Small Problem #3: Am I supporting my Bipolar husband in the right ways?

My husband was diagnosed with Bipolar in his teens and has had some horrendous times, and some much better but still challenging times. He shared this with me very early on in our relationship when I was my usual ‘sure, I can handle anything’ self and we agreed that we both had our demons but it would be worth giving it a shot to see if there was anything here.

We’ve been married for nearly 5 years now, together for 8, and like any marriage it ebbs and flows but we support each other through everything no matter what.

About 18 months ago he decided he needed to come off his medication. He had been becoming less and less engaged with the world, with me and his job, his memory was really bad and he just couldn’t find the motivation or urgency to care about anything. He was making mistakes at work and not hearing how serious the implications were, bills weren’t being paid and he wasn’t seeing or hearing how much I was struggling to keep it all together while he coasted through ignorant to it all. He had changed so gradually that I think I actually forgot how he used to be for a while until one day he said ‘I don’t feel like me.’

We talked about what we should do i.e. change his meds, or stop them altogether, what I could do to help him stay in the present and eventually we decided to go and speak to his doctor about what he’s experiencing and what she recommended. The three of us decided the best plan was to slowly come of the meds, give it a month or two to see how he feels and to what degree without them and then assess what drug and dosage may be best for him.

He realised very quickly, once the fog had cleared, just how bad things had got financially, at work and he hated that he just hadn’t cared about it. He was fixing problems at work getting so frustrated with whatever idiot made this mess, only to realise it was him just a few weeks ago. I really felt for him.

I love my husband so much and I want to support him in any way I can, but I have this self-doubt that constantly questions whether I am actually supporting him, or if I’m enabling him. He doesn’t think or feel in the same way as most people and that’s one of the many things I love about him, but I really don’t know enough about his condition to understand if I’m actually being of any help.

One of the things I learned about myself when I realised I was suffering with depression, and was just so overwhelmed with everything that was happening around me, was that I was adjusting my own behaviour and sacrificing my own self-care to keep all the other plates spinning. My husband was very worried when I said I wasn’t coping with our home life and that all the support I was giving him was draining me. It was very hard for him to hear and he wanted to know specifically what I was doing for him that was so draining.

I only needed to give him one example: because of his paranoia and his insecurities, exaggerated massively by his Bipolar, I could never just tell him if he upset me, or if he was doing something that was wearing me down. I’m making him sound like a lead weight and that is simply not the case, I don’t know how I could ever be happy without him! I just mean those little niggles couples have, like putting a dirty teaspoon on the clean side of the sink because you intend to use it again but then you never actually do. Yep, those kinds of things. Very small and simple for most couples to mention and move on from, but with us, if I were to ask him to just give it a rinse and put it on the draining board he would forget. His mind focusses so intently on one thing for weeks and weeks that everything else falls to the wayside. After six or seven times any normal wife would say ‘look, sorry to be a nag but I’ve asked lots of times, it’s a little thing but would make a huge difference to me because it winds me up every time I see it’ and that would be accepted, problem solved. But my husband’s mind would go from ‘yea, I can do that’ and then totally forgetting to ‘that’s it, you’ve done it. She’s going to leave you’. So, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – I say to him is carefully constructed to make sure that it doesn’t set his mind down that path. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t solely to keep him on the level for his own health, there’s an element of me not having the energy to talk him down if I were to slip up, but constantly trying to prevent this situation is really exhausting in itself.

When I explained this to him he was devastated that I felt I had to treat him this way, but he recognised that if I didn’t he would be constantly worried that he was losing me, something I never want him to feel. He made me promise I would stop and that any insecurities he had were for him to work on, not me.

This is what I mean by not being confident I’m supporting him in the right way – I was putting so much effort into protecting him from something and he had no idea, so it wasn’t actually solving anything at all!

Next up: Small Problem #4.

Small Problem #2 My Dogs Have Separation Anxiety

My beautiful Puppers adore us so much they can’t bear to be separated from us.

We have two pups; one chocolate Labrador named Pudding who is now 2 years old, and a black Labrador named Treacle who is 1. Pudding is very tightly wound whereas Treacle goes with the flow but is a bit of a copycat.

