diet. 

You see, that wave will ALWAYS pass. But unless you are able to get help, you may not be there to see it.

The first time, again.

I remember sitting on the bus. The countryside whipped past me as I looked out of the window. I felt as though I was achieving something. Actually doing something. I found it hard to believe that a bus journey was having this effect.

As I watched the trees flicker by, my mind cast back to this time, a year ago. I would’ve been sat on a plane. On my own. About to travel to the other side of the world. It seemed strange to me that I was able to fly to Australia, and yet, this particular bus journey was a challenge. This twenty minute bus journey to a quaint little town, was a big deal.

After experiencing an ‘episode’ you have to start from scratch. During the most severe parts of my low and my high I was always with someone. (Low = depressed and high = manic). Family, friends, nurses… I was under the intensive care team, which meant nurses were coming to visit daily. At some points I was pretty much housebound, for my own safety. Whilst you’re experiencing the episode it can be frustrating. It’s almost as if you forget that you’re unwell, and you can’t understand why people are not allowing you to do the simplest of things.

My polar bear effected more than one person. The ripple effect of mental health can be huge. Luckily, for me, I had an amazing stepmother that gave up work to become my carer. Otherwise, I’m sure I would’ve been sectioned. When that happens I can imagine it’s even harder to integrate back into society.

Once you’re back, you’ve got to learn to trust yourself again. It’s scary. You wonder what you’re capable of. The people around me became my safety net. I lost count of the times people said, “You’ve got to take baby steps”. You see like many of us, I can be impatient.

I wanted to drive, socialise, work… Be independent again. I wanted this overnight. Of course, this wasn’t plausible. I don’t think you realise how much it effects you until you put yourself back out there.

My Nan took me shopping one afternoon. I was so happy to be out of the house. I hadn’t expected this trip to be any different to the million times before. As we walked around it was as though I was being over-stimulated, by EVERYTHING. Now this may sound dramatic, but there’s only one way I can try to describe it. It was as if I was recovering from a head injury. You know in the films? When they make everything ten times louder than what it actually is. It felt like the music was on full volume. The hangers were being scraped along loudly. Did everyone need to shout? It was just a normal mid-week afternoon, in a quiet clothes shop. However, I was experiencing it in a very different way.

Confidence is the major issue here too. You have to push yourself, even if you don’t want too. As that’s the only way to get it back. There were so many things I did for the first time, again. The first time I left the house on my own. The first time I met the girls for lunch. The first time I drove. The first time I drove on the motorway. The first time I had a sleepover. The first birthday party. The first night clubbing. The first job interview. The first job.

It’s worth never under-estimating what you are achieving. No matter how big or how small that achievement is. As long as you’re moving forward, that’s all that matters. The word ‘perspective’ is absolutely vital in this instance.

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(One of the first nights with the girls 🙂 )

To dwell, or not to dwell.

 

I found my Big Polar Bear hanging around in Manchester as you can see below.

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In life we can be guilty of looking in the wrong direction. People often say “don’t look back, look forward.” Perhaps this is the right way to think, in many cases it is.

However, if you are able to look back on hard times without loosing yourself in them, then this may also be good. If you are able to reflect. To see how far you’ve come or how much you’ve achieved. I feel as though this makes you appreciate where you are in that new moment.

The trouble with looking back is that sometimes you can start to dwell on these times. You can end up loosing sight of where you are right now and then become consumed by thoughts of the past.

It was my 24th birthday not so long ago, and this was around the time my own ‘dwelling’ began. Not because of this birthday though. This birthday I was determined to enjoy. I would make up for the last one I thought. Surrounded by all of my wonderful friends and family. I couldn’t have asked for anymore, I was well and truely spoilt in more ways than one!

You see, everyone else was there last year, apart from me. My polar bear had complete control of me. I had no idea. She had gobbled up all of my communication and social skills, and by this point the fear and anxiety that oozed out of her had gone. Which had left me feeling like a blob of nothingness.The depressive side of my polar bear was in full swing and it felt as though it would never end.

Thinking back to that time terrifies me. It’s so hard to describe how you’re feeling in that precise moment. As once the depression takes over you feel nothing. It was as though my personality had just been scraped away. I was an empty shell of a person. I could not laugh or cry.

