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Bipolar & ME: Part 3. Treatment

First off: apologies for the gap between postings. I’ve been a combination of on holiday, depressed, hypomanic (not “full” manic though, yay), stressed, ill, and fatigued/exhausted. I will try and be better. Anyway, onto the blog post!

Treatment!

Well, where to start. Like any mental illness, most kinds of treatment can be broadly split into two:

  • Talking therapies, including
    1. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
    2. CAT (Cognitive Analytical Therapy)
    3. Psychoeducation Groups
  • Medication, including
    1. Antidepressants
    2. Mood stabilisers
    3. Antipsychotics
  • “Other”

By no means is this list exhaustive, but I’m just going to cover the ones mentioned because not only are they the most common, they’re also things I have either knowledge or direct experience of.

NOTE: I think I’ve made the point in earlier posts that mental illness can present in varying ways. We are all individuals, even if we have the same illness. THE FOLLOWING INFO IS JUST MY KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE ONLY. SPEAK TO YOUR PSYCHIATRIST/PSYCHOLOGIST/DOCTOR ETC. BEFORE CHANGING MEDICATIONS OR TREATMENT.

  • Talking therapies

So I admit here and now, I have not had the best experience of talking therapies so far. I tried counselling, was referred to CBT (that went terribly, though partly because I don’t think my therapist and I “gelled”, I might not have been ready for it, or whatever…but I had three sessions and was just sent back to my GP), tried ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which was a group trialled at my university. It went better than CBT, and a lot of the ideas behind it made sense, but I’m not sure I managed to take enough of it on-board seeing as it was during my final year of university and I was basically one huge ball of stress/fatigue/badness.

I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I tried all of these methods before my eventual diagnosis of bipolar. Since diagnosis, I have been to a Psychoeducation group, and am on the LONG waiting list for CBT (and eventually CAT) with a clinical psychologist, as opposed to a wellbeing practitioner or therapist. I’ll update the blog after I have the treatment with my feelings on how it went, but I don’t expect it to be soon unfortunately). Since I have not had a full course of CBT or any CAT, I’m just going to provide some links so you can read about it from people with more knowledge on them:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.acat.me.uk/page/about+cat

The Psychoeducation group is pretty much what it sounds like; a group that helps educate you on your psychiatric/psychological condition. There was a group of us, maybe 9 or 10, who had all been diagnosed with bipolar (mix of I, II, cyclothymia), of varying lengths of diagnosis, treatment, experience and severity. This was particularly useful as I’d only been diagnosed for around a month or so, so learning what things I had been experiencing were actually due to this illness was eye-opening. You might expect this kind of thing to be incredibly depressing but surprisingly, I didn’t find it so. Yes, there were topics that were covered that weren’t exactly pleasant but we were given so many resources and a variety of methods to try and help us cope. No, they didn’t all work, and the paperwork we were given was a little overwhelming but I appreciated the variety because many of the things have really helped me. I know that for many people however, much of this course was too basic, as they’d lived with it so long that they knew all the symptoms and had tried most of the things we were recommended. I hope they didn’t think it was a complete waste of time, because their knowledge and experience was incredibly valuable to me. According to a talk given to the group I attend run by Bipolar UK, Psychoeducation groups have been shown to be one of the most helpful and beneficial groups for bipolar patients, in terms of helping them stay better for longer (I won’t go into the full details of that talk, though it was very good…maybe in another post).

  • Medication

Ah. If there’s anything that causes more controversy, stigma, and newspaper articles than psych medications…well, OK, there are a lot of things that cause that, but you catch my drift. There’s a lot of misinformation, scaremongering, and stigma about medications for mental illness, and I can’t deny that there’s probably a whole lot of over prescription going on. (The reasons for that last thing are many, but generally underfunding of the mental health sector and understaffing of specialised doctors and therapists are two big ones). Medications are not the be all and end all, and god knows they don’t solve everything. However, for some people, medication can/will save their life. And for me, they allow me to live relatively safely and ‘normally’, hold down a job, etc. There are still life stressors that affect me and I have to watch out for them, but even when I do get ill, it’s significantly less severe than when I was not on medication.

Also, some medication carries more stigma than others, so don’t be put off if medication that helps you has a bad reputation from people that don’t understand, or have had bad experiences on it. For example, as well as a couple other medications for other ailments, I take Lithium and an antidepressant, Venlafaxine. Now Lithium is very well known, and it’s been around for a long time. It’s also very cheap, and has been shown to be incredibly beneficial at treating bipolar, and also significantly reducing suicidal behaviour. It also has a number of side effects, and can cause serious damage if not monitored closely (kidney and thyroid damage or even failure). Now I admit, I was scared off lithium initially. I was offered it a few years ago and I was pretty much of the mindset that I would try anything but that. This was, in part, due to the stigma, and to the research project I had done at university on it. (I do wonder what might have been different if I had tried lithium when I was first offered the chance, but there’s nothing that can be gained from wondering “what if?”). So whilst I heartily recommend researching medications before you decide to take them, don’t be so informed that you scare yourself away from something that could potentially really help you.

