National Bipolar Awareness Day! New Pills Day!

Today is National Bipolar Awareness Day and to celebrate I’ll be starting yet another round of mood balancing drugs.

For the past nine months I’ve been taking increasing doses of Lithium, the bipolar wonder drug that I believed would, once the right dose was set, stabilise my moods.  I assumed that bipolar sufferers weren’t immediately given Lithium because of the long term effects of the drug – thyroid and kidney problems often requiring additional supporting drugs after several years of Lithium treatment – not to mention the cost to the NHS of regular Lithium level, kidney and thyroid function blood tests.  Whatever the reasons, what I wasn’t aware of were the side effects that I, on reaching only the second highest, ineffectual dose, would experience, tremors and swelling mirroring the symptoms of Lithium toxicity.

A writer and photographer I need steady hands so the tremors quite simply weren’t a worthwhile pay off for the (limited) positive effects of the medication. And right there is what makes the treatment of Bipolar just as awful a thing as the illness itself.

Throughout my treatment, first for Post-Natal Depression then for Major Depressive Disorder then for Bipolar Affective Disorder and Social Anxiety, I have been prescribed a succession of anti-depressants; Citalopram, Duloxetine, Paroxetine, Amitriptyline, Pregabalin, and then later, mood stabilisers; Lamotrigine, Quetiapine, Lithium, I take Diazepam when I feel panicked or anxious.  Some have been taken alone, others in combination with each other.  Sometimes it’s one pill a day, other times it’s four, sometimes they have to be taken in the morning, sometimes last thing at night – the Lithium, for example, has to be taken at the exact same time every evening, the pills are huge; round and dry, sticking to the roof of your mouth if you don’t poke them right down your throat, gagging on a sharp-nailed index finger.

I wonder what the black market value is for this little lot (yes I know you’re supposed to chuck them)

For almost five years I have consumed an endless succession of pills which have made me tired or unable to sleep (often at once), too high or too low, which have made my skin itch or given me acne, swollen my feet, made me confused and forgetful, left me too dopey to drive.  I research every new drug and find that some have high values in prisons – Quetiapine is known as ‘Baby Heroin’ – or that the drugs have their own special ‘syndromes’ (such as the Lithium Tremors I’m currently experiencing) or the skin rotting illnesses of Lamotrigine. I read the pamphlets, which invariably warn me that I could become depressed or suicidal while taking this particular drug, always a reassuring thought for a depressive.

This week I’ll start to taper off my Lithium dosage, breaking the horrid powdery pills in half, while beginning a new round of Lamotrigine, one pill at a time until I’m taking four a day.

Last time I was prescribed Lamotrigine it worked well, until I developed a burning rash, a symptom of one of the handful of deadly side effects Lamotrigine can produce.  I spent the Christmas period in A&E on an antibiotic drip to treat blood poisoning, my in-laws drove a freshly cooked turkey down the M6 from Merseyside so the kids still got a proper dinner.  I’ve since been informed that the infection and the drug weren’t related – it’s a good sign that this could be the one that works, but it doesn’t change the fact that Lamotrigine, with all its side effects, scares me.

When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar I had one major problem: I was tired.  Now I’m aware that all the things I had come to accept as ‘one of those things’ are a problem, now I know that my quality of life could be improved, I want to be successfully treated.  But at the same time I can’t help but feel I was perhaps better off before, when I didn’t have to face the disappointment of another failed treatment, when I didn’t have to wonder if I was ill or if it was another side effect, when I didn’t have to fight the NHS for appointments and when I didn’t have to wait three months to tell my psychiatrist that his latest prescription isn’t working when I knew after three weeks.

By the time I’m fully weaned on to the Lamotrigine and whichever anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drug is chosen to work alongside it, it’ll be five years since I took that first low dose Citalopram.  It’s starting to feel as though the pills do more harm than they do good, I wonder if the stress of never finding the right treatment, the side effects and the knowledge that I’m going to be taking handfuls of pills for the rest of my life is worse than the illness itself.


At Your Service: Getting Past The GP’s Gatekeepers

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about the attitude of the reception staff at their local doctors surgery.  Not just at one particular surgery but at several, all over the country.  As a hypochondriac (brain tumours, pulmonary embolisms and good old breast cancer, I’ve had ’em all…almost) I’ve tested out the receptionists in towns and cities from London to Nottingham, Woking to Castle Donington, and can honestly say that the vast majority have been pretty horrible.