Pudding was very poorly when she was young and after lots of testing we established that she was intolerant to almost all standard dog foods. During this time it was absolutely impossible to toilet train her as she had absolutely no control over when or where she went, and with all of the building work mentioned in my last post, by the time we got her on to a suitable allergy food and started making progress, we had to start putting her on a lead to let her out. We also had strange people coming to our house and into her territory throughout the day so she started to get very anxious about protecting the house and being left on her own. She’d also lost her companion shortly after we got her so she went from being a pack to being solo and she didn’t cope with this well so we got Treacle, a pup of her own that she could bond with in the hope that she would feel more at ease knowing the safety of the family was completely on her shoulders.

Over time, and particularly with the break in building work, the two of them have bonded really well – they adore each other – and Puddings toilet training issues (at least) are resolved. This was, however, a very stressful time for me. I come from a family that has always had dogs, of various breeds, and I went into this feeling like I knew exactly what needed to happen to get them trained and none of it went the way I planned. I completely exhausted my natural ability to problem solve and was left in this place where I could see no way of dealing with the problem.

I’m a very pragmatic person generally, but I’ve learned very recently that it’s my own unachievable expectations that I am constantly holding myself up to with no hope of meeting them. At the time this was all happening I was unaware of this and was feeling like an absolute failure. ‘You should be able to handle this…. This is what you do – you fix things, you make it work in the end…’ I just couldn’t see my next move and I felt like the worst person in the world, like I was letting my husband and my dogs down because I couldn’t help them.

We’re still having problems but I’ve stopped trying to fix everything overnight. Pudding is still very chewy when she gets anxious. The difficulty is that Treacle has grown up in an environment where we couldn’t tell Pudding off for her behaviour without making her condition worse so we just had to ignore it, clean it all up and reward her when she wasn’t doing anything bad. Treacle has learned its okay to do what Pudding is doing. So between the two of them, over the course of a few weeks, they completely destroyed a 3 piece leather sofa. I mean completely. We’ve since replaced the sofa but instead of trying to control the dogs when we go out by setting up a run, we now put the run around the stuff we don’t want them to eat. We have to dismantle it when we get home, and put it back up when we pop out but it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make and they’re happier for it. They have however moved onto other things. Such as laundry, their own bed, cushions… oh and the bottom step of our staircase. That no longer has carpet. Or wood.

And on to small problem #3.

 

 

 

 

 

Small Problem #1: My House is a Building Site

So let’s start with our living situation.

My husband and I have lived in our current home for 5 years this month and we love it here. We love the neighbourhood, we love the neighbours and the house is just the right size for us. We moved here when our previous landlady decided she’d rather sell our 1 bedroom garden flat than pay to have our boiler repaired.

We were gutted. We loved that little flat. Even though we frequently woke up to slugs on the kitchen floor – a pleasure on the bare foot as you’d imagine. Even though the glass was cracked in the bay window and the dog once got so excited to see the postie she went clean through it. Even though the only window in the bedroom was an open hatch through to the kitchen so when either of us got up to sneak to the bathroom in the night the light would flood into the bedroom waking both of us up. Not to mention that if we had guests we had to get changed in the bathroom otherwise everyone could see.

She sold the place in less than a week but I’m not new to house hunting, not by a long shot, and we had a lovely 3 bedroom semi-detached house with front and back gardens (for a mere £100 more a month) lined up in a matter of days. We were living the dream!

5 years on, we still love this house, but the landlord is making it very difficult for us to stay here.

Last year he told us that he wanted to convert the old dilapidated garage at the bottom of our large back garden into a flat to rent to someone else. As you can imagine we were a bit unsure of this but he assured us that he’d put up a wall dividing the properties for privacy, we’d still have plenty of garden space, and he’d make sure we still had use of the driveway in the front once he’d made access down the side. He promised that we’d have a temporary fence put up to keep our dogs safe before any work started, and that he’d provide a shed for us to keep all of the stuff we’d been keeping in the garage. He also promised that he’d make any outstanding repairs to our house such as leaky showers, broken guttering, damp on the front exterior wall, and replace the rotten decking in the back garden as it was unsafe.

He also said that it would be a 13 week project. So far it’s been 47 weeks. And it’s been hell.

Work commenced before the fence went up – before the shed was even provided so my husband’s late grandparent’s belongings had been left out in the rain after the garage had been demolished around them. They are irreparably damaged. Trenches were dug to lay the foundations of the new property and then left wide open for weeks while we had no fences to protect our dogs. They were young puppies at the time so when they needed to go for a toilet break they REALLY needed to go so stopping to put their leads on before letting them out caused so many difficulties with their training, but that’s another small problem for another post. I cannot recall the number times the pups slipped their harnesses and I had to go out in the dark and retrieve them from a muddy 4ft trench in my pajamas. Not fun at 1am, in the rain by torchlight.