I think a good rule of thumb is if the side effects make you feel worse than the illness itself, they’re probably not for you. However, it is often very difficult for the ill person to notice if they are feeling better, as we (ill people) have a tendency to see and focus on the bad far more than the good. I had someone tell me they could tell exactly when my medication was changed to my current ones because I was so much better. I hadn’t realised it was such a big difference so their perspective was really helpful.

  • “Other”

Please notice I’ve put this in little “air quotes” as these are not prescribed treatments, but anecdotally, there’s sometimes things we can do for ourselves to encourage longer times in remission.

While many people with bipolar and other mental health illnesses self-medicate using alcohol, illicit drugs etc., I can’t say I can recommend either of these things. What I can say is that it’s completely understandable why people go down this route. But I’m going to try and focus on some other ways I/people/you can use to try and ease the struggle of mental ill-health.

It helps to have things that you can throw yourself into when you start feeling the first signs of depression or (hypo)mania. Depending on your personality, these things will differ hugely, and I have different activities to help with different directions of mood. Colouring helps with creeping manic symptoms, as it gives me something to completely focus on, and I can jump to any number of different books, colour schemes, pages, but it often helps my head slow down eventually. When I’m feeling the beginnings of a downward mood, I try and go skating/go to derby practice (if physical health allows), or go for a walk, or go throw my phone folder of silly pictures I’ve saved and send them to close friends to strike up a conversation. Basically, anything to stay out of my head/bad thoughts, something to stop the downward spiral before it fully starts. If I’m veering towards the manic side however, these actions would be things to avoid, as sport/exercise is actually a big thing I’ve noticed sends me into hypomania (mania, before my medication).

 

I’m sure a lot of people will see the things I’ve listed and think it’s twee or useless things they’ve been told before, but all I can say is that they’ve helped me. I think roller derby has been helpful for me as the continuity of practice and knowing my attendance is monitored helps me regularly go out and mix with people, and skate/do physical activity when possible. Structure is hugely important to me, so a hobby with classes or regular practices was a big bonus and ones of the reasons I stick with the hobby even when it seems “crazy” for someone like me to do.

 

Obviously nothing in this section is actually ‘treatment’ per se, but I think living with mental illness means learning how to treat you. You have probably heard of self-care recently, but no one really says what it is. And that’s often because it varies person to person. So think, what makes you calm, what do you need when everything is getting on top of you? Think about this, and try and stick to this self-care plan, paying particular attention to it when life throws a curveball at you.

 

There is just one of these blog posts left in this series, but I have another one I’ve been working on to post before I finish the last of my bipolar posts.

 

Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed something from my treatment ideas, or if you have another PoV on the topic. Always love to hear from you!

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Bipolar & Me: Part 1. Introduction

OK so this is not easy for me to do,  but I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. So I’m going to write a series of posts about mental health. My mental health. Specifically what mental health struggles I have.

First things first: surprise, surprise, I have bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

You may have seen Stephen Fry’s latest documentary on BBC “The Not-So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On”. I watched the first documentary 10 years ago, before my own diagnosis. I’m trying to hunt it down to watch it again to see if my perspective has changed since receiving the diagnosis. From what I can recall, it seemed the follow up documentary was more of a depressing watch, there didn’t seem to be much hope portrayed for any of the bipolar sufferers depicted, including Stephen Fry himself. While I have only been officially diagnosed myself since ~March last year, I thought I would try and offer my own personal perspective on the diagnosis process, the medication, and the resources I’ve found available to me through a series of posts.

I have to admit, I struggled watching the most recent documentary. I found that a lot of what was said resonated with me and I understand that it needed to show the truth of living with this disorder. However, I think it really could have benefitted from showing just one person coping, one person managing their condition to balance out the rest of the quite depressing situations. I am by no means in control of my illness as it stands, and I’m still trying to work out how to manage it with my CFS/ME. It is exhausting. But I have found a medication that works for me, which is phenomenally beneficial (I will go into this in a later post). I’m able to stay more balanced and when I do have episodes, my lows are less low, my highs less high. I am considerably safer than I used to be. I am also fortunate in that it doesn’t make me numb, it doesn’t make me a zombie. I am still working full-time in a fast, stressful industry that I love. I have blogged before how I am so lucky because my employer is so patient and flexible in how they let me work.

