Tuesday, 22 January 2013


It's been a long time, I shouldn't a left ya...without a dope beat to step to. Oops. Apologies, dear void, for my radio silence over the last few months. Just when I think I've cracked this regular blogging lark...

Thankfully I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth, this time at least. In fact, quite the opposite. They (whoever THEY are) say life's what happens when you're busy making other plans, and before my little cyber-break from all things mental, I felt I was getting a little detached from affairs that needed my attention in the real world - stuff like finding a wedding venue after our plans to tie the knot down in the South West kind of fell through, Christmas, working out my future plans from a professional point of view, and generally, having a bit more fun again.

Don't get me wrong - I don't view this little blog as PITA, but I was starting to think I was rabbiting on as if woe is me. I felt my words, though painfully honest, were beginning to sound as if I was allowing my bipolarity to define me - despite my protestations to the contrary. And I didn't like it. 

It's not that I'm ashamed of being a mentalist, but if I being honest, and you know how I'm good at that, I need and have the ability to fill my life with more than that. I've also learnt I have to be a bit selfish at times in order to function better and live the life I want to. Prime example was my call for fellow mentalists to unite - it got a good response, but I started doubting I was up for it. I felt I hadn't thought it through and you lovely peeps might turn up only to be faced with someone as utterly clueless as the next person about my actual aims. I guess what I'm saying is, I'm just a regular girl. I don't have all the answers. I have no idea if I'd make a good spokesperson for the issue of mental health. I also don't know that I want to be, given all the banging my head would take against sturdily-built brick walls in the process, although that is perhaps for another post. 

For right now its all about the writing, weight loss and exercise (I have a certain dress I need to fit into), enjoying life a bit more and making 2013 a cracker. Consequently, this blog might expand to topics outside the mental realm, but we shall see.

Bring it on.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Why I write this blog

It's not because I'd love to be recognised as some kind of authority on mental health, or because I love gabbing on about myself all the time, or because I think I'm particularly interesting. Quite the opposite, in fact: I'm nothing special in the grand scheme of things, I'm simply living my life with mental illness, getting by as millions of others do around the world. I want to 'normalise' this experience. I think that the only way to greater social acceptance is making it clear that our experiences as mentalists are nothing new or extraordinary - that everyone from your local MP to your children's teacher, to your own spouse could suffer with mental health issues. And that this is OK, that they aren't stigmatised for something they cannot help.

I also want to respond to something I read on twitter about people with mental illness letting themselves be defined by it. That somehow we don't want to get better and we relish languishing in the depths of our despair. That might be true of a minority, as with any other type of illness. But being bipolar does not define who I am. I am the sum of many parts, not just that part. I am interested in many things and don't believe in moaning or preaching about my issues. I am choosing to tell it like it is for others like me, and for the uninitiated, but that doesn't mean I, or anyone else in a similar situation, have nothing else in my life. I have plenty. But if lending my voice to the feeble cries can help in any way to creating a roar in stopping the stigma then I'm happy to indulge it. 

The response I have received has been brilliant, so thank you for joining in the conversation. But remember, we've only just begun.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Poor Relation...

In yesterday's post on my upcoming therapy, I touched on the fact that I feel like a lower-class citizen in the illness stakes. NO, I don't think illness is a competition, that would just be shit. But I do think being mentally ill is viewed as of less importance and as being less serious than having a physical disease. And I'm guilty of thinking that way myself, despite being a self-proclaimed mentalist; the fact is, I would rather have mental health issues than say, be struck down with cancer. There, I said it.

Having had a brief breast cancer scare earlier this year helped inform this opinion. Yes, I know that when people are seriously depressed, go through a breakdown, crisis or psychosis they are at risk of suicidal feelings and may act on them, thus making serious mental illness a very serious threat to your life. Believe me, I've been there, so I know. But for all of that, I'd still take my mental health issues over any other illnesses.

I suppose my attitude is also down to the fact that mental health issues are still largely taboo in society. They are an inconvenient truth. Just look at recent events: the Paralympic Games, amazing as they were, focused hugely on physical disability rather than mental. Overcoming and conquering physical ailments and illnesses, or triumphing in spite of them, is worthy of media attention and praise. And I can't imagine Channel 4 holding a 'stand up to mental health' fundraiser, despite the mental health odds (1 in 4 will suffer with mental ill health) being on a par with the 1 in 3 odds of getting cancer. 

And perhaps this is fair? Many physical illnesses, without medical intervention, can cause death. Whereas many people's lives won't be at risk as a direct result of mental illness. Many of 'us' manage to struggle on, or  even be successful despite having mental illness and without medical or psychiatric interventions. But does my attitude simply add fuel to the fire; am I perpetuating an outdated view that we are all subjected to?

In reality, my life is blighted by my mental health issues and I will be stuck with them, to a certain extent, for the rest of my life. I hope not, but there could be times in the future when my life is at risk because of acute depression or manic episodes. And I feel no-one is really fighting that corner for people like me. Sure, there are several large charities that do some great work around mental health. And yet, they seem like unapproachable national charity giants to me. The one time I called the Mind helpline, I was completely rushed off the line by the guy I was speaking to. I've never bothered calling them again. And like it or not, simply tweeting and blogging about these issues won't change much either. I try not to get too despondent about it all, but I do feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall sometimes. 