Yesterday I called my local surgery, the Market Harborough Medical Centre – let’s name and shame, to book an appointment.  I was going away for four days had four days of my regular medication; anti-anxiety drug Pregabalin and mood stabiliser Lithium, left.  The maths is pretty straight forward, I needed a repeat prescription sooner rather than later. I also wished to speak to a doctor because, let’s face it, a regular supply of Diazepam never hurt anybody (er…) and I’m getting a couple of unpleasant side effects.  A ten minute appointment with a GP is a fair request, right?  Five’d do, I’m an experienced GP hassler.

But if I thought I’d just be given an appointment because, as a British tax payer and registered patient of MHMC, I’m entitled to one, I was obviously living in cloud cuckoo land, surrounded by a herd of pink unicorns frolicking beneath rainbows.

The wonderful, sweet and caring receptionist I was unfortunate enough to be put through to had other ideas about how I should be managing my illness and medications.  With her phone set to ‘Voice of God’ volume so I needed to hold it away from my ear – I wouldn’t want to put her out by needing a second appointment for Tinnitus – she informed me with a irritated sigh that my usual GP wasn’t available until next week ‘and ANYWAY we’re not booking for Dr Yates until Friday’.

I explained my plight to no avail. ‘So you want a repeat prescription?’ yes please, oh merciful one, ‘well, you have to have a blood test.  You were SUPPOSED TO have had one in February.’

That was when I started losing my rag.  I shouldn’t have, I know, but seriously? I don’t think I told you it was a repeat prescription for Lithium (which does indeed require a regular blood test).  And besides, if you nosey in to my medical records further you’ll find I had the tests in March and my prescription states that it’s review with the doc time.  Also isn’t this filed under None Of Your Business?

She went on to advise me, in loud, exasperated voice, ‘you know you don’t have to have an appointment, you can still get your repeat prescription even if it says you’re due for review’.  I’m sorry but what?  You’re advising me to ignore the advice of the doctors and at the same time you’re trying to talk me out of booking the appointment that I called for?  I get that you’re busy but…but…*head explodes*

Eventually I was begrudgingly granted my appointment, not before being asked in the most condescending way possible; ‘don’t you think it would be better to wait until Dr Yates is back so you can see him?’ (I didn’t think of that, what a complete IMBECILE I am.  I’ll do this the right way and hold fire on the medication that stops me from LOSING MY MIND until he’s free), just so I was aware that I, pathetic minion, was being given something against the better advice of the highly qualified health professional manning the phones.

I hung up, I sat down in my kitchen and I cried.  I felt like I’d been bullied and belittled, like I’d lost control and worst of all, I felt uncomfortable at the idea of my medical records being open to this woman, in a small town where gossip is traded like sweets, especially by certain types of women.  The conversation went round and round in my head all afternoon and I was shaky, tearful and snappish for several hours. I was nervous about my visit to the GP – something I’ve learned to brave out and normally find fairly easy to do – and asked Mr H to go with me for moral support.

Actually, I should say here that since writing this I’ve seen the locum GP who happened to be pleasant, professional, interested in my condition and very helpful indeed.

My reaction to a situation like this is an extreme one, but that doesn’t excuse the receptionist’s behaviour, or the similar behaviour of others in her position. I wouldn’t expect anybody to guess that I have Social Anxiety and, specifically a phobia of the phone (I struggle to call my mum and it’s pretty much unknown for me to phone my best friend). However I think it’s fair to expect a level of patience, empathy and, well, just a smidge of professionalism from someone paid to speak to people who potentially have a life threatening illness, are scared for their health or have a mental disorder. Should not every call be answered under the assumption that the patient at the other end falls in to the category of ‘To Be Treated With Kid Gloves’?

The job of a receptionist at a doctors surgery is doubtless a stressful one and I imagine the women at MHMC encounter all sorts of not in the least wonderful people.  Nobody expects them to be infallible, but they are paid tax money to take it all on the chin and smilingly greet the next person. It’s just part of the job and if you can’t manage it try something else. You know how it always seems to me? It seems like these gatekeepers have been given the tiniest bit of power and it’s gone straight to their heads.  Pull your necks in girls, nobody’s impressed

So if the idea of being polite to everybody is just too much could the surgery’s computer system not flash up a warning for those who most need the special treatment? Not that long ago the unhelpful attitude of MHMC staff led to me not pushing for drugs I needed and in the past Mr H has dealt with my requests and requirements because, shot down in flames on a phone call, I timidly retreat. I can’t be the only one. At least the receptionists receiving a warning that a particularly vulnerable or awkward patient is on the phone would allow them to save their niceness quota for those who need it the most.

