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Mind podcast - Being a carer with bipolar

Monday, 19 September 2016 Bryony

Bryony talks about the challenges of managing her mental health while being a full time carer for her Mum.

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Well, my name’s Bryony and I’m a full-time carer.

Most of the time I spend, obviously, with my mum caring for her and in spending with my friends as and when possible, and I have bipolar disorder.

I’ve been part-time carer since I was 23 and I’m 31 this year, but my mum became more dependent, well, fully-dependent, 18 months ago, so I had to give up full-time work and move... Sell my property and move back in with her to care for her full-time.

She’s unable to do sort of anything for herself, really. You know, she can’t walk any more due to an accident she had. So, you know, the intensity for someone, anyone, regardless of their... Whether they have a diagnosis or not, there is, you know, the responsibility.

I don’t have kids, so I don’t know how that would feel but it is a little bit like you’ve got this person that’s utterly dependent on you.

"There’s sort of conflict as that kind of mother/daughter role is beginning reversed a little bit too early, for both of us."

You know not what either of us wanted. But, you know, thankfully, over the past sort of year or so, it’s settled down.

It’s a lot of day-to-day stress with, you know, worrying about her health because she’s my responsibility now as well as then I’m no good to her if I’m not well and that’s physically and mentally.

I have to hoist her, use a hoist to move her around because she can’t walk. And physically that’s, over the past year, done goodness knows what to my back. I’ve never had back problems before but I do now.

So that’s why I’m going to the gym and that’s why I’m doing things like Pilates again to strengthen my core because I need to.

Yes, it’s frustrating, and yes, sometimes I think, oh, goodness, I wish wasn’t having to do this. But it’s nothing against my mum, it’s just the fact that you’re so tired.

I have a phrase, I start going a bit juddery which is when I can’t think straight and start going, no, no. But physically, as well, I start shaking a little bit and just getting very agitated, you know.

"First of all, I would get snappy. I mean, that’s usual for people. But I may not notice so much that."

But it’s when my thoughts start racing, when I start kind of, you know, going into disaster scenario mode, sort of thing.

And every little thing that’s bothering me, I’ll think of the worst possible outcome and then start escalating that, which is something that, you know... I went to some CBT sessions to try and bring that down, which it has, you know, helped a lot.

Because, you know, much you think... It’s hard, you’re preparing yourself... and you’ll say, oh, I’m doing something really good, you know, I’m preparing myself for the worst. You’re not!

You’re not doing the best thing at all because it may never happen and you’re just upsetting yourself. And, you know, it’s best to deal with it when it comes.

"It’s definitely just the feeling of a gradual sort of mini tornado inside you that’s spiralling, or beginning to spiral out of control."

And I’m getting better at starting to feel the kind of physical sensations, if you like; my hand’s shaking, or, you know, just not being able to sit down, very agitated and things like that.

Not being able to sleep very well. My sleep gets disrupted because I’m constantly worrying about things that will never happen and then I think, right, you know, it’s time just to force myself to take, you know, half an hour, an hour, you know, half a day; a day, even, depending on how bad it is just to relax and calm down.

"If you’re looking after someone, you need to be there for them and that’s why I've become more responsible more quickly, I think."

I’m terrible for light sleeping if I’ve got a lot on my mind. So actually getting a really nice sleep is, you know, even a couple of times a week, for me, when I’m really properly worn out, if I’ve been to the gym and I’ve kind of read a book before bed, then that’s amazing the next day.

There’s so much difference. I don’t watch sort of TV and stuff. I don’t have a TV in my room. I try not to use a laptop unless it’s absolutely necessary, kind of my laptop, you know, within sort of an hour or so before I go to bed.

The problem is, like everyone in the world, your phone’s there and so I am trying to wean myself away from idly kind of when you’re trying to get to sleep, oh, you know, something like sending e-mails at kind of one o’clock in the morning which is just silly. Why do we do this? It can wait until the morning.

"But one thing that I’m, you know, I’m terrible for and I’m weaning myself off of, is kind of making to-do lists on my phone whist I’m nodding off."

Because I think… I just think of something else that I’ve got to do the next day and then I think, I mustn’t forget that because otherwise I won’t get to sleep.

But it’s a vicious circle because once you’ve woken your brain up then you start thinking of 101 things that you need to do tomorrow. So I’ve tried to sort of get rid of the phone, but I’m kind of getting it down to about half an hour before I go to sleep.

It’s definitely worth just kind of spending that half an hour of just winding down and then, yes, just being kind to yourself before bed.