We then had issues with the contractors. When the fence finally went up, the contractors would open a space so they could access our outside tap and forget to close the fence. We quickly learned we’d have to get out and check the fence before we released the hounds, so to speak, otherwise they’d be up the side of the house and into the street in no time. The contractors would also help themselves to our tools and gardening equipment. They mixed cement in my wheelbarrow, with my shovel and let it set. They also filled my watering can with cement and let that harden too. We mentioned this to the landlord repeatedly and he kept promising to speak to them but it kept happening – we have it on camera. The wheelbarrow was replaced but that was all.

Eventually the work ceased, as they could not continue until the water and electricity boards had hooked the property up to the mains. No progress has been made 9 months. Now, I may seem to a few of you that actually, 9 months of peace from building work might be a bit of a relieve, but picture this. Outside the front of my house, where my lawn used to be, is a mound of soil higher than my kitchen window so we can’t actually see out. This mound of soil washes over the path and pavement every time it rains. We’re in the UK. It rains a lot. I cannot enter my house without treading mud in. On top of the mound is all the rubbish left over from the build – pipes, wiring, fluorescent light tubes, and pallets etc., all just balancing on top of the mound that is slowly eroding. Next to the mound, where my driveway was, is a trench at least 4ft deep, leading into the back garden. No fence or anything stopping local children falling in. Just open, for all kinds of accidents to happen. So far no children have fallen in, but it is slowly filling up with empty beer cans thanks to the local day drinkers.

The fence in back garden is being held up solely by a mound of soil at least 3ft high that, I’m guessing, used to be in the trench. Again, when it rains this washes into my garden and my dogs are constantly covered in it. You know how they like to dig. My decking, what’s left of it – I put my foot through a rotten patch just this weekend – is covered in concrete from the dodgy contractors. I suspect this may be the only thing holding it together at this point.

And finally, the cherry on the top.

We have two showers in our house, one over the bath in the bathroom and one walk in shower in an unfinished en suite which is actually just a laminated section of our bedroom. The bath is very wobbly as its not screwed to the wall properly and as such, the sealant doesn’t stay in place for very long. Water has now run down behind the taps so much over the years that it’s rotted the floor boards and water now pours through the ceiling into the lounge. And I mean POURS. A crack in the ceiling had been forming since we moved in and we’ve mentioned this to the landlord on numerous occasions. He visited us on New Year’s day to check that everything was okay with his new property (I know, the irony) and we showed him it was still pouring through even though we’d got straight back out as soon as it started. He said he’d have someone with us to look at it in the next week. You guessed it, we’re still waiting.

We’ve been using the walk in shower in the bedroom, we’re lucky to have a second shower, however since the beginning of February this one has been leaking through the spot lights in the kitchen ceiling. He’s aware of this also and yet keeps standing us up when he agrees times to come and take a look. It now doesn’t matter where we shower, we’re either at risk of falling through the ceiling or shorting the electrics.

So that’s Small Problem #1.

 

 

 

 

One Small Problem at a Time

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since I injured my back and I’ve been able to do some Yoga – in fact my physiotherapist has recommended continuing as long as I’m more careful – but actually, I haven’t been doing it anywhere near as regularly.

Usually I love my classes so much that I also do 15-30 minutes of yoga each morning before I get ready for work and this was really helping me to feel more positive and embracing of the day ahead. Unfortunately however, when I stop doing something regularly I find it really hard to get back into the rhythm and flow of it, particularly when I can justify why, on this particular morning, it might be okay not to do it.

My back is fine now; I’ve been to a couple of weekly yoga classes since and had no issues at all. My yoga instructor has a fresh awareness of my back troubles and so is very clear about what to avoid, or do differently, when he’s instructing us which is great.

So I really have no excuse not to do morning yoga. I’m being lazy and I’m slipping into my old depressive ways. I’ve made so much progress so I need to pull myself out of this spiral and get back to making positive changes.

I want to explain to everyone what got me where I am now and, hopefully, remind myself how I felt then, and how yoga makes me feel now so I can take a step back from the precipice and choose self-care again. When I talk to anyone – be it a counsellor, my college tutor, my manager – about the various things in my life contributing to this overwhelming feeling of failure and loss of control each person responds with ‘no one should be expected to cope perfectly with that many things going on at once’. They’re absolutely right, so, no one should be expected to read about all of it one blog post. Instead, I’m going to break this up into my current mantra.