Have you experienced the Gatekeeper treatment at your GP’s surgery?  Or perhaps somewhere else? How do you think NHS services could be made more accessible to patients? 

Mental Illness on Screen: Homeland, Bipolar and ECT

Watching C4 drama Homeland over the last few weeks I’ve been intrigued by – as well as the teeniness of Damian Lewis’s mouth – the portrayal of bipolar disorder which began as an incidental aspect of lead character Carrie’s (Claire Danes) life, later becoming a major plot changer.

wow, that really *is* a tiny mouth

It’s rare to see mental disorders, especially bipolar, represented in a serious manner by TV. Usually we’re a bit of a joke, seen as losers and undesirables, the ones shouting ‘gerbils!’ at the side of a road. So it was refreshing to see Carrie, in early episodes, portrayed as somebody with strengths as well as weaknesses, managing a successful career as well as a personality disorder.

The realism of Carrie’s need to cover up her condition in order to maintain that career especially rang true, and while I’m certainly not a high flying CIA spy or working in any industry requiring one not to be a card carrying nutcase, I have often debated whether or not to confess all (perhaps not all) on an application form and have met people who keep their condition a secret from employers. It’s an interesting debate – should those with mental illnesses be exempt from certain jobs? – though sadly not one that was explored during the course of the series.

During the latter episodes of Homeland, as Carrie’s ascent towards mania continued I felt that the sensitivity was lost somehow. While Danes’s performance was impressive it felt at times that she’d been directed with ‘you’re mad, really mad! MORE crazy eyes!’ to fit in with a script plucked from Wikipedia’s ‘Bipolar’ page.

While I wouldn’t for a moment deny that the symptoms of Carrie’s bipolar – promiscuity, obsessiveness, an inability to look after oneself, risk taking – were true to bipolar life, they were lazy choices that barely scratch the surface of the complexity of the condition. It certainly appeared that Homeland’s scriptwriters had little experience of bipolar and had they took the time to explore further they may have created a more nuanced character and one who was infinitely more likable. It says a lot that for the most part the obsequious wannabe terrorist was a more sympathetic character than the mentally ill woman he was conning.

Even less believable was Carrie’s final scene. I mean, ECT, seriously? I understand that the series is set in the US and doubtless mental health care works differently there, but I find it hard to believe that somebody would walk off the street to be administered a serious, highly controversial treatment that here in the UK is an absolute last resort. Carrie appeared to have requested the ECT but in reality would somebody in a high state of mania have been considered fit to choose? And would her sister, also a health care professional, have allowed her to jump directly from medication to fizzing the fuck out of her brain? Hadn’t she heard of CBT? Perhaps she might have suggested a few lifestyle changes, you know; more sleep, eat right, less shagging of married, high profile ex-hostages?

yep, sign me up for some of that!

What really overshadowed all of these ‘uh?’ moments though was the portrayed administration of the ECT. I know that my horror at this is entirely due to my own morbid fear of being carted off to be electrocuted until I’m a vegetable (but at least a sane vegetable), but did we need a graphic version of ECT on our screens? Was the fact that in real life anti-convulsants are administered prior to ECT, that the treatment is stopped after a only a few seconds to avoid the good old Jack Nicholson convulsions, just too inconvenient when a crazy woman fitting on a bed provided a wonderfully shocking finale?*  While I accept that in terms of realism Homeland’s version of shock therapy was an improvement on films of the past (although it should be remembered that many of those films were made at a time when ECT was a far more torturous procedure), only ever so slightly exaggerated, it felt almost worse to see it taking place so casually, just an addendum to a story.  At least those films – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Snake Pit, Requiem for a Dream – pushed us to question the brutality of such a treatment.

To my mind, what was an opportunity to really explore bipolar in a form that would reach a wide international audience became an exercise in shock tactics, the realities of mental illness buried beneath a lot of fast-talking and crazed expressions, Carrie’s only trump card, the only thing that proved that she wasn’t entirely insane – the truth about Brody – was even snatched away by the writers (alright, they had to do it, I want series two as well) at the last minute. It felt as if Homeland went from offering the first realistic bipolar TV character to dropping a final curtain scrawled with ‘and this is why we can’t trust nuts’.