I wish others with ME, others with bipolar could be able to do this. Many with these conditions have to work part-time, if they can work at all. I reiterate: I am incredibly lucky, and it is something I’m going to have to keep fighting for every day of my life to keep doing. But I am doing it. And I think that someone newly diagnosed with this illness would benefit from knowing that it can be possible. Hence these posts on “Bipolar and me”.

See Part 2 for my thoughts on the illness itself, dispelling some common misconceptions and just trying to fill you in on what living with bipolar really means.

Life, death and what happens in between

TW: suicide

Sorry I’ve been quiet again, things have been busy at work and my health has been topsy-turvy, to say the least. (This is only going to be a short post.)
Additionally…I suffered the loss of a close friend. I lost her to depression and suicide. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry. This is the second friend I’ve lost to it, with two tohers (that I know about) who tried and came close). But I’m trying to take things from her life, instead of focusing on her death. But it is difficult and it is something I have to make a conscious choice to do every day.

She was a roller derby player; she was relentlessly trying to improve at it too. She will inspire me to keep pushing, to know I can always get up when I fall down (and it’s roller derby, there’s a lot of falling). She was a crafty person, she enjoyed making her own jewellery and doing crochet. I have a hundred projects I’m either yet to start or yet to finish. I’ll think of her and it’ll remind me to use my creativity, make something beautiful. She found it difficult being around people sometimes, found it hard to make friends. I know what this is like. But she started roller derby to meet people, to make friends. She will be my reminder to step out of my comfort zone. She was blunt; you always knew exactly where you stood with her. Sometimes I need to remember to just say what I feel, to channel her backbone.

I could do a whole post on suicide, on mental illness. I will in the future I imagine, when it’s a little less raw. But let’s just say I have first-hand experience of an illness and can offer some insight on suicide, from a mentally ill person’s perspective.

Things have been difficult with this going on. But the people left behind after suicide have to keep pushing on, going forward. She couldn’t carry on into the future. So we keep the memory of our lost ones with us, so they can continue forward with us.

Next time I’ll be writing about working when chronically ill; it’ll be more cheerful than it sounds I promise!

Any ideas for future blog posts are welcomed, otherwise I’ll just keep making it up as I go along.

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communications?

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Ah, punctuation humour 🙂

I’d like to start by saying that just because I’m a tech author does not mean that I will be adhering to strict rules here. I’ll probably make mistakes with my grammar and punctuation, and honestly, the amount of times I went against my company’s writing guide specifications in my last post alone is more than I’d care to admit. However, I don’t really care. This is a blog after all. No one is going to rely on this nearly as much as the content that we produce at work, so I can use all the contractions and different types of punctuation I want! WOOOO!!

There are several ways of answering this.

Of course, there’s the people that think we just spell check what comes from engineering and repackage it but that is an unfair/grossly under-representation of what we do (although don’t get me started on some sentence structures and punctuation (or lack thereof) that I’ve seen since being here).

[NB I would like to point out however, that I know some very eloquent engineers who can write very well. I’m by no means tarring them all]

A common way of looking at it is that we ‘just’ provide the manuals that go along with the engineering products. This makes it seem pretty trivial, but the better the supporting documentation, the more chance the customers will have of avoiding issues or, be able to solve problems if they arise. This should mean the some of the pressure on the Support group is removed.

The other problem with this is assuming that the only way of communicating is by documents alone, usually pdfs. That is probably still the most common method but by no means the only way. Communicating can mean providing face-to-face sessions for training on a particular topic, it can mean posting on forums and blogs so that the information can get to our end users faster. We do presentations that can be recorded and e-learning modules that can better explain concepts and tools and make the user more confident in their knowledge and understanding.

A good way of looking at it is the recent increase in crafting hobbies, like knitting, at the moment. You know what you want at the end and you need accurate and simple instructions to get there. Diagrams are often provided which makes it a lot easier to understand, especially for people that are new to knitting. Patterns also don’t just come on paper anymore. There are YouTube videos and tutorials for specific types of stitches to full projects depending on how much help is needed.

I know a lot of people find this topic a little…dry sounding. But honestly, having to explain the ‘how, the what and the why’ of the products means that not only do I have to learn about them, but I’ve had to essentially teach myself computer science/basic engineering understanding to understand the information on the products! And I love that. Yes, I admit I miss biology but I read popular science books, I get updates from journals I like and talk to my friends still in that area so I’m not completely missing out.