One small problem at a time. One small problem at a time. One small problem at a time.

 

 

 

 

Such a Clumsy Girl.

So. On to the Clumsy Girl part of this yoga journey.

Those of you who know me are well aware of how clumsy I can be. And also how lucky I can be – it’s all usually scrapes, bruises, trips and twists. I haven’t been rushed to hospital in an ambulance and I haven’t broken any limbs. I really feel like I shouldn’t have said that…

I thought I’d share with you all just a small number, lets say ten, of the many ways in which my family have determined that I’m a danger to myself, but thankfully not others:

  1. Absent-mindedly walked into the back-end of a police horse. Yes. How did I not see it there!?
  2. Slipped on the decking in my back garden and smashed my shin into the step by the back door. Thinking about it I think that might have been my first experience of Pigeon Pose…
  3. Cut a perfectly circular chunk out of my finger opening a can of coconut milk.
  4. One year later gave myself a matching scar on the other finger trying to drill a hole in some shells to make a necklace. 
  5. At secondary school I lobbed (yes, lobbed) a javelin so hard that it broke into at least 5 pieces when it hit the ground. Plus side – I was never allowed to do javelin again.
  6. Walked into a lamppost while texting and broke my nose. I still have a tiny, tiny bit of bone floating under the skin on the bridge of my nose.
  7. When playing hockey at high school I slipped and smashed a poor girl in the teeth with the hockey stick. Starting t rethink that ‘danger to others’ thing right now…
  8. Stabbed myself in the leg with a Stanley knife while doing some DIY. Thankfully nowhere near my femoral artery but you hear some stories…
  9. Fell down a hole trying to catch a shiny Pikachu in Pokemon Go. I had to wait for my husband to stop laughing before he could help me up.
  10. And finally, my favourite – glued both my eyes shut with superglue. I had to have my eyes scraped with a scalpel… perhaps this is a post in itself.

Despite all of these, I really don’t have much lasting damage. I do, however, have a damaged knee from my teens. I was throwing a stick for the dog, my hips twisted but my foot remained in place and my knee-joint twisted inside my knee cap causing the cartilage to tear and fold. Again, no rush to hospital – an attempt at some physio and eventually a consultation with an Orthopaedic Surgeon leading to keyhole surgery. It’s never quite been the same, clicks sometimes and occasionally it just gives out, or I ‘go dropsy’ as my husband likes to call it.

I also have a loose shoulder from a drunken roll off a garage roof and I’m prone to sciatica as the muscles in one side of my back tighten much more than the other and nerves get trapped. All in all, I should really have more damage but thankfully that’s it. So far at least. This post is feeling more and more ominous the more I write…

Anyway, to demonstrate my clumsiness, I wanted to tell you about my experience at yoga last night. I have to admit, I had poor judgement at the very start and I should have stopped there and then, I ignored the signs that my back wasn’t as stable as usual and I suffered the consequences. Unfortunately so did my yoga instructor – he’s mortified that I hurt myself in his class but it really wasn’t his fault.

We were three-quarters of the way through the class, I’m sure we were about to start the relaxation. We’d been doing a lot of back bends and twists that I hadn’t tried before so some I was doing the very basic version, others I was sitting out all together, knowing that I really didn’t want to hurt myself and perhaps this wasn’t the week to try. My back had felt… odd… during the initial corpse pose – I couldn’t quite find the position where i felt my back was supported by the floor – and so I was being cautious. Until we started Pigeon Pose.

Now, I had done Pigeon Pose before, when trying a class nearer to my home, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too challenging for me. I was also feeling a little like I hadn’t been able to do a lot of the poses on this particular evening so when my instructor guided us through one I knew I had done well previously I let go of my caution. Mistake number one.

In the position, with my right knee up behind my right palm, and my right foot somewhere behind my left palm, I’m laying forward over my leg, with my left leg outstretched, feeling really good about being able to do this one – and my weight shifts over to the right. Now, if I’d remained calm I’m sure I could have lift myself back to position and come out nice and slowly. Instead, I panicked. And the pesky all-or-nothing muscles in the right side of my lower back went into protection mode and seized up around my spine making it very difficult to get out of the position that was now really squashing my leg and – yep, you guessed it – my dodgy knee.

So, I’m out of action for a few days while I let both recover sufficiently, then I’ll be easing myself back in gently.

You may be wondering at this point, what relationship do I see between my clumsiness and my yoga journey?