*information courtesy of several morbid hours a month spent checking out ‘all the things they might do to me’.

Incidentally if you’ve ever experience Electroconvulsive Therapy I’d love to hear your thoughts – did it work?  Who made the decision to administer ECT? If it was you, why?…

All The Subtlety Of A Brick or Should We All Be A Bit More Vain?

You might have noticed that I’ve been a little quieter than usual recently and that’s because I’ve started a new contract working for (shut up, shut up, I know) the Mail Online as a moderator, keeping the comments of the website’s rather opinionated users in check, wielding my brand new Libel Shield ™.

As you might well imagine the first few days of April have been quite busy for the Mail’s community chaps as thousands of stunned (and probably horrifically ugly) Internet users have had their say about a certain Ms Samantha Brick. A reasonable proportion of people are supportive of Samantha, agreeing that the extraordinary number of negative responses to the article prove her theory that she is treated differently because of her (self-proclaimed) beauty. Others are vicious and cruel, which says more perhaps about the authors than about the freelance Mail writer herself. But the vast majority follow the same line: Samantha Brick is a deluded narcissist with distinctly average looks.

I did wonder if the whole Samantha Brick thing was a publicity stunt for one of the new Snow White movies released this month…

Yet as repulsive – and amusing – as most of us seem to find Brick’s vanity you’ve got to wonder if, in some ways, she has the right idea. Don’t misunderstand me, I abhor the idea of using one’s looks to get ahead and that Brick apparently blames every knock back she’s suffered on the jealousy of other women is nothing short of insane, but wouldn’t just a little splash of vanity do us all some good?

Most of us are raised being told, on the one hand, that we’re beautiful and smart and funny but on the other to be modest, to stop showing off and that the whole world doesn’t revolve around us. As we get older we learn to brush off compliments and begin endlessly criticising ourselves. Well, at least most of us do. Funnily enough I find it just as annoying to listen to a friend constantly put herself down as I do to hear another ‘do a Brick’ (is that in the dictionary yet?) and yon on and on about her fabulousness.

Actually, it’s a really sad state of affairs that we’re so down on our abilities that we talk ourselves out of applying for a job that, in fact, we *could* absolutely do or shun a party just because our skin is a bit ropey or we’re having a fat day. A while ago somebody wise told me that they thought it was quite rude to disagree with a compliment and that on receiving praise one should graciously thank the giver rather than throw it back in their faces.

Think about it. A friend, colleague or potential lustee tells you your hair looks fabulous today. Even if you spent ages on it and think it looks, like, totes amazeballs, you reply with ‘ugh really? I hate it!’. It’s a bit like opening a Christmas gift, giving it a disparaging glance then chucking it over your shoulder.

The wise compliment advisor told me that even if I disagree I should simply reply with a ‘thank you’. I’ve tried to do it since and you should too. It’s what classy folk do. While ‘doing a Brick’ (how about now OED?) might not be quite the thing we could all perhaps do with just a touch of narcissism, a glance in the pool rather than a full tumble in mind, because being a nation of moaning rusty hens with limited self-esteem surely can’t be helping with our climbing mental illness figures or, for that matter our free-champers-on-planes figures.

Delirious Days: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland @ Royal Opera House

This weekend Lillie and I were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to see the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in rehearsal at the Royal Opera House.  It was one of the most exciting days possible for Lil, who wants to be a ballerina and loved Christopher Wheeldon’s new take on the surreal tale when it was broadcast on television late last year (in fact it was almost too exciting and she was several times threatened with not going at all ‘if you can’t calm the hell down’).  It was equally exciting for me, an Alice aficionado (and so, admittedly, the threat was idle).

I looked a lot like this in the hours pre-theatre actually…

The performance has been adapted somewhat from the Alice of 2011 the better to suit families with fidgety children, meaning two intervals and no more than 45 minutes sitting still.  While I can’t speak for other people I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary, the middle portion of just 26 minutes finishing when it did was somewhat unexpected and Lil was quite keen to get on with the story (‘I only just HAD a wee!’), being quite used to visiting the cinema to see films of 90 minutes, plus 3.7 weeks of adverts beforehand.  And yet despite these changes, and the fact of Alice’s status as a children’s classic, Lillie was among only a handful of kids in the audience – all girls between the ages of five and ten, all quite patently middle class.  

