There can be a lot of ways of getting in over your head when you have a mental illness, but I think when you have bipolar it can be the worst in many ways. I currently am very lucky, I have found a medication that allows me to have stabilized moods, and even more lucky because I have lived long enough to be able to make better choices in life. One of the simpler ways of getting in over my head was by making promises to my dear young niece. I love her so much and want to do nice things for her and a few years back I made a promise that I would take her to Disneyworld, which is still far out of my grasp of things I am able to do. I can recall promises being made to me that never panned out, many of them from a boyfriend my sister had for a number of years. When I was 14 and excited about getting my very own car one day he made a promise that when he was done with it, he would give me his car. What really got to me was that a couple of years down the road, he not only didn’t display any intention at all or apologies for not giving me the car, he actually humiliated me for expecting it. This instability in our family that often left me the target of jokes instead of kept promises left something of a large hole in my character that took a long time for me to resolve.
One of the worst ways a person can get into trouble when they have bipolar is when they get a credit card or. a line of credit. It seems so easy to project that in the future you will be more able to pay your debts and also think that you deserve some things now, before you are actually able to afford them. When I was 19, I met a guy who I became very good friends with in a short amount of time, and he convinced me that he was well off and that we should travel to California together. I actually had the time of my life going through the US and it often gave me the feeling that my life was really mine, not that of my parents or psychiatrists. Sadly I was being played for a fool and we got to his home town and he simply took off without repaying a cent and leaving me to make my way back to Canada without a cent to my name.
It isn’t nearly as difficult now, but one thing I remember clearly about my first years of being on regular medications was that the bipolar side of my schizoaffective disorder often left me unable to sleep, even though I was taking a heavy dose of pills every day and every night. I started to find that if I started out switching to a light rock radio station, then went to a classical music station, forced myself to not pace, just relax on my sofa as I did progressively calmer things, the medications I was taking became enough to get me to sleep.
Financial problems for a person with a mental illness are rife. It can become very hard to hold down or even just simply find a job that you can handle. I think for a lot of young adults though it is almost always very difficult to learn to manage money, and to even have a stable income. For people with mental health disabilities, I strongly recommend that you volunteer. I have a cousin who I think is really on top of things. He had a job that brought in a little money but he hated it. The job slowed down and he was laid off and so he simply picked out a senior’s activity centre and walked in and offered to volunteer. Not only is he learning many skills, but soon he is going to be hired on, something that can be very difficult to do in the current state of the economy. But most importantly is that his generosity with his time and effort got him into a situation where he will soon have a job that he truly enjoys.
I have a strong memory of being younger and going to a bipolar support group. I often talked about my grand ambitions but this one guy would talk over me and say that I had to learn to accept my low position in society and my lot in life. At the time that may have been good advice, but I didn’t stop working on my writing, I didn’t stop setting goals and learning new things about writing. And now my life is greatly enriched by my ability to write in different genres and to do something I found I really love, which is public speaking and teaching people about mental illness. There honestly were some times though when I was ready to give up. When I had a previous job setting up stages for concerts, the money was incredible but it was taking a huge toll on me. I really had to work hard and compete with the other workers around me to have good standing in my workplace. Finally I decided it was enough and so I wrote a letter to my dispatcher explaining my mental illness and the stress I had been experiencing as well as explaining how detrimental to my health that stress could be. Of course he accepted my resignation but there were some pretty lean times. I had gotten in over my head in that situation as well because I had come to rely on a considerable income from just a part-time job. I also really missed some of the friends I had made in the seven years of working for that union. I decided that I had to conceive of income differently. I stopped taking my dad out for lunch all the time, something I missed doing. I stopped taking trips to different places, especially the far off ones like London, England and Hawaii. I knuckled down and managed to stay out of debt though I did end up selling my car. Then, by studying and by doing talks for the Schizophrenia Society where I was able to market some of the books I have written, slowly I built up a reputation. I first did so with my camera, snagging a part-time job for a really good wage, then I studied and got deeper and deeper into writing. I think if anyone has a hobby that they truly love and that they are able to do despite having a mental illness, they should try and make it so they earn their living from it. A woman who lives downstairs from me is into beading and she makes a great income selling her lovely work at farmer’s markets and other places. Those who love to play the piano or guitar should take a few courses if needed and try to teach these things to others.