Well. In my previous posts I explained how yoga made me feel, how my mental health was at a point where I needed to take control and make positive changes, but I’m learning that yoga has so many more benefits. Being the Clumsy Girl that I am, my balance is absolutely awful so I want to improve this. I’m hoping that I can strengthen my core and stretch those muscles in my lower back so that they all work together, at the same speed for a change. And I’m hoping that through learning the poses and working on my breathing I can become more aware of my body, more coordinated and mindful of my surroundings and can actually become less clumsy.

I’m hoping that through yoga, I can become a more stable person both mentally and physically. I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

The Yoga Bug

My first yoga class was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I know, I know, I sound all hippy-dippy already. Thats not what I mean.

I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I had the same feeling I had about everything I agreed to do with another person, no matter how much I liked them or the activity – I regretted it because I just wanted to go home, put my PJ’s on and sulk. Annoyingly routine is something you can maintain even with moderate depression.

But I made a promise, and my friend Merran was right – when you agree to do it with someone else its not just you your letting down, its them too so cancelling is not an option without a valid excuse.

By the end of the class I was positively jubilent! I could do it! I finally found an activity I could do sufficiently enough not to hate every second of it and myself afterwards! And actually, I quite enjoyed it! And I wanted to do it again immediately. I went home, burst through the front door and said to my husband “I’ve done it! I’ve finally found my thing! Yoga is my thing. And I love it.”

The look of relief on his face was incredible. Swiftly followed by the realisation that yoga is all I’m going to talk about until even I can’t stand it any more.

Yoga makes me feel, in that moment, like the only important thing in the universe is my body and my awareness of it. My breath and my movements. Everything else falls away. Merran and I joke that our favourite part of the class is the relaxation for the last 15 minutes, where we lay in corpse pose and our yoga teacher gently guides us through a body scan, because “where else is it acceptable to just lay on the floor and do nothing but relax?” Even at home we’re disturbed by family, neighbourhood noises, phone alerts etc., but here we just lay. And its beautiful.

Clik here for more information about Bristol Yoga Classes: http://www.yogabristol.com/

That Moment in Life

I’ve never really been much of an active person.

I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong. I used to do PE at school just like everyone else, even went to Badminton and Trampoline some evenings but the older I become the lazier I get. Recently I’ve become so lazy that I don’t even like walking to the corner shop, I always find a reason why we can make do without, or I’ll go tomorrow, or the next day.

On the other hand, I’m a hard worker. A really hard worker. I like to be good at things and I enjoy doing things I’m really good at – but I’m not good at activity so I avoid it at all costs. My husband will attest to this. Only he knows just how truly difficult it is to get me to walk anywhere further than the driveway without moaning about it.

Recently I stopped being good at my job. It was AWFUL. I had exceeded my capacity for brain power and cognitive thought through various difficulties at home, increasingly more demanding workload and a college degree one evening a week and could no longer function at the expected standard. MY expected standard, as I later learned at a counselling session. I ground to a halt, realised just how bad I’d been treating myself and then… broke. I just broke.

I learned later I was the only one who couldn’t see it happening and had convinced myself that I should be able to deal with all of this, so deal with it I will. Well, I couldn’t. Because no one could be expected to, it was all just too much.

During all of this my friend Merran had said a few times, ‘I keep saying I’m going to be more active, maybe we could do Yoga or something? If we do it together then we’re more likely to stick to it.’ I kept pushing back. I don’t have time to do yoga!? don’t you know how much I’ve got going on at the moment!?

Eventually, after speaking with my doctor, I attended a cognitive behavioural therapy course to understand just how much I was expecting of myself and what little changes in behaviour and habit I coud make to cope with difficult times. One of the topics was activity. Of course it was! Up to this point, the more I spent time with my counsellor and listened to the other people on the CBT course, the more I started to realise that it had been screamingly obvious I was not okay and that I was at a critical moment in my life where I could let it all drag me under – or I could take control of my life and my choices and make a positive change.

As the conversation moved towards the percieved obstacles of activity suddenly my mind started to clear – Merran. She knew what I needed and had been trying to coach me in to it without setting off the inevitable bomb that was ticking away in my mind. This is it. This was the moment. Lose control completely or make a positive change?

I messaged Merran as soon as I was out of the class – I could not wait for that class to be over! “A little while ago you asked me about yoga – do you still want to do it? I’m in.”

And thats how it all started.

The class mentioned above was called Getting the Balance Back and is run by Bristol Wellbeing Therapies: https://iapt-bristol.awp.nhs.uk/