It’s a shame that still now the ‘high arts’ can be so prohibitive.  Through no fault of the Opera House or the Royal Ballet and, in fact, in spite of their best efforts, an experience like this is still beyond the grasp of most families on middle and lower incomes.  Not only that but it’s still often an uncomfortable experience to take children to the theatre or galleries, not because of the staff but other visitors, who can be very tut-and-stare.  Conversely staff at London attractions, and some outside of the capital (though less so), are charming with children, here at the ROH Lillie was handed the tickets by the door staff, asked directly if she wanted a booster cushion – rendered useless by the tallest man in London two rows ahead – and served her drink in a grown up glass; all things that make Mums melt.  

Another interval?  Le sigh…

I don’t know exactly what the prices are or whether the Royal Opera House has schemes in place to put ballet and opera within the reach of lower income visitors or those with children, and their somewhat difficult to use website appears not to know either, but it is cheering to find it so comfortable a place to be with a child while not being subjected to more churned out kid-friendly dross.  The bold, bright fun of Wheeldon’s Alice is engaging for even the youngest audiences and the fact that most children will be aware of Lewis Carroll’s tale, or it’s Disney offshoots, negates the difficulty of understanding a story told through dance, while the the splashy vignettes as Alice moves through Wonderland work well as independent stories.

Choreographer Wheeldon has come under criticism for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with dance critics complaining at the lack of complex ballet on show.  What those critics fail to realise (or perhaps what they bitterly do) is that Alice isn’t for them.  While Lillie, a wannabe ballerina, would undoubtedly have loved to see a chain of perfectly executed fouettes, she could see those at a dance showcase – here a story was told not just with dance – tap, much to Lil’s delight, included – but with a stunning set (based, I think, on how my house would look if my husband let me do whatever I wanted), impressively simple special effects (the oversized puppet Cheshire Cat was greeted with gasps and chuckles) and clever costumes (I require a copy of the Queen of Hearts ‘dress’ to be pushed around town in please).  More importantly, with effortless ballet and great expression, the cast brought one of my childhood’s and now Lil’s most loved stories to life.  And I like to think that the opinions of Lillie and her compatriots might be just ever so slightly more important to the people behind Alice than those po-faced old hacks requiring MORE JETTES.

Actually, I Don’t Want to Be An Extrovert

This morning a friend posted an article from today’s Guardian.  With the title ‘Why The World Needs Introverts’ it immediately caught my attention.

This is the first and only time I’ve seen those of us who are shy, who prefer not to be asked to speak up, portrayed positively.  Usually the shy are freaks; they’re the weirdoes and moody loners in movies and TV series, the ones first collared for a murder before the good guys realise that their only evidence against them was ‘we thought he looked a bit shifty’.

Rather pleasingly Susan Cain eloquently describes the difficulty and pain faced by those of us who have gone through life being shy, and therefore wrong, noting that – as I remember my parents doing and as I now do with my own children (my daughter, Lillie, is only six but showing signs of being extremely shy) – we are scolded and apologised for because we’re being ‘rude’, as if being quiet and thoughtful and taking time to weigh up a stranger is a negative personality trait.  Cain talks as well about something she calls the Extrovert Ideal, put simply the belief that everybody should be an extrovert no matter their nature, hence that scolding and disappointment, the belief of the general public that shy = weird.  You know, I’ve never thought about it, I’ve always assumed that my being shy was a defect and that I’d simply drawn the short straw when it came to personalities.

JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin, this guy...introverts aren't totally useless

That said, I’m a bit of an anomaly amongst the shy, having been diagnosed with social phobia and therefore having a tendency to use crutches to support me through social situations – large quantities of wine at parties, the accompaniment of my husband, a friend or even my kids, and strong anti-anxiety drugs – but nonetheless I have been shy throughout my life and much of Cain’s superb article rings true and feels wonderfully reassuring because chronic shyness is isolating and affects every aspect of one’s life and career.

It’s a small thing but by publishing this article The Guardian has addressed something that really should be considered an awful lot more than it is.  I recently posted about how many prejudices remain in our society, generally accepted terms and behaviour that, well, shouldn’t be generally accepted.  The idea of shyness as a negative personality trait is a prejudice all of its own and we should be tackling the belief that introverts should be forced out of their shells and seeking to better recognise the positive contributions to society that the quiet people plugging away in the background, the thinkers and the understated make.

I’m going to start by accepting my children’s personalities as they, introversion and all, and giving up trying to coax them out of their shells.

