Tag Archives: mental health

Bipolar Awareness Day

27 Jun

Today is the first ever UK bipolar awareness day. A great chance for people to talk openly and learn more about this much misunderstood and stigmatised condition. I have spoken at length on the blog about my own experiences with cyclothymia, a form of bipolar (and the same one Stephen Fry suffers with  – that makes me feel special!) and even made a little monster called the Bipolar Bear to reflect the daily struggle of living with the condition. You can visit him here.

I urge anyone who is worried about the welfare of a loved one, workmate, or acquaintance, to just talk. Don’t be afraid to ask a simple ‘are you ok?’. To those of us who have mood disorders like this, don’t be ashamed to tell the truth if someone reaches out. We are all in this together

Introvert vs Extrovert

19 Mar

Apologies for going way off topic with this one. I ordinarily use my blog for art and fabric based ramblings with a bit of life thrown in, but on this occasion, allow me to talk about something a little different.

I recently came across an article in the Guardian entitled “Why the world needs introverts“. Despite being fine with public speaking and always the first up at karaoke, I’ve always had a very introverted character, so of course I had a read. What I read hit me hard, and has had a profound effect on me over the last few days.

The article was written by a lady called Susan Cain, ex-lawyer turned writer from New York. She holds powerful views on the changes in society which have led us towards what she calls the ‘extrovert ideal’, where we are led to feel that to be anything other than confident, loud and quick to make decisions is wrong. She calls for introverts to be allowed to be themselves, and to use their unique characteristics to the advantage of us all, without being overshadowed by those who may speak a little louder.

Growing up, I have very powerful memories of being constantly asked by teachers, “are you ok?” and “Whatever is the matter?”. Another favourite was to be told that I looked miserable or that I never smiled. The crazy thing is, nothing was wrong, I was perfectly content, and this constant questioning led me to wonder if something really WAS wrong. Why did I not fit in? Why was it that my quiet ways were seen as so wrong and anti-social.

If ever we had to work in a group at school, my heart would sink as I knew that any ideas I came up with would fall on deaf ears, only to be floated and accepted later-on by someone more confident with a more forceful way. I never had lots of friends, just a couple of very close ones, and if ever they were off sick or on holiday, I would happily sit in the playground with my head in a book until they came back. In fact, one vivid memory is of one of the ‘cool kids’ trying to take my book away from me. Instinct kicked in and without even thinking about it, I slapped her square across the face. Wrong I know, but satisfying, and it saw to it that she and the other bullies never bothered me again – Until I got to secondary school that is.

After school and into adulthood I began to feel the pressure towards fitting in to the ‘extrovert ideal’ as Susan Cain talks about so eloquently in her article. I forced myself to go out to noisy bars when all I wanted was to curl up with a good book. I threw myself into public speaking when every fibre in my body was telling me it wasn’t for me. I accepted invitations for events which I know I wouldn’t enjoy as hard as I might try. I do all these things because introverts like me are made to feel that we are being rude, or boring if we choose to inhabit only those environments in which we feel comfortable. I love my friends intensely, but would rather see them for cosy dinners or chats over cups of coffee than in a busy bar with the pressure to drink and, god forbid, to mingle with strangers!

Susan Cain makes some interesting points about what makes us either introverted or extroverted, and a lot of it seems to boil down to how we respond to stimulation. Extroverts need constant stimulation, stuff happening, noise, busyness. Whereas us introverted types can be completely overwhelmed by these things. We like peace and quiet, one thing at a time, and find multi-tasking just doesn’t work.

So why are we being forced to feel that the way we inherently are is wrong? We are like square pegs being forced into round holes and I’m sure, on reflection of the introvert/extrovert argument, that this is why I’ve led a life plagued with periods of depression and eventual bipolar diagnosis. I spend my time trying hard to fit into an extrovert world, I make myself go to places I don’t want to go, do things I don’t want to do, and then wonder why I fail miserably and end up getting myself all upset. If people with a character like mine felt able to just be ourselves, then we would be much happier, and those around us would get the best of us.

So, introverts of the world, it’s time for us to stand up and be what we are. Sensitive, quiet, thoughtful and fond of solitude. I may not be a party animal or a raver, but I am a good person with a lot to give. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Susan Cain has a book coming out at the end of March called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. You can see her talking about her ideas here. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, It’s well worth a watch, especially if you have, or work with children. I don’t want other people to grow up with the same insecurities I did.

