For Michelle recovery is characterised by hope and belief. She describes how a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapy and new learning about recovery offered direction and personal growth.
I’d like to share part of my journey of recovery with you and I’m sure that some of you may have been in the same situation at one time or another so you’ll know where I’m coming from. It often seems like it’s one step forward and two back but thankfully that’s not always the case. Hopefully by the end of my story you’ll see that it has a positive outcome and that recovery is real, it is achievable and that one of the most important elements of recovery is hope.
My health problems began in 1986 when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Once I had accepted the fact that I had a serious illness I was able to face it and carry on with my life, but not long afterwards I injured my back. It was extremely painful and I had to have an operation to remove one of my discs. I couldn’t do anything and felt really isolated stuck at home on the outskirts of Edinburgh. As a result I didn’t get many visitors and was lonely and bored. My mood became so low that I contemplated suicide.
I managed to pick myself up but not long after I had returned to work I had a miscarriage. My husband and I were devastated and my behaviour became increasingly erratic. I eventually become so manic that I had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act. It was then that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder or Manic Depression as it was unfortunately called at the time.
I was kept in the hospital for three months and was given several different anti-psychotic drugs that turned me into a zombie. I felt as if my head was full of cotton wool and my body made of lead. In hindsight it was what I needed as I had burnt myself out with not sleeping and racing around at all hours. While I was in the ward the thing that helped most was talking to some of the other patients as they understood how I was feeling. Things gradually improved and I was put on a mood stabiliser before being discharged. When I got out it was very difficult to come to terms with how I had treated my family and friends and I apologised constantly. It took me ages to accept that it wasn’t my fault and to stop beating myself up about it.
I was given a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) who helped me to get back to some degree of normality. Having a CPN made me realise that I had a serious condition and needed help coping with it. She told me about the Outlook Project which runs courses for people with mental health difficulties and they helped me to complete a basic computer course. This helped my self confidence, gave me some structure to my week, and led me to go on to complete an SQA in Word Processing. I also went to an Art group which was very therapeutic and where I enjoyed the company and mutual support. I am currently doing a course in creative writing which has given me more confidence with writing my story.
I was managing well but sadly my mother was diagnosed with dementia shortly afterwards and the bottom fell out of my world. The next 4 years were a living hell and when she passed away it was the saddest day of my life. I have a strong faith and believe my mother is in a much better place now and that is what helps me cope. At the time, unfortunately, it was too much to bear and I admitted myself into what had become my second home. When I was discharged four months later I realised that I would have to make drastic changes to my lifestyle if I wanted to break this vicious cycle of events.
Soon afterwards I decided that, since my mum had been treated so well at the Eastern General Hospital, I wanted to give something back, and so I volunteered to work in their cafe. This helped me get back into a healthy routine, and gave me a feeling that I was contributing. I also enjoyed chatting with the customers and got fantastic support from everyone. Other volunteering jobs followed but my physical health deteriorated again and I had to stop. Looking back that’s when my journey of recovery really began.
I began treating my mind and body with respect and sticking to a healthy routine. I cut out most of the junk food I had been eating for convenience and comfort and as a result I lost a bit of weight. This helped my self-esteem, made me feel more energised, and helped to lift my mood. The extra energy made it easier to exercise and I started swimming and going to exercise classes. I also began to enjoy walking my dogs instead of dragging myself round the block and I took them to the beach and the park. I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and lovely views. As a result, I managed to get into a good sleep pattern which is very important for me. I tried to minimize stress by learning when to say no to things that sapped my energy, and attended stress management and relaxation courses. I enjoy music so would listen to different types depending on whether I needed to lift my mood or relax. Another thing that helped was meeting nice positive friends or going to the cinema to watch a comedy.
I started developing tools to help keep me well – charting my mood; and recording early warning signs of relapse, together with a plan of what to do if they occurred. I also listed triggers and wrote a maintenance plan for keeping well.
One of the most useful tools was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It was hard to understand at first but I eventually found it an invaluable way of coping with negative thoughts. Things started to improve for me and I kept relatively well despite having to cope with money worries and relationship problems. I also had to deal with some major health problems when my kidneys failed in 2004. After eighteen months on dialysis I was extremely lucky and got a kidney and pancreas transplant in December 2005.
Once I had recovered and got back into my healthy routine, I wanted to repay the people who had been kind and supportive so I arranged to talk to groups of people who had experienced similar difficulties, and helped set up a psycho-educational course for people living with bipolar disorder. I now co-facilitate the Lothian Bipolar Self-Help Group which is going from strength to strength and the mutual support in the group is fantastic.
I also heard about the Lothian Recovery Network (LRN), which promotes and supports recovery from mental health difficulties. They run various recovery based courses which are fun, informative and free of charge and I signed up for their Saturday morning recovery workshops. The friendly informal atmosphere made me feel safe and relaxed as everyone had lived experience of mental health difficulties, including the facilitators. I really enjoyed the workshops and learned a lot. I was surprised that although we all had different mental health conditions, a lot of our experiences were similar. I was able to share my knowledge and experiences too, which made me feel good about myself. Since then I have completed some training and now co-facilitate these workshops. I’ve also attended many other excellent courses and events run by LRN, which have made a big difference to my quality of life.
I now realise that everyone has different ways of coping and we’re all at different stages of our personal recovery journeys. We are the experts in our own recovery.
Being involved in these projects and activities is very exciting and rewarding and I’ve gained an awful lot from being taken along this particular path. I’ve met many kind, supportive people and learned a lot, especially about myself. I wouldn’t have gained all this fantastic experience if I hadn’t had mental health difficulties and I believe my life is richer because of it. Some people think that bipolar disorder is an affliction that causes nothing but chaos and despair. I strongly disagree and believe that you should never give up hope of a better life.
It’s hope that gives me the confidence to keep going on my journey of recovery and that has enabled me to achieve some of my dreams. I hope my story will inspire you to realise your own recovery.