I also think that as much as I love my job now, in the future, who knows where I’ll end up. What I enjoy most is editing, so I would love to get back into publishing one day, be that academically with journal articles, science textbooks etc. or maybe not STEM publishing at all! That’s the brilliant thing about what I do. I feel like it gives me so many skills that I can work on over the years and apply to other specialisms if I want to move on. (At the very least, I can’t imagine me staying in Cambridge forever…I mean, I want to buy a house one day and unless I marry somebody very well off, I can’t see that happening here).

So that is a fairly quick look at what I do these days. If anyone reading is interested in technical communications, please get in touch, ask me questions J I’m happy to help and give advice if possible. I also highly rate my employer and I believe they are currently accepting applications for their graduate scheme (for engineers and technical communications etc.), so if anyone would like to know more about who I work for, send me a private message.

I have been writing! Technically…

So this is a new topic for this blog, as I am usually writing more about biology, post-university options and things that interest me generally (books, current affairs blah).

But I have been pretty busy with a different type of writing for the last 7 months now. And that is my current job: Technical Author (well…Graduate Technical Author)freedom

SO. MANY. CHOICES (courtesy of xkcd.com/freedom)

Those of you who know me personally know who I work for but just I figure I should keep it to myself on here. Just in case. The big change for me is that it is within the Engineering Sector (I haven’t left STEM! Just changed letters).

Now, this has come with some brilliant advantages and exciting prospects but with change obviously comes challenges.

I am not an engineer. I am not a computer scientist. Before starting to work here, I could not code (I’m at a basic level of learning Python as part of my personal development, although I don’t need that type of knowledge for my role, it makes me feel more at home with my colleagues).

I have had a lot of people ask *WHY* if I’m a biologist (which I am and always will be, at heart) am I working where I am. I suppose there are three answers really:

  • Between working as a Publishing Editor and a tech author, I was working about 30 hours a week at a popular supermarket chain. It was awful, soul destroying, painful (due to the illnesses I have) and paid ~£6.83/hour. Believe me when I say, I was applying for everything out there.
  • I love learning. My old job was at a chemistry company and though that is considerably more relatable for a biologist (especially with a lot of biochem in my degree), it was still a change of discipline. And one that I dealt with well and thoroughly enjoyed (despite how it ended). So I didn’t see why the same wouldn’t be true here.

Now onto the main reason…

  • I got an interview and the job. Now this seems like I’m not really answering the question but stick with me. I saw who the job was for and wasn’t going to apply. But I looked into it as a job role and thought it sounded like something interesting that would lead me to good places in the future (and also thought, hey, if nothing else, it’s application practice). And then I got the interview. Well, three of them. A writing test to do at home, then a phone interview, then a face-to-face interview with a formal writing test and then an HR interview over the phone. And I got the job. So as nerve-wracking as it was (and occasionally still is) to work somewhere like this, *they* think I can do it. There are people in my department that come from other strange backgrounds for this company (English Lit, Linguistics and Translation, another biologist) and people who are closer to the sector but still, not engineering (couple of physicists). Basically what I’m saying is, not everyone in my department is an engineer. So why wouldn’t I be able to do it? As long as I put in the time and effort, inside work and out, I will pick up the necessary skills and knowledge. Which means I get to do a lot of reading (and coding is fun!)

So this post is about the WHY I am here. But when I tell a lot of people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and mumbles of “Oh…um…what’s that?”

Which brings me nicely to the end of this post and onto the next:

Technically Speaking – What is Technical Communication?

Hope someone out there cares enough to read these, I am enjoying writing again and am hoping to make this more regular (I’ve set writing reminders now and everything).

Has anyone else had a big change of career, or subject base? I’d love to hear from you and why you did the change too.

Sorry!

It’s been some time since my last post, is a busy, scary time right now!
Finals start on 30th, and God the modules are bigger in you’re final year!

It’s made it very clear where my interests lie, although my thoughts on my future career remain very much up in the air right now, but will maybe use another post to talk about that…

My modules this year have been Mechanisms of Toxicity & Disease, cellular Neurobiology, Human Reproduction & Development and Cellular & molecular Immunobiology.

Bizarrely, my two favourite modules ended up being mechanisms and human reproduction- this bring odd as they were the ones I was umming and ahh-ing about whether to choose or not.
Suffice it to say I’m glad I did, as I have not enjoyed the other two as much add us expected.

Guess it’s something to bear in mind, your interests develop and change as you learn more and you try more areas of biology. I’ve enjoyed the debated that have been sparked from doing reproduction as obviously we learnt about IVF and assistive conception techniques. I think I thought I knew where I stood but again, there are rarely any simple answers, it’s hard to choose what’s ‘right’…I do not envy the HEFA at all!

Anyway, this is really all I’ve got time for- would like to start discussions here so will give it a go: what have been your favourite modules at uni and why? 

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