If I’m out and about and I’ve, you know, I’ve got carers in for mum and I’ve got time away from home and I can instantly go, right, and I can feel something bubbling inside me, sort of thing,

I will just go to the gym until I’m an absolute sweaty mess and then you’re just... Completely feel euphoric because it’s got it out of our system. You’ve had the chance to... Because I listen to music all the time at the gym, if I’m angry about anything, I don’t.

It’s really funny because you’re busy processing what you were thinking about and so you’ve done that for an hour, which is more than enough time, but you’ve also been focusing on, you know, I’ve got to... Oh, I’ve got to get it done by X time, you know, and you’re sort of half having a race with, you know, the person next to you in the gym. And you’re going, yes, I’m going to beat that person and I get awfully competitive when I’m cross!

And, but, yes, and then suddenly it’s gone and you just think, not only has it gone, I’ve dealt with it, tick, you know, that’s brilliant, you know, I’ve done... I’ve dealt with it in a positive way but, you know, I’m getting fit in the process and feel good at the end of it. That is, for feeling very frustrated, that’s probably the best one for me.

In terms of just keeping a general kind of equilibrium, I try to kind of insert now, because I thought I never... I don’t have time to do this every day as everyone kind of thinks and I’m fortunate, I guess, because I’ve been structuring my days a little bit differently, kind of not working a sort of nine to five.

But I try to spend kind of half an hour or even quarter of an hour a day kind of either go for a walk or practice mindfulness techniques. I’ve found some good websites and apps that you can do on the go or you can do at home.

As well as art therapy, basically colouring-in for grown-ups which is an amazing thing, and I never had so much fun colouring flowers in my life, at my age. But it’s just something to focus on, again, and clear your mind and just have something to sort of say, that shows that I took that amount of time because I’ve got that as an end product. And showing yourself that you’re worth spending time on looking after...

"Certainly my problem for a long time, I was looking after everyone else and not myself and then I became unwell."

And then I realised that I had to focus on myself and to stay well and to stay well and help other people which is what I want to do the most.

One thing I find soothing is listening to kind of waves crashing lightly onto a beach as if you were kind of on a nice, sunny holiday because that’s that my kind of, you know, happy place; I wish I was there. So, listening to that almost not sends me to sleep, but relaxes me within probably about 30 seconds to a minute.

So I can be mildly sort of narked about something and if I remember quickly enough, I can get that out, you know, put that on my phone and then I’m almost, you know, it’s almost as if by magic I can soothe myself and just... It’s about your breathing, as well. Obviously that helps kind of slowing down your breathing, being more in tune, just focusing on the here and now, listening and focusing your senses. And, yes, savouring, you know, people, things around you.

"Animals do help a lot. Just a fact of them coming and sitting on you and wanting attention."

You know, sometimes when you’re feeling kind of down or agitated and, you know, if one of them kind of sits on you and just starts purring, it’s amazing.I’m cat obsessed so, you know, that really cheers me up.

And I find cooking quite therapeutic and it is a creativity in itself. You know, I like doing... If you... If you left, sort of left me alone and I didn’t have any responsibilities, or have to worry about money or anything else, I’d probably just cook, take photographs and, you know, draw and sort of listen to music. Those kind of outputs would be, you know, as well as kind of going for walks and runs, and things, would be, you know, it’s everything that I’m happy doing.

I started learning how to cook very young. My dad was a very good cook. He... Yes, he started me cooking when I was about eight, so I learnt how to kind of taste things properly and so my taste developed quite quickly.

I sometimes follow recipe books to try new things but then I’ll instantly kind of go off-piste and kind of start adding my own things. And, nine times out of ten, it comes okay, so that’s the main thing. I haven’t poisoned anyone yet.

The process is like making a little story, sort of thing. You’re sort of adding different things. You know, you can change it along the way. It doesn’t have to be the same story every time. It’s exciting and you get to eat it at the end of the day, which is amazing.

And it brings... I love cooking for other people. I can’t say that I’ve done massive dinner parties, I’m not quite that amazing but when you’ve made something nice...

It’s an expression of kind of your love for people, it’s to kind of share it with them, which is quite, ooh. And hope that they like it.

"Yes, it’s a really nice thing to do in terms of, yes, just relaxing and looking after your body."

As well, if you’re, you know, cooking healthily, it’s the opportunity to learn more about nutrition and what your body needs to help you feel better and, you know, last longer throughout the day rather than feeling kind of sluggish and not very happy and getting unwell, so...

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