We all say things we don’t mean.  We say things that we think are funny but no one else does.  We might be that unfortunate soul who doesn’t realise that the person we’ve said something to isn’t laughing because they’re crying on the inside. 

It sounds like every time I write one of these I’m complaining about life.  I’m giving airtime to the troubles I should have put to bed a long time ago.  Maybe that’s true, perhaps I am dwelling on the past and I’m being a pessimist about the future and maybe I’m reading too much into the present.  Whatever your thoughts are, if you stick around then I appreciate your patience and I am thankful to you for giving up your time to read another one of my “whinges.”

I was in my last job for 11 years.  I walked into that office thinking this was my first full time permanent job, I was a commuter and back in 2009 the sardine can train was worth it because I was on my way to being the adult I never thought I would be.

It’s no secret and I’ve said it often enough in the last 5 years that back in 2002 a social worker told me my mental illness was too serious for me to finish my degree.  They said I would never work, not part time or full time and I would never have a romantic relationship because a girl with Bipolar was not good marriage material.  Well I don’t like being told what I can and can’t do and everyone should know by now that even though I took those words to heart and I initially abided by the suggestion of a solitary life, I didn’t do it for long.

I’d never been in an office environment where I wasn’t a temp or I wasn’t covering someone or the temporary hands on deck person that was tossed to the side when the Christmas period was over.  I wanted to make this work, I wanted to be the best version of myself and shine!

That’s what I wanted.  What I did was a very different story.  I walked into the office and I shrivelled up like a flippin prune.  I was a fish out of water.  I went all shy, I retreated into my own little world and I have no idea what people thought of me at that time but I knew it wasn’t the image I’d wanted to project. 

I was doing a 12 hour day, leaving the house at 7am and rolling in at 7pm.  I was tired, I was worn out and I wasn’t even getting any job satisfaction because when you think people don’t like you, what kind of satisfaction can you take home with you?

I know everyone who works gets tired, it’s just the nature of working life, it’s not designed to be easy.  But not everyone was trying to conceal a mental illness that takes up more energy than you can imagine.  Not everyone was on 20mg of Olanzapine and various other psychiatric drugs, heavily sedated and trying to prove a point that a normal life could be achieved if you just worked at it.

I went to bed at 9pm.  I rose at 6am.  I said no to virtually every Christmas meal, every spontaneous night out and if anyone left the team for pastures new I said good bye to them in the office because what was the point in sticking around in Manchester when all I would be thinking is

“What time will it be when I get home?”

As the years went by in that job, I like to think that people liked me.  I like to think they saw my quirky side, that I could be a bit silly but I was also sincere, even when I made up a lie in order to avoid another social gathering. 

In all honesty Bipolar disorder is not a walk in the park.  When it comes to medication it’s not like taking paracetamol.  It’s not a cure.  It makes the symptoms take a backseat, they are masked, they give your brain a rest and they make everyday living so much easier.  Every single one of my Bipolar friends will tell you that medication is just one aspect of living a positive life with a mental illness, another aspect of it is management.  What I didn’t realise for so many years was that just because you take your meds it doesn’t mean you can live like the rest of the world, just as someone with Diabetes will inject their insulin, it doesn’t mean they can go to the shop and eat 5 snickers bars and can of full sugar coke.

People don’t realise that mental illness is a massive ball ache to manage.  With Bipolar Disorder I have to have a regular and strict routine.  Sleep is 100% a key factor in staying well.  If you’re Bipolar and you don’t sleep, you can kiss goodbye to the normality of your thinking patterns.  I get creative, I think if I can’t sleep I obviously don’t need it.  I get racing thoughts, my eyes play tricks on me and my whole world that I’ve worked by backside off to achieve falls down around me like a sack of mouldy potatoes with no where else to go.   

When you’ve been in hospital 6 times, twice facing being sectioned if you don’t comply, when you’ve seen some of the things I’ve seen people do behind the locked door of a psychiatric ward then trust me, the second you realise the life of a normal person who can party like a rock star isn’t possible because you need to take the beast of Bipolar in hand; then you’ll realise the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to question if you really want to repeat the cycle of self-destruction just because the rest of the world thinks you’re boring and you should just enjoy yourself because life is just too short….Well yes, life is too short, it’s even shorter when you’re living part of it on a Bolton psychiatric ward losing weeks and months of time trying to discover what reality actually looks like because believe me, when you find your way back into the real world you will never get back the time you have lost.

Try having a physical condition on top of a mental one.  Try having a bowel that doesn’t work and the doctors just keep saying drink plenty, eat more fibre and increase your dose of senna.  Try needing an operation for an Ileostomy and having to wait 12 months for it and while you’re waiting you have to sit by the door in the office so you can get to the toilet in time.  Try having to use two hot water bottles at work because you’re in too much pain and intense heat is the only thing that helps.