It can be really hard to work when you have a mental illness. I use a lot of different techniques to deal with the stress of teaching classes, giving talks and sending out my writing in hopes of having it published. One of the ways I improve as a speaker is I have found a forum for my shorter writing, I regularly go to something called a ‘story slam’ where people get up on a stage in front of a crowd, read a story that is no longer than 5 minutes, then they are judged and money is collected ($5 from each audience member) then the highest scorer of 10 storytellers gets the whole pot. I have won three times now, and it is really an incredible feeling. Most of the time though, I know I won’t win, but I keep doing it because it makes me more comfortable with public speaking. This may seem like an odd thing for a person who suffers from anxiety does, but it works for me and I am really glad to have been recognized as a good writer by winning the odd contest.
Working is less stressful than getting up on stage and reading a story, but that doesn’t mean work is easy for people with mental illnesses. I have dark memories of what it was like to work a job where I had to keep up with others and was on medication that gave a lot of side effects or I just wasn’t used to it. A storm rages inside your head and you just want to go home and hide your head and sleep the day away, but if you do this, soon you will be isolating yourself and that leads to loneliness, depression, and sadly for all too many people who are psychiatric survivors, they try to or succeed in a suicide attempt. This becomes such a vicious cycle where patients want to go in the hospital to ease the loneliness, and they go in, soon feel better because their life is full of interactions and people who seem to care, then they are released with no social supports.
Just in the past years I have come to realize how important it is to have close friends. Many who have read my memoirs may know that when I was in elementary school and junior high, I had few friends, and even those people weren’t terribly good friends. Friends are so important, they can cheer you up and do things with you even when you don’t have money. They can look out for you and you look out for them. I am faced with the sad fact that someone I sometimes call my best friend (my dad) is advanced in age and won’t be around forever. Each time I hang up the phone after talking with I try to say, “I love you dad” I am so worried that one day he may pass away not knowing that I do. I consider my brother and sister friends, but outside of my family I have some pretty cool people supporting me, from a fellow writer who helps me more than I could ever express, to a young woman who is so incredible I sometimes wonder why she hangs out with me, to a woman I have known for almost 30 years who lives out of town but gives me so much joy when I do see her or when I talk with her on the phone.
Another thing about how I keep myself sane is when I talk to my dad, my brother, and friends about decisions I make. A while back I really wanted to buy a new car and had money saved up but got a lot of support and interest from family and friends that didn’t want to see me saddled with debt.
So what do you do if you go overboard, if you spend too much, promise too much, don’t like your job? Always, your first line of defence is your medications. See your Doctor and make sure you are on medication that works for your symptoms and doesn’t leave you with unbearable side effects. Then, something I should have mentioned earlier, keep yourself as healthy as you can. Swim laps at the pool, take long walks (another great free thing to do with a friend). Exercise is a huge line of defence over letting stress get to you. When you do feel stressed, there is also the option to do a couple of things I do, which is to try to meditate, even if it is just for five or ten minutes before work when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Closing your eyes, focusing on nothing whatsoever can really make you feel better for a short time investment. Then there is something I have re-started doing recently, I take B vitamins. B vitamins are believed to be what gets depleted when we experience stress. I have found sometimes these give a sedative effect and I can actually take one of these vitamins and have a very pleasant and peaceful sleep. Speaking of sleep, if you are overwhelmed or feel stressed, don’t feel bad about sleeping a lot. Managing a mental illness can be extremely emotionally draining and a person can get just as tired and need sleep from emotional exhaustion as physical exhaustion. Do these things regularly and try not to quit a job unless you are on solid financial footing and have another job to go to. With that, I will leave you with a tip that applies to people with mental health issues and to people who want to be writers. Keep a journal. Get a notebook at the dollar store and some pens and write down each day what your mood is, write the date, and talk about how you feel. This is for your own uses only, and is a powerful tool in finding out how to treat yourself better and how to get better results. As always dear readers, there is so much more to be said about this, but time and space make me confine my words to a short part of my day. I would love to hear from anyone who reads this, and also I am very willing to take on any topics you would like to see covered in this blog. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. All the best!