It’s Harder To Crack A Prejudice Than An Atom

For a long time I’ve been of the belief that racism and sexism and other such ignorant attitudes were in some sort of cretaceous period and that the dinosaurs that held them were on their way out, claiming all the pensions ready to lay down in the mud and become fossils for future generations to find and be confused by (‘this bone definitely suggests that Mailus Readerum thought all Muslims were terrorists’) while we, the younger generation, forged ahead with our togetherness and understanding, to live in a happy world of rainbows and unicorns.

Well, ok, maybe I’m not that naive but, apparently I’m much more gullible than I thought I was.  I thought that ignorance and prejudice was a once in a blue moon thing and that our generation – the one currently producing world leaders and great thinkers and billions of people with useless degrees – had got over, you know, the being massive twats bit.

Earlier this year, Unilad, a site aimed at young men attending universities (ie: boys with an ounce of brain) put ‘banter’ under the spotlight with its statement ‘85% of rape cases go unreported.  That seems to be fairly good odds.’  It was, shockingly, supported by a stream of braniacs claiming ‘nobody minds a bit of rape banter’.

The whole thing made me somewhat furious and ranty.  But (naive, remember?) I assumed it to be a one off, the product of silly little boys making silly little jokes then skulking away with their limp little peepees between their legs when they were found out and told off.

Then this happened:


I shan’t give too much space to this story as I’ve no doubt you’ve heard more than enough about it already.  But suffice to say I was most definitely like WTF when I saw it.

The more I think about it, the more this ‘banter’ culture is spreading like a particularly virulent VD.  Topman, for example, have come under fire for their wholly inappropriate tshirts bearing slogans such as ‘nice new girlfriend, what breed is she?’  while my own personal nemesis (he doesn’t know about our feud but it most certainly exists) Jeremy Flamin’ Clarkson continues to be paid the big license payer bucks to behave as the Lord and Master of the Banter Crew, chortling his way through jokes about women, suicide and 1.2 litre engines.  It’s infuriating when women, having worked so hard for something approaching equality and now bearing the strain of not only working the same jobs as men but (more often than not) running homes and raising children too, are still belittled by men under the guise of this so-called ‘banter’.

The problem is, perhaps, that we become de-sensitised too easily.  Take for example my favourite topic, good ol’ mental health.  As I’ve mentioned several times before I’ve lost a job because of a lack of understanding of my condition.  My husband has been forced out of his workplace by people using my condition as a stick to beat him with.  It’s fast become something that I just accept.

This morning for example, a fellow blogger Tweeted ‘this weather is bipolar’.  I thought nothing of it, in fact it’s the sort of thing I might well pipe up with myself having become quite used to making lame jokes about my illness to make it easier for myself and other people to deal with (it’s much simpler to make a face and tell someone ‘I’m basically completely insane’ than to be serious and say ‘some days I can’t face my life and I generally assume that you hate me’), I’ve reached the point at which I don’t even see these comments as inappropriate.  But my pal, uber-blogger and one woman crusade, Sian was as fuming as one can be in 140 characters and what she said made sense:

@hoola well you shouldn’t have to get used to it. Just the same as my children shouldn’t have to get used to being called chinky. It’s wrong  

She’s absolutely right of course, all those times that people have said to me ‘oh isn’t everybody bipolar these days?’ (you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that) or laughed at my inability to do everyday things and my bizarre phobias I shouldn’t have just ignored it, I should have stood up for myself and for the thousands of other people like me who are being treated as the butt of another inappropriate joke.

And..woah there Lesleymy mate’s kids have been called chinky?  This was a new one on me.  And the more I thought about it the more I realised that kind of casual racism still exists. Not just in the older generations but amongst people of my own age and now, as Betty – for the record, a kid who one would never imagine starting a fight or inciting someone’s fury but a gorgeous, friendly and caring girl who my own four year old son is in love with – has experienced amongst folk who’ve not even reached double digits yet.

Betty’s dad, Yan, wrote a post too.  Tears people, actual tears.

The fact that people younger than me; impressionable teenage boys,  primary school age girls, are casually tossing around racist and sexist terms, that they’re being raised by people who have no more sympathy or understanding of mental illness than your average 40s-born retiree…well, it’s just hugely depressing isn’t it?  I wonder if we’ll ever be at a stage at which the colour of your skin doesn’t matter, the reproductive organs you’re rocking isn’t an issue and depressive illnesses aren’t casually joked about or considered made up excuses for the lazy or bywords for ‘different’.