I love my stoma, I really do and I never need to worry about where the nearest toilet is because it’s now attached to me. But 1 year later tell me how you feel when you sneeze and you feel something inside you drop.  Tell me how you feel when the stoma nurse tells you your stomach muscles have collapsed and that’s just what happens when you have keyhole surgery.  Tell me what your reaction is when your stoma changes shape and becomes the size of tennis ball.  What do you do about the pain?  What do you do when you have to push hard on your stoma because there’s a bulge around it and you know it’s a partial parastomal hernia but the stoma nurse says it’s nothing because your tummy always sticks out when you’ve had abdominal surgery.  When the GP says you need to lose weight what do you do?

What do you do?

Well if you’re me you just get on with it.  You suck it up because there’s no other alternative.

I tell myself I’ve been through worse.  Bipolar is way harder than anything Wilomena can throw at me.  So what if it hurts 90% of the time? Who cares if it feels like someone has their hand inside my gut and is twisting my intestines like they’re doing a tug of war? 

Sometimes the world fails us, the NHS has had so much praise over the last few months and hats off to them they’re making the best out of a bad situation, but sometimes the NHS fails us and all we’re left with is to make the best out of our own bad situation because the reality of it is, if I crumble, if I flounder and if I fall, there is no mortgage fairy and time does not stop ticking just because my mind takes a ride on the Ferris wheel of Bipolar chaos.  Life does stop to consider its options when Wilomena decides she’s having a bad day and there’s nothing you can do for the pain except lie flat and that really isn’t an option when you’re sat at a desk all day.

I’ve been through worse…

…what do I do?

I make adjustments.  I turn up the volume and I do my best at life.

When I lost my job in the summer I didn’t fight to keep it.  It was time to move on anyway so I pulled my finger out and I signed up to every job site there was going and I applied for anything I thought I could do. 

I applied for jobs that I were too far away, underpaid, overpaid, a pipe dream, too few hours, too many hours.  Caught up in a Covid world of uncertainty I never imagined I’d fall on my feet.  I got a job that I really do love.  It’s less hours, there’s no commute and I’m in love with the people.  But you know what?  Nothing has changed.  I still have Bipolar and a massively problematic stoma.  I’m still tired and I still get pain. 

So if I have to start getting ready for bed at 8pm I’m sorry.  I’m sorry this makes me boring, I’m sorry you think that because it’s the weekend you think I should

“Live a little”

But regardless of what day of the week it is, nothing has changed.

Try taking 3 mood stabilisers all of them at a high dose.  Try to manage your tiredness and all the other side effects that, believe it or not you can live with because hospital is a much worse place to be.   Try analysing your every thought every second of the day to ensure you’re on the right planet.  Try praying that every stoma twinge is not going to turn into an infection because you haven’t got the time for it and you don’t want to go into hospital when its rife with Covid. 

So if you think I’m boring, if I’m not the person you want me to be and my lifestyle doesn’t match up to what you think it should; then I’m sorry.  I have never used being Bipolar or having a stoma as a reason not to do something and yes they are the reason I live my life the way that I do, but going to bed early, not drinking, not having late nights and all the over thinking; you have to understand, it’s not holding me back from life, the routine isn’t a punishment or a sacrifice; it’s just…

…damage control…

…it’s just me looking after myself so that I can go to Josh Groban concerts.  I go easy so that should Covid ever take a break I can invite a friend over for a curry and a chocolate cake we probably shouldn’t eat.  

All of this is so that I can meet my friends for coffee after work.  I do this so that I can go to work every day.  If I work I can pay for a holiday where I can take stupid selfies, eat ice cream and do doggy paddle in the infinity pool like a pro because I was never any good at breast stroke.  I can have my moment of Hollywood fame where I act out the priceless moment of getting out of the pool like a supermodel but it turns into a scene from Jaws where I look like I’m being dragged back in by a frenzied shark. But my favourite part is lying on a sun lounger with my ostomy bag basking in the scorching sun and everyone else is staring like its an alien and I’m just like…

“Yeah, I crap in a bag, what of it?”

My daily routine is dull as dishwater so that I can stand up in front of a crowded room and say…

“…this is how I do it and as dramatic as it might sound, this is how I’m alive.”

I am who I am because I take control.  Sometimes I loosen reigns, sometimes I try to fit too much into the few hours that we get during the day and sometimes I don’t do enough. 

…but everything I do, every technicality of the routine I call damage control is so that I can be the best version of myself.