Blue Monday

16 Jan

So today has been arbitrarily named Blue Monday. Apparently the most depressing day of the year. I guess for most it is a combination of limping towards payday after Christmas excess, dark nights and mornings, and getting back into the routine of work after a few weeks off. For a lot of people, the deepest sadness they will ever feel is that mild, seasonal glumness associated with days like today. For others of us, those who battle mental health problems, there is a lot more to it than that.

Lately, mental health has hit the headlines, especially in the sporting world. The ‘Time to Change’ adverts are back on the TV, and people are starting to become aware of depression, bipolar disorder and the myriad of other breeds of mental illness.

The stigma is being broken down as people start to ‘come out’ publicly as someone who battles a mental health problem, and the world of social networking has become a huge support and resource for us to swap stories and share information.

Looking at all the tweets and status updates today about coping mechanisms for surviving blue monday have got me thinking about my own strategies for managing my health and wellbeing, and in particular, how much sewing has done for me.

Before I started picking up a needle and thread again, my health was prone to being out of control, with crazy highs and crippling lows. When I started monster making, the sense of fun and of achievement permeated through every other aspect of my life and things started to seem more manageable. Quiet time with my sewing machine is like meditation. All else ceases to exist and it’s just me and my machine, united in creative endeavour, until the hours slip by unnoticed and I realise that my tummy is grumbling and the sun has gone down.

It’s only having been deprived of this for a few weeks after my sewing machine kicked the bucket and waiting for the new one to arrive, that I’ve realised exactly how much a part of me sewing has become. I really am missing a limb. On the plus side, it has given me a new-found realisation of just how much I am defined by my creativity, and the implications to my health if I fail to make time for those things which satisfy me and which give me such a sense of satisfaction.

I am a little lost lamb while I wait for my shiny new machine, but the day I get my eager little mitts on it will be like all my Christmases come at once and I can say for certain than I will never, ever, take my trusty machine for granted.

As a tribute to my old machine and in keeping with the theme of Blue Monday, here is another look at my furry friend, completed a few months ago as a little bit of therapy for myself, The Bipolar Bear.

The BiPolar Bear

The Bipolar Bear

13 Nov

The BiPolar Bear

My latest creation, The Bipolar Bear is probably my best work to date and I guess that could be because I put a lot of myself into it. This little guy is not a commission, he’s not for sale, he’s just for me.

The word ‘Bipolar’ is massively misused. Just a quick search on twitter for #bipolar will turn up a whole host of people using the term as a way of describing someone who maybe feels a bit sad sometimes, who can’t make up their mind, or has the odd mood swing.

Make no bones about it, bipolarity is a serious and often life-threatening illness. An illness like many others, where through no fault of their own, sufferers have to learn to live with and manage the condition on a daily basis. It is NOT self-inflicted, it is NOT a case of ‘pulling yourself together’ and it is NOT something to be ashamed of.

The Bipolar Bear is a fabric representation of my own bipolarity. I didn’t want it to be a case of just happy and sad. For me, at my down times I feel worn, broken, faded and thoroughly exhausted. Bilbo Baggins said it best when he said that he felt like butter spread over too much bread. The down side of my bear has been inked, torn and patched back up to try and evoke that feeling of being totally worn-out in every way that a person (or bear) can feel.

I’m lucky that my manic times are not too severe, I generally feel happy, confident, ambitious and capable. Everything is rosy and nothing will bring me down. I found that harder to convey on the bear’s happy face but I am pleased with the result.

The Bipolar Bear

The Bipolar Bear

A massive thank you goes to Mr Monster, not only for photographing and animating my bear, but also for all the support he gives me every single day.

The Power of Illustration

26 Sep

Having dabbled in the world of illustration I have some idea of how hard it is and have a massive amount of respect for those who do it well. To capture a story or a message in a simple and attractive image is a great art.

Today Mr Monster posted an illustration on my facebook wall while I was at work which really spoke to me.

I have a condition called Cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar disorder (and the very same condition as Stephen Fry don’tcha know). Along with this comes the prohibative and sometimes embarrasing side effect of social anxiety. Not all the time and not in every situation but when it happens it happens big time and this weekend has been especially problematic.

I love the message portrayed in this little illustration; that despite social anxiety, those of us who experience it are still capable of great things. An empowering thought delivered in a clever way.

I have no idea who it is by but if anyone can tell me please do let me know.