Somehow the fact that these isms are now dressed up as comedy or hidden behind ‘I’m not racist but…’ lines or cloaked in common sense political statements (I’m sure we’ve all heard rants about the influx of Polish workers, as if we, the British, have more claim to this particular few acres just because we were born on them or we hold a piece of paper that says we’re citizens*) makes them all the more poisonous.

Maybe we need to do more of this. Without the police brutality obvs.

I don’t think I’m the only one who can be called naive.  I think a lot of us have been merrily focusing on ourselves ignoring what’s right there under our noses.  Really, didn’t we all believe we were more open minded than our parents?  Perhaps we ought to be more aware.  Perhaps we should put up more of a fight against prejudice.  Perhaps we’ve all been too busy thinking about ourselves, worrying about getting a great degree, finding a fantastic job, getting on the property ladder, meeting ‘the one’, having a baby.  Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking about what’s important.  Perhaps we should remember what the people before us – Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King, Kate Fraser – did and continue their work in our own small ways, wherever we can.

Or perhaps I’m just naive in thinking that things will ever change.

*yes, I know it’s more complex than that.

What I Wore Wednesday: Favourite Tee

I don’t normally get involved in these blogging traditions, I mean I struggle to manage a follow friday over on Twitter (@hoola but don’t expect a #ff).  But since shifting four stone – did I mention that?  Four stone. You may not have heard because I’ve not really said a lot about it – I’ve found it necessary to be a smidge more creative with the ol’ wardrobe.  So I thought doing a What I Wore Wednesday might encourage me to change it up a little, experiment and maybe even get out of my joggers occasionally.  No promises.

I don’t know who started WIWW, although I think it may be something to do with Transatlantic Blonde, so feel free to point me in the direction of anything I might need to know.  I’d hate to make some horrific blog faux pas. 

Anyway.  Look, here’s me posing in my mirror.  I’ve got some clothes on (whole world breathes sigh of relief).

Cardigan: F&F at Tesco
Skirt: Moto at Topshop
T-shirt: Urban Outfitters
Socks: Sockshop
Bracelet: some shop in France (it was a gift)

Though it’s wonderful to lose weight it’s been kind of difficult in the wardrobe department, especially since the whole not being a heifer thing has coincided with the whole being skint thing.  I’ve even had to give up on the dress I promised myself if I made it.  This one. 

So that stuff I’m wearing there is too big, like FAR too big.  But I love the UO t-shirt, for it proclaims my very real love of top lip fuzz.  And it looks kind of ok baggy because it’s all lovely and worn and thin.  Also the denim skirt, which I hacked to bits a while ago has been with me for about twelve years.  It was among my first impulse internet purchases.  Heady days.  And the socks, well, knee socks are becoming a bit of a La-trademark.  Because somehow long socks help keep tights from falling down which is useful when you only own tights three sizes too big.  Fact.  You’re welcome. 

Oh and YES, I did buy a cardi from Tesco.  It’s cashmere (the luxury!) and I’m a compulsive shopper.  I go in for Warburtons and milk and I buy a top and a bike seat and a butter dish.  It’s a disease.

Losing Weight While Losing Your Mind

This evening I reached my target weight. It’s been just a little over a year since I started paying weekly visits to my local Slimming World group and I’ve lost a smidge less that four stone.

Anybody who says that their eating patterns aren’t affected by their moods is lying… or just weird. We’re almost all known to comfort eat, to eat less in times of stress or to conform to expected seasonal eating patterns. It’s a combination of this and our tendency to use food as a reward that means diet clubs like SW and Weightwatchers are doing a roaring trade and bookshops have increasingly huge sections given over to both cookery books and diet books.

A major symptom of bipolar is, I find, compulsive behaviour – the inability to consider the negative impact of my actions or at least to give it the attention it perhaps deserves. It’s that, combined with two pregnancies in quick succession that led to my steady creep from a size 12 to a 16 and, on occasion (horror of horrors!) an 18.

So it was I bit the bullet and did the very thing I always said I’d never do in a million years. I joined the throngs of middle aged women clad in ‘flattering’ leggings to pay my hard earned cash just so I could be weighed. In public.