Ultimately, all illnesses should be taken seriously, and patients treated with the same respect and dignity, but I can't see that happening for some time yet.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


No, its not my birthday. But feel free to send cake anyway...

The surprise is, I am so surprised at how quickly I am going to be starting therapy! You might remember my It's good to talk post from a few weeks back where I had just attended my first of four 'focus for therapy' sessions at my local unit. It found that more than a bit uncomfortable and the following week I was 'ill' and couldn't make the session, mainly because I was feeling so crap about myself, and talking about it was likely to catapult me over the edge. I have a back history of going AWOL on therapy because I find the process so incredibly hard, but equally, I recognised I was being given another chance to try and sort myself out at a time when I'd been feeling pretty hopeless. So, back I went and I completed my final session yesterday. And I'm feeling really smug with myself about that.

One of my major day-to-day issues, due in part to the fact that I've not been well enough to work for some time, is a fear of being in groups of people I don't know. A vicious circle is about all that comes from that as you have to interact with people in order to work and in order to break free from a hermit-like existence. Basically, I need to learn how to build my confidence and interact with people again, but I also need psychotherapy. So, early in the new year I'm going to be starting weekly group therapy! I was massively concerned when my therapist merely mentioned the words "group therapy" as, whilst my previous experience of it was largely positive, I also felt like it turned out to be a bit of a 'get-together', rather than having any meaningful therapeutic benefits. But she reliably informed me there are strict rules governing group therapy at the unit, and it's not a social occasion - you aren't even allowed to meet outside of the therapy room - what goes on in the session, stays in the session. Kinda like Vegas. 

I spoke with her, and my fiance, at length about my concerns, and arrived at the revelation that I need to attack my fears head-on. And I came out of there booked into a new group she is starting in January, and feeling like I was ready to get on with it. Obviously I won't be able to talk about this on the blog once I get started, but I thought I'd share the positive news while I still can.

Going back briefly to my formative post on my introductory sessions, I mentioned then that I always ended up feeling like there wasn't anything wrong with me and that I just needed to pull myself together when I'm in therapy. The nature of my bipolarity means this also tends to coincide with my 'highs', when I feel invincible  and convince myself I'm perfectly well. The reality, as my therapist pointed out to me, is that I do indeed have many emotional issues and they will not go away with a few sessions of CBT (unfortunately). It's going to take a long time to work through them, and even when I've done this, it might be a case of learning to manage them more effectively, as opposed to 'curing' me of them altogether. In a weird way having someone back me up by saying those things is a relief. Someone else, completely neutral to my life, recognises the things in me that are such a burden of weight on my shoulders. It's like being given permission, being justified in having mental illness. This might sound odd to you, but I still battle with thoughts of being a lower class citizen in the world of illness, that mental illness is a poor relation of physical illness. Having someone take my corner and tell me they will help me on the journey to better mental health, when I thought I had run out of options, is awesome, frankly. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Would you push the button?

No, not that one. Even if I was a closet Sugababes fan back in the day (sssshhhhhhh). I recently revisited dream dinner party guest, and fellow bipolar babe, Stephen Fry's excellent 2006 The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive documentary. If you haven't watched it, Fry explores his own bipolarity with fantastic candour, and talks to several celebrities including Robbie Williams, Carrie Fisher and Richard Dreyfus about their own struggles with depression and mania. He also interviews several 'real life' people about their experiences with mental ill-health. Six years on, Manic depression has been re branded as bipolar affective disorder, is all the rage, and everyone has heard of it, but back then this was quite the ground-breaking and highly-praised expose of a little-publicly-known illness. Once again, youtube is your friend:

Part 1

Part 2

Fry himself admits to suicide attempts, theft, fraud and general immorality caused by manic delusions and crushing depressions. The reality of such events is that you'll come out of those wild mood swings and some point and have to pick up the pieces of your life. You might've driven people away, lashed out at loved-ones, abandoned friends, and generally behaved like a total prick. What's that you say? "those actions don't mean you are mentally ill", and indeed, you're correct; there are plenty of tossers who perpetuate such behaviours simply because they can. What differentiates being a prick when mentally ill, and just simply being a prick, is the lack any insight into your reckless abandon, you are unable to acknowledge your erratic actions, and you would never dream of doing them when mentally stable.

Whilst hearing from people in the public eye about their own mental demons is fascinating, it was Fry's interviews with regular Joe's about theirs that I find most absorbing. He meets with the family of Zoe Schwarz,  a talented, vivacious and much-loved young woman, who took her own life by jumping in front of an express train in 2000, aged just 27. Zoe's parents, Walter and Dorothy, talk candidly about her suicide, and of her tortured last months before ultimately making the choice that death was preferable to a life spent in such emotional turmoil. Zoe was due to be taken into hospital the day after she killed herself. For her, the prospect of living the rest of her life with manic depression and all that she felt it stole from her was too much to bear. And bipolar affective disorder is just that; a life-long illness. I won't ever be 'cured' of this, and neither would have Zoe.