As I said, I had no idea. That is the scariest factor. When you’re in that state of mind and you truly believe that this is you. You start to think that you’ve just faked everything else in your life. That you didn’t actually even have a personality. This IS you. This IS who you are going to be forever.

This dark side of my polar bear took many things. Including time, intelligence, emotions, relationships and jobs. It takes away your ability to function as a human being. Literally stealing you away from the real world and enclosing you in a dark bubble of emptiness.

I find it hard to believe that this time last year I drove into a ditch and was disappointed when I walked away unscathed. It’s a very dark, and terrifying concept to get your head around.

I’ve been stuck there for a while but not by my polar bear, by myself. If I was having a bad day, I’d start to wonder if I was becoming depressed. The fear would kick in and I’d feel myself being transported back to that dark time. Fortunately, I have come to realise that my polar bear is healthy at the moment. That I have a lot more control over her than I thought.

When you have only recently discovered your polar bear you start to question every emotion. Am I too excited? Am I too sad? Am I too happy? Am I too angry? The only way you can overcome this I think, is by getting to know yourself. It may sound cheesy but I feel as though I know myself better than ever before. My polar bear has taught me many things about myself.

Sometimes you have to stop. Stop over-analysing every thought and feeling, but at the same time remain aware. Let go of the past and use it only as a lesson. A lesson that you have learnt a lot from.

My Big Polar Bear

Welcome to the world of Bipolar. It’s filled with extreme highs and severe lows. It can be strangely wonderful or terrifyingly dark. That is, until you’ve worked out how to keep the balance right.

The majority of people don’t seem to know what Bipolar actually is. I suppose, how would you? Unless you’ve come into contact with the illness on a personal level, whether that’s you, a friend or family member. I had very little knowledge of it myself, up until earlier this year. So I’m not criticising anyone. However, due to the minimal physical symptoms, this illness can often cause people a lot of confusion. As they say, there is power in knowledge. In this situation it could not be more true.

Although the stigma still lingers around mental health, it has lessened extremely in the last couple of years. I would love for the stigma to completely disappear, but of course, that’s not going to happen over night. As it continues to shrink I would love to be a part of that. So, if this blog helps minimize the stigma in anyway at all, I will be happy. If this blog helps anyone suffering, whether personally or not, that will also make me very happy.

I must admit, I am a little nervous about this blog. I’ve written several before, as I love writing, but this one is quite a sensitive subject for me. As you may have guessed, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar. Will people look at me differently now they know that? I’d like to think not. As although I have Bipolar, it does not define who I am as a person.

Before I go any further, I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has been there for me along the way. Without my team of support behind me, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today. I don’t even know if I would still be here. I’m not going to name names, but you all know who you are. I will be forever grateful, THANK YOU.

You may also be wondering why the blog is called “My Big Polar Bear”. Well, when I was first diagnosed I imagined that I had a polar bear living inside of my head. Yes, it does sound a bit strange, but it has helped me. A lot. A few of you may have heard me talk about “The Chimp Paradox” (If you haven’t, I had a slightly unhealthy relationship with this book/theory at one point – long story.) The book explains about the different parts of your brain, and uses a theory to make it much easier to understand. Basically, it breaks your brain down into three parts; the human = logic, the computer = knowledge/memories and the chimp = emotions.

The chimp is much stronger than the human. As I’m sure you know, sometimes your emotions can take over a logical situation. Whether this is love, anger or fear etc…

So, I wrote down the word: BIPOLAR.

I looked at the piece of paper for some time. All of a sudden I could see the words: BIG POLAR BEAR.

This seemed a lot less scary than Bipolar at the time.

When I think of a polar bear, I think of a magnificent creature. A creature that is wonderful to watch, perhaps even beautiful. However, it is extremely strong and dangerous. It would definitely eat me or you for a mid-afternoon snack. Of course, I don’t think of myself as a magnificent creature. But I have replaced “The Chimp” with a “Polar Bear”. I imagine that a polar bear would be much harder to control than a chimp. When it goes wrong, it could go horribly wrong.

“You control the illness, the illness doesn’t control you.”

One of the nurses said this to me. She was amazing. Probably one of the most helpful things she could have said. So it’s stuck.

Comparing my Bipolar to a polar bear, just makes it a lot more visually pleasing for me to deal with. I’m just in the process of learning how to control my “polar bear”, and after a long time it’s finally starting to work with me.

If you want to find out more about the adventures of my polar bear, watch this space!