In the beginning Slimming World was hard. The recipes I tried relied on substitutions (forget cream – use quark!) and didn’t suit my foodie approach to cookery. By the end of the first week I was starving, dissatisfied with every meal and ready to give up. I’m not saying the SW recipes aren’t good, in fact the rest of the group seem to positively evangelize about them, they just didn’t suit me.

Anyway, I slogged away and it became easier and easier once I realised that I’d be happier giving up carbonara entirely rather than using substitutes and eating a salad nicoise instead. The weight started to fall off. Hurrah.

But the closer I’ve got to reaching that magical target the more I’ve wondered whether this journey might have been more difficult for me than for some of the other SW converts. I mean, not only am I a compulsive eater par excellence, I’m equally unrestrained with alcohol, finding a bottle of wine the perfect antidote to social anxiety.

And comfort eating. For those who have had a hard day at work, been dumped or are suffering from a nasty case of PMT, a family size Dairy Milk can be the cure. But for me there doesn’t have to be a trigger to kick off a deep, chocolate scoffing depression and that depression can last for days, weeks or even months.

Previously I wrote about an incident at my husband’s workplace. You can imagine how tempting it was to plunge straight in to the biscuit barrel and never leave. Not to mention that the person Mr H was in a dispute with also happened to be the same person who first introduced me to SW and who, needless to say, I wasn’t merrily sipping tea in the circle of support with any longer. If I hadn’t been so close to reaching my goal I would’ve given up.

It wasn’t just the food side of things that caused a problem for me (and as a food writer spending every day poring over the menus of fabulous restaurants it really was a problem in more ways than one). More difficult was dragging myself out in to public for what I call (unfairly really) Public Humiliation. That social anxiety? That makes it pretty bloody difficult to walk in to a room full of people, much less sit in a circle and chat about my diminishing rolls of flab.

While this seems to be something to look forward to for most SW members, it involved a real effort to drag myself out of my solo stupor here at home and put in an appearance in a room full of jolly people who want to <em>talk</em>. I’ve never mentioned my bipolar to anybody there, including the group leader, so I probably just appear to be a grumpy eccentric to most but I’m loathe to have my illness given as an excuse for my inability to stick to a simple diet, or to be treated as a special case, even if I am one. Much less do I want to be talked about – one thing I’ve become acutely aware of living in a small town is how easily you can get labelled and how little understood mental illness is by the majority. And then of course there are the drugs. Most recently I’ve been prescribed lithium, the main side effect of which is, of course…of course…severe weight gain.

Regardless of bipolar, of comfort eating and anxieties and regardless of outside difficulties I’ve been able to reach a point at which I’m happy with my weight again. It’s a huge boost to any woman. Now I just have to resist the shopaholic demon rearing it’s ugly head now that most of my wardrobe is too big for me…

if mental illness effects your eating habits, if you’ve struggled with your weight or if you have any great diet tips I’d be really interested to hear from you…comment below!

New Years Resolutions For The Sane

I’m not normally one for new year’s resolutions and really, it being mid-way through January, I’ve probably missed the boat a little bit. But tomorrow is the start of our family holiday and the end of Mr H’s stint at his current job, the one which sent us all a little bit over the edge. So it feels like this is the new start and only now am I thinking about resolutions. 
I’ve felt as though it’s taken most of 2011 to really accept that I *am* bipolar; that I have this condition and always will, that I need to be on a constant supply of medication and that I can’t rely on my moods. This year I want to be able to continue learning more about what bipolar means, how I can control, embrace and understand it so that I’m able to live as normal a life as possible without constantly thinking about and referring to it as I have done over the past months.
First, I intend to continue making regular updates to this blog. I’ve always been useless at diaries but as a writer having an audience, however small, always helps. Plus, who knows, I might even help myself or perhaps somebody else by writing about my experiences.
Second, after the bad experiences of the last year, which have brought screaming back a lot of the symptoms of social anxiety, I want to feel comfortable around people again. I’m so lucky to have found some amazing friends lately to add to the great ones I already have, and I want the reliable, patient, lovely friends to have something better than a monosyllabic nervous wreck to share cups of tea with. 
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I want my family life not to revolve around bipolar and my anxieties. Mr H and the kids deserve better than a ‘it’s my condition’ line. I know that there are times I can’t help being sleepy or snappy or, y’know, something else that sounds like one of the seven dwarves, but I want to be at a point where I don’t just shrug my shoulders and let it consume me because I have the excuse. Must do something about that. 
Just a good ol’ ‘give up smoking’ would be so much easier..