The documentary also introduces us to Cordelia Feldman, an intelligent and erratic Oxford grad who now struggles to live independently or hold down a full-time job because of the symptoms of her manic depression. Writing is her life blood, much like me, but the ability to write is killed by her depressions. When illness, even temporarily, terminates your talents and love for life, the journey can feel unbearable. I face many of the same issues felt so deeply by Cordelia; I hate my illness when I am depressed - its robs me of ME. It has gotten so dark in my world in the past, so hopeless, that I have felt my potential is like a cruel carrot on a stick that is always just out of reach.

But what of the highs? I've achieved some great things in life when I've been hypomanic - like a first in my degree just months after being hospitalised with an overdose, winning writing awards after sitting up all night beavering away on the keyboard. Hypomania helps me get things done, dream new dreams and get them started. But when its over, darkness falls again, scuppering those manic plans. As much as I am now seeking to stabilise my mood with medication and therapy, there will always be a part of me that treasures what bipolarity gives me: good humour, organised chaos, a love of being outside of the pack and doing things MY way, being fun and 'crazy', 'different'. I love that side of me. 

And so, when I pose the question Stephen Fry does to everyone in the documentary to myself; "If you could, would you press a button to release yourself from it?", I think my answer is 'No'. I need to put more routine in my life, I need to shape and work towards goals, and I need to keep up with my meds, but I'll never be cured, and I think I'm at peace with that.

How about you? If you could press a button to release yourself from your mental illness, would you do so?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Inspiration part 1

Before I started Nutjob, I was an avid reader of blogs of all styles and genres. I was in awe of how much time and energy people put into them, and how powerful they could be. I had a particular interest in health-related blogs seeing as mental illness has impacted so much on my life. I want to talk about a few of them here over the next few weeks, both to point you in their direction (if you don't already know about them!) and to talk about how they inspire me.

The blog that has had the biggest effect on me is that of Kristen Hallenga. Kristen was 23 when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and then secondary breast cancer. Kris had had breast lumps and pain for many months but was turned away from her GP who dismissed her concerns, claiming they were down to hormones as she was 'too young' to have breast cancer. Whilst 23 is young to be diagnosed with BC, it obviously does happen as cancer does not discriminate. Even though she was going through gruelling rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, Kristen, along with her twin sister, Maren, formed the Coppafeel campaign, which now has registered charity status.

Coppafeel educates young women (and men!) in getting to know their boobs, the signs and symptoms of breast changes, and aims to stamp out late detection and misdiagnosis of breast cancer. Their 'boob teams' rock up at music festivals around the country and at Uni campuses spreading the Coppafeel gospel, and they put on events like the Festifeel - a one-day music and fundraising extravaganza in the heart of East London. They also enter marathons and half marathons to raise money for the charity, recruiting people to run wearing their giant hooters!. And that is just a taste of their exciting projects. They also have an excellent 'remind me to Coppafeel!' tool on their website: you simply input your details and mobile number and they text you each month with a reminder to check your boobs. With patrons like effortlessly cool Fearne Cotton, and everyone's favourite cheeky presenter chappy, Dermot O'Leary, Coppafeel is going from strength to strength, and I think it is absolutely inspirational.

The charity prompted me to check my boobs for the first time in a long time, and during a self-exam I was shocked to find that one of them was a bit lumpy. I took myself straight off to the doctors and was seen in clinic a few days later. This luckily turned out to be hormonal tissue changes, but I am now so much more aware of what is normal, and more importantly, abnormal, for me. And that is all thanks to the wonderful Kristen and Coppafeel.

Kristen, through her positive attitude and incredible work to help educate others, inspires me massively and gives me hope that its possible to change the status quo, no matter how difficult the path. Plus, she's a total bad-ass.

Hats off to you, Kris!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Mentalists unite!

Despite living in a large town in the South East of England, there is a woeful lack of mental health community resources, such as support groups, in the area. Even where they exist it can be a daunting task for the mentally ill to rock up at an unfamiliar meeting place where everyone knows everyone else...except them. I personally have massive problems even leaving the house when I am suffering from bipolar depression, let alone attempt to mingle among a close-knit group.

But, I can fully appreciate that it might be in my interest to have more contact with people going through similar things to myself. However loving friends and family can be, unless they are going through similar problems its always going to be hard for them to have detailed insight into what you are feeling and how they can help you.

So, in light of of this, I'm putting it out there - I'd like to set up a meet with like-minded fellow mentalists, and any mentalist supporters. I'd like to put faces to online personalities, share our issues, discuss what we think we can do to move this process forwards, get more people joining in the conversation, and hopefully coming out and showing there is nothing to be afraid of. That plus having a bloody good time, naturally!

I'm suggesting early December in order to give people enough time to make arrangements for coming down to the South East. I think in or around London as a location would probably make sense as people might be more able to travel there being such a travel hub. Obviously exact details will be ironed out when I have an idea of how many of you might be interested.

So, if this has piqued your curiosity please leave a comment, send me an email at hayleythatcher@gmail.com or shout me on twitter: @hayley_thatcher

Let's